Israel and Lebanon: History and Analysis

By Aaron Dusso




The scenario as it has been presented requires several things. One of these is a detailed history of how and why Israel is in Lebanon in the first place. This task has fallen upon my shoulders and forms the majority of what follows and historical analysis will make up the remainder. This history will not, however, bring us to the present day because the task of handling Israelís part in this scenario has proved so daunting that two persons have been given the responsibility of covering the Israeli element. Therefore, present day activities and those which must occur in order to bring the future scenario to fruition will be covered in the paper which follows.



On 6 June 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon and has been there ever since. The final pretext for the invasion was provided just three days before with the near fatal shooting of Shlomo Argov, Israelís ambassador to London. Israel originally claimed that it invaded in order to stop the raids into Israel territory which were staged from southern Lebanon. With Israelís siege of Beirut, it became clear that Israelís main goal was to remove the PLO presence from all of Lebanon.

The invasion of June, however, was not the first time that Israel had conducted military strikes against Lebanon. Israel, in years prior to 1982, had responded to PLO rocket attacks, which were staged in southern Lebanonís territory, by bombing Palestinian refugee camps. So in order to understand how and why Israel came to be in Lebanon we must begin many, many years before the invasion. This way, we will be able to have a full appreciation of the Lebanon / Israel situation.

Israelís relationship with Lebanon is long and varied. Zionists had interest in and negations with the inhabitants of what is not called Lebanon since before World War One. Prior to the first World War the Ottoman empire ruled over the lands now known as Israel and Lebanon. The Ottomans had divided them up into a series of distinct districts called vilayets and sub-districts called sanjaqs. Click here to see a map of the early Middle East. ĎPalestineí really did not exist as a political or administrative unit and ĎLebanoní referred to the immediate area of the Mountain and Ďsouthern Syria presumably meant southern Lebanon and/or northern Palestine, between which there was no boundary. The Palestine-Lebanon border was subsumed within the Vilayet of Beirut.

Zionist organizations as early as 1907 began to take notice of Lebanon, especially the southern parts, for their own use. With the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, the British and French divided the area into zones, which was the first serious attempt at establishing a Palestine-Lebanon border. As World War One ended the British and French divided the area into zones of influence along the lines of Sykes-Picot, with the British effectively controlling the southern part which in essence was ĎPalestineí (although not called that yet officially) and the French controlling the northern half which was Lebanon. This resulted in some Zionist settlements being included in the French sphere. So the Zionists began to lobby the British, who had seemingly committed themselves to creating a national homeland for Jews in Palestine with the Balfour Declaration, in order to get them to include the Litani river within Palestine. They argued that viability in the north depended on sufficient water resources and a defensible border, and that the 1918 line deprived them of both.

The Zionists were not alone, of course. Lebanon was principally populated by two groups, first among these was the powerful Maronite Catholic community and second were the less powerful Muslim groups. Lebanon was quite an oddity in the middle east, an Arab country which not only had a sizable non-Muslim population, but where that population actually commanded a position of political predominance. The Zionists and Maronites quickly found that they had many interests in common and cooperation became common. However, despite the interests they had in common, the Zionistsí attempt to try and include southern Lebanon in the Jewish national home put the two groups at odds. In hindsight it is startling how large an impact this squabble over southern Lebanon between the Zionists and Maronites had on future events. Both groups completely overlooked the regionís large Shiía population; they would make their presence felt in the future. "In a dubious triumph the Maronites succeeded in having south Lebanon attached to their new state, an act of enormous consequence for both Lebanon and Zionist-Maronite relations. In an immediate sense, Maronite neglect of the region allowed southern Lebanon to persist as an economic extension of northern Palestine and encouraged continued Zionist interest there. Anti-Zionist Arab activists later filled the political vacuum in southern Lebanon and security issues came to dominate Zionist thinking about Lebanon" (Laura Zittrain Eisenberg, My Enemyís Enemy: Zionists and Lebanese before 1948, 86-87).

The end of World War Two once again focused Britain and France on the official borders between Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. With the probable establishment of a national Jewish home land more concrete borders were necessary. By this time the Christians within Lebanon had recognized their earlier mistake in including southern Lebanon as part of the country. They now wished to have it partitioned and made part of Palestine. Archbishop Mubarak in Lebanon supported the idea saying, "if it is necessary to change the frontier, it would be desirable, for us Christians, to detach instead a part of south Lebanon - up to the Litani river, for example, and reunite it with Palestine, thus diminishing the number of Muslims in Lebanon in order to restore its true character as a Christian country" (Eisenberg, 243). The Maronites and the Zionists attempted to cooperate in advocating a Jewish homeland and an independent Lebanon dominated by Christians, but to no avail. In April 1947, Britain turned the Palestine issue over to the United Nations and the borders were left relatively unchanged. Here is the UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which partitioned Palestine the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel

One can now answer some very basic questions with regards to why and how Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. Very basic events in forming a state, such as where the border will be, can and invariably do play large rolls in the stateís future. The inclusion of the large numbers of Muslims in southern regions of Lebanon within the State set Lebanon on a very direct path. The Middle East is a predominantly Arab area and Lebanon was the only state besides Israel which was not controlled by Arabs. However, unlike Israel Lebanon was unable to control (or effectively decimate) its Arab population in order to maintain political majority and control of the country. Thus, Christian leaders in the capital lost control, or never really had it, of the southern parts of the state, which allowed Arab activists to take control of the area.

If Israel was forced to invade Lebanon because the southern parts were the staging grounds for raids into northern Israel, what happened in order to turn the Arabs in that area against Israel? Well the obvious answer to that question is simply the very creation of Israel caused the enmity of the Arabs in the area. However, this would be an incomplete answer. Because southern Lebanon was completely out of the Lebanese governments control, it became a same haven for some 100,000 refugees during the first Arab-Israeli war. What is even more interesting, despite the large numbers of refugees and indigenous Arabs, Lebanon was virtually nonexistent in the 1956, 1967, and 1973 wars. The1967 war was not just interesting because it lacked Lebanese participation, but also because of the results of the war, which are quiet important with regards to the entire Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel gained the Golan Heights during the war and continues to occupy that territory. This conflict provided the impetus for UN Security Council Resolution 242, which provides for the inadmissibility of land gained through war. This has become the cornerstone of most of the debate in the Middle East peace process and Israel will use the Golan Heights as its bargaining chip with Syria. A new map may be helpful here.

The Arabs, including the refugees, seemed to be set on a slow boil from Ď48 until the late 1960s. By 1970 it had become quiet obvious that the Arab population in Lebanon out numbered the Christian population and the Arabs began to seek political prominence. The PLO was freed from control by the Arab governments after 1967 which added attention to the Palestinian cause which, in turn, affected Lebanonís internal situation. The PLO began raids against Israel from southern Lebanon more and more frequently, which brought Israeli retaliation. The Maronites deeply resented the PLO raids and tried, through the Arab League and internally, to stop the PLOís activities against Israel from Lebanon. The PLO, following a confrontation with Jordanís King Hussein in 1970 and 1971, were expelled from Jordan. The PLO leaders and many of the PLOís fighters moved to Lebanon, numbering 15,000, which was added to the now more than 200,000 Palestinians already there. They established bases and organized the refugees. An interesting side note is that the Israeli retaliation strikes began to affect the Shiites in the south and they also began to resent the Palestinian presence there. The Shiites then began to move north and eventually become a significant new political factor in Lebanon.

In April 1975 the civil war in Lebanon began. This was a battle between the Maronite militias and the Lebanese National Movement (LNM), which consisted of many Muslim groups. In 1976 the Syrian army intervened after it became apparent that the Maronites were on the defensive. Syria invaded because it was afraid of a radical government which would strengthen the PLO and also because it feared that anarchy in Lebanon could bring about an Israeli invasion. In October 1976, a cease-fire had been worked out by the Arab League, that basically sanctioned the presence of an Arab Deterrent Force, which consisted entirely of Syrian troops, in Lebanon; these troops are still there today. The Syrian troops were not allowed south of the Litaini River because Israel would not tolerate their presence there. This in turn allowed the continued build-up of power by the PLO in the south. The Christian leaders then formed the Lebanese Front, a political coalition with a military arm known as the Lebanese Forces. This group was supported by the Israelis with money and weapons.

After the civil war ended the PLOís attacks against Israel increased. These attacks were launched mainly from southern Lebanon and, for the most part, were a thorn in Israelís side. The Israel government then began to look for ways to crush the PLO. Israel decided that invading Lebanon was the best way to do this. After shelling Beirut for two months, the Israelis entered West Beirut on 14 August. On 21 August, PLO forces began evacuating Beirut and dispersed to eight different countries. By 1 September, the PLO evacuation was virtually complete, and a multinational peacekeeping force (representing the United States, Italy, and France) arrived in Beirut.

The Israeli invasion, in the end, worsened the situation in Lebanon; internal divisions were sharpened, the Shiites became increasingly aware of the strength of their numbers, and they have now become the largest Muslim group in Lebanon. The Shiites also became more radicalized, particularly in the south and in the southern suburbs of Beirut where many had migrated, first because of their enmity toward the PLO and then because of Israelís prolonged occupation after the 1982 invasion.

By June 1985, Israeli troops had withdrawn from Lebanon. However, Israeli presence continued, since Israel insisted on maintaining forces in its so-called Security Zone. Israel has found it much harder to withdraw its troops than it was to send them in. The Shiites and southern Lebanese, who had originally welcomed Israeli troops as a means of dislodging the PLO, became unhappy at the disregard for their property and traditional economic patterns and at policies that seemed designed to incorporate them into the Israeli economy. There were multiple terrorist attacks against the Israeli and any other western countriesí presence in Lebanon.

The Israelis achieved few of their goals by going into Lebanon. The Lebanese government remained weak and divided, and the civil war continued. The Maronites and the Phalange were unable to reestablish their former control over the country and, in any event, did not seek closer ties with Israel. Israel and American political influence in Lebanon was commensurably reduced. The Syrian presence was strengthened and was backed up by modern Soviet weapons. Finally, the large number of casualties among Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, and the widespread destruction that resulted from the Israeli invasion, not only brought worldwide condemnation of Israel but also an upsurge of sympathy and support for the Palestinian cause from all corners of the globe.

The Israeli elections of July 1984 were so close that the two parties formed a "National Unity" government with the Labor partyís head, Shimon Peres, as prime minister and the Likud partyís head, Yitzhak Shamir as foreign minister until October 1986, at which time there positions were reversed. Increasingly, domestic issues began to take precedence over foreign issues. Israelís debt had more than doubled and inflation was at 150 percent. The major expenditure was on the military; one-third of the budget went to defense. Lebanon was costing them a million dollars a day, West Bank settlements were costing nearly as much. Meanwhile, Lebanon remained rent by bloody strife throughout the 1980s. The culmination of Lebanonís internal unrest came on 22 May 1991 when they signed a Treaty of Cooperation and Brotherhood, which gave Syria de facto control over Lebanonís internal affairs and in September this extended to security and foreign affairs as well; about 40,000 Syrian troops remain in Lebanon today, "and President Assad remains the real arbiter of the countryís future" (Bickerton and Klausner, 227).



To this point in time Israelís relationship with the rest of the Middle East has been one where the Classical strategistís thinking has won out. This can certainly be seen in the miscalculated war of 1967 and calculated war of 1973. Israelís history with Lebanon in particular is also dominated by the Classical strategistís thinking about relative gains. Israel has always regarded Lebanon and its territory, particularly the land south of the Litani River, to be a possible gain, be it for strategic or economic reasons. However, Israel seems to have begun to change its tune as of late. This change could be seen in one of two ways. First one could say that Israel is beginning to think along the prospect theoristís lines of thinking, by framing the problem as avoidance of loss rather than maximization of relative gains. Or second, one could say that the recent history of cooperation does follow when we think of repeated play Prisonerís Dilemma.

The history of the Middle East would seem to point to repeated play Prisonerís Dilemma. There is cooperation, but it is flimsy and fallible. As would be expected by acting from the relative gains point of view we see arms races (since the first Arab-Israeli war) and inadvertent conflicts (1967 war). So the history most assuredly points to Classical strategists, with repeated play Prisonerís Dilemma games.

One might make the argument that Prospect theory is more in line with the history of the Middle East. However, if we take a careful look at some of the tenets of Prospect theory, we will see that they do not fit this case. Prospect theory starts with the assumption that people are acting from a basement of fear rather than a window of opportunity. History seems to say the opposite. One very good example of this is when the Israelis bombed Iraqís nuclear reactor in 1981; realizing that the Arab world was divided over the Iran-Iraq war, they bombed it. Even Israelís invasion of Lebanon can be seen as opportunist. The Prospect theorist might retort that the reason Israel bombed the nuclear reactor was because they feared it. There probably is little doubt that Israel feared the Iraqi nuclear reactor, but if they had been acting alone the Prospect theorists lines of thinking they would tried to have negotiated with the Iraqis about the reactor not used the first opportunity they saw to fly over enemy countries land and bomb the reactors. That was a very bold move on the part of Israel and it certainly did not manifest itself form the cowering, fear-ridden, paranoids that Prospect theorists seem to believe everyone to be.








Bickerston, Ian J., Carla L. Klousner. A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Prentice Hall.

Eisenberg, Laura Zittrain. My Enemy's Enemy: Zionists and Lebanese before 1948. Dissertation.

International Comission to Enquire into Reported Violations of International Law by Israel During its Invasion of Lebanon. Israel in Lebanon: report of the International Commission to Enquire into Reported Violations of International Law by Israel during its invasion of Lebanon. London: Ithaca Press, 1983.


Web Sites

Bargaining Approaches:

Embassy of Lebanon:


Internet Law Library:

Israel: 1967 and after:


Israel Foreign Ministry:


Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace:


Mario's Cyberspace Station: Israel:

Mideast Peace process:

Multilaterals Project:

Outcome of the 1967 war: