The Palestinian Strategy for destroying Lebanon and Israel

Mordechai Nisan
March 2002

An ancient biblical connection between Israel and Lebanon is rooted in the notion of the Holy Land, of two small special peoples, in their struggle for survival and self-expression surrounded and threatened by powerful enemies. In 1980, at an Islamic Summit Conference in the Pakistani city of Lahore, a secret decision was taken that 'by the year 2000 the Middle East will be [totally] Islamic and the Christians of the Orient and the Jews of Israel will be eliminated'.* The one Great Islamic Republic covering the entire region has not been established, and there are Christians and Jews still living in the Middle East. But Christian Lebanon is emasculated and under foreign occupation; and Jewish Israel is bleeding from Palestinian terrorism and targeted by neighboring Arab and Muslim states. The Muslim campaign to destroy Lebanon as a Christian homeland and Israel as a Jewish homeland reflects the intolerance of a world religion for other faiths, while demonstrating the determination and perseverance of militant Islam in carving out its glorious future.

The Intifada al-Aqsa raging since late September 2000 is, above all else, another chapter in the history of Palestinian strategy and struggle toward achieving their own national goals. As a violent no-holds-barred terror campaign poised against Israel, its civilian society and military forces, the Palestinians pursue their campaign that began virtually parallel to the appearance of modern Zionism in Eretz-Israel. The explosive hate-filled conflict is more than one hundred years old. For the Palestinians, buoyed by a culture-mix of bedouin plundering, Islamic jihad, and atavistic savagery, there is no inherent compelling reason to lay down their tools of violence. Death in sacrifice, with the dream of ultimate victory, is a higher reward than any conceivable alternative achievement or political scenario.

The history of the PLO in Lebanon provides a precedent for its present war against Israel. Indeed, the Lebanese case offers a model of struggle animating the PLO since 1993, when the Oslo peace accord would soon be transformed into the Oslo War. In Lebanon, from the late 1960s until Israel expelled 9,000 PLO fighters from Beirut in August 1982, the Palestinians employed a diversity of means to overwhelm and conquer the native Lebanese society and state, to render it incapable of effectively functioning.

It will be our intention here to summarize the past in order to gauge where Israel erred, but stress how she can recover, in confronting the contemporary case of Palestinian warfare within and against the Jewish State.

In 12 steps we shall succinctly demonstrate the unfolding modus operandi of Palestinian struggle. If the existing intifada is déja vu, then learning from the past is central to the policy solution of the future.

  1. By 1968, the PLO and its various linked organizations and movements had established itself within Lebanon as an alien but autonomous Palestinian force. In the 1969 Cairo Accord, the Beirut government formally recognized the PLO as a contractual political entity. So too Israel officially recognized the PLO in 1993 with the signing of the Oslo Accord, and political symmetry defined this new bilateral agreement. The enemy was within the gates with the foolish consent of the threatened state.
  2. In Lebanon, the civilian Palestinian population of refugee origin, situated in and near the coastal cities including Beirut, provided the armed PLO with a national and logistical base for its penetration of the country. This situation served as a legitimizing theme, suggesting that the civilian Palestinians required protection from the Lebanese authorities, now offered by their gun-slinging brothers. In Israel, the PLO entered Judea/Samaria and Gaza from Tunisia and elsewhere, ostensibly to provide security for the local Palestinian population against the allegedly predatory Israeli military forces. Thus, in both cases, a pseudo-democratic veneer of native Palestinian rule was presented as a just solution, when in fact what transpired was the denial of state sovereignty for Lebanon and Israel alike.
  3. The PLO declared that, as ideologically twisted as it sounds, it wanted to establish a Palestinian state in Lebanon. This idea smacked of Arab revolutionary zeal combined with Palestinian national arrogance, with presumably a proviso that such a state would pursue the war against Israel in the heart of Palestine itself. For the PLO to call for a Palestinian state in the territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as a first step toward incorporating and thus demolishing all of Israel, is of course the essential political plan of the movement. In short, the PLO set out to destroy two Middle East countries: Israel with its Jewish ethos and Lebanon with its Christian character. Sovereignty is to be reserved for Arab-Muslims alone.
  4. In Lebanon, the Palestinians numbering a few hundred thousand people have established themselves as a major social presence in the country, especially in the southern coastal cities including Beirut. This is a process of demographic conquest in urban neighborhoods that occurs despite their lack of Lebanese citizenship. Within Israel, Palestinians spread their presence throughout civilian society, in work places, on public transportation, and leisure park areas. In this way they occupy public space and intimidate the more sedate Jewish population.
  5. The PLO became a political factor in Lebanese politics through the 1970s, especially after the outbreak of the Lebanese War in 1975. National politicians parleyed with Arafat in Beirut, and various Muslim, Druze, and Christian Lebanese figures collaborated with the terrorist thug as if he were a reputable statesman. As of the Oslo accords of 1993, Arafat became a recognized partner in peace with Yitzhak Rabin and his prime ministerial successors. While courted by the sycophants from the Israeli left, the PLO leader acquired a stature within the Israeli public as someone who could, either offer Israel security and peace and international legitimacy, or dismantle the Jewish state in stages, one-step-at-a-time. Israel became trapped in psychological servitude to the terrorists that it had armed with its own hands.
  6. The PLO butchered, mutilated, and devastated its enemies, especially Christians in Lebanon, in a barbaric assault upon normal civilized life in the land of the cedars. Unbounded Palestinian fury struck at Beit Mallat, Chekka, Damur, and Ayshiyyah across the length of the country in the 1970s. In Israel, from 1995 and after, Palestinian terrorism ravaged downtown Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and Haifa, Hadera and Afula and Nahariya, Beersheva, and a host of smaller villages and settlements in the territories. As much as the Palestinians were religiously prepared to be martyrs in their holy war, they wanted above all else to hunt down and kill as many Jews (and Christians) as they could. The Muslim jungle had penetrated and wrecked havoc in the civilized zones of the Middle East.
  7. The Palestinian campaign in Lebanon employed a variety of sub-groups and movements to carry out the multiple goals of the PLO struggle. Some factions, like the Abu Musa one, or Saika under Syrian tutelege, did not automatically submit to Arafat's political authority. A tissue of confusion served to obfuscate the fundamental PLO responsibility for hacking away at Lebanon's social integrity and national sovereignty. With the onset of the Palestinian intifada in 2000, the multiple terrorist movements that included no less an array of different Fatah-origin organizations, like Tanzim and Force 17, complicated the political picture. Arafat claimed he did not exercise control over all groups, and certainly over the purely Islamic ones, like Hamas. This tactical maneuvering spread the guilt, diffused the process of identification, and deflected Arafat's responsibility on to lesser known persons. The arch-terrorist escaped trial, punishment, and death.
  8. Despite embittered relations between Yasir Arafat and Hafez al-Assad, the PLO in Lebanon enjoyed Syrian support in the form of military and logistical assistance in fighting the Christians, and by Damascus providing a strategic shield from Israeli intervention during many years of fighting. Most specifically, the Syrian army stationed in Lebanon was during the 1970s a central geo-military pillar facilitating Palestinian warfare across Israel's northern Galilee border. In the 1980s and 1990s thereafter, Damascus provided sanctuary for the Palestinian Rejectionist and Islamic organizations in fulfillment of Syria's traditional ideological antagonism to Zionism. In concert with Syrian support for its Hizbullah Shiite proxy, the Palestinians also received assistance from this axis of power which included Iran as well. Without the Syrian factor, Palestinian terrorism would have weakened considerably. Ten groups composing the Palestinian Rejectionist Front enjoys sanctuary in Damascus which serves as their political headquarters.
  9. The war of the PLO in Lebanon caused economic damage of unimaginable proportions. Bank deposits fled the country, commerce declined, industries were destroyed, professional manpower emigrated. Lebanon suffered a financial setback of two generations. In Israel, the Palestinian terrorist war brought the tourist industry to a standstill; commercial businesses, hotels, restaurants and auxiliary industries, suffered extraordinary losses. Rampant urban Palestinian terrorism, in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and elsewhere, created public panic that convinced Israelis to avoid night spots and entertainment sites. Before trying to eliminate Lebanon and Israel as political entities, the Palestinians first emasculated their societies and economies.
  10. During the many years of fighting in Lebanon, the Palestinians never observed cease-fire agreements. Arafat signed hundreds of such accords, with no intention of keeping any of them. This political duplicity, rooted in a culture of cunning, withered the tenacity of the adversary. Lebanese politicians became enfeebled from this barren exercise in conflict-resolution. In Israel, the politicians incessantly called upon Arafat to observe the agreements he had signed, from Oslo in 1993 through the innumerable cease-fire understandings over the years. Arafat never fulfilled an agreement: he did not arrest terrorists --the foolish idea of 'a terrorist arresting terrorists' lingered in limbo for years --, extradite terrorists to Israel, or expunge hateful propaganda from the Palestinian media or educational curriculum. Israel became confounded with a political scoundrel whose pathological lying was normative in this trenchant 'game of nations'. Arafat promoted war, not peace.
  11. The PLO artfully employed political doublespeak always to deflect guilt from its destructive actions in Lebanon and to blame the adversary, especially the Christian community. In the name of the 'Palestinian Revolution' everything was sanctioned: fighting the Lebanese Army, attacking the Lebanese population, establishing a PLO headquarters in Beirut, utilizing Lebanese territory from which to attack Israel. Regarding the Intifada al-Aqsa, Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands served as the legitimizing moral mantra for an all-out war against Israel and its Jewish citizens. The Palestinian terror campaign was designed to ultimately, not only disrupt and cripple Israeli society, but to destroy the country as a whole, in stages, and with the active support of the international community along with Arab solidarity from within the region. Few were the states or the instances of condemnation directed against the Palestinian war.
  12. The PLO was successful in causing mass flight of Lebanese civilians, overwhelmingly Christians, in the years of instability and breakdown throughout the country. Emptying Lebanon of its native Christian population was central to the Islamization and Arabization of Lebanon which would bring to an end its historic legacy and national integrity on the Middle East map. The demographic and political transformation of Lebanon was part of Islam's war against Oriental Christianity, and the Palestinians were in the forefront of this historic campaign. So too is the PLO intent on driving the Jews from Israel by its war of attrition against which Israel has responded with a lack of determination and clarity. For Palestine to be liberated from Zionist occupation, according to the sloganeering genocidal rhetoric, the Arabs have to overwhelm the Jews and compel them to flee abroad. As of this time, the PLO has not been successful in depopulating the country of its five million Jewish inhabitants. The Israeli Jews have shown resilience in remaining in their homeland despite the Palestinian strategy to uproot them from their land.


War has been a major vehicle for population transfer in the Middle East. In 1948, Israel saw the flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the country. In 1970, Jordan expelled thousands of Palestinians from the Hashemite Kingdom; in 1982, Israel forced thousands of Palestinians out of Lebanon. In 1991, Kuwait expelled 200,000 Palestinians in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Facing the disruptive rebellious Palestinians within, countries have understood that their national wellbeing cannot tolerate this arrogant and violent community of terrorists.
The Lebanese model is playing itself out in Israel today. This demands of the government to destroy the Palestinian Authority and evict the PLO from the country. The Oslo Accords of 1993 introduced the Trojan Horse within the gates. Admitting this gross strategic error should lead to removing the existential domestic danger to Israel's survival.
Israel will not collapse as a functioning national entity. It is not, as PLO propaganda imagines, an imperialist outpost with no roots in the country. It is a solid national venture with a powerful state and military apparatus. The so-called Palestinian national struggle is, however, itself an appendage of Arab imperialism and Islamic jihad, without national coherency or historical legitimacy. It is destined to fail, collapse, and disappear. The Jews are not aliens in Eretz-Israel, while the Arabs are marauders and murderers who can cause suffering and damage, but cannot win the war.
The Palestinians in Israel and against Israel hope to repeat Hizbullah's victory in southern Lebanon which witnessed the shameful flight of the IDF in May, 2000. At the same time, the Palestinians have adopted Lebanese-style terror tactics to their Gaza and West Bank campaign. The Lebanonization of the intifada uses religious symbolism and guerrilla methods reminiscent of Hizbullah warfare during the 1980s-1990s. Ambushes and car-bombs were two typical Hizbullah methods that the Palestinians have employed throughout Israel, on both sides of the evaporated Green Line. Encouraged by Hizbullah's victory, the Palestinians delude themselves to believe that they will also reap a victory from Israel.
Studying the Lebanese case is, therefore, a rational way for Israel to deny its repetition in Israel. Indeed, to save Israel from being the fatal victim of Lebanonization can serve to eventually salvage Lebanon from its own harrowed experience with the Palestinians. This, because, a strong Israel can contribute to a free Lebanon, again.
The United States has hopefully recovered its strategic poise since September 11. It can identify its enemies and demonstrate loyalty for its allies. It can, most decidedly, confront and defeat the Lahore Plan of 1980 and assist the small Israeli and Lebanese peoples in their uphill battle for life, honor, and independence. There is no power in the world, nor any country with its moral mission, that can do what America can do, and must.

Dr. Mordechai Nisan teaches Middle East Studies at the Hebrew University of