The 1982 Lebanon War
was a three-month conflict precipitated by the Israeli invasion of
The Israeli invasion and the continuing occupation of southern Lebanon proved immensely controversial both in Israel and abroad, and marked a turning point in terms of global perceptions of Israel and the Palestinians. Finally, the war’s results shifted the center of Palestinian resistance back to historic Palestine itself, while on an international level it helped stimulate the search for diplomatic ways to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Following their expulsion from
After the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty
of 1979 removed the strategic threat of the Egyptian army from Israel’s southern front, and given the quiet Jordanian and Syrian fronts to the east, the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Menachem Begin
and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon
, felt free to use the Israeli army to destroy the PLO’s estimated 15,000–18,000 fighters in Lebanon once and for all. Israel sought not only to rid the northern Israeli border of a hostile force, but to weaken PLO influence in the occupied
An Israeli-PLO cease-fire agreement engineered indirectly by the American government in July 1981 led to a period of peace along the Israeli-Lebanese border. On 6 June 1982, however, the Israeli government used the pretext of the attempted assassination in London
of the Israeli ambassador by an anti-PLO Palestinian group to launch an invasion of Lebanon. Originally claiming that Israeli only wanted to advance 40 kilometers into Lebanon to clear a “security zone,” Sharon quickly ordered the Israeli army to advance toward the capital, Beirut, and to engage Syrian forces in the country. Ultimately, approximately 76,000 Israeli troops and more than 1,000 tanks crossed into Lebanon. PLO fighters and Lebanese militias allied with the PLO engaged the Israelis in fierce fighting, while Israelis tank and air battles with Syrian forces led to the loss of over 80 Syrian aircraft. The Israelis quickly encircled
That same month, Israel’s ally in Lebanon, Bashir Gemayel, was elected president of Lebanon. However, on 14 September, just days after the multinational force left, he was assassinated. The Israeli army occupied West Beirut the next day and allowed the Lebanese Forces militia—who held the Palestinians responsible for Gemayel’s assassination—to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in southern Beirut on 16 September. The militiamen murdered more than 2,000 Palestinian refugees as Israeli soldiers surrounded the camps to prevent the refugees from fleeing and, as the massacre continued into the night, fired flares to illuminate the area. In Israel, the Kahan Commission
was formed thereafter to investigate Israeli culpability in the slaughter. Israeli forces were found to be “indirectly responsible” for the massacre, and Sharon (who was found to bear personal responsibility) was forced to resign as defense minister. The Sabra and Shatila massacres remain, along with the events at
Estimates about the number of people killed in the 1982 war in Lebanon are difficult to determine precisely. However, probably between 17,000 and 19,000 Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrians—civilians and armed personnel—were killed in the war, in addition to the Palestinian refugees murdered in Sabra and Shatila. The Israeli army lost 376 soldiers from June to September 1982. The PLO never again constituted a major military force, and it increasingly looked to diplomatic solutions to settle the Palestine question. Ironically for Israel, the war and the ongoing Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon led to the formation of the
Fisk, Robert. Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Genet, Jean. “Four Hours in Shatila.” Journal of Palestine Studies 12, no.3 (Spring 1983): 3-22.
Khalidi, Rashid. Under Siege: PLO Decisionmaking During the 1982 War. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.
Sayigh, Yezid. “Palestinian Military Performance in the 1982 War.” Journal of Palestine Studies 12, no.4 (Summer 1983): 3-24.
Sayigh, Yezid. “Israel’s Military Performance in Lebanon.” Journal of Palestine Studies 13, no.1 (Autumn 1983): 24-65.
Schiff, Ze’ev, and Ehud Ya’ari. Israel’s Lebanon War. New York: Touchstone, 1985.