Myths & Facts Online
Israel and Lebanon
cannot claim that its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, launched against an ill-equipped
PLO, was a defensive war.
Israel cannot claim that its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, launched against an ill-equipped PLO, was a defensive war.
A force of some 15-18,000 PLO members was encamped in scores of locations in Lebanon. About 5,000-6,000 were foreign mercenaries, coming from such countries as Libya, Iraq, India, Sri Lanka, Chad and Mozambique.1 Israel discovered enough light arms and other weapons in Lebanon to equip five brigades.2 The PLO had an arsenal that included mortars, Katyusha rockets, and an extensive anti-aircraft network. The PLO also brought hundreds of T-34 tanks into the area.3 Syria, which permitted Lebanon to become a haven for the PLO and other terrorist groups, brought surface-to-air missiles into that country, creating yet another danger for Israel.
Israeli strikes and commando raids had been unable to stem the growth of this PLO army. Israel was not prepared to wait for more deadly attacks to be launched against its civilian population before acting against the terrorists.
The PLO posed no real threat to Israel. When Israel attacked, the PLO had been observing a year-long cease-fire agreement.
The PLO had repeatedly violated the July 1981 cease-fire agreement. In the ensuing 11 months, the PLO staged 270 terrorist actions in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and along the Lebanese and Jordanian borders. Twenty-nine Israelis died, and more than 300 were injured in the attacks.4 The situation in the Galilee became intolerable as the frequency of attacks forced thousands of residents to flee their homes or to spend large amounts of time in bomb shelters. During this period, Israel launched retaliatory raids against PLO bases in Lebanon.
After Israel launched one such assault on June 4-5, 1982, the PLO responded with a massive artillery and mortar attack on the Israeli population of the Galilee. On June 6, the IDF moved into Lebanon to drive out the terrorists.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger defended the Israeli operation: "No sovereign state can tolerate indefinitely the buildup along its borders of a military force dedicated to its destruction and implementing its objectives by periodic shellings and raids."5
"On Lebanon, it is clear that we and Israel both seek an end to the violence there, and a sovereign, independent Lebanon," President Reagan said June 21, 1982. "We agree that Israel must not be subjected to violence from the north."
Documents found by the IDF in Lebanon during the operation showed that terrorist groups had made detailed plans for shelling towns in northern Israel. The following are translations of two documents found at PLO headquarters in Sidon. Both were dated July 1981:
Name of Shelled Target: Kiryat Shemona
To: El-Haj Ismail
The PLO treated the Lebanese with dignity and respect.
For Arab residents of south Lebanon, PLO rule was a nightmare. After the PLO was expelled from Jordan by King Hussein in 1970, many of its cadres went to Lebanon. The PLO seized whole areas of the country, where it brutalized the population and usurped Lebanese government authority.
On October 14, 1976, Lebanese Ambassador Edward Ghorra told the UN General Assembly the PLO was bringing ruin upon his country: “Palestinian elements belonging to various splinter organizations resorted to kidnaping Lebanese, and sometimes foreigners, holding them prisoners, questioning them, and even sometimes killing them.”6a
Columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, not known for being sympathetic toward Israel, declared after touring south Lebanon and Beirut that the facts "tend to support Israel's claim that the PLO has become permeated by thugs and adventurers."6b
The columnists talked to a doctor whose farm had been taken over without compensation by the PLO, and turned into a military depot. "You ask how do we like the Israelis," he said. "Compared to the hell we have had in Lebanon, the Israelis are brothers." Other Lebanese Christian and Muslim alike gave similar accounts.
Countless Lebanese told harrowing tales of rape, mutilation and murders committed by PLO forces. The PLO "killed people and threw their corpses in the courtyards. Some of them were mutilated and their limbs were cut off. We did not go out for fear that we might end up like them," said two Arab women from Sidon. "We did not dare go to the beach, because they molested us, weapons in hand." The women spoke of an incident, which occurred shortly before the Israeli invasion, in which PLO men raped and murdered a woman, dumping her body near a famous statue. A picture of the victim's mangled corpse had been printed in a local newspaper.7
Dr. Khalil Torbey, a distinguished Lebanese surgeon, told an American journalist that he was "frequently called in the middle of the night to attend victims of PLO torture. I treated men whose testicles had been cut off in torture sessions. The victims, more often than not, were...Muslims. I saw men live men dragged through the streets by fast-moving cars to which they were tied by their feet."8
New York Times correspondent David Shipler visited Damour, a Christian village near Beirut, which had been occupied by the PLO since 1976, when Palestinians and Lebanese leftists sacked the city and massacred hundreds of its inhabitants. The PLO, Shipler wrote, had turned the town into a military base, "using its churches as strongholds and armories" (New York Times, June 21, 1982).
When the IDF drove the PLO out of Damour in June 1982, Prime Minister Menachem Begin announced that the town's Christian residents could come home and rebuild. Returning villagers found their former homes littered with spray-painted Palestinian nationalist slogans, Fatah literature and posters of Yasser Arafat. They told Shipler how happy they were that Israel had liberated them.9
Israel's operation to end the PLO threats to northern Israel resulted in 10,000 deaths and 600,000 homeless in south Lebanon.
"It is clear to anyone who has traveled in southern Lebanon, as have many journalists and relief workers, that the original figures of 10,000 dead and 600,000 homeless...were extreme exaggerations," wrote the New York Times' David Shipler, a sharp critic of the Israeli war effort.10
The 600,000 homeless figure originated in mid-June 1982 with the Palestine Red Crescent, headed by Yasser Arafat's brother Fathi. Francesco Noseda of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who had originally used the bogus number, later repudiated it.11
Of course, there would have been zero dead or homeless if the PLO hadn't used south Lebanon as a base from which to menace Israel.
The PLO was willing to leave Beirut in the summer of 1982 to save the civilian population from further attack, but Israel made this impossible.
For more than a month, the PLO proved itself intransigent, trying to extract a political victory from its military defeat. Arafat declared his willingness "in principle" to leave Beirut, then refused to go to any other country. Throughout the siege, the PLO hid behind innocent civilians, calculating that if Israel were to attack, it would be internationally condemned. That is precisely what happened.
By mid-June, Israeli troops had surrounded 6,000-9,000 terrorists who had taken up positions amid the civilian population of West Beirut. To prevent civilian casualties, Israel agreed to a ceasefire to enable an American diplomat, Ambassador Philip Habib, to mediate a peaceful PLO withdrawal from Lebanon. As a gesture of flexibility, Israel agreed to permit PLO forces to leave Beirut with their personal weapons.12 But the PLO continued to make new demands.
For weeks, the PLO talked about withdrawal, while attaching conditions that made it impossible. The PLO adopted a strategy of controlled violations of the cease-fire, with the purpose of inflicting casualties on Israel and provoking Israeli retaliation sufficient to get the IDF blamed for disrupting the negotiations and harming civilians.
"The Israelis bombed buildings, innocent looking on the outside, where their intelligence told them that PLO offices were hidden," wrote Middle East analyst Joshua Muravchik. "Their intelligence also told them of the huge network of underground PLO storage facilities for arms and munitions that was later uncovered by the Lebanese Army. No doubt the Israelis dropped some bombs hoping to penetrate those facilities and detonate the dumps. The PLO had both artillery and anti-aircraft [equipment] truck mounted. These would fire at the Israelis and then move."13 The Israelis would fire back and sometimes miss, inadvertently hitting civilian targets.
In numerous instances, the media mistakenly reported that Israel was hitting civilian targets in areas where no military ones were nearby. On one night in July, Israeli shells hit seven embassies in Beirut. NBC aired a report that appeared to lend credence to PLO claims it had no military positions in the area. Israel, Muravchik noted, "soon released reconnaissance photos showing the embassy area honeycombed with tanks, mortars, heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft positions."14
Israel was responsible for the massacre of thousands of innocent Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila.
The Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia was responsible for the massacres that occurred at the two Beirut-area refugee camps on September 16-17, 1982. Israeli troops allowed the Phalangists to enter Sabra and Shatila to root out terrorist cells believed located there. It had been estimated that there may have been up to 200 armed men in the camps working out of the countless bunkers built by the PLO over the years, and stocked with generous reserves of ammunition.15
When Israeli soldiers ordered the Phalangists out, they found hundreds dead (estimates range from 460 according to the Lebanese police, to 700-800 calculated by Israeli intelligence). The dead, according to the Lebanese account, included 35 women and children. The rest were men: Palestinians, Lebanese, Pakistanis, Iranians, Syrians and Algerians.16 The killings were perpetrated to avenge the murders of Lebanese President Bashir Gemayel and 25 of his followers, killed in a bomb attack earlier that week.17
Israel had allowed the Phalange to enter the camps as part of a plan to transfer authority to the Lebanese, and accepted responsibility for that decision. The Kahan Commission of Inquiry, formed by the Israeli government in response to public outrage and grief, found that Israel was indirectly responsible for not anticipating the possibility of Phalangist violence. Israel instituted the panel's recommendations, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon resigned and Gen. Raful Eitan, the Army Chief of Staff was dismissed.
The Kahan Commission, declared former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, was "a great tribute to Israeli democracy....There are very few governments in the world that one can imagine making such a public investigation of such a difficult and shameful episode."18
Recently, efforts have been made in Belgium to try Sharon for his role in what happened in Lebanon. The appellate court there, however, threw out the case.[fn Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty, (June 26, 2002).] The European campaign appears designed to smear Israel in general, and Sharon in particular, and is particularly odious given that Israel's own democratic judicial institutions already dealt with this tragedy.
Ironically, while 300,000 Israelis demonstrated in Israel to protest the killings, little or no reaction occurred in the Arab world. Outside the Middle East, a major international outcry against Israel erupted over the massacres. The Phalangists, who perpetrated the crime, were spared the brunt of the condemnations for it.
By contrast, few voices were raised in May 1985, when Muslim militiamen attacked the Shatila and Burj-el Barajneh Palestinian refugee camps. According to UN officials, 635 were killed and 2,500 wounded. During a two-year battle between the Syrian-backed Shiite Amal militia and the PLO, more than 2,000 people, including many civilians, were reportedly killed. No outcry was directed at the PLO or the Syrians and their allies over the slaughter. International reaction was also muted in October 1990 when Syrian forces overran Christian-controlled areas of Lebanon. In the eight-hour clash, 700 Christians were killed the worst single battle of Lebanon's Civil War.19 These killings came on top of an estimated 95,000 deaths that had occurred during the civil war in Lebanon from 1975-1982.19a
Israel's 1978 and 1982 invasions of Lebanon proved its aggressive intentions.
Israel has long sought a peaceful northern border. But Lebanon's position as a haven for terrorist groups has made this impossible. In March 1978, PLO terrorists infiltrated Israel. After murdering an American tourist walking near an Israeli beach, they hijacked a civilian bus. When Israeli troops intercepted the bus, the terrorists opened fire. A total of 34 hostages died in the attack. In response, Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon and overran terrorist bases in the southern part of that country, pushing the terrorists away from the border. The IDF withdrew after two months, allowing UN forces to enter. But UN troops were unable to prevent terrorists from reinfiltrating the region and introducing new, more dangerous arms. It was this buildup that led to Israel's 1982 invasion.
Jerusalem repeatedly stressed that Israel did not covet a single inch of Lebanese territory. Israel's 1985 withdrawal from Lebanon confirmed that. The small 1,000-man Israeli force, deployed in a strip of territory extending eight miles into south Lebanon, protected towns and villages in northern Israel from attack. Israel also repeatedly said it would completely withdraw from Lebanon in return for a stable security situation on its northern border.
Israel pulled all its troops out of southern Lebanon on May 24, 2000, ending a 22-year military presence there. The Israeli withdrawal was conducted in coordination with the UN, and, according to the UN, constituted Israeli fulfillment of its obligations under Security Council Resolution 425 (1978).
Israel hoped the Lebanese government would subsequently deploy its army along the southern border to disarm terrorists and maintain order, but this has not occurred, despite criticism from the United States, the UN and Israel.20 From a point northward, we make the rules, said Lebanese Defense Minister Khalil Hrawi, and from a certain point on in the south, there is no presence of the armed forces, and the Hizballah coordinates their actions with themselves."21 Thus, Hizballah continues to enjoy free reign and threaten Israel's northern border.
Israel still has not satisfied the UN's requirements to withdraw completely from Lebanon because of its illegal occupation of Shebaa Farms.
Despite the UN ruling that Israel completed its withdrawal from southern Lebanon,22 Hizballah and the Lebanese government insist that Israel still holds Lebanese territory in eastern Mount Dov, a 100-square-mile, largely uninhabited patch called Shebaa Farms. This claim provides Hizballah with a pretext to continue its activities against Israel. Thus, after kidnapping three Israeli soldiers in that area, it announced that they were captured on Lebanese soil.
Israel, which has built a series of observation posts on strategic hilltops in the area, maintains that the land was captured from Syria; nevertheless, the Syrians have supported Hizballah's claim. According to the Washington Post, the controversy benefits each of the Arab parties. "For Syria, it means Hizballah can still be used to keep the Israelis off balance; for Lebanon, it provides a way to apply pressure over issues, like the return of Lebanese prisoners still held in Israeli jails. For Hezbollah, it is a reason to keep its militia armed and active, providing a ready new goal for a resistance movement that otherwise had nothing left to resist."23
In January 2005, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning violence along the Israel-Lebanon border and reasserted that the Lebanese claim tothe Shebaa farms area is “not compatible with Security Council resolutions.”
Israel launched an unprovoked attack on UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon.
In April 1995, the IDF mounted "Operation Grapes of Wrath" to halt Hizballah's bombardment of Israel's northern frontier. During the operation, Israeli artillery mistakenly hit a UN base in Kafr Kana, killing nearly 100 civilians. Afterward, a Joint Monitoring Machinery, including American, French, Syrian and Lebanese representatives, was created to prohibit unprovoked attacks on civilian populations and the use of civilians as shields for terrorist activities.
Syria has been a force for stability and good in Lebanon. It has always respected Lebanon's sovereignty and independence.
Damascus has a long and bloody history of intervention in Lebanon, and has made no secret of its hope to make its weaker neighbor part of Syria. Since the creation of contemporary Lebanon in 1920, "most Syrians have never accepted modern Lebanon as a sovereign and independent state."24 The outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975 gave Damascus the opportunity to act on its belief that Lebanon and Syria are one.
In 1976, Syria intervened in the Lebanese civil war on behalf of Lebanese Christians. By 1978, Damascus had switched sides, and was supporting a leftist coalition of Palestinians, Druze and Muslims against the Christians. Eventually, Syrian troops occupied two-thirds of Lebanon. Syria's deployment of surface-to-air missile batteries in Lebanon, and its policy of allowing the PLO and other terrorist groups to attack Israel from there, helped trigger the 1982 Lebanon War.25
During the first week of Israel's "Operation Peace for Galilee," in June 1982, Syrian troops engaged in battles with Israeli forces. The Israelis destroyed or damaged 18 of the 19 Syrian missile batteries and, in one day, shot down 29 Syrian MiG fighters without the loss of a single plane. Syria and Israel carefully avoided confrontations for the remainder of the war.
Nevertheless, Syria found other ways to hurt Israel. In 1982, Syrian agents murdered President-elect Bashir Gemayel, who wanted peace with Israel. Two years later, Syria forced President Amin Gemayel, Bashir's brother, to renege on a peace treaty he signed with Israel a year earlier.26
Syria's activities were aimed not only at Israel, but also at the West. In April 1983, Hizballah terrorists, operating from Syrian-controlled territory, bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 49 and wounding 120. Six months later, Hizballah terrorists drove two trucks carrying explosives into the U.S. Marine and French military barracks near Beirut, killing 241 Americans and 56 French soldiers.
In 1985, Hizballah operatives began kidnapping Westerners off the streets of Beirut and other Lebanese cities. From the beginning, it was clear the Syrians and their Iranian collaborators could order the release of the Western hostages at any time. For example, when a Frenchman was kidnapped in August 1991, the Syrians demanded that he be freed. Within days, he was. Most of the hostages were held in the Bekaa Valley or the suburbs of Beirut. Both areas were controlled by Syria.
From 1985-88, Amal Shiite militiamen, closely aligned with Syria, killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians in attacks on refugee camps.
In October 1990, with the West's attention focused on Kuwait, Syrian troops stormed the Beirut stronghold of Christian insurgent Gen. Michel Aoun. Besides battle deaths, approximately 700 people were massacred.27 With that blitzkrieg, Damascus wiped out the only remaining threat to its hegemony in Lebanon.
On May 22, 1991, Lebanese President Elias Hrawi traveled to Damascus to sign a "Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation and Coordination" with Syrian President Hafez Assad. The agreement states that Syria will ensure Lebanon's "sovereignty and independence," even though Damascus is being allowed to keep its occupation army in that country.
A hint of Syria's real intentions came from Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas several weeks before the treaty's signing. Tlas predicted that unity would be achieved between the two countries "soon, or at least in our generation."28
Since signing the treaty, Syria has kept a tight grip on Lebanon and ruthlessly suppressed challenges to its domination.
Syria has done everything possible to prevent terrorists in Lebanon from threatening regional peace.
Hizballah receives financial support and arms from Iran, usually via Damascus. Hizballah which had initially confined itself to launching Katyusha rocket attacks on northern Israel and ambushing Israeli troops in the security zone has in recent years stepped up its attacks on Israeli civilians.
The Syrian-backed Lebanese Army has yet to take action against Hizballah, or other terrorist organizations, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) or Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), which have bases in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon.
In fact, Syria has given its unqualified support for these organizations. Syria uses these terrorists as surrogates to maintain a level of violence against Israel and put pressure on the Israelis to negotiate over the Golan Heights. Asked about his support for terrorist organizations like Hizballah, Hafez Assad responded that they were really "patriots and militants who fight for the liberty and independence of their country...such people cannot be called terrorists."29
Syria intervened in Lebanon only because it was asked to do so by the Arab League.
Syria moved troops into Lebanon before receiving the Arab League's approval. Damascus intervened in April 1976 after Lebanese Druze warlord Kemal Jumblatt refused Syrian President Hafez Assad's demand for a cease-fire in the war. Jumblatt's refusal to stop his forces' attacks upon Lebanese Christians gave Assad the pretext he needed to intervene.
In June 1976, the Arab League Secretariat convened a meeting at which Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the Sudan agreed to send troops to "enforce peace." Assad sent more Syrian troops into the country, while the others sent only token forces.30 The Arab League's "endorsement," in short, constituted nothing more than the recognition of a fait accompli.
The Syrians and Lebanese have treated captured Israeli soldiers well and allowed the Red Cross to visit them.
Lebanon and Syria have routinely mistreated Israeli soldiers they have captured. It is difficult for Israel to obtain any information about its soldiers and the Lebanese and Syrians usually have denied permission for the Red Cross to visit the POWs. In addition, even the bodies of Israelis who have been killed are often held hostage in an effort to use them as bargaining chips. For example, in September 1991, Israel released nearly 100 Lebanese Shiite prisoners in exchange for the remains of four Israeli soldiers killed in Lebanon.
Pilot Ron Arad crashed in 1986 and was captured by Shiite terrorists. Israel has offered to release hundreds of Lebanese prisoners in exchange for information about Arad, but Hizballah has refused to cooperate and Arad has been considered an MIA ever since.
On October 7, 2000, three Israeli soldiers Sgt. Adi Avitan, Staff Sgt. Benyamin Avraham and Staff Sgt. Omar Sawaid were abducted by Hizballah. They were captured while patrolling the southern (Israeli) side of the Israeli-Lebanese border. On October 16, Hizballah Secretary General announced that his organization was holding an Israeli citizen, Elhanan Tenenboim, who was believed to have been kidnapped while on a private business trip to Europe.
The four Israelis were held incommunicado by Hizballah. The captors denied the International Committee of the Red Cross and other parties permission to visit them. On November 1, 2001, based on new intelligence, Israeli army rabbi Israel Weiss pronounced the soldiers dead. In January 2004, in exchange for the return of their soldiers' remains, Israel agreed to release a group of prisoners and detainees and hand over the bodies of 60 members of Hizballah. As part of the deal, Tenenboim was released unharmed and allowed to return to Israel.31
Israel's kidnaping of Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid in 1989 prolonged the hostage crisis. It also caused the death of Lt. Col. William Higgins, a hostage who was later executed by his captors in retaliation.
Lt. Col. William Higgins, a Marine who was serving as part of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, was kidnapped and murdered by the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group Hizballah. Iran and Syria, countries that give sanctuary to the terrorists, were also culpable.
"We should be careful to remember that it was not the United States which caused the killing. It was not Israel," said Amb. Paul Bremer, former head of the State Department's Counterterrorism office. "It was a group of murderers in south Lebanon."32
The seizure of Sheik Obeid, who is believed responsible for abducting several of Israel's soldiers, should not be compared with terrorists kidnapping innocent civilians and a member of the UN peacekeeping force. Israel saw Obeid as its only leverage to get its POWs back. Ultimately, Obeid did help free Israelis, as he was part of the prisoner exchange in 2004 that freed Elhanan Tenenboim and gained the release of the bodies of three Israeli soldiers murdered in Lebanon by Hizballah.
Israeli attacks against Lebanon demonstrate Israel's aggression and determination to hold onto Lebanese territory.
The United Nations verified that Israel fulfilled its obligation to withdraw from Lebanon; however, Hizballah, armed with a great assortment of weapons, and deployed along the international border, has repeatedly attacked Israeli targets, ambushed and kidnapped soldiers and harassed Jewish villagers in northern Israel with the aim of provoking an escalation in hostilities.
Israel has repeatedly requested, with the backing of the UN and United States, that Lebanon deploy its army in the south and disarm the guerrillas. Given that Syria effectively controls Lebanon, Israel holds both governments responsible for the failure to prevent Hizballah's provocations. Their failure to do so has forced Israel to take preemptive and retaliatory measures to protect its citizens and soldiers.
1Jillian Becker, The
PLO, (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984), pp. 202, 279.
Border map courtesy of the Israel Foreign Ministry and Lebanon security zone map courtesy of The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel, (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: Esther Carciente.
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