Begin-Reagan tape highlights reluctance by Israeli prime minister to say no to US president

The recording was from 1983 and was discovered by historian William Doyle and published Saturday by the New York Post.

November 10, 2014 04:20
2 minute read.
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US PRESIDENT Ronald Reagan (left) and prime minister Menachem Begin speak at the White House.. (photo credit: GPO)

US president Ronald Reagan urged prime minister Menachem Begin to delay the withdrawal of Israeli forces from parts of Lebanon until they could be replaced by Lebanese forces, according to newly discovered recordings of conversations between Reagan and world leaders.

In the 1983 recording, discovered by historian William Doyle and published Saturday by the New York Post, Reagan requested that Begin keep IDF forces in the Chouf Mountains despite plans to withdraw to a buffer zone south of the Awali River following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon the previous year.

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“It’s a call that I have resisted making and did not want to make, and I know what has been taking place there,” Reagan said.

“And so, here I am now asking you the one thing you told me not to ask you, and that is, could you delay a few more days in that withdrawal until the Lebanese army can free itself from Beirut and move into the Chouf,” Reagan said to Begin after describing a massacre of Christian villagers by Druse forces in the Chouf Mountains.

Begin was apparently reluctant to deny Reagan’s request directly.

“I just spoke to the foreign minister... now he is also the defense minister. He came back from Lebanon. I know that the evacuation had to start tonight... I will get in touch with our defense minister...

any minute... and then I’ll get in touch with you,” he told Reagan.

“Because what I want to say now is that the two previous delays which we accepted only because you asked us to do so, that we knew it will create resentment... as a result of that experience I really express the hope... that we will not have to delay again,” Begin added.

Doyle told the New York Post that the record was “astonishing... as it captures a moment in the death of Menachem Begin’s political career.

“He was deeply depressed over the disastrous war in Lebanon and by the death the previous year of his beloved wife,” Doyle said. “He was also plagued with heart trouble and other health problems.

Months later he decided to resign, that October he left office a broken man, and after that rarely left his house until the day he died. On the tape, you can hear the pathos of the moment in Begin’s voice.”

“Until now, taping was thought to have stopped in the Nixon era,” Doyle said. “I discovered that was not the case.”

Recordings of Reagan speaking to British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Pakistani president Muhammad Ziaul- Haq, and Syrian president Hafez Assad were also discovered.

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