Search the Site:
search tips / sitemap
Click for Related Articles

Israel's Invasion of Lebanon, Operation Peace for the Galilee

Israel's Invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Operation Peace for the Galilee; the routing of the PLO; Its rift with Syria & Creation of PLFP; Islamic control of Lebanon; Emergence of Hamas and first Suicide Bombers

PLO instigated Civil War in Lebanon

The internecine strife in Lebanon which erupted in 1974 continued in irregular fashion for eight years. The measure of destruction was horrendous. According to conservative estimates some 100,000 Lebanese lost their lives, 50,000 of them in Beirut where the fighting and slaughter was almost continuous; some 200,000 were wounded; hundreds of thousands of people, mainly Christian, fled their homes to take refuge with their co-religionists in other parts of the country or in countries abroad, notably France, Germany and the United States. The destruction of property comparable in many places to the ravages of World War II bombing in Europe, has to this day not been assessed. Crucial areas of the economy-Lebanon had been the financial hub, the "Switzerland", of the Arab world-disappeared.

A significant feature of the Civil War was that at least two of the several combatant elements were not Lebanese at all: the Syrians and the PLO. The Christians, After their rescue at the hands of the Syrians from subjection and slaughter by the PLO and the Lebanese Moslems, were enabled to continue in ostensible government power as puppets of the Syrians. The Syrians, whose pretence of being a "peace keeping" force had been consecrated by the other Arab States-and also, it must be added, by a fawning Christian world-now occupied the eastern part of the country (the Beka'a).

Lebanese Christian restiveness at Syrian overlordship, however soon reasserted itself; and Syrian forces went into action against some of their centres-notably, in 1978 in East Beirut and Mount Lebanon, where thousands of civilians were killed and, again with much death and destruction, in East Beirut and in the town Zahleh in the Beka'a in April, 1981.

Syrian Troops invade Lebanon - up until Israeli drawn "red-line"

The Israeli Government reluctantly, and in breach its traditional opposition to the entry of forces of remoter Arab states into the territory of its immediate neighbours-Iraqis into Jordan, Syrians into Jordan Lebanon-succumbed in 1976 to United States pressure and agreed to the entry of Syrian troops into Lebanon. However it laid down a geographical limit, a so-call "red line," to the Syrian occupation. South of that line and down to the Israeli border there came into existence an enclave dominated by Christians friendly to Israel. A military force was built up by a local patriot leader, Sa'ad Hadad, a major in the Lebanese army. Its primary objective was to defend hearth and home against what had become the most direct threat to the population, Christian and Moslem: shelling and forays by the PLO. The Christian-led force included Shi'ite Moslems. The border with Israel had already been opened; through what came to be known as the Good Fence, Israel held out a helping hand to Lebanese civilians in need. These people, cut off by PLO occupation from Beirut and the north, many of them in fact fleeing from PLO terror, were accorded medical aid, employment and business contacts as required.

By the fall of 1977 some of the villages in the enclave had been so badly damaged by persistent PLO shelling that the Israeli Government sent in men and means to repair houses and schools that had become unliveable and water systems that had been destroyed. No less significant -- through the Good Fence came Israeli army instructors, heavy and light arms, and ammunition.

Whether by formal agreement between Syria and the PLO or by a pragmatic division of labour dictated by a Common purpose, it was the PLO which took over effective control in the west and south of the country. Their predominant occupation had not changed: the war on Israel. In the course of those years, however, the PLO spread its grasp far beyond that purpose. It established itself as a power with world-wide ramifications. It became the central element, indeed the chief broker, in international terror. In its camps it trained members of terrorist organisations from Europe, from the Far East and from Latin America. It was evident that in this function it was sponsored by the Soviet Union. These years saw the development ever more closely of the ties with the Soviet Union that Arafat had been cultivating since 1972. Frequent visits were paid to Moscow by Arafat and other PLO leaders. The Soviet Union now in effect joined the Arab countries in providing massive material aid to the PLO. Officers' training facilities in various departments of warfare were made available to the PLO both in the Soviet Union and in other Eastern bloc countries, notably Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Cuba and Vietnam. (Some such assistance was provided also by China, North Korea and Yugoslavia). The PLO proclaimed its identification with the Soviet "struggle against imperialism" and the aims of the Communist bloc in general. A large mass of written material on these contacts and activities was uncovered in Lebanon by the Israeli Defence Force in June 1982.

PLO Reign of Terror in Southern Lebanon

No less significant was the testimony contained in these documents-and the verbal testimony of the people in South Lebanon-on the regime of terror, of -- extortion and murder and rapine built up by the PLO in the area of Lebanon which came under its control. The record of the PLO in Lebanon bears a striking resemblance to an earlier chapter in the history of our century: the first period of Nazi terror in Germany. In one respect it seems to have been even worse: the "Open season" for molestation and rape of any girl that took the fancy of a PLO gunman. The wantonness of the killings, of men, women and children, the mutilation of dead bodies, the confiscation of public buildings, and private homes whose inmates were either driven away or killed, defies description.1

The U.N. was ineffective in reigning in PLO in Sourthern Lebanon

The PLO's role as an international scourge and its terrorist state-within-a-state were, for all their horrendousness, contrapuntal to its offensive against Israel. This campaign grew in intensity in 1977 and 1978. In March 1978 a civilian bus was ambushed on the coast road in the north of Tel Aviv and nearly all its occupants were killed. Israel now responded by sending an army in 

Lebanon. The "Litani" operation was designed to destroy PLO forces and installations as far as the Litani river. No action was taken however to cut off the PLO forces in their retreat. There followed the usual "international" reaction: the demand for Israeli withdrawal. Israel succumbed to U.N. -- mainly American -- pressure, in return for an international undertaking that a U.N. Force be established (UNIFIL) to police the area and prevent the restoration of PLO bases and facilities. The hollowness of this undertaking was guaranteed in the very terms of reference of UNIFIL: its members were forbidden to use force unless they were themselves directly attacked.

The terrorists returned to the area, simply taking care not to clash with UNIFIL forces or men; and before long they had entrenched themselves in the areas occupied by UNIFIL. They established or re-established no fewer than 32 bases, manned by some 700 members (see map on next page). In a number of cases UNIFIL units obeyed orders by the PLO to evacuate positions they coveted-like the formidable Beaufort Castle, which subsequently had to be captured by the Israeli Defence Force from the PLO at a heavy cost in lives.

PLO ravages were thus soon renewed. Israel's response at this time was to attack specific PLO targets from the air or by artillery; and it increased its support for Major Hadad's Christian and Shi'ite force. Hadad proclaimed his enclave as "Free Lebanon" to differentiate it from the rest of his country, held in thrall by Syrians and the PLO. He was cold-shouldered by the whole of the Christian world and was even denied a visa visit the United States.

PLO Shelling of Northern Israel for years, 
Southern Lebanon a Base for World-Wide Terrorism

A climax came in 1981. the PLO was visibly becoming, in local terms, a potential military power. It was using jeeps, mortars and artillery, including long-range Soviet and French guns, Soviet and North Korean rockets., It built a network of anti-aircraft guns and shoulder-launched missiles which provided a serious defense against attack from the air. Now, too, it obtained large numbers of Soviet F-34 tanks. Defensive measures and counter-strikes, including operations by the Hadad militia, mitigated the impact of the PLO offensive against the villages and towns in Galilee but it was maintained with such intensity that the people had to take to their shelters day after day. There began then a substantial-and ominous-exodus of residents, notably from Kiryat Sh'monah, a regular target of PLO shelling for years.

In June 1981 a series of massive attacks was carried out by the Israeli air force on PLO bases in the south and on its headquarters complex in the heart of Beirut. They proved effective: the PLO infrastructure in Lebanon appeared to be on the verge of collapse. Arafat called to his Saudi patrons to address an urgent appeal to Washington to press Israel to stop its offensive. American response was swift-and the Israeli Government, incredibly, acquiesced. A cease-fire was agreed to and the PLO was able to tend its wounds, reorganise and, in the shelter of the cease-fire, to prepare the next round.

The nature and degree of the preparation was made evident a year later.

The PLO interpreted the cease-fire in its own way. As soon as it had recovered sufficiently from the blows it had suffered, it carried out several forays from Jordanian territory and also made attacks on Jewish targets Europe. Between July 1981 and June 1982 26 Israelis were killed and 264 injured. An Israeli diplomat in Paris, Yaacov Bar-Simantov was assassinated. It was claimed by the PLO that the cease-fire related only to the Lebanese border; Israel did not accept this notion, and several air raids were carried out on PLO installations between April and June 1982.

PLO Attempted Assasination of Israeli Ambassador in London

Then an attempt was made on the life of the Israeli Ambassador in London, Shlomo Argov and he was all but fatally wounded. This proved the last straw. Israel launched a large scale invasion of Lebanon: Operation Peace for Galilee.

The most compelling circumstance dictating the Israeli Government's decision was the evidence that poured in of a PLO armaments build-up of clearly formidable dimensions. Even then, its scope, as later revealed by the Israeli army in its drive through South Lebanon, was stunning. Housed in tremendous underground tunnels were arms of every conceivable description and range, from rifles to tanks-in quantities manifestly greater than the PLO could itself handle. Most of the arsenal was of Soviet manufacture, though other sources were also in evidence-including the U.S., whose products no doubt reached the PLO through its Saudi patrons.

That the huge arsenal, as well as the masses of documents, were discovered intact was due to t rapidity of the Israeli army's advance through Southern Lebanon. The PLO forces were indeed overwhelmed many were taken prisoner but large numbers retreated to Beirut. The people of South Lebanon, Moslem and Christian, welcomed the IDF tumultuously as liberators. Tens of thousands of people who had fled from the PLO terror to refuge in Beirut and elsewhere in the north now flocked back to their towns and villages.

Militarily, however, a series of tragic events followed. Israeli Government spokesmen had made injudicious announcements which were interpreted as limiting the goal of the invasion to the establishment of a defense line of 40 kilometres inside Lebanon-to render Galilee out of range for the known arms of the PLO.

Israeli Invasion of Lebanon

If this policy had indeed been followed, leaving the PLO intact as an organisation, with its headquarters continuing to operate in Beirut, the Israel force would inevitably have been subjected to an ongoing guerrilla war of attrition, directed by Arafat from Beirut, not to mention the perpetuation of PLO terror in Europe, the rest of the world.

The IDF however advanced beyond the 40 kilometre line and, indeed, reached the outskirts of Beirut. There the main PLO force, headed by Arafat, was now concentrated. The speed of the advance was such that IDF enjoyed the advantage of a large measure of surprise. The road between Beirut and Damascus was cut thus making reinforcement from the cast-by Syria and other PLO units-very difficult. Moreover, the Syrians themselves were reeling from a phenomenal defeat in the air and on the ground. They had intervened in the war by attacking Israeli aircraft. The Israeli Air Force, in reply, destroyed a number of the most modem missiles installed by the Soviets in Syria and, in air battles, brought down some 90 Syrian planes without losing even one aircraft.

However there was considerable reluctance in Israel, on political grounds, to enter Beirut-occasioned largely by the traditional international outcry and direct Washington pressure. Beirut was entered only after long delay; and Arafat agreed to leave Lebanon only his installations in Beirut had been heavily bombed by the Israeli Air Force. This phase culminated in a U.S. undertaking to ensure the evacuation of the PLO force, but on condition that the IDF first withdraw from the city. This condition was acceded to, the IDF withdrew, and the PLO, saved from the finality of surrender, left Beirut (31 Aug" 1982).

Thus did PLO domination of a large part of Lebanon and its population come to an end, as indeed did its intimidating role on the international front -- and -- its capacity, for the foreseeable future, to launch a massive on Israel.

PLO Domination of Souther Lebanon comes to an end; Rift with Syria; Formation of PLFP; Arafat moves operations to Tunisia

For a political perspective of subsequent events their essential features were:

1. A rift between the PLO leadership and Syria and a breach within the PLO, where a minority sided with Syria. The alleged cause was a new-born moderation in Arafat who was accused of being prepared to negotiate with Israel. In fact repeated attempts by the United States made indirectly or unofficially, to persuade Arafat at least to pay lip-service to a renunciation of terror and to recognise Resolution 242 of the UN Security Council (see page 188) had no more effect than similar attempts in earlier years.

The rebellious PLO minority, headed by Abu Musa, a former lieutenant of Arafat, remained in Syria or Syrian-held territory in Lebanon; but Arafat's leadership was endorsed by all the other Arab states except Libya. They continued to fulfil, as far as was feasible, the undertaking they had given in 1974 at Rabat -- of all-out support for the PLO as the "legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." 

Arafat established his new headquarters in Tunisia but, in violation of his undertaking, returned to Lebanon in 1983. He failed however to regain a sure foothold. Besieged in Tripoli by the Syrians and the PLO dissidents, and with his positions shelled by Israel, he was saved once again (in December 1983) through U.S. pressure on Israel. On the strength of a United Nations resolution that saving Arafat would be a humanitarian act, the Greek Government sent ships to take him and his followers off-after Israel had acceded to American demands to stop its shelling.

There followed a year of manoeuvring between Arafat and Hussein, directed by Mubarak with American approval, which resulted in Arafat's meetings and "agreement" with Hussein in March 1985.

While it might have been expected-and indeed Washington did expect-that, defeated as he was and indebted for his freedom and perhaps his life to the United States, Arafat would at least show a semblance of acceptance of the United States' conditions for negotiating with him; the text of the "agreement" with Hussein reveals only a willingness to use obfuscatory language for presenting the traditional Arab demands.

Failed Israeli Attempt to Restore Christian role in the government of Lebanon

2. The breakdown of the relationship between Israel and the Christian leadership in Beirut. There had been an understanding with them that when the IDF reached Beirut the Phalangist militias in the city would go into action in order to expel the PLO. This was optimistically designed also to bring about a restoration of the central Christian role in the government of Lebanon and to lay the foundations for an alliance or at least a full peace, with Israel. In any event the Christians did not lift a finger. One of the ugly features of the early stages of the Lebanese war was that while the Israeli army was suffering heavy casualties large numbers of Christian young men were disporting themselves at the seaside resort of Junieh, presumably waiting to be called in to reap he fruits of Israeli victory.

Nevertheless the Israeli Government persevered in its relationship with the Phalangist leader, Bashir Jemayel who on the collapse of the old puppet regime, had been elected President of Lebanon. He was soon assassinated however (September 1982) and was succeeded by his younger brother Amin. Amin had no record of friendship Israel; and in Jerusalem's effort to achieve an agreement to ensure at least tranquillity and security on the border he proved to be an unfriendly negotiator indeed. Finally, under United States pressure, he signed an agreement (17th May 1983) formalising a framework which would enable Israel to control security in the south of Lebanon. He was at once subjected to fierce Syrian pressure to renege on the agreement. He did so; and thereafter accepted Syrian domination and dictation no less faithfully than had his predecessors before 1982.

Syria's hold on Lebanon becomes stonger; resumption of Civil War; Emergence of Moslem Shi段te control (later called Hamas)

Syria's hold on Lebanon thus became probably even firmer than it had been throughout the Civil War.

Syria's enhanced status provides an ironic footnote to the continuing myopia in U.S. policy in the Middle East. Washington's repeated pressure on Israel to withdraw from Lebanon was accompanied by assurances that it would similarly achieve a Syrian withdrawal. This failure to understand Syria's historic purpose-to enfold Lebanon in its embrace-was compounded by the oft-manifested belief of American statesmen in the existence of Saudi influence on Syria (as indeed of Saudi "moderation" and of Saudia as a "bastion of Western defence").

Syria a was unable however to prevent a resumption of civil war-though now the protagonists had changed. The IDF withdrew from the central Shouf mountain area -- and severe righting broke out between Christians and Druse, age-old contestants for control. The Druse won the contest. Later, when the IDF withdrew from the Sidon area, violent hostilities erupted between Christians Moslems in the town. At the same time, Christians Moslems were in almost continuous battle in Beirut. Now the re-formed Lebanese army also took part; but being attacked from different sides, and reacting accordingly had no special thrust in any direction.

The most significant change in the chaotic demographic map of Lebanese strife was the emergence of the Moslem Shi段te community as a political factor, and its projection of a militant guerrilla movement. With the establishment of a measure of Lebanese democracy in the wake of the liberating entry of the IDF, this previously most passive and unconsidered of all the minorities had demanded -- and obtained -- a larger share in the government, such as it was, of the country. Meantime the Khomeini Shi'ite revolution in Iran, vigorously engaged in exporting its revolution, had achieved substantial influence in the Shi段te community in Lebanon; and two of the central targets for its fanatical ferocity were the United States (described by Khomeini as the "Big Satan") and Israel.

The militant Shi'ites carried out attacks on Israeli soldiers and transport by planting explosives on roads and by direct ambush day after day-and persisted long after Israel announced the complete withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon and even more intensively during the progress of its withdrawal.

Whether Shi'ite hostilities will be extended to Israeli territory after the total withdrawal of the IDF is a matter of conjecture. It is not clear to what extent the militant Shi段tes are supported within their community- bearing in mind especially the fact that that community, like the others in Lebanon, owed to Israel its liberation from PLO terror. Moreover the Shi段te villagers in the south undoubtedly fear the return of the PLO terrorists and must envisage the consequent possible need of Israeli friendship and assistance for keeping them at bay.

The First Suicide Bombers

During this period a particularly weird phenomenon the horrendous encouragement and training of Shi段te youths to carry out suicide attacks. Thus cars loaded with explosives were in driven in to the American Embassy in Beirut and later against the U.S. Marine H.Q.; and twice against Israeli Army H.Q. In Tyre. Hundreds of people lost their lives. it was universally assumed that these were carried out by religious fanatics under the promise that such acts would bring them straight to Paradise. Later similar attacks on Israeli troops were however demonstrated to have been carried out by disturbed young people, ostensibly out of political devotion to Syrian President Assad. Still in progress as this is written.

Changes between 1977 and 1985

Looked at dispassionately, what has changed in the essentials of the Palestine battleground between 1977 and 1985?

Fundamentally-nothing. The balance of forces is different, favouring the Arabs. Sinai in Egypt's hands is of tremendous military and psychological importance. On the other hand Israel痴 crushing of the PLO as a political force and as a serious physical threat is a tactical and moral gain. It must be remembered that even before the great build-up of Soviet arms in Lebanon in 1981-1982 the PLO's sustained attack with Katyushas on Northern Galilean villages caused not a few residents to flee their homes and indeed brought on a mass exodus from the village of Kiryat Sh'mona. IDF long-range response by artillery and air attack on local targets did not halt the PLO offensive or prevent the flight from Kiryat Sh'mona. The PLO attacks were weakened considerably only by the heavy air offensive against the PLO headquarters and infrastructure in summer 1981 (leading to the cease-fire).

The strengthening of the Syrians' control of Lebanon may yet have the consequence of being more trouble to them than it is worth. Their effort to bring about national reconciliation and inter-communal co-operation has so far failed-in typical Lebanese fashion. At this writing (April 1985) Jemayel's cabinet is in tatters, and the Syrians are pressing him vigorously to bring order into the country, It is likely that they will find that they have to send troops in to establish a pax Syriana. This would inevitably again bring them into conflict sooner or later with the Christians, even probably with one or other of the Moslem groups and would create uneasy proximity with Israel.

In any case, it has been made manifest-ten years after Syria instigated what became a multi-factional civil war -a war which continues to rage uncontrolled-that Lebanon is no longer a state in any rational sense.

In the context of this book the relations between Israel and the Arabs have remained unchanged. The Arab national and religious doctrine-that Israel shall be eliminated- has remained intact; and the hope of Its ultimate consummation remains the principle guiding their activities. If more Arabs are now prepared to talk of negotiations with Israel, they all without exception make it clear that peace will be possible only if Israel reduces herself to indefensible borders, and allows the refugees back (to Haifa, Jaffa etc). At that point, if Israel were not already dismantled, she would be expected to dismantle herself as a state (in accordance with PLO demands, or at least in the spirit of the more sophisticated semantics of Dr. Butrus Ghali.)

The contours of the battleground rearrange themselves. The conflict goes on.

1. The authoritative work on the subject is PLO in Lebanon: Selected Documents (Ed. Raphael Israeli, London 1983) complete with photostated copies of official PLO documents and testimony of survivors of its terror.

This page was produced by Joseph E. Katz
Middle Eastern Political and Religious History Analyst 
Brooklyn, New York 
E-mail to a friend

Source: "Battleground: Fact & Fantasy in Palestine" by Samuel Katz, 
SPECIAL OFFER Purchase this 1970s classic, a special reprint only found at WorldNetDaily

A fully documented, dramatic history of the turbulent events which shaped the crisis of the Middle East.

"Battleground" is one of the best written and most informative histories of the Arab-Israeli conflict. ... I advise everyone to read it. - Congressman Jack Kemp

Reading "Battleground" is an eye-opener. It is well written, informative, fast-paced and debunks some carefully cultivated myths concerning Israel and the Middle East. - Former US Ambassador to the United Nations, Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick


Copyright © 1973, 1977, 1978, 1985 by Samuel Katz.
All rights reserved.  Reprinted by Permission.
Portions Copyright © 2001 Joseph Katz