Lebanese Republic (Lebanon)
Evidence of habitation in this region dates to at least 5000 BCE, and modern Lebanon is considered part of the original territory of the Phoenician People. The geographic area comprising modern Lebanon fell under the control Arab culture following the Muslim conquest of the Levant (634-638 CE), although it had previously become a major center of Christianity in the 4th and 5th centuries CE, in particular being the birthplace of the Maronite sect. Officially dominated by Islam and Arabic-speaking governments for the next several centuries, the country nevertheless became a cosmopolitan land where people of many ethnic groups and religious faiths co-existed, although not always peacefully. The region was drawn into open warfare during the Crusades (11th - 13th centuries CE), a period which also brought the local populace into contact with European (primarily Frankish) culture - a development that would have a lasting effect on Lebanon itself.
During the 16th century, Lebanon became a part of the Ottoman Empire and remained such until the end of the First World War. In 1920, the Empire was officially dissolved by a League of Nations Mandate, with both Lebanon and Syria falling under the control of France. Although briefly claimed as a part of the Arab Kingdom of Syria, in the latter half of that year the region of Greater Lebanon was established, effectively making Lebanon a French territory. The creation of a Lebanese Republic (under French administration) soon followed in 192, but it was not until the Second World War that the country would achieve full independence, while France was still occupied by Nazi Germany. Elections held in 1943 abolished a mandate designed to maintain authority over Lebanon by the Free French government, and in effect establishing a fully independent state. A key feature of this development was the unwritten National Pact of 1943, in which it was agreed that key government positions would be held by individuals from a particular religious or ethnic group (President - Maronite, Prime Minister - Sunni, President of National Assembly - Sh'ia, Deputy Prime Minister - Greek Orthodox, and Chief of General Staff - Druze). The pact also established a slight favor of Christians over Muslims within Parliament. This agreement would have a long standing effect on Lebanese culture, politics and stability well into the present era.
During the Arab-Israeli War (1948), Lebanon supported Arab forces with logistics, artillery and armored personnel carriers, but did not officially invade Israeli territory. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of this conflict, more than 100,000 Palestinian refugees that had fled across the border were forced to remain in southern Lebanon when Israel refused them permission to return. Huge numbers of Palestinians have continued to inhabit parts of Lebanon ever since, many in refugee camps. In 1969, the Lebanese government was pressured into granting virtual autonomy to the PLO in these camps, as well as along the border with Israel, as a result of the Cairo and Melkart Accords. In 1970, the Palestinian population in Lebanon was further bolstered (by approximately 150,000 – including several thousand guerilla fighters) after King Hussein’s Army physically ejected the entire PLO infrastructure from Jordan. This significant impact on the population would result in the country being involved in warfare for years to come, both from internal struggles between rival political factions, and from the fact that Lebanese territory was the only remaining land-base from which the Palestinian struggle could continue to wage war against Israel.
Lebanon was wracked by civil war between 1975 and 1990, during which time much of the country was broken into regions or districts controlled and independently governed by numerous warring factions or militias, which were both volatile and quite often politically inconstant. At one point, as many as 50 different militias were operating in parts of Lebanon. Although mired in confusion, an understanding of these factions is important if one wishes to have some understanding of the military and paramilitary forces populating the country for the past 40 years. A brief layout of the forces that operated out of Lebanon during this time frame is as follows:
The Lebanese Front (الجبهة اللبنانية) – a coalition of primarily Christian parties including:
- The Phalanges Party (حزب الكتائب اللبنانية), aka Keta’eb (of the book): a Christian organization founded in 1936 on fascist principles – allied to IDF
- Lebanese Forces (القوات اللبنانية) or LF- a militia and political party that attempted to coordinate all right-wing party militias of the Lebanese Front, but most often associated with the Christian Phalangists – allied to IDF
- South Lebanon Army (جيش لبنان الجنوبي) or SLA, which ceased to operate as a military force in 2000 – allied to IDF
- Tigers Militia (نمور الأحرار), a paramilitary branch of the National Liberal Party (1968-1980) – allied to the IDF
- The Marada Brigade, aka Zgharta Liberation Army (ZLA), militia wing of the Marada Movement (تيار المردة) (est. 1967), a right-wing Christian party – active until 1991
The Lebanese National Movement (الحركة الوطنية اللبنانية) - which became the Lebanese National Resistance Front (جبهة المقاومة الوطنية اللبنانية) in 1982 - another coalition movement, bringing together several political and militia groups including:
- The Syrian Social Nationalist Party (الحزب السوري القومي الاجتماعي) or SSNP – Syrian nationalists
- The Progressive Socialist Party (الحزب التقدمي الاشتراك) or PSP – a secular militia and party supported primarily by the Druze population
- The Popular Guard (الحزب التقدمي الاشتراك), a militia of the Lebanese Communist Party
- Al-Mourabitoun ("the Guardians"), aka the Independent Nasserite Movement (حركة الناصريين المستقلين-المرابطون) - a political party and militia embracing the Marxist and pan-Arab ideals of then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser - allied to the PLO & Syria
- pro-Iraqi Ba’athist militia
- pro-Syrian Ba'athist militia
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO, منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية) – an umbrella political organization founded in 1964, which established its primary goal as the liberation of Palestine. At various times the following militias were considered part of the PLO, most of which operated out of Lebanon:
- Fatah (فتح) - left wing/nationalist (founded 1954, by Yasser Arafat)
- Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)(الجبهة الشعبية لتحرير فلسطين) - militant communist (founded 1967)
- Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command (PFLP-GC) - Syrian-backed splinter group (founded 1968)
- Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)(الجبهة الديموقراطية لتحرير فلسطين) - Marxist/Leninist (founded 1969)
- Palestinian People's Party (PPP)(حزب الشعب الفلسطيني) - socalist (founded 1982)
- Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF)(جبهة التحرير الفلسطينية) - founded 1961
- Arab Liberation Front (AFL)(جبهة التحرير العربية) - allied to Iraqi Ba'ath Party (founded 1969)
- As-Sa'iqa or al-Saika (الصاعقة) - Syrian controlled Ba'athist faction (founded 1968)
- Palestine Democratic Union (Fida)(الاتحاد الديمقراطي الفلسطيني) - founded 1990
- Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF) - founded 1967
- Palestinian Arab Front (PAF)(الجبهة العربية الفلسطينية) - founded 1993
Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) - founded in 1964 and initially envisioned as the military wing of the PLO, this well-supplied paramilitary unit at one time had as many as 12,000 uniformed fighters organized in three Brigades. In practice, the PLA never actually deployed in support of the PLO, but instead functioned as an auxiliary wing, first of the Egyptian Army, and later of the Syrian Army until 1993.
The Amal Movement (أفواج المقاومة اللبنانية) – a political movement and militia with strong ties to the Shi’a population (est 1974) – allied to Syria
Hezbollah (حزب الله) or “Party of Allah”– a political movement and militia, which began in 1985 as an offshoot of Amal - allied to Iran.
Islamic Jihad Organization (حركة الجهاد الإسلامي) – a fundamentalist Shi’a militia with ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; Islamic Jihad has taken responsibility for many bombings, kidnappings and other acts of terrorism over the years. There is some debate over whether this group is in fact part of Hezbollah
Tawheed, the military wing of the Islamic Unification Movement ( حركة التوحيد الإسلامي) – a fundamentalist Sunni organization, initially trained by the PLO
Both Israel and Syria were also drawn into the Lebanese Civil War, as well as the United Nations (since 1978), which continues a peacekeeping presence with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
With so many differing factions and sources of support during the 15 years of civil war, the variety of military equipment and uniforms employed were naturally staggering. Yet many units and groups did become associated with certain symbols, insignia, and even modes of dress, including the wearing of certain camouflage patterns. These we have documented to the best of our ability, given the likelihood that such a task will always have missing pieces.
Since the end of the Civil War, the Republic of Lebanon (اَلْجُمْهُورِيَّة اَللُّبْنَانِيَّة) has largely remained stable, with a solid Armed Forces of over 72,000 personnel, including ground, air and naval elements. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) of today include not only a full complement of conventional units, but a number of special operations forces as well, including paratroopers, commandos, navy special operations and special counter-terrorism units.
The LAF have been influenced by a number of nations in developing their own national camouflage designs, including the USA, United Kingdom, Syria, and Pakistan.
Camouflage Patterns of the Lebanese Armed Forces
- The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) were outfitted with a variety of uniforms and equipment up into the Civil War period, including materiel from France, Britain, Israel and the United States. In 1982, when the United States sent military personnel as part of a peacekeeping effort, it also agreed to undertake responsibility for equipping and training the under-strength Lebanese government forces. Part of a joint-effort by US Army Special Forces and US Marine Corps personnel, the training process began in December 1982. Lebanese graduates of the course were then equipped with US-made camouflage uniforms in the ERDL design, which was in the process of being replaced Army-wide by the recently introduced woodland camouflage BDU.
- An early Lebanese pattern from the 1980s, probably influenced by Syrian or Egyptian designs, is a vertical stripe pattern. Traditionally associated with the Magaweer Commandos of the Lebanese Army, the pattern has also been documented in use by Christian Phalangist militia members. A contemporary version is still worn by the Lebanese Army Commando Regiment of the same name. One nickname occasionally applied to this design has been the "rhubarb" pattern. There is some variability as to colors depending on the period the fabric was produced.
- The Pakistani brushstroke camouflage pattern was reproduced in Syria during the 1970s and early 1980s, and a variant was later introduced by Lebanon for issue to special units. During the Civil War period, this pattern was also encountered among Christian Phalangist & Druze militias, as well as members of the SSNP. Often nicknamed "wisp," its derivation from brushstroke patterns is obvious. Today the pattern is worn by the Army's Moukafaha Regiment (a counter-sabotage unit).
- Surplus US m81 woodland camouflage uniforms began to see sporadic usage both by the LAF and insurgent forces almost as soon as they were available. By the late 1980s, the camouflage pattern had entered service with the Lebanese Army as the standard combat pattern, which it remains to this day. A number of different suppliers and producers over the years have led to a variety of different styles of woodland camouflage worn by the LAF.
- Another woodland variant pattern worn by some LAF units is a copy of the French Centre Europe (CE), although in a BDU uniform cut.
- The Lebanese Internal Security Forces, or المديرية العامة لقوى الأمن الداخلي (Amen el Dakhli), are the national security and police force or Gendarmerie of Lebanon, and fall under the administration of the Ministry of the Interior. The ISF have worn a unique DPM camouflage pattern with a grey-dominant "urban" colorway since the 1980s. Incorporating dark grey, blue-grey and russet disruptive shapes on a light grey background, this remains in use today. Later variations (on ripstop fabric) have darker colors, with the reddish-brown becoming more burgundy and the base color a very light pale blue instead of grey. The nickname of the Gendarmerie is Al Darak.
- The General Security Directorate, or الامن العام (al-Amn al-'Aam) is the intelligence, security and public order agency of Lebanon. In addition to providing intelligence services to the state, the GSD are also tasked with monitoring airport, sea port, and land border crossings, issuing of visas, entry permits and residency permits. The camouflage pattern worn by this directorate is an arid derivative of DPM, having reddish-brown and green disruptive shapes on a sandy background.
- The General Directorate of Lebanese Civil Defense (المديرية العامة للدفاع المدني) is an emergency medical unit, subordinate to the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities. Its duties include emergency medical treatment, ambulance services, search and rescue, and fire-fighting response. Members of the department are issued with camouflage fatigues. The pattern is a variation of the basic DPM design, incorporating bright red, green and black disruptive shapes on a grey background.
- Around 2007, several units within the Lebanese Armed Forces began using a series of pixelated camouflage designs, at least one of which is unique to the LAF. The Lebanese Airborne Rgt Moujawkal camouflage pattern features dark and khaki-tan shapes on a sandy background. As of 2011, the latest information suggests this pattern has since been replaced by a copy of the US desert MARPAT camouflage.
- The Lebanese Commando Rgt Magaweer have been documented wearing a copy of the US MARPAT camouflage, although their traditional camouflage pattern is still worn as well.
- The Lebanese Navy Special Forces Regiment (SEALs) wear a copy of the US Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP).
- The brown camouflage design below appeared in 2011 and is worn by a division of the Lebanese General Directorate of State Security (المديرية العامة لأمن الدولة)
- The Airborne Regiment currently wears a commercial copy of the USMC issue desert MARPAT camouflage.
- A pixelated version of the previously issued arid DPM pattern of the General Security Directorate, or الامن العام is now being worn, although the two patterns have been observed within the same unit.
Camouflage Patterns of Paramilitary Units in Lebanon
- Early units of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) as well as early PLO (PLFP) units wore Egyptian-made reversible rocks/sand camouflage pattern uniforms from the 1960s to 1970s.
- Copies of the French lizard pattern were also worn by the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) during the 1970s. Although at least one source claims these were made in East Germany it is much more likely they were procured through sources in Syria.
- Originally seen during the "Black September" crisis in Jordan (1970-71), the Czech-made mlok (salamander) camouflage pattern was frequently found among various PLO combatants well into the 1990s.
- Another lizard variant worn by the PLA and As-Sa'iqa commandos features purplish-brown and olive green horizontal stripes on a greyish-green background, thus earning the nickname "purple lizard." As with the brighter versions, these uniforms appear to have been sourced in Syria.
- El-Fatah guerillas of the PLO were repeatedly documented wearing vertical stripe or vertical lizard pattern camouflage uniforms, made in both Syria or Egypt. Several variations have been documented, including one that is typically associated with Lebanon (and curiously nicknamed "Lebanese blue").
- Also encountered in large numbers among some paramilitary factions were uniforms obtained directly from Syrian government forces, including variations of the "red" lizard design. The most frequent users of these designs have been 'el-Fatah, Mourabitoun, and the PFLP.
- An interesting variation of the vertical red design is seen here, one of the many unique camouflage patterns that emerged from localized sources during the Civil War period, and was probably associated only with a single militia or faction. In this case, although photographic documentation remains scant, evidence points most strongly to the use of this design by elements of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP). The pattern may be a re-coloration of the Lebanese Magaweer vertical stripe pattern seen above, although tracing the individual elements in that pattern is difficult due to the overprinting of the dyes.
- Many uniforms worn by Palestinian forces were sourced from South Korean companies during the 1970s. Among these, the "waves" or "swirl" pattern worn by the ROK Special Forces is documented in use by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Although the pattern is the same, the uniform design is different from the Korean model. These may have been sourced through Iraq, which also wore the pattern.
- The camouflage design seen in this photograph has been associated with Palestinian forces in several sources from the 1970s era. It appears to be a kind of Brushstroke variation incorporating very dark olive and purplish-brown strokes with very long and thin brush trails on a sandy-colored background. Some photographs illustrate the pattern oriented horizontally, as this one, while others indicate a vertical alignment. Most likely of local origin, the design may have been produced in one of the nearby nations such as Syria or Egypt.
- Perhaps the most prolific camouflage uniform to be observed during the entire Civil War period were surplus US Army issue woodland camouflage utilities. Use of the BDU in this region began almost immediately after it entered into circulation with the US Army, leading some to speculate as to the source for such uniforms. Initially seen among the Lebanese Forces (LF), BDUs continue to be worn by various PLO factions, as well as Amal and the Hezbollah.
- One camouflage pattern from the Civil War period associated specifically with a particular faction is the South Korean duck hunter design. Worn by the Phalange Lebanese Forces “commandos” during the 1980s, the uniforms were unquestionably sourced commercially through a South Korean manufacturer.
- The لحزب التقدمي الاشتراكي (Progressive Socialist Party), or Parti Socialiste Progressiste is a political organization that dates back to 1949. Its membership is drawn primarily from the Druze population. During the long period of Civil War (1975-1990), the PSP were strong supporters of Arab identity and important contributors to the Lebanese National Movement. They have always been very supportive of Palestinian causes as well. Photos of the paramilitary wing during the 1970s and 1980s show many of their members wearing a camouflage design very similar to the Palestinian pattern below.
- The PFLP also wore a four-color "blotch" type pattern during this period, having dark green, dark brown and light brown blotch or woodland shapes on a khaki or tan background. Early versions of this design were reputedly locally-manufactured.
- A leaf pattern camouflage in use by the Iraqi Popular Army was also worn by the Arab Liberation Front (ALF) during the 1980s. Probably sourced through Iraq, the uniforms were made in Romania and South Korea.
- Another South Korean camouflage pattern encountered among Palestinian forces is that of the ROK Marines. The so-called "turtle shell" design was worn by As-Sa'iqa commandos during the 1980s, although the uniform design is completely different from that of the Korean Marines.
- John Laffin: Arab Armies of the Middle East Wars 1948-73 (Osprey Pub, London, 1982) p 29
- John Laffin: Arab Armies of the Middle East Wars (Osprey Pub, London, 1982) p 37