The Israeli–Lebanese conflict, widely referred as the South Lebanon conflict, was a series of military clashes involving Israel, Lebanon and Syria, the Palestine Liberation Organization, as well as various non-state militias acting from within Lebanon.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) recruited militants in Lebanon from among the families of Palestinian refugees who had been expelled or fled due to the creation of Israel in 1948. After the PLO leadership and its Fatah brigade were expelled from Jordan for fomenting a revolt, they entered Lebanon and the cross-border violence increased. Meanwhile, demographic tensions over the Lebanese National Pact led to the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990). Israel's 1978 invasion of Lebanon pushed the PLO north of the Litani River, but the PLO continued their campaign against Israel. Israel invaded Lebanon again in 1982 and forcibly expelled the PLO. Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon in 1985, but kept control of a 12-mile security buffer zone, held with the aid of proxy militants in the South Lebanon Army (SLA). In 1985, Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia radical movement sponsored by Iran, called for armed struggle to end the Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory. When the Lebanese civil war ended and other warring factions agreed to disarm, Hezbollah and the SLA refused. Combat with Hezbollah weakened Israeli resolve and led to a collapse of the SLA and an Israeli withdrawal in 2000 to their side of the UN designated border. Citing Israeli control of the Shebaa farms territory, Hezbollah continued cross border attacks intermittently over the next six years. Hezbollah now sought the release of Lebanese citizens in Israeli prisons and successfully used the tactic of capturing Israeli soldiers as leverage for a prisoner exchange in 2004. The capturing of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah ignited the 2006 Lebanon War. Its ceasefire called for the disarmament of Hezbollah and the respecting of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Lebanon by Israel.
As of 2015, the situation remained generally calm, but both sides violated the ceasefire agreements; Israel by making near-daily overflights over Lebanese territory, and Hezbollah by not disarming.
The territory of what would become the states of Israel and Lebanon was once part of the long-lived Ottoman Empire (1299–1922) until its defeat in World War I. As a result of Sinai and Palestine Campaign in 1917, the British occupied Palestine and parts of what would become Syria. French troops took Damascus in 1918. The League of Nations officially gave the French the Mandate of Syria and the British the Mandate of Palestine after the 1920 San Remo conference, in accordance with the 1916 Sykes–Picot Agreement.
The largely Christian enclave of the French Mandate became the French-controlled Lebanese Republic in 1926. Lebanon became independent in 1943 as France was under German occupation, though French troops did not completely withdraw until 1946.
The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust during World War II, had meant an increase of Jewish immigrants to a minority Jewish, majority Arab Mandate. During the 1936–39 Arab revolt and thereafter the British increasingly came to rely on Jewish police forces to help maintain order. Eventually, the resultant rise in ethnic tensions and violence between the Arabs and Jews due to Jewish immigration and collaboration would force the British to withdraw in 1947. (The area of their mandate east of the Jordan river had already become the independent state of Jordan in 1946.) The United Nations General Assembly developed a gerrymandered 1947 UN Partition Plan, to attempt to give both Arabs and Jews their own states from the remains of the British Mandate; however, this was rejected by the Arabs, and the situation quickly devolved into a full-fledged civil war.
In 1948, the Lebanese army had by far the smallest regional army, consisting of only 3,500 soldiers. At the prompting of Arab leaders in the region, Lebanon agreed to join the other armies that were being assembled around the perimeter of the British Mandate territory of Palestine for the purpose of invading Palestine. Lebanon committed 1,000 of these soldiers to the cause. The Arab armies waited for the end of the Mandate and the withdrawal of British forces, which was set for 15 May 1948.
Israel declared its independence on 14 May 1948. The next day, the British Mandate officially expired and, in an official cablegram, the seven-member Arab League, including Lebanon, publicly proclaimed their aim of creating a democratic "United State of Palestine" in place of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. The League soon entered the conflict on the side of the Palestinian Arabs, thus beginning the international phase of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, and Iraq declared war on the new state of Israel. They expected an easy and quick victory in what came to be called the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. The Lebanese army joined the other Arab armies in the invasion. It crossed into the northern Galilee. By the end of the conflict, however, it had been repulsed by Israeli forces, which occupied South Lebanon. Israel signed armistice agreements with each of its invading neighbors. The armistice with Lebanon was signed on 23 March 1949. As part of the agreement with Lebanon, Israeli forces withdrew to the international border.
By the conclusion of that war, Israel had signed ceasefire agreements with all of the neighbouring Arab countries. The territory it now controlled went well beyond what had been allocated to it under the United Nations Partition Plan, incorporating much of what had been promised to the Palestinian Arabs under the Plan. However, it was understood by all the state parties at the time that the armistice agreements were not peace treaties with Israel, nor the final resolution of the conflict between them, including the borders.
After the war, the United Nations estimated 711,000 Palestinian Arabs, out an estimated 1.8 million dwelling in the Mandate of Palestine, fled, emigrated or were forced out of Israel and entered neighboring countries. By 1949, there were 110,000 Palestinian Arabs in Lebanon, moved into camps established by and administered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
With the exception of two camps in the Beirut area, the camps were mostly Muslim. Lebanese Christians feared that the Muslim influx would affect their political dominance and their assumed demographic majority. Accordingly, they imposed restrictions on the status of the Palestinian refugees. The refugees could not work, travel, or engage in political activities. Initially the refugees were too impoverished to develop a leadership capable of representing their concerns. Less democratic regimes also feared the threat the refugees posed to their own rule, but Lebanon would prove too weak to maintain a crackdown.
Despite sharing in the ongoing border tensions over water, Lebanon rejected calls by other Arab governments to participate in the 1967 Six-Day War. Militarily weak in the south, Lebanon could not afford conflict with Israel.
Nevertheless, the loss of additional territory radicalized the Palestinians languishing in refugee camps hoping to return home. The additional influx of refugees turned Palestinian camps throughout the Middle East into centers of guerrilla activity.
The PLO, from its inception in 1964 by Ahmed Shukeri, began executing numerous terror attacks on Israeli civilians in attempt to fulfill its mission charter's vow to pursue in "the path of holy war (al-jihad)" until the establishment of a Palestinian State in place of the State of Israel. The series of attacks (such as the 1966 bombings in Romema, Jerusalem) drove the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to strike in return, instigating the long and still unresolved struggle between the PLO and the IDF.
From 1968 onwards, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) began conducting raids from Lebanon into Israel, and Israel began making retaliatory raids against Lebanese villages to encourage the Lebanese people to themselves deal with the fedayeen. After an Israeli airline was machine-gunned at Athens Airport, Israel raided the Beirut International Airport in retaliation, destroying 13 civilian aircraft.
The unarmed citizenry could not expel the armed foreigners, while the Lebanese army was too weak militarily and politically. The Palestinian camps came under Palestinian control after a series of clashes in 1968 and 1969 between the Lebanese military and the emerging Palestinian guerrilla forces. In 1969 the Cairo Agreement guaranteed refugees the right to work, to form self-governing committees, and to engage in armed struggle. "The Palestinian resistance movement assumed daily management of the refugee camps, providing security as well as a wide variety of health, educational, and social services."
In 1970, the PLO attempted to overthrow a reigning monarch, King Hussein of Jordan, and following his quashing of the rebellion in what Arab historians call Black September, the PLO leadership and their troops fled from Jordan to Syria and finally Lebanon, where cross-border violence increased.
With headquarters now in Beirut, PLO factions recruited new members from the Palestinian refugee camps. South Lebanon was nicknamed "Fatahland" due to the predominance there of Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization. With its own army operating freely in Lebanon, the PLO had created a state within a state. By 1975, more than 300,000 Palestinian displaced persons lived in Lebanon.
In reaction to the 1972 Munich massacre, Israel carried out Operation Spring of Youth. Members of Israel's elite Special Forces landed by boat in Lebanon on 9 April 1973, and with the aid of Israeli intelligence agents, infiltrated the PLO headquarters in Beirut and assassinated several members of its leadership.
In 1974 the PLO altered its focus to include political elements, necessary for a dialogue with Israel. Those who insisted on a military solution left to form the Rejectionist Front, and Yassir Arafat took over the PLO leadership role.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, which split from the PLO in 1974, carried out the Kiryat Shmona massacre in April of that year. In May 1974, the DFLP crossed again into Israel and carried out the Ma'alot massacre.
The Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990) was a complex conflict in the form of various factions and shifting alliances between and among Lebanese Maronite Catholics, Lebanese Muslims, Palestinian Muslims, Lebanese Druze, and other non-sectarian groups. Governmental power had been allotted among the different religious groups by the National Pact based partially on the results of the 1932 census. Changes in demographics and increased feelings of deprivation by certain ethnic groups, as well as Israeli–Palestinian clashes in the south of the county all contributed to the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War.
Beginning in May 1976, Israel supplied the Maronite militias, including the Lebanese Forces, led by Bachir Gemayel, with arms, tanks, and military advisers. The border between Israel and Lebanon was at this time was nicknamed the Good Fence.
Fearing loss of commercial access to the port of Beirut, in June 1976 Syria intervened in the civil war to support the Maronite dominated government, and by October had 40,000 troops stationed within Lebanon.
On 11 March 1978, eleven PLO militants made a beach landing 30 km. south of Haifa, Israel, where they seized a bus, full of people, killing those on board in what is known as the Coastal Road massacre. By the end of the incident, nine hijackers and 38 Israeli civilians (including 13 children) were dead.
In response, on 14 March 1978, Israel launched Operation Litani occupying southern Lebanon, except for the city of Tyre, with 25,000 troops. The objective was to push the PLO away from the border and bolster a Lebanese Christian militia allied with Israel, the South Lebanese Army (SLA). However, the PLO concluded from the name of the operation that the invasion would halt at the Litani River and moved their forces north, leaving behind a token force of a few hundred men. As a result, the casualties were almost all civilians.
On 19 March 1978, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 425, which called for Israel's immediate withdrawal and the establishment of a United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. When Israel forces withdrew later in 1978, they turned over its positions in Lebanon to the South Lebanon Army which would continue fighting as a proxy for Israel against the PLO until Israel drove the PLO out of Lebanon in 1982.
On 22 April 1979, Samir Kuntar and three other members of the Palestine Liberation Front, a sometimes faction of the PLO, landed in Nahariya, Israel from Tyre, Lebanon by boat. After killing a police officer who had discovered their presence, they took a father and his daughter hostage in an apartment building. After fleeing with the hostages from police back to the beach, a shootout killed one policeman and two of the militants. Kuntar then executed the hostages before he and the remaining invader were captured.
In April 1981, the United States brokered a cease-fire in southern Lebanon among Israel, Syria and the PLO.
The 1982 Lebanon war began on 6 June 1982, when Israel invaded again for the purpose of attacking the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Israeli army laid siege to Beirut. During the conflict, according to Lebanese sources, between 15,000–20,000 people were killed, mostly civilians. According to American military analyst Richard Gabriel, between 5,000–8,000 civilians were killed. Fighting also occurred between Israel and Syria. The United States, fearing a widening conflict and the prestige the siege was giving PLO leader Yasser Arafat, got all sides to agree to a cease-fire and terms for the PLO's withdrawal on 12 August. The Multinational Force in Lebanon arrived to keep the peace and ensure PLO withdrawal. The PLO leadership retreated from Beirut on 30 August 1982 and moved to Tunisia.
The National Assembly of Lebanon narrowly chose Bachir Gemayel as president-elect, but when he was assassinated on 14 September 1982, Israel reoccupied West Beirut and Maronite militias carried out the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
In 1983, the United States brokered the May 17 Agreement, a peace treaty between Israel and Lebanon in all but name. The agreement called for a staged Israeli withdrawal over the next eight to twelve weeks and the establishment of a "security zone" to be patrolled by the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon, but was conditional on Syrian withdrawal as well. In August 1983, as Israel withdrew from the areas southeast of Beirut to the Awali River, Lebanese factions clashed for control of the freed territory.
In February 1984, the Lebanese Army collapsed, with many units forming their own militias. The National Assembly of Lebanon, under pressure from Syria and Muslim militias, cancelled the 17 May Agreement on 5 March 1984.
On 15 January 1985, Israel adopted a phased withdrawal plan, finally retreating to the Litani River to form the 4–12 kilometer (2.5–9 mi) deep Israeli Security Zone (map at) while using the native South Lebanese Army militia to help control it.
On 16 February 1985, Shia Sheik Ibrahim al-Amin declared a manifesto in Lebanon, announcing a resistance movement called Hezbollah, whose goals included combating the Israeli occupation. During the 1982-2000 South Lebanon conflict the Hezbollah militia waged a guerrilla campaign against Israeli forces occupying Southern Lebanon and their South Lebanon Army proxies. "Throughout the period of 1985–92, there were very few limited exchanges between Israeli and Hezbollah or Amal forces in southern Lebanon", and "with the exception of 1988, during which twenty-one Israeli soldiers were killed, the number of Israeli fatalities per year over this period was in the single-digit figure".
By the end of 1990 the Lebanese Civil War was effectively over. In March 1991, the National Assembly of Lebanon passed an amnesty law that pardoned all political crimes prior to its enactment, and in May 1991, the militias—with the important exceptions of Hezbollah and the SLA—were dissolved, and the Lebanese Armed Forces began to slowly rebuild themselves as Lebanon's only major non-sectarian institution.
In 1992, Hezbollah won ten out of 128 seats in the Lebanese National Assembly.
On 25 July 1993 Israel launched Operation Accountability, known in Lebanon as the Seven-Day War. The given reason was to retaliate for the death of IDF soldiers in the "security zone" which Israel had created in 1982 in southern Lebanon to protect its northern borders from both Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command. On 10 July Hezbollah undertook an operation in which 5 Israeli soldiers were killed; a further attack on 19 July caused several further casualties to the IDF, and on the 23rd. another Israeli soldier was killed. Cross-border raids were frequent from both sides, and Operation Accountability arose from the escalation in hostilities. Thousands of buildings were bombed, resulting in 120 dead and 500,000 displaced civilians. Israeli forces also destroyed infrastructure such as power stations and bridges. According to Michael Brecher, the aim of Operation Accountability was to precipitate a large flight of Lebanese refugees from the south towards Beirut and thereby put the Lebanese government under pressure to rein in Hezbollah. Hezbollah retaliated with rocket attacks on Israeli villages, though inflicting significantly fewer casualties. After Lebanon complained to the UN, the Security Council called on Israel to withdraw its occupying forces from Lebanese territory. A truce agreement brokered by the US secured an Israeli undertaking to stop attacks north of its security zone in Lebanon, and a Hezbollah agreement to desist from firing rockets into Israel.
On 11 April 1996 Israel initiated Operation Grapes of Wrath, known in Lebanon as the April War, which repeated the pattern of Operation Accountability., which was triggered by Hezbollah Katyusha rockets fired into Israel in response to the killing of two Lebanese by an IDF missile, and the killing of Lebanese boy by a road-side bomb. Israel conducted massive air raids and extensive shelling in southern Lebanon. 106 Lebanese died in the shelling of Qana, when a UN compound was hit in an Israeli shelling. The conflict ended on 26 April 1996 with the Israeli-Lebanese Ceasefire Understanding in which both Hezbollah and Israel agreed to, respect the "rules of the game" and forgo attacks on civilians.
From 1985 through 2000, Israel continued to fund the South Lebanon Army. In January 2000, Hezbollah assassinated the man responsible for day to day SLA operations, Colonel Akel Hashem. The Israeli Air Force, in apparent response, on 7 February struck Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, including power stations at Baalbek, Deir Nbouh and Jambour. Eighteen people were reported to have been injured.
Following its declaration of intent to implement UNSC Resolution 425 on 1 April 1998, and after the collapse of the South Lebanon Army in the face of a Hezbollah onslaught, Israel declared 24 May 2000 that they would withdraw to their side of the UN designated border, the Blue Line, 22 years after the resolution had been approved. The South Lebanon Army's equipment and positions largely fell into the hands of Hezbollah. Lebanon celebrates 25 May, Liberation Day, as a national holiday.
In May 2004, Hezbollah militiamen killed an Israeli soldier along the border within the Israeli held Shebaa Farms.
Between July and August 2004 there was a period of more intense border conflict. Hezbollah said the clash began when Israeli forces shelled its positions, while Israel said that Hezbollah had started the fighting with a sniper attack on a border outpost.
On 2 September 2004 Resolution 1559 was approved by the United Nations Security council, calling for the disbanding of all Lebanese militia. An armed Hezbollah was seen by the Israeli government as a contravention of the resolution. The Lebanese government differed from this interpretation.
On 26 May 2006, a car bomb killed Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Mahmoud Majzoub and his brother in Sidon. Prime Minister of Lebanon Fuad Saniora called Israel the prime suspect, but Israel denied involvement. On 28 May 2006, rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel. According to an interview with Walid Jumblatt in World Net Daily, "agents" of Iran and Syria were responsible for these attacks. Hours later, Israel responded by bombing suspected militant rocket launch sites and exchanging fire across the border. The United Nations negotiated a ceasefire the same day.
On 10 June 2006 the Lebanese army arrested members of an alleged Israeli spy ring, including Mahmoud Rafeh, his wife, and two children. Police discovered bomb-making materials, code machines and other espionage equipment in his home. Rafeh reportedly confessed to the Majzoub killings and to working for Mossad, and admitted that his cell had assassinated two Hezbollah leaders in 1999 and 2003 and the son of Ahmed Jibril, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, in 2002. Former Lebanese Minister Walid Jumblatt, an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, suspected that the exposure of the spy ring was a Hezbollah fabrication.
On 12 July 2006, in an incident known as Zar'it-Shtula incident, the Hezbollah initiated diversionary rocket attacks on Israeli military positions near the coast and near the Israeli border village of Zar'it, while another Hezbollah group crossed from Lebanon into Israel and ambushed two Israeli Army vehicles, killing three Israeli soldiers and seizing two.
Hezbollah promptly demanded the release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel, including Samir Kuntar and an alleged surviving perpetrator of the Coastal Road massacre, in exchange for the release of the captured soldiers.
Thus began the 2006 Lebanon War. Israel responded with massive airstrikes and artillery fire on targets throughout Lebanon, an air and naval blockade, and a ground invasion of southern Lebanon. In Lebanon the conflict killed over 1,100 people, including combatants, severely damaged infrastructure, and displaced about one million people. Israel suffered 42 civilian deaths as a result of prolonged rocket attacks being launched into northern Israel causing the displacement of half a million Israelis. Normal life across much of Lebanon and northern Israel was disrupted, in addition to the deaths in combat.
Since the 2006 Lebanon War, there have been only isolated incidents.
On 7 February 2007, there was an exchange of gunfire near Avivim between the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces, culminating in the firing of two IDF tank shells over the border. There were no injuries on either side. The UN Secretary-General stated it was first armed incident since the end of the last war and that the first fire was by the Lebanese army without any provocation since the IDF was operating inside Israeli territory.
On 17 June 2007, an unknown militant group fired two rockets from Lebanon into northern Israel, an action which the UN condemned as a serious violation of the ceasefire. Hezbollah denied involvement in the incident, and Israel emphasized that it would restrain itself from responding by force. Saniora pledged that "The state ... will spare no effort in uncovering those who stand behind this incident."
On 3 August 2010, IDF forces clashed with the Lebanese army. The clash began when the Lebanese army attacked an IDF post with sniper fire, killing an Israeli officer and wounding another. IDF troops at the scene returned fire, and Israel retaliated with air and artillery strikes at Lebanese army positions, killing two Lebanese soldiers and wounding five. A Lebanese journalist was also killed, and one was wounded. The Lebanese claimed they were responding to an Israeli violation of their sovereignty when Israeli troops crossed the border and began cutting down a tree that was in Lebanese territory. The Israelis denied violating Lebanese sovereignty and claimed the tree was in their territory. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) confirmed Israel's position, adding that Israel had informed them of the border work beforehand. However, the Syrian, Egyptian, and Lebanese governments hold the IDF accountable for the breach the UN resolution.
On 19 August 2010, the Lebanese military reported that 12 aircraft belonging to the IDF entered into Lebanese territory, which they claim is a violation of Resolution 1701. In the three incidents, the IDF planes made circle maneuvers, fired no shots and left Lebanese airspace soon after.
On 1 August 2011, Israeli soldiers and Lebanese soldiers exchanged fire. At first it was reported that a Lebanese soldier was killed, but UNIFIL later said no one was killed. UNIFIL findings showed that Israeli troops had not crossed the border, and there was no cause for the clash.
On 7 August 2013 four Israeli soldiers were wounded in a landmine explosion allegedly by Hezbollah. The Lebanese army said that the soldiers were 400 metres (1,300 ft) into Lebanese territory.
On 16 December 2013, a Lebanese soldier, acting without orders, fired at a civilian vehicle being driven by an Israeli naval officer along the border, killing him. The soldier then fled the scene and turned himself in to Lebanese authorities. Shortly afterward, IDF troops operating on the Israeli side of the border in the area where the officer was killed fired at what an IDF spokeswoman called "suspicious movement" on the Lebanese side of the border, hitting two Lebanese soldiers.
On 18 January 2015, an airstrike on a convoy in the Quneitra District of Syria took place, killing six Hezbollah members and at least one IRGC officer. The UN observers attributed the attack to Israel, which did not officially comment. In response, on 28 January, Hezbollah fired missiles at Israeli convoy in the Shebaa farms disputed territory in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights, killing two soldiers. IDF fired shells into southern Lebanon, killing one Spanish peacekeeper.
Since the civil war, Israel has routinely breached Lebanese airspace, waters, and borders, which is illegal since it violates Lebanon's territory and United Nations Security Council Resolution 425 and 1701.
The most frequent breaches are overflights by Israeli war planes and drones; such violations have occurred since the inception of the Israeli–Lebanese conflict, and have happened continuously and almost daily since the 2006 Lebanon war, being the source of much conflict between Lebanon and Israel. Israeli warplanes sometimes stage mock attacks on Lebanese cities, and emit sonic booms that frighten civilians.
In 2007 the Lebanese government complained that Israeli planes had flown into Lebanese airspace 290 times within four months, and that Israeli troops had crossed the border 52 times.
In 2006 French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie stated: "I remind that the violations of the airspace are extremely dangerous, they are dangerous first because they may be felt as hostile by forces of the coalition that could be brought to retaliate in cases of self defense and it would be a very serious incident." US officials on visit in Israel also demanded that Israel stop the overflights since they undermined the standing of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
On land, the Blue Line (Lebanon) is often crossed, as well as incursions into the Shebaa Farms (which Israel considers Israeli territory as part of Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in 1967, but which Lebanon claims is Lebanese territory). The 2010 Israel–Lebanon border clash was also performed on the basis of claims of such violations.
At sea, Israeli gunboats have shot into Lebanese territorial waters, and there have been Lebanese claims that Israel is breaching the law of the sea and might lay claim on Lebanese natural resources through the Tamar gas field.
Hezbollah uses such violations as justification for the legimitacy of their continued armed resistance against Israel.