Israel Invades Lebanon
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.
Buildings destroyed during Israel's
invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The invasion created hundreds
of thousands of refugees who fled from the fighting.
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
The Massacre of Palestinians
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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
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