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Israel

The Siege of Beirut and Its Aftermath

The cease-fire signaled the start of a new stage in the war, as Israel focused on PLO forces trapped in Beirut. Although Israel had long adhered to the axiom that conquering and occupying an Arab capital would be a political and military disaster, key Israeli leaders were determined to drive the PLO out of Beirut. Israel maintained the siege of Beirut for seventy days, unleashing a relentless air, naval, and artillery bombardment. The Israeli air force conducted what was called a "manhunt by air" for Arafat and his lieutenants and on several occasions bombed premises only minutes after the PLO leadership had vacated them. If the PLO was hurt physically by the bombardments, the appalling civilian casualties earned Israel world opprobrium. Morale plummeted among IDF officers and enlisted men, many of whom personally opposed the war. Lebanese leaders petitioned Arafat, who had threatened to fight the IDF until the last man, to abandon Beirut to spare further civilian suffering. Arafat's condition for withdrawal was that a multinational peacekeeping force be deployed to protect the Palestinian families left behind. Syria and Tunisia agreed to host departing PLO fighters. An advance unit of the Multinational Force, 350 French troops, arrived in Beirut on August 11, followed within one week by a contingent of 800 United States marines. By September 1, approximately 8,000 Palestinian guerrillas, 2,600 PLA regulars, and 3,600 Syrian troops had evacuated West Beirut.

Taking stock of the war's toll, Israel announced the death of 344 of its soldiers and the wounding of more than 2,000. Israel calculated that hundreds of Syrian soldiers had been killed and more than 1,000 wounded, and that 1,000 Palestinian guerrillas had been killed and 7,000 captured. By Lebanese estimates, 17,825 Lebanese had died and more than 30,000 had been wounded.

On the evening of September 12, 1982, the IDF, having surrounded the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, dispatched 300 to 400 Christian militiamen into the camps to rout what was believed to be the remnant of the PLO forces. The militiamen were mostly Phalangists but also included members of the Israeli-sponsored South Lebanon Army (SLA). The IDF ordered its soldiers to refrain from entering the camps, but IDF officers supervised the operation from the roof of a six-story building overlooking part of the area. According to the report of the Kahan Commission created later by the Israeli government to investigate the events, the IDF monitored the Phalangist radio network and fired flares from mortars and aircraft to illuminate the area. Over a period of two days, the Christian militiamen massacred 700 to 800 Palestinian men, women, and children.

Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon, the architect of Israel's war in Lebanon, was forced to resign his portfolio in the wake of the Sabra and Shatila investigation, although he remained in the cabinet. He was replaced by former ambassador to the United States Moshe Arens, who wanted Israel to withdraw promptly from Lebanon, if only to avoid further antagonizing Washington.

Israel withdrew its forces to the outskirts of the capital but it no longer had a clear tactical mission in Lebanon. Israel intended its continued presence to be a bargaining chip to negotiate a Syrian withdrawal. While awaiting a political agreement, the IDF had to fight a different kind of war. Turned into a static and defensive garrison force, it was now caught in a crossfire between warring factions. Its allies in Lebanon, the Christian Maronite militias, proved to be incapable of providing day-to-day security and holding territory taken from the PLO. The hostility engendered among the predominant Shia population of southern Lebanon over the prolonged Israeli occupation was in some ways potentially more dangerous than the threat posed by Palestinian guerrillas. In November 1983, the blowing up of the Israeli command post in Tyre signaled the beginning of full-scale guerrilla warfare by Shia groups, some of which were linked militarily and ideologically to Iran. During 1984, more than 900 attacks--hit-and-run ambushes, grenade assaults, and antipersonnel mine detonations--took place upon Israeli troops. Realizing that to attempt to hold a hostile region like southern Lebanon indefinitely contravened its basic strategic doctrine, the IDF pulled back its forces between January and June 1985, leaving only a token force to patrol a narrow security zone with its proxy, the SLA.

Data as of December 1988


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