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Saad Haddad and the South Lebanon Army (SLA)

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Saad Haddad

Maj. Saad Haddad, commander of the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army, with members of UNIFIL, the United Nations' peacekeeping operation in South Lebanon, in an undated photograph from the early 1980s.

Svein H. Olsen

Why Haddad and the SLA Matter:

Maj. Saad Haddad was the founder and leader of the South Lebanon Army, a breakaway force of about 2,500 mostly Christian men who split from the Lebanese Army in 1976. Haddad and the SLA were armed, trained and financed by Israel and operated in a thin sliver of land in Lebanon along the Israeli border between 1978 and 2000, first to prevent Palestinian incursions into Israel, then as a proxy force of Israel’s occupation army in south Lebanon. The SLA was disbanded in 2000, when Israel withdrew from south Lebanon.

Saad Haddad’s Origins:

Saad Haddad was a Greek Catholic Christian born and raised in the South Lebanon village of Marjeyoun. He received his military training in part at Fort Benning, Ga. As Lebanon’s military disintegrated along sectarian lines in the early years of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990), Haddad broke away from the military and established his own militia in south Lebanon, called the Free Lebanon Army. He openly accepted arms and money from Israel as his objectives were also Israel’s — to defeat the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon.

The 1978 Israeli Invasion and the Establishment of the South Lebanon Army:

In March 1978, Israel invaded Lebanon after a bloody PLO raid on northern Israel. In the wake of Israel’s withdrawal, Haddad renamed his militia the South Lebanon Army and established a dominion in the region up to the Litani River. Haddad’s soldiers, most of them Christian but also including some Druze and Shiites, received a $500-a-month salary from Israel. Mostly, they did Israel’s dirty work in South Lebanon—imprisoning Palestinian militiamen, interrogating them and sometimes torturing them.

The 1982 Israeli Invasion :

Saad Haddad’s power was reinforced in 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon up to Beirut and established a longer occupation in south Lebanon that was to last until 2000. The PLO was expelled. But Hezbollah rose in its place—a powerful Shiite militia and subsequent political force known as Hezbollah, and bankrolled by Syria and Iran. Hezbollah’s forces were more disciplined and numerous than the SLA, whose operational range was narrowed to a sliver of land along the Israeli border that Israel referred to as its “security zone.”

The SLA’s Dirtiest Legacy:

Saad Haddad’s militiamen were accused of participating in the massacre of some 2,000 to 3,000 mostly civilian Palestinians, under Israeli supervision, of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in south Beirut in 1982. An Israeli panel exonerated Haddad and his men of the charge. But the SLA was often ruthless and murderous in the regions it controlled in South Lebanon. The SLA was also in charge of the notorious al-Khiam prison, where hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinians were held, at Israel’s behest, for years, without trial, often in brutal conditions.

Haddad’s Death in 1984:

Saad Haddad died of cancer at his home in Marjeyoun on Jan. 14, 1984. His wife, Theresa, and six daughters, were at his side. He had been reinstated into the Lebanese army months earlier, and allowed to control several hundred Lebanese soldiers in South Lebanon—but not have command of the region, as the Lebanese government feared he would be a tool of Israeli policy first. He was replaced by Antoine Lahd.

The SLA Disintegrates in 2000:

In May 2000, Israel withdrew from the area of South Lebanon it had occupied since its 1982 invasion. Hezbollah took over. In Marjeyoun, Hezbollah militiamen immediately brought down the statue of Saad Haddad that had been erected there after his death. The doors to Al-Khiam prison were opened and its prisoners released. Antoine Lahd’s home was ransacked. Many members of the SLA and their families, lahd among them, fled to Israel. Some would return to Lebanon where former members of the SLA were pardoned and taken into the Lebanese military.
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