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History, Invasion of Lebanon

Bashir Gemayel, Yitzhak Shamir, Shatila, Shimon Peres, Likud

The Lebanon border, which had been relatively quiet through the preceding Arab-Israeli wars, became the focus of Israeli security concerns in the early 1980s. Tensions between Lebanese Muslims and Christians had been heightened when the PLO, which had been expelled from Jordan in 1970, arrived in Lebanon. The situation was further complicated by the presence since 1976 of Syrian forces, who had originally intervened on behalf of Christians but soon allied with the PLO and other Muslims. PLO raids from Lebanon into Israel and the presence of Syrian missiles in Lebanon since early 1981 prompted Israel to launch a major military action, called “Operation Peace for Galilee,” into southern Lebanon in June 1982. The objectives of the raid were to ensure security for northern Israel and to destroy PLO infrastructure in Lebanon. Israel allied with Lebanese Christians, who also sought to expel the PLO. Under orders from Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, the Israeli military pushed north to Beirut, defeating PLO and Syrian forces. United States envoy Philip Habib negotiated a cease-fire, and the PLO withdrew its forces from Lebanon in August 1982.

After the cease-fire, Bashir Gemayel, leader of a Maronite Christian party, was elected president of Lebanon but was assassinated on September 14. Subsequently, right-wing Lebanese Christian militiamen entered Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila near Beirut and massacred hundreds of Palestinians in the camps. The Israeli government established a commission of inquiry to investigate events pertaining to the massacre and to determine whether Israel held any responsibility for it. The commission’s report, issued in early 1983, found Israeli military leaders indirectly responsible for failing to anticipate or prevent the massacre. It recommended the resignation of Sharon and other military leaders. In May 1983 Israel and Lebanon signed an agreement confirming that “the states of war” between them had been terminated. However, under pressure from Syria, which held considerable political and military influence in Lebanon, Lebanese president Amin Gemayel nullified the agreement in March 1984. Israel withdrew most of its forces from Lebanon in 1985, leaving a small force in the south to maintain security along the border.

In the fall of 1983 Begin resigned from office. Affected by the death of his wife and the costs and continuing casualties to Israel of the war in Lebanon, Begin apparently believed that he could no longer perform his tasks as he felt he should. He was replaced by his foreign minister, Yitzhak Shamir. In the 1984 Knesset elections no party achieved a clear victory. The major parties agreed to the formation of a national unity government made up of the two major political blocs, Likud and Labor. The arrangement provided for the rotation of the leaders—Shamir for Likud and Shimon Peres for Labor—in the positions of prime minister and foreign minister, which each would hold for 25 months, beginning with Peres as prime minister. The government withdrew Israel’s forces from Lebanon, leaving a small component in a security zone along the Lebanon-Israel border. It also acted to control inflation, which had risen to more than 400 percent per year, by imposing cuts in government expenditures and freezing wages and the exchange rate. It then worked to smooth the way for economic growth, entering a free trade agreement with the United States in 1985 that improved Israel’s international trade position.

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