No peace for Galilee now.
The defeat of Sharon's grand design was assured by the Israeli Defense Force's failure to defeat the Syrians. Although badly bloodied in the initial fighting, the Syrian troops held on and were used by President Hafez al-Assad to ignite Moslem opposition to the Israeli presence and to prevent the Christian government of President Bashir Gemayel and then of his brother, Amin, from achieving dominance.
The occupation also served to stir up Lebanon's largest confessional group, the Shiites, who begn demanding a fair share of power and wealth. Although they make up almost one-third of Lebanon's population of 3.5 million, most Shiites live in poverty in urban ghettos and in the undeveloped countryside. Their rise as a political force was hastened by the I.D.F.'s occupation of southern Lebanon, where Shiites make up 60 percent of the populace, and particularly by the escalation of repressive measures by the I.D.F. after the Lebanese government abrogated its May 17, 1983, agreement with Jerusalem. That pact had called for mutual withdrawal of Syrian and Israeli troops.
The Shiites are divided into two factions: the moderates, represented by Amal, a political and paramilitary organization led by Nabih Berri, Justice Minister for southern Lebanon, and the radicals of the Party of God, a pro-Iranian group founded by fundamentalist Moslem cergy. The Party of God has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings, including those at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in April 1983, which killed sixty-three people, and at the U.S. base at Beirut Airport six months later, in which 241 marines died. It is behind many of the guerrilla attacks on the Israeli occupation forces, and its actions helped convince Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres that the time had come to withdraw unilaterally.
As popular sentimer for withdrawal mounted, the Peres government began looking for a way pull out of the Lebanese quagmire without leaving Israel's northern border unprotected. It created a security belt north of the border to be patrolled by the South Lebanon Army, a 2,000-man Christian militia trained and equipped by Israel. Israeli officials believed that the S.L.A. could protect the settlements in the Galilee region, but the army has not developed into an effective fighting force.
Nevertheless, the Israeli pullout will proceed. It is expected to take six to nine months, and the I.D.F. will leave behind a nation that has suffered greatly at its hands. An estimated 17,825 Lebanese and Palestinians were killed and 30,103 wounded during the siege of West Beirut, which ended when P.L.O. forces under Yasir Arafat departed in August 1982. As many as 800 Palestinians were massacred in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by pro-Israeli Phalangists. An unknown number of Lebanese and Palestinians were killed or injured during the I.D.F.'s thirty-one-month occupation of southern Lebanon. The Israeli force's evacuation of the Shuf Mountains in September 1983 sparked a three-week mountain war between Druse Moslems and Christians; scores of civilians were massacred on each side.
Lebanon's internal political situation is more volatile than ever. The mutually suspicious confessional groups, which require delicate handling and reassurance in the best of time, have been polarized by Israel's strong-arm policies. Militant Christians, emboldened by Israeli backing, boasted of a new era of rule under Amin Gemayel. Despite Gemayel's efforts to tone down his follower's rhetoric, the Moslem majority reacted with fear and anger. The occupation forces sowed the seeds of unrest in the villages by rewarding those who cooperated with them, Moslems as well as Christians, with jobs as policemen, informants or importers of Israeli products. Outbreaks of violence against the "collaborators" and their families are likely to escalate after the I.D.F. withdrawal is completed.
Already the area around the port of Sidon, the majority of whose 100,000 people are Sunni Moslems, has become a flashpoint. On January 21, a week after the Cabinet decided to withdraw the I.D.F., terrorists attempted to assassinate Mustapha Saad, the leader of Sidon's Sunnis, by blowing up the apartment house in which he lived. (The murder of Saad's father, Marouf, had helped ignite the 1976 civil war.) Still, the most dangerous situation remains in the deep south, below the Zahrani River, where fighting might soon break out between the Israeli-backed S.L.A. and the Shiite guerrillas.
Israel has armed the S.L.A. with tanks, armored personnel carriers, 155-millimeter howitzers and hundreds of AK-47 rifles. The Shiites lack arms, but that situation may change once their supply route to Beirut is reopened. Even so, attacks on I.D.F. and S.L.A. soldiers by Shiite guerrillas operating out of what the Israelis call the Iron Triangle on the coastal plain have increased significantly, to a rate of seventy per month. Shiite guerrillas ambushed an S.L.A. patrol last September, killing four militiamen. The next morning S.L.A. fighters bent on revenge went on a rampage in the village of Sukmur, gunning down thirteen civilians.
To avoid worse outbreaks in the coming months, the Lebanese Army, assisted by U.N. troops, must fill the power vacuum created by the Israeli departure. Unfortunately, attempts at establishing an effective central government and army have been steadily undermined by the lengthy Israeli and Syrian presence. The recent collapse of the usually resilient Lebanese pound, which dropped against the dollar from an exchange rate of six to twelve, reflects fear among the banking and business communities. Unchecked violence in southern Lebanon is likely to trigger a political and security crisis in Beirut, the most dire outcome of which could be the ousting of the moderate Shiite leadership by the radical Party of God.
Israel would have been far better off if it had withdrawn its forces after achieving its goal of destroying the P.L.O.'s bases in southern Lebanon. The government in Beirut has never posed a military threat to Israel and has abided by the armistice the two nations signed March 23, 1949.
Following the 1982 invasion, Washington called on Israel to withdraw to the international border and President Reagan dispatched a team of Green Berets to train the Lebanese Army. Later the Administration offered to protect Israel's northern border, but Jerusalem rejected the idea. Secretary of State George Shultz told congress that the Syrians had pledged to recall their forces if they Israelis left unconditionally, but then the U.S. Embassy was bombed and the Administration panicked. Shultz hurried to the Middle East and pressured Lebanon and Israel to sign the ill-fated May 17 agreement. (In a secret letter attached to the agreement, the United States endorsed Israel's demand that Syrian forces leave Lebanon first.)
Midway through 1983 many in Lebanon felt there was a change to heal the country's internal divisions and build an effective central government based on confessional consesus and shored up by the multinational force in Beirut and an expanded U.N. force in southern Lebanon. The situation appeared so Calm that marines on patrol did not keep ammunition in their rifles. But Syrian-backed resistance to the Gemayel government escalated. Later in the year the marines were drawn into combat. I covered the bombing of their headquarters on that black Sunday in October.
For the Israeli Defense Force the war was a costly one. More than 600 soldiers were killed and 3,500 wounded, far more than the number of casualities caused by P.L.O. attacks on Kibbutzim in northern Israel, which provoked Operation Peace for Galilee. Financially the war was a disaster, costing $3.5 billion and plunging the Israeli economy into a severe crisis.
Although the P.L.O. infrastructure in Lebanon was destroyed, radical P.L.O. organization are already returning to West Beirut and may eventually go to Sidon. A few years from now, P.L.O. rockets and artillery may be back in Beirut and in the south. In the meantime, Israel faces a new enemy in the Shiites. Far from posing a threat, they had clashed with the P.L.O. in the past, but the occupation has embittered them against Israel.
Israel's involvement in Lebanon has always been a chess game with Syria. Now Syria is winning. Although its air and ground forces were decimated by the I.D.F.'s initial advance into the Bekaa Valley three years ago, Syria has rebuilt them with increased Soviet aid. Two Soviet-supplied SA-5 anti-aircraft missile batteries have been installed in Syria, one near Damascus and the other at Homs. Manned by as many as 7,000 soviet technicians, they can shoot down jets as far away as Tel Aviv.
In October, Prime Minister Peres said that the I.D.F. would not be pulled out unilaterally, and he demanded guarantees from the Lebanese to provide security along its sourthern border. He also sought through a U.S. mediator to gain at least a gentlemen's agreement with Damascus for the withdrawal of its forces. But Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, who has been involved with Syrian policy toward Lebanon since the 1976 civil war, said, "We are not prepared, directly or indirectly, with or without intermediaries, to give commitments or conditions to Israel or any other party. This is final." And it was.
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|Title Annotation:||Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon|
|Date:||Feb 23, 1985|
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