History: When Israel occupied Lebanon

WHILST THERE are quite clear differences between the situation now and the situation in Lebanon following the Israeli invasion in 1982 (not least the collapse of Stalinist USSR and the Eastern Bloc countries), it indicates what could develop in US-occupied Iraq.

THE CAUTIOUS welcome by Iraqis to the occupying US and British troops has already given way to anger and protests at their presence. The shooting dead of 15 protesting Iraqi’s by US troops in Falluja and the gunning down of a similar number of anti-US protesters in the northern city of Mosul, has fuelled this anger. Will the US experience the same difficulties as the Israeli occupation of the Lebanon 20 years ago? CHRIS NEWBY looks at what happened then.

When Israel occupied Lebanon

The invasion took place against the background of a brutal civil war in Lebanon which began as a revolutionary class conflict but developed along mainly ethnic and religious lines between the Maronite Christian and Muslim, Druze and Palestinian populations.

The Palestinians had been forced there following their brutal expulsion from Jordan during "Black September" in 1970. But the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) under the leadership of Yasser Arafat lacked a programme of class struggle to unite Lebanon’s working class communities to overthrow capitalism, instead limiting itself to the Palestinian national issue.

It also relied for its financial aid on the patronage of rotten Arab regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

President Assad in Damascus, fearing the spread of the civil war into Syria and to prevent a de facto, revolutionary Palestinian state within Lebanon, sent in troops to contain the conflict.

Tensions existed between the Shia population particularly in the South of Lebanon and the Palestinian militias who came to be seen as something of an occupying force.

The largely impoverished Shia population was deprived of political power and alienated by the PLO’s creation of a state within a state and its use of southern villages to launch attacks on Israel. When the Israeli invasion took place some Shias threw rose water over the Israeli troops, seeing them as liberators.

Brutal occupation

THE INVASION – "Peace in Galilee" – was the plan of the then Israeli defence minister Ariel Sharon (now the current prime minister) and prime minister Menachem Begin. The main aim of the invasion was to destroy the PLO bases in Lebanon and its political influence, to better intimidate the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

But the scope and brutality of the Israeli invasion created widespread anger and resistance. Around 18,000 people were killed and 30,000 injured and between 500,000-800,000 made homeless in the first three months.

Then came the horror of the massacres at the Chabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps where 3,000 men, women and children were slaughtered by the right wing Christian Phalange militia under the gaze of Ariel Sharon.

In the south, the occupying Israelis set up a militia force which extorted money from Shia villages. At the same time, they began arresting, torturing and imprisoning Shia males in jails like the notorious Khiam prison, under the direction of Israeli Shin Bet security agents.

This propelled the Iranian iman Mousa Sadr’s ’Movement of the Deprived’ to the heart of the Shia rersistance and gave rise to the Hizbollah guerrilla movement and the tactic of suicide bombing. (Ominously for the US occupiers in Iraq, the Shia neighbourhood in Baghdad has been renamed Sadr City.)

One of the first targets was the Israeli army command building in Tyre. This served to show that the Israeli defence force was not impregnable and further attacks led to a growing death toll amongst the Israeli troops.

Also, the attempt to establish a regime in Lebanon friendly to Israel through Bashir Gemayel (head of the Phalange militia) failed after he was killed by a bomb explosion at his headquarters.

Forced out

THE DEATHS of Israeli troops and the horror, in particular, at the massacre at Chabra and Shatila, led to unprecedented mass protests in Israel against the war. At one point 90% of the population opposed the war. One peace demo in Tel Aviv numbered 400,000, including protesting soldiers.

This pressure both from attacks by Hizbollah and the growing anti-war movement within Israel not only forced the resignation of Begin and the removal of Sharon as defence minister but also led to the removal of Israeli forces from all but a southern Lebanon buffer zone. Eventually Israeli troops left some 18 years after the invasion.

US, French and Italian troops sent to counterbalance the USSR-backed Syrian troops in Lebanon were also eventually forced out. One of the main factors was the suicide bomb attacks on the US and French bases, where over 300 troops were killed and the suicide attack on the US embassy which killed 63.

Today in Iraq, the occupying troops from the US and Britain are facing growing unrest from the local population. Several Shia clerics have already warned the US of the consequences of long occupation. For many, Britain and America need to get out of Iraq quickly or they will face a Shia revolt.




PLO driven out of Jordan and set up headquarters in Beirut.



Simmering political and economic rivalries between Christian Phalangists and Muslim and ’radical’ Arab militias starts civil war. It quickly develops into war between Phalangist controlled East Beirut and PLO controlled West Beirut.



Syrian troops enter Lebanon and occupy all but far south.



25,000 Israeli troops drive through UN lines and invade Lebanon to destroy PLO.


June – August

Israeli siege of Beirut.



US/ French/Italian troops oversee evacuation of 11,000 PLO fighters.


23 August

After heavily rigged election Christian Phalange leader Bashir Gemayel becomes president of Lebanon.


14 September

Bashir Gemayel assassinated.


16-19 September

Massacre in Palestinian Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Phalangist militia under auspices of Israeli Defence forces commanded by Ariel Sharon.


11 November

Israeli military headquarters in Tyre attacked by suicide bombers killing 90.


18 April

Suicide bomber attacks US embassy 63 killed, 100 wounded.



Israeli forces begin withdrawal to southern Lebanon.


23 October

Suicide bomb attacks on US and French military headquarters killing 300.


24 May

Israeli troops withdraw from most of Lebanon.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, the CWI in England and Wales

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