Photo Credit: Ariel Hermoni/MOD
Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi meet with the veterans.

Twenty-one years after the IDF withdrew from the security zone in south Lebanon and after the South Lebanon Army (SLA) disbanded, the state of Israel inaugurated a memorial dedicated to the soldiers of the SLA.

Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of the General Staff Aviv Kochavi inaugurated on Sunday night the new SLA monument and distributed campaign medals to former SLA commanders and veterans.

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The ceremony was held in memory of SLA soldiers who fell in combat between the years 1982-2000.

The SLA was a Lebanese Christian-dominated militia that was founded during the Lebanese Civil War and operated from 1977 until its disbandment in 2000. It was supported by Israel and became its primary ally in Lebanon during the 1985–2000 campaign against the Hezbollah terror organization.

A special memorial prayer was recited in Arabic in honor of the fallen soldiers.

Gantz said during the ceremony that “the monument that we are inaugurating today is first and foremost a moral obligation.”

Addressing the SLA veterans, he said that the campaign medals “symbolize this moral obligation: to recognize your heroism and heritage and to see you as part of us.”

Touching on the ensuing crisis in Lebanon, Gantz said that “Israel has offered assistance to Lebanon in the past and even today we are ready to work towards its growth and exit from crisis.”

Addressing the situation on Israel’s northern border, Gantz said that “Israel has left Lebanon in order to end the conflict. Had it not been for Hezbollah and its Iranian affiliates, I believe we would have reached peace. As an Israeli, as a Jew, and as a human being, my heart aches seeing the images of people going hungry on the streets of Lebanon. Israel has offered assistance to Lebanon in the past and even today we are ready to act, and to encourage other counties to help and to extend a helping hand [to Lebanon] so that it will once again flourish and to emerge from its state of crisis. Unfortunately, under the auspices of the economic and political crisis that Hezbollah is causing, we are seeing attempts to increase Iran’s involvement in Lebanon and carry out a ‘quiet coup.’”

“Step by step, Iranian investments, Iranian means and Iranian entities are entering Lebanon, and with them attempts to infiltrate weapons and extremist ideology. All of these are a danger to Lebanon, its citizens and the peace of the region. Israel is keeping an eye on the situation, and will prevent any attempt to harm its citizens and threaten its borders,” he warned.

The monument is located near the “Good Fence” in the northern Israeli town of Metula. Built by the Engineering and Construction Division in the Ministry of Defense, the monument includes a memorial plaza with a symbolic candle, a “memorial road”, an observation area, a grove of trees for gatherings and a parking lot for visitors.

It covers 2,800 square meters and was built over a period of eight months. It replaces the original monument, which was erected near the village of Marjiyun in southern Lebanon and was destroyed by Hezbollah after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.

The monument is engraved both in Hebrew and in Arabic with the words: “We will remember the soldiers of the Southern Lebanese Army who fell while defending the towns of southern Lebanon and northern Israel.”

The Department of Families, Commemoration and Heritage at the Ministry of Defense initiated the construction of the monument in memory of the SLA soldiers, “out of a desire to commemorate and honor the memory of those who fought side by side with IDF soldiers in Lebanon.”

The monument tells the story of the SLA’s cooperation with the IDF and will be a place to pay tribute to the fallen and to honor the families who have been deprived of the right to visit the graves of their loved ones in Lebanon.

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.