Operation Peace for Galilee
On June 3, 1982, gunmen from the Abu nidal Palestinian terrorist group shot the Israeli ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, and paralyzed him in an assassination attempt. he died in February 2003. This was a factor in Israel’s decision to launch military strikes against Palestinian positions in Lebanon. The operation was described as a major response to years of PLO terror attacks against Israel and its people.
After the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan in September 1970, the PLO shifted its infrastructure to Lebanon and established a massive presence there—a state within a state—from which it launched terrorist operations against Israel.
Over the years these attacks grew in number, intensity, and sophistication, despite various efforts by Israel and the international community (including an unofficial cease-fire arranged by U.S. ambassador Philip habib) to defuse the situation and establish a quiet border.
On June 6, Israel launched a major military action against the PLO called Operation Peace for Galilee. The military objective was to ensure security for northern Israel; to destroy the PLO’s infrastructure, which had established a state within a state in Lebanon; and to eliminate a center of international terrorism and a base of operations from which Israel was threatened. The objective of the IDF was to ensure that the civilian population of the Galilee was beyond the range of terrorist fire from Lebanon.
Prime Minister Begin conveyed to the United States that the operation would be limited to a distance of about 25 miles (some 40 kilometers) from its borders, but it soon went beyond this self-imposed limit. Israel also noted its aspiration to sign a peace treaty with Lebanon after PLO and Syrian influence had been eliminated. But the political objectives were not as precise, and in many respects the results were ambiguous.
In the first few weeks of the invasion, Israeli forces gained control of all southern Lebanon up to Beirut, most of the southern Beqa Valley in the east, and most of the Beirut-Damascus highway. The war occasioned major debate and numerous demonstrations within Israel and resulted in substantial casualties.
The PLO infrastructure and the Palestinian camps in the south, which had taken almost 12 years to build, were systematically destroyed, and more than 10,000 Palestinians and Lebanese suspected of PLO sympathies were sent off to a detention camp. Significant numbers of Syrian missiles, aircraft, and tanks were either hit or captured, and Syrian soldiers were killed.
Then, Israel laid siege to Beirut, which came to an end with the PLO’s departure from Beirut and the entry of a small multinational force. The United States played the crucial role of mediating among the parties and guaranteeing the safety of Palestinian civilians remaining in Beirut.The hostilities in Lebanon were terminated by a brokered cease-fire achieved by U.S. envoy Philip Habib.
The PLO was forced to withdraw its forces from Lebanon in August 1982. Israel’s northern border was consequently more secure and northern Galilee was safer, but southern Lebanon had been transformed into an area of growing Shiite influence and control. The PLO was weakened, but its more radical elements had taken effective control over Lebanon’s Palestinians. The Israeli troops that remained in Lebanon until the summer of 1985 became targets of terrorists and others, and numerous casualties resulted.
After the end of hostilities, Phalange leader Bashir Gemayel became president-elect of Lebanon but was assassinated on September 14, 1982, before he could take office. Immediately Israel ordered its army into Beirut to restore order but with the stipulation that no troops were to enter the camps. Gemayel’s brother, Amin, was then elected in his place.
Although the Israelis controlled Beirut and the camps were closed and surrounded, right-wing Lebanese Christian (Phalangist) militia entered the camps of Sabra and Shatila on September 16 and massacred hundreds of Palestinians. The two camps were basically residential areas with a population exceeding 50,000 people.
Israel established a commission of inquiry to ascertain events pertaining to the massacre and to determine Israeli responsibility, if any. The Kahan report was issued in the spring of 1983 and determined that there was no direct Israeli responsibility. The massacre was the direct result of Phalangist action. nevertheless, the report suggested indirect culpability on the part of some Israelis and recommended a number of important changes. Among these was the resignation of Ariel Sharon as minister of defense.
After the war in Lebanon in 1982, Israel engaged in negotiations with the Gemayel government in Lebanon under the auspices of the United States, concerning the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon and related arrangements. After months of negotiations that included the extensive involvement of U.S. secretary of state George Shultz, an agreement was reached and signed on May 17, 1983.
The Israel-Lebanon agreement was not a peace treaty; rather the two states agreed “to respect the sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of each other” and to “confirm that the state of war between Israel and Lebanon has been terminated and no longer exists.” The existing international boundary between Israel and Lebanon was to remain the border, and Israel undertook to withdraw all its armed forces from Lebanon. Syrian forces and the PLO were also to withdraw.
Syria rejected the agreement, and Palestinian leaders, meeting in Damascus, also opposed it. Syria objected to the Israeli security presence in southern Lebanon, claiming that it infringed on Lebanese sovereignty and Syrian security. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union’s reaction was multifaceted.
It charged that the United States and Israel were grossly violating Lebanese territory, and it demanded the unconditional withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon as the first and foremost condition for bringing peace to that country. Although signed and ratified by both states, Lebanon abrogated the agreement in March 1984, yielding to heavy pressure from Syria and the Soviet Union. Israeli forces remained in Lebanon.
The war in Lebanon also led to tensions and verbal clashes between Israel and the United States. The initial U.S. effort to secure the PLO’s evacuation was soon supplemented by the decision to return U.S. forces to Beirut after the massacres at the Shatila and Sabra camps. The war also led to the Reagan administration’s “fresh start initiative,” which sought to reinvigorate the Arab-Israeli peace process. Israel saw the U.S. proposals as detrimental to its policies and rejected them.
That action, coupled with the massacres at the Shatila and Sabra camps, resulted in a sharp deterioration in Israel’s standing in U.S. public opinion and further disagreements with the U.S. administration. relations appeared to have come full circle by summer 1983, when the two states benefited from a congruence of policy that included recognition of Israel’s strategic anti-Soviet value and its desire for peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as parallel views concerning Lebanon.
This development comported with reagan’s initial perceptions of Israel and received explicit expression in a December 1983 agreement on closer strategic cooperation between reagan and the new prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Shamir.