Lebanon Table of Contents

Although Lebanon joined with other Arab nations in the armed resistance against the creation of Israel in 1948, because of the small size of its armed forces Lebanon's action had little effect. Nonetheless, because of Lebanon's participation, in 1987 its southern border remained the line agreed to in the 1949 armistice.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Lebanese politicians for the most part sought to insulate Lebanon from the Arab-Israeli dispute. With its booming economy and high standard of living, the Lebanese elite had much to lose. Lebanon, therefore, abstained from the conflicts of 1956, 1967, and 1973.

Because Lebanon never presented a serious military threat, Israel has been more concerned about Palestinian guerrilla attacks launched from Lebanon, and, secondarily, about the presence of Syrian troops there. Since the 1960s, there has been a cyclical pattern of Palestinian guerrilla attacks on Israel and IDF attacks on Palestinian targets. In the aftermath of the 1975 Civil War, Lebanese-generated security concerns grew for Israel. At the same time, the breakdown of Lebanon's central government provided opportunities for Israel to act. Around 1975, Israel sponsored the creation of a surrogate force, led by Lebanese Christian Major Saad Haddad, based in a corridor along Lebanon's southern border. This force, which called itself the Free Lebanon Army (but was later renamed the South Lebanon Army [SLA] under leader Antoine Lahad), was intended to prevent infiltration into Israel of Palestinian guerrillas. In 1978 Israel invaded Lebanon, clearing out Palestinian strongholds as far north as the Litani River. Another consequence of the Israeli invasion was the establishment in southern Lebanon of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, whose mission was to separate the various combatants.

As serious as the 1978 incursion was, it paled in comparison with the 1982 Israeli invasion, which affected all of the southern half of Lebanon as far north as Beirut. This action had several direct consequences. First, it resulted in the deaths of several hundred Palestinian fighters and the expulsion of several thousand more, not to mention several thousand Lebanese and Palestinian casualties and massive destruction. For a time, the invasion and occupation diminished Syrian influence, as the Syrian Army was forced north and east. The Israeli occupation promoted the creation of the MNF, made up of military units from Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, which supervised the Palestinian evacuation and later stayed to keep the peace. The IDF occupation also created an expedient climate for Bashir Jumayyil (and, subsequently, for his brother Amin) to win the presidency.

In addition, there were several less direct consequences. The occupation of Muslim West Beirut allowed Christian forces on September 27-28, 1982, to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, where they massacred several hundred civilians. Lebanese Shias, who were severely affected by the invasion and occupation, turned their enmity on the Israelis. As a show of support for their coreligionists, the government of Iran, with Syrian approval, dispatched a contingent of the Pasdaran to the Biqa Valley. Anti-Israeli Shia opposition burgeoned during the occupation, and there were several suicide-bombing incidents perpetrated against IDF positions.

In 1987 Israel's relations with Lebanon continued to revolve around the issue of security. Israel retained its support of the SLA's activities in southern Lebanon, maintained its ties to the LF, and perpetuated its policy of attacking Palestinian and Lebanese targets that Israel labeled "terrorist" bases.

More about the Government of Lebanon.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress