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The Beirut Marine Barracks Bombing

The Ayn Rand Institute claims that the 1983 Arab bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut was part of an Islamic war against us,  “a ... war against the United States and everything that it stands for.” (quoting ARI writer Bradley Thompson). [1]

Yet the U.S. Marines were not from Beirut, they traveled about 6,000 miles to get from here to there. The U.S., rather than minding its own affairs, was — but let’s back up a bit, find out why the Marines were in Beirut, and then what really happened when they were attacked.

Beirut is the capital of Lebanon which borders Israel to the north. The Mediterranean Sea borders both countries to the west. In the late 1970s Lebanon was torn by a civil war among rival religious groups, sects within such groups, and gangster families. We will need to know that in Lebanon there were camps of Palestinian refugees expelled from Israel. And to complete our thumbnail sketch, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, claiming to represent all such Palestinians, had military bases in Lebanon.

In 1978, fearing a PLO alliance with Syria, which borders Lebanon to the north and east, Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to rout the PLO from southern Lebanon. The attempt failed. Afterward Israel and the PLO periodically exchanged barrages over the Lebanese border.

About this time the Mossad – Israel’s foreign intelligence agency – began cultivating Bashir Gemayel, head of one of the more brutal religious sects called the Phalangists (a Christian sect to which some of the Lebanese Christians belonged) fighting for control of Lebanon. Like Israel, Gemayel too wanted the PLO out of Lebanon. In 1979 he allowed the Mossad to set up and maintain a radar station within Lebanon in return for money (between $20,000 and $30,000 a month), military equipment, and training (for example Israel trained a group of Phalangists at the Haifa military base in 1980). Even the collaboration with Israel by itself was an advantage to Gemayel because none of the other Lebanese factions were in a position to fight Israel.

So much for background. It is now the summer of 1982. Israel’s prime minister is Menachem Begin, its defense minister Ariel Sharon. On June 6th, in another attempt to dislodge the PLO, Israel invades Lebanon again. While attacking the PLO in southern Lebanon other Israeli forces join Gemayel’s Phalangists outside of Beirut, situated halfway up Lebanon on the Mediterranean coast. As they enter the city at first they are hailed as liberators by the Christian residents, but these soon get caught in the crossfire between the PLO on the one hand and the Israelis and Philangists on the other. The Israelis and Phalangists seal off several thousand PLO, along with half a million civilians, in West Beirut. The siege lasts ten weeks and includes aerial bombing by Israelis from American-made planes. Then, per agreement with the PLO and the U.S., they cease the bombardment and allow the PLO to evacuate the city. In August a U.S.-French-Italian peacekeeping team arrives which, after assurances from Israel that the Israeli military will not occupy the city, departs after about a month.

On September 14th Israel’s collaborator Gemayel (now president-elect of Lebanon) and about a hundred other Phalange Party members are assassinated at their headquarters in East Beirut by a hidden bomb placed there by a rival gang, the Syrian People’s Party.

On the morning of September 16th, top Israeli leaders meet with the Lebanese Forces Chief of Staff Fady Frem and his intelligence chief Elias Hobeika (variously spelled Ilyas or Eli Haqiba), a Phalangist who had attended the Israelis’ Staff and Command College in Israel. Even at this time Hobeika was a known barbarian.

Frem says to the Israelis that Hobeika will take his men into the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in West Beirut, then both Frem and Hobeika say there will be a kasach – Arabic for a chopping or slicing act. Major General Amir Drori, head of the Israeli Northern Command, gives them the go-ahead. [2]

The result of this meeting is related by Victor Ostrovsky, former Mossad case officer (a cadet at the time): [3]

“At 5 p.m. on September 16, Hobeika assembled his forces at Beirut International Airport and moved into the Shatila camp, with the help of flares and, later, tank and mortar fire from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).”
They begin slaughtering the Palestinians in Shatila and in the adjacent camp Sabra.
“The next day, Hobeika received Israeli permission to bring two additional battalions into the camps. Israel knew the massacre was taking place. Israeli forces even set up observation posts on top of several seven-story buildings at the Kuwaiti embassy traffic circle, giving them an unobstructed view of the carnage.”
It lasts about 36 hours. President Reagan, upset by the slaughter and Israel’s role in it, and still believing the U.S. is a global police force, in early October sends the peacekeeping force back to Beirut, augmented to 1,200 men, mostly Marines. They are joined by 1,560 French and 1,200 Italian troops. This time they stay there. [4]

So, the U.S. Marines are in Beirut because of Israel’s occupation of the city, and the U.S. government’s altruistic idiocy.  Is idiocy too strong a word?

Now some further background. For some time Israel had imposed a huge import tax on merchandise coming from Lebanon, which naturally resulted in smuggling to evade it. The goods were smuggled by cars and trucks modified for hidden storage. The Mossad station in Beirut had a certain informant who knew people working at a local garage which specialized in such modifications. Thus the Mossad occasionally obtained a good description of a vehicle that they could pass on to Israeli border guards, foiling many smuggling attempts.

Back to our story. In the summer of 1983 this informant tells the Mossad that Shi’ite Muslims are refitting a large Mercedes-Benz truck with extra-large hidden storage areas for holding bombs. Again quoting Mr. Ostrovsky:

“... the Mossad knew that ... there were only a few logical targets, one of which must be the U.S. compound. The question then was whether or not to warn the Americans to be on particular alert for a truck matching the description.

“The decision was too important to be taken in the Beirut station, so it was passed along to Tel Aviv, where [Nahum] Admony, then head of Mossad, decided they would simply give the Americans the usual general warning, a vague notice that they had reason to believe someone might be planning an operation against them. But this was so general, and so commonplace, it was ... unlikely to raise any particular alarm or prompt increased security precautions. ... One more would not heighten U.S. concerns or surveillance.

“Admony, in refusing to give the Americans specific information on the truck, said  ‘... we’re not there to protect Americans. They’re a big country. Send only the regular information.’

“At the same time, however, all Israeli installations were given the specific details and warned to watch for a truck matching the description of the Mercedes.

“At 6:20 a.m. on October 23, 1983, a large Mercedes truck approached the Beirut airport, passing well within sight of Israeli sentries in their nearby base, going through a Lebanese army checkpoint, and turning left into the parking lot. A U.S. Marine guard reported with alarm that the truck was gathering speed, but before he could do anything, the truck roared toward the entrance of the four-story reinforced concrete Aviation Safety Building, used as headquarters for the Eighth Marine Battalion, crashing through a wrought-iron gate, hitting the sand-bagged guard post, smashing through another barrier, and ramming over a wall of sandbags into the lobby, exploding with such terrific force that the building was instantly reduced to rubble.

The blast and crushing debris kills 220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel, and 3 Army soldiers, 241 in all, most sleeping in their cots at the time. (70 men are injured. The Lebanese janitor for the building is killed.) It is the highest single-day death toll for American soldiers since the Vietnam Tet offensive.

A few minutes later another truck smashes into the French compound two miles away, killing 58 French soldiers. Mr. Ostrovsky continues:

“Within days, the Israelis passed along to the CIA the names of 13 people who they said were connected to the bombing[s] ..., a list including Syrian intelligence, Iranians in Damascus, and Shi’ite Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.

“At Mossad headquarters, there was a sigh of relief that it wasn’t us who got hit. It was seen as a small incident so far as the Mossad was concerned – that we had stumbled over it [that is, onto it in advance] and wouldn’t tell anybody. The problem was if we had leaked information and it was traced back, our informant would have been killed. The next time, we wouldn’t know if we were on the hit list.

“The general attitude about the Americans was:  ‘Hey, they wanted to stick their nose into this Lebanon thing, let them pay the price.’

“For me, it was the first time I had received a major rebuke from my Mossad superior ... . I said at the time that the American soldiers killed in Beirut would be on our minds longer than our own casualties because they’d come in with good faith, to help us get out of this mess we’d created. I was told  ‘Just shut up. You’re talking out of your league. We’re giving the Americans much more than they’re giving us.’  They always said that, but it’s not true. So much of Israeli equipment was American, and the Mossad owed them a lot.”

ARI says:  “Israel is our ally in the Middle East.”

This is our ally?

1  “America Disarmed” October 22, 2001.  Other ARI articles in the same line include:

“Allowing Israel to Destroy the PLO Helps Defend the U.S.”  (Subtitled:  “Israel is America's military and cultural front line against terrorism.”)  by Andrew Bernstein, November 8, 2001.  “Despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid, the PLO supplied weapons to the Shiite terrorists who murdered 241 American Marines in Beirut in 1983.”

“What a Real War Looks Like”  by Robert Tracinski,  September 14, 2001.  “We must recognize that America has decades of unfinished business, from the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, to ...”

“Death to Theocracy”  by Robert Tracinski,  June 30, 2003. Mr. Tracinski repeats the Israeli propaganda regarding Iran:  “... Iran was the first Islamic regime to strike systematically at the United States, from ... —to the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983—to ...”

“What They Knew And When They Knew It”  by Robert Tracinski,  May 20, 2002. Mr. Tracinski says  “the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983” was a warning for 9-11 to come.

“Don’t Blame Our Intelligence Agencies—Blame Our Unprincipled Foreign Policy”  by Onkar Ghate,  several versions: July 9 and September 26, 2002, July 18, 2003, April 2004 (under the title “Diverting the Blame for 9/11”).  “In 1983 the Syrian- and Iranian-backed group Hezbollah bombed a U.S. marine barracks in Lebanon, killing 241 servicemen while they slept;”

“Obama Whitewashes Iran”  by Elan Journo,  March 3, 2009.  One of many post Iraq War articles from ARI advocating war with Iran. “Early one morning, an Islamist suicide bomber set off a massive explosion at the barracks where U.S. marines were sleeping and killed 241 of them.”

“What Obama Should Say to Iran”  by Debi Ghate,  June 30, 2009.  Ms. Ghate refers to “multiple Tehran-backed attacks on Americans” including “1983 in Beirut, where explosives killed 241 people.”

“With or Without Nukes, Iran Is a Mortal Threat”  by Elan Journo,  July 9, 2008.  “Iran pulled the strings behind the 1983 bomb attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon and later the barracks of U.S. Marines, killing 241 Americans.”

See also “Don’t Blame The FBI” by Onkar Ghate, July 16, 2002 and “It Is Time to Declare War” by Leonard Peikoff, September 20, 2001.

2  Time magazine October 4, 1982 article by William E. Smith.  The article continues:
“Later Drori telephoned Sharon in Tel Aviv:  ‘Our friends are moving into the camps. I coordinated their entrance with their top men.’  Replied Sharon:  ‘Congratulations ... The friends’ operation is authorized.’ ”
The Israelis gave the Phalangists first aid assistance in evacuating their casualties at the beginning of the invasion.

3  See Chapter 17 of  By Way of Deception  by Victor Ostrovsky  (with Claire Hoy).

4  To the world – including the Israeli public, some of whom were critical of their government – the Israeli government protested its innocence. The Cabinet, under the direction of Prime Minister Menachem Begin,
“issued a statement briefly expressing ‘grief and regret’ concerning the killings ... . The statement declared that Israel was the victim of a ‘blood libel’ and that ‘malicious and evil’ allegations were being made against the nation. The Israeli government took out a full-page ad in several U.S. papers ... to stress Israel’s innocence.”  (Time magazine October 4, 1982, article by William E. Smith)
Begin, through his Israeli Cabinet, also claimed that the IDF had “taken positions in West Beirut to prevent the danger of violence, bloodshed, and anarchy.” During Israel’s formative years Menachem Begin had led the Irgun, a Zionist terrorist group. The Irgun and Stern Gang (another Zionist terrorist group) massacre at Deir Yassin, a kasach perpetrated by Jews instead of Arabs, more than matched the savagery of the Phalangists. It comes as no surprise that such a man would lie.

The Beirut business was only a bump in Ariel Sharon’s career. A few years later, March 2001, the Israeli public made him Prime Minister.

Israel’s defenders complain: Double standard! Why emphasize the Israelis’ role in the Beirut massacre over that of the Philangists’?  Answer: Because the subject under discussion is Israel vis-à-vis the United States. The Philangists did not boast of being a bastion of Western values, or of being America’s ally in the Middle East. Note also what Israel defenders conveniently leave out: Israel helped the Philangists do what they did. The situation is like Mr. Respectable hiring a hit man to murder someone:  it is Mr. Respectable whom the police go after first.

Some of the Time magazine articles of that week were quite candid. The  “Newswatch”  article of September 27, 1985  “Taking It to the Public”  by Thomas Griffith begins:  “Menacham Begin has accused American newspapers and journalists of butting into Israel’s domestic affairs. This surely deserves the chutzpah award of the week. More than any other nation, Israel over the years has butted into American affairs with great skill and ... success.”

And an article of October 4, 1985  “A Growing Sense of Betrayal”  subtitled  “Israel’s deceptions threaten to undermine U.S. credibility” begins:  “How do you deal with an ally you cannot trust? ... ... [U.S. officials] now believe the Begin government has lied to them – repeatedly, deliberately, and in ways that tricked a gullible Washington into undermining America’s own credibility.”  And continues:
“In June the Israelis said their invasion of Lebanon was aimed only at clearing Palestine Liberation Organization guerrillas out of a 40-kilometer-deep zone along Israel’s borders; [instead] the army pushed deep into Lebanon and laid siege to Beirut. Next Israel pledged not to occupy West Beirut if U.S. Special Envoy Philip Habib could arrange an evacuation of the P.L.O. fighters holed up there; [instead] after the assassination of Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel, the Israelis went into West Beirut on the pretext of preventing disorder. Finally, ... Ambassador to Washington Moshe Arens assured [U.S. officials] on Begin’s behalf that the Israelis would seize only ‘a few’ strategic points in West Beirut. Instead, they took over the whole Muslim section of the city and then arranged for Christian militiamen to enter Palestinian refugee camps ... .”
It’s true, though the complaining may have been spin from the Reagan administration designed to distance itself from what it actually approved of. In any case the real victim of Israel’s, and possibly Reagan’s, deceit was the American public – who pay for these invasions and peacekeepings with their money and their lives.