IDF to recognize 18-year occupation of south Lebanon as official campaign

Army chief accepts recommendation to formally recognize service in the ‘security zone,’ pending final approval from defense minister and ministerial committee

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli soldiers opening gates for tank during the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon, on June 22, 2000. (Flash90)
Israeli soldiers opening gates for tank during the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon, on June 22, 2000. (Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces will recognize the period from 1982 to 2000 during which troops were deployed in southern Lebanon as an official, named campaign, and will grant a special pin to those who took part in it, providing the government supports the move, the military announced Wednesday.

The decision by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi marked a victory for a vocal group of veterans from this period, who have called for this official recognition for years, claiming their experiences in the so-called “security zone” in southern Lebanon were forgotten and ignored by the state.

The symbolic move will place the 18-year military occupation on the same pedestal as Israel’s wars and multi-year military campaigns.

This period, during which the IDF occupied a strip of southern Lebanon — totaling about 10 percent of Lebanese territory — in order to defend northern Israel from terrorist attacks, will be known as “The Security Zone in Lebanon Campaign,” the military said in a statement.

The decision was made by Kohavi on the recommendation of a committee led by former chief of staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Shaul Mofaz, who commanded the military during part of this period, the IDF said.

One of the organizers of the ‘Four Mothers’ protest, Orna Shimoni, hugs then-IDF chief Shaul Mofaz after he announces the army will be withdrawing from southern Lebanon in May 2000. (Defense Ministry)

Mofaz’s committee, which included current IDF generals and former top commanders of the campaign, was tasked with considering the possibility of formally recognizing this period as an IDF campaign earlier this year, in light of the 20th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

Israel dismantled the security zone and hurriedly pulled back to the international border in late May 2000, under prime minister Ehud Barak. The South Lebanon Army, a militia backed by Israel that fought alongside the IDF in the zone, collapsed as Israel departed. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group subsequently moved into the area, and a Hezbollah cross-border raid led to the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Kohavi accepted the committee’s recommendation, saying it was an “important and moral move, which expresses deep appreciation for the service of many generations (of soldiers), who defended the northern borders of the country and its citizens.”

Kohavi passed along his recommendation to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who has in the past expressed support for the measure. If the defense minister indeed approves the move, it then requires final approval from the government’s Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols.

“There is no doubt that the operational service in Lebanon deserves historic recognition,” Gantz said in July.

After the military’s announcement, Gantz indicated he would support the move, saying he praised Kohavi’s decision to accept the committee’s advice.

“I served for 22 years in Lebanon and I know — with my own feet — the specialness of the service in that area. Upon entering my position, this matter was brought up to me and I took care to advance it with the chief of staff. Soon I will invite the members of the committee to discuss their recommendations,” Gantz said.

If the move is approved, it would be the ninth such campaign recognized by the military, alongside the 1948 Independence War, 1956 Sinai War, 1967 Six Day War, 1967-1970 War of Attrition, 1973 Yom Kippur War, 1982 First Lebanon War, 2006 Second Lebanon War, and 2014 Gaza war, known officially as Operation Protective Edge.

An estimated 675 troops were killed during Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon. The period was covered in the television documentary “War with No Name,” that was released earlier this year in a nod to the lack of official recognition for Israel’s 18-year presence in southern Lebanon.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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