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Events in Southern Lebanon

Some Israeli policymakers considered South Lebanon's Shias natural allies, especially because both Israel and the Shias wanted to prevent the PLO from returning to the area. Some Israelis envisioned a Shia buffer state modeled after "Free Lebanon," controlled formerly by Saad Haddad (Haddad died of cancer in January 1984 and was replaced by retired Lebanese general Antoine Lahad). Indeed, about 10 percent of the SLA was Shia, and the IDF armed and supported several Shia groups.

These hopes, however, were never realized. The Shias, in fact, turned out to be implacable foes, vehemently resisting the Israeli presence in southern Lebanon. Concerned about the growing number of casualties inflicted on the IDF by Shia militants, on February 16, 1985, the IDF implemented the first stage of a withdrawal from Lebanon, evacuating its troops from the northern front at the Awwali River to south of the Litani River, thus removing Sidon from Israeli control. Sidon's feuding factions, determined to avoid a flare-up of internecine violence in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal, formed a special committee to organize the smooth entry of Lebanese Army troops into the city. On February 17, a 3,000-man detachment of the army's predominantly Shia Twelfth Brigade took over the Israeli positions as the populace celebrated in the streets.

But the celebration was short lived. In March and April, a new round of Christian-Muslim fighting pitting a Palestinian-Druze-Shia coalition against the Phalangists engulfed Sidon. The army was dispatched but appeared powerless to stop the combat. The Phalangists suffered a major defeat, as thousands of Christian civilians retreated east to Jazzin, where they were protected by Lahad's SLA. Others fled behind Israeli occupation lines.

Yet Israel's withdrawal gave it no respite from guerrilla attacks. On the contrary, the guerrilla campaign escalated into full-scale warfare, with most of the attacks occurring in the vicinity of Tyre. Frustrated by its inability to curb the resistance fighters, Israel resorted to what it called the "Iron Fist" policy, which entailed retaliatory and preemptive raids on villages suspected of harboring Shia guerrillas. On March 4, an explosion devastated a mosque in the village of Marakah--only hours after the IDF had inspected the site--killing at least twelve people, many of whom were Shia guerrilla commanders. On March 11, a large Israeli armored force wreaked vengeance on the village of Az Zrariyah, killing 40 people and detaining 200 men.

The IDF hastened its withdrawal from southern Lebanon, adhering to an accelerated deadline voted by the Israeli cabinet, and pulled its troops back to the armistice line on June 6, 1985. Israel also closed its detention center in Ansar and freed 752 of the inmates. But, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which forbids transporting prisoners of war across international boundaries, 1,200 prisoners were transferred to Israel. Israel preserved a security zone approximately five to ten kilometers wide, which it handed over to the SLA. Some 150 Israeli combat troops and 500 advisers remained within the security zone.

Data as of December 1987