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Israel 1982 Invasion of Lebanon
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Figure 12. Israel's 1982 Invasion of Lebanon

    Since 1970, Israeli settlements near the southern border of Lebanon had been exposed to harassing attacks from forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which had been driven out of Jordan. On three occasions, in 1970, 1972, and 1978, Israel had retaliated by ground operations carried out up to Lebanon's Litani River. The inhabitants of southern Lebanon deeply resented the conversion of their region to a battlefield by the PLO. Supported by Israeli arms and training since 1973, they formed a militia under Saad Haddad, a major in the Lebanese Army. Israeli support was gradually extended to other Christian militias, including the Phalangist movement of Pierre Jumayyil (also seen as Gemayel), as the Christian Maronites increasingly found themselves pressured by the involvement of the PLO in the 1975 Lebanese Civil War. A complicating element was the presence of the Syrian army in Lebanon, tolerated by Israel on the understanding that Israel's security interests in southern Lebanon would not be threatened.

    The Israeli government rejected appeals by Maronite Christians for direct Israeli military intervention to evict the PLO and Syrians from Lebanon. Pierre Jumayyil's son Bashir, however, determined to embroil Israel against Syria, staged an incident in 1981 in the city of Zahlah using approximately 100 Phalangist militiamen who had been infiltrated to attack Syrian positions. Jumayyil persuaded Israel to honor an earlier pledge for air strikes, which resulted in the downing of two Syrian helicopter transports. Syrian President Hafiz al Assad responded by stationing SA-6 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) in the vicinity of Zahlah. Other SAMs and surface-to-surface missiles were deployed on the Syrian side of the border. Although the Phalangists abandoned Zahlah, the net effect was that Syrian air defense missiles were deployed in Lebanon, a situation that Israel regarded as an unacceptable shift in the balance of power in the area.

    Meanwhile Israel had conducted preemptive shelling and air strikes to deter PLO terrorist attacks on settlements in Galilee in northern Israel. The PLO fought back by shelling Israeli towns in Upper Galilee and coastal areas, especially after a devastating Israeli air raid against a heavily populated Palestinian neighborhood in West Beirut that killed more than 100 people and wounded more than 600. In July 1981, United States Middle East Special Ambassador Philip Habib negotiated a truce in the artillery duel. During this cease-fire, PLO leader Yasir Arafat reinforced his position by purchases of artillery rockets and obsolete tanks of Soviet manufacture. The forces under his control, the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), were transformed from a decentralized assemblage of terrorist and guerrilla bands to a standing army.

    When, in early June 1982, terrorists of the Abu Nidal organization, a PLO splinter group, badly wounded the Israeli ambassador in London during an assassination attempt, Israel seized the pretext for launching its long-planned offensive. The Israeli cabinet's authorization for the invasion, named Operation Peace for Galilee, set strict limits on the incursion. The IDF was to advance no farther than forty kilometers, the operation was to last only twenty-four hours, there would be no attack on Syrian forces and no approach to Beirut. Because of these limits, the IDF did not openly acknowledge its actual objectives. As a result, the IDF advance unfolded in an ad hoc and disorganized fashion, greatly increasing the difficulty of the operation.

    When IDF ground forces crossed into Lebanon on June 6, five divisions and two reinforced brigade-size units conducted the three-pronged attack. On the western axis, two divisions converged on Tyre and proceeded north along the coastal highway toward Sidon, where they were to link up with an amphibious command unit that had secured a beachhead north of the city. In the central sector, a third division veered diagonally across southern Lebanon, conquered the Palestinian-held Beaufort Castle, and headed west toward Sidon, where it linked up with the coastal force in a pincer movement. The PLO was the only group to resist the IDF advance. Although many PLO officers fled, abandoning their men, the Palestinian resistance proved tenacious. In house-to-house and hand-to-hand combat in the sprawling refugee camps near Tyre and Sidon, the Palestinians inflicted high casualties on the IDF. In the eastern sector, two Israeli divisions thrust directly north into Syrian-held territory to sever the strategic Beirut-Damascus highway. A brigade of Syrian commandos, however, ambushed the Israeli column in mountainous terrain, approximately five kilometers short of the highway. Syria's strong air defense system prevented the Israeli air force from attacking the entrenched Syrian positions. Nevertheless, in a surprise attack on Syrian SAM sites in the Biqa Valley, the Israelis destroyed seventeen of nineteen batteries. The Syrian air force was decimated in a desperate air battle to protect the air defense system.

    With total air superiority, the IDF mauled the Syrian First Armored Division, although in the grueling frontal attacks the Israelis also suffered heavy casualties. Still stalled short of the Beirut-Damascus highway, the IDF was on the verge of a breakthrough when, on June 11, Israel bowed to political pressure and agreed to a truce under United States auspices (see fig. 12).

    Data as of December 1988

    NOTE: The information regarding Israel on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Israel 1982 Invasion of Lebanon information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Israel 1982 Invasion of Lebanon should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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