Israel’s invasion of Lebanon on June 6, 1982 brings to an end the phase of Lebanese political history which opened with the 1975-1976 civil war. It is a logical outgrowth of Israel’s policies in Lebanon since 1975. The 1975-1976 war, in turn, marked a culmination of trends which had been developing at least since 1958. [1]

The 1975-1976 civil war pitted Lebanese right-wing forces (the Lebanese Front) against a reformist coalition known as the Lebanese National Movement (LNM) and their Palestinian allies. The root issue in the war was the preservation or alteration of the political status quo in Lebanon. The economy and political life of the country had been dominated since French Mandate days (1920-1943) by a few large landowning and merchant families, known as the “4 percent class” after a 1961 government survey revealed that 4 percent of the Lebanese population received 32 percent of the country’s gross national product. [2] Positions in the government were shared between these large families and their clients, according to a formula which allotted certain offices to representatives of specific religious sects. It also designated each sect’s share of Lebanese parliamentary seats and civil service positions. The presidency of the republic would always be held by a Maronite Christian, the premiership by a Sunni Muslim and the speakership of the parliament by a Shi‘i Muslim. This formula entrenched the power of the leading families within each of Lebanon’s religious sects.

Between 1943, when the above arrangement was formalized into a National Pact, and 1975, transformations in the Lebanese society and economy challenged the power of the old ruling families and undermined the authority of the state which they dominated. New social forces — specifically, an ambitious Sunni Muslim middle class, a growing labor movement, an expanding student population and an increasingly radicalized and dispossessed poor Shi‘i peasantry — organized themselves to challenge the hegemony of the ruling families.

The Lebanese National Movement

These new social forces were represented by the LNM. The LNM grouped together disparate ideological tendencies, including Nasserites, pan-Syrian nationalists, Baathists and communists. Their common goals — expressed in a joint program adopted in August 1975 — were to break the political monopoly of the “4 percent class,” to abolish the allocation of government posts according to sect, and to transform the Lebanese state into a rational, liberal democratic one. [3] The program reflected, most immediately, the aspirations of the Muslim and non-Maronite Christian petty bourgeois and middle classes, who wished to gain greater access to the state and civil service by doing away with sectarian restrictions and the ties of patronage to the old ruling families which the sectarian system buttressed. The LNM program challenged both the ruling families of all sects, and the sectarian system as a whole.

There were two principal parties in the LNM which advanced the interests of the non-Maronite middle and petty bourgeois classes. One was the independent Nasserite Movement (known by the name of its militia, the murabitun), which was particularly powerful in Beirut’s Sunni Muslim neighborhoods. The other was a Syrian Social National Party (SSNP), whose support came mainly from Orthodox Christians in Beirut and in the Kura and Matn regions of the Lebanese mountains.

Two communist organizations were also affiliated with the LNM. They endorsed the joint program because it was progressive in the Lebanese context. The program, if it could have been implemented, would have democratized Lebanese political life and given wider scope for labor unions and radical movements to organize legally. The Lebanese Communist Party, founded in 1924, had Lebanese of all religious sects in its ranks, and was based in the trade unions. The Organization for Communist Action (OCA), formed in 1970 by Marxists sympathetic with Maoism and critical of the Communist Party’s perceived “revisionism,” was also drawn from all of Lebanon’s religious sects. It had been active in organizing the 1973-1974 workers’ strike at the Ghandour food factories, and also had played a role in the student protest movement which emerged in Lebanon in the first half of the 1970s.

Both the Communist Party and the OCA drew large numbers of Shi‘i Muslims into their ranks, particularly those in urban areas. Of all Lebanon’s religious groups, the Shi‘a were the poorest and the largest. The bulk of them were peasants living in the south of the country and in the Bekaa Valley to the east. In the years prior to 1975, however, large numbers of them fled rural poverty and came to live in slums — the so-called belt of misery — that surrounded Beirut. This trend was intensified following the beginning of systematic Israeli air and ground attacks against south Lebanon in 1971. The OCA, in particular, had considerable success in politicizing and radicalizing Lebanese Shi‘is, whose traditional landowning families such as the As‘ads and the ‘Usayrans were oblivious to — and frequently the cause of — their plight. [4]

An interesting paradox of Lebanese politics is that the most important political figure on the left was Kamal Jumblatt, the scion of a prominent Druze landowning family. By conviction a social democrat, he aligned himself and his followers in the Progressive Socialist Party with the LNM. During the civil war he emerged as the overall leader of the progressive coalition, although his Druze followers played only a minor role in the actual fighting.

The Lebanese Front

In contrast to the LNM, the right-wing Lebanese Front had a marked monosectarian character. Its principal leaders, and most of its following, were Maronite Christians. While representatives of the old Muslim ruling families, such as former premiers Sa‘ib Salam and Taqi al-Din al-Sulh, sat on the sidelines during the civil war and exercised little influence over its course, the Maronite ruling families dominated the Lebanese Front. The Maronite community — for the most part composed of middle class townspeople and independent peasants — benefited from the Lebanese system as it existed. This explains the adherence of most Maronites to the Front. The most powerful official positions — the presidency, the command of the army — were reserved for Maronites, and the ruling families were careful to ensure that their ties of patronage with the Maronite community remained intact. The political and economic benefits which the Maronite ruling families received were allowed to trickle down to the rank and file, giving most Maronites a stake in the prevailing system. [5] The ideological expression of the Maronites’ group interest was Lebanese Christian nationalism. This argued that Lebanon, as a quintessentially Christian and European-oriented nation, must fight to preserve its identity in the face of challenges from foreigners, fanatical Muslims and “international communism.” According to this view, Muslims were true Lebanese only if they accepted the status quo. Those who challenged it, for instance, by identifying with Arab nationalism (e.g., the Nasserites) were not true Lebanese and must be opposed. Similarly, by their embrace of an internationalist ideology, communists were said not to be true Lebanese either.

The most powerful component of the Lebanese Front was the Phalangist Party (the Kata’ib). Founded in 1936 by Pierre Gemayel, and led in the 1970s by him and his sons Bashir and Amin, the Phalangist Party was a modern, disciplined political organization with a well-developed ideology of Lebanese nationalism. During the civil war it quickly assumed the leading role in the Lebanese Front, eclipsing the looser and weaker personal followings organized around former President Camille Chamoun and then-President Sulayman Franjiyya. Ultimately, the Phalangist Party would crush its rivals in the Lebanese right and enjoy a virtual monopoly of power within the Lebanese Front.

The program of the Lebanese Front — including the preservation of Lebanon’s existing political system and the suppression of challenges to it — was compatible with the interests of Lebanon’s old Muslim ruling families. But the Front’s liberal ideological use of Christian symbols made it difficult for all but a few of the old Muslim leaders to openly align themselves with it. One who did was Kazim al-Khalil, a Shi‘i parliamentary deputy from Tyre and a big landowner in the Tyre region. For the most part, however, the bypassed Muslim leaders kept in touch with the Lebanese Front, bided their time, and calculated on their return to prominence as “Muslim leaders” should the LNM be defeated.

The Palestinian Factor

In their hostility to “foreigners,” the ideologues of the Lebanese Front had the approximately 400,000 Palestinians resident in Lebanon specifically in mind. Palestinian refugees had come in 1948. The refugee camps, where nearly one quarter of Lebanon’s Palestinian population lived, had since 1967 become centers of the Palestinian armed struggle against Israel, carried on under the auspices of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). [6]

The Palestinian cause became a rallying point for the Lebanese left, reformers and revolutionaries alike. For them, it symbolized Lebanon’s organic links with other Arabic-speaking countries, in contrast to the parochial Lebanese nationalist ideology of the Lebanese right. It also symbolized the struggle against imperialism, in contrast to the collaboration of the old ruling classes. The Palestinians, for their part, sought allies among the Lebanese progressive forces, and strengthened them by lending political support and helping them to organize party militias. For these reasons, the PLO was resented by the Lebanese right, and particularly by the Maronite parties which formed the Lebanese Front. The Front argued, in its literature and public statements, that the Palestinians caused the problems in Lebanon which led to the civil war. A more accurate assessment is that the Palestinians strengthened those forces in Lebanon which were organizing to change the status quo. In this sense, the Lebanese Front correctly viewed the Palestinian resistance movement as a threat to the interests of the Lebanese right.

The civil war began in April 1975 with an armed Phalangist attack against a busload of Palestinians passing through a predominantly Maronite suburb of Beirut. This came after a period of mounting tension in Lebanon, marked by an Israeli air attack on Palestinian camps near Beirut in December 1974, and the use of the Lebanese army in February 1975 to quell a fishermen’s strike in the port of Sidon. The apparent aim of the Phalangists was to provoke a Palestinian response, which would lead to Lebanese army intervention on the Phalangists’ behalf, crushing the Palestinian resistance and repeating Jordan’s experience of September 1970. The army did not immediately intervene, however. It had recently been discredited in the eyes of Muslims and progressives during the Sidon fishermen’s strike. A pro-Nasserite member of Parliament who supported the fishermen had been killed by a bullet fired from the same kind of rifle which the army carried. This led to massive demonstrations against the army in south Lebanon and in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods of Beirut, followed by equally massive pro-army demonstrations in predominantly Maronite neighborhoods. Fearing that the army would split in two if it entered the fray, the government did not commit it to the fighting. The militias of the LNM intervened and fought the Phalangists, making a full-scale intervention by the army even riskier for the government to contemplate. The PLO leadership, for its part, was not eager to get drawn into the Lebanese fighting, and in the initial months limited its involvement to defending existing Palestinian positions. Throughout 1975, most of the war’s battles were fought between Lebanese left-wing and right-wing militias.

By early 1976, it was no longer possible for the Palestinians to remain so aloof. Palestinian camps east of Beirut were besieged and one, Dubayya, fell in January as Lebanese Front forces consolidated their hold on the eastern part of the capital by overrunning and wiping out the Lebanese Muslim slum districts of Maslakh and Karantina. Palestinian and LNM forces — now known as the Joint Forces — retaliated by capturing the coastal town of Damour, whose Maronite inhabitants were aligned with the Lebanese Front. A Syrian effort to mediate an end to the conflict in February 1976 failed. In the following month, the Lebanese army broke apart and joined the respective sides in the fighting. By June 1976, after a series of military triumphs in Beirut and the mountains northeast of the capital, the Joint Forces seemed on the verge of defeating the Lebanese Front and imposing terms on them. At this point, the Syrian army entered Lebanon, prevented a victory by the Joint Forces, and rescued the Lebanese Front.

Although earlier in the fighting Syria had supported the LNM and the PLO, the prospect of an LNM victory was unsettling the Asad regime. The triumph of a popular, progressive movement in Lebanon might serve as an example to Syrians dissatisfied with their own government; might undercut the Syrian regime’s pretension to leadership of the “radical” Arab bloc in the confrontation with Israel; and might serve as an excuse for Israel to intervene militarily in the country, dragging Syria into what would certainly be a losing war with the Zionist state. [7]

The upshot of the Syrian intervention was that the Joint Forces suffered military setbacks and were forced to yield, allowing Syrian forces to enter their areas. In October 1976, Arab summit conferences in Riyadh and Cairo designated the Syrian army in Lebanon as one contingent of the Arab Deterrent Forces (ADF) entrusted with keeping the peace in Lebanon. The new Lebanese president, Elias Sarkis, who had been elected by the Lebanese parliament in May with Syrian backing, was supposed to use the ADF to rebuild state authority in Lebanon.

By giving a pan-Arab sanction to the Syrian army’s presence in Lebanon, the Riyadh and Cairo summit conferences froze the civil war without ending it. Lebanon had been effectively partitioned by the 18 months of fighting. In the areas which it controlled, extending from east Beirut and north along the coast almost as far as Tripoli, the Lebanese Front removed by force all significant populations of Lebanese Muslims and Palestinians, an operation that climaxed with the bloody siege and capture of the camp of Tall al-Za‘atar in August 1976. The Front also destroyed the influence of the SSNP among Christians in the Kura region. For their part, the Joint Forces, following their capture of the town of Damour and their expulsion of its inhabitants, controlled a solid swath of territory which included west Beirut, the coast from Beirut down to the border with Israel, and the mountains of central and southern Lebanon (the Shouf and Upper Galilee, respectively). The eastern and extreme northern parts of the country, including the Bekaa Valley, came under effective Syrian control.

With the civil war frozen, and complete victory denied either side by the Syrian intervention, realignments began to occur within each of the Lebanese alliances. After a period of internecine fighting, the Lebanese Front eventually consolidated its power, while the LNM saw its strength dissipate. A blow was struck at the LNM’s leadership. In March 1977, shortly after the entry of Syrian forces into LNM-controlled areas, Kamal Jumblatt was assassinated while driving to his home in the Shouf. His death left a leadership void on the left, and this accelerated centrifugal tendencies within the LNM. Their joint program for political reform was frustrated, and the constituent parties of the LNM could not always agree on the new issues and problems which they confronted after 1976. Regarding the Syrian presence, for instance, some (particularly the Syrian Baath) welcomed it; others (such as the Independent Nasserite Movement) eventually reconciled themselves to it. Still others (the Iraqi Baath, the OCA) remained hostile to or suspicious of it. There were also divergent opinions within the LNM as to the position to take toward the Sarkis government. Walid Jumblatt, who had succeeded his father to leadership of the Progressive Socialist Party, was inclined to cooperate with it. Others were not, believing that it represented the shared interests of the Lebanese Front and the old, discredited Muslim leadership.

Israel’s Design

During the war, the Israeli government had pursued its own designs in Lebanon. Tel Aviv had looked on with approval in 1976 when Syrian forces entered Lebanon and brought the Joint Forces to heel. Through the United States, Israel let the Syrian government know what Israel would and would not permit Syrian forces to do there. Israel’s principal concern was the south of Lebanon, which abutted Israel’s border. The collapse of Lebanese government authority in 1975, and the subsequent breakup of the Lebanese army, gave Israel the opportunity to present itself as the “protector” of three Christian enclaves just inside Lebanon on the other side of the Israeli border. These enclaves became areas of de facto Israeli control during 1976. Wishing to maintain and extend the enclaves, Israel warned Syria not to send its forces to south Lebanon. Early in 1977 Israel vetoed a proposal discussed between the Sarkis government and the Arab League to send non- Syrian contingents of the ADF to the south. Later, in July 1977, Israel scuttled an agreement reached at the Lebanese town of Shatoura between the Sarkis government, Syria and the PLO for the dispatch of Lebanese government troops to the border area and the withdrawal of Palestinian forces from the immediate border vicinity. Israel launched a series of fierce artillery attacks against Joint Forces positions in the south and made implementation of the agreement impossible. With its succession of vetoes and attacks, Israel ensured that the Christian enclaves of south Lebanon would remain under its control, and that the remainder of the region would be free of Syrian or other ADF units. This left the Joint Forces in control of most of the south, but Israel could launch attacks there with fewer international complications than would have resulted had ADF or Lebanese government forces been present.

Israel kept tensions high by launching repeated attacks on Lebanese civilian targets in the south, particularly Shi‘i-inhabited areas. In what was just a harbinger of things to come, Israeli warplanes literally wiped out the small Shi‘i village of ‘Azziyya in November 1977, immediately prior to Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, killing around 100 people and wounding scores more. There were no Joint Forces bases or units anywhere near the village when the attack occurred.

The following spring, Israel applied this tactic on a much larger scale. In March 1978, after a seaborne Palestinian commando raid against Israel which killed 34 Israelis on the Tel Aviv-Haifa coastal highway, Israeli forces invaded south Lebanon up to the Litani River. About 100 Palestinian guerrillas, the ostensible targets of the operation, were killed. In comparison, there were over 2,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilian deaths. The invasion created over 200,000 refugees, damaged 82 villages and almost completely destroyed six more.

Following a UN Security Council resolution calling on its forces to withdraw, Israel pulled back from the invaded area, only to hand over a band of Lebanese territory about ten kilometers deep along the entire length of the Lebanese-Israeli border to its collaborators in the border region. The three Christian enclaves now became the contiguous statelet of “Free Lebanon.” Nominally governed by a former Lebanese army major named Saad Haddad, “Free Lebanon” depended entirely on Israel for sustenance and survival. A 6,000-man UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) created by the Security Council to police the areas of Lebanon evacuated by Israel, was not permitted into Haddad’s border strip. In fact, Israeli troops never fully withdrew from Lebanon, but continued to operate inside “Free Lebanon.” [8]

The effects of the 1978 invasion were critical. It brought into the open the long-standing alliance, dating from the civil war, between the Phalangists and Israel, and widened the growing rift between the Phalangists and Syria. By causing a massive influx of Shi‘i peasant refugees into the already overcrowded slums and shanty towns of Sidon and west Beirut, the invasion spurred the reemergence of a political movement of a markedly Shi‘i character known as Amal.

The Phalangist leadership had become increasingly uncomfortable with its Syrian alliance in 1977. Their vision of Lebanon’s future did not correspond with that of Damascus. The leading faction, represented by Bashir Gemayel, sought either a Phalangist-dominated government for the whole of Lebanon, or, if that was impossible, a Phalangist-controlled mini-state encompassing those parts of Lebanon controlled by the Lebanese Front. The Syrian government, having humbled the LNM, was determined to incorporate both it and the Lebanese Front into a pro-Syrian Lebanese government headed by Sarkis. The Lebanese Front demanded that Syrian forces stationed in Lebanese Front-dominated areas be withdrawn. Bloody clashes erupted between the Lebanese Front and Syrian forces in and around Beirut in February, April, July and September of 1978. The open break with Syria precipitated a split in the Lebanese Front. Former President Sulayman Franjiyya, a traditional Maronite leader from the north of the country with close political and family links to the Asad regime, left the Lebanese Front in May and began purging Phalangists from his turf. The Phalangists retaliated by killing Franjiyya’s eldest son and his family in June, making a reconciliation between the feuding Maronite factions impossible.

The Lebanese Front — now essentially reduced to the Phalangist Party and the National Liberals, followers of former President Camille Chamoun — was not seriously weakened by Franjiyya’s defection. Bashir Gemayel compensated for the loss of Franjiyya and the hostility of Syria by forging closer political and military links with Israel. Even during the civil war, Israel had been one of the Lebanese Front’s supporters (along with, among others, Egypt and Saudi Arabia). Now, in 1978, the relationship with Israel became crucial for the Phlangists and was brought out into the open. When the Sarkis government and the LNM denounced Saad Haddad as a traitor for cooperating with Israel in south Lebanon, the Phalangists and the National Liberals said they regarded him as a representative of the legitimate Lebanese authority in the region. When serious clashes occurred in Beirut in July between the Lebanese Front and the Syrian army, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin denounced Syria’s “war of annihilation” against Lebanese Christians, and warned that Israel would stand by its Christian friends in Lebanon.

The Movement of the Deprived

The reemergence of Amal was spurred by Israel’s 1978 invasion. Amal was the militia of the Movement of the Deprived, organized among Shi‘i peasants and slum dwellers in 1974 by an Iranian-born Shi‘i religious leader, Imam Musa Sadr. In the months before the outbreak of the civil war in 1975, Sadr led a number of mass rallies to publicize his movement. He defined its aims as equality among all Lebanese citizens, and the defense of south Lebanon from Israeli attacks. These demands were challenges to the Lebanese government, and seemed to align the Movement of the Deprived with the progressive forces in Lebanon. During the actual civil war, however, Sadr and Amal were ineffective. Sadr refused to join the LNM openly, and Amal failed to defend the Shi‘i suburb of Nab‘a in east Beirut when it came under attack in 1976 from Lebanese Front forces. The influx of thousands of refugees to west Beirut and Sidon after Israel’s 1978 invasion brought new recruits for Amal. Possessing no marketable skills, unemployed, and desperate, the uprooted Shi‘i peasants flocked to Amal, an organization which offered them hope, leadership and a sense of dignity. Sadr himself mysteriously vanished in September 1978 while visiting Libya, a disappearance for which his followers held the Libyan government responsible. His place in the Amal leadership was taken over by others.

Following Sadr’s disappearance, an interesting dichotomy appeared in Amal. The movement’s rank and file evinced a marked Islamic political consciousness. The Islamic movement in Iran served — and continues to serve — as an inspiration to Amal’s adherents. At the same time, the post-Sadr leadership of Amal, personified by Nabih Barri, presented themselves as Lebanese nationalists. Barri and the current leadership, in fact, come from backgrounds that are very different from those of the majority of Amal’s members. The members are mainly displaced peasants from the underdeveloped southern and eastern regions of Lebanon. The leaders grew up in Beirut or other cities, children of nouveau riche Shi‘i merchant families whose wealth was usually obtained abroad, particularly in West Africa, where many Lebanese work as traders and middlemen.

During and after 1978, Israel’s repeated attacks against civilian Lebanese targets began to earn a political payoff. Powerless to confront Israel themselves, and seeing that the LNM and the PLO, not to mention Sarkis’ shadow government in Beirut, were incapable of defending them from Israeli attacks, many in Amal began to argue that were it not for the Palestinians’ presence among them, Israeli attacks on their land and homes would cease. Israeli officials publicly drove this point home, or allowed Saad Haddad to do the same over his American-financed Free Lebanon radio station. (The station is sponsored by High Adventure Ministries, a fundamentalist Christian organization based in Van Nuys, California. George Otis, the organization’s founder, is a former general manager of Lear Jet Corporation. Much of the $600,000 needed to set up the station’s two 15,000-watt transmitters and power generators was raised by fundamentalist entertainer Pat Boone. “Voice of Hope” broadcasts a mix of American country and western and gospel music, Bible lessons and Haddad propaganda. Its signal can reach as far as Saudi Arabia and Iran. After the latest Israeli invasion, Maj. Haddad “appointed” High Adventures Ministries to “spearhead and promote humanitarian aid” for the newly expanded territory of “Free Lebanon.” High Adventures “is also empowered to represent the Free Lebanese people before various charitable relief agencies,” Haddad said.)

The Cruel Spring

The “Camp David spring,” following the peace treaty of March 1979, was particularly cruel for the people of south Lebanon. Israeli forces, along with Haddad’s militias, bombed, attacked and threatened scores of villages in south Lebanon, including those in the zone policed by UNIFIL. In 1979 Israel dropped all pretense that its attacks were launched in retaliation for Palestinian raids against Israel; henceforth, then-Defense Minister Ezer Weizman said, Israel would engage in “preemptive” attacks against Palestinian forces in south Lebanon. Sporadic fighting occurred more or less constantly in south Lebanon over the following three years. By 1980, Haddad and the Israelis also began shelling heretofore untouched population centers such as Sidon, warning that these attacks would stop only when the local residents expelled the Palestinians from their midst.

In October 1979, Israel spelled out its conditions for an acceptable solution to Lebanon’s continuing political deadlock. These included the withdrawal of Syrian and Palestinian forces from Lebanon and a guarantee of the rights (unspecified) of Lebanon’s “Christian minority.” Israel used its military power and that of its Lebanese allies to prevent the conclusion or implementation of agreements between the Sarkis government, Syria, the PLO, and the Lebanese political factions which might end or ameliorate the ongoing crisis in ways which did not meet Israel’s requirements. Haddad’s militias frequently attacked UNIFIL positions. He and his Israeli backers consistently opposed attempts by the Sarkis government to deploy units of the reconstructed Lebanese army with UNIFIL. From 1978 until 1982, Haddad shelled and threatened Lebanese army units which moved into the UNIFIL zone, and on occasion his militias kidnapped Lebanese soldiers and held them for ransom. When at one point the Lebanese government considered retaliating against Haddad by bombing his positions, it received a warning through the US embassy that Israel’s army and air force would defend Haddad in such an instance. The Israelis, it seemed, were keen to keep the pot bubbling in south Lebanon.

Israel helped to abort moves toward a Syrian-Phalangist understanding in the spring of 1981. That March there were renewed clashes between Syrian forces and the Phalangist Party, sparked by the Phalangists’ attempt to reinforce their positions in the town of Zahla in the Bekaa Valley. The Syrians besieged Zahla and, in April, captured a key mountain area. The Phalangists then expressed their willingness to begin discussions with Syria on a comprehensive settlement of outstanding Syrian-Phalangist problems. Just as the Syrian foreign minister was due to visit Beirut to hold talks with Lebanese officials and political leaders, the Begin government trumpeted its support once again for the “threatened Christians of Lebanon” and shot down two Syrian helicopters in the Bekaa Valley. What ensued was the so-called Syrian missile crisis of 1981. One casualty of the “missile crisis” was the possibility, for the time being, of working toward a political solution to Lebanon’s problems. It was difficult for Syrian and Phalangist negotiators to sit down together at a time when Israel was ostentatiously throwing its support to the Phalangists.

Israel kept up the pressure. Shortly before a committee of Arab foreign ministers began meeting in Beirut in June 1981 to discuss measures the Arab League might take to advance a Lebanese solution, the Begin government broke a period of calm in south Lebanon by renewing air, artillery and sea attacks against civilian targets there. The PLO retaliated with cross-border artillery attacks. The exchange of fire culminated with Israel’s aerial bombardment of Beirut on July 17, which killed and wounded over 1,000 people. If the Lebanese would only expel the PLO, Begin proclaimed again, such misfortunes would not befall them.

The Israeli campaign continued even after an American-negotiated ceasefire came into effect in July 1981. Massive car bomb explosions caused heavy casualties near Palestinian offices in Beirut and Sidon in the final months of 1981 and early months of 1982. The PLO and the LNM laid the responsibility at Israel’s door. On one occasion, February 13, 1982, bombs packed into a car near Sidon failed to detonate completely; Israeli detonators, clearly marked with Hebrew letters, were found in the wreckage. [9]

The Palestinians stopped their cross-border attacks in accordance with the terms of the July 1981 ceasefire. The Israeli government was still not satisfied with the situation in Lebanon. For one thing, during the June and July fighting the PLO had secured political gains at Israel’s expense: The US had been forced to negotiate with the PLO, albeit indirectly, and the PLO’s creditable military performance had enhanced its prestige in Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, and elsewhere in the Arab world. Furthermore, there were signs that Arab League diplomacy, aimed at weaning the Phalangists away from Israel, might be having results. In September 1981, Bashir Gemayel sent a letter to the Arab foreign ministers’ committee announcing that the Phalangists had no dealings with Israel. Though untrue, Gemayel’s declaration was potentially significant, as it met an essential precondition for serious negotiations to begin between the LNM, Syria and the Phalangists on Lebanon’s future. But the frequent car bombings and the increasing tempo of Israeli threats to invade Lebanon in the winter and spring of 1982 effectively halted these steps toward a political settlement.

Invasion Time

From Israel’s perspective, the time seemed right for another invasion. The Phalangists had consolidated their grip on the Lebanese right by attacking Chamoun’s National Liberals in 1980 and reducing them to a mere shadow. The left in Lebanon was suffering its greatest disarray since the end of the civil war in 1976. The growing Amal movement frequently clashed with LNM and Palestinian militias in Shi‘i neighborhoods of Beirut as Amal sought to oust the LNM and PLO from the influential positions they had held since the civil war. Battles between Amal and the Organization of Communist Action and its allies in the Palestinian movement, were particularly sharp. The Amal leadership’s frequent references to their commitment to Lebanon and to a Lebanese identity were taken as a signal to the Phalangist Party that Amal might be prepared to do a deal. Amal’s attitude testified to the success of Israel’s policy of striking at Lebanese civilians to turn them against the Palestinians.

The LNM was coming apart due to internal bickering, and losing ground to the old ruling Muslim families which it had so thoroughly eclipsed during the 1975-1976 war. Denied the chance to restructure the Lebanese government in accordance with their August 1975 program, the parties of the LNM became enmeshed in petty quarrels over control of territory, leading to armed clashes between rival LNM party militias. They were preoccupied with issues that were frequently outside their competence as parties and militias, such as the provision of public services to the neighborhoods they governed. In contrast, the Phalangists, who monopolized political power in their section of Lebanon, had succeeded in setting up an efficient state within a state. The different ideological orientations of the LNM parties left them frequently divided on issues which arose. In April 1982, the LNM’s loss of influence was graphically illustrated when traditional Muslim leaders, led by former premier Sa‘ib Salam, succeeded in scotching an LNM plan to hold elections for local councils to govern west Beirut.

For its part, the PLO had problems not only with Amal, but also with its allies in the LNM. A series of clashes in April 1982 in Sidon between Palestinians and adherents of a local Nasserite party affiliated to the LNM illustrated these deteriorating relations. As the best-organized force in the Sidon region since 1975, the PLO had played a major role in the administration of the city for some time. The Nasserites primarily represented Sidon’s middle class and petty bourgeoisie. Although these elements still supported the Palestinian cause in the abstract, they had grown weary of the Palestinian administration by the early 1980s. They preferred to run their own affairs rather than answer to the Palestinians, some of whom, like Lebanese government bureaucrats of old, were primarily interested in feathering their own nests and building up personal empires. Because the PLO made no attempt to defend the interests of Lebanese workers and displaced peasants against those of Sidon’s bourgeoisie, the PLO enjoyed no particular support from the city’s lower classes either. In this atmosphere, the bombardments of Sidon by the Israelis and Haddad’s militias soured relations between the PLO and Sidon’s Nasserites still further, and left the PLO with a weak popular base there. Similar problems marred relations between the LNM and the PLO in Beirut as well.

When Israel struck north on June 6, 1982, Lebanon’s internal political deadlock had entered its seventh year. The Lebanese left (including the LNM and Amal) was internally divided. The PLO did not command the popular support it had once enjoyed. Israel played a major role between 1975 and 1982 in bringing about this state of affairs. The invasion’s bloody course was a logical outgrowth of Israel’s policies in Lebanon since 1975, an intensification of its strategy to deal a final military solution to its political conflict with the Palestinians.


[1] An account of Lebanon’s political history between 1958 and early 1976 is provided in Kamal S. Salibi, Crossroads to Civil War: Lebanon 1958-1976 (Delmar, NY: Caravan, 1976).
[2] Cited by Halim Barakat, “The Social Context,” in P. Edward Haley and Lewis W. Snider, eds., Lebanon in Crisis: Participants and Issues (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1979), p. 10.
[3] For the, LNM program and other Lebanese documents of 1975, see Center for the Study of the Modern Arab World, Religion, State and Ideology (Beirut: Dar al-Mashriq Publishers, 1976).
[4] For a fuller account of the LNM see MERIP Reports 61, “The Lebanese National Movement”; and Aziz Al-Azmeh, “The Progressive Forces,” in Roger Owen, ed., Essays on the Crisis in Lebanon (London; Ithaca Press, 1976), pp. 59-72.
[5] See Tewfik Khalaf, “The Phalange and the Maronite Community,” in Roger Owen, ed., Essays on Crisis in Lebanon (London: Ithaca Press, 1976), pp. 43-58.
[6] For an account of the role the Palestinians played in Lebanese politics, see Samih K. Farsoun and Rex B. Wingerter, “The Palestinians in Lebanon,” SAIS Review 3 (Winter 1981-82), pp. 93-106.
[7] The Syrian intervention in Lebanon is discussed in MERIP Reports 51, “Why Syria Invaded Lebanon.”
[8] For an account of the 1978 Israeli invasion and its aftermath, see Walid Khalidi, Conflict and Violence in Lebanon (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1979), p. 123-144.
[9] Americans for Justice in the Middle East News (Beirut, April 1982), citing Lebanese newspapers of February 14, 1982.

How to cite this article:

James A. Reilly "Israel in Lebanon, 1975-1982," Middle East Report 108 (September/October 1982).

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