Operation Grapes of Wrath

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Operation Grapes of Wrath
Part of the Israeli-Lebanese conflict and the South Lebanon conflict (1985–2000)

Fighting near a UN post
Date11–27 April 1996
Lebanon, northern Israel
Result Ceasefire on civilian targets; much Lebanese infrastructure destroyed.
Israel Israel
Commanders and leaders
Israel Shimon Peres
Israel Amnon Lipkin-Shahak
Hassan Nasrallah
Syria Mustafa Tlass
Casualties and losses
No casualties[2] 13 Hezbollah fighters killed[3][4]
62 Israeli civilians wounded[5]
20,000–30,000 Israeli civilians displaced
149[3] – 250[6] Lebanese civilians killed
354 Lebanese civilians wounded[7]
350,000–500,000[8] Lebanese civilians displaced

Operation Grapes of Wrath (Hebrew: מבצע ענבי זעם Mivtsa Enavi Zaam), known in Lebanon as the April Aggression (Arabic: عدوان نيسان, romanizedʿUdwān Nīsān), was a seventeen-day campaign of the Israeli Defense Forces against Hezbollah[9] in 1996 which attempted to end rocket attacks on Northern Israel by the organisation. Israel conducted more than 1,100 air raids and extensive shelling (some 25,000 shells). A UNIFIL compound at Qana was hit when Israeli artillery fired on Hezbollah forces operating nearby. 639 Hezbollah cross-border rocket attacks targeted northern Israel, particularly the town of Kiryat Shemona.[7] Hezbollah forces also participated in numerous engagements with Israeli and South Lebanon Army forces. The conflict was de-escalated on 27 April by a ceasefire agreement banning attacks on civilians.

Historical background

The Israeli army invaded Lebanon for the second time in 1982, in order to stop the Palestinian attacks, starting the 1982 Lebanon War. After three months Israel occupied the capital city of Beirut. Over the next three years the Israeli army partially withdrew, until in 1985 it established what it called the "Security Buffer Zone" in Southern Lebanon.

While Israel did succeed in ousting the PLO from Lebanon, armed insurgency by radical Shia organizations emerged in the region. In 1993, Israel responded with a massive attack against the Lebanese Hezbollah (Operation Accountability) to disrupt its actions. The military campaign ended in a ceasefire whose terms included unwritten understandings prohibiting the targeting of civilians. Both sets of belligerents would later disregard the prohibition when particular "red lines" had been crossed, creating cycles of retaliatory violence. Hezbollah continued attacking targets in both Lebanon and northern Israel, including Israeli armed forces, South Lebanon Army militia and civilian areas. The Israeli military shelled targets often in very close proximity to or inside civilian areas, frequently causing the death of many civilians.[10][7]

On 30 March, two men were killed by an IDF missile while working on a water tower in Yater, Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by launching 20 missiles into northern Israel and the IDF acknowledged the attack as a mistake. A roadside bomb explosion that caused the death of a 14-year-old Lebanese boy and injury of three others in the village of Barashit was cited by Hezbollah as the reason for firing 30 missiles into northern Israel on 9 April.[11][12] Israeli officials announced Operation Grapes of Wrath on 11 April as a retaliatory and preventative action for Hezbollah shelling, which had injured six Israeli civilians.[12]


In the early morning of 11 April, Israeli aircraft and artillery began an intensive bombardment of Shiite villages in South Lebanon. The declared objective of these attacks was to cause a general flight of the civilian population towards the Beirut area. The humanitarian crisis was intended to put pressure on the Lebanese and Syrian governments to disarm Hizbullah. A secondary objective was to punish Hizbullah directly by destroying any objective connected to the organization.[13][14][15]

Israel issued warnings, in leaflets dropped from the air and through the radio station of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), to the inhabitants of 44 (later extended to 88) south Lebanese villages to evacuate their homes before 2:30 PM the following day. The attacks on the villages started 4:30 PM.[16] In the beginning artillery and air strikes were directed at the outskirts of villages. Later, they were directed at randomly chosen houses.[17]

After an Israeli attack on an ambulance in South Lebanon, Israeli government spokesman Uri Dromi declared that "We gave the residents advance warning to clear out so as not to get hurt. All those who remain there, do so at their own risk because we assume they're connected with Hizbollah." On April 14, an Israeli army spokesman said: "Anyone remaining in Tyre or these forty villages... is solely responsible for endangering his life."[16] According to Human Rights Watch, such warnings were “in part designed to provoke a major humanitarian crisis by internally displacing upwards of 400,000 Lebanese civilians”.[16]

Spreading panic among the civilian population is prohibited by International Humanitarian Law. In a rare public intervention in an ongoing conflict the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) flatly condemned the Israeli attack on Qana and further stated:

The ICRC draws attention to the fact that there are still almost 60,000 civilians in the areas of southern Lebanon where military operations are taking place. The orders to evacuate an entire region - in this case contrary to international humanitarian law - issued to the inhabitants of villages in southern Lebanon, do not exempt Israel from the obligation to respect the civilians still on the spot.[18]

Israel blockaded the ports of Beirut, Sidon and Tyre. Near Beirut, a Syrian military post was bombed on 12 April by Israeli aircraft, resulting in the death of one soldier and injuring seven others. On 13 April, Israel struck an ambulance in Mansouri, killing 2 women and 4 children.[19] On early morning of 14 April the electrical transformer station at Bsalim was hit by an airstike; the following day Lebanon's largest transformer station at Jumhour, five miles east of Beirut, was also destroyed. The air-raids left Beirut without electricity.[20] The following day the perimeter of Beirut Airport was bombed, killing four civilians and two Lebanese soldiers. Twenty-four people were wounded.[21] The UNIFIL base outside Qana was shelled on 18 April, killing 105 villagers sheltering in the compound.

It is estimated 400,000 people left their homes in southern Lebanon[22] and 16,000 residents of Kiryat Shimona fled south during the bombardment.[23]


According to Human Rights Watch some 154 Lebanese civilians were killed[7] while Ahron Bregman says that 250 Lebanese[6] were killed in the Israeli attacks, including 106 civilians who died in the shelling of a UN compound at Qana and 9 civilians killed in an attack in Nabatiyeh when Israeli warplanes rocketed a two-story building where they were sleeping. The Israeli air force said that anti-aircraft fire was directed at its planes from the area around the building. Amnesty International was not able to confirm whether or not those said were true.

Some 350 civilians were wounded in Lebanon Human Rights Watch (1997). 62 Israeli civilians were wounded in Israel.[24][7]

The damage to the Lebanese infrastructure was significant as major bridges and power stations were destroyed. According to Human Rights Watch, 2018 houses and buildings in South Lebanon were either completely destroyed or severely bombarded. Lebanon's total economic damage was estimated at $500 million by economist Marwan Iskandar (and endorsed as accurate by the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies): $140 million in rebuilding damaged infrastructure, $30 million for assisting those displaced, $260 million in lost economic output, and $70 million in losses due to delays in economic projects.[25] Israel estimated the total damage it suffered at 150 million NIS (about $53 million). Earlier, the damage to Israeli civilian property was estimated at 20 million NIS (about $7 million), and the indirect damage to Israel's tourism industry at 40 million NIS (about $13 million)[24] Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres mounted an intense campaign to persuade the Lebanese that this punishment had come down upon them because of Hezbollah's continued presence and anti-IDF activities and that they had only to repudiate and dismantle Hezbollah for it to stop. But because of Hezbollah's political activities over the preceding years, virtually the entire Lebanese body politic closed ranks around it. Not only was there no mention of "dismantling" Hezbollah, but the agreement—signed by Lebanon, Israel, the United States, France, and Syria—specifically allowed Hezbollah to continue its military activities against IDF forces inside Lebanon.[26]

Hizbullah was very active in the reconstruction in the following months. They later claimed to have repaired 5,000 homes in 82 villages, as well as rebuilding roads and repairing infrastructure. They also stated that compensation was paid to 2,300 farmers. According to neutral observers these figures were probably accurate.[27]

Response by Al-Qaeda associated individuals

The deaths of civilians in Operation Grapes of Wrath and in particular at Qana have been cited by Al-Qaeda as motivations for its actions and policies towards the United States. Mohamed Atta is described in Lawrence Wright's account of the 11 September 2001 attacks to have committed himself to martyrdom in immediate response to the Israel strikes at the beginning of Operation Grapes of Wrath.[28]

In his 23 August 1996 declaration of jihad against the United States, Osama bin Laden wrote (addressing his fellow Muslims), "Their blood was spilled in Palestine and Iraq. The horrifying pictures of the massacre of Qana, in Lebanon are still fresh in our memory."[29] In November 1996, he told the Australian Islamist journal Nida'ul Islam about Qana again, saying that when the United States government accuses terrorists of killing innocents it is "accusing others of their own afflictions in order to fool the masses."[30]


The United Nations Security Council had originally called for a ceasefire on 18 April 1996, in Resolution 1052. In the wake of the Qana massacre, a wave of international condemnation ensued and there was diplomatic pressure on Israel to stop the operation.[31] Hostilities retreated from their escalated level following the reaching of an Israeli–Lebanese Ceasefire Understanding – an informal written agreement – under American diplomatic auspices. The understanding was announced at 18:00, 26 April 1996, and became effective at 04:00 on 27 April. The agreement barred cross-border attacks on civilian targets, as well as using civilian villages to launch attacks. The Monitoring Committee for the Implementation of the Grapes of Wrath Understandings was set up, comprising representatives from the U.S., France, Syria, Israel and Lebanon. The committee convenes to monitor and discuss infringements of the understandings by the two sides.[32]

Origins of name

The phrase "grapes of wrath" is a reference from the Book of Revelation (chapter 14 verses 19 and 20[33]). It was a well-known idea in 19th century American Christian eschatology and also appears in the abolitionist hymn The Battle Hymn of the Republic:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.

The irony (and potential controversy) of an Israeli military operation being named after a Christian religious doctrine was not entirely lost on the Israeli press.[34] However, most commentators either believed the title was a reference from the Torah[35] or that the phrase merely referred to John Steinbeck's novel of the same name, The Grapes of Wrath.[36]

See also


  1. ^ "CNN - Israel pledges continued attacks on Lebanon - Apr. 12, 1996". edition.cnn.com.
  2. ^ Netanel Lorch. "The Arab-Israeli Wars". Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Israel). Retrieved 19 May 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Chronology, 16 February-15 May 1996". Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Summer, 1996), p.179. JSTOR 2538022. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
  4. ^ Fisk (2001), p.1126
  5. ^ B'tselem (2000) p.75
  6. ^ a b Bregman (2016), p.272
  7. ^ a b c d e Human Rights Watch (1997)
  8. ^ Hirst (2010) p. 170
  9. ^ Tucker, Spencer C.; Roberts, Priscilla (12 May 2008). The Encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Political, Social, and Military History [4 volumes]: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-85109-842-2.
  10. ^ Human Rights Watch (1996)
  11. ^ UNIFIL 1996.
  12. ^ a b Amnesty (1996) p.4.
  13. ^ "מבצע "ענבי זעם" (Operation Grapes of Wrath)". www.iaf.org.il. Archived from the original on 6 November 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  14. ^ "Operation "Grapes of Wrath"". www.idf.il. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  15. ^ "Operation Grapes of Wrath (1996)". Ynetnews. 1 August 2016. Retrieved 15 May 2021.
  16. ^ a b c Human Rights Watch (1996) p. 8
  17. ^ Noam Sheizaf (7 January 2015). "Blame Peres, not Bennett, for the Qana massacre". 972mag.com. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
  18. ^ News Release 96/14 (19 April 1996). "ICRC condemns shelling of civilians in southern Lebanon". ICRC. Retrieved 2 May 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ "Lebanon flies the flags of mourning". The Independent. 21 September 2015. Archived from the original on 24 May 2022. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  20. ^ Middle East International No 546, 21 March 1997; Publishers Lord Mayhew, Dennis Walters MP; Fida Nasrallah pp.19-20, quoting Human Rights Watch (1996)
  21. ^ Middle East International No 524, 26 April 1996; Crisis chronology p.4
  22. ^ Hiro, Dilip (2013) A comprehensive dictionary of the Middle East. Olive Branch Press. ISBN 978-1-56656-904-0. p.243
  23. ^ Middle East International No 524; Godfrey Jansen pp.4-5
  24. ^ a b "From Lebanon, Hizbullah: Summary of Katyusha attacks", Terrorism: obstacle to peace, IL: MFA, 21 April 1996.
  25. ^ Grapes of Wrath cost, Lebanon: LCPS, Summer 1996, archived from the original on 21 January 2001.
  26. ^ "Helena Cobban: Hizbullah's New Face", The Boston Review, archived from the original on 12 July 2009, retrieved 14 August 2006.
  27. ^ Middle East International No 535, 4 October 1996; Graham Usher pp.18-19
  28. ^ Wright, Lawrence (2006). The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-41486-X.
  29. ^ Bin Laden's Fatwa Archived 1 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine www.pbs.org Retrieved 18 April 2014
  30. ^ "Mujahid Usamah Bin Ladin Talks Exclusively to "NIDA'UL ISLAM" About The New Powder Keg in The Middle East". Nida'ul Islam magazine. Archived from the original on 6 February 2005. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  31. ^ Berman, Lazar. "Bennett defends actions during 1996 Lebanon operation". www.timesofisrael.com.
  32. ^ Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cease-fire understanding in Lebanon- and remarks by Prime Minister Peres and Secretary of State Christopher
  33. ^ Revelation 14–19
  34. ^ "No sour Grapes of Wrath for Peres - Jerusalem Post | HighBeam Research". 25 October 2012. Archived from the original on 25 October 2012.
  35. ^ MacCoby, Deborah (26 May 1996). "LETTERS: Qana betrayed Deuteronomy". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 2 August 2012. Retrieved 30 May 2009.
  36. ^ Rozner, Oryan (5 November 2010). "Factoids about Operation Names". Bamahane (3059): 7.


External links