What happened in Lebanon during the Israeli campaign there?
The Lebanon- Israel war of 1982 is often hailed as one of the most complicated and unwarrantable wars Israel has even fought. Israel cited PLO’s growing military power in southern Lebanon as a threat to its existence and this became its outward motive behind this war. However, it became evident later on that its hidden motives were quite different, as it wanted to capture Lebanon and create a security zone there with no Arab influence whatsoever. Initially known as Operation Peace for the Galilee, this war later came to be known as the First Lebanon War of 1982, marking the beginning of a turbulent Lebanon.
One of the main reasons that Israel cited for this attack was the attempted assassination of its ambassador in London, Shlomo Argov. However, it became clear with its actions that it wanted to destroy PLO’s infrastructure and bases in southern Lebanon. Besides this, it also wanted to stop the growing Syrian influence on its northern neighbor, as Syria had provided and controlling Surface-to-air Missiles (SAMs) in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. In an attempt to do that, IDF or Israeli Defense Force launched a massive attack on southern Lebanon on June 6, 1982, using heavy force and latest war machinery such as Merkava tank which was extensively used in this war for the first time.
During the first attack, IDF mainly targeted the PLO and Syrian forces. In a massive air raid on 9 June, 1982, Israeli forces destroyed 17 SAM batteries and their radar sites, out of the total 19 that Syria was controlling. A reported 29 Syrian MIG fighters were killed in this battle. The remaining two SAM batteries were destroyed the next day. Attacks continued despite heavy opposition by International community and media and by the end of July, IDF had destroyed at least 87 aircrafts of Syrian Air Force. The number of civilian casualties was even higher and the entire population of that region remained under siege for more than two months.
This air battle against Syria is now recorded in the modern history as one of the most impressive air victories where Israel used massive force and latest technology to destroy Syrian air defense. However, criticism started when it began to march onwards and arrived on the outskirts of Beirut, contrary to its stated objective of respecting 40km limit. By August 1982, Israeli forces drove all the way to Beirut and expelled the Palestinian Liberation Army from southern Lebanon. They captured PLO bases and seized their weapons. During the month of September, the evacuation process of PLO from Lebanon was completed with the help of world super powers. For a moment it was believed that Israel has successfully completed its limited duration campaign in Lebanon, but this was far from true as what followed next exposed the malevolent motives of Israeli government and its allies.
The second phase of Lebanon war, which was termed by Israel as a counter-insurgency campaign lasted for the next three years and made Lebanon a major battleground in the wider Arab-Israeli conflict. It all started in the very month of September with the assassination of Lebanon’s President-elect Bachir Gemayel. Bachir, a Maronite Catholic leader backed by USA, was elected on August 23, 1982. He refused to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in a meeting with the Israeli Prime minister Menachem Begin, by citing the need of national consensus on this matter. He told Israeli PM that Lebanese Forces didn't sacrifice thousands of soldiers to free their country from the Syrian Army and the PLO so that Israel can take their place. Ariel Sharon also had a secret meeting with him where he reportedly convinced Bachir to launch a joined attack against the remaining Syrian Forces in Lebanon. However, Bachir and 26 others were killed in a bomb explosion in Beirut on September 14, 1982. Israel put the blame of his murder on Syrian agents and IDF began to move forward on the order of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who acted without the authorization of Israeli cabinet.
Although UN and USA called for immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces, hell broke loose when the Israelis urged Christian Phalangist forces to avenge the murder of their leader, Bachir Gemayel, by attacking the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. On a three-day massacre in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, an estimated 700-800 Palestinian civilians were killed including men, women, and children. Israel was heavily criticized for provoking Christians for this horrendous massacre and the world community started their efforts to stabilize the situation in Lebanon. The formation of MNF (Multinational Force) in Lebanon and peace negotiations were some of the attempts made for the normalization of relations between Lebanon and Israel. However, all the efforts went in vain as Lebanese people had developed a deep-rooted mistrust and hatred against Israel by then. This way, this unjustified adventure of 1982 become the most controversial and complicated military action in Israel's history.
In the long run, the Israeli campaign in Lebanon met with disastrous results as it did not only renewed PLO presence and Syrian influence in the country but also created deep domestic divisions in Israel concerning the war. Perhaps the biggest setback of this war came for Israel in the form of Hezbollah which officially established in response to the 1982 invasion and later emerged as the biggest threat to a fragile Israeli-Palestinian truce.