Israel's Lebanon War: Ariel Sharon and 'Operation Peace for Galilee'

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An examination of 'Operation Peace for Galilee,' Israel's first major foray into Lebanon, seems more appropriate now than ever, especially after the 2006 Saif al-Harrar, or hot summer. In 2006, Israel invaded Lebanon for many of the same reasons as it did some twenty years ago: to remove an immediate threat, in this case, Hezbollah's Katusha rockets; to help bolster the stability of the Lebanese government; and to ensure that Syria abstained from Lebanese domestic affairs.

'Operation Peace for Galilee' has had an enormous impact on the development, or lack thereof, of Lebanon. It is also an excellent example of proxy warfare, as foreign interlopers have exploited Lebanon for their own domestic objectives. So this article will analyze Ariel Sharon's motivations for invading Lebanon, his actions once in country, and the consequences of those actions. Sharon's invasion of Lebanon was a military action taking place within the context of a complex environment, which included the Lebanese Civil War, the broader Arab-Israeli dispute, Israeli domestic politics, as well as Soviet and American ambitions in the region; however, this article is mostly concerned with Israeli motivations, rather than the Arab response or American interference. Sharon sought to engage the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), force the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon, and manipulate Lebanese politics, but his involvement in Lebanon had unintended consequences which ran contrary to the aim of his mission, including the entrenchment of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon, a continued Syrian occupation, the growth of radical Shi'ite Islamist groups such as Hezbollah, and loss of political power for the Maronites. Nevertheless, American policy in the region played a pivotal role, as Sharon could have never invaded northward without implicit American compliance. Although American backing provided Sharon with the necessary political and military support to conduct such an operation, the Reagan administration goals in the region did not harmonize with 'Operation Peace for Galilee,' for the Americans endeavored to promote a broader Arab-Israeli peace based upon the Camp David Accords and previous U.N. resolutions.

Sharon's strategic goals for invading Lebanon were threefold. First, Sharon attempted to confront the PLO in the south of Lebanon. Palestinians had fled their homeland to escape violence attributable to four wars with Israel. They adapted to their new surroundings, and, over time, established their own state within the confines of Lebanon, with rudimentary institutions capable of meeting the basic needs of their people. (1) Ever since the 1969 Cairo Agreement, which essentially legitimized the Palestinian presence in Lebanon, Sharon had grown weary of PLO militias attacking Israel from the relative security of southern Lebanon. (2) Arab governments sympathetic to the Palestinian cause provided the PLO with capital for weapons, which helped to reorganize a guerrilla force into a more traditional army. (3) Ultimately, Sharon tried to destroy Palestinian nationalism in the West Bank and Gaza by annihilating the PLO in Lebanon. By doing so, he could accelerate Jewish settlement of the former Palestinian areas. Actually, MK (Member of the Knesset) Abba Eban insisted that the defense minister endeavored to make Jordan a Palestinian State. Sharon did indeed support a Palestinian Jordan. With the creation of a Palestinian Jordan, he concluded that Israel would no longer be forced to deal with the concept of a Palestinian identity. Sharon had envisioned marching into Lebanon to eradicate PLO resistance, thus mitigating their involvement in the broader Arab-Israeli dispute. (4)

Second, Sharon sought to secure the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon. In the wake of the Camp David Accords and the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai, Sharon attempted to placate Israeli nationalists by harkening back to 'Operation Litani. …


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