1982-2000: First Lebanon War and Security Zone Operations

Key Facts

  • Israel waged a war against the PLO in South Lebanon after a series of terrorist attacks on northern Israel.
  • After less than three months of conflict, the PLO was deported from Lebanon.
  • Israel maintained a limited presence inside Lebanon along the border until withdrawing unilaterally in 2000.
More information

Entitled “Operation Peace for Galilee,” the immediate cause of the First Lebanon War was the attempted assassination of Israel’s ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov1. This event followed years of cross-border attacks, including missile fire, on northern Israel by Palestinian terror groups (mainly the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)) based in Lebanon. In response, on June 6, 1982, Israeli forces crossed the border with the goal of driving the PLO out of southern Lebanon.

Prior to and following the war, Lebanon was plagued by civil war and fractious internal politics. Along with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the PLO, various military and paramilitary forces clashed in Lebanon – including Syrian air and land forces, Islamic factions (such as Hezbollah and Amal), Druze militias, and Christian Phalangist militias under Bashir Gemayel. After being cornered by the IDF in Beirut, the PLO agreed to leave the city and – led by Yasser Arafat – were deported to Tunisia. Arafat and PLO forces had left Lebanon by September 4, 1982.

A multinational force (including nearly 2,000 US Marines) oversaw the deportation process. Unfortunately, the force itself was targeted by terrorists in 1983 when nearly 300 American and French troops were killed in bombings for which Hezbollah claimed responsibility.

In 1985, Israel withdrew to a limited presence in a Security Zone – a band of territories along the border 3-4 miles inside Lebanon – to prevent terror attacks on northern Israel. Operations in Lebanon were particularly complex, with Israel facing guerilla forces (increasingly composed of Hezbollah operatives) immersed in civilian populations rather than neighbouring armies in large-scale combat.

Historian Martin Gilbert has noted that the First Lebanon War “was the first war in Israel’s history for which there was no national consensus.”1 Home to a vibrant, multi-party liberal democracy, Israel experienced substantial internal debate and public demonstrations over the course of the IDF’s operations in Lebanon.

In 2000, Israel withdrew unilaterally from Lebanon. In the years that followed, expanded Hezbollah cross-border provocations (including abductions of IDF troops) led to the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Further reading

David Project analysis of the Lebanon War

Sources

  1. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert

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