The (First) Lebanese War was waged between Israel and the Palestinian Arab terrorist organizations who were operating against Israel from Lebanese territory. The war was called the “Peace for the Galilee Campaign”, a name that was later changed to “The First Lebanese War”. War broke out on June 4 and ended three years later, in June 1985, when Israeli forces were occupying a narrow security strip along the border. Fifteen years later, in May 2000, the Israeli government decided to withdraw the IDF forces to the international border.
Ever since 1948 Lebanon had absorbed some 110,000 refugees that left Israel and settled down in refugee camps in Lebanon. After the PLO was thrown out of Jordan in 1970, Palestinian organizations began to exploit Lebanon as a base for their penetrative operations into Israel in order to commit acts of sabotage. These terrorist organizations began to take control of the refugee camps and transformed them into paramilitary draft centers. Their headquarters functioned openly with no interference from outside, and terrorist and saboteur acts in Israel and elsewhere were planned and prepared there. The Lebanese authorities proved incapable of acting against these terrorist organizations, and Israel was compelled to take retaliatory measures such as the Israeli raid on Beirut Airport in December 1968, in response to the terrorist attack on an El-Al aircraft in Athens.
The PLO caused considerable unrest inside Lebanon and played a significant role in the civil war between the religious factions in that country.
As part of its foreign policy, the Soviet Union, together with Lybia and Iraq, supplied the terrorists and their supporters with arms and economic assistance in order to weaken the influence of the United States in Lebanon in particular and in the Middle East in general.
The Maronite Christians in Lebanon requested assistance from Israel, but were turned down. In their despair, the Christians turned to Syria. Syria responded positively, being happy to deepen its involvement in Lebanese affairs.
On June 1, 1976, Syrian forces entered Beirut in order to put an end to the civil war being waged there. Syria had always viewed Lebanon as part of a “Greater Syria”. Syria thus won legitimacy for its presence there and for the continued strengthening of its status in Lebanon.
In the wake of the Lebanese civil war, the terrorists were strengthened both militarily and politically, establishing, as it were, “a state within a state”. The weakened government could do nothing in this regard. Lebanon became a terrorist state with tens of thousands of armed terrorists of the PLO and other organizations, with unlimited access to weaponry, who established themselves mainly in Beirut itself and in southern Lebanon and carried out murderous attacks both in Israel and elsewhere. This situation posed a clear threat to the State of Israel.
On June 3, 1982 terrorists from Abu-Nidal’s organization attempted to assassinate the Israeli ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov, paralyzing half his body. Menahem Begin, Israeli Prime Minister at the time, viewed this assassination attempt as a significant violation of Israeli sovereignty and, accordingly, Israel retaliated by means of a massive shelling of terrorist targets in Lebanon.
The terrorist reaction was to bombard Israeli settlements in the North with Katyusha rockets, and consequently the Israeli government convened to decide on an operation designed to put all Israeli settlements in the Galilee out of katyusha range by pushing the terrorists further north. The operation was intended to last 48 hours and to demilitarize a 40-km wide strip of Lebanese territory.
The Development of the War
War broke out on June 4, 1982, with a massive bombing of terrorist objectives by the Israeli Air Force. Afterwards, on June 6, 1982, IDF forces began to move into Lebanon along three axes, avoiding contact with the Syrian forces in the Lebanese Valley. Over the next three days the IDF forces made considerable progress and were within a few kilometers of the Beirut-Damascus Highway. At this stage IDF forces were considerable beyond the 40 km. line.
On June 9, Syrian forces began to confront the IDF, and the Israeli Air Force began its “Mole Cricket 19 Campaign” to knock out the Syrian ground-to-air missile batteries positioned in the Lebanese Valley. This campaign included the largest air battle ever in the jet-plane age in which some 150 fighter planes took part, and during which about 47 Syrian planes were downed with not a single Israeli plane hit. The Israeli Air Force won a stunning air victory over the Syrians, and completely destroyed their missile batteries. During this violent confrontation with Syria, Israel destroyed some 80 Syrian planes and lost only a few of its own, mainly as a result of Syrian anti-aircraft fire. At the same time fierce armored battles were being fought on the ground, and the number of casualties ran high. The “Peace for the Galilee Campaign” was transformed into a full-scale war.
On June 11th the first cease-fire in this war went into effect, with the IDF only a few kilometers from the Beirut-Damascus Highway and from the International Airport of Beirut.
The Crawling Stage
The terrorists were quick to violate the cease-fire, and as a result a few battles were fought between Israel, the PLO and Syria – the stage of the war known as the “Crawling Stage”.
The second part of this stage began on June 21st, and in it Israeli forces took control over large sections of the Beirut-Damascus Highway.
Beirut under Siege
The next stage of the war was the siege of Beirut by the IDF, the objective being to force the PLO terrorists to abandon the city. The siege included the shelling and bombing of the city. In the end the PLO forces headed by Arafat agreed to withdraw from the city under the protection of a multi-national force. The PLO withdrawal began on August 21st, and by September 1, not only Arafat but also the Syrian forces which had been in the city, had withdrawn from it.
With the retreat of the terrorists from Beirut it seemed as if the aims of the campaign had been achieved. At this time Bashir Jamail was elected President of Lebanon. Jamail was the leader of the Christian fighting force armed and trained by Israel ever since 1975.
The Israeli Minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon, announced that another Arab state was planning to sign a treaty of peace with Israel – Lebanon. However, a short time later, on September 14th, Jamail was assassinated by the exploding of an enormous explosive charge placed on the roof of the Falange Headquarters in Beirut by a terrorist group operating in the interests of Syria. Consequently the
IDF entered West Beirut in order to maintain the peace and prevent violence on the part of the 2000 terrorists that had remained in the city in violation of the evacuation agreement.
IDF forces reached an agreement with the Falange forces, according to which the latter would assist in cleaning the terrorists out of the western part of the city. It was agreed that the searching and cleansing of the refugee camps would be carried out by the Falange forces or by the South Lebanese Army.
On September 17th-18th the Christian Falange forces inter the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps and massacred hundreds of Palestinian Arabs, in revenge for the many years of harassment and murder they had perpetrated. Israel strongly condemned the massacre.
The Maintenance Stage
On September 21st 1982, Amin Jamail – the brother of Bashir – was elected President and clearly showed his pro-Syrian colors.
The U.S.A. put pressure on Israel to withdraw from Beirut, and this was completed on September 29, 1982. From this stage on, the IDF forces concentrated on holding their positions in Lebanon and waiting for the results of the negotiations between the various parties that were to guarantee the security of Israeli settlements in the Galilee.
During this period, the IDF soldiers were subjected to hundreds of attacks by Palestinian Arab and Shi’ite terrorist units that had remained in Lebanon or penetrated Lebanese territory from regions outside Israeli control. These attacks caused another rise in the number of Israeli casualties.
With the mediation of the American administration, a peace agreement was signed on May 17th, 1983between Israel and Lebanon.
On September 4, 1983 Israel decided to carry out a unilateral withdrawal of IDF forces to the Awali River, north of Sidon. Yet even after this withdrawal the terrorists continued harassing Israeli military men, and continued causing further Israeli casualties.
In March 1984, the Lebanese President, Amin Jamail, announced the cancellation of the Israel-Lebanon Peace Treaty as a result of Syrian pressure, Syria having been opposed to this agreement from the very beginning.
Israel continued its gradual withdrawal until June 1985, three years after the war had broken out. At this point IDF forces took up positions in the Security Zone in Southern Lebanon.
Nearly 650 IDF soldiers fell during the three years of the (First) Lebanese War.
The Results of the War
The South Lebanese Army was established, and it assisted Israel in fighting the terrorist organizations.
The PLO was expelled from Southern Lebanon to Tunisia, its infrastructure in South Lebanon was destroyed, and large amounts of ammunition fell into IDF hands. On the other hand, the Shi’ite organization, Hizbullah, was formed in Lebanon, based on fanatical Moslem anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist beliefs as well as on Iranian and Syrian support.
Israel withdrew unilaterally and completely from Lebanon to the international border in June 2000.