The following is adapted from “Israel Charged with Systematic Harassment of U.S. Marines” by Donald Neff, former Time Magazine Israel Bureau Chief – originally published in Washington Report, March 1995, later in Fifty Years of Israel.
Mr. Neff’s text has been silently abridged and copyedited for clarity, but not his quotes. [*] The comments in brackets have been added.
On March 14, 1983 the commandant of the Marine Corps, General R. H. Barrow, sent an unusual letter to the secretary of defense. He charged that Israeli troops were deliberately threatening the lives of Marines serving as peacekeepers in Lebanon. There was, he wrote, a systematic pattern of harassment by Israel Defense Forces that was resulting in “life-threatening situations, replete with verbal degradation of the officers, their uniform and country.”
He added: “It is inconceivable to me why Americans serving in peacekeeping roles must be harassed, endangered by an ally ... . It is evident to me, and the opinion of the U.S. commanders afloat and ashore, that the incidents between the Marines and the IDF are timed, orchestrated, and executed for obtuse Israeli political purposes.” 
Israel’s motives were less obtuse than the diplomatic general let on. Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon was deliberately creating the incidents probably in an effort to convince Washington that U.S. and Israeli forces had to coordinate their actions, so this would be taken by the Arabs as proof that the Marines were not really in Lebanon as neutral peacekeepers but as allies of the Israelis.  [Considering that Israel had been attacking Lebanon with bombs furnished by the U.S. from aircraft furnished by the U.S., the Arabs were well-primed to believe this.]
The Marines’ posting to Lebanon started on August 25, 1982, as a result of Israel’s invasion 11 weeks earlier. Initially a U.S. unit of 800 men was sent to Beirut harbor as part of a multinational force to monitor the evacuation of PLO fighters from Beirut. The Marines, President Reagan announced, “in no case ... would stay longer than 30 days.”  They did withdraw on September 10, but a reinforced unit of 1,200 was rushed back 15 days later when Israel seized West Beirut accompanied by the massacres at the Palestinian refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila. The U.S. forces remained until February 26, 1984. 
The casualties started within a week of the return of the Marines in September 1982. On September 30th, a cluster bomb (U.S.-made) left behind by the Israelis exploded, killing Corporal David Reagan and wounding three other Marines. 
While the purpose of the Marines’ first brief stay had been to separate Israeli forces from Palestinian fighters evacuating West Beirut, their new mission was – as part of a multinational force – to prevent Israeli troops from attacking the Palestinian civilians left defenseless there after the withdrawal of PLO forces. President Reagan said: “For this multinational force to succeed, it is essential that Israel withdraw from Beirut.” 
Israel’s siege of Beirut during the summer of 1982 had been brutal and bloody, reaching a peak on August 12. On that day at dawn, Ariel Sharon’s forces launched a massive artillery barrage that lasted for 11 straight hours accompanied by saturation air bombardment.  Hundreds, mainly Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, were killed. 
On top of the bombardment, next month came the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, when Ariel Sharon’s troops helped Lebanese Maronites enter the camps filled with defenseless civilians. The massacres sickened the world and pressure from Western capitals finally forced Israel to withdraw from Beirut in late September. Troops from Britain, France, Italy and the United States were interposed between the Israeli army and Beirut, with U.S. Marines deployed in the most sensitive area south of Beirut at the International Airport, directly between Israeli troops and West Beirut.
Starting in January 1983, small Israeli units began probing the Marine lines. The Marines politely but firmly turned away the Israeli troops. Soon the incidents escalated, with both sides pointing loaded weapons at each other. Tensions were so high by late January that a special meeting between U.S. and Israeli officers was held in Beirut to try to agree on precise boundaries beyond which the IDF would not penetrate. 
However, on February 2 a unit of three Israeli tanks, led by Israeli Lt. Col. Rafi Landsberg, tried to pass through Marine/Lebanese Army lines at Rayan University Library in south Lebanon. (Landsberg was no stranger to the Marines. Since the beginning of January he had been leading small Israeli units in probes against the Marine lines, though such units would normally have a commander no higher than a sergeant or lieutenant. The suspicion grew that Ariel Sharon’s troops were deliberately provoking the Marines and Landsberg was there to oversee the effort, and that these Israeli tactics were aimed at forcing a joint U.S.-Israeli strategy.)
In the February 2 incident, the commander of the U.S. checkpoint, Marine Capt. Charles Johnson, refused permission for Landsberg to advance. When two of the Israeli tanks ignored his warning to halt, Johnson leaped on Landsberg’s tank with pistol drawn and demanded Landsberg and his tanks withdraw. They did. 
The Israeli embassy in Washington tried to laugh off the incident, implying that Johnson was trigger-happy and that the media were exaggerating a routine event. Landsberg even went so far as to claim that he smelled alcohol on Johnson’s breath and that drunkenness must have clouded his reason. Marines were infuriated because Johnson was a well-known teetotaler. Americans flocked to Johnson’s side and Landsberg soon dropped from sight. 
But the incidents did not stop. These now included “helicopter harassment,” where Israelis flew their U.S.-made helicopters over Marine positions at night, with glaring spotlights illuminating Marine outposts exposing them to potential attack.
As reports of these incidents piled up, on March 12 Gen. Barrow received a letter from a U.S. Army major stationed in Lebanon with the UN Truce Supervisory Organization. The letter described a systematic pattern of Israeli attacks and provocations against UNTSO troops, including U.S. officers singled out for near-miss shootings, abuse and detention.  That same day two Marine patrols were challenged and cursed by Israeli soldiers. 
Two days later Barrow wrote his letter, quoted above, to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who endorsed it and sent it along to the State Department. High-level meetings were arranged between the U.S. and Israel, and the incidents abated, perhaps because by this time Ariel Sharon [in what turned out to be only a temporary setback in his career] had been fired as defense minister over the Sabra and Shatila massacres. 
On the night of April 17, 1983, an unknown sniper fired a shot that went through the trousers of a Marine sentry but did not harm him. For the first time, the Marines returned fire. 
The next day, the U.S. embassy in Beirut was blown up by a massive bomb, with the loss of 63 lives, including 17 Americans. [According to the CIA, a group backed by Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran was responsible.] [17, 19]
Four months later, on August 28, Marines came under direct fire by rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons at International Airport. They returned fire with rifles and machine guns. The firefight resumed the next day with Marines firing artillery, mortars and rockets from helicopter gunships against Shi’i Muslim positions. Two Marines were killed and 14 wounded in the exchange. 
The combat involvement of the Marines grew. The conflict was seen in terms of the U.S., Israel and Lebanon’s Christians against Iran, Islam and Lebanon’s Shi’i Muslims. 
Israel accelerated the conflict on September 3, 1993 by withdrawing its troops southward, leaving the Marines exposed behind their thin lines at the airport. The United States had asked the Israeli government to delay its withdrawal until the Marines could be replaced by units of the Lebanese army, but Israel refused. 
ARI says: “Israel is our ally in the Middle East.”
This is our ally?
The result was as feared. Heavy fighting immediately broke out between the Christian Lebanese Forces and the pro-Syrian Druze units, both seeking to occupy positions evacuated by Israel, while the Marines were left in the crossfire.  On September 5, two Marines were killed and three wounded as fighting increased between Christian and Muslim militias. 
The Sixth Fleet frigate Bowen fired several five-inch naval guns, hitting Druze artillery positions in the Chouf Mountains of Lebanon that were firing into the Marine compound at Beirut airport.  But the Marines’ exposed location on the flat terrain of the airport left them in an impossible position. On Sept. 12, three more Marines were wounded. 
On September 13, President Reagan authorized what he termed aggressive self-defense for the Marines, including air and naval strikes.  Five days later four U.S. warships unleashed the heaviest naval bombardment since Vietnam into Syrian and Druze positions in eastern Lebanon in support of the Lebanese Christians.  The bombardment lasted for three days. It was personally ordered by National Security Council director Robert McFarlane, a Marine Corps officer detailed to the White House who was in Lebanon at the time and a strong supporter of Israel.
McFarlane issued the order despite the fact that the Marine commander at the airport, Colonel Timothy Geraghty, strenuously argued against it because, in the words of correspondent Thomas L. Friedman, “he knew that it would make his soldiers party to what was now clearly an intra-Lebanese fight, and that the Lebanese Muslims would not retaliate against the Navy’s ships at sea but against the Marines on shore.” 
By now the Marines were under daily attack.  At the same time the battleship USS New Jersey, with 16-inch guns, arrived off Lebanon, increasing the number of U.S. warships offshore to 14. The Marine contingent at Beirut airport was increased from 1,200 to 1,600. 
The fight now was joined between the Shi’i Muslims and the Marines, who were pinned down in their airport bunkers and under orders not to take offensive actions. The climax of their predicament came on October 23, when [with Israeli foreknowledge] a Shi’i Muslim drove a truck past guards at the Marine airport compound and detonated an explosive with the force of 12,000 pounds of dynamite under a building housing Marines and other U.S. personnel. Almost simultaneously, a car-bomb exploded at the French compound in Beirut. Killed were 241 Americans and 58 French troops. [18, 32]
On December 3, two carrier planes were downed by Syrian missiles during heavy U.S. air raids on eastern Lebanon.  On the same day, eight Marines were killed in fighting with Muslim militiamen around the Beirut airport. 
By the start of 1984, an all-out Shi’i Muslim campaign to rid Lebanon of all Americans was underway. The president of the American University of Beirut, Dr. Malcolm Kerr, a distinguished scholar of the Arab world, was gunned down on January 18 outside his office by Islamic militants.  On February 5, Reagan made a speech, saying that “the situation in Lebanon is difficult, frustrating and dangerous. But this is no reason to turn our backs on friends and to cut and run.” 
The next day Professor Frank Regier, a U.S. citizen teaching at AUB, was kidnapped by Muslim radicals.  Regier’s kidnapping was the beginning of a series of kidnappings of Americans in Beirut that would lead to the eventual expulsion of nearly all Americans from Lebanon where they had prospered for more than a century. Even today Americans still are prohibited from traveling to Lebanon. [For an account of Israel’s refusal to help regarding these hostages, see the Beirut Hostages link on the previous page of this website.]
The day after Regier’s kidnapping, on February 7, 1984, Reagan suddenly reversed himself and announced that all U.S. Marines would shortly be “redeployed.” The next day the battleship USS New Jersey fired 290 rounds of one-ton shells from its 16-inch guns into Lebanon.  Reagan’s “redeployment” was completed by February 26, when the last of the Marines retreated from Lebanon. During their year-and-a-half posting there, the Marines suffered a total of 268 killed. 
A sympathetic U.S. Congress granted increased aid to Israel to compensate it for the costs of its invasion of Lebanon.
1 New York Times, 3/18/83. For a detailed review of these clashes, see Stephen Green, Living by the Sword (Amana, 1988), pp. 177-92, and Clyde Mark, “The Multinational Force in Lebanon,” Congressional Research Service, 5/19/83.
2 See “NBC Nightly News,” 6:30 PM EST, 3/17/86; also, George C. Wilson, Washington Post, 2/5/83.
3 George Ball, Error and Betrayal in Lebanon (Washington, DC, Foundation for Middle East Peace, 1984), p. 51; John K. Cooley, Payback: America’s Long War in the Middle East (New York, Brassey’s U.S., Inc., 1991), pp. 69-71.
4 Benis M. Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon: 1982-1984 (History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, DC, 1987), p. 137.
5 Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon: 1982-1984, Appendix F.
6 New York Times, 10/1/82. Also see Cooley, Payback, p. 71; Green, Living by the Sword, pp. 175-77
7 The text is in New York Times, 9/30/82. Also see Juliana S. Peck, The Reagan Administration and the Palestinian Question: The First Thousand Days (Washington, DC, Institute for Palestine Studies, 1984), p. 76.
8 Ze’ev Schiff & Ehud Ya’ari, Israel’s Lebanon War (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 225.
9 “Chronology of the Israeli Invasion of Lebanon,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer/Fall 1982, p. 189.
10 Green, Living by the Sword, pp. 178-80.
11 Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon: 1982-1984, pp. 45-46.
13 Green, Living by the Sword, p. 182.
14 Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon: 1982-1984, p. 56.
15 New York Times, 2/9/83; “Final Report of the Israeli Commission of Inquiry,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Spring 1983, pp. 89-116.
16 Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon: 1982-1984, p. 56.
17 New York Times, 4/22/83 and 4/26/83.
18 Victor Ostrovsky and Claire Hoy, By Way of Deception (New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1990), p. 321.
19 Cooley, Payback, p. 76.
20 New York Times, 8/30/83.
21 Ball, Error and Betrayal in Lebanon, pp. 75-77.
22 New York Times, 9/5/83.
23 Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon (New York, Atheneum, 1990), pp. 489-91; Thomas L. Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem (New York, Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1989), p. 179.
24 New York Times, 9/6/83.
25 Fisk, Pity the Nation, p. 505.
26 New York Times, 9/14/83.
27 New York Times, 9/13/83.
28 Philip Taubman and Joel Brinkley, New York Times, 12/11/83. Also see Andrew Cockburn and Leslie Cockburn, Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship (New York, Harper Collins, 1991), p. 335; Fisk, Pity the Nation, p. 505; Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem, p. 210.
29 Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem, pp. 200-01. Also see Green, Living by the Sword, pp. 190-92.
30 New York Times, 9/29/83.
31 New York Times, 9/25/83; David Koff, “Chronology of the War in Lebanon, Sept.-November, 1983,” Journal of Palestine Studies Winter 1984, pp. 133-35.
32 Philip Taubman and Joel Brinkley, New York Times, 12/11/83. Also see Cooley, Payback, pp. 80-91; Fisk, Pity the Nation, pp. 511-22; Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem, pp. 201-4.
33 New York Times, 1/4/84; Cooley, Payback, pp. 95-97.
34 New York Times, 12/4/83.
35 New York Times, 1/19/84. Also see New York Times, 1/29/84, and Cooley, Payback, p. 75. For a chronology of attacks against Americans in this period, see the Atlanta Journal, 1/31/85.
36 Fisk, Pity the Nation, p. 533.
37 New York Times, 4/16/84. Also see Cooley, Payback, p. 111; Fisk, Pity the Nation, p. 565.
38 Cooley, Payback, p. 102; Fisk, Pity the Nation, p. 533; Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem, p. 220.
Paul Findley, Deliberate Deceptions: Facing the Facts About the U.S.-Israeli Relationship, Brooklyn, NY, Lawrence Hill Books, 1993.
Michael Jansen, The Battle of Beirut: Why Israel Invaded Lebanon, London, Zed Press, 1982.
Sean MacBride, Israel in Lebanon: The Report of the International Commission to enquire into reported violations of international law by Israel during its invasion of Lebanon, London, Ithaca Press, 1983.
Jonathan Randal, Going all the Way, New York, The Viking Press, 1983.
Joseph Schechla, The Iron Fist: Israel’s Occupation of South Lebanon, 1982-1985, Washington, D.C.: ADC Research Institute, Issue Paper No. 17, 1985.
Jacobo Timerman, The Longest War: Israel in Lebanon, New York, Vantage Books, 1982.
ARI takes the position that the U.S. was wrong to oppose Israel’s invasion of Beirut, whose purpose, they say, was to destroy the PLO there [**]. But by the time the Israelis were “harassing” – which is far too mild a word – U.S. marines, the PLO had already withdrawn from Beirut. At that point the goal of the Israelis was not to destroy the PLO, it could only have been to (1) kill Muslim Lebanese factions in the Lebanese civil war and (2) rope the U.S. into helping them do it.
“... in the spring of 1982, Israel massed its invasion forces near its northern border four times, each time backing off at the last minute, largely because of U.S. [diplomatic] pressure. Begin assured the Americans that if Israel ever did attack, its soldiers would go only as far as the Litani River, about 18 miles north of the border, to force the PLO out of the range of Israeli settlements. He did not keep his promise, and considering the speed with which Israeli forces appeared in Beirut, clearly he had not meant to.