American-Syrian Conflict in Lebanon


American-Syrian Conflict in Lebanon


American battleship USS New Jersey firing 16" rounds at Syrian and Druze positions in Lebanon on February 4, 1984.

USS New Jersey 1984 Lebanon

U.S.-Syrian Conflict in Lebanon



The U.S.-Syrian Conflict in Lebanon (1983-1984)--In the early 1980s, the Middle East was embroiled in a complex and confusing war in Lebanon that drew in many other nations. In June of 1982, following an assassination attempt on an Israeli diplomat, Israel launced a military invasion of Lebanon they called Operation Peace in Galilee. The goal of this invasion was to drive the Palestinian resistance army from southern Lebanon. Following the Jordinian Civil War of 1970, in which the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), was driven out of Jordan, this Palestinian military force settled in southern Lebanon, where thousands of Palestinian refugees already lived. From their new bases in Lebanon, and with the aid of neighboring Syria, the PLO was able to launch many terrorist attacks on northern Israel. The region of Israel most affected by these attacks is called Galilee.

In 1982, with the attack on Israel's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Shlomo Argov, by the Palestinian terrorist organization led by the infamous Abu Nidal, Israel had an excuse to invade southern Lebanon to rid themselves of the PLO threat.

On June 6, 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and occupied all of Lebanon up to the capital city of Beirut, where the PLO was headquartered. During the invasion, Syrian forces stationed in Lebanon engaged Israeli forces and lost several ground battles, as well as losing a very lop-sided air battle in which over 80 modern Soviet-made Syrian warplanes were shot down by the Israeli Air Force.

The Israeli military began a seven-week siege of Beirut, in which they attempted to bomb the PLO into submission. As this caused high numbers of civilian casualties, the United States and other Western nations attempted to negotiate a cease-fire. In August, 1982, an agreement was reached that called for American, French, and Italian peace-keeping troops (the Multi-National Force, or MNF), to take up positions in Beirut between the PLO and the Israelis, and the PLO would evacuate Beirut for exile in Tunisia.

On August 25, 1982 the MNF landed, with 800 U.S. Marines of the 32d Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU), commanded by Colonel James M. Mead, along with 400 French paratroopers and 800 Italian Bersaglieri. The PLO evacuation took place, with 8,500 Palestinian fighters shipping out to Tunisia, and 2,500 to other Arab countries.

It must be noted that Lebanon had been in a state of civil war from 1975. This was largely a sectarian war (between different religious groups), that pitted the Lebanese Christians against the Lebanese Muslims. The presence of the (mostly muslim) PLO in Lebanon beginning in the early 1970s, had tipped the balance of power against the Christian forces. In 1975, open warfare broke out between the armed Christian and Muslim militias. The Lebanese national army fell apart, and Syria intervened to aid the Muslim forces. The PLO sided withe the Muslim militias and the Syrians. Israel aided the Christian militias. It is against this backdrop of war that Israel invaded Lebanon and again changed the balance of power.

Following the PLO evacuation, two related events occurred that would bring the U.S. Marines and the MNF back to Lebanon and would begin a new round of violence that would turn into a military conflict between the United States and Syria. On September 14, the elected president of Lebanon, Christian politician Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated by a car bomb. It is widely believed that Syria was involved in the assassination. Then, between September 16, and September 18, 1982, members of a Christian militia (allied with the Israelis), entered the Palestinian refugee camps of Shabra and Shatila in West Beirut and conducted a massacre of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Palestinian and Lebanese Shiite men. The Israeli army surrounded the camps and provided night-time illumination for the militia members to see by as they conducted the killings.

To provide a buffer between the Christians and Muslims, the MNF returned to Beirut on September 29, 1982 the U.S. Marines joined 2,200 French and Italian troops already in place in Beirut.

The Marines set up shop in and around the Beirut airport. Eventually, the Marines presence extended to patrolling the "Green Line" that divided the city into Christian and Muslim sectors, and began training the Lebanese National Army.

On March 16, 1983, Five Marines were wounded in a grenade attack in the first direct attack on American peacekeeping troops in Lebanon. Eleven Italian troops were also wounded in a related attack. Islamic Jihad and Al-Amal, a Shi'ite militia claimed responsibility.

Violence against the United States escalated on April 18, 1983, when truck-bomb detonated by a remote control exploded in front of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing embassy 63 employees, including the CIA's Middle East director, and wounding 120. Hezballah, a Shi'ite militia supported by Iran, launched the attack.

In the summer of 1983, artillery from the Druze militia in the mountains surrounding Beirut land in and around American positions around the airport. The Druze are a Shi'ite sect allied with Syria. The Marines begin to take casualties from the artillery rounds. On August 28, 1983, the Marines return fire for the first time since landing in Beirut when combat outpost manned by 30 Marines and Lebanese Army troops east of Beirut Airport came under fire from semiautomatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. The firefight lasted 90-minute, and did not result in U.S. casualties. However, the next day, August 29, heavy rocket, mortar, and artillery attack on Marine positions on the eastern side of the airport killed two Marines and wounded 14.. American ground forces retaliated with 155mm artillery.

Then, on September 1, 1983, Israeli forces quickly and unilaterally withdraw from their positions around Beirut and retreat into southern Lebanon. This sudden withdrawal creates a power vacuum in the area between the mountains and Beirut.

Further Druze artillery attacks kill two Marines and wound two others on September 6, 1983. In response, the American frigate USS Bowen (FF-1079) fired 5-inch guns iin the first naval fire of the American intervention. The Bowen's 5-inch shells silenced the Druze artillery position. Over the next several days, American frigates offshore fire hundreds of shells upon Druze and other Lebanese Muslim militia postitions. The American shelling on September 19, is particularly significant the naval fire was in direct support of the Christian-dominated Lebanese Army operation to retain hold on strategic mountain village of Suq al Gharb. In hte eyes of the various Muslim militias, the American role shifted from a peace-keeping presence to a more direct support of the Lebanese government forces in the Lebanese Civil War.

In early and mid-October, Lebanese rebel factions continue to fire on the Marines, killing and wounding several.

Then, on October 23, 1983, a suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with explosives into the lobby of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Marines and wounding 81 others. The attack was carried out by Hezballah aided by Syrian intelligence and financed by Iran. This attack marked a turning point in the American presence in Lebanon.

On November 19, the 24th MAU was relieved by the 22d MAU, which had participated in the recent Invasion of Grenada.

On November 22, U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger stated that the October 23 suicide attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut was carried out by Iranians with the "sponsorship, knowledge, and authority of the Syrian government."

On December 4, 1983, American combat operations escalated when the Marines at Beirut International Airport came under heavy fire from artillery positions in Syrian-held territory. This attack from a region controlled by the Syrian Army killed eight and wounded two Marines. American naval ships fired iinto the Syrian positions in retaliation. and 29 U.S. warplanes launched an attack on Syrian antiaircraft positions in the Shouf mountains east of Beirut, in response to Syrian anti-aircraft fire directed at earlier American aerial reconnaissance missions. Two U.S. warplanes are shot down by the Syrians.

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Chronology: Marines in lebanon, 1982-1984

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