Israelis leaving a broken Lebanon. Since 1982, Lebanese have come to blame Israel for their troubles
It is difficult to assess just how much Israel's invasion and three-year occupation hastened the disintegration of Lebanon. Israel rolled across the border June 6, 1982, to crush the Palestinian infrastructure established in the south, to force a Syrian withdrawal from the central and eastern sectors, and to install a pro-Israeli leader.Skip to next paragraph
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Thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians were killed during Israel's invasion. Thousands more were wounded, and scores of thousands lost their homes. Millions of dollars worth of damage was done to the Lebanese infrastructure.
The population of west Beirut was forced to endure a nearly three month-long siege while the Israelis squeezed the Palestine Liberation Organization's guerrilla forces out of the mostly Muslim section of town in the summer and fall of 1982.
During the years that Israel occupied the lower third of Lebanon, the country was virtually cut in two, with the movement of goods and people between north and south reduced to a fitful trickle.
Eventually, many Lebanese came to blame Israel for most of the troubled nation's disasters. The desire to end Israel's occupation of the south was the closest thing to a common goal among the bitterly divided factions last winter and in the early spring of this year.
Guerrilla attacks by Shiite Muslims in the south on Israeli troops were hailed as acts of national heroism by most Lebanese. Israel's occupation served to involve the Lebanese in the Arab-Israeli conflict in a way no previous Middle East war had done.
Many analysts believe that the most lasting change spurred on by the Israeli presence may have been the awakening of the long-neglected Shiite community.
``The Israelis let the Shiite genie out of the bottle in Lebanon,'' says Jonathan Randal, veteran Middle East correspondent and author. ``They at least accelerated a process that had begun to take place.''
Surely, much damage had been done long before the Israeli invasion. The Lebanese civil war -- pitting Maronite Christians against Palestinians and their leftist Muslim allies -- began in 1975. Thousands of Lebanese were killed before Syrian forces entered Lebanon in April 1976 to put an end to the fighting.
But the countless militia battles waged in the years since then and after Israel's invasion paled, somehow, in comparison to the spectacle of the most sophisticated army in the Middle East throwing its forces against the Palestinian guerrillas and a large civilian population.
The invasion, says Samuel Lewis, until recently the US ambassador to Israel, was ``not just a misadventure, but a tragedy, a tragedy for Israel and for Lebanon.''
Despite the fact that the invasion dramatically altered the balance of power by driving out the Palestinians and paving the way for the rise of the Shiites, no single force has yet been able to subjugate the rest of Lebanon's many armed factions.
``The Palestinians were the dominant power among the Muslims in 1982. We broke their back and that changed everything overnight,'' explained one Israeli official involved in shaping Israeli policy in Lebanon.
With the completion of the Israeli withdrawal, expected today, it appears certain that Lebanon's bloodshed will not cease. Israel's future relations with the Lebanese depend in large part on the outcome of the power struggle now being waged.
Last month Shiite Amal militiamen, in a bid to consolidate power, attacked Palestinians in Beirut refugee camps. Amal leader Nabih Berri has said he will not permit the Palestinians to reestablish a foothold in the south. Syria, Lebanon's chief power broker, backs the Shiite effort to prevent the resurgence of Palestinian fighters who support PLO chairman Yasser Arafat.