The headquarters of the Lebanese Phalangists is a lone remaining private house — stone-built with tall, arcaded Turkish windows nestling among office llocks in Beirut's modern commercial district. Emblazoned on it is a neonlit design of a green cedar tree, emblem of the Phalange Party, which egards itself as the principal ,Irotector of Lebanon's special personality.
The Phalangists fear the inroads of the Arab world, which they define as Moslem, miliiaristic or socialist by turns, on the traditional Lebanese system which is Christian-led, liberally governed and freeenterprising.
The largest, best-armed and most determined of several private political armies inside I ehanon, the Phalangists are again at war. Street-corner barricades al c manned by knots of their militiamen, uniformed in fatigues ind black berets or still in casaal clothes — all waving automatic weapons.
Inside I'mm a cellar bunker, Pierre tiemayel, 70, founder and still President of the Phalangists, deploys his paramilitary force, said to number
20.000 party members of all ases, trained and led by 250 fullTime "officers" paid by the party.
On the wall a marble plaque lists a score of Phalangist martyrs killed in Lebanon's 1958 civil war.
The Phalangists have often operated as auxiliaries of the I.ebanese Army. In the past they received substantial help and encouragement from the military establishment.
"Now the Army is too weakened, too worried by its Moslem-Christian balance to stand up to Palestinian guerrilla encroachments," a Phalangist strategist told me.
The guerrillas have considerably increased their fighting strength since the army-guerrilla confrontation two years ago, notably by the acquisition of shoulder-held missiles capable of deterring the Lebanese air force.
But the army also wants to maintain its neutrality, certainly as long as the main strength of the guerrilla movement is withheld.
Gcmayel cuts an oldfashioned, upright figure in
Lebanese politics. Many younger Lebanese, even many of Gemayel's fellow-Christians,
worry that his uncompromising insistence on stronger national authority is edging the country towards disaster.
His views are rooted in a background of struggle. A hero of the Lebanese campaign for independence from the French mandate, Gemayel was wound ed in an anti-occupation demonstration in the 1930s only a block from his present headquarters. Like 90 per cent of his party, Gemayel belongs to Lebanon's Maronites — Arab-speaking Rome-affiliated Christians, who have held a stronghold on Mount Lebanon for 12 centuries. They have provided modern Lebanon's ruling elite.
Although Gemayel himself failed to reach the Presidency, his party the only Christian mass movement — has raised him to national stature. In any final challenge, Christians would rally to him — and this knowledge arouses the spectre of civil war as an ultimate weapon.
The current crisis is so explosive because of the hectic recent growth of private armies in all camps in Lebanon. The rise of the Palestinian guerrilla movement after the 1967 ArabIsraeli Six-Day War triggered the build-up.
In this country, inhabited by minorities afraid of one another and infected with an obsession with guns, weaponry has proliferated to an estimated one million firearms in a country of three million inhabitants.
Weapons arrive in shiploads from Bulgaria for distribution. among Right-wing groups like the Phalangists; the Palestinians and their Lebanese sympathisers get guns from neighbouring Syria.
Gemayel's own group started in the 1930s as a Boy Scout-type organisation which eluded the French ban on political movements. It has many symbols of pre-war Fascism: authoritarian discipline, fondness for salutes, stress on physical fitness, strong nationalistic emphasis.
These attracted Gemayel, an athlete himself, when he attendcd the Berlin Olympic Games of 1936. He felt that the "National Socialism" which he then saw in Germany answered many of the needs to convert this Levantine area into a nation-State.
If it remains Fascist it is a highly Lebanese version; Gemayel's own honesty and simple personal style are plain to the point of being a political obstacle. The Phalangists are not racist — and specifically have close ties with Lebanon's Jewish community.
On the other hand the Maronites are an inwardlooking, worried oligarchy, still inclined to believe that Western intervention might be forthcoming, if their position were put in jeopardy.
The Phalangists' first show of force was against the French in 1943: After independence they oPposed rival political parties trying to join Lebanon with Syria.
In the 1958 civil war, the Phalangists opposed Moslem groups backed by Egypt's President Nasser and then resisted the American-arranged settlement until Gemayel emerged as a national leader.
The Phalangis:s' first clashes with the Palestinians occurred in 1969, leaving the country politically paralysed for six months until Lebanon's Sunni Moslems forced the Government to endow the guerrillas with an independent charter.
Two years ago the Lebanese Army failed to curtail the guerrillas despite a fortnight of combat. In the subsequent facesaving exercise Phalangists jointly policed the cease-fire with guerrillas and Gemayel visited Arab capitals.
The Phalangists have been increasingly unhappy about the Palestinian role. They object to the Palestinians' military autonomy which risks Israeli retaliation against Lebanon. "Why should a Fight be expected from Lebanon, which is too weak to resist Israel, when all the other Arab Governments have stopped fighting?" Phalangists ask. Phalangists accuse extremist guerrilla factions supported by Libya and Iraq of deliberately fomenting trouble in Lebanon to spoil the Middle East peace quest. In the recent clashes, Palestinian factions from the hard-line "rejection bloc" were the most active, but only because the Palestinian leadership, under the Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Yasser Arafat, were matching the official Lebanese act of restraint.
Another Phalangist complaint is that Palestinian strength is bolstering Lebanese political factions on the Left and among the Sunni Moslems.
Palestinian firepower has helped fishermen in Sidon, the country's third-largest city, to defy the central Government for nearly two months. Fear that the internal balance of Lebanon might be irreversibly altered is a potent factor which turns the issue into a sectarian danger. Both sides agree that there can be no permanent solution to this uneasy co-existence in Lebanon until a settlement is found for the Middle East problem. If that prospect recedes too far the risk increases that the Phalangists will carry out their own threat, voiced here too often to ignore, to dismember Lebanon rather than to see power pass to other hands.