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Lebanon Table of Contents


The Israeli Defense Forces Withdrawal and the Mountain War

On September 3, 1983, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began to evacuate the Shuf Mountains region and within twenty-four hours had completed its redeployment to south of the Awwali River. In the power vacuum resulting from the Israeli withdrawal, the Phalangist militia, no longer under Jumayyil's firm control, clashed with the Druze militia at Bhamdun, a town located where the Beirut-Damascus highway touches the edge of the Shuf Mountains. Simultaneously, the Lebanese Army sought to guard the cities of Suq al Gharb and Khaldah to prevent Druze forces from invading Beirut.

After several days of combat, the Phalangist militia was routed at Bhamdun and retreated to its stronghold of Dayr al Qamar, along with much of the Christian population. The Druzes surrounded and besieged Dayr al Qamar, which held 40,000 Christian residents and refugees and 2,000 Phalangist fighters. In other areas of the Shuf Mountains, the Druzes went on a rampage reminiscent of the 1860 massacres (see Religious Conflicts , ch. 1). The Catholic Information Center in Beirut reported that 1,500 Christian civilians were killed and 62 Christian villages demolished. The defeat of the Phalangists was expensive for the Christian community, which lost a large amount of territory.

The cost in political currency was even higher, however. Not only did the fighting deal a blow to Amin Jumayyil's credibility and authority in his dual role as chief of state and leader of the Christian community, it destroyed the myth shared by many different Lebanese factions that the Lebanese Civil War had been settled in 1976. Admittedly, Christians and Muslims had continued to fire on each other's neighborhoods on occasion, but this was perceived as part of Lebanon's environment, like the weather. In all the significant fighting between 1976 and 1982, the Syrians, Israelis, and Palestinians had been belligerents on either or both sides of the conflict. The Mountain War, as the 1983-84 fighting in the Shuf Mountains came to be called, however, was a purely Lebanese contest, and it dashed the hopes harbored by many that the withdrawal of foreign forces would end the Civil War.

In Suq al Gharb and Khaldah, it was the Lebanese Army rather than the Phalangists that confronted the Druze militias. On September 16, 1983, Druze forces massed on the threshold of Suq al Gharb. For the next three days the army's Eighth Brigade fought desperately to retain control of the town (see The Army , this ch.). The tiny Lebanese Air Force was thrown into the fray, losing several aircraft to Druze missile fire. United States Navy warships shelled Druze positions and helped the Lebanese Army hold the town until a cease-fire was declared on September 25, on which day the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey arrived on the scene.

Data as of December 1987