By early 1983, the multinational force made up of U.S., French
and Italian soldiers had settled into their peacekeeping duties
in Beirut. This military presence soon pushed the United States
into direct confrontation with groups allied with Hezbollah.
In March 1983, U.S. Marines were fired upon for the first time
while patrolling areas near the Beirut airport. A Lebanese radio
station later announced that "a militant Shiite Muslim faction
aligned with Syria and Iran" was responsible for the attacks.
The United States Embassy building in Beirut, after being struck by a suicide bomber on April 18, 1983. (AP/Wide World Photos)
Although U.S. officials vowed no change in U.S. policy as a
result of the attack, the next strike proved harder to shrug
off. Less than a month later, on April 18, 1983, a suicide bomber
drove a truck loaded with high explosives into the U.S. embassy
in Beirut. The blast killed 60 people, including 17 Americans.
Hours later, an organization called Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
The United States now was confronted with a rather shadowy
enemy. From the start, it seemed to U.S. intelligence analysts
that Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah were in some way connected.
Both organizations pledged fervent allegiance to Iran, both
were based in the Baalbeck region of the Bekaa valley and both
were known to have received weaponry from Syria. In addition,
the groups shared the same leaders, including a man named Sheikh
The explosion of the Marine Corps building in Beirut, Lebanon, created a large cloud of smoke that was visible from miles away. (Department of Defense)
U.S. intelligence sources began suggesting that Islamic Jihad
was simply a cover used by Hezbollah for carrying out its terrorist
attacks. This charge was repeatedly denied by Hezbollah's spiritual
leader, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who insisted that
Hezbollah stood for moderation and restraint. When asked by
Western reporters to clarify Hezbollah's objectives, he responded
in vague terms: "It is a mass movement that concentrates on
facing political problems. Maybe it is closer to the Islamic
revolution in Iran than others due to its religious commitment."
Debate Over U.S. Policy
Some within the Reagan administration, including Defense Secretary
Caspar Weinberger, argued that threats posed by shadowy organizations
was reason enough to evacuate the Marines. But instead of withdrawing
forces, President Reagan deployed an additional 2,000 Marines
to Beirut by mid-September 1983.
The devastation of the barracks bombing
in Beirut, Lebanon, left Marines searching through tons
of rubble for their missing comrades. (Department of Defense)
The arrival in Lebanon of more American soldiers was met with
swift and devastating force. On October 23, 1983, a truck bomb
destroyed the U.S. Marine barracks at the Beirut airport, killing
241 American soldiers. Until September 11, 2001, this was considered
the greatest loss in U.S. history of American lives in a terrorist
attack. Islamic Jihad once again claimed responsibility.
While the Reagan administration considered a military response
to the truck bombing, Islamic Jihad continued its campaign against
American targets. In January 1984, Islamic Jihad gunmen killed
Malcolm Kerr, the president of the American University of Beirut.
Months later, William Buckley, chief of the CIA's Beirut station,
became Islamic Jihad's first American kidnap victim. Buckley
was eventually smuggled to Teheran via Damascus aboard an Iranian
plane. He died in Iran after being tortured.
NEXT - Target America (continued):
The Marines Withdraw a Second Time
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