In the last decades, the United States has fought several wars in the Middle East which is still reeling from the devastating effect of these conflicts. However, the 1958 invasion of Lebanon, the U.S.’s first overt military intervention in the region, had a more positive outcome. Operation Blue Bat was the result of the Cold War-era Eisenhower Doctrine that sought to defend Middle Eastern countries from the threat of communist. In Lebanon, the Christian-led government was facing a rebellion by a coalition of mainly-Moslem opponents. While this unrest would have been considered an internal matter under any other circumstances, it became an international crisis as it coincided with a coup in Iraq that deposed its pro-Western monarch and growing popular support for Egypt’s pro-Soviet regime.
On July 15, one day after the Iraqi revolution, the Marines landed on a sandy beach just south of Beirut. Although the operation had been under consideration for several months, the Eisenhower administration’s last minute scrambling to launch it caught the military off guard. The top brass had a rough assessment of the risks involved and a general plan for deployment, but their mission was vague at best. While the Marines and their commanders were busy unloading their equipment and taking over the airport and other key positions in Beirut, Lebanon’s military chief General Fouad Chehab was watching the situation carefully to prevent catastrophe.
Due to Chehab’s determination and his lobbying with US diplomats and military leaders, tensions were defused early on paving the way for a US-mediated political solution to the Lebanese crisis. By the time Operation Blue Bat ended in October, the United States had suffered one combat fatality and Lebanon had transitioned to an era of peace and prosperity that would nearly last another two decades. This track record would prove to be a tough match for future U.S. military involvements in Lebanon and the region.
The following article about Operation Blue Bat was written by Zina Hemady and is accompanied by historic press images from the Norbert Schiller Collection as well as personal photos contributed by retired Marine Colonel Charles Smilie who participated in the landing.