South Lebanon security belt
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South Lebanon Security Belt was an area near Lebanon's border with Israel. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) remained there after the South Lebanon Army's (SLA's) retreat during the years 1983–1985. This freed most of the Lebanese territory that were seized during Operation Peace for Galilee, the first Lebanon war, which began in 1982. The IDF retreated from the security belt to Israel's international border in 2000. Israel's stated purpose for the Security Zone was to create a space that separates the northern border towns and terrorists residing in Lebanon.
During the stay in the security belt, the IDF held many positions and supported the SLA. The SLA took over daily life in the security zone and controlled the prison in Khiam. In addition, United Nations (UN) forces and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were deployed to the security belt (from the end of Operation Litani in 1978).
The strip was a few miles wide, and consisted of about 10% of the total territory of Lebanon, which housed about 150 villages and towns made up of Shiites, Maronites and Druze. In the central zone of the Strip was the Maronite town Marjayoun, which was the capital of the security belt. Residents remaining in the security zone had many contacts with Israel, many of whom have worked there and received various services from Israel.
Although the strip was officially formed in 1985, following the IDF withdrawal from most of South Lebanon, it has its roots in the early Lebanese civil war. From 1968, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) controlled southern Lebanon. In 1975, the PLO's control became a severe nuisance to Christians and local residents. The Christians asked Israel for its assistance. From mid-1976, Israel began to assist the Christian residents across the border by opening the border, or Good Fence, in Metola, and through military cooperation with the Christian militia, the Free Lebanon Army, which was established under the Christian officer Major Saad Haddad.
1985 until 2000
During the evacuation in the first Lebanon war, the command of the SLA was delivered into the hands of Antoine Lahad, who demanded and received Israeli permission to hold the Jezzine zone north of the strip. In the first years after the IDF withdrawal from the north part of Lebanon, the strip was relatively quiet. Over the years, the Lebanese resistance, led by Hezbollah, increased on the Israeli side in the security belt. Driving on the roads became dangerous, and IDF forces stayed more in the military camps than on the roads. Hezbollah made many efforts to attack the IDF's military camps. On 16 February 1992, the then-leader of Hezbollah, Abbas Musawi, was assassinated by IDF's helicopter missiles. The IDF assumed that the Hezbollah leadership would curb their activities for fear of their lives and the lives of their families. Hezbollah was headed by Sheikh Nasrallah.
The conflict never escalated into open warfare. Israeli soldiers serving in Southern Lebanon received no ribbon for wartime military service, because Israel considered the maintaining of the security belt as a low-intensity conflict rather than a war. In early 2000, Chief-of-Staff Shaul Mofaz said that 1999 was "the IDF's most successful year in Lebanon" with 11 soldiers killed by hostiles in Southern Lebanon, the lowest casualty rate during the entire conflict. A total number of 256 Israeli soldiers died while occupying the security zone from 1985 to 2000, compared to 301 military personnel killed between 2000 and 2005 in the Palestinian territories and within Israel.
Withdrawal from the security belt
Before the Israeli election in May 1999 the prime minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, promised that within a year all Israelis forces would withdraw from Lebanon. When negotiation efforts failed between Israel and Syria—the goal of the negotiations was to bring a peace agreement between Israel and Lebanon as well, due to Syrian control of Lebanon until 2005—Barak led the withdrawal of the IDF to the Israeli border on 24 May 2000. No soldiers were killed or wounded during the redeployment to the internationally recognized border.
- Israeli military decorations by campaign
- Israel's Security Zone in Lebanon - A Tragedy? by Gal Luft, Middle East Quarterly September 2000, pp. 13-20