The 1982 Lebanon War: Origins, Events & Outcomes

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

Lebanon and Israel went to war in 1982 over questions about their borders and security. Learn about how this war began and ended, along with its long-term consequences, in this lesson.

Bad Neighbors, Bad Neighborhood

There are few nations in the world that have fought with their neighbors as much as Israel has. Despite having only been a nation proper for just over 70 years, Israel has fought a war (and sometimes multiple wars) with Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, all of them next-door neighbors. In 1982, Israel and Lebanon fought a war over control of a border zone that had been a hot spot for terrorism.

Start of the Conflict

Lebanon, like many of Israel's neighbors, has both harbored and sponsored terrorist groups that target both the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and civilian populations. Their sponsorship of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a terrorist group that uses violence to bring about a free and independent Palestinian state, had resulted in years of armed conflict on the Israeli-Lebanon border, since the PLO would organize attacks in Lebanon, then carry them out on or near Israeli territory. The IDF decided they needed a military operation in the border area to provide a safe zone against terrorist attacks, launching Operation Litani in 1978.

Map of northern Israel and southern Lebanon, a zone of conflict and terrorism

The IDF and the Lebanese army worked out a treaty where Israel occupied parts of the area to root out PLO leadership. While the IDF leadership announced success later that year, attacks from the PLO continued throughout the buffer zone area.

In 1982, a failed assassination attempt on an Israeli politician convinced the nation's leadership that they needed more aggressive retaliation in southern Lebanon. The IDF stepped up its military campaign, while the PLO also intensified its attacks. Israel's military attacked as far north as Beirut, the capital and largest city of Lebanon, at which point next-door Syria sent its own soldiers into smaller, weaker Lebanon to fight the IDF, starting the war.

Attack and Withdrawal

Just as Israel had defeated Syria in the 1968 Six-Day War, their superior air and ground forces again outmatched Syria's. Syria lost about 100 fighter jets and failed to relieve the pressure on Beirut. IDF planes, with air superiority, could now attack Syrian ground targets: the Battle of the Beirut-Damascus Highway was a one-sided victory for Israel, destroying hundreds of Syrian military vehicles.

Meanwhile, Israeli politicians began planning to restructure Lebanon's entire government, empowering Christian and non-Muslim minorities, while pushing out the politicians believed to be under control of the PLO and Syria. Between July and August, the IDF blockaded Beirut, and the PLO leadership only escaped under the protection of a multinational peacekeeping unit.

PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who helped organize many attacks against Israel

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