In a week in which newspaper headlines warn of deterioration into war with Hezbollah on the northern border, Israel marks 41 years since the outbreak of the First Lebanon War, or as it was called at the time – Operation Shalag.
On June 6, 1982, the Israeli government ordered the IDF to launch Operation Peace for Galilee, with the aim of "removing all northern settlements from the range of fire of the terrorists in Lebanon." In practice, the operation was intended to achieve far more far-reaching goals, namely pushing Syria out of Lebanon and establishing a pro-Israel administration in Beirut.
However, none of these goals were achieved. Instead, Israel sank into the Lebanese quagmire from which it emerged only 15 years later, in April 2000, when it withdrew its forces from Lebanon. Even then, it became clear that it was possible to remove the IDF from Lebanon, but that it was much harder to detach ourselves from what was happening in that country and remove the threat posed to us by Hezbollah, which controls it.
It was the civil war that broke out in Lebanon in 1975 that led to Operation Shalag. Lebanon's collapse into civil war was rooted in a series of internal Lebanese processes, but all this was compounded by the PLO's presence in the country and its terrorist activity against Israel, which obliged it to go to war against it in June 1982.
Within six days, the IDF reached Beirut, and on its way its forces were greeted with barrages of rice by Maronite and Shiite villagers in southern Lebanon. In August 1982, PLO and Syrian forces were expelled from Beirut, and shortly thereafter, Israel's ally, Bashir Gemayel, commander of the Christian forces, was elected president of Lebanon.
However, two weeks after his election as president, Gemayel was assassinated by the Syrians. His death heralded the beginning of a process of disillusionment with the illusion of establishing a new Lebanese order convenient for Israel. The latter tried to salvage something from its achievements, and on 17 May 1983 signed a non-belligerent agreement with the Lebanese government, intended as a first step towards a peace agreement. However, this agreement was not worth the paper on which it was written.
Moreover, Israel soon discovered that the PLO, which it expelled from Lebanon, had been replaced by Shiite Hezbollah, which had begun operating against its forces in the security zone in southern Lebanon. Even when Israel withdrew from the security zone on 24 May 2000, Hezbollah continued to carry out terrorist attacks along the border, one of which, on 12 July 2006, led to the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War.
To this day, Israel's First Lebanon War is perceived as a cursed and failed war that should have been avoided because it plunged Israel into a bloody Lebanese swamp, and worse, because it gave birth to Hezbollah, which poses a primary strategic threat to us. There is much justice in criticizing the war and its leaders, because the idea underlying it, regarding the establishment of a new Lebanese order, turned out to be a perverse idea.
But it must be admitted that a confrontation with the PLO in Lebanon was inevitable in light of its terrorist attacks against Israel, and that sooner or later it would have been forced to embark on a large-scale military operation that would have deeply involved us in what is happening in Lebanon. More importantly, contrary to popular belief, it was not Israel that created Hezbollah, since its appearance is rooted in the connection between the Ayatollahs' regime's rise to power in Tehran in 1979 and the breakthrough of the Shiite community from the margins to the center of the social and political stage in Lebanon.
It can also be assumed that had Israel not expelled the PLO from Lebanon, its situation would have been much worse, since it would have had to deal with a deadly combination of forces between Hezbollah and the PLO. These two would probably have struggled for control of Lebanon, but would have joined ranks without a problem when it comes to the struggle against Israel.
The lessons of the First Lebanon War – with its achievements, but also its failures – are important to remember and recall, especially when a renewed confrontation with Hezbollah in Lebanon is probably a matter of time.
Wrong? We'll fix it! If you find a mistake in the article, please share with us