[W]hy were American and French troops in Beirut in 1983, the mid-point of Lebanonâ€™s 15-year civil war (1975-1990)?
Israelâ€™s 1982 Invasion of Lebanon
On June 6, 1982, Israel, led by gen. Ariel Sharon, invaded Lebanon. The goal was to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organizationâ€™s operation in Lebanon, where it had established itself as a full-fledged state-within-a-state: The PLO controlled most of West Beirut and most of South Lebanon.
Israelâ€™s invasion was brutally, tactically efficient but strategically disastrous. In 18 weeks, according to the Red Cross, some 17,000 people, most of them Lebanese civilians, were killed in the invasion. The PLO was routed. But Israel created a power vacuum in its place. That vacuum was immediately filled by a new Shiite militia in South Lebanon receiving weapons and money from Syria and Iran, a group that called itself the Party of God, or Hezbollah.
Meanwhile the PLO agreed in August 1982 to exit Lebanon. To ensure a safe exit, the United States, France and Italy sent a multinational force to Beirut. By August 30, Yaser Arafat and the PLO were out of Beirut. Some 6,000 PLO fighters were evacuated, mostly to Tunisia. The Multinational force was gone by Sept. 10. Four days later, the U.S. and Israeli-backed Christian Phalangist leader and Lebanese President-Elect Bashir Gemayel is assassinated at his headquarters in East Beirut.
From Blunder to Massacre
On Sept. 15, Israeli troops invaded West Beirut, the first time an Israeli force enters an Arab capital, supposedly to maintain the peace. The invasion did the opposite. Israel bused dozens of Christian militiamen to the southern suburbs of West Beirut then unleashed the militiamenâ€”many of them from villages that, several years earlier, had been the scene of massacres by Palestiniansâ€”into the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. The militiamenâ€™s orders were to find remaining Palestinian militants hiding in the camps.
But there were no such laggards. Israel knew that the Christian militiamen would attack civilians. Which they did, for two days and nights, under Israeli supervision. To enable the killings at night, Israeli forces launched flares into the night sky.
The Multinational Force Is Asked to Return
In the wake of the massacre, the Lebanese government of Amin Gemayel, brother of Bashir, asks the multinational force to return to help ensure peace. The Marines, the French paratroopers and the Italians land in Beirut again on September 24.
At first the American forces acted as objective peacekeepers. But gradually, the Reagan administration gave in to pressure by the Gemayel government to take its side against Druze and Shiite Muslims in central and southern Lebanon. American troops, welcomed with rice and roses in the Shiite slums of Beirut, slowly became pariahs in Shiitesâ€™ eyes. Mistrust turned to outright belligerence once American forces used their firepower to shell Druze and Shiite positions in the mountains surrounding Beirut.
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