The Cairo Agreement, Explained

The Cairo Accord, Explained
Nidaa Al-Watan | Flickr/scouse73

In 1969, Lebanon signed the Cairo Agreement, a secret agreement that played a pivotal role in the major transformations that occurred on the Lebanese stage prior to the eruption of the civil war.

Lebanon in the Late ’60s

In the late ’60s, especially after Israel won the Arab-Israeli (6-Day) War in 1967, a strong presence of Palestinian guerillas began to grow in Lebanon, and the frequency of their operations against Israel from within Lebanese territories increased as well.

These operations quickly turned into a problem for Lebanon, which became the ground for Israel’s response attacks.

On the evening of December 28th, 1968, the Israeli military commenced “Operation Gift,” a commando operation on Beirut Airport that resulted in the destruction of 13 passenger planes and a total loss of $43.8 million.

The aftermath of the 1968 Israeli raid on Beirut Airport.

Israel announced that the raid came in retaliation to the attack on the Israeli Airliner El Al Flight 253, which had taken place 2 days earlier at the hands of 2 militants belonging to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon.

The Israeli repeated retaliations partly aimed to provoke a response in the Lebanese against the militant Palestinian presence in their country.

However, at the time, a significant portion of the Lebanese population was in support of that presence, for reasons that include the prevailing sentiment in the region against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the sectarian rift that had begun to manifest between Muslims and Christians.

The PLO also enjoyed great regional support from neighboring countries, and, soon, it was clashing with the Lebanese Army while also continuing its operations against Israel.

In September 1969, Israel warned Lebanon about the Palestinian attacks, and the fighting between the PLO and the Lebanese Army intensified.

Palestinian guerillas in Lebanon.

The Last Straw

Under the pressure of the escalating conflict, the threats from Israel, and the strong position of the PLO in the country, backed by the support of Muslims and Arab countries, the Lebanese Army was overwhelmed.

In the midst of that, Palestinian guerillas coming from Syria launched an attack against the Lebanese Army. The enormous pressure was mounting, and Lebanon had to put an end to it soon.

In October 1969, Lebanon requested the mediation of the Egyptian President at the time, Gamal Abdel Nasser, with the head of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, to end the clashes.

Later that month, a Lebanese delegation, headed by then-Commander of the Lebanese Army, General Emile Bustani, landed in Cairo to meet Abel Nasser and Arafat.

It’s worth noting that, at that time, the Lebanese Army was gaining momentum in the fighting, and Arafat did not show up in time for the meeting.

In fact, the Lebanese delegation had to wait 3 days for Arafat to arrive – only after the PLO carried out an operation in which they downed an army helicopter and killed a Lebanese general and 2 soldiers.

Yasser Arafat in Lebanon.

After 3 more days invested in negotiations, on November 3rd, 1969, the Cairo Agreement was signed, and, a month later, the Lebanese Parliament ratified it.

It was supposed to be secretive, and it remained so until Annahar, which was regarded as the most credible and authoritative newspaper in Lebanon and the region, leaked its text on April 20th, 1970, causing a political storm in the country.

Ghassan Tueini, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief and publisher at the time, was imprisoned for divulging state secrets, in 1973.

The Cairo Agreement

The Cairo Agreement, according to the text published by Annahar in 1970, concerned the toleration and regulation of the presence of Palestinian guerillas in southeast Lebanon and their activities.

It also stipulated:

  • The right to work, reside, and transport for Palestinians residing in Lebanon.
  • Establishing local committees of Palestinians in the camps to take care of the interests of the Palestinians residing in them, in cooperation with the local authorities, and within the scope of Lebanese sovereignty.
  • The presence of Palestinian points inside camps, that cooperate with the local committees to secure good relations with the authority, and these points are responsible for organizing the presence of weapons and identifying them in the camps, within the scope of Lebanese security and the interest of the Palestinian revolution.
  • Allowing Palestinians residing in Lebanon to participate in the Palestinian revolution through armed struggle within the principles of Lebanon’s sovereignty and safety.
Abdel Nasser and Arafat in Cairo, 1969.
Abdel Nasser and Arafat in Cairo, 1969.

On facilitating fedayee (guerilla) activity:

  • Facilitating the passage of guerrillas and determining crossing and reconnaissance points in the border areas.
  • Securing the path to the Al-Arqoub area.
  • The leadership of the armed struggle controls the behavior of all members of its organizations and their non-interference in Lebanese affairs.
  • Finding a common discipline between the armed struggle and the Lebanese Army.
  • Stopping the media campaigns from both sides.
  • Counting the number of personnel in the armed struggle in Lebanon, through its leadership.
  • Appointing representatives of the armed struggle in the Lebanese Staff to participate in resolving all urgent matters.
  • Studying the distribution of appropriate stationing places in the border areas, which are agreed upon with the Lebanese Staff.
  • The regulation of the entry, exit, and wandering of the personnel of the armed struggle.
  • The abolition of the Geiroon Base.
  • The Lebanese Army facilitates the work of the medical, evacuation, and supply centers for guerilla activities.
  • The release of detainees and confiscated weapons.
  • It is a given that the Lebanese civilian and military authorities continue to fully exercise their powers and responsibilities in all Lebanese regions and in all circumstances.
  • The two delegations affirm that the Palestinian armed struggle is an act that comes in the interest of Lebanon, as it does in the interest of the Palestinian revolution and all Arabs.
  • This agreement remains top secret, and it may only be viewed by the leaderships.

After the agreement, Palestinian guerilla activity in Lebanon increased, especially after the Palestinian movement was driven out of Jordan to Lebanon in the events of the Black September (1970).

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine guerillas in Jordan, 1969.
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) guerillas in Jordan, 1969.

The Lebanese Army gradually lost its control over the scope of the PLO’s armed activities, which widened beyond the areas limited by the agreement.

This continued through April 1975, when clashes erupted between the PLO and the Lebanese Phalange (Kataeb Party) following the attempt assassination of Sheikh Pierre Gemayel, head of the Kataeb Party.

With the Prime Minister back then refusing the Lebanese Army to intervene to stop the clashes, it ultimately led about six months later to the eruption of the Lebanese Civil War.

8 Years Later

In June 1987, then-Lebanese-President Amine Gemayel signed a law that revokes the Cairo Agreement, after it had been drafted and approved by the Lebanese Parliament the previous month.

The revocation came around 2 years before another agreement that changed Lebanon’s modern history was ratified by Parliament: The Taif Agreement.