South Lebanon Army (SLA)

Armed militia founded and led by South Lebanese Christians (some of its militia men were Muslim) and financed and trained by Israel with a view to control the Israeli security zone in the South of Lebanon.

It was in 1968 that the South of Lebanon was dragged into the Arab-Israeli conflict, with the installation of the first Palestinian guerilla units and Israeli bombings. In 1970, the Israeli army carried out its first operations in the region.

The beginning of the Lebanese civil war in 1975-76 was a decisive turning point. Israel intervened directly with the Christian forces under the command of Major Sa’ad Haddad following the break-up of the Lebanese army in 1976.

In March 1978, the Israeli invasion of the South of Lebanon lasted three months. It was not until June and only following strong pressure that Israeli withdrawal was followed by the deployment of UNIFIL, except on a strip of land of 100 km long and 8 to 20 km wide from Maqoura on the Mediterranean coast along the border with Israel up to Mount Hermon and the Litani River. This enclave with a population of 100,000 (60% Shiite Muslims and 35% Christians) was placed under the leadership of Major Haddad and his 2,000 militia men, strongly backed by Israeli advisors. In May 1980 Haddad’s militia became known as the « South Lebanon Army » (SLA). It was to be composed equally by Christians and Chiite Muslims, although its officers were to be mostly Christians.

After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982, Haddad followed Israeli army in its progress towards the north and moved its headquarters from Marjayoun to Saida. He also followed the Israeli army in its withdrawal, from 1983 to 1985, slightly enlarging the limits of the region it kept under his control.

The SLA managed, on behalf of Israel, the detention camp of Khyam in 1984. Many suspects were arrested and interrogated, but also people taken as hostage to be exchanged in future tractations.

After Saad Haddad death in 1984, Antoine Lahad replaced him at the head of the SLA.

The prespectives of a possible Israeli withdrawal from the south of Lebanon provoked many defections fromthe SLA from the liddle 1999. Some of the deserters obtained their freedom in exchangeof informations that led to ambushes, killing several Israeli soldiers.

In June 1999, after the election of Ehud Barak as Prime Minister of Israel, the SLA started withdrawn from the northernmost part of the so-called « Security Zone », the Jezzine area of which it took control in 1985.

In January 2000, the SLA’s second raking officer, « colonel » Aqem Hashem, was killed by the Hezbollah armed resistance. This Hezbollah success lowered even further the morale of the pro-Israeli militia, whose men were facing an incertain future with the prospect of a possible Israeli withdrawal scheduled for July 2000.

Although Israel was trying to make every arrangement possible to ensure the safety of the militia members after its withdrawal, for instance by asking some western countries to welcome them and envisaging to relocate some of them with their families in Israel, « general » Antoine Lahad, chief of the SLA, appealed to the Lebanese government on April 3, 2000, to rescind the death sentences against SLA members.

In early May 2000, as soon as Israeli began to withdraw from the « Security Zone », fearing to fall in the hands of Hezbollah, half of SLA’s militia men surrended to the Lebanese army, whilst the other half sought the assylum for themselves and their families in Isarel. The collapse of the SLA and the Israeli withdrawal have galvanised the energies of many who were convinced that the Israeli withdrawal was synonimous with an Israeli defeat. When Ehoud Barak had in fact achieved an important strategical success by withdrawing. Indeed, Hezbollah can no longer justify its fight against occupying Israel to justify its attacks against Israeli forces, and in the case of an escalade, Israel could feel having the right to attack Beytrouth and the Syrian army deployed in Lebanon. Though at small scale, this has already happened.