The 1983 Beirut Barracks Bombing : Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad?

“To this date, no one can point to the true culprits with any great deal of certainty. Iran may have had an indirect role in the attacks, but in my opinion, the evidence is not conclusive. (…) In my opinion, the attacks were most likely the result of the anger of Lebanese Muslims, particularly that of Shiites, toward the United States and France. The poor neighborhoods of West Beirut and around the airport is where Muslims live, while most Shiites live in southern Lebanon, which had been occupied by Israel. The Lebanese Muslims viewed the U.S. and French forces not as peacekeepers in the Lebanese civil war, but just as a faction in the civil war supporting the Maronite Christians.”

Muhammad Sahimi : The Fog over the 1983 Beirut Attacks — Frontline (October 2009)

“On August 29, before the airport truck bombing, two Marines had been killed by Muslim mortar fire; on September 3, two more, and on October 16, two more. Against Weinberger’s protest, McFarlane, now in Beirut, persuaded the President to have the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey start hurling 16-inch shells into the mountains above Beirut, in World War II style, as if we were softening up the beaches on some Pacific atoll prior to an invasion. What we tend lo overlook in such situations is that other people will react much as we would. When the shells started falling on the Shiites, they assumed the American “referee” had taken sides against them. And since they could not reach the battleship, they found a more vulnerable target, the exposed Marines at the airport.”

General Colin Powell — Reaction to the Beirut Marine Barracks bombing

“We still do not have the actual knowledge of who did the bombing of the Marine barracks at the Beirut Airport, and we certainly didn’t then.”

Caspar Weinberger — Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration from 1981 to 1987 (September 2001)

On October 23 2018, Secretary Mike Pompeo tweeted: “35 years ago, 241 Marines, Sailors & Soldiers were killed in Beirut, Lebanon, by an Iranian-trained Hizballah terrorist. We will never forget these heroes who came in peace and gave their lives that awful day.” Not everyone agrees with Pompeo’s message. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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The Facts about the Islamic Jihad Organization

The Beirut barracks bombings are terrorist attacks that occurred on October 23 1983, in Beirut, Lebanon, during the Lebanese Civil War.

Two truck bombs struck separate buildings housing United States and French military forces—members of the Multinational Force in Lebanon (MNF)—killing 241 U.S. and 58 French servicemen, six civilians, and the two suicide bombers.

An obscure group calling itself Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombings and that the bombings were aimed to get the MNF out of Lebanon.

On December 12 1985. Arrow Air Flight 1285 taking off from Gander, Newfoundland, crashes and burns about half a mile from the runway, killing all 256 passengers and crew on board.

An anonymous caller to a French news agency in Beirut claimed that Islamic Jihad destroyed the plane to prove “our ability to strike at the Americans anywhere.”

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Five years later, the Islamic Jihad organization claimed credit for the Lockerbie — Pan Am 103 — tragedy.

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Is Pompeo’s Statement False (Again)?

As I have argued before, Mike Pompeo can be quite fuzzy about facts and dates when it suits his goals. But this particular case is not so clear-cut.

Controversy in the Tweetosphere

Ghoulia MacFarlane quickly replied to Pompeo’s tweet.

“He [Pompeo] served as CIA director but doesn’t know the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing was carried out by Islamic Jihad. Hezbollah was founded in 1985.”

Some observers, like Jeff Stein (@SpyTalker), agrees with MacFarlane.

“Mike Pompeo falsely blames #Beirut barracks bombing on #Hezbollah and thinks no one will notice. #FactsMatter”

Others, like Matthew Levit, disagrees.

“By 1984 at the latest, CIA noted that an overwhelming body of circumstantial evidence points to the Hizb Allah, operating with Iranian support under the cover name of Islamic Jihad.”

Some experts believe that the Islamic Jihad was the forefather of Hezbollah, or the initial cell that later expanded and became what is now known as the Lebanese Hezbollah.

“There is however no consensus about when the Lebanese Hezbollah was actually formed. Some experts believe that Hezbollah already existed as an underground organization in 1982.

Others believe that the Hezbollah was formed by supporters of Sheikh Ragheb Harb. He was a Shiite resistance leader in southern Lebanon and led an anti-Israeli resistance group against Israel’s occupation of that region (that lasted until 2000). He was killed by Israeli agents on February 16, 1984.” (Sahimi)

In 1985, a U.S. grand jury secretly indicted Imad Mughniyah (1962-2008) as the mastermind behind the bombing. He was a senior member of Hezbollah, and has been implicated in many terrorist operations.

Mughniyah was indicted for the bombing of Israel’s embassy in Argentina on March 17, 1992, which killed 29 people, and the bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in July 1994, which killed 86 people.

Mughniyah was never arrested and was killed in Damascus on February 12, 2008.

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Robert Baer — a CIA agent in Beirut at that time — had concluded in 1987 that Iran, employing local Fatah proxies (not Hezbollah’s operatives), was the key player behind the embassy bombing.

The Agency never accepted his finding, perhaps — Baer believes — because the CIA does not care about “old stories.”

On February 7 1984, President Ronald Reagan ordered the Marines to begin withdrawal from Lebanon, which was completed by February 26 1984.

Many books and articles have been published on the Beirut attacks. But the truth is that, 35 years late, the culprits have not been identified with certainty.

The Beirut barracks bombing prompted a review of overseas security for the U.S. Department of State known as the Inman Report.

Eventually, this report led to the creation of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Diplomatic Security Service within the U.S. State Department.

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PS: On July 4 1982, Iran’s military attaché to Lebanon, Ahmad Motevaselian; Seyyed Mohsen Mousavi, charge d’affaires; their driver Taghi Rastegar Moghadam, and photojournalist Kazem Akhavan were kidnapped in northern Lebanon on their way to Iran’s embassy in Damascus. Their fate remains unknown.

The 1983 Beirut Barracks Bombings

REFERENCES

The Fog over the 1983 Beirut Attacks — Frontline

Islamic Jihad Organization — Wikipedia

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The 1983 Beirut Barracks Bombing : Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad?

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