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View series: The Middle East since the beginning of the 20th century

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War in the Lebanon 1975-1989

This map is part of a series of 18 animated maps showing the history of The Middle East since the beginning of the 20th century.

From 1975 to 1989, the civil war in Lebanon was a very complex situation. Creating huge difficulties for the civil population, it was a battleground on which a large number of protagonists fought for control of Lebanon, and where parties sought to resolve other regional and international disputes.

By the end of the 1950s, a sharp increase in the Muslim population seriously undermined the political system which had been created originally for the predominant Christian community. The fragile consensus in the Lebanon was put in jeopardy by the Maronites’ insistence on maintaining their political position, the economic and social inequalities among the various communities, and the devastating impact of an accelerated and badly managed process of urbanization. The situation was further undermined by the presence of a large number of Palestinian refugees who had created a true state within the State, especially after the arrival of the PLO in Beirut in 1970.

Civil war first broke out in 1975-1976 and again in 1983-1985. The gradual involvement of other countries aggravated the violence between communities.

For Israel, a state founded on Judaism, the existence of a multi-religious Lebanon on its borders was a serious problem and the presence of active Palestinian commando units on Lebanese soil provided an excuse for military intervention.

The first serious ground offensive was launched in 1978. The UN condemned the operation and adopted Resolution 425, which established the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.

In a second offensive launched in 1982, the Israeli army advanced as far as Beirut and occupied part of Lebanon.

Divisions among the Arabs were mirrored by Lebanese factions and stirred up internal conflicts. Syria, which had never accepted its separation from the Lebanon, maintained its presence in the country and sought to control Palestinian movements for its own purposes. After a military intervention in 1976, Syria claimed that Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights justified its continued military and political presence in Lebanon. Iran supported Syria’s position, since its revolutionary doctrine was popular among Shiites in Southern Lebanon and in particular Hezbollah, the “Party of God”, which headed the struggle against Israel.

In 1985, a first withdrawal of Israeli troops opened up the possibility for improving relations. The failure of the Lebanese Army’s “war for liberation from Syria” marked a turning point. On 22 October 1989 at Taif, encouraged by a tripartite committee set up by the Arab League, the parties established a fragile agreement but this did not put an end to incursions by Syria and Israel.

The 1992 general elections in the Lebanon led to a new era of political stability but, given the country’s serious economic difficulties, did not guarantee renewal of the population’s confidence in the State.