May 25 Liberation Day: Soul is what fights
With the blood and sweat of thousands of its sons and daughters, Lebanon was liberated on May 25, 2000.
Twenty-two years have passed since the Israelis were forced, for the first time, to withdraw from an occupied Arab land unconditionally. The event that took place on May 25th of the year 2000 is seen widely as a turning point in the greater Arab struggle against the Israeli occupation and colonization of Arab lands.
The day the occupation completed its forced withdrawal from Lebanese territories came to be known as the Liberation and Resistance Day in Lebanon, a day that is commemorated and celebrated all over the country annually. It became a founding element in the story of the Arab and Lebanese people’s struggle in general, and for the people of Southern Lebanon in particular. Memories of the occupation that brought death and destruction to the lives of many are still vivid to this day, as not only were the horrors of such a period carved in the collective memory of the Lebanese people but also the idea that the cost of resistance will always be more bearable than that of submission.
So how did the people, historically described as poor peasants, manage to inflict such a strategic defeat on the Israeli war machine?
Building the momentum
As the occupation began in 1978 and then expanded in 1982, the Lebanese resistance factions took up their arms and dealt heavy blows to the Israeli occupation troops present on the Lebanese soil via various military actions. New resistance factions were formed as well. They followed a wide array of ideological doctrines that ranged from communism and nationalism to Islamic ideology. This piece will be focusing on the actions, operations, and plans of the resistance party that played a major role in the military defeat of the Israelis and their expulsion from Lebanon - except for the Shebaa Farms and the Kfar Chouba Hills - the Islamic resistance in Lebanon, i.e. Hezbollah.
The resistance project was launched in Beirut in 1982 by only a few men who were frustrated by how the people under Israeli occupation were left to meet their fate by everyone as the country was engulfed in civil war. Not with words, but with solid actions, iron, and lead, these men decided to stand their ground and fight. The oldest of these men hadn’t reached his thirties, these “young and crazy” men ended up changing the fate of Lebanon and the region for good.
Numbering from a few dozens to hundreds in the nineties, the resistance had employed multiple tactics, from ambushes to anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) strikes or mining the roads taken by Israeli patrols. Their foe was not only the Israeli occupation forces; there was also a collaborator militia under the name of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), whom the Israelis used as cannon fodder to man the front outposts with the hope of mitigating their losses.
The Islamic Resistance’s ability to adapt to shifting conditions was proved by Hezbollah’s military operations in the 1990s. Hezbollah attacked with direct assaults when the Israeli forces and SLA-established permanent outposts. The resistance moved to use indirect fire using mortars and rocket fire when the occupation and its collaborators bolstered their outposts. The resistance resorted to ambushes, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and mines as the IOF changed tactics and became a more mobile force with more patrols.
As for the use of ATGMs, the Lebanese resistance deployed even more complex armament systems, ranging from the older Sagger ATGMs to the more modern American-made TOWs and Soviet-made Konkurs. Between September and October 1997, using TOW systems, the resistance, for instance, managed to destroy a Magach and three Merkava tanks, dealing a serious blow to the IOF’s morale. The Islamic resistance’s adaptability earned it admiration from its enemies. The head of the Golani brigade, Moshe Kaplinsky, remarked that "Hezbollah was a learning organization."
The War was characterized by an intellectual clash between the resistance and the IOF. For instance, in the 1990s, when the IOF started utilizing sniffer dogs to find wire-triggered IEDs, the resistance started hiding its mines under fiberglass boulders as camouflage, then resorted to using radio control to set off the mines. The IOF, in turn, tried countering this tactic by jamming the radio signals, the resistance responded by using cellphone-triggered devices. The Israelis countered this tactic by jamming cellphone signals. The resistance finally employed infrared signals to detonate the explosive devices and continued inflicting tremendous damage to the Israeli occupying forces.
Culminating the effects
The resistance's professional use of IEDs and mines culminated in the killing of Erez Gerstein in 1999; the top Israeli commander in Lebanon at that time. It was a huge calamity for the occupation and its already crumbling morale as a result of the attrition war it was suffering at the hands of the resistance. The SLA was not spared either, as its second-in-command, Aql Hashim, was killed the following year using similar tactics.
One of the most significant victories for the resistance, both on the intelligence and tactical levels, was the 1997 ambush of sixteen navy commandos from the elite Shayetet 13 unit near the coastal town of Ansariyah, which resulted in the death of 12 Israeli soldiers. It was revealed by the secretary-general of the resistance later on that the ambush was made possible by the resistance's hacking of Israeli drones earlier that year, which allowed them to acquire intel that helped identify the imminent incursion.
Operations continued as the occupation of Lebanon was withering, with their number increasing substantially. 4,928 of the total 6,058 operations occurred between 1996 and 2000, and 1999 alone saw the resistance carrying out 1,528 operations. The war was long and consuming for the Israelis, and not only the military was suffering. The Israeli society as a whole was crumbling underneath the weight of losses in Lebanon.
The resistance using rockets to establish a deterrence equation, which prevented the Israelis from targeting civilians in Lebanon, played a major role in cutting the Israeli society’s appetite for war. The Israelis felt that their government, even after the wars of 1993 and 1996, was unable to stop the rocket retaliation against settlements. Despite the numerous violations committed by the IOF against the rules of such proclaimed and explicit equation, the Israelis did reduce their attacks against civilians in Lebanon.
The last Israeli soldier left Lebanese soil (except for Shebaa farms and Kfarshoba hills) at 6:48 am on May 24 of the year 2000, and the long-awaited relief of the Lebanese people from their suffering ended. The SLA was breaking up in the days leading up to the 24th of May, culminating in its complete disintegration following that date. The members of the collaborator army were divided into 2 groups, the first surrendered to the resistance, while the second left with the Israelis to occupied Palestine. One of the SLA officers said during his last seconds on Lebanese soil: "We expected to be expelled, but [not like this] with honor." A scene that was engrained in the Lebanese memory, besides the scenes of the prisoners of Al-Khiam detention camp breaking their chains and breathing in the fresh breeze of freedom.
During the celebration that followed Liberation Day, the leader of the resistance, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, described the Israeli occupation regime as "frailer than a spider’s web." These words echoed within the heads of the Israelis for the better half of a decade, so much so that Israeli generals labeled their bid to occupy Bint Jbeil (where Sayyed Nasrallah made the speech in which he said the occupation was frailer than a spider’s web) "Operation Webs of Steel". The operation took place during the Israeli 2006 war on Lebanon. "Tel Aviv" failed miserably in its endeavor again, but that is a story for another day.
The Israeli occupation regime’s existential concerns became much more vivid following its defeat and humiliation in 2000 and 2006. The mighty "Israel" that always bragged about its operational military art and competency and created an illusion of invincibility became powerless, frail, and paranoid. The resistance and its people not only liberated their land with their blood and sweat but proved to all the Arabs and the oppressed of this world that, with a clear mind, a strong will, and a passionate soul, no occupation shall last.