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Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon

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South Lebanon Security Zone
Israeli-occupied territory of Lebanon

1988 Israeli map of the occupied belt in Southern Lebanon
• 1993
 • TypeMilitary occupation
• 1985–2000
Antoine Lahad
Historical eraLebanese Civil War
16 February 1985[1]
25 May 2000
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Free Lebanon State
Republic of Lebanon

The Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon[a] formally began in 1985 and ended in 2000 as part of the South Lebanon conflict. In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in response to a spate of attacks carried out from Lebanese territory by Palestinian militants, triggering the 1982 Lebanon War. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and allied Christian Lebanese militias subsequently seized large parts of Lebanon, including the capital city of Beirut, amid the hostilities of the wider Lebanese Civil War. Israel later withdrew from most of the occupied territory between 1983 and 1985, but retained control over areas along the Israel–Lebanon border that would later comprise the Israeli "Security Zone"[b] in coordination with the separatist State of Free Lebanon, which collapsed in 1984. From 1985 onwards, Israel supported the South Lebanon Army (SLA), the Lebanese Christian quasi-military of the collapsed Free Lebanon State, against Hezbollah and other Muslim militants in most of Southern Lebanon; Israel's overall stated purpose for the Security Zone was to create a buffer separating Israeli civilians in northern border towns from Lebanon-based terrorists.[citation needed] In 1993, it was estimated that there were 1,000–2,000 Israeli troops and 2,300 SLA troops active in the area.[2]

After the end of Israel's Operation Litani in 1978, the areas of Southern Lebanon that would later comprise Israel's Security Zone also hosted United Nations peacekeepers from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). While the IDF oversaw the region's general security, the SLA managed most of the occupied territory's ground affairs, including the operation of the Khiam detention centre.

The occupied strip of territory was ten-kilometers-wide except for a salient which reached north to Jezzine and the Litani River and put Tyre and Sidon as well as the Beqaa valley within artillery range. The total area covered was 900 square kilometres (350 sq mi), and comprised approximately 10% of Lebanon's total land area. It was home to around 180,000 people – 6% of the total population of Lebanon – living in around a hundred villages and small towns.[3]


Palestinian insurgency and Lebanese Civil War

Although the occupied strip was officially formed by Israel in 1985, following the collapse of the State of Free Lebanon and Israel's disengagement from most of Lebanon, it has its roots in the follow-up to and early stages of the Lebanese Civil War. In 1968, Palestinian militants led by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had large-scale control over Southern Lebanon, from where they initiated an insurgency against Israel and Lebanese Christians. By 1975, the PLO's presence had become a severe nuisance for Christians and local residents, and Christian militias began to increasingly engage Palestinian militants in open conflict. From mid-1976 onwards, Israel began to assist Lebanon's Christian residents and militias through the "Good Fence" along the Israel–Lebanon border.

1978 Israeli invasion of Lebanon

Following the Coastal Road massacre by Palestinian militants in Tel Aviv, Israel invaded Lebanon to displace the PLO from along its border, triggering the 1978 South Lebanon conflict. After a week of fighting, the PLO withdrew from Southern Lebanon, and Israel increased its support for the Christian South Lebanon Army (SLA); in 1979, Saad Haddad, the founder of the SLA, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Free Lebanon with Israeli support. After Israel's withdrawal at the end of the operation, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was deployed along the Israel–Lebanon border.

1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon

Following increased attacks in northern Israel and the attempted assassination of Israeli diplomat Shlomo Argov, Israel invaded Lebanon to displace the PLO from along its border, triggering the 1982 Lebanon War. By 1985, Israel had withdrawn to a front designated as a "Security Zone" in Southern Lebanon, where it retained its forces to fight alongside the SLA against Hezbollah and other Muslim militant groups, which marked the beginning of the 1985–2000 South Lebanon conflict.


1985–2000 South Lebanon conflict

Map of Southern Lebanon, featuring the Blue Line, UNIFIL zone, and Litani River (2006)

During the evacuation in the first Lebanon war, the command of the SLA was delivered into the hands of Antoine Lahad, who demanded and received Israeli permission to hold the Jezzine zone north of the strip. In the first years after the IDF withdrawal from the north part of Lebanon, the strip was relatively quiet. Over the years, the Lebanese militant groups, led by Sh'ite Hezbollah, increased on the Israeli side in the security belt. Driving on the roads became dangerous, and IDF forces stayed more in the military camps than on the roads. Hezbollah made many efforts to attack the IDF's military camps.

On 27 July 1989 the Hizbullah leader in South Lebanon, Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid and two of his aides, were abducted from his home in Jibchit, by IDF commandos. The night-time raid was planned by then Minister of Defence Yitzhak Rabin. Hizbullah responded by announcing the execution of Colonel Higgins a senior American officer working with UNIFIL who had been kidnapped in February 1988.[4][5]

On 16 February 1992, the then-leader of Hezbollah, Abbas Musawi, was assassinated by IDF's helicopter missiles. The IDF assumed that the Hezbollah leadership would curb their activities for fear of their lives and the lives of their families. Hezbollah was headed by Sheikh Nasrallah.

In July 1993 the IDF launched Operation Accountability which caused widespread destruction throughout Southern Lebanon but failed to end Hezbollah’s activities.

On 11 April 1996 the Israeli army, navy and air force launched a seventeen day bombardment of southern Lebanon, Operation Grapes of Wrath, in which 154 Lebanese civilians were killed.

At the time, Israeli soldiers serving in Southern Lebanon received no ribbon for wartime military service, because Israel considered the maintaining of the security belt as a low-intensity conflict rather than a war.[6] In early 2000, Chief-of-Staff Shaul Mofaz said that 1999 was "the IDF's most successful year in Lebanon" with 11 soldiers killed by hostiles in Southern Lebanon, the lowest casualty rate during the entire conflict.[7] A total number of 256 Israeli soldiers died in combat in South Lebanon from 1985 to 2000.[8] In 2020, Israel recognized the conflict as a war, and retrospectively dubbed it the "Security Zone in Lebanon Campaign".[9]

2000 Israeli withdrawal

Before the Israeli election in May 1999 the prime minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, promised that within a year all Israeli forces would withdraw from Southern Lebanon, effectively dropping the support for the South Lebanon Army. When negotiation efforts between Israel and Syria, the goal of which was to bring a peace agreement between Israel and Lebanon as well, failed due to Syrian control of Lebanon (until 2005), Barak led to the decision of withdrawal of the IDF to the Israeli border. With the mounting pressure on South Lebanon Army and the South Lebanon security belt administration, the system began to fall apart, with many members of the army and administration requesting political asylum in Israel and other countries. With mounting attacks of Hezbollah, the ranks of the South Lebanese Army deteriorated, with reduced conscription and high rates of desertion at lower ranks. In April 2000, when it was clear the Israeli withdrawal was about to happen within weeks or months, some SLA officials began moving their families to northern Israel.

The Israeli complete withdrawal to the internationally recognized border took place on 24 May 2000.[10] The South Lebanon Army shortly collapsed, with most officers and administration officials fleeing to Israel with their families, as Hezbollah amounted pressure on the remaining units. When Israel allowed the pouring refugees in, some 7,000 refugees, including South Lebanon Army soldiers, Security Zone officials and their families arrived in Galilee.

Provisional security belt administration

The South Lebanon security belt administration was a Christian Lebanese provisional governance body that exercised authority in 850 square kilometres (330 sq mi) of the Israeli-occupied Security Zone.[1] It replaced the institutions of the Free Lebanon State and operated from 1985 until 2000 with full Israeli logistical and military support. During its functioning years, the administration was headed by Antoine Lahad, a Maronite Christian military officer.[1]

Active militias

The South Lebanon Army (SLA) was a Lebanese Christian militia that was active during the Lebanese Civil War and its aftermath until its disbandment in 2000. It was originally named the Free Lebanon Army, which split from the Christian splinter faction of the Lebanese Army that was known as the Army of Free Lebanon. After 1979, the SLA operated in Southern Lebanon under the authority of Saad Haddad. It was supported by Israel, and became its primary ally against Hezbollah during the 1985–2000 South Lebanon conflict. At the time of Israel's Operation Accountability, Hezbollah claimed to have 3,000 fighters, but other reports estimated that the number was probably 600–700.[11] Other groups who fought against Israel and the SLA were the PFLP–GC, a Syria-based Marxist–Leninist and Palestinian nationalist organization, and the Popular Guard of the Lebanese Communist Party.


The launching of the Good Fence by Israel in 1976 coincided with the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975 and Israeli support for Christian militias against the Palestine Liberation Organization. From 1977 onwards, Israel allowed Maronites and their allies to find employment in Israel and provided assistance in exporting goods through the Israeli port city of Haifa. The main border crossing through which goods and workers crossed was Fatima Gate near Metula. This provided essential economic stability to the administration of the Free Lebanon State and the subsequent South Lebanon security belt administration.

Israel states that, before 2000, approximately one-third of the patients in the ophthalmology department of the Western Galilee Hospital were Lebanese citizens who crossed the border through the Good Fence and received treatment free of charge.[12] The Good Fence ceased to exist with Israel's withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in 2000 and the disintegration of the South Lebanon security belt administration.


According to 1993 estimates, the Security Zone had a population of 180,000; of whom 50 percent were Shia Muslims, 10 percent were Maronites or Greek Orthodox Christians, 10 percent were Sunni Muslims, and 10 percent were Druze (most of whom lived in the town of Hasbaya).[13] In the central zone of the Security Zone was the Maronite town of Marjayoun, which served as the capital of the Israeli-occupied belt. Some residents remaining in the Security Zone had contacts within Israel, many of whom worked there and received various services.

See also


  1. ^ Arabic: الاحتلال الإسرائيلي لجنوب لبنان; Hebrew: הכיבוש הישראלי בדרום לבנון
  2. ^ Hebrew: רצועת הביטחון, lit.'security strip'


  1. ^ a b c Lancaster, Barton Gellman; John (21 April 1996). "THE UNDOING OF ISRAEL'S SECURITY ZONE'" – via web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Middle East International No 458, 10 September 1993, Publishers Lord Mayhew, Dennis Walters MP; Giles Trendle pp. 18–19
  3. ^ Hirst, David (2010) Beware of Small States. Lebanon, battleground of the Middle East. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-23741-8 p. 204. Gives the number of small towns and villages as 150
  4. ^ Middle East International No 356, 4 August 1989, Jim Muir pp. 3, 4
  5. ^ Middle East International No 356, 4 August 1989, Peretz Kidron p. 5
  6. ^ Israeli military decorations by campaign
  7. ^ "Israeli Losses in Lebanon". Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  8. ^ Israel's Security Zone in Lebanon - A Tragedy? by Gal Luft, Middle East Quarterly September 2000, pp. 13–20
  9. ^ IDF to recognize 18-year occupation of south Lebanon as official campaign, Times of Israel, Nov 4, 2020. Accessed Nov 5, 2020.
  10. ^ Norton, Augustus.R (2000). "Hizballah and the Israeli Withdrawal from Southern Lebanon". Journal of Palestine Studies. 30 (1): 22–35. doi:10.2307/2676479. JSTOR 2676479.
  11. ^ Middle East International No 456, 6 August 1993 Godfrey Jansen p.9
  12. ^ admin (27 April 2007). "Doctor at Western Galilee Hospital recalls war's hectic days - j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California".
  13. ^ Middle East International No 458, pp. 18–19
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Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon
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