David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.
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.
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.
A new Lebanese president, Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated just a few weeks after his election. The IDF attacked several areas in Beirut in response, while Lebanese Christians attacked Palestinian civilians in retaliation. By late August, however, the United States had led a ceasefire negotiation that resulted in all foreign fighters - Israeli, Palestinian, and Syrian - leaving battered Lebanon. While Israel withdrew, they also faced a fresh barrage of terrorist attacks, some doing more damage than the PLO or Syrian military ever managed. Hezbollah, a prominent Islamic militia, developed during this time, and grew to be one of the largest terrorist organizations in the Middle East today.
Israel continued to occupy some border regions, while also financing operations by Christian Lebanese militias against Islamic militias like Hezbollah. This led to a 15-year civil war, as well as a growing occupation of Lebanon by next-door Syria, which only ended in 2005. Lebanon remains a poor nation with weak leadership, an excellent breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. Sponsorship of organizations like the PLO and Hezbollah continues to this day, and attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians remain common.
The Israeli Defense Forces fought a brief war with the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Syrian military in 1982. Israel's military was stronger by far and won every battle, but failed to do long-term damage to the PLO and prevent future attacks. The war left Lebanon in shambles, with rival militias battling for control, and today attacks against Israel continue.
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