South Lebanon Army

|}} The South Lebanon Army or South Lebanese Army (SLA) (Arabic: جيش لبنان الجنوبي, romanized: Jayš Lubnān al-Janūbiyy), also known as Lahad Army (جيش لحد) and De Facto Forces (DFF), was a Lebanese Christian-dominated militia which was active during the Lebanese Civil War and its aftermath, until it was disbanded in the year 2000. It was originally named the Free Lebanon Army, which split from the Army of Free Lebanon. After 1979, the militia operated in southern Lebanon under the authority of Saad Haddad's Government of Free Lebanon.[1] It was supported by Israel, and became its primary ally in Lebanon during the 1985–2000 South Lebanon conflict to fight against Hezbollah. The United Nations did not want to give them the status of a proper army so they were referred to by the UN as the De Facto Forces.[2]

South Lebanon Army
جيش لبنان الجنوبي
Participant in Lebanese Civil War
Flag of the South Lebanon Army / Government of Free Lebanon
ActiveActive as a military force from October 1977 to May 2000; since then, active solely as a political party.
LeadersSaad Haddad, Antoine Lahad
HeadquartersMetulla, Marjayoun
Size2,700–3,000 men
Allies Israeli Army
Tigers Militia
Guardians of the Cedars
Lebanese Forces
Opponent(s) Hezbollah
Amal Movement
Palestine Liberation Organization
Syrian Social Nationalist Party
Lebanese Communist Party
Syrian Army
Lebanese National Movement


In 1976, as a result of the ongoing civil war, the Lebanese army began to break up. Major Saad Haddad, commanding an army battalion in the south which had been part of the Army of Free Lebanon, broke away and founded a group known as the Free Lebanon Army (FLA). The FLA was initially based in the towns of Marjayoun and Qlayaa in southern Lebanon. The FLA fought against various groups including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Amal Movement and (after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon) the emerging Hezbollah. While the group was no longer under the direct control of the Lebanese army, from 1976 to 1979 its members were still paid as Lebanese soldiers by the government.

The 1978 Israeli invasion allowed the Free Lebanon Army to gain control over a much wider area in southern Lebanon. On April 18, 1979 Haddad proclaimed the area controlled by his force "Independent Free Lebanon". The following day, he was branded a traitor by the Lebanese government and officially dismissed from the Lebanese Army. Part of the Free Lebanon Army returned to government control, while Haddad's part split away and was renamed the South Lebanon Army (SLA) in May 1980. Following Haddad's death from cancer in 1984, he was replaced as leader by retired Lieutenant General Antoine Lahad.

The SLA was closely allied with Israel. It supported the Israelis by fighting the PLO in southern Lebanon until the 1982 invasion. After that, SLA support for the Israelis consisted mainly of fighting other Lebanese guerrilla forces led by Hezbollah until 2000 in the "security zone" (the area under occupation after a partial Israeli withdrawal in 1985). In return, Israel supplied the organization with arms, uniforms, and logistical equipment.

The SLA hosted the Christian radio station Voice of Hope (established and funded by George Otis, founder of High Adventure Ministries). Beginning in 1982, the SLA played host to Middle East Television (which was also established, funded and operated by High Adventure Ministries). Otis gave Middle East Television (METV) to Televangelist Pat Robertson, founder of CBN. On May 2, 2000 Middle East Television relocated to Cyprus.

In 1985 the SLA opened the Khiam detention center. Torture was a common tactic, and occurring on a large scale. Israel denies any involvement, and claims that Khiam was the sole responsibility of the SLA; this has been contested by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.[3] The SLA also imposed military conscription, under which males over 18 living in the territory it controlled served one year as military recruits.[4] While the SLA received funding, weapons and logistics from Israel during its existence, the SLA did much fighting independent from Israeli forces. The SLA also handled all civilian governmental operations in Israel's zone of control.

During the 1990s Hezbollah carried out increasingly effective attacks on the SLA, aided in later years by Lebanese army intelligence which had infiltrated it. These changed circumstances led to a progressive loss of morale and members. In 1997, Israel maintained approximately 1,000 to 1,200 troops in southern Lebanon and supported another 2,000 in the SLA.[5] By 2000 the SLA was reduced to 1,500 soldiers, compared to 3,000 ten years earlier. At its peak during the early 1980s, the SLA was composed of over 5,000 soldiers.

Withdrawal, collapse and surrender

The increase in Israeli casualties in Lebanon over the previous few years led to growing domestic pressure for an end to Israel’s military presence in Lebanon. Ehud Barak’s Labor Party pledged during his March 1999 election campaign for Prime Minister to withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon by July 2000. Barak won a victory in the May 1999 elections. On March 5, 2000 the Israeli cabinet voted unanimously for a full troop withdrawal from Lebanon by July. The expectation then was that such a withdrawal would be part of an agreement with Lebanon and Syria; however, negotiations with Syria broke down.[6][7]

On May 22, Israeli forces unilaterally began handing over their forward positions in the occupied zone to the SLA. As the chaotic nature of the withdrawal became obvious, civilians from the zone overran SLA positions to return to their occupied villages while Hezbollah guerrillas quickly took control of areas previously controlled by the SLA. The SLA in the central sector of the security zone collapsed in the face of the civilians and Hezbollah's rapid advance.[8] The next day, SLA forward positions in the eastern sector collapsed and Israeli forces began their general withdrawal from the remaining areas of the security zone. With the Israeli withdrawal, the SLA collapsed totally. The withdrawal was complete on Wednesday, May 24, 2000; the sight of Saad Haddad's statue being dragged through the streets of the Lebanese town of Marjayoun was a sure sign that the South Lebanon Army was gone.[9]

As the Israeli withdrawal rapidly progressed, SLA militiamen were left with few choices. The Lebanese government, Hezbollah and many civilians in the area considered them traitors and collaborators. In addition, they were told that Israel's border would be closed after the withdrawal. Many were terrified of being captured (and possibly killed) by Hezbollah guerrillas or vengeful mobs, or being jailed or executed by the Lebanese government.

Many members of the SLA (including some with their families) fled to Israel; the Christian majority feared being suspected of serious offences committed by SLA members, and a number of members were reportedly granted asylum in European countries (primarily Germany). Others who remained in Lebanon surrendered to authorities or were captured by Hezbollah and handed over to the police. SLA members captured by Lebanon and Hezbollah were tried by Lebanese military courts for treason.

Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak was criticized in Israel by the Jewish settler movement on the grounds that his decision to withdraw without consulting his SLA allies led to the speed and confusion of its collapse.[6] Hezbollah was criticized for preventing the arrest of some members of the SLA; it justified this on the grounds that it was in a position to know who among them had been informants.[10]

By the next month (June 2000), 3,000 former SLA members were in the custody of the Lebanese government; by the end of the year, about 90 percent had been tried in military courts. It has been estimated that a third of the SLA members were sentenced to less than a month and another third received one-year sentences. Two members of the SLA accused of torture at Al-Khiam prison received life sentences. The death sentence was recommended for 21 SLA members, but in each case the military reduced the sentence. Certain other individuals were barred from returning to Southern Lebanon for a number of years.[11]

Of those who initially fled to Israel, many SLA members and their families eventually chose to return to Lebanon after Hezbollah promised they would not be harmed. Others accepted Israel's offer of full citizenship and a financial package similar to that granted new immigrants, and settled permanently in Israel. On April 6, 2006 the Israeli Knesset Finance Committee approved the payment of 40,000 shekels per family to SLA veterans, payable over seven years.[12] Many of the SLA fighters who settled in Israel later moved to the United States and Europe. Some 2,700 SLA fighters and family members live in Israel today. They are mainly concentrated in Nahariya, Kiryat Shmona, Tiberias, Ma'alot-Tarshiha, and Haifa.[13]

Israel continues to host the Government of Free Lebanon, on whose behalf the SLA had operated. The Government of Free Lebanon has operated from Jerusalem since 2000, and still claims to be the true government of Lebanon.[14]

Field organization

The SLA was organized into two regions (western and eastern), each with its own infantry brigade. Each brigade consisted of three battalion-sized infantry regiments; the strength of support included several heavy-artillery batteries (155 and 130mm), subdivided into the infantry battalions as needed. There was also an armored regiment of 55 tanks.

This force manned 46 locations along the front (from Naqoura in the west to the eastern slopes of Mount Hermon), while the Israeli Army had 11 centers, mostly in the rear lines.

The SLA Security Service consisted of 250 officers and men, tasked with:

  • Counter-espionage by outside forces
  • Border security

The service included field and intelligence officers, investigators, intelligence analysts, administrative personnel, security officers and guards.

See also


  1. Government of Free Lebanon in exile
  3. Amnesty International
  5. US State Department Congressional Testimony, June 25, 1997
  6. Jerusalem Journal Israel's Withdrawal From Lebanon
  7. War on Lebanon Edited by Nubar Hovsepian Section 4 by Lara Deeb p 61
  8. Domont and Charrara, Le Hezbollah: un mouvement Islamo-nationaliste
  9. BBC News Bitter retreat for the SLA
  10. Palmer-Harek, Judith, Hezbollah: the Changing Face of Terrorism, London, IB Tauris.
  11. "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices". US State Department. 6 April 2001. Retrieved 2006-04-06.
  12. "Knesset okays grants to SLA families". Jerusalem Post. 6 April 2006. Archived from the original on 13 August 2011. Retrieved 2006-04-06.

Further reading

  • Ahron Bregman, Israel's Wars: A History Since 1947, Routledge, London 2002. ISBN 0-415-28716-2
  • Alain Menargues, Les Secrets de la guerre du Liban: Du coup d'état de Béchir Gémayel aux massacres des camps palestiniens, Albin Michel, Paris 2004. ISBN 978-2226121271 (in French)
  • Edgar O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon, 1975-92, Palgrave Macmillan, London 1998. ISBN 0-333-72975-7
  • Beate Hamizrachi, The Emergence of South Lebanon Security Belt, Praeger, New York 1984. ISBN 978-0-275-92854-4
  • Frédéric Domont and Walid Charrara, Le Hezbollah: un mouvement Islamo-nationaliste, Editions Fayard, Paris 2004. ISBN 2-213-62009-1 (in French)
  • Harald List, Ein Land im Fadenkreuz: Der Südlibanon zwischen Armeen und Milizen, Freiburg (o.D., ca. 1991) (in German)
  • Harald List and Antoine Lahad, in ORIENT 2/88 S. 179-187.
  • Judith Palmer-Harek: Hezbollah: the Changing Face of Terrorism, I.B. Tauris, London 2003. ISBN 978-1845110246
  • Moustafa el-Assad, Blue Steel 2: M-3 Halftracks in South Lebanon, Blue Steel Books, Sidon 2006.
  • Moustafa el-Assad, Blue Steel III: M-113 Carriers in South Lebanon, Blue Steel Books, Sidon 2007.
  • Moustafa El-Assad, Blue Steel IV: M-50 Shermans and M-50 APCs in South Lebanon, Blue Steel books, Sidon 2007.
  • Moustafa El-Assad, Civil Wars Volume 1: The Gun Trucks, Blue Steel books, Sidon 2008. ISBN 9953-0-1256-3
  • Samuel M. Katz and Ron Volstad, Battleground Lebanon, Concord Publications, Hong Kong 1990. ISBN 962-361-003-3
  • Samuel M. Katz, Lee E. Russel, and Ron Volstad, Armies in Lebanon 1982-84, Men-at-arms series 165, Osprey Publishing Ltd, London 1985. ISBN 0-85045-602-9
  • Samuel M. Katz and Ron Volstad, Arab Armies of the Middle East Wars 2, Men-at-arms series 194, Osprey Publishing Ltd, London 1988. ISBN 0-85045-800-5
  • Samer Kassis, 30 Years of Military Vehicles in Lebanon, Beirut: Elite Group, 2003. ISBN 9953-0-0705-5
  • Samer Kassis, Véhicules Militaires au Liban/Military Vehicles in Lebanon 1975-1981, Trebia Publishing, Chyah 2012. ISBN 978-9953-0-2372-4
  • Samer Kassis, Les TIRAN 4 et 5, de Tsahal aux Milices Chrétiennes (1960-1990), Trucks & Tanks Magazine n.º 50, July–August 2015, pp. 54–61. ISSN 1957-4193 (in French)
  • Tony Badran (Barry Rubin ed.), Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis, Palgrave Macmillan, London 2010. ISBN 978-0-230-62306-4
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