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Ministers approve medal for troops who fought in southern Lebanon

Government also agrees to advance bill to honor South Lebanon Army members who served alongside IDF soldiers during Israel’s 18-year occupation of area

Israeli soldiers patrol a road in Israeli-controlled southern Lebanon, March 31, 1996. (AP Photo/Yaron Kaminsky/File)
Israeli soldiers patrol a road in Israeli-controlled southern Lebanon, March 31, 1996. (AP Photo/Yaron Kaminsky/File)

The government voted Monday to grant campaign medals to Israel Defense Forces troops who served in southern Lebanon in the years after the 1982 war.

Ministers also approved the advancement of legislation to award medals to members of the South Lebanon Army, which fought alongside IDF soldiers during Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon from September 1982 to May 2000.

The proposal to award the medals was backed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who in November endorsed the IDF’s recommendation to officially recognize the army’s 18-year presence in the security zone an as a military campaign.

Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, served as the liaison between the Israeli military and the South Lebanon Army in 2000, when Israel withdrew from the area, ending an 18-year occupation of a strip of southern Lebanon — totaling about 10 percent of Lebanese territory — that had been aimed at defending northern Israel from attack by terror groups, notably the Iran-backed Hezbollah. Gantz, then a brigadier general, was famously the last Israeli soldier to leave the security zone.

“As the last soldier to leave Lebanon, today I feel a great honor to grant recognition to thousands of soldiers and brothers in arms, those who returned home and those who didn’t,” Gantz said in a statement Monday.

Gantz added that he would work to ensure the medals were awarded as soon as possible.

The government’s approval of the proposal to issue the medals was cheered by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, who described it as “important moral closure” for troops who fought in southern Lebanon, and touted the “brave alliance” between the IDF and SDL.

“Our hearts today are with the grieving families who lost their loved ones during the years of fighting in the security zone,” he was quoted saying in an IDF statement.

The push to recognize the period as a military campaign began in earnest last year, as Israel marked 20 years since the withdrawal. In July, Kohavi formed a committee led by former army chief Shaul Mofaz, who oversaw the withdrawal, to consider granting this period official recognition.

Two militiamen of the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army direct a convoy of armored vehicles in southern Lebanon, June 3, 1999. (Butros Wanna/ AP)

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.

The campaign will be the ninth 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,” which was released last year, in a nod to the lack of official recognition for Israel’s 18-year presence in southern Lebanon.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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