The Siege of Beirut took place in the summer of 1982, as part of the 1982 Lebanon War, which resulted from the breakdown of the cease-fire effected by the United Nations. The siege ended with the Palestinian Liberation Organization being forced out of Beirut and Lebanon.
The PLO moved its primary base of operations to Beirut in the early 1970s, after Black September in Jordan. 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. Israel bombed targets in Lebanon and in 1978 launched a military invasion in to Southern Lebanon codenamed "Operation Litani".
In 1978, and again in 1981 and early 1982, the United Nations sponsored a cease-fire, and Israeli troops were withdrawn.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 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 guerrillas fled Tyre, Sidon, and other areas for Beirut.
The ring around Beirut was closed by 13 June 1982, 7 days after the start of Israeli invasion to Lebanon. PLO and part of Syrian forces were isolated in the city.
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.
At first Israelis thought that Christian Maronite forces would eradicate PLO quasi-government in Beirut, but it turned out that the Maronites were not prepared to undertake this task. For the IDF the capture of Beirut in street-to-street fighting would have involved unacceptable level of casualties. That is why the method chosen, was the combination of military pressure and psychological warfare to persuade the PLO that the only alternative to surrender was total annihilation.
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 guerrillas. Israel was roundly accused of indiscriminately shelling the city in addition to the other measures taken to weaken the PLO. By the end of the first week of July 500 buildings had been destroyed by Israeli shells and bombs.
On 14 of July Ariel Sharon and chief of staff Rafael Eitan obtained Prime Minister Begin's support for large scale operation for conquering of West Beirut in order to achieve the eviction of PLO. But the plan was rejected on 16 July by full Israeli cabinet, out of concern for heavy loss of life. Some parties threatened to leave the ruling coalition if the plan was adopted.
At the end of July, with negotiations still deadlocked, the IDF intensified its attacks. Mossad, using their Phalangist contacts, sent Arab agents into Beirut with car bombs in order to terrorize the Palestinians into submission and the Lebanese to increase pressure for their departure. Dozens of people died as a result of these bombings. Some of the Israeli agents were caught and ultimately confessed.
Israeli Air Forces (IAF) intensified missions specifically designed to assassinate Palestinian leaders – Yassir Arafat, Abu Jihad and Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad). The IAF were assisted by agents with transmitters on the ground. But though a number of apartment houses were destroyed with hundreds of Palestinians and Lebanese killed or wounded, the leaders managed to evade bombings.
On 10 of August, when American envoy Philip Habib submitted a draft agreement to Israel, defense minister Sharon, probably impatient with what he regarded American meddling, ordered a saturation bombing of Beirut, during which at least 300 people died. That bombing was followed by the protest to the Israeli government by President Ronald Reagan. In response, on 12 of August, the Israeli cabinet stripped Ariel Sharon of most of his powers, he was not allowed to order the use of air force, armored force and artillery without agreement of cabinet or prime-minister.
During the siege, the Israelis secured several key locations in other parts of Lebanon, but did not manage to take the city before a peace agreement was finally implemented. Although Syria had agreed on 7 August, Israel, Lebanon, and the PLO finally agreed, with US mediation, on the 18th. On 21 August, 350 French paratroopers arrived in Beirut, followed by 800 US Marines and Italian Bersaglieri plus 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. Altogether 8500 PLO men were evacuated to Tunisia, and 2500 by land to other Arab countries.
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."
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.
The siege of Beirut by Israeli military forces was highly controversial and was condemned even by Israel's traditional close ally, the United States, warning Israel that weaponry provided by the United States was only to be used for defensive purposes. The U.S. government at one point even considered threatening sanctions against Israel in order to stop Israel from launching an assault on West Beirut in August 1982. The Soviet Union tried to pass a United Nations resolution calling for a worldwide arms embargo on Israel, which was vetoed by the U.S.
"God knows it did not cross our minds to attack the Towers, but after the situation became unbearable—and we witnessed the injustice and tyranny of the American-Israeli alliance against our people in Palestine and Lebanon—I thought about it. And the events that affected me directly were that of 1982 and the events that followed—when America allowed the Israelis to invade Lebanon, helped by the U.S. Sixth Fleet. As I watched the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me punish the unjust the same way: to destroy towers in America so it could taste some of what we are tasting and to stop killing our children and women."
— Osama bin Laden, 2004
- History of Israel
- 1982 Invasion of Lebanon
- United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon
- Memory for Forgetfulness
- Shlaim 1999 p.410
- Shlaim 1999 p.411
- Morris. 2001 p.535
- Morris 2001 pp.535–36
- Shlaim 1999 p.413
- When Push Comes to Shove: Israel flouts U.S. diplomacy with an attack on Beirut, Time magazine, August 16, 1982.
- "God knows it did not cross our minds to attack the towers". The Guardian. London. October 30, 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/oct/30/alqaida.september11. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
- 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).
- Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall. New York: Norton press (1999)
- Morris, Benny The righteous victims. New York: Vintage books (2001)
- Lebanese civil war 1982 pictures and information. This website is from a pro-Lebanese perspective (Free Patriotic Movement)
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