1978-2000 South Lebanon conflict

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From 1978-2000, parts of southern Lebanon were continuously occupied by Israel or its allied militia, the principally Maronite Christian South Lebanese Army. the occupation, given the codenam Operation Litani, began on March 14, 1978, and ended when Prime Minister Ehud Barak, himself a veteran of 1973 fighting in Lebanon, finally ordered an Israeli withdrawal on May 24, 2000. The United Nations did not rule the Israelis to be in compliance with Security Council Resolution 425, which called for the total withdrawal of Israeli forces from the area, until June 16, 2000.

Some analyses date the beginning of the occupation four years later, with the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Operation Litani

The 1975 outbreak of the Lebanese civil war put a damper on Palestine Liberation Organization raids into Israel from southern Lebanon, but in 1978 the PLO reorganized and infiltrated eleven terrorists into Israel on March 11. The terrorists, led by an 18-year-old woman, managed to kill one American as he sunbathed on a beach, followed by thirty-seven Israelis in the hijacking of two buses, an event which became known as the Coastal Road Massacre. Three days later, Israeli Prime Minster Menachem Begin ordered 25,000 soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces to expel all PLO elements from Lebanon south of the Litani River, hence the name of the operation. The IDF, which at that point had never lost a war, was able to accomplish this mission with the loss of only 20 men, with the kill ratio estimated at anywhere from 50-100 to 1. While 285,000 civilians fled north of the river, it remains unclear what portions were Lebanese and Palestinian since Lebanon had become a popular destination for Palestinian refugees following the defeat of their attempt to overthrow the government of Jordan in 1970; 300,000 Palestinians were estimated to live there already in 1975.

Following their passage of Security Council Resolution 425, the United Nations deployed an interim force comprised largely of Irish troops to keep the peace as the Israelis withdrew. The SLA, as a Lebanese force, had nowhere to withdraw to; accordingly, a three-way low-intensity war began between it, the PLO, and the UN troops.

Operation Peace of the Galilee

In the summer of 1981, Israel became alarmed that the PLO appeared to be gaining an advantage over the SLA when the former organization crossed the Litani River in brigade strength and established themselves in the villages of Qana, Dir Amas, and Juya. Accordingly, Israel launched air raids against these and other Palestinian targets in Lebanon. The Palestinians were now close enough to fire long-range artillery including rockets into northern Israel, which they did in response to these strikes. Two weeks later American envoy Philip Habib negotiated a cease-fire, but the Israelis began joint patrols with the SLA, resulting over the next eleven months in the deaths of 27 Israel soldiers. Israel retaliated for only one of these deaths, an officer killed by a land mine on April 21, 1982, with an air raid on the coastal Lebanese town of Damour, which killed 23 people.

On June 3, 1982, Shlomo Argov, Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, was shot and permanently paralyzed by terrorists from the Abu Nidal organization. Since Abu Nidal was at that time part of Fatah, the leading faction within the PLO, the Israeli cabinet decided to mount a full invasion and clean out all centers of Palestinian resistance within 25 miles of the Lebanese-Israeli border. The IDF began softening up the Palestinians the next day with air raids as far north as the capital, Beirut (halfway up the Lebanese coast). Refugee camps were treated as military targets because it was common knowledge that gunmen were always present there. Syria, which at that time occupied most of Lebanon not held by the PLO, SLA, or Maronite Phalangists, contested the air campaign and came under attack in turn, with the loss of all but 10 of the aircraft which engaged Israel's air force, and some dozens of armored personnel carriers and tanks. The PLO retaliated by renewing its attack with artillery and mortars upon northern Israel; this time, two civilians were killed and six wounded.

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