Siege of Beirut

Siege of Beirut

The Siege of Beirut took place in the summer of 1982, as a result of the breakdown of the cease-fire effected by the United Nations. It ended with the PLO being forced out of Lebanon, and Israel immediately giving back nearly all the territory taken in the siege, holding onto only a "security zone," a ten-mile wide strip of land along the Israeli-Lebanese border, which was later returned to Lebanon in 2000.

Historical Setting

The PLO moved its primary base of operations to Beirut in the late 1960s, after an attempt on their part to overthrow the government of Jordan, and their subsequent expulsion. The presence of Palestinian forces was one of the main reasons that led to a Christian-Muslim conflict in Lebanon in 1975–1976 which ended with the occupation of Lebanon by peace-keeping forces from several Arab countries, including Syria. Over the next few years, the Syrians and the PLO gained power in Lebanon, surpassing the ability of the official Lebanese government to curtail or control their actions. Throughout this time, artillery and rocket attacks were launched against Israel.In 1978, and again in 1981 and early 1982, the United Nations sponsored a cease-fire, and Israeli troops, sent into Lebanon to curtail these attacks, were withdrawn. In 1982 Israel re-invaded Lebanon following the attempted assassination of its ambassador in London, despite being aware that the attack had been carried out by the Abu Nidal faction, which was at war with Arafat's PLO. The architect of the war, Ariel Sharon (then Defence Minister), presented it to the Israeli government as a limited incursion into Southern Lebanon but took his troops to Beirut.The invasion was code-named "Operation Pines" or "Peace for Galilee", and was intended to weaken or evict the PLO and impose Bashir Gemayel, head of the Christian Phalange party, as President of Lebanon in order to get Lebanon to sign a peace treaty with Israel and bring the country into Israel's sphere of influence. This plan failed when Gemayel was assassinated not long after being elected President by the Lebanese parliament under Israeli pressure.The Israeli forces invaded in a three-pronged attack. One group moved along the coastal road to Beirut, another aimed at cutting the main Beirut-Damascus road, and the third moved up along the Lebanon-Syria border, hoping to block out Syrian reinforcements or interference. By the 11th of June, Israel had gained air superiority after shooting down a number of Syrian aircraft; Syria called for a cease-fire, and the majority of PLO guerillas fled Tyre, Sidon, and other areas for Beirut.

The Siege

Israel hoped to complete the siege as quickly as possible; their goal all along in invading Lebanon was for a quick and decisive victory. In addition, the United States, through their representative Philip Habib, was pushing for peace negotiations; the longer the siege took, the greater Arafat's bargaining power would be.For seven weeks, Israel attacked the city by sea, air, and land, cutting off food & water supplies, disconnecting the electricity, and securing the airport and some southern suburbs, but for the most part coming no closer to their goals. As with most sieges, the population of the city, thousands of civilians, suffered alongside the PLO guerillas. Israel was roundly accused of indiscriminately shelling the city in addition to the other measures taken to weaken the PLO.The Israelis secured several key locations in the remainder of Lebanon, but did not manage to take the city before a peace agreement was finally pushed through. Syria agreed on the 7th of August, with the US, Israel, Lebanon, and the PLO agreeing by the 18th. On August 21, 350 French paratroopers arrived in Beirut, followed by 800 American Marines and additional international peacekeepers (for a total force of 2,130) to supervise the removal of the PLO, first by ship and then overland, to Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, and Syria.


In the end, Israel succeeded in ending the rocket attacks for a very short period, and routing the PLO from Lebanon, but failed to weaken the PLO overall. The siege also saw the insubordination and subsequent dismissal of the 211th Armor Brigade commander, Eli Geva, who refused to lead his forces into the city, arguing this would result in "the excessive killings of civilians."

The number of civilian casualties is disputed, and is probably between 10,000 and 12,000. The maths is as follows: "An Nahar", a Lebanese paper published in Beirut, estimated that the total military personnel and civilians dead from the Lebanon campaign (up to and including the siege) was 17,825. Subtract 2,000 Syrian dead, 1,400 PLO and 1,000-3,000 civilians killed in the southern campaign, 1,000 PLO killed in the siege, and the 368 IDF killed. This number excludes the 750-3,000 Palestinian refugees killed in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which occurred when Israel broke into West Beirut after the assassination of Gemayel, in defiance of the peace accord negotiated by Habib, and allowed Phalangist forces into the camps.

Following the siege of Beirut, Arafat fled to Greece, and then to Tunis, establishing a new headquarters there. PLO "fedayeen" continued to operate out of Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Iraq, and the Sudan, as well as within Israeli-controlled territory.


*"An Nahar", September 1, 1982.
* Davis, M. Thomas. "40 km into Lebanon." Washington, DC: National Defense University Press (1987), pp. 96-101.
*Davis, Paul K. "Besieged: 100 Great Sieges from Jericho to Sarajevo." Oxford: Oxford University Press (2000).
*Gabriel, Richard. "Operation Peace for Galilee: The Israel-PLO War in Lebanon." New York: Hill and Wang (1984).
*Rabinovich, Itmar. "The War for Lebanon 1970-1985". Ithaca: Cornell University Press (1985).

ee also

*History of Israel
*1982 Invasion of Lebanon
*United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon
*Memory for Forgetfulness

External links

* [ Lebanese civil war 1982 pictures and information.] This website is from a pro-Lebanese perspective (Free Patriotic Movement)

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