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4.1 The Israeli Invasion of 1982: Things Change|
The Lebanese arena during the early eighties was one of turbulence and drastically changing conditions. The Israeli invasion in June 1982 raised havoc in the south and burst its way up into Beirut, signifying a rapid and dramatic inversion of circumstances. However, as earlier shown, the Israeli enterprise of turning Lebanon into a new order failed: Bashir Gemayel was assassinated, the Syrians not eliminated, and by sieging and shelling and bombing West Beirut, the Israeli forces became targets for both international as well as internal criticism.
Furthermore because of the horrible events at Sabra and Shatila, the Israelis decided to withdraw from Beirut. Successor to the killed Lebanese president, Bashir Gemayel, was to be his brother, Amin Gemayel. Juxtaposed, the MNF redeployed its troops in Beirut in order to restore peace and security over the area of the capital. Thomas Friedman argues that the American president at time, Ronald Reagan, sent back his troops (together with a French and a Italian contingent) in the belief that by strengthening the authorities of Amin Gemayel's regime, helping it to restore law and order, Lebanon soon would be able to stand on its own feet. However, this American track had its implications. Instead of trying to reach a consensus with the opposing segments of the Lebanese population, the new regime of Amin Gemayel started to clamp down on them. By disarming solely Muslim and left-wing militias in western Beirut, not even entering the Christian-dominated eastern part of the capital; by arbitrary arresting great numbers of the - mainly Muslim - citizens, and demolishing the houses in the Shiite southern surburbs of Beirut; and by supporting the Christian Phalange militias that were trying to conquer the Chouf mountains in the east of Lebanon from the Druze community, Amin Gemayel and his regular army soon were perceived by many as only constituting another militia in a civil war that was not over.
Moreover, on 17th May 1983, an agreement was brokered by Lebanon and Israel through mediation by the US. According to Richard Norton, this agreement "provides a clear outline of the conditions under which Israel envisages withdrawal from the south". It drew up the guidelines for an establishment of a "security region" in the southern areas, policed with a limited number of Lebanese troops into which the SLA would intergrate. Also, a "Security Arrangement Committe", composed of American, Lebanese and Israeli observers, would oversee if any violations were committed against the agreement. In effect, Richard Norton claims, through all restrictions given the Lebanese troops regarding their freedom of movement on their own territory and the SLA:s tranformation into a legitimate "territorial brigade", the agreement actually implied that the southern areas of Lebanon would fall under Israeli control.
Obviously, the Beirut regime ran its own race. It had not taken notice of the new radicalized Shiite community and it had made an indulgent deal with Israel, an aggressor and occupier in the eyes of many Lebanese. The strengthening-of-institution-policy the Western powers tried to carry out failed completely in taking into account that the Maronite-dominated administration running those institutions were facing a rapidly increasing impopularity and perceived illegitimacy. Thus, even though the MNF had been deployed in Beirut under the banner of peace and law and order, it was a banner of a peace and a law and an order that far from all Lebanese would comply to. And consequently, the MNF became an enemy to those factions opposing the Beirut regime.
The above mentioned suicide attacks against the American embassy and the MNF headquarters must be put into the context described above. Likewise, Robert Fisk points out how Israeli soldiers "were fast becoming involved in a guerilla war with unidentified gunmen." Hence, even though the Palestinian guerillas were gone, the warfare was not. Undoubtedly, a reaction was being formed against the prevailing circumstances.
Down south, a similar development emerged. It is crucial although to note the conflict between the Palestinian guerillas and Amal in the south prior to the Israeli invasion of 1982. There were indeed, as I have shown, strong resentments among many southerners against the presence of armed Palestinians. And thus, clear indications show that many of them welcomed the Israelis in the initial phase of the invasion. Ahmad Beydon mentions that there existed a "paradoxical sense that an Israeli occupation would end the Israeli bombings - in a word, that Israel should free Lebanon from Israel". In addition, it is "no overstatement", Richard Norton argues, "to claim that many Shi'is welcomed the Israeli invasion, but - it must be emphasized - they did so on the presumption that Israel would not linger in Lebanon."
But then, why did Israel stay? If there indeed was a tacit consensus between the Israelis and the southerners in Lebanon of expelling the PLO - why could not they reach an agreement after this expulsion, enabling the Israelis to withdraw?
Well, as I see it, this issue can be explained by acknowledging the perceptions of the two varying sides. First, in respect to the Shiites, it must be reckoned that they held strong suspicions against the Israeli intentions regarding the south of Lebanon. In the light of the Israeli annexations of the Golan Heights, and occupations of the Gaza strip and the West Bank, the Shiites could easily portray the Jewish state as expansionist and eager for domination. The 17th May agreement and the way Israel tried to tie Lebanese proxies under its command, were in the eyes of the Lebanese Shia only attempts by Israel in seeking indirect control over the south. Hence, Richard Norton argues, after having got rid of the PLO, the Shia "had no desire to trade one foreign overlord for another". Equally important, any overt cooperation with Israel was for any weak community in the Arab world morally and politically - indeed, even physically - suicidal. Syria, for example, would never have complied to such a cooperation.
On the other hand, the Israelis, Clinton Bailey remarks, would not leave Lebanon entirely without a formal security arrangement, worked out with a responsible Lebanese party. As conditions in Beirut started to get volatile and Syrian pressure made the Lebanese government to reconsider the 17th May agreement, the Israelis perceived that they could not leave Lebanon. Instead they chose to conduct a partial withdrawal, leaving Beirut and the Chouf mountains in the east in order to redeploy all of their forces down south. Avner Yaniv notes that the Israeli administration dealing with the circumstances in the southern areas had no "coherent and well-thought-out plan" for this undertaking. Its measures contained an "unbound faith in improvisation" and "proceeded to deal with situations as they arose". Besides, the Israeli policy-makers had gained their experiences from administrating the occupied areas of the West Bank and Gaza. As a result, Avner Yaniv concludes, they bore the "unspoken assumption" that "all Arabs are the same - more dangerous verbally than in practical terms, cowardly, submissive, greedy, untrustworthy, emotional, bribable, and easily intimidated into collaboration with any authority, Arab or not".
South Lebanon, however, was to be a different story. A few days before the Israeli withdrawal phase in September 1983, an Amal leader, Mohammar Ghaddar declared:
The trouble will really begin for the Israelis, after the partial withdrawal. Amal is ready to take decision against the Israelis. After the partial they will no longer be on a peace mission - they will be an army of occupation. The Israelis say 'we want to get rid of the terrorists'. That's allright with us - so long as they leave eventually. They say that the partial withdrawal is a first step toward a full withdrawal. But they are doing the opposite of what they are saying. They are bulding new roads, defenses and fixed houses - not for one winter but for many winters...Every time they arrest people and beat them, there is more hatred for the Israelis. They are stirring up the people - we in Amal don't need to stir them.
What followed was an escalating chaos, a dialectical deteroriation into violence and warfare. Due to the Israeli occupation forces, any attempt of a Lebanese authority to restore law and order would unavoidably be perceived among the Shia as collaboration with an occupier. The Israeli response was to unleash its security forces, hunting down any suspect member of the emerging resistance. A course of actions which, indeed, spread the hatred even worse.
The last straw although was an incident in October 1983 at an Ashura gathering in a southern town called Nabatiyha. Here, while commemorating the death of Hussein at Kerbala, an estimated number of 50000-60000 Shiites were interrupted by an Israeli convoy who tried to make its way through the masses. The riots that erupted signed the start of an all-out war. It was blatant symbolism, and just as deadly. The following day, the head of the Higher Shia Council of the South, Sheikh Shams al Din, condemned the Israelis through a fatwa (binding religious opinion), calling for Shiite activism, for "civil disobedience" and "resistance". By using the same paradigm as Sayyed Musa, the sheikh declared that every generation has its own Kerbala, that a "man makes his own choice", he can "soar and sacrifice" or he can "submit and betray".
Soon, Thomas Friedman writes, the Shiites "attacked the Israeli troops any way and anywhere they could - with hit-and-run ambushes, nail bombs, exploding donkeys, Red Cross ambulances packed with TNT, and snipers". In addition, Robert Fisk notes that southern Lebanon "was turning into a death trap for the Israelis, a place of constant ambushes and
booby traps in which the most powerful army in the Middle East seemed unable to defend itself".
Truly, in a regional perspective, the fighting both around Beirut and in the south can be regarded as a fight over the 17th May agreement - who was to get the future influence over war-torned Lebanon? Syria, or Israel and the Western powers? If implemented, the Syrians would, as we have seen, lose its influence over Lebanon alongside Israeli and Western insights on the Lebanese ground - at least in the south - as well as the regime in Beirut would strengthen its ties with USA and France. Therefore, Syria would never comply to the 17th May agreement, and Damascus also demanded that it should be "officially abrogated".
In this perspective, it is crucial to note the earlier mentioned accomodating of Amal towards the Lebanese state and its willingness of working within its structures and institutions. This openness to the regime did not change during the summer of 1982 as the Israeli invasion rumbled on. Instead, when the Lebanese president at time, Elias Sarkis, formed "The National Salvation Committe" with the main purpose of gathering the most prominent political leaders of Lebanon to face the invasion, Nabih Berri chose to join, sitting side by side with Bashir Gemayel, the Phalangist leader who had cooperated with the Israelis. Neither did Nabih Berri oppose the later presidency of Bashir Gemayel, all in the hope of a future cooperation and gained influence. This accomodating attitude towards the Lebanese government was further sustained as Amin Gemayel succeeded his assasinated brother Bashir. As a result, when the regime turned pro-Western, with the help of MNF, and without Nabih Berri rejecting it, Syria feared that it was not only losing its grip over Amal but over Lebanon as a whole.
So, how did Damascus respond? Of course, Syria saw the advantages it could gain from supporting the emerging resistance: by fighting the MNF in Beirut and the withdrawing Israelis in the south, the resistance indirectly became a "baseball bat" for the Syrians in the battle over the 17th May agreement. Doubtlessly, it was successful. In March 1984, after the suicide attacks and countless numbers of ambushes, the MNF departed from Lebanon, realizing that their task was impossible; that influential and dangerous actors on the Lebanese stage were in no mood for any Western presence on it. Likewise, in the south, the Israelis were on retreat. Through a show of force - something they called the "Iron-Fist policy" - the Israelis pulled the bulk of its forces out of Lebanon in the first half of 1985. The shelling, shooting and bombing this last withdrawal entailed was meant to sign a sharp mark in letting the Lebanese feel what would happen if they tried committing anything hostile against Israel in the following. Like in 1978 however, the withdrawal was not a complete one; instead, they handed over the former "security-zone" to SLA, leaving some of its own troops for support.
Obviously, as both the Western powers and Israel had abandonded any project of signing any treaty with the regime in Beirut, the Lebanese administration was stranded. And with no other option in sight, Amin Gemayel turned to Damascus for help and reconciliation. He was forgiven - and the 17th May agreement officially abrogated. As a conclusion, Theodor Hanf states: "the war against the [17th May] agreement was a civil war, it ended 'without victors and without vanquished', and with all parties more dependent on Syria than ever before".
In a way, I can agree. But, on the regional scene, Syria was the victor and USA and Israel the vanquished. As USA turned its back on Lebanon, Israel had gained nothing from its 1982 invasion. Forced to withdraw, without any security arrangement worked out with the government in Beirut, Israel troops, side by side with SLA, was back in a very insecure "security-zone", fighting a war of attrition against a guerilla which was far more zealous and effective than ever the PLO. On the other hand, domestically, no reforms were implemented. In return for their resumed submission to Damascus, the Christian-dominated political establishment had to make no concessions to the radicals. In that sense, there were no winners. Only Syria. And, as supervisors, the Syrians apparently did not really care what the Lebanese system looked like. This was their way of "walking the tightrope", dividing and ruling, as I mentioned an earlier chapter. Accordingly, the Lebanese order was back at square one in a ruthless game of war.
Aziz Abu-Hamad, associate director of Human Rights Watch/Middle East, means that the Israeli invasion of 1982 resulted in the death of 20000, mostly civilians. Only in Beirut, officials reported that 5000 civilians were killed by the Israeli bombardments during the 52-day siege. Abu-Hamad adds however, that those numbers are not "universally accepted" - the Israelis themselves, for expample, have "contested their accuracy". See Abu-Hamad (1995) p. 242.
On his discussion of this issue, see Friedman (1989) p. 191-194.
 Friedman means that Amin Gemayel recognized the support he had from the United States, leading him to follow a "tribal logic", saying "When I am weak, how can I compromise? When I am strong, why should I compromise?" Ibd., p. 194-197. Clinton Bailey argues that Amin Gemayel tried to meet the Muslim community in order to reach a consensus. But instead of cooping with Nabih Berri and his powerful Amal movement, who in the beginning supported Amin's presidency, Gemayel turned to the old traditional leaders within the zu'ama who were uninterested in reforms and over all more easy to deal with. See Bailey (1987) p. 221-223,
See Norton (1993) p. 68.
Fisk (1991) p. 396.
Beydon (1992) p. 47,
Norton (1987) p. 86.
Ibid., p. 109. An Amal prominent, Muhamad al Ghazala stated in the end of 1983: "Israel has slogans...that she only wants the Palestinians out of south Lebanon. But history tells us she wants to take south Lebanon and the waters of the Litani River". Yaniv,(1987) p. 241. Quoted from New York Times, 7 December 1983.
See Bailey (1987) p. 230-234,
Ibid., p. 233.
Yaniv (1987) p. 234.
Ibid., p. 241. Quoted from Jerusalem Post, 29th August 1983
Moshe Arens, an Israeli arabist, was once told by a Lebanese friend: "Do not join those who murdered Husain, because if you bring the Shi'is to identify you with the history of [their] suffering, the enmity that will be directed at you will have no bounds and no limits. You will have created for yourselves a foe whose hostility will have a mystical nature and a momentum which you will be unable to arrest". Norton (1987) p. 113. From Jerusalem Post, 15th February 1985.
See Ajami (1986) p. 202. Quoted from An-Nahar, October 18 1983. In a private publication delivered during a sermon 27th October 1983, Sheikh Sams al Din stated that Israel had entered Lebanon under the pretext of security but that "Lebanon's identity would be erased" and "that its waters and economy would be exploited". Ibid., p. 201.
Friedman (1989), p. 180.
Fisk (1991) p. 551.
See for example Hanf (1993) p. 286-288.
Bailey (1987) p. 221-223,
When called to Damascus to oppose the 17th May agreement, Nabih Berri refused. According to a southern Amal leader Da'ud Da'ud, Berri claimed: "We are not prepared to oppose our government's move from Damascus. Whoever wants to oppose it should go to Beirut." See Bailey (1987) p. 234, n.. 14. From Al-Nahar, May 30, 1983.
The American President, Ronald Reagan, explained that "once the terrorist attacks started, there was no way that we could really contribute to the original mission by staying there as a target." See Fisk (1991) p. 534.
See Yaniv (1987) p. 282-286. At time for withdrawal, one Israeli officer in the field commented: "This has become an all-out war...and we have to protect ourselves. The argument that we will only create more enemies is irrelevant; there are no more enemies to make here." Ibid., p. 281. From Jerusalem Post, 21 February 1985.
Both Richard Norton and Ahmad Beydon remarks that the new Israeli "security-zone" differed from the former, due to its more offensively strategically values. It was larger than the former and contained a "corridor" up nort to the Bekaa Valley where SLA was deployed. This zone is still the current (in May 1997). See Norton (1993) p. 61-79; Beydon (1992) p. 35-53,
Pierre Yazbak, Head of the Lebanese Forces office in Jerusalem (which was closed down), commented the issue: "We have no option but to reach an understanding with Syria. Our strategy now is simply survival. Anything else would be sheer suicde." See Norton (1987) p. 131. From Middle East International, September 1985.
See Hanf (1993) p. 293.
The Israeli Minister of Defense at the time, Yitchak Rabin, commented the situation: "Shi'ite terrorism carries with it a much greater danger...than PLO terrorism. If as a result of the war we will have succeded in eliminating to a large extent the PLO terrorists, but will have brought about Shi'ite terrorism, one would have to think twice about what really proved to be the results of this war." See Yaniv (1987) p. 281. From Jerusalem Post, 3 February 1985.
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