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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September/October 2006, pages 20-21

Special Report

For Israel, Southern Lebanon Means the Litani River

By Andrew I. Killgore

The Zionist map presented to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.The Zionist map presented to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.

WHEN CHAIM WEIZMANN and David Ben-Gurion attended the 1919 Paris Peace Conference ending World War I, they presented a map containing the boundaries of their hoped-for Jewish state. The map included what is now Lebanon’s Litani River (see top right of map).

Weizmann went on to become Israel’s first president, and Ben-Gurion its first prime minister, when that country was established in 1948. While the two had achieved great success in international geopolitics, they had failed to garner the Litani for Israel. The reason for their failure was the secret Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1915, under which Britain and France already had fixed the border between Lebanon and Palestine. At France’s insistence, Sykes-Picot was upheld at the Paris conference, and the Litani went to Lebanon.

Israel dubbed its March 14, 1978 invasion of southern Lebanon “Operation Litani,” with the stated objective of clearing out Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) bases south of the Litani River in order to secure northern Israel. Its 1982 invasion of Lebanon had the added goal of gaining access to the waters of the Litani. To end the Israeli siege of Beirut, the PLO was rapidly evacuated to Tunisia, and Israel eventually retreated from the Lebanese capital. Yet it never fully withdrew from southern Lebanon until 2000, under pressure from Hezbollah—and 22 years after being ordered to do so by U.N. Security Council Resolution 425.

Even after it withdrew, however, Israel remained determined to eventually seize the Litani River waters—as attested to by the Jewish state’s latest attempt to ethnically cleanse the land between the Litani and Israel’s northern border.

—Andrew I. Killgore