1982 Lebanon War

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Map of modern Lebanon

The 1982 Lebanon War, also known as the 1982 Invasion of Lebanon or Operation Peace of the Galilee (מבצע שלום הגליל Mivtza Shlom HaGalil in Hebrew), began June 6, 1982, when the Israel Defense Force invaded southern Lebanon. The Government of Israel justified the invasion as a response to the Abu Nidal organization's assassination attempt against Israel's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Shlomo Argov and to artillery attacks launched by the Palestine Liberation Organization against populated areas in northern Israel. See also Operation Litani.

After attacking PLO, Syrian and Muslim Lebanese forces, Israel occupied southern Lebanon. Surrounded in West Beirut and subject to heavy bombardment, the PLO and the Syrian forces negotiated passage from Lebanon with the aid of international peacekeepers.



After the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, Lebanon became home to more than 110,000 Palestinian refugees. From 1970 to 1973, the PLO was engaged in the Jordanian Civil War, which routed a large number of Palestinian fighters and refugees into neighboring Lebanon. By 1975, they numbered more than 300,000, creating an informal state-within-a-state in South Lebanon. The PLO became a powerful force and played an important role in the Lebanese Civil War. Continual violence occurred between Israel and the PLO from 1968, peaking in Operation Litani.

On 10 July 1981, after a period of peace, violence erupted in South Lebanon. According to the U.N. Secretary-General, the Israeli air force bombarded Palestinian targets in south Lebanon, and later that day Palestinian elements fired artillery and rockets into northern Israel. However, according to the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, "Israel responded to PLO rocket attacks on northern Israeli settlements by bombing PLO encampments in southern Lebanon."[1] The United Nations Secretary-General noted, "After several weeks of relative quiet in the area, a new cycle of violence has begun and has, in the past week, steadily intensified." He further stated, "There have been heavy civilian casualties in Lebanon; there have been civilian casualties in Israel as well. I deeply deplore the extensive human suffering caused by these developments." The President of the Security Council, Ide Oumarou of Niger, expressed "deep concern at the extent of the loss of life and the scale of the destruction caused by the deplorable events that have been taking place for several days in Lebanon."[2] [3] On July 24 United States envoy Philip Habib brokered a shaky ceasefire, but incidents continued. Over the next 11 months Israel charged that the PLO staged 270 terrorist actions in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and along the Lebanese and Jordanian borders, in which 29 Israelis were killed and more than 300 were injured.

The Palestinian forces continued to grow in Lebanon with full-time military personnel numbering around 15,000, although only 6,000 of these, including 4,500 regulars, were deployed in the south. They were armed with 60 aging tanks, many of which were no longer mobile, and 100-200 pieces of artillery (Sayigh, 1999, p. 524). According to Schiff and Ya'ari (1984) the PLO tripled its artillery from 80 cannons and rocket launchers in July 1981 to 250 in June 1982 (pp. 83-84). The same authors also refer to Israeli intelligence estimates of the number of PLO fighters in southern Lebanon of 6,000 “divided into three concentrations; about 1,500 south of the Litani River in the so-called Iron Triangle (between the villages of Kana, Dir Amas, and Juya), Tyre, and its surrounding refugee camps; another 2,500 of the Kastel Brigade in three districts between the Litani and a line running from Sidon to northeast of Nabatiye; and a third large concentration of about 1,500-2,000 men of the Karameh Brigade in the east, on the slopes of Mount Hermon” (pp. 134-135). The total forces deployed by Syria, the PLO and Israel during the conflict are detailed in the table below. On 21 April 1982, after a landmine killed an Israeli officer in Lebanon the Israeli Air Force attacked the Palestinian-controlled coastal town of Damour, killing 23 people. Despite this and numerous other attacks launched since 24 July, 1981 the PLO continued to observe the cease-fire agreement (Cobban, 1984, pp. 119-120). The Secretary-General computed from his reports to the Security Council (S/14789, S/15194) that from August 1981 to May 1982 inclusive, there were 2096 violations of Lebanese airspace and 652 violations of Lebanese territorial waters (Chomsky, 1999, p. 195; Cobban, 1984, p. 112) [4]. On June 3 the small Iraqi-supported Palestine National Liberation Movement (headed by Yasser Arafat's opponent Abu Nidal) attempted to assassinate Israel's ambassador in London, paralyzing him. Prime Minister Menachem Begin had been informed by Israeli intelligence that the PLO was not involved in the attack on Argov, but withheld this information from his Cabinet (Gilbert, 1998, p. 503). Who was then the chief of staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, Rafael Eitan, responded to the aforementioned information in his famous saying "Abu Nidal, abu shmidal. we need to screw PLO!". On June 4 and 5 Israeli F16 planes bombed Palestinian refugee camps and other PLO targets in Beirut and southern Lebanon killing 45 and wounding 150. For the first time in over ten months the PLO responded by launching massive artillery and mortar attacks on civilian centers in northern Israel. On 6 June 1982, Israeli forces under direction of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon invaded southern Lebanon in their "Operation Peace for the Galilee".

Israeli, Syrian and PLO Forces in the 1982 War
(Adapted from Brzoska & Pearson, 1994, p. 117)
  Israel Syria PLO
Troops 76,000 22,000 15,000
Tanks 800 352 300
APCs 1,500 300 150
Anti-Tank Weapons 200 - 2-300
Major Artillery - 300 350+
Anti-Aircraft Guns - 100 250+
Total Combat Aircraft 634 450 0
Total Aircraft Engaged 364 96 0
Attack Aircraft 275 225 0
Armed Helicopters 42 16 0
Major SAM Launchers - 125 -

Reasons for the war

Starting in 1968, Palestinian groups in southern Lebanon raided northern Israel, and bombarded Israeli towns with katyusha rockets.

Secondly, Israel argued it could derail the establishment of a base of operations for the PLO, from which they could mount assaults in the international arena such as the 26 December 1968 attack on an Israeli civilian airliner in Athens.

Another reason given for the invasion was as an intervention in the ongoing Lebanese Civil War to counteract Syrian influences in Lebanon, and possibly enable the establishment of a stable Lebanese leadership from the Christian population, which would strengthen a central Lebanese Army, restore security and agree to diplomatic relations with Israel.

According to former chief of Israeli military intelligence Yehoshafat Harkabi the 1982 invasion of Lebanon was accompanied by deceit at the highest political levels. Harkarbi cites misleading statements to the cabinet by Sharon and Begin, inaccurate announcements by Israel's miliary spokesmen and the Likud government's gross exaggeration of terrorist acts conducted from Lebanon. Defence Minister Rabin admitted in the Knesset that during the eleven-month ceasefire preceding the war Israel's northern settlements had been attacked only twice and that during this period Israel had suffered a total of two killed and six wounded from terrorist attacks. These attacks had been preceded by Israeli strikes in response to the planting of a bomb on a bus and the attack on Shlomo Argov. Harkabi concludes, "It is true that Begin's principal motive in launching the war was his fear of the momentum of the peace process - that he might yet be called upon to honor his signature to the Camp David Accords and withdraw from the territories. Calling the Lebanon War 'The War for the Peace of Galilee' is more than a misnomer. It would have been more honest to call it 'The War to Safeguard the Occupation of the West Bank'" (Harkabi, 1989, pp. 99-101).

Course of the fighting

Israel's objective was to push back the PLO militants to a distance of 40 kilometres to the north. The Israeli forces soon reached that target but were determined to drive the PLO from southern Lebanon once and for all[5]. Tyre and Sidon (major cities in the south of Lebanon, still within the 40 kilometre limit) were heavily damaged, and the Lebanese capital Beirut was shelled for ten weeks, killing both PLO members and civilians.

The Israeli Air Force shot down many Syrian aircraft over Lebanon, (reportedly 80 kills, with no air combat losses) as well as performing ground attacks, notably destroying the majority of Syrian anti-aircraft batteries stationed in Lebanon. AH-1 Cobra helicopter gunships were used widely against Syrian armor and fortifications. The IAF Cobras destroyed dozens of Syrian armored fighting vehicles, including many of the modern Soviet T-72 main battle tank.

Later in 1982 an agreement was reached and American, French and Italian peacekeepers sent the PLO survivors to surrounding Arab states. Philip Habib, Ronald Reagan's envoy to Lebanon, provided an undertaking to the PLO that the Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps would not be harmed. However, the US marines left West Beirut two weeks before the end of their official mandate. After the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, newly appointed President of Lebanon, Israeli forces occupied West Beirut. The Lebanese Christian Militia, also known as the Phalangists, allies of Israel were responsible for the Sabra and Shatila in the refugee camp.

Outcome of the war


It is estimated that around 17,825 Arabs were killed during the war. There are different estimates of the proportion of civilians killed. A Beirut newspaper An Nahar estimated that

  • 17,825 killed during the invasion
    • Outside Beirut
      • Military personnel: 9,797 (PLO, Syria, etc.)
      • Civilians: 2,513
    • Beirut area: 5,515 (mil. + civ.)
  • [6]

About 675 Israeli soldiers were killed.

The security buffer zone

In August 1982, the PLO withdrew most of its forces from Lebanon. With U.S. assistance, Israel and Lebanon reached an accord in May 1983 that set the stage to withdraw Israeli forces from Lebanon. The instruments of ratification were never exchanged, however, and in March 1984, under pressure from Syria, Lebanon canceled the agreement. In January 1985 Israel started to withdrew most of its troops, leaving a small residual Israeli force and an Israeli-supported militia in southern Lebanon in a "security zone," which Israel considered a necessary buffer against attacks on its northern territory. The Israeli withdrawal to the security zone ended in June 1985.

Political results

Heavy Israeli casualities, alleged disinformation of government leaders and the public by military and political advocates of the campaign, and lack of clear goals, led to increasing disquiet among Israelis. This culminated in a 300,000 protestor rally in Tel Aviv, organized by the Peace Now movement, following the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre.

In addition, it has been noted that the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon on October 23, 1983, was a forerunner of the kinds of assymmetrical warefare experienced with increasing frequency in later decades. The US has repeatedly experienced the devastating impact which a small number of suicide bombers could have against a much larger force in many later events - from first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, to the Oklahama City bombing in 1995, to the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, to the second bombing of the World Trade Center in 2001, to the 2003 Iraq war.

Israel finally withdrew from the "security zone" in 2000, during the Prime Ministership of Ehud Barak. Israel continues to control a small area called "Shebaa Farms", which Lebanon and Syria claim to be Lebanese territory but Israel insists to be former Syrian territory with the same status as the Golan Heights, since they have captured it from the Syrians. The United Nations has determined that Shebaa Farms is not part of Lebanon. The UN Secretary-General had concluded that, as of 16 June 2000, Israel had withdrawn its forces from Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425 of 1978, bringing closure to the 1982 invasion as far as the UN was concerned.


  • From the standpoint of the Israeli Military, the invasion was a limited success, removing PLO presence from Southern Lebanon and destruction of its infrastructure, as well as increasing deterrence on other Arab terrorist organizations. The Syrian military was weakened by combat losses, especially in the air.
  • However, the elimination of any opportunity of cross-border attacks for PLO forced it eventually to seek a political solution of the conflict with Israel.
  • Increased erosion of the sacred cow status of the military in Israeli public opinion and disillusionment with its leadership, a process which is commonly held to be rooted in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War.
  • The invasion is popularly held to be the major catalyst for the creation of the Iranian and Syrian supported Hizbullah organization, which replaced the vanquished PLO in Southern Lebanon.
  • The formation of the South Lebanon Army, an allied Lebanese milita supported by Israel, that maintained a presence in South Lebanon until Israeli withdrawal in 2000.
  • The Lebanese Council for Development and Reconstruction estimated the cost of the damage from the invasion at 7,622,774,000 Lebanese pounds, equivalent to US$2 billion at the time. [7]

See also


  • Brzoska, M., & Pearson, F. S. (1994). Arms and Warfare: Escalation, De-Escalation, and Negotiation. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 0872499820
  • Chomsky, N. (1999). Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians. London, Pluto Press.
  • Cobban, H. (1984). The Palestinian Liberation Organization: People, Power and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521272165
  • Gilbert, M. (1998). Israel: A History. London, Black Swan.
  • Harkabi, Y. (1989). Israel's Fateful Hour. New York, NY: Harper & Row. ISBN 0060916133
  • Sayigh, Y. (1999). Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198296436
  • Schiff, Z. & Ya'ari, E. (1984). Israel's Lebanon War. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671479911

Wars of Israel 1948 Arab-Israeli War | 1956 Suez War | 1967 Six Day War | 1970 War of Attrition | 1973 Yom Kippur War | 1982 Lebanon War | First Intifada | 1990/1 Gulf War | al-Aqsa Intifada
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