|Dates 11 Apr 1996 – 27 Apr 1996|
|3 Israeli soldiers killed 14 Hezbollah fighters killed
About a dozen Syrian soldiers killed|
Result Cease fire on civilian targets; much Lebanese infrastructure destroyed.
Combatants Israel, Lebanon, Hezbollah
Similar Operation Accountability, Qana massacre, 1978 South Lebanon conflict, Operation Wooden Leg, Operation Summer Rains
Operation Grapes of Wrath (Hebrew: מבצע ענבי זעם) is the Israeli Defense Forces code-name (referred to as April War by Hezbollah) for a sixteen-day campaign against Lebanon in 1996 in an attempt to end shelling of Northern Israel by Hezbollah. Israel conducted more than 1,100 air raids and extensive shelling (some 25,000 shells). 639 Hezbollah cross-border rocket attacks targeted northern Israel, particularly the town of Kiryat Shemona (HRW 1997). Hezbollah forces also participated in numerous engagements with Israeli and South Lebanon Army forces. The conflict was de-escalated on 27 April by a ceasefire agreement banning attacks on civilians.
The Israeli army invaded Lebanon for the second time in 1982, in order to stop the Palestinian attacks, starting the 1982 Lebanon War. After three months Israel occupied the capital city of Beirut. Over the next three years the Israeli army partially withdrew, until in 1985 it established what it called the "Security Buffer Zone" in Southern Lebanon.
While Israel did succeed in ousting the PLO from Lebanon, armed insurgency by radical Shia organizations emerged in the region. In 1993, Israel responded with a massive attack against the Lebanese Hezbollah (Operation Accountability) to disrupt its actions. The military campaign ended in a ceasefire banning targeting civilians on both sides. Hezbollah later broke the agreement, and continued attacking targets in both Lebanon and northern Israel, including Israeli armed forces, South Lebanon Army militia and civilian areas. According to HRW the Israeli military shelled targets often in very close proximity to or inside civilian areas, frequently causing the death of many civilians.
On 9 April 1996, a heavy barrage of rockets was shelled by Hezbollah upon Galilee towns, prompting Israel to respond against, and hence Operation Grapes of Wrath was launched two days later.
While armed conflict between the IDF and South Lebanon Army (SLA) on one hand and Hezbollah and other Lebanese militias (such as Amal) on the other was often intense prior to late March 1996, it was largely restricted to the Israeli controlled area of South Lebanon and military targets.
On 30 March, two men were killed by an IDF missile while working on a water tower in Yater, Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by launching 20 missiles into northern Israel and the IDF acknowledged the attack as a mistake. A roadside bomb explosion that caused the death of a 14-year-old Lebanese boy and injury of three others in the village of Barashit was cited by Hezbollah as the reason for firing 30 missiles into northern Israel on 9 April. Israeli officials announced Operation Grapes of Wrath on 11 April as a retaliatory and preventative action for Hezbollah shelling, which had injured six Israeli civilians. (Amnesty 1996)
In the early morning of 11 April, Israeli aircraft and artillery began an intensive bombardment of southern Lebanon as well as targets in the Beirut area and in the Bekaa Valley. The declared objective of these attacks was to put pressure on the Government of Lebanon so that it would curb the activities of Hezbollah. Israel conducted air raids, on targets which included Katyusha launchers, Hezbollah installations and personnel, as well as vehicles and civilian infrastructure, some of which Israel said were being used for military purposes. The raids were accompanied by radio broadcasts urging residents to flee the area. Somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 did so.
Beginning 13 April, Israel blockaded the ports of Beirut, Sidon and Tyre. Near Beirut, a Syrian military post was bombed on 12 April by Israeli aircraft, resulting in the death of one soldier and injuring seven others. On 14 April and 15, the Beirut area electric power stations at Jumhour and Bsaleem were attacked (HRW 1996).
Altogether, some 154 civilians (HRW 1997) to 170 Lebanese (ICRC 1997) were killed in Lebanon in attacks, including 106 civilians who died in the Qana shelling and 9 civilians killed in an attack in Nabatiyeh when Israeli warplanes rocketed a two-story building where they were sleeping. The Israeli air force said that anti-aircraft fire was directed at its planes from the area around the building. Amnesty International was not able to confirm whether or not those said were true.
Some 350 civilians were wounded in Lebanon (HRW 1997). 62 Israeli civilians were wounded in Israel.
The damage to the Lebanese infrastructure was significant as major bridges and power stations were destroyed. According to Human Rights Watch, 2018 houses and buildings in South Lebanon were either completely destroyed or severely bombarded. Lebanon's total economic damage was estimated at $500 million by economist Marwan Iskandar (and endorsed as accurate by the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies): $140 million in rebuilding damaged infrastructure, $30 million for assisting those displaced, $260 million in lost economic output, and $70 million in losses due to delays in economic projects. Israel estimated the total damage it suffered at 150 million NIS (about $53 million). Earlier, the damage to Israeli civilian property was estimated at 20 million NIS (about $7 million), and the indirect damage to Israel's tourism industry at 40 million NIS (about $13 million) Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres mounted an intense campaign to persuade the Lebanese that this punishment had come down upon them because of Hezbollah’s continued presence and anti-IDF activities and that they had only to repudiate and dismantle Hezbollah for it to stop. But because of Hezbollah’s political activities over the preceding years, virtually the entire Lebanese body politic closed ranks around it. Not only was there no mention of “dismantling” Hezbollah, but the agreement—signed by Lebanon, Israel, the United States, France, and Syria—specifically allowed Hezbollah to continue its military activities against IDF forces inside Lebanon.
Response by Al-Qaeda associated individuals
The deaths of civilians in Operation Grapes of Wrath and in particular at Qana have been cited by Al-Qaeda as motivations for its actions and policies towards the United States of America. Mohamed Atta is described in Lawrence Wright's account of the 11 September 2001 attacks to have committed himself to martyrdom in immediate response to the Israel strikes at the beginning of Operation Grapes of Wrath.
In his 23 August 1996 declaration of jihad against the United States, Osama bin Laden wrote (addressing his fellow Muslims), "Their blood was spilled in Palestine and Iraq. The horrifying pictures of the massacre of Qana, in Lebanon are still fresh in our memory." In November 1996, he told the Australian journal Nida'ul Islam about Qana again, saying that when the United States government accuses terrorists of killing innocents it is "accusing others of their own afflictions in order to fool the masses."
The United Nations Security Council had originally called for a ceasefire on 18 April 1996, in Resolution 1052. Hostilities retreated from their escalated level following the reaching of an Israeli–Lebanese Ceasefire Understanding – an informal written agreement – under American diplomatic auspices. The understanding was announced at 18:00, 26 April 1996, and became effective at 04:00 on 27 April. The agreement barred cross-border attacks on civilian targets, as well as using civilian villages to launch attacks. The Monitoring Committee for the Implementation of the Grapes of Wrath Understandings was set up, comprising representatives from the U.S., France, Syria, Israel and Lebanon. The committee convenes to monitor and discuss infringements of the understandings by the two sides.
Origins of name
The phrase "grapes of wrath" is a reference from the Book of Revelation (chapter 14 verses 19 and 20). It was a well-known idea in 19th century American Christian eschatology and also appears in the abolitionist hymn The Battle Hymn of the Republic:
The irony (and potential controversy) of an Israeli military operation being named after a Christian religious doctrine was not entirely lost on the Israeli press. However, most commentators either believed the title was a reference from the Torah or that the phrase merely referred to John Steinbeck's novel of the same name, The Grapes of Wrath.