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September 16, 2015 8:08 am

Israeli Politicians, Brass Eulogize Staunch Ally, Former South Lebanon Army Commander

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General Antoine Lahad (pictured) the commander of the SLA, passed away in Paris at the age of 88. PHOTO: SLA Website.

General Antoine Lahad. Photo: SLA Website.

The former commander of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) passed away in Paris on Saturday at the age of 88, nrg reported.

General Antoine Lahad, a Maronite Christian born in the village of Al-Qattara, was a staunch ally of Israel during the first Lebanon War.

Formed in May, 1980 — when Lahad’s predecessor, Major Saad Haddad, defected from the Free Lebanese Army to create a pro-Israel force called the Free Lebanon Army — the SLA (its name from 1984) was disbanded in 2000, in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon.

Lahad took over the command of the Free Lebanon Army when Haddad died in 1984.

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During the course of his command of the SLA, Lahad was the target of a 1988 assassination attempt by 21-year-old Souha Bechara, a Lebanese Christian woman who was a member of the Lebanese Communist Party. Bechara shot Lahad twice in the chest. He survived, but his left arm was left paralyzed.

As Israel prepared to withdraw from southern Lebanon, Lahad asked for continued monetary and logistical assistance, as well as an open border to Israel, to ensure the SLA’s continued operation. “When I have those three things, I’ll be able to hold on for another 200 years,” he said.

His request was not granted, however. The SLA collapsed, and Hezbollah filled the vacuum — and the area it evacuated. In a 2006 interview with Ynet, Lahad said he had been opposed to a unilateral Israeli pullout from southern Lebanon precisely for this reason.

“I didn’t oppose the withdrawal,” he told Ynet. “On the contrary, I was even in France at that time investigating the possibility of having a French force entering in place of the SLA when Israel withdrew quickly. But I vehemently opposed a withdrawal without an agreement, and look what happened. When we were there, did Hezbollah have missiles? They had machine guns at most. My people held 46 outposts and the IDF another 11, and the entire picture was completely different.”

After Israel’s withdrawal Lahad was forced to leave his native Lebanon, having been condemned to death in 1982 by Hezbollah. In 2014, a Lebanese court sentenced him to death in absentia, after convicting him of treason, murder and providing intelligence to the enemy.

He resettled in Tel Aviv, where he opened a restaurant, but spent the last five years of his life in Paris.

Lahad was eulogized by many Israeli politicians, military brass and former SLA comrades.

“Antoine was a proud Lebanese national, loyal to his homeland, Lebanon, and his heart was filled with love for it and its unique character, a love that moved him to take upon himself the enormous responsibility over the border area in south Lebanon,” the latter said in a statement. “He had two main goals — providing security to the people of southern Lebanon and pushing for peace between Lebanon and the state of Israel.”

General Yossi Peled, commander of the IDF’s Northern Command when Lahad commanded the SLA, said: “General Lahad was a Lebanese patriot. For his contribution over many years to the security of the residents of south Lebanon and the residents of Israel’s northern border, the state of Israel owes him a great moral debt.”

Peled also spoke of his personal relationship with Lahad. “He was a leader, a commander and a human being. With the backdrop of the upheavals in the Middle East ,it is important for us to remember those of our neighbors who strove for stability, to ensure security and to identify common interests.”

“May his memory be a blessing,” said Peled.

Yisrael Beytenu Party leader Avigdor Lieberman also commented on  Lahad’s passing, leveling sharp criticism at the government for the treatment of Lahad and his men.

“General Lahad was a brave made who tied his fate with the state of Israel, who fought with us as part of a true alliance that he and his people made with us… to my great regret, Israel abandoned them… One of the few moments in my life when I was ashamed to be an Israeli was the evening I sat with General Lahad in a hotel in Tel Aviv, a short time after Israel fled from Lebanon in 2000,” and heard about how Israel abandoned his men.

Lahad will be buried in his home village in Lebanon.

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