Israeli Security Zone

The Israeli Security Zone in southern Lebanon was a strip of territory of varying width, 5 to 25km, from the Israeli border and the occupied Golan Heights, occupied by Israeli forces from 1985 to 2000. Additional regions controlled by the South Lebanon Army are sometimes included under the term. The stated purpose of this zone was to put Israel's border towns out of range of small arms and mortar fire.


Following the Israeli Government's 1985 decision to pull back its positions in Lebanon, thus seemingly ending Operation Peace in Galilee (or the 1982 Lebanon War), a follow-up decision ordered the Israeli Defense Force to maintain a buffer zone inside Lebanon. A jointly-patrolled zone formed part of a tentive agreement, never ratified, between Israel and Lebanon in 1983.

A small contingent of IDF units were left to patrol the Security Zone in order to prevent infiltration into Northern Israel, and to provide a deterrent force against any attempt by Palestinian or other militia groups to fire longer range weapons into Israel proper.

Over the following decade, the IDF expanded and institutionalized its presence in the Security Zone as commanders on the ground established better fortified posts and more troops. This presence was a direct response to the rise of Hezbollah (or Party of God) as a serious political force throughout Lebanon and a potent guerrilla army in the south.


Hezbollah fighters engaged in steady low-level confrontations with the IDF. Operations included attacks on convoys and routine patrols; placement of roadside bombs and remote control activated devices; occasional attempts to storm IDF outposts (most famously the attack on the D'lat outpost, in which a Hezbollah fighter succeeded in breaching the walls of the outpost and planting a Hezbollah flag before the attack was repelled); launching ground-to-ground missiles, particularly AT-3 Sagger missiles at IDF tanks and outposts; and occasional shelling of Israeli border towns with Katyusha rockets.

Over the course of the conflict a set of unwritten but widely recognized "Rules of Engagement" developed between the sides. It was broadly understood that any Israeli killing of a Lebanese civilians in pro-active anti-Hezbollah operations would be met with a Katyusha barrage on the northern towns of Israel. It was understood that Katyusha fire would be met with proportional if unequal responses, including the use of IDF war planes and heavy artillery. Both sides also captured and exchanged prisoners.

Strategically, the conflict was a long-standing stalemate. Hezbollah was unable to inflict sufficient damage on either the IDF presence in Lebanon or on the quality of life in Israel's northern towns to force Israeli concessions. Israel was unwilling to either expand its control of Lebanon or to take the war to those countries that armed, funded and trained Hezbollah.

By the late 1990s a change in the political dynamic of the conflict was becoming more apparent. While Israel was strategically able to sustain its losses (normally around two to three soldiers killed each month), the will of the Israeli public to accept what were seen as pointless deaths began to fade. The security zone eventually failed to provide security as Hezbollah teams could still fire rockets into Northern Israel. With each loss, Hezbollah assumed ever more heroic proportions in the eyes of the Lebanese public and the rest of the Arab world as one of the first Arab armed forces to ever successfully match swords with the Jewish State. Through constant low-level combat, Hezbollah became an ever more effective and better trained force.

A number of other questionable activities occurred within the zone. For example, Israel cooperated with right-wing American Christian personality Pat Robertson in setting up a television network inside the security zone called Middle East Television that broadcast Christian religious programming to both Lebanon and northern Israel. The security zone also played host to the so-called Government of Free Lebanon which claimed to be the true government of Lebanon. Also in the security zone, Lebanese militias ran prisons with very bad reputations and conscripted the local population. While Israel ran the zone, it said it had no control over the actions of Lebanese militias within the zone.

Change in Israeli mood

In February 1997, two Israeli military helicopters ferrying troops into the Security Zone collided, killing over 70 soldiers on board. (See 1997 Israeli helicopter disaster.) The event sparked days of national mourning. Out of this trauma, a number of women living on the northern border with sons serving in Lebanon came together and drafted an open letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on him to bring the boys home. The women's letter would, over the coming weeks, evolve into The Four Mothers Movement.

Within days of the letter being published in the nation's newspapers, hundreds of people around the country, mainly mothers, were openly expressing their solidarity with the view expressed by the Four Mothers. While the issue of withdrawal from Lebanon had long been taboo in mainstream political circles, the Four Mothers appeal to core Israeli values opened up a flood gate of pent up frustration.

Over the course of the coming two years, the Movement grew from its original core band to a national organization with several hundred active members. The Four Mothers held protests, sponsored advertisements in newspapers, and, perhaps most effectively, held vigils outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv the day after an IDF soldier was killed in Lebanon.

The persistence of the movement sparked a national re-evaluation of the policy guiding Israel's continued presence in the Security Zone. Polls quickly began to shift. By the time the 1999 election rolled around, a majority of Israelis now supported unilateral withdrawal from the Security Zone.

Recognizing the shift in public sentiment, Ehud Barak, the Labor Party's candidate for Prime Minister, announced that if elected he would move to bring the IDF back to the blue line.


Barak was elected in a landslide. The IDF announced that it would hand over the security zone to the South Lebanon Army by July 2000. As the IDF started to hand positions in the security zone over to the South Lebanon Army, the Lebanese milita forces suddenly surrendered. The first to surrender were Shite Muslim units conscripted from the security zone. A day later, the majority of the SLA positions had collapsed. The IDF then began to withdraw from the zone under fire from Hezbollah. Over the course of two days in May 2000, the IDF fully withdrew from the Security Zone. The following month, the UN confirmed that Israel's force deployment was now entirely consistent with the various security council resolutions with regard to Lebanon.

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