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Faced with the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, voices are being raised about a new Israeli military invasion. We give you the historical background to better understand the dynamics in Lebanon.
On 6 June 1982, on the pretext that Palestinian fighters had attempted to assassinate Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambassador to London, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sent IDF into Lebanon. He told the Israeli cabinet that the PLO was behind the attack, withholding the fact that it had been carried out by Arafat’s sworn enemy, Abu Nidal, on the orders of Saddam Hussein. The Israeli army swept across the Lebanese border with orders to expel Palestinian guerrillas who had been firing rockets into northern Israel.
In reality, Israels plans involved the complete annihilation of the political infrastructure of the PLO throughout Lebanon, including Beirut, contrary to the official rhetoric. Israel wanted to installe a pro-Israeli Phalangist government under Bashir Gemayel.
The IDF invaded with an army of 76,000 troops, 800 tanks, 1,500 armored personnel carriers and 634 airplanes. Ariel Sharon, then defence minister, was put in charge of “Operation Peace for Galilee”. Despite the deaths of 100 soldiers in the first days, the Israeli army pushed into Beirut.
Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) were indeed forced out of Lebanon. In August 1982, Yasser Arafat and his fighters left the rubble of Beirut on a ship for exile in Tunis, in the same month that 2,000 Syrian troops pulled out. Under a US-sponsored ceasefire agreement, a multinational force of Americans, French and Italians was deployed.
But Israel’s ill-fated occupation lasted 18 years, tarnished the reputation of its military machine, and led to the creation of the Islamic Hizbollah militias, which are now firing much more powerful rockets into Israel.
An increased number of Islamic militias began operating in South Lebanon, launching guerrilla attacks on Israeli positions and on pro-Israeli Lebanese militias. Israeli forces often responded with increased security measures and airstrikes on militant positions, and casualties on all sides steadily climbed. In a vacuum left with eradication of PLO, the disorganized Islamic militants in South Lebanon began to consolidate. The emerging Hezbollah, soon to become the preeminent Islamic militia, evolved during this period.
Bashir Gemayel, a Maronite Christian, was elected president, and Israel began to hope that a peace treaty could be signed.
But Lebanon, split by factions and conflicting foreign interests, once again confounded optimists. Gemayel was assassinated on 14 September 1982.
Two days later, in revenge killings whose scale shocked the world, Israeli forces allowed their allied Lebanese Christian militias into the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps, where they slaughtered 1,700 fighters and possibly thousands of civilians.
Sabra and Chatila, the bloodiest single incident in the Arab-Israeli conflict, marked a turning point in Israeli public support for the occupation, and led to Mr Sharon being found “personally” responsible for the massacre, and forced to resign as defence minister.
The massacre prompted the US President, Ronald Reagan, to boost the multinational force. On 29 September, the new troops entered Beirut, with about 1,800 marines, joined by 1,500 French Foreign Legion paratroopers, and 1,400 Italians. Their mission was officially neutral, but was intended to support the new Lebanese government under President Amin Gemayel, who was allied with the US and Israel.
But the presence of the foreign forces provided Syria and Iran with an opportunity as they backed the Hizbollah Shia fighters who had sprung up to resist the invading Israelis. On 18 April 1983, a suicide bomber demolished the US embassy in Beirut. On 23 October 1983, 241 marines were killed in a truck bombing of their Beirut barracks. Twenty seconds later, a truck rammed into the building where the French peacekeepers slept, killing 56 paratroopers. A US district judge ruled in 2003 that senior Iranian officials had approved and funded the attacks by Hizbollah, which he described as the multinational force pulled out of Beirut.
The 1982 Lebanon Invasion had far reaching implications. Israel withdrew to a buffer zone in southern Lebanon. Its forces stayed for 17 years, but when they left, Hizbollah claimed that it was the Shia militia that defeated the regional superpower.
Marooned far from Palestine in Tunis, the PLO leadership experienced a period of decline from which they would recover until Yasser Arafat’s return to Palestine in 1994.