General Alexander Haig

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The Independent Online

Your obituary of General Alexander Haig (23 February) omits his role in the Israeli invasion of the Lebanon in June 1982, writes Edward Pearce. In their book Israel's Lebanon War Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari describe Ariel Sharon's call upon the Secretary of State in May. He wanted assent for a full-dress invasion and "his remarks were studded with with innuendos about two objectives that the Israeli Cabinet had not approved for the war, the Syrian garrison in Lebanon and the city of Beirut."

Sharon told Haig and his aides that such attacks "may be by-products of the action" and intimated an attack on Beirut itself – "we don't see any way of handling it other than going in and cleaning them out."

"How far will you go?" one of the Americans asked Sharon. "As far as we have to," he replied.

Haig's subsequent words "caught the Israeli's attention, that he [Haig] would expect any reaction to a violation of the ceasefire to be swift. And to illustrate his point, he used the metaphor of a lobotomy – a quick, clean, neutralizing operation in the event that there was no other choice... [Sharon's] face realigned into a broad smile of satisfaction."

Haig, using loose, but violent language, had authorised the war Sharon wanted. "Alexander Haig was the Secretary of State, and that was authority enough for Sharon. He returned to Israel with the tidings that Washington was not averse to an Israeli advance into Lebanon." The measure of Haig's brutal incompetence is measured in the title of a later chapter concerning another by-product of the invasion – at Sabra/Shatilla. It is called Anatomy of a Slaughter.