Likud domination 19771992
19771981: Menachem Begin I: the Egyptian-Israeli
Egyptian President Anwar el-Sādāt (left)
shaking hands with Israeli Prime
Minister Menachem Begin as U.S. President Jimmy Carter looks on at
Camp David, Maryland, September 6, 1978.
In a surprise result, the Likud led by Menachem Begin won the
1977 elections. This was the first time in Israeli history that the
government was not led by the left. A key reason for the victory was
anger among Mizrahi Jews at discrimination, which was to play an
important role in Israeli politics for many years. Moroccan-born David
Levy made a major contribution to winning Mizrahi support for Begin.
Many Labour voters voted for the Democratic Movement for Change in
protest at high-profile corruption cases. The party joined in coalition
with Begin and disappeared at the next election.
In addition to starting a process of healing the Mizrahi-Ashkenazi
divide, Begin's government included Ultra-Orthodox Jews and was
instrumental in healing the Zionist - Ultra-Orthodox rift. Begin's
liberalization of the economy led to hyper-inflation but enabled Israel
to begin receiving US financial aid. Begin actively supported Gush
Emunim's efforts to settle the West Bank, thus laying the grounds for
intense conflict with the Palestinian population of the occupied
Begin had been tortured by the KGB as a young man and one of his
first acts was to instruct the Israeli secret service to "use wisdom
rather than violence" in interrogations. "In July 1977, Begin met with
President Carter in Washington. Their talks revealed a wide disparity of
views. Begin defended Israels right to establish and expand Jewish
settlements in the occupied territories. Carter reminded him that the
United States opposed such actions as contrary to international law."
In November 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat broke 30 years of
hostility with Israel by visiting Jerusalem at the invitation of Israeli
Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Sadat's two-day visit included a speech
before the Knesset, and was a turning point in the history of the
conflict. The Egyptian leader created a new psychological climate in the
Middle East in which peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours seemed
possible. Sadat recognized Israel's right to exist and established the
basis for direct negotiations between Egypt and Israel.
Following Sadat's visit, 350 Yom Kippur War veterans organized the
Peace Now movement to encourage Israeli governments to make peace with
In March 1978, eleven armed Lebanese-Palestinians reached Israel in
boats and hijacked a bus carrying families on a day outing, killing 35
people, including 13 children. The attackers opposed the
Egyptian-Israeli peace process. Three days later, Israeli forces crossed
into Lebanon beginning Operation Litani. After passage of United Nations
Security Council Resolution 425, calling for Israeli withdrawal and the
creation of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)
peace-keeping force, Israel withdrew its troops.
In September 1978, U.S. President Jimmy Carter invited President
Sadat and Prime Minister Begin to meet with him at Camp David, and on
September 11 they agreed on a framework for peace between Israel and
Egypt and a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. It set out broad
principles to guide negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. It
also established guidelines for a West Bank-Gaza transitional regime of
full autonomy for the Palestinians residing in these territories and for
a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. The treaty was signed on March
26 1979, by Begin and Sadat, with President Carter signing as witness.
Under the treaty, Israel returned the Sinai peninsula to Egypt in April
1982. The final piece of territory to be repatriated was Taba, adjacent
to Eilat, returned in 1989.
In December 1978 the Israeli Merkava battle tank entered use with the
Development of Israel by
| % of world's Jews
|GDP per capita 1995 NIS
Following the agreement Israel and Egypt became the two largest
recipients of US military and financial aid (Iraq has now overtaken them
by a large margin, as the United States has caused Saddam Hussein to be
19811983: Begin II: the First Lebanon War
On 30 June 1981, the Israeli air-force destroyed the Osirak
nuclear reactor that France was building for Iraq.
Three weeks later, Begin won yet again, in the 1981 elections (48
seats Likud, 47 Labour). Ariel Sharon was made defense minister. The new
government annexed the Golan Heights and banned El Al from flying on the
1982 Lebanon War
The 1982 Lebanon War (Hebrew: מלחמת לבנון, Milhemet
Levanon), (Arabic: الإجتياح, Al-Ijtīāḥ, "the invasion"),
called Operation Peace for Galilee (Hebrew: מבצע שלום הגליל,
or מבצע של"ג Mivtsa Shlom HaGalil or Mivtsa Sheleg) by
Israel, and later also known colloquially in Israel as the
First Lebanon War, began on 6 June 1982, when the Israel
Defense Forces invaded southern Lebanon. The Government of
Israel decided to launch the military operation after the
assassination attempt against Israel's ambassador to the
United Kingdom, Shlomo Argov, by the Abu Nidal Organization,
a mercenary organization opposed to the PLO.
After attacking the PLO, as well as Syrian, leftist and
Muslim Lebanese forces, Israel occupied southern Lebanon and
eventually surrounded the PLO and elements of the Syrian
army. Surrounded in West Beirut and subjected to heavy
bombardment, they negotiated passage from Lebanon with the
aid of Special Envoy Philip Habib and the protection of
With the establishment of Israel and the 1948
Arab-Israeli conflict, Lebanon became home to more than
110,000 Palestinian refugees after fleeing their homes in
the former Palestine. After its founding in 1964 and the
radicalization among Palestinians, which followed the Six
Day War, the PLO became a powerful force, then centered in
Jordan. The large influx of Palestinians from Jordan after
Black September caused an additional demographic imbalance
within Lebanese society and its democratic institutions
established earlier by the National Pact. By 1975, the
refugees numbered more than 300,000 and the PLO in effect
created an unofficial state-within-a-state, particularly in
Southern Lebanon, which then played an important role in the
Lebanese Civil War. Continual violence near the Lebanese
border occurred between Israel and the PLO starting from
1968; this had previously peaked during Operation Litani in
1978. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)
was created after the incursion, following the adoption of
Security Council Resolution 425 in March 1978 to confirm
Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon, restore
international peace and security, and help the government of
Lebanon restore its effective authority in the area. With
the completion of Israeli withdrawals from Sinai in March
1982, under the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty,
the Likud-led government of Israel hardened its attitude to
the Arab world and became more aggressive.
Precursors to war
On 10 July 1981, violence erupted in South Lebanon and
Northern Israel. Israel renewed its air strikes and after
five days, the PLO began shelling northern Israel. On July
17, the Israel Air Force launched a massive attack on PLO
buildings in downtown Beirut. "Perhaps as many as three
hundred died, and eight hundred were wounded, the great
majority of them civilians." The Israeli army also heavily
targeted PLO positions in south Lebanon without success in
suppressing[weasel words]Palestinian rocket launchers and
guns. The strategy of the PLO, years later copied by
Hezbollah, consisted of widely dispersing artillery and
ammunition stockpiles, which largely neutralized the far
more powerful Israeli aircraft and artillery. As a result,
thousands of Israeli citizens who resided near the Lebanese
border headed south. On 24 July 1981, United States envoy
Philip Habib brokered a ceasefire badly needed by both
parties. Between July 1981 and June 1982, the
Lebanese-Israeli border "enjoyed a state of calm
unprecedented since 1968."
US Secretary of State, Alexander Haig filed a report with
US President Ronald Reagan on Saturday 30 January 1982 that
revealed Secretary Haig's fear that Israel might, at the
slightest provocation, start a war against Lebanon. On 21
April 1982, after a landmine killed an Israeli officer while
he was visiting a South Lebanese Army gun emplacement in
Taibe, Lebanon, the Israeli Air Force attacked the
Palestinian-controlled coastal town of Damour, killing 23
people. On 9 May, Israeli aircraft again attacked targets in
Lebanon. Later that same day, UNIFIL observed the firing of
rockets from Palestinian positions in the Tyre region into
northern Israel, but none of the projectiles hit an Israeli
settlement--the gunners had been ordered to miss.
Major-General Erskine (Ghana), Chief of Staff of UNTSO
reported to the Secretary-General and the Security Council
(S/14789, S/15194) that from August 1981 to May 1982,
inclusive, there were 2096 violations of Lebanese airspace
and 652 violations of Lebanese territorial waters (Chomsky,
1999, p. 195; Cobban, 1984, p. 112). There were more than
240 PLO attacks against Israeli targets, and Israel
considered them violations of the ceasefire. The freedom of
movement of UNIFIL personnel and UNTSO observers within the
enclave remained restricted due to the actions of Amal and
the South Lebanon Army under Major Saad Haddad's leadership
with the backing of Israeli military forces.
U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim noted: "After
several weeks of relative quiet in the area, a new cycle of
violence has begun and has, in the past week, steadily
intensified." He further stated: "There have been heavy
civilian casualties in Lebanon; there have been civilian
casualties in Israel as well. I deeply deplore the extensive
human suffering caused by these developments." The President
of the U.N. Security Council, Ide Oumarou of Niger,
expressed "deep concern at the extent of the loss of life
and the scale of the destruction caused by the deplorable
events that have been taking place for several days in
Lebanon". Secretary Haig's critics have accused him of "greenlighting"
the Israeli Invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. Haig denies
this and says he urged restraint. The American reaction was
that they would not apply any undue pressure on Israel to
quit Lebanon as the Israeli presence in Lebanon may prove to
be a catalyst for the disparate groups of Lebanon to make
common cause against both Syrian and Israeli forces. Haig's
analysis, which Ronald Reagan agreed with, was that this
uniting of Lebanese groups would allow President Elias
Sarkis to reform the Lebanese central Government and give
the Palestinian refugees Lebanese citizenship.
Palestinian and Lebanese forces
A Lebanese national army unit of 1,350 was under the
operational control of the UNIFIL commander, HQ located at
Arzun with sub-units attached to UNIFIL Battalions. The
Palestinian forces continued to grow in Lebanon with
full-time military personnel numbering around 15,000,
although only 6,000 of these, including 4,500 regulars, were
deployed in the south. They were armed with 60 aging tanks,
many of which were no longer mobile, and 100 to 200 pieces
of artillery (Sayigh, 1999, p. 524). According to Israeli
analysts Schiff and Ya'ari (1984), the PLO more than tripled
its artillery from 80 cannons and rocket launchers in July
1981 to 250 in June 1982. The same authors also refer to
Israeli intelligence estimates of the number of PLO fighters
in southern Lebanon of 6,000 as "divided into three
concentrations; about 1,500 south of the Litani River in the
so-called Iron Triangle (between the villages of Kana, Dir
Amas, and Juya), Tyre, and its surrounding refugee camps;
another 2,500 of the Kastel Brigade in three districts
between the Litani and a line running from Sidon to
northeast of Nabatiye; and a third large concentration of
about 1,5002,000 men of the Karameh Brigade in the east, on
the slopes of Mount Hermon".
Israeli Casus Belli
One of the reasons for the invasion, according to
Sheldon L. Richman was "the discrediting and destruction of
the PLO, which, by June 1982, had observed its cease-fire
with Israel for about a year and had been pursuing a
diplomatic strategy." Although the PLO had observed the
ceasefire, Israel continued looking for the "internationally
recognized provocation" that Secretary of State Alexander
Haig said would be necessary to obtain American support for
an Israeli invasion of Lebanon. On 3 April 1982 Israeli
diplomat Yacov Bar-Simantov was assassinated by the Lebanese
Armed Revolutionary Fraction; this incident was blamed on
the PLO by Israel. On 3 June 1982 an anti-Arafat splinter
group which was not a part of the PLO and was headed by Abu
Nidal paralyzed Israeli diplomat Shlomo Argov in an
assassination attempt in London. Prime Minister Menachem
Begin had been informed by Israeli intelligence that the PLO
was not involved in the attack on Argov, but withheld this
information from his Cabinet. Sami Moubayed would write in
2008 that Rafael Eitan, who was then the Chief of Staff of
the Israeli Defense Forces, responded to the aforementioned
information by saying: "Abu Nidal, Abu Shmidal. I don't
know, we need to screw the PLO." In late 1981, Begin
compared Arafat to Adolf Hitler, telling a high-ranking
Israeli general at the Waldorf-Astoria, "I want to see
Arafat in his Bunker!".
On 6 June 1982, Israeli forces under direction of
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon invaded southern Lebanon in
"Operation Peace of the Galilee".
Course of the fighting
Israel's publicly stated objective was to push PLO
forces back 40 kilometres (25 mi) to the north. Israeli
forces pushed in from Southern Lebanon. The first battle was
at Beaufort Castle, where 6 Israeli soldiers and at least 4
PLO fighters were killed. Israeli troops took control of the
castle. Israeli forces took the town of Jezzine, which was
held by Syrian tanks and Infantry. One Syrian armored
battalion was destroyed, with Israel losing 7 dead and 8
tanks. Operation Mole Cricket 19 was launched, with the
Israeli air force winning a dramatic victory over Syrian
aircraft, shooting down 29 Syrian planes and also destroying
17 Syrian anti-aircraft missile batteries, with no losses of
its own. Israeli forces fought their way into the
Syrian-held town of Sultan Yacoub, but became surrounded.
They managed to escape, losing 30 dead. Sultan Yacoub was
one of the few objectives the IDF decisively failed to take
in the war. The Israelis soon reached Beirut but were
determined to drive the PLO from southern Lebanon. Tyre and
Sidon (major cities in South Lebanon, still within the
40-kilometre (25 mi) limit) were heavily damaged, and the
Lebanese capital Beirut was shelled for ten weeks, killing
both PLO members and civilians.
The Israeli Air Force shot down 86 Syrian aircraft, with
no air combat losses of its own. This was the largest combat
of the jet age with 150 fighters from both sides. It also
performed ground attacks, notably destroying the majority of
Syrian anti-aircraft batteries stationed in Lebanon. AH-1
Cobra helicopter gunships were used widely against Syrian
armor and fortifications. The IAF Cobras destroyed dozens of
Syrian armored fighting vehicles, including some of the
modern Soviet T-72 main battle tanks.
An agreement was reached later in 1982, and American,
French, and Italian peacekeepers, known as the Multinational
Force in Lebanon, sent more than 14,000 PLO combatants out
of the country in August and September. About 6,500 Fatah
fighters relocated from Beirut to Jordan, Syria, Iraq,
Sudan, both North and South Yemen, Greece, and Tunisiathe
latter of which became the new PLO headquarters. Philip
Habib, Ronald Reagan's envoy to Lebanon, provided an
understanding (i.e., assurance) to the PLO that the
Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps would not be
harmed. However, the United States Marines left West Beirut
two weeks before the end of their official mandate following
the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing.
On 14 September 1982, Bachir Gemayel, the newly appointed
President of Lebanon, was assassinated by Habib Shartouni of
the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. Israeli forces occupied
West Beirut the next day, in violation of the Habib
agreement. At that time, the Lebanese Christian Militia,
also known as the Phalangists, were allied with Israel. The
Israeli command authorized the entrance of a force of
approximately 150 Phalangist fighters' into the Sabra and
Shatila refugee camps, claiming there was a remaining force
of approximately "2000 PLO terrorists" in the camps. The
result was the Sabra and Shatila massacre in which at least
800 civilians were slaughtered by the Phalangists, who
themselves suffered only two casualties. Meanwhile, Israeli
troops surrounded the camps with tanks and checkpoints,
monitoring entrances and exits. Further Israeli
investigation by the Kahan Commission of Inquiry found that
Ariel Sharon bears "personal responsibility" for failing to
prevent the massacre, and for failing to act once he learned
that a massacre had started, and recommended that he be
removed as Defense Minister and that he never hold a
position in any future Israeli government. Sharon initially
ignored the call to resign, but after the death of an
anti-war protester following an anti-war protest, he did
resign as Israel's Defense Minister, however, he remained in
Begin's cabinet as a Minister without portfolio. He later
became Prime Minister of Israel.
Outcome of the war
It is estimated that around 17,825 Lebanese were killed
during the war, with differing estimates of the proportion
of civilians killed. Beirut newspaper An Nahar estimated
that 5,515 people, both military and civilian, were killed
in the Beirut area alone during the conflict, while 9,797
Syrian soldiers, PLO fighters, and other forces aligned with
the PLO, as well as 2,513 civilians were killed outside of
the Beirut area. Approximately 675 Israeli soldiers were
The security buffer zone
In September 1982, the PLO withdrew most of its forces
from Lebanon. With U.S. assistance, Israel and Lebanon
reached an accord in May 1983 that set the stage to withdraw
Israeli forces from Lebanon while letting them patrol a
"security zone" together with the Lebanese Army.
The instruments of ratification were never exchanged,
however, and in March 1984, under pressure from Syria,
Lebanon canceled the agreement.
In January 1985, Israel started to withdraw most of its
troops, leaving a small residual Israeli force and an
Israeli-supported militia, the South Lebanon Army in
southern Lebanon in a "security zone", which Israel
considered a necessary buffer against attacks on its
northern territory. The Israeli withdrawal to the security
zone ended in June 1985.
In the voting in the Knesset on the war, only Hadash
opposed the war (and even submitted a no-confidence motion
against the Israeli government). Hadash Knesset member Meir
Vilner said in the Knesset plenary session that: "The
government is leading Israel to an abyss. It is doing
something that in the course of time might lead to crying
for generations." In response, they were condemned, and
calls were heard, among others from the editor of Yediot
Ahronoth, to prosecute them for treason. Left-wing Knesset
members, including Shulamit Aloni and Yossi Sarid, were
absent from the plenary for the vote. Even the Labour
faction voted in support. By mid January 1983 Rabin was
saying that the Israeli attempt to impose a peace agreement
on Lebanon by the use of force was a "mistake" based upon an
Syria backed the anti-Arafat PLO forces of Abu Musa in
the Beka valley from May 1983. When Arafat castigated the
Syrian government for blocking PLO supplies in June 1983,
the Syrian government declared Arafat a persona non grata on
24 June 1983.
With the withdrawal of the PLO leadership from Tripoli in
December 1983 there was an Egyptian-PLO rapprochement, this
was found to be encouraging by the Reagan administration but
was condemned by the Israeli government.
But heavy Israeli casualties, alleged disinformation of
Israeli government leaders and the Israeli public by Israeli
military and political advocates of the campaign, and lack
of clear goals led to increasing disquiet among Israelis.
This culminated in a large protest rally in Tel Aviv,
organized by the Peace Now movement, following the 1982
Sabra and Shatila massacre. Organizers claimed 400,000
people participated in the rally, and it became known as the
"400,000 rally". Other estimates put the figure much lower.
In 2000, when Ehud Barak was Israeli Prime Minister,
Israel finally withdrew from the security zone to behind the
Blue Line. Lebanon and Hezbollah continue to claim a small
area called Shebaa Farms as Lebanese territory, but Israel
insists that it is captured Syrian territory with the same
status as the Golan Heights. The United Nations has not
determined the final status of Shebaa Farms but has
determined that Israel has complied with UNSC resolution
425. The UN Secretary-General had concluded that, as of 16
June 2000, Israel had withdrawn its forces from Lebanon in
accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425 of 1978,
bringing closure to the 1982 invasion as far as the UN was
The 1982 Lebanon War had a number of lasting
-From the standpoint of the Israeli Military, the
invasion was a limited success, removing PLO presence from
Southern Lebanon and destroying its infrastructure, as well
as increasing deterrence on other Arab anti-Israeli militant
organizations. The Syrian military was weakened by combat
losses, especially in the air.
-Increased erosion of the consensus against criticizing the
military in Israeli public opinion and disillusionment with
its leadership, a process which is commonly held to be
rooted in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War.
-The invasion that also targeted many Shiite Lebanese, has
brought about the switching of sides of Amal Movement, which
used to fight against the PLO prior to the invasion.
-The invasion is popularly held to be the major catalyst for
the creation of the Iranian and Syrian supported Hezbollah
organization, which by 1991 was the sole armed militia in
Lebanon not supported by Israel and by 2000 had completely
replaced the vanquished PLO in Southern Lebanon.
-The Lebanese Council for Development and Reconstruction
estimated the cost of the damage from the invasion at
7,622,774,000 Lebanese pounds, equivalent to US$2 billion at
-Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden said in a videotape
released on the eve of the 2004 U.S. presidential elections
that he was inspired to attack the buildings of the United
States by the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon in which
towers and buildings in Beirut were destroyed in the siege
of the capital.
-The withdrawal of the IDF back to South Lebanon in the
summer of 1983, led to one of the bloodiest phases of the
Lebanese war, where the Christian Militia (the Lebanese
Forces) was left alone to defend the "Mountain" area which
comprised the Aley and Chouf districts against a coalition
of Druze PSP, Palestinian PLO, Syrian Army, Lebanese
Communist, and Syrian Social National Party. The result was
catastrophic on the civilian population from both sides,
especially on the Christian population (more than 5,000
killed from both sides). The war ended after the Christian
forces and civilians withdrew to the town of Deir el Kamar
where they were besieged for 3 months before all hostilities
ceased and they were transported to East Beirut.
Israeli troops in South Lebanon, June, 1982.
In the decades following the 1948 war, Israel's border with Lebanon
was quiet compared to its borders with other neighbours. But the 1969
Cairo agreement gave the PLO a free hand to attack Israel from South
Lebanon. The area was governed by the PLO independently of the Lebanese
Government and became known as "Fatahland" (Fatah was the largest
faction in the PLO). Palestinian irregulars constantly shelled the
Israeli north, especially the town of Kiryat Shmona, which was a Likud
stronghold inhabited primarily by Jews who had fled the Arab world. Lack
of control over Palestinian areas was an important factor in causing
civil war in Lebanon.
In June 1982, the attempted assassination of Shlomo Argov, the
ambassador to Britain, was used as a pretext for an Israeli invasion
aiming to drive the PLO out of the southern half of Lebanon. Sharon
agreed with Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan to expand the invasion deep
into Lebanon even though the cabinet had only authorized a 40 kilometer
deep invasion. The invasion became known as the 1982 Lebanon War and the
Israeli army occupied Beirut, the only time an Arab capital has been
occupied by Israel. Some of the Shia and Christian population of South
Lebanon welcomed the Israelis, as PLO forces had maltreated them, but
Lebanese resentment of Israeli occupation grew over time and the Shia
became gradually radicalized under Iranian guidance. Constant casualties
among Israeli soldiers and Lebanese civilians led to growing opposition
to the war in Israel.
In August 1982, the PLO withdrew its forces from Lebanon (moving to
Tunisia). Israel helped engineer the election of a new Lebanese
president, Bashir Gemayel, who agreed to recognize Israel and sign a
peace treaty. Gemayal was assassinated before an agreement could be
signed, and one day later Phalangist Christian forces led by Elie
Hobeika entered two Palestinian refugee camps and massacred the
occupants. The massacres led to the biggest demonstration ever in Israel
against the war, with as many as 400,000 people (almost 10% of the
population) gathering in Tel-Aviv. In 1983, an Israeli public inquiry
found that Israel's defense minister, Sharon, was indirectly but
personally responsible for the massacres. It also recommended that he
never again be allowed to hold the post (it did not forbid him from
being Prime Minister).
19841988: Yitzhak Shamir/Shimon Peres rotation
government and first Intifada
In September 1983, Begin resigned and was succeeded by Yitzhak
Shamir as prime minister. The 1984 election was inconclusive and led to
a power sharing agreement between Shimon Peres of the Alignment (44
seats) and Shamir of Likud (41 seats). Peres was prime minister from
1984-1986 and Shamir from 1986-1988.
In 1984, continual discrimination against Sephardi ultra-orthodox
Jews by the Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox establishment led political
activist Aryeh Deri to leave the Agudat Israel party and join former
chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in forming Shas, a new party aimed at the
non-Ashkenazi Ultra-Orthodox vote. The party won 11 seats in the first
election it contested and over the next twenty years was the third
largest party in the Knesset. Shas established a nationwide network of
free Sephardi orthodox schools.
In 1984, during a severe famine in Ethiopia, 8,000 Ethiopian Jews
were secretly transported to Israel. In 1986 Natan Sharansky, a famous
Russian human rights activist and Zionist refusenik (denied an exit
visa) was released from the Gulag in return for two Soviet spies.
In June 1985, Israel withdrew most of its troops from Lebanon,
leaving a residual Israeli force and an Israeli-supported militia in
southern Lebanon as a "security zone" and buffer against attacks on its
By July 1985 Israel's inflation, buttressed by complex index linking
of salaries, had reached 480% per annum and was the highest in the
world. Peres introduced emergency control of prices and cut government
expenditure successfully bringing inflation under control.
In August 1987, the Israeli government cancelled the IAI Lavi
project, an attempt to develop an independent Israeli fighter aircraft.
The Israelis found themselves unable to sustain the huge development
costs and faced US opposition to a project that threatened US influence
in Israel and US global military ascendancy. In September 1988, Israel
launched an Ofeq reconsaissance satellite into orbit, using a Shavit
rocket, thus becoming one of only eight countries possessing a capacity
to independently launch satellites into space (two more have since
developed this ability).
Growing Israeli settlement and continuing occupation of the West Bank
and Gaza Strip, led to the first Palestinian Intifada (uprising) in 1987
which lasted until the Madrid Conference of 1991, despite Israeli
attempts to suppress it. Human rights abuses by Israeli troops led a
group of Israelis to form B'Tselem, an organization devoted to improving
awareness and compliance with human rights requirements in Israel.
19881992: Shamir II: the Gulf War and Soviet
Yitzhak Shamir (left) addressing the Knesset,
The Alignment and Likud remained neck and neck in the 1988
elections (39:40 seats), Shamir successfully formed a national unity
coalition with the Labour Alignment.
In March 1990, Alignment leader Shimon Peres engineered a defeat of
the government in a non-confidence vote and then tried to form a new
government. He failed and Shamir became Prime-Minister at the head of a
In 1990, the Soviet Union finally permitted free emigration of Soviet
Jews to Israel. Prior to this, Jews trying to leave the USSR faced
persecution; those who succeeded arrived as refugees.
Over the next few years some one million Soviet citizens migrated to
Israel, and there was concern that some of the new immigrants had only a
very tenuous connection to Judaism and many were accompanied by
In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, triggering the Gulf War between
Iraq and a large allied force, led by the United States. Iraq attacked
Israel with 39 Scud missiles. Israel did not retaliate. Israel provided
gas masks for both the Palestinian population and Israeli citizens.
In May 1991, during a 36 hour period, 15,000 Beta Israel (Ethiopian
Jews) were secretly airlifted to Israel.
The coalition's victory in the Gulf War opened new possibilities for
regional peace, and in October 1991 the U.S. President, George H.W. Bush
and Soviet Union Premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, jointly convened a historic
meeting in Madrid of Israeli, Lebanese, Jordanian, Syrian, and
Palestinian leaders. Shamir opposed the idea but was forced into
compliance when the Bush administration withheld its loan guarantees
needed by Israel to absorb the newcomers from Soviet Union.
19921995: Rabin II: Oslo peace talks
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin speaking at the White
House following the
signing of an accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation
In the 1992 elections, the Labour Party, led by Yitzhak Rabin,
won a significant victory (44 seats) promising to pursue peace while
promoting Rabin as a "tough general" and pledging not to deal with the
PLO in any way.
On September 13 1993, Israel and the Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO) signed a Declaration of Principles  on the South
Lawn of the White House. The declaration was a major conceptual
breakthrough achieved outside of the Madrid framework which specifically
barred foreign-residing PLO leaders from the negotiation process, and a
pre-condition insisted upon by Itzhak Shamir. These principles
established objectives relating to a transfer of authority from Israel
to an interim Palestinian authority, as a prelude to a final treaty
establishing a Palestinian state. The DOP established May 1999 as the
date by which a permanent status agreement for the West Bank and Gaza
Strip would take effect.
In February 1994, a follower of the Kach movement killed 25
Palestinian-Arabs at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (Cave of the
Patriarchs massacre). Kach had been barred from participation in the
1992 elections (on the grounds that the movement was racist). It was
subsequently made illegal.
Israel and the PLO signed the Gaza-Jericho Agreement in May 1994, and
the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities in
August, which began the process of transferring authority from Israel to
On July 18 1994, a Jewish day centre in Argentina was blown up,
killing 85 people. Argentine investigators concluded the attack was by
Lebanese Hezbollah with Iranian assistance.
On July 25 1994 Jordan and Israel signed the Washington Declaration
which formally ended the state of war that had existed between them
since 1948 and on October 26 the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace,
witnessed by US President Bill Clinton.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signed
the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza
Strip on September 28 1995, in Washington. The agreement was witnessed
by President Bill Clinton on behalf of the United States and by Russia,
Egypt, Norway and the European Union and incorporates and supersedes the
previous agreements, marking the conclusion of the first stage of
negotiations between Israel and the PLO.
The agreement allowed the PLO leadership to relocate to the occupied
territories and granted autonomy to the Palestinians with talks to
follow regarding final status. In return the Palestinians recognized
Israel's right to exist and promised to abstain from use of terror.
However the agreement was opposed by Hamas and other Palestinian
factions which launched suicide bomber attacks at Israel. Rabin had a
barrier constructed around Gaza to prevent attacks.
Tensions in Israel, arising from the continuation of terrorism and
anger at loss of territory, led to the assassination of Prime Minister
Rabin by a right-wing Jewish radical on November 4 1995.
Direct elections for the Premier 19962005
In 1996 the Israeli electoral system was changed to allow for
direct election of the Premier. It was hoped this would reduce the power
of small parties to extract concessions in return for coalition
agreements. Instead the system resulted in increased fracturization of
Israeli politics with the larger parties winning fewer votes and the
smaller parties becoming more attractive to voters. By the 2006 election
the system was abandoned.
19961999: Binyamin Netanyahu - the peace process
Benjamin Netanyahu, 1996.
In February 1996 Rabin's successor, Shimon Peres, called early
elections. The May 1996 elections were the first featuring direct
election of the prime minister and resulted in a narrow election victory
for Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu. A spate of suicide bombings
reinforced the Likud position for security. Hamas claimed responsibility
for most of the bombings.
Despite his stated differences with the Oslo Accords, Prime Minister
Netanyahu continued their implementation, but his Prime Ministership saw
a marked slow-down in the Peace Process. Netanyahu also pledged to
gradually reduce US aid to Israel.
In January 1997 Netanyahu signed the Hebron Protocol with the
Palestinian Authority, resulting in the redeployment of Israeli forces
in Hebron and the turnover of civilian authority in much of the area to
the Palestinian Authority.
19992001: Ehud Barak and withdrawal from South
Ehud Barak, 1999.
In the election of July 1999, Ehud Barak of the Labour Party
became Prime Minister. His party was the largest in the Knesset with 26
On March 21 2000 Pope John Paul II arrived in Israel for a historic
In 2000, Israel unilaterally withdrew its remaining forces from the
"security zone" in southern Lebanon. Several thousand members of the
South Lebanon Army (and their families) left with the Israelis.
The UN Secretary-General concluded that, as of June 16 2000, Israel
had withdrawn its forces from Lebanon in accordance with UN Security
Council Resolution 425. Lebanon claims that Israel continues to occupy
Lebanese territory called "Sheba'a Farms" (however this area was
governed by Syria until 1967 when Israel took control). The Sheba'a
Farms provide Hezbullah with a ruse to maintain warfare with Israel. The
Lebanese government did not assert sovereignty in the area (in
contravention of the UN resolution) which came under the control of
In the Fall of 2000, talks were held at Camp David to reach a final
agreement on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Ehud Barak offered to meet
most of the Palestinian teams requests for territory and political
concessions, including Arab parts of east Jerusalem; however, Arafat
abandoned the talks without making a counterproposal.
On September 28, 2000, Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited
the Temple Mount, arguably providing the Palestinians with a pretext for
the launching of the al-Aqsa Intifada. Israel claims the Palestinians
had planned violence far in advance of Sharon's visit. In his book The
High Cost of Peace, Yossef Bodansky describes the event: "When Sharon
expressed interest in visiting the Temple Mount, Barak ordered GSS chief
Ami Ayalon to approach Jibril Rajoub with a special request to
facilitate a smooth and friendly visit... Rajoub promised it would be
smooth as long as Sharon would refrain from entering any of the mosques
or praying publicly... Just to be on the safe side, Barak personally
approached Arafat and once again got assurances that Sharon's visit
would be smooth..." (p354)
In October 2000, Palestinians destroyed Joseph's Tomb, a Jewish
shrine in Nablus. The Arrow missile, a missile designed to destroy
ballistic missiles, including Scud missiles, was first deployed by
In 2001, with the Peace Process increasingly in disarray, Ehud Barak
called a special election for Prime Minister. Barak hoped a victory
would give him renewed authority in negotiations with the Palestinians.
Instead opposition leader Ariel Sharon was elected PM. After this
election, the system of directly electing the Premier was abandoned.
20012006: Ariel Sharon and withdrawal from Gaza and the Northern West
Ariel Sharon, 2002.
The failure of the peace process, increased Palestinian terror,
and occasional attacks by Hizbullah from Lebanon led much of the Israeli
public and political leadership to lose confidence in the Palestinian
Authority as a peace partner. Most felt that many Palestinians viewed
the peace treaty with Israel as a temporary measure only. Many Israelis
were thus anxious to disengage from the Palestinians.
In response to a wave of suicide bomb attacks, culminating in the
"Passover massacre", Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, and
Sharon began construction of a barrier around the West Bank.
In January 2003 separate elections were held for the Knesset. Likud
won the most seats (27). An anti-religion party, Shinui, won 15 seats on
a secularist platform, making it the third largest party (ahead of
orthodox Shas). Internal fighting led to Shinui's demise at the next
In December 2003, Ariel Sharon announced he would consider a
unilateral withdrawal from parts of the occupied territories. This
crystallized as a plan for total withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
In 2004, the Black Hebrews were granted permanent residency in
Israel. The group had begun migrating to Israel 25 years earlier from
the United States, but had not been recognized as Jews by the state and
hence not granted citizenship under Israel's Law of Return. They had
settled in Israel without official status. From 2004 onwards, they
received citizen's rights.
In 2005, all Jewish settlers were evacuated from Gaza (some forcibly)
and their homes demolished. Disengagement from the Gaza Strip was
completed on September 12, 2005. Military disengagement from the
northern West Bank was completed ten days later.
Following the withdrawal, the Israeli town of Sderot and other
Israeli communities near the frontier became subject to constant
shelling and mortar bomb attacks from Gaza.
Israeli riot police being delivered by
helicopter to forcibly evacuate Israeli
settlers from a synagogue roof, Kefar Darom, Gaza Strip, 2005.
In 2005 Sharon left the Likud and formed a new party called Kadima,
which accepted that the peace process would lead to creation of a
Palestinian state. He was joined by many leading figures from both Likud
The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was interpreted by the Palestinians
as a Hamas victory and the January Palestinian legislative election,
2006 was won by Hamas, which rejected all agreements signed with Israel,
refused to recognize Israel's right to exist, and claimed the Holocaust
was a Jewish conspiracy.
On April 14, 2006, Ariel Sharon was incapacitated by a severe
hemorrhagic stroke, and Ehud Olmert became Acting Prime Minister.
20062009: Ehud Olmert and growing Islamist confrontation
An Israeli soldier en route to southern Lebanon in August
a photograph of himself with his digital cell phone camera.
Ehud Olmert was elected Prime Minister after his party, Kadima,
won the most seats (29) in the Israeli legislative election, 2006.
In 2005 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was officially elected president of Iran;
since then, Iranian policy towards Israel has grown more
confrontational. Israeli analysts believe Ahmadinejad has worked to
undermine the peace process with arms supplies and aid to Hezbullah in
South Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and is developing nuclear weapons,
possibly for use against Israel. Iranian support for Hizbullah and its
nuclear arms program are in contravention of UN Security Council
resolutions 1559 and 1747. Iran also encourages Holocaust denial.
Following the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, Hizbullah had mounted
periodic attacks on Israel which did not lead to Israeli retaliation.
Similarly, the withdrawal from Gaza led to incessant shelling of towns
around the Gaza area with only minimal Israeli response. The failure to
react led to criticism from the Israeli right and undermined the
Ehud Olmert, 2006.
On June 25, 2006, a Hamas force crossed the border from Gaza and
attacked a tank, capturing wounded Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. On July
12, Hezbollah attacked Israel from Lebanon, shelled Israeli towns and
attacked a border patrol, taking two dead or badly wounded Israeli
soldiers. These incidents led Israel to initiate the Second Lebanon War,
which lasted through August 2006. The Israeli army proved unable to
prevent Hizbullah from shelling the north of Israel, and the military
failure led to a public inquiry.
In 2007 education was made compulsory until the age of 18 for all
citizens (it had been 16).
Olmert also came under investigation for corruption and this
ultimately led him to announce, on July 30, 2008, that he would be
stepping down as Prime Minister following election of a new leader of
the Kadimah party in September 2008. Tzippi Livni won the election, but
was unable to form a coalition and he remained in office until the
On December 27, 2008, following the collapse of an unofficial
cease-fire between Israel and Gaza and resumption of shelling of
southern Israeli towns from Gaza, Israeli forces mounted a three-week
campaign in Gaza, leading to widespread international protests.
2009-present: Netanyahu II
In the 2009 legislative election Likud won 27 seats and Kadima
28; however, the right-wing camp won a majority of seats, and President
Shimon Peres called on Netanyahu to form the government.
Russian immigrant-dominated Yisrael Beiteinu came third with 15
seats, and Labour was reduced to fourth place with 13 seats.