South Lebanese Army

(SLA; The Free Lebanon Militia; The Army of Free Lebanon)
   A mostly Christian militia armed and funded by Israel and operating in Israel's security zone in southern Lebanon. The close working relationship between it and Israel dates from the mid-1970s, when Israel and the Lebanese Christians found common cause in curbing Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorist activity in southern Lebanon—terrorism that provoked Israeli responses that would invariably harm the interests of the local, mainly Christian, population in the border region. The SLA also opposed the growing autonomous influence of the PLO presence in southern Lebanon—"Fatahland"—that threatened to disrupt the delicate political balance in the country between Christians and Muslims. In addition, Israel and the SLA shared an opposition to Syria's overwhelming military presence in and political influence over Lebanon.
   The first formal funding by Israel of the SLA forces headed by Major Saad Georges Haddad occurred in June 1978, although ties with Haddad's militia had existed as early as 1975 and the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon. Following Haddad's death from cancer in January 1984, the leadership of the movement passed to Major General Antoine Lahad. He immediately changed the official name of the movement from the Free Lebanon Militia to the South Lebanese Army to reflect the fact that the SLA was no longer just for Christians but for all Lebanese who opposed the PLO and Syrian presence in their country. With the reduced influence of the PLO in Lebanon following Operation Peace for Galilee (see WAR IN LEBANON [1982]), the primary focus of SLA activities became cooperating with Israeli forces in combating such Shi'ite Muslim militant groups as Hezbollah and Amal. A major Hezbollah strategy was to target SLA fighters in the hopes of demoralizing them and weakening their ties to Israel. One of the arguments used by those Israelis opposed to the Israel Defense Forces' 24 May 2000 withdrawal from the security zone was concern about what would happen to Israel's allies in the SLA.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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