South Lebanon

views updated


Area between the Litani River and the Israeli border, the site of political contention and violence since the 1948 War, when Palestinian refugee camps were established there. The Palestinian presence was politically destabilizing in Lebanon, whose politics is communally based. The refugees were largely sustained by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East—little was done for them by the Lebanese government. Both Palestinians and Lebanese assumed that they would be returning home in the near future.

Lebanon did not take part in the 1967 War, but the aftermath affected the country deeply. It became clear that Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to return home, and increasingly angry and politicized Palestinians turned to armed guerrilla activities carried on across the border by groups based in the camps. Their activities in turn tended to polarize the Lebanese, undermining government authority, particularly in the south.

A December 1968 Israeli attack in Beirut in reprisal for an attack on an Israeli airliner in Athens by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was based in Lebanon, prompted a break between Lebanese supporters and opponents of the Palestinian resistance. In January 1969 a new coalition cabinet was formed that excluded right-wing Maronite parties. This government proclaimed its support for the Palestinian resistance while allowing the army and police organizations to take measures to repress political activity in the camps and reduce the activity of Palestinian guerrillas on Lebanese territory. Pressure brought by supporters of the Palestinians both inside Lebanon and in other Arab governments prompted negotiations, and in November accords were signed between the government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), establishing new legal relations between them. Palestinians now had the right to govern and police the camps themselves, to maintain military organizations in Lebanon, and to use them in the struggle against Israel. In effect, government ceded the Palestinians a kind of autonomous state within the state (often referred to as Fatahland.) Moreover, between the end of 1970 and the beginning of 1971, large numbers of Palestinians arrived in Lebanon, including many PLO fighters who had been expelled from Jordan in the wake of Black September 1970, further increasing polarization between Lebanese supporters and opponents of the Palestinians.

The opponents, a coalition of Maronites, nationalists, and conservatives, objected to the violation of Lebanese sovereignty represented by the Cairo agreement and particularly feared the consequences of Palestinian guerrilla activity against Israel; they also opposed increased Muslim access to power. The government did almost nothing to provide security against Israeli attacks on Lebanese territory in the south, which were striking Lebanese—predominantly poor Shiʿites in that area—as well as Palestinian targets indiscriminately. Tens of thousands of South Lebanese Shiʿites migrated to Beirut to escape Israeli shelling, and little provision was made for them.

Lebanon remained neutral in the October 1973 War; Maronite militias attacked the PLO and Palestinian civilians in South Lebanon. On 14 March 1978 the Israelis invaded and occupied Lebanon up to the Litani River in Operation Litani. On 19 March the UN Security Council passed Resolution 425, demanding an Israeli withdrawal "without delay" and providing for the creation of the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The Israeli army withdrew gradually after creating the South Lebanon Army (SLA), a largely Maronite force, to act in its stead. On 18 April 1979 SLA commander Major Saad Haddad proclaimed the creation of the Free State of Lebanon, leading to confrontations between the SLA and the Phalange-dominated Lebanese Forces (LF) militia, as well as between these and armed Lebanese Muslim groups.

Israel invaded Lebanon again on 6 June 1982 in Operation Peace for Galilee. After pushing through the UNIFIL lines, the Israeli army neutralized Syrian forces that were attempting to intervene. On 13 June, two days after the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire was concluded, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) joined with the Phalangist-dominated LF. The Israeli army undertook the siege of Beirut, where the Palestinians were dug in, backed by the Lebanese National Movement.

Israeli presence on Lebanese soil prompted the emergence of a Shiʿite resistance movement, the Hizbullah, which was based in the Bekáa Valley. A ceasefire was arranged by the United States, and a withdrawal of the PLO leadership and fighters to Tunis was arranged under the supervision of a Multinational Force; Israeli forces withdrew to the south.

One of Israel's goals was to ensure that Bashir Jumayyil, the Phalange leader and an asset of both the CIA and the Mossad, became president of Lebanon. Jumayyil was duly elected on 23 August. The Multinational Force left Beirut on 10 September. On 14 September Jumayyil was assassinated by pan-Syrian nationalists. Israel, in violation of the ceasefire, moved back to Beirut to secure the city for the Phalange. Two days later—on the grounds, according to Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon, that there were "terrorists" inside—the IDF allowed the Phalangists to enter the adjacent Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps where from 16 to 18 September they slaughtered some 1,500 to 3,000 civilians. On 20 September the Multinational Force was redeployed to Beirut. On 21 September Amin Jumayyil, Bashir's brother, was elected president, and at the end of September the Israelis left the city.

In May 1983, under pressure from the United States, Jumayyil agreed to sign a peace treaty with Israel, which was ratified by parliament. Opposition to this treaty among Lebanese and Syrians was so great, however, that Jumayyil felt obliged to refuse to sign it. The Syrians would not negotiate, and the Israelis, who had been protecting Jumayyil's government from its factional enemies, withdrew their forces from the Shuf district southeast of Beirut, a largely Druze area held by the Phalange. Fighting broke out between the Phalange and the Druze militia directed by Walid Jumblatt, which had Palestinian and Syrian support, weakening the Phalange substantially in some of the biggest battles of the civil war. Israeli forces retired to South Lebanon, where, with the SLA, they remained in permanent occupation.

On 15 January 1985 the government of Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres announced a phased withdrawal of the Israeli army from South Lebanon. Six months later the withdrawal began, except from a territory of 850 square kilometers that Israel called a "security zone" along the Israeli border. Subject to constant attacks from Hizbullah, this zone was patrolled by around 1,300 Israeli soldiers, backed up by 2,600 men of the SLA. The purpose of the occupation was to protect Israeli territory from Hizbullah attacks, but these were not deterred.

The signing of the Taʾif Accord in October 1989 and the developments of succeeding months ended the Lebanese Civil War but did not resolve the situation in South Lebanon. In April and May 1993, during the Middle East peace process begun at the Madrid Conference in 1991, the Israeli government proposed to Lebanese authorities that they define, in general terms, an acceptable peace accord, but there was no consensus in Lebanon in favor of a peace treaty with Israel as long as Israel occupied Lebanese territory and the Palestinian issue was unresolved.

On 25 July 1993 Israel unleashed Operation Justice Is Done, targeting various Hizbullah positions. On 11 April 1996 Israel launched Operation Grapes of Wrath, a massive bombardment of South Lebanon, which led to the death of, among others, 103 Lebanese civilians killed when Israel shelled the camp of a UNIFIL unit where they had sought protection. After much negotiation and the intervention of several foreign leaders, a committee of surveillance of the ceasefire—made up of representatives of France, the United States, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel—was agreed upon. According to the terms of the arrangement, the belligerents promised to spare civilians on both sides of the Lebanese-Israeli frontier and not to launch operations from inhabited areas.

On 26 July the newly elected Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, proposed to restart Israeli-Syrian negotiations on the basis of a "Lebanon first" option, which would involve an IDF withdrawal from South Lebanon. Netanyahu knew the Syrians would reject this, since they had already made it clear to his predecessor, Shimon Peres, that a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights was an absolute prerequisite for any agreement.

As expected, the Syrians demanded that negotiations be restarted from the point where they had been left the preceding February. For Syria, in control of the situation in Lebanon, the negotiations over South Lebanon were the only means at its disposal to pressure Israel for the restoration of the Golan Heights. On the other hand, the withdrawal of the Israeli army from South Lebanon was going to pose the question of the presence of 35,000 Syrian soldiers in Lebanon. (Syrian soldiers had entered Lebanon in May 1976 with the support of Jordan, Israel, France, and the United States, and were later authorized by the Arab League as the Arab Deterrent Force; their presence was no longer justifiable as an emergency measure.) In March 1998 the Israeli government renewed its proposal, based for the first time on the twenty-year-old UN Security Council Resolution 425 (which demanded Israeli withdrawal "without delay"), while adding one condition—that the Lebanese government oversee peace and security in this zone. The Lebanese authorities rejected the Israeli proposal, arguing that Resolution 425 was not negotiable. In May 1999 Ehud Barak was elected prime minister of Israel on a promise to withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon, and in September he announced his commitment to do so before 7 July of the following year.

On 17 April 2000 Israel informed the United Nations of its intention to withdraw and declared itself willing to cooperate with the United Nations in the matter. On 1 May the Israeli army started evacuating its main positions near Marjayun, which prompted many desertions from the SLA. Between 17 and 20 May, an intense artillery duel took place between Hizbullah and the IDF. The following day, a weakened SLA abandoned five villages on the edge of the security zone, which were immediately occupied by their former inhabitants and by Hizbullah. From 22 to 24 May 2000 Israel withdrew its troops from South Lebanon, leading to the disbanding of the SLA; 1,200 men affiliated with SLA sought refuge in Israel, along with their families. On 23 June, on the recommendation of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Security Council certified the withdrawal of Israeli forces behind the Blue Line. On 27 July 2000, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1310, extending the mandate of UNIFIL, which was deployed along the Israeli frontier on 5 August. On 9 August, a Lebanese army force of 9,000 was stationed in South Lebanon for the first time in 22 years.

The UNIFIL mandate has been extended every six months. Israel has not completely left Lebanese territory; it still holds the Shebaa Farms area, which it claims is Syrian territory but which Lebanon and Syria agree is Lebanese.

SEE ALSO Arab Deterrent Force;Arab-Israel War (1967);Arab-Israel War (1973);Barak, Ehud;Black September 1970;Blue Line;Golan Heights;Hizbullah;Jumayyil, Amin;Jumayyil, Bashir;Jumblatt, Walid Kamal;League of Arab States;Lebanese Forces;Lebanese National Movement;Madrid Conference;Maronites;Mossad;Netanyahu, Benjamin;Palestine Liberation Organization;Peres, Shimon;Phalange;Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine;Resolution 425;Sabra and Shatila;Sharon, Ariel;Shebaa Farms;South Lebanon Army;United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon;United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

About this article

South Lebanon

Updated About content Print Article


South Lebanon