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”.
[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.”
“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.