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South Lebanon conflict
(Israel-Lebanon conflict)
Israel outpost.JPG
An Israeli Army outpost, in 2007, as seen from the Lebanese side of the border
Date 1982–2000
Location Southern Lebanon
  • PLO withdrawal from Lebanon
  • Withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon
  • Consolidation of resistance under Hezbollah leadership
  • The collapse and surrender of the South Lebanon Army (SLA)
  • Reduced significance of other militant forces, including PLO
Flag of Israel.svg Israel
SLA patch.png South Lebanon Army
Plo emblem.png PLO
Flag of Hezbollah.svg Hezbollah
Flag of Syria.svg Syria
Flag of the Lebanese Communist Party.svg Lebanese Communist Party
Unorganized Lebanese resistance
Flag of Israel.svg Shimon Peres
Flag of Israel.svg Ariel Sharon
Flag of Israel.svg Ehud Barak
SLA patch.png Saad Haddad
SLA patch.png Antoine Lahad
Plo emblem.png Yasser Arafat
Flag of Hezbollah.svg Hassan Nasrallah
Flag of Hezbollah.svg Imad Mughniyah
Flag of Syria.svg Hafez al-Assad
Casualties and losses
546 killed (IDF)
954-1,456 killed (SLA)
1,283 Hezbollah fighters killed
Syrian & Palestinian (PLO) combatants killed: 9,798

Wounded: unknown Lebanese killed: ~17,825[1]

The South Lebanon conflict refers to more than 20 years of sustained Lebanese resistance against the invading Israeli Defense Force and its Lebanese proxy militias.[2][3] It can also refer to the longer history of conflict in this region. The flare-up of conflict in the 1980s is set against the backdrop of the Lebanese Civil War, and in particular the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Historical tension between Palestinian and Lebanese factions fomented the violent Lebanese internal political struggle between many different factions. In light of this, the South Lebanon conflict can be seen as a portion of the Lebanese Civil War. A key difference is that the while the Civil War set Lebanese against other Lebanese, the majority of fighting in South Lebanon primarily pitted a unified Lebanese resistance against the invading Israeli army. The conflict's historical roots stem from the early political trouble surrounding the creation of the State of Israel and the Israeli effort to expand its borders as far northward as possible. Earlier conflicts built up to the 1982 Israeli invasion, including the siege of Beirut, marking a new development in the attempt to define an Israel-Lebanon border. This invasion resulted in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) departure from Lebanon. The subsequent Israeli occupation of South Lebanon, starting in 1982, actually increased the severity of the conflict and resulted in the consolidation of several resistance movements in Lebanon, including Hezbollah and Amal, from a previously unorganized popular resistance movement in the south. In 2000, the Israeli military completed their withdrawal from Lebanon, after 22 years; the completeness of the withdrawal is still debated.

Until the late 1980s, Israel and its ally, the South Lebanon Army (SLA), faced resistance from many unorganized Lebanese factions. Among the early resistance organizations were the the Lebanese National Resistance Front, led by the Amal Movement, and the Lebanese Communist Party. Israeli occupation starting in 1982, however, encouraged many new resistance groups to emerge and eventually consolidate. By the early 1990s, the well-organized Hezbollah Islamic Resistance, with support from Syria and Iran, emerged as the leading group and military power, monopolizing the directorship of the resistance. By the end of the 1990s, continuing military strikes and casualities caused by the Islamic Resistance made the occupation too costly for Israel. Following his campaign promise, newly elected Prime Minister Ehud Barak withdrew Israeli forces from Southern Lebanon within the year.[2] in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425, passed in 1978; the withdrawal consequently resulted in the immediate total collapse of the SLA.[4] However, the Lebanese government and the Resistance consider the withdrawal incomplete until Israel withdraws from Shebaa Farms. As a result of the withdrawal, the Islamic Resistance had military and civil control of the southern part of Lebanon until July 2006, when the 2006 Lebanon War broke out. In that war's aftermath, the Islamic Resistance was forced to withdraw its military presence to the North of the Litani River and the dispatching of the Lebanese Army and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon into the area.

The Blue Line covers the Lebanese-Israeli border; an extension covers the Lebanese-Golan Heights border



Zionist claims on south Lebanon, and its abundant water-rich natural resources, are documented following the British–issued Balfour Declaration. On November 6, 1918, a committee of British mandate officials and Zionist leaders proposed that the northern boundary of Palestine for the Jewish homeland should extend "from the North Litani River up to Banias."[5] In the official Zionist Organization statement to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the northern borders were set “at a point on the Mediterranean Sea in the vicinity south of Sidon and following the watersheds of the foothills of the Lebanon as far as Jisr El-Karaon thence to El-Bire, following the dividing line between the two basins of the Wadi El-Korn and the Wadi Et-Teim, thence in a southerly direction following the dividing line between the Eastern and Western slopes of the Hermon,….” These boundaries were deemed essential for the necessary economic foundation of the country. "Palestine must have its natural outlets to the seas and the control of its rivers and their headwaters. The boundaries are sketched with the general economic needs and historic traditions of the country in mind, factors which necessarily must also be considered by the Special Commission in fixing the definite boundary lines.“[6] Also during the Paris conference, Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion attempted to persuade Patriarch Hayek, who headed the Lebanese delegation, to abandon South Lebanon in return for a promise of technical and financial assistance to develop the area to the north, which they hoped, would become a Christian state.[5]

Following protracted negotiations, Lebanon’s southern border with Palestine was finalized in 1923 by an Anglo-French commission, which demarcated the border between the British Mandate of Palestine and the French Mandate of Syria. The negotiations resulted in Palestine gaining the Safad-Metulla-Hula region centered on the middle Hasbani River, and the division of the headwaters of the Jordan River between the three riparian entities. The 86th session of the Council of the League of Nations approved this boundary agreement in 1934.[7]

Following the 1948 Arab Israeli War, the 1949 Armistice Agreements were signed with United Nations mediation. The Lebanese-Israeli agreement created the armistice line, which coincided exactly with the existing international boundary between Lebanon and Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Syrian tri-point on the Hasbani River.[7] From this tri-point on the Hasbani the boundary follows the river northward to the village of Ghajar, then northeast, forming the Lebanese-Syrian border. (The southern line from the tri-point represents the Palestine-Syria border of 1923). Israeli forces captured and occupied 13 villages in Lebanese territory during the conflict, including parts of Marjayun, Bint Jubayl, and areas near the Litani River,[5] but withdrew following international pressure and the armistice agreement.

Although the Israel-Lebanon border remained relatively quiet, entries in the diary of Moshe Sharett point to a continued territorial interest in the area.[8] On May 16 1954, during a joint meeting of senior officials of the defense and foreign affairs ministries, Ben Gurion raised the issue of Lebanon due to renewed tensions between Syria and Iraq, and internal trouble in Syria. Dayan expressed his enthusiastic support for entering Lebanon, occupying the necessary territory and creating a Christian regime that would ally itself with Israel. The issue was raised again in discussions at the Protocol of Sèvres.[9]

The Israeli victory in the 1967 Six Day War vastly expanded their area occupied in all neighboring countries, with the exception of Lebanon, but this extended the length of the effective Lebanon-Israel border, with the occupation of the Golan Heights. Although with a stated requirement for defense, later Israeli expansion into Lebanon under very similar terms followed the 1977 elections, which for the first time, brought the more militant, expansionist and Revisionist Likud to power.[5]



Emerging Conflict

In the late 1960s and 1970s and following Black September in Jordan, displaced Palestinians, including militants affiliated with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, began to settle in south Lebanon. The unrestrained buildup of Palestinian militia, and the large autonomy they exercised, led to the popular term "Fatahland"[10] for south Lebanon. The new Israeli government, desiring to break up and destroy this PLO stronghold, briefly invaded Lebanon in 1978, but the results of the invasion were mixed. The PLO was pushed north of the Litani River and a buffer zone was created to keep them from returning, with the placement of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). In addition and despite earlier covert support, Israel established a second buffer with renegade Saad Haddad’s Christian Free Lebanon Army enclave (initially based only in the towns of Marjayoun and Qlayaa); the now-public Israeli military commitment to the Christian forces was strengthened. For the first time however, Israel received substantive adverse publicity in the world press for its heavy-handed treatment of southern Lebanon, in which some 200,000 mostly Shia Lebanese fled the area and ended up in the southern suburbs of Beirut; this indirectly resulted in the Syrian forces in Lebanon turning against the Christians in late June and complicated the dynamics of the on-going Lebanese Civil War.[11] After 1978, Israel retained some territory and continued to occupy a "buffer zone" within Lebanese territory.

Israeli Invasion

In 1982, the Israeli military began "Operation Peace for Galilee",[12] a full scale invasion of Lebanese territory. The invasion followed the 1978 Litani Operation, which gave Israel possession of the territory near the Israeli-Lebanese border. This follow-up invasion attempted to weaken the PLO as a unified political and military force [13] and it led to the withdrawal of PLO and Syrian forces from Lebanon. Israel then controlled Lebanon from Beirut southward, and attempted to install a pro-Israeli government in Beirut and sign a peace accord with it. This goal was never realized, partly because of the assassination of President Bashir Gemayel in September 1982, and the refusal of the Lebanese Parliament to endorse the accord.

The withdrawal of the PLO forces in 1982 forced some Lebanese nationalists to start a resistance against the Israeli army led by the Lebanese Communist Party and Amal movement. During this time, some Amal members started the formation of an Islamic group supported by Iran that was the nucleus of the future Islamic Resistance.

Anger at the US support for the Israeli occupation resulted in the April 1983 United States Embassy bombing. In response, the US brokered the May 17 Agreement, in an attempt to stall hostilities between Israel and Lebanon. However, this agreement permitted the continued Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, and was considered unacceptable. Resistance to the occupation continued, and in October, the United States Marines barracks in Beirut was bombed (usually attributed to the Islamic resistance). Following this incident, the United States withdrew its military forces from Lebanon. For all practical purposes, the May 17 accord was rendered moot; and as Israel showed no signs of withdrawing from Southern Lebanon, Islamic Jihad began to attract large numbers of radicalized Shia followers. Suicide bombings became increasingly popular at this time, and were a major concern of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) both near Beirut and in the South. In 1983, Israel withdrew from the Shouf Mountains but continued to occupy Lebanon south of the Awali River. With the increased number of militias operating in Southern Lebanon, Israeli losses continued to mount.

Consolidating resistance and Israeli "Iron Fist" Occupation

With the conflict escalating, the disorganized resistance in South Lebanon began to consolidate. The emerging Hezbollah, soon to become the preeminent Islamic Resistance militia, evolved during this period. However, scholars disagree as to when Hezbollah came to be regarded as a distinct entity. A number of Shi’a group members were slowly assimilated into the organization, such as Islamic Jihad members, Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, and the Revolutionary Justice Organization.

Israel's response to the consolidating Islamic resistance was harsh. The IDF redeployed in January 1985, and Israel declared South Lebanon a new "security zone." The IDF's brutal retaliatory tactics were branded the "Iron Fist" policy[14][15][16]. Among the victims of the new Israeli rules of engagement were a CBS news crew, killed by an Israeli tank raiding party[15]. In an attempt to deter any resistance to their occupation, this policy resulted in "all-out war", burning and destroying villages[15]. As a consequence, this occupied area or security zone became a breeding-ground for increased resistance attacks. Scholars have described the Israeli occupation policy as "savagery"[16] and accuse the Israeli occupiers of "brutal degradation, repression, exploitation of cheap (including child) labor"[16]:60, and describes conditions of constant shelling and sniper fire[16]:62. In February 1985 Hezbollah released an open letter to "The Downtrodden in Lebanon and in the World", which stated that the world was divided between the oppressed and the oppressors. The oppressors were named to be mainly the United States and Israel. This letter legitimized and praised the use of violence against the enemies of Islam, mainly the West. The newfound unity among these Shi'a resistance groups in 1985 has been credited to the disappearance of Moussa ElSadir. Retaliation for the Israeli occupation included the beginning of Katyusha rocket attacks on Israeli cities, including Kiryat Shmona. The Katyusha proved to be an effective weapon and became a mainstay of the Islamic resistance in South Lebanon. Suicide bomb attacks against Israeli military targets also took a toll on the occupying IDF.

Taif Accord

The Lebanese Civil War officially came to an end with the 1989 Ta'if Accord, but the armed combat continued at least until October 1990[13], and in South Lebanon until at least 1991.[17] In fact, the continued Israeli presence in the south of Lebanon resulted in continued low-intensity warfare and sporadic major combat until the Israeli withdrawal in 2000.

Post-Civil-War Conflict

Though the majority of the Lebanese civil war conflicts ended in the months following the Ta'if Accord, Israel maintained its occupation forces in South Lebanon. Consequently, the Islamic Resistance, by now dominated by Hezbollah, continued operations in the South. In 1992, Israel assassinated Hezbollah leader 'Abbas Musawi; he was succeeded by Hasan Nasrallah. One of Nasrallah's first public declarations was the "retribution" policy: If Israel hit Lebanese civilian targets, then Hezbollah would retaliate with attacks on Israeli territory.[13] Meanwhile, Hezbollah continued attacks against IDF targets within occupied Lebanese territory.

In 1993, hostilities flared again. After a month of Hezbollah shelling and attacks on its soldiers, Israel conducted a seven-day operation called Operation Accountability in order to destroy Hezbollah. After one week of bombardement of Southern Lebanon, a mutual agreement mediated by the United States prohibits attacks on civilian targets by both parts[18]. However, Hezbollah soon broke the cease-fire, and sporadically attacked Israeli positions and its proxy, the SLA.[3]

Continued hostility

The fighting culminated during Operation Grapes of Wrath in April 1996 when Israel launched an assault and air-campaign against Hezbollah. The campaign resulted in the deaths of more than 150 civilians and refugees in the shelling of a United Nations base at Qana. Within a few days, a ceasefire was agreed between Israel and Hezbollah, committing to avoid civilian casualties; however, combat continued for at least two months.

On 30 May, two staggered road-side bombs killed four Israeli soldiers and injured several others at Marjayoun, where the IDF had their headquarters in southern Lebanon. On 10 June, all 13 members of an Israeli patrol north of the Litani river were killed or wounded in an ambush by Hezbollah. In retaliatory fire after the 10 June incident, Israeli artillery killed one Lebanese Army soldier and wounded one civilian.

2000: Israeli withdrawal

A captured SLA Army tank, featuring a wooden portrait of the late Ayatollah Khomeini now on display in southern Lebanon

In July 1999 Ehud Barak became Israel's Prime Minister. He promised that Israel would unilaterally withdraw to the international border by July 2000. Many believed that Israel would only withdraw from Southern Lebanon upon reaching an agreement with Syria.

In January 2000, Hezbollah assassinated the commander of the South Lebanon Army's Western Brigade, Colonel Aql Hashem, at his home in the security zone. Hashem had been responsible for day to day operations of the SLA.[19] After this assassination there were doubts about the leadership of the South Lebanon Army (SLA).

During the spring of 2000, Hezbollah operations stepped up considerably, with persistent harassment of Israeli military outposts in occupied Lebanese territory. Faced with considerable territorial losses, Israeli forces began abandoning forward positions within Lebanon.

On 24 May, Israel announced that it would withdraw all troops from southern Lebanon and completed its withdrawal the next day, more than six weeks before its stated deadline of 7 July."[20] This resulted in the collapse of the SLA and the rapid advance of Hezbollah forces into the free area. As the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) withdrew, thousands of Lebanese rushed back to the South to reclaim their villages and properties. This withdrawal was widely considered a victory for Hezbollah and boosted its popularity hugely in Lebanon.

Israel considered this move as tactical withdrawal since it always regarded the Security Zone as a buffer zone only to defend Israel's citizens. With an end to the occupation, Israel could assume it would improve its worldwide image.

As a Syrian-backed Lebanese government refused to demarcate its border with Israel, Israel worked with UN cartographers led by regional coordinator Terje Rød-Larsen to certify Israel has withdrawn from all occupied Lebanese territory. On June 16, 2000, UN Security Council concluded that Israel had indeed withdrawn its forces from all of Lebanon, in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 425 (1978).

Ehud Barak has argued that "Hezbollah would have enjoyed international legitimacy in their struggle against a foreign occupier" if the Israelis had not unilaterally withdrew without a peace agreement.[21]


Upon Israel's withdrawal, there was increasing fear among the people of the South that Hezbollah would seek vengeance against those thought to have supported Israel. Hezbollah met with Christian clerics to reassure them that the Israeli withdrawal was a victory for Lebanon as a nation, not just one sect of militia.[13]

The tentative peace, resulting from the withdrawal, did not last, as Hezbollah rejected UNSC 425, and a weak Lebanese government did not deploy its forces along the Israeli border as required by UNSC 425.

On October 7, 2000 Hezbollah attacked Israel. In a cross-border raid, three Israeli soldiers who were patrolling the Lebanese border were attacked and abducted. Their bodies were returned to Israel in a 2004 prisoner exchange. During this exchange, it was also agreed that the price for the release of Lebanon's longest-held prisoner Samir Kuntar would be solid information on the fate of captured Israeli pilot Ron Arad. As Hezbollah failed to unearth any solid evidence as to Arad's fate, Kuntar remained incarcerated for his crimes.

In July 2006, in response to Israel's failure to release the Lebanese prisoners in Israel, Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others. In retaliation Israel began the 2006 Lebanon War to rescue the abducted soldiers and destroy Hezbollah .[22][23][24][25]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Online NewsHour: Final Pullout - May 24, 2000 (Transcript). "Israelis evacuate southern Lebanon after 22 years of occupation." Retrieved 15 August 2009.
  3. ^ a b Hizbollah makes explosive return: Israel's proxy militia under fire in south Lebanon. Charles Richards, The Independent. 18 August 1993. Retrieved 15 August 2009.
  4. ^ UN Press Release SC/6878. (18 June 2000). Security Council Endorses Secretary-General's Conclusion On Israeli Withdrawal From Lebanon As Of 16 June.
  5. ^ a b c d Naseer H. Aruri, Preface to the 3rd(?) edition, Israel’s Sacred Terrorism, Livia Rokach, Association of Arab-American University Graduates, ISBN 0-937694-70-3
  6. ^ Zionist Organization Statement on Palestine, Paris Peace Conference (February 3, 1919)
  7. ^ a b Israel – Lebanon Boundary at United States Department of State
  8. ^ Livia Rokach, Israel’s Sacred Terrorism, Association of Arab-American University Graduates, ISBN 0-937694-70-3
  9. ^ Avi Shlaim, The Protocol of Sèvres,1956: Anatomy of a War Plot, International Affairs, 73:3 (1997), 509-530
  10. ^ Urban Operations: An Historical Casebook. "Siege of Beirut", by George W. Gawrych. US Army Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, KS. October 2, 2002. Available at
  11. ^ Major George C. Solley, The Israeli Experience in Lebanon, 1982-1985, US Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Marine Corps Development and Education Command, Quantico, Virginia. 10 May 1987. Available from
  12. ^ 1982 Lebanon Invasion. BBC News.
  13. ^ a b c d Norton, Augustus Richard; Journal of Palestine, 2000
  14. ^ Chronicle of a Suicide Foretold: The Case of Israel. Immanuel Wallerstein, Commentary No. 249, Jan. 15, 2009.
  15. ^ a b c "Iron Fist:" CBS Newsmen are victims. Time Magazine, April 1, 1985. Retrieved online, 15 August 2009.
  16. ^ a b c d Noam Chomsky. Pirates and emperors, old and new: international terrorism in the real world. 2002. Available from Google Books.
  17. ^ Tension grows in South Lebanon as Israel bombs guerrilla targets. New York Times, November 8, 1991.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Lebanon Country Assessment. United Kingdom Home Office, October 2001.
  20. ^ Country Profile: Lebanon Timeline, BBC News.
  21. ^ Camp David and After: An Exchange. (An Interview with Ehud Barak). New York Review of Books, Volume 49, Number 10. June 13, 2002. Retrieved online, 15 August 2009.
  22. ^ Margaret Hall, American Myopia: American Policy on Hizbollah. The Muslim World: Questions of Policy and Politics. Cornell University undergraduate research symposium. April 8, 2006.
  23. ^ "…Hezbollah enjoys enormous popularity in Lebanon, especially in southern Lebanon…", Ted Koppel on NPR report: Lebanon's Hezbollah Ties. All Things Considered, July 13, 2006.
  24. ^ BBC: On This Day, May 26th.
  25. ^ CNN report: Hezbollah flag raised as Israeli troops withdraw from southern Lebanon. May 24, 2000.


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