The 1982 Israeli Invasion of Lebanon – Back Story

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Lebanese Army, Beirut, Lebanon 1982

The operational objectives of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 are relatively well known, less so the complex back story to the event.

On Sunday 6 June 1982 Israel’s tanks crossed the border into Lebanon while its navy landed forces close to Sidon. It was the start of a conflict, code named, Operation Peace for Galilee, designed in the words of Ariel Sharon to, “eradicate the PLO,” and lasting until the end of 1984. However it wasn’t until January of the following year that the Israeli cabinet finally agreed to pull the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) out of Lebanon.

Israeli Invasion of Lebanon 1982

While Israel’s ‘official’ reason for invading its northern neighbour may well have been the attack in London on their ambassador Shlomo Argov, an incident seen as breaking the fragile cease fire between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the ‘back story makes more intriguing reading.

Most historian agree that it was almost certainly not the PLO that was responsible for the attack, indeed the blame has been placed firmly at the door of the Abu Nidal group, sworn enemies of the PLO. However Israeli premier Menachem Begin refused to acknowledge the distinction arguing that they are, “all PLO.”

Writer and historian Avi Shlaim said Abu Nidal’s attempted assassination was designed to provoke an assault on the PLO power base in Lebanon, which of course is what happened.

As with any long running conflict it’s sometimes difficult to identify the event or incident that triggered a greater confrontation. While the Israeli’s publicly cited the Argov attack, the underlying reasons for the attack are almost certainly to be found elsewhere.

An Israel Country Study, prepared for the Library of Congress, quite clearly indicates that the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon was, the first war fought by the IDF without, a “domestic consensus, unlike the 1948, 1967 and 1973 wars.”

Ariel Sharon and Rafael Eitan – Architects of Invasion of lebanon 1982

The study unambiguously states that the, “architects behind the war” Defence Minister Ariel Sharon and Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan had strategic ambitions, “to create a more favourable regional political setting” which certainly included the destruction of the PLO but also essentially included the removal of Syrian troops and influence from Lebanon and the installation of a ‘friendly’ Christian Maronite government led by Bashir Gemayel, bolstered by his Phalange militia.

Israeli Attack on Iraqi Nuclear Facility

An essential element in this ‘back story’ to the invasion of Lebanon was the run up to the Israeli election of June 1981. With Begin’s Likud government facing electoral defeat it authorised the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear plant at Osirak near Baghdad. Prime Minister Begin justified the attack by saying; “on no account shall we permit an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against the people of Israel.”

There was an immediate condemnation of the audacious attack by the Israeli airforce. The Americans in particular were outraged and President Reagan retaliated by suspending the delivery of military aircraft to Israel.

At home opposition politicians rounded on Begin calling the attack an election stunt. However whatever the reasoning behind the decision to attack the Iraqi facility, it was almost certainly the reason behind Likud’s subsequent electoral victory. With that victory, the above-mentioned architects of Operation Peace for Galilee, the invasion of Lebanon, Sharon and Eitan came to power.

Note:

The reasons behind the 1982 Israeli Invasion of Lebanon are complex and multi-faceted and this short article can only give readers a brief understanding of events.

Sources:

  1. Metz H C (Editor), Israel a Country Study, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, (1988)
  2. Shlaim A, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, Penguin Books, (2000)
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