Battle of the Beaufort (1982)
|Battle of the Beaufort|
|Part of the 1982 Lebanon War|
Beaufort Castle, Lebanon, 1982.
|Commanders and leaders|
Moshe Kaplinsky |
Giora Harnik †
|23 men||30+ men|
|Casualties and losses|
|6 killed||15-24 killed|
The Battle of the Beaufort was fought between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on June 6, 1982 over Beaufort Castle, Lebanon. It was one of the first clashes of the 1982 Lebanon War, and resulted in the IDF capturing the castle.
Located 717 meters above sea level, Beaufort Castle commands great parts of the Upper Galilee and South Lebanon. It could be used to direct artillery, and even Syria had sent artillery spotters there. Israel shelled the fortress repeatedly, but could never actually enter it - the massive basalt rocks of the Medieval construction proving an effective defense even in face of modern artillery and aerial bombardments. For Israel, it had become a symbol of the Palestinian power over the region. For the Palestinians, it served as a memento of Saladin's victory over the Crusaders in 1192 and of their own endurance against Israel, and the PLO used it as the colophon on leaflets.
Two weeks before the war started, Yasser Arafat visited the castle, sat down with its defenders and assured them that in thirty-six hours of fighting, the PLO could get a ceasefire. The sector commander protested, insisting that there was no way they could withstand an Israeli attack for so long.
Preparations for the attack
The IDF Northern Command had been planning to capture the Beaufort for a long time before the war, designating the mission to Sayeret Golani, the commando unit of the Golani Brigade. The unit studied the castle and trained for tactics to conquer it.
However, the way the invasion progressed rendered the capture of the Beaufort unnecessary. Capture would have been necessary had the IDF decided to cross the Litani River via the al-Khardali Bridge, just below the fortress. But since the IDF instead decided to use the Akiye Bridge, located much further to the west, the Israelis could have proceeded to Nabatiye unaffected by the Beaufort. Since the PLO troops stationed in and around the castle were not firing at Israeli settlements when the war began, there was no urgent need to neutralize them. The General Staff issued a command to postpone the operation, but the command failed to reach the Sayeret.
The Sayeret former commander, Giora (Guni) Harnik had been discharged from the IDF just a week earlier, but was suddenly called back. Since the unit commander, Moshe Kaplinsky, was reported wounded while on the road, Harnik was sent as replacement. He drove there so fast that his APC flipped over, although he and the other passengers were uninjured. His surprise return was a morale boost for the men of the unit. His deputy was Mordechai (Moti) Goldman.
The unit consisted of 23 men, and the supporting engineering company of sixty-five. Zeev Schiff and Ehud Yaari report that fifteen Palestinians were stationed at the Beaufort at the start of the war. Some of them may have escaped before the battle started.
At first, a daylight attack was planned, but as the war went behind schedule, a night attack became the preferred option. The column began to move at 4:00 PM. As darkness fell, Harnik ordered his drivers to turn on their lights as they approached the castle to get there faster, and then ordered them to disembark from the APCs and prepare for an assault on foot. They were to take the northern outpost and its trenches while the supporting engineering company would take the southern outpost.
The first dash up the asphalt road met with heavy machine gun fire which killed two soldiers and wounded four more. A few moments later, Mordechai Goldman, an Israeli officer and personal deputy to Harnik and seven other men began a second assault. Goldman and two others reached the main trench, encountering a Palestinian and killing him. The two other soldiers tried to jump over the trench but were cut down. Goldman moved farther along the trench, threw a grenade into it and then jumped down and killed the Palestinian fighter. Since his magazine was almost empty by then, he picked up the dead Palestinian's AK-47. He then climbed out of the trench and ran alongside it. He killed another Palestinian before being joined by Harnik and two other soldiers. Harnik and Goldman then came across a lone Palestinian, entrenched in a concrete position. The Palestinian managed to kill Harnik with a bullet to the chest before Goldman threw an explosive charge at his position, killing the Palestinian fighter and destroying the position. Another soldier was killed by the time the engineering company went into action. Most of the remaining Palestinians were killed as Israeli troops secured the mountain.
Because of both weather conditions and continued firing nearby, medical evacuation was delayed until shortly before daybreak. Only then, did the death toll - six men, including the unit commander - become apparent. After it, the soldiers spread out and climbed to take the roof of the fortress, which turned out to be empty. Several Palestinians may have escaped during the night. By 6:30 AM, Israeli control over the castle was secured.
During the day, the Chief of Staff (Ramatkal), Rafael Eitan, visited the troops and was astounded to learn of the death toll. Later that day, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon arrived, accompanied by newsmen and photographers. They did not know about the losses, as Sharon did not inquire before declaring that the battle was won without casualties on the Israeli side. Showing interest in the Palestinian resistance, Begin asked "Did they have machine guns?", a question which later became a symbol of how uninformed the Israeli leadership was of the events on the front throughout the war.
Harnik was posthumously given the division commander citation. The commander of the Golani Brigade later confessed that in retrospect, he would not have attacked the Beaufort. An investigation was held after the war as to why the order to postpone the operation failed to reach its destination, but produced inconclusive results.
- Shay Fogelman (May 31, 2012). "Three decades later, new reports shed light on IDF's iconic battle in Lebanon". Haaretz. Retrieved Sep 18, 2012.
- Schiff and Yaari (1984), p. 124
- Solley, George C. (1987-05-10). "The Israeli Experience In Lebanon, 1982-1985". Marine Corps Command and Staff College. Archived from the original on 16 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
- Fisk (2001), p. 54
- Schiff and Yaari (1984), pp. 95-96
- Schiff and Yaari (1984), pp. 124-125
- "Battle description". Golani.co.il (in Hebrew). Archived from the original on 2011-07-21.
- Schiff and Yaari (1984), pp. 126-127
- Schiff and Yaari (1984), p. 127
- Schiff and Yaari (1984), p. 125
- Schiff and Yaari (1984), pp. 128-129
- Schiff and Yaari (1984), pp. 129-131
- Rabad, Ahiyah (2005-05-24). "Lebanon Lexicon". Ynet (in Hebrew). Archived from the original on 18 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
- "Harnik, Guni". izkor.gov.il (in Hebrew). Archived from the original on 17 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-10.
- Schiff and Yaari (1984), p. 129
- Fisk, Robert (2001). Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War. Oxford University Press. p. 727. ISBN 0-19-280130-9.
- Schiff, Zeev; Ehud Yaari; Ina Friedman (1984). Israel's Lebanon War. Simon and Schuster. p. 320. ISBN 0-671-47991-1.