BBC WS history programme claims Israel started the Lebanese civil war

The Lebanese civil war began in 1975 and lasted fifteen years. Listeners to the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness’ were however recently told that it began in June 1982 – and that Israel started it.

The June 5th edition of ‘Witness’ was titled “The Assassinaton [sic] Attempt that Sparked a Middle East War“.

“In June 1982, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Shlomo Argov, was shot and critically injured by a Palestinian gunman outside the Dorchester Hotel in London. The attack was the trigger for the start of the devastating war in Lebanon just days later. Simon Watts talks to Shlomo Argov’s son, Gideon Argov.”

Simon Watts introduced the programme as follows:

Watts: “Today I’m taking you back to the summer of 1982 and a gun attack on the Israeli ambassador to London which started a war in the Middle East.”

Listeners later heard the perpetrators of that attack described as a “Palestinian hit squad” but only six minutes and fourteen seconds into the nine-minute programme were they informed of the name of the faction responsible.

At 04:56 Watts asked Gideon Argov about the reaction in Israel to the attempted assassination of his father. Having mentioned the “outpouring of shock and sorrow and support” from the general public, Argov went on to say “and then the war broke out”.

Watts interjected:

[05:17] Watts: “That war turned out to be the Lebanese civil war.”

Listeners then heard an archive recording of a news bulletin.

“Israel has launched air attacks against Palestinian targets in Lebanon in retaliation for the shooting of her ambassador in London. The Israeli air raids were aimed around the Lebanese capital Beirut. Targets included a Palestine Liberation Organisation training school. Several other buildings including this sports stadium were damaged. The PLO said at least 30 civilians were killed. Later, Palestinian guerillas are said to have carried out rocket attacks against the Jewish settlements in north Israel.” [emphasis added]

Watts went on:

[05:49] Watts: “It’s now known that the Israeli defence minister Ariel Sharon had been planning an assault on PLO targets in Lebanon for months. He later described the assassination attempt as the spark that lit the fuse.”

Remarkably, listeners to this ‘history’ programme did not hear a single word about the additional – and highly relevant – background to those plans and Operation Peace for Galilee.

“In March 1978, PLO terrorists infiltrated Israel. After murdering an American tourist walking near an Israeli beach, they hijacked a civilian bus. The terrorists shot through the windows as the bus traveled down the highway. When Israeli troops intercepted the bus, the terrorists opened fire. A total of 34 hostages died in the attack. In response, Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon and overran terrorist bases in the southern part of that country, pushing the terrorists away from the border. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) withdrew after two months, allowing United Nations forces to enter. But UN troops were unable to prevent terrorists from reinfiltrating the region and introducing new, more dangerous arms.

Violence escalated with a series of PLO attacks and Israeli reprisals. Finally, the United States helped broker a cease­fire agreement in July 1981. The PLO repeatedly violated the cease-fire over the ensuing 11 months. Israel charged that the PLO staged 270 terrorist actions in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and along the Lebanese and Jordanian borders. Twenty-­nine Israelis died and more than 300 were injured in the attacks.

Meanwhile, a force of some 15-18,000 PLO members was encamped in scores of locations in Lebanon. About 5,000-6,000 were foreign mercenaries, coming from such countries as Libya, Iraq, India, Sri Lanka, Chad and Mozambique. Israel later discovered enough light arms and other weapons in Lebanon to equip five brigades. The PLO arsenal included mortars, Katyusha rockets and an extensive anti­aircraft network. The PLO also brought hundreds of T­34 tanks into the area. Syria, which permitted Lebanon to become a haven for the PLO and other terrorist groups, brought surface-to-air missiles into that country, creating yet another danger for Israel.

Israeli strikes and commando raids were unable to stem the growth of this PLO army. The situation in the Galilee became intolerable as the frequency of attacks forced thousands of residents to flee their homes or to spend large amounts of time in bomb shelters. Israel was not prepared to wait for more deadly attacks to be launched against its civilian population before acting against the terrorists.”

Obviously the BBC World Service needs to correct its inaccurate claim concerning the Lebanese civil war immediately.




7 comments on “BBC WS history programme claims Israel started the Lebanese civil war

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  3. Well i’m a British citizen, not Jewish but Christian, and was working on Kibbutz in the North of Israel in 1982. Nights spent in the bomb shelters were frequent as Katyusha’s exploded in the surrounding area. We would then have the unenviable job of clearing up the destruction before getting down to the fields to work…bits of deadly jagged shrapnel shards lay everywhere. Thankfully we did not have Cowsheds…those that did were greeting with livestock in all stages, lightly wounded, badly wounded, dead and dying….most had to be killed to put the poor creatures out of their misery. Thousands of Chickens lay dead…the shock alone had killed them. One thing not mentioned which was clear to everyone was that whenever the U.N. soldiers crossed into Israel from Lebanon and went back…places like Kiryat Shmona and other sites suddenly got hit more and the PLO accuracy improved. We always said that they were the best that money could bribe, those co ordinates were suddenly just too accurate, and they were right…Israel stopped the R and R vacations and closed the border gate to them….especially the African contingents. The Shlomo Argov shooting was not the start of the war…we’d been sheltering for months beforehand, it was the final straw, and the chance to remove those who were destroying Lebanon once and for all ever since they arrived in 1970 from Jordan (Black September). Within days they had taken numerous terror camps and they took prisoner all kinds…I still have details of the three I.R.A. operatives captured by the Israeli’s being trained in a PLO camp. I read newspapers and listened to the BBC during my time there…Britain was justifying a war against Argentina In the Falkland Isles thousands of miles away, yet was condemning Israel for defending its own border.

  4. I would also like to make clear about the Civil War within Lebanon itself. Multiple groups had been fighting since Black September when refuge was given to Arafat and his fleeing people….they had tried to form a State within Jordan, now they would do it in Lebanon having been given refuge there. Within months they had clashed with the Christian Militia there…The Phalangists, who would battle the PLO for a few years, and it was on one occasion in 1974 that a Phalange village was attacked and all were slaughtered there. The leader Major Saad Haddad swore that revenge would come one day for the terrible crime at Damour. Years later it came when they entered the Sabra and Shattilla camps near Beirut…prior to Arafat and his groups leaving for Morocco. Israel got the blame for the slaughter, but were only guilty of allowing the Militia to go check the camps for any of Arafats men who were staying behind to cause problems, rather than check for themselves…it was the perfect payback opportunity for Damour. The Israeli’s were not part of that…they had just recovered from the Yom Kippur War in late 1973….but you had Syria there with massive ambitions of their own, various terror groups and separatists being trained there, Red Brigade, Baader Meinhoff, I.R.A….all with Soviet money and support, alongside Gaddaffi. with his money and arms…. the P.F.L.P. Moslem Brotherhood and a host of splinter groups. They did not need Israel in order to have their Civil War…they were more than capable to turn the Switzerland of the Middle East into the most bombed and deadly place on earth themselves…and they did!

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