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LEBANON - Party of God, May 2003

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Party of God"

A History of Hezbollah

Negotiating With Hezbollah

Lebanon Country Profile

Hezbollah, the Region and U.S. Policy




1980-1983: Hezbollah Emerges
Civil WarHezbollah EmergesTarget AmericaGlobal TerrorThe Fate of Hezbollah
Geographical Key

Israel Invades Lebanon

Buildings destroyed during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Buildings destroyed during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The invasion created hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled from the fighting.
Although the Syrian occupation brought a semblance of order to Lebanon, border clashes between Israel and the PLO continued to flare. In June 1982, Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon ordered 120,000 soldiers to invade southern Lebanon. The Israelis met little resistance from Syrian troops, and they routed the PLO within days. Within weeks they had seized a quarter of Lebanon, including the entire southern portion of the country.

Only PLO strongholds in Beirut remained out of Israeli reach. The administration of then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan intervened out of fear that a battle to the finish between the Israelis and Palestinians would destroy the prospect for peace in the region. Responding to a call from Lebanese authorities, Reagan sent in U.S. Marines to help evacuate the PLO from Lebanon.

So in late August 1982, a contingent of 800 U.S. Marines arrived in Beirut as part of a multinational peacekeeping force that included an equal number of Italian troops and French troops. The peacekeeping force transported thousands of Palestinian guerrillas to Syria within weeks, effectively ending the PLO's state within a state in Lebanon. Reagan withdrew U.S. forces by mid-September.

The Massacre of Palestinians

A Palestinian woman brandishes helmets

A Palestinian woman brandishes helmets during a memorial service in Beirut, September 27, 1982, for victims of Lebanon's Sabra refugee camp massacre. She claimed the helmets were worn by those who massacred hundreds of her countrymen. (AP/Wide World Photos)
Then tragedy struck, radically altering both the U.S. role and the future of Hezbollah. On the evening of September 16, 1982, Christian Phalangists swept into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps outside Beirut and slaughtered hundreds of Palestinian civilians. Eyewitness reports and subsequent Israeli inquiries established that Israeli commanders permitted the Christian militia to enter the camps. Sharon himself later testified that he had approved of the men going into the camps in order to detain PLO guerrillas. But he also insisted that he had no advance knowledge that a massacre of civilians would take place. Regardless of intent, the massacre caused a significant shift in the balance of power in Lebanon, one with important implications for the emergence of Hezbollah.

The deadly incident was a strong reminder of the volatility of the region, and in an effort to maintain stability, the Reagan administration demanded a withdrawal of Israeli troops from Beirut and called for the redeployment of a multinational peacekeeping force. By the end of September 1982, U.S., French and Italian troops had once again descended upon Beirut. The soldiers were set up in temporary barracks at the Beirut airport.

The rendition of the Ayatollah Khomeini

A rendition of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who sent 1,000 of his Revolutionary Guards to Lebanon after the Israeli invasion. These elite forces helped to train and form Hezbollah.

The peacekeeping force, under the leadership of the U.S. Marines was charged with overseeing the withdrawal of Israeli troops. But in the eyes of many Shiites, the peacekeeping force merely represented another foreign invader. After all, during the shelling of PLO positions at the time of the Israeli invasion, it had been the Shiite community, which comprised 80 percent of the population in southern Lebanon, that had suffered the brunt of casualties. And now the United States, an ally of both Israel and the PLO, had re-entered the picture with a military show of force.

Complicating matters, the newly installed Khomeini regime in Iran had sent 1,000 Revolutionary Guards, the regime's elite fighting force, to southern Lebanon at the conclusion of the Israeli siege. The Revolutionary Guards provided military training for the existing Shiite militia and helped form Hezbollah, a new, more radical Islamic faction.

A man praying at a mosque in Lebanon

A man praying at a mosque in Lebanon. The Lebanese Shiite community emerged as a formidable fighting force in the early 1980s after receiving training and support for Syria and Iran.

The Shiite militia, numbering roughly 15,000 men, had now fought nearly every faction in Lebanon, including the Israelis, the Christians, the Sunni Muslims and the remaining forces of the PLO. The Shiites also were experiencing fragmentation amongst themselves -- as Amal, the largest militia, struggled to settle sectarian differences peacefully, the more radicalized Shiites aimed for the establishment of an Iranian-style Islamic state in Lebanon. And the growing ranks of the disaffected gravitated toward Hezbollah and the leadership of a cleric-poet named Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah.

NEXT - 1983-1991: Target America

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