Frontline World

LEBANON - Party of God, May 2003

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Party of God"

A History of Hezbollah

Negotiating With Hezbollah

Lebanon Country Profile

Hezbollah, the Region and U.S. Policy





1983-1991: Target America
Civil WarHezbollah EmergesTarget AmericaGlobal TerrorThe Fate of Hezbollah
Geographical Key

The Marines Withdraw a Second Time

A memorial stands outside the U.S. Embassy in Beirut

A memorial stands outside the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, commemorating the American employees who lost their lives there in a terrorist attack.
The terror campaign against the U.S. military presence in Lebanon achieved its objective. On March 31, 1984, President Reagan ordered the U.S. Marines to return home. France and Italy also withdrew their forces, and the multinational peacekeeping effort was formally abandoned.

But the attacks on the United States did not stop after the Marines evacuated Beirut. Islamic Jihad targeted dozens of Western officials and civilians for kidnapping and murder. TWA Flight 847 was hijacked while en route from Athens to Rome and rerouted to Beirut. American and British professors from the American University of Beirut were kidnapped. Journalists, including Terry Anderson, head of the Associated Press's Beirut bureau, were taken hostage. These tactics proved effective in driving out foreign civilians, who began leaving Lebanon in 1984.

Although Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, the United States continued to suspect that Hezbollah, with support from Iran, was behind them. Those suspicions were intensified when Hezbollah published its official manifesto in 1985. The manifesto stressed that Hezbollah was neither an organized party nor a political cadre, but rather the expression of the worldwide Muslim community.

TWA Boeing 727 captain John L. Testrake

TWA Boeing 727 captain John L. Testrake from Richmond, Missouri, emerges from the cockpit of his hijacked airliner 19 June 1985 at Beirut airport to talk to newsmen while a Shi'ite Moslem terrorist (background) holds him at gunpoint. The Lebanese Shi'ite Moslem gunmen, reputedly members of Hezbollah (the Party of God), hijacked the TWA jetliner 14 June 1985 with 153 people on board, after taking off from Athens to Rome.(Agence France-Presse)
The manifesto outlined Hezbollah's objectives, one of which was the desire to expel all "colonial entities" from Lebanon, including Israel, the United States and France. "We combat abomination, and we shall tear out its very roots, its primary roots, which are the U.S.," the manifesto declared.

Policy Paralysis

The Reagan administration seemed paralyzed in the aftermath of these events. U.S. intelligence agents could not pinpoint a suitable target for military retaliation for the bombings because it was too difficult to sort out which Shiite factions should be held responsible. The only effective way to stop the kidnappings, it seemed, was to go to the source of terrorism: Iran. But an attack on Iran was considered extremely dangerous -- many advisors feared that such an assault would initiate a full-scale war.

So the Reagan administration decided on another approach, that of secretly trying to improve relations with Iran. But the effort led to diplomatic back-channels that resulted in the Iran-Contra affair: In return for Iran's help in arranging the release of some of the hostages in Lebanon, the Reagan administration offered to sell a cache of weapons to the Iranian regime, which at the time was engaged in a protracted and bloody war with Iraq. Proceeds from these arms sales were then used to fund anti-Communist guerrilla forces in Nicaragua. News of the arms deals resulted in a political debacle for Reagan, but that wasn't the only outcome. The Iran-Contra affair also underscored the point that the United States would have to contend with Iran in order to restrain Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.

And now a new political calculus had been invented. The kidnappers from Islamic Jihad exploited the hostages in order to secure the release of Shiite prisoners from Israeli prisons. Iran used its mediation role in the crisis to gain leverage with the United States. Syria tried unsuccessfully to intervene in order to exert control over the Lebanese government. And the negotiations between and among all these countries resulted in a slow but steady trickle of releases, until the last of the hostages held in Lebanon were finally freed in 1991.

Hezbollah's Hand Is Strengthened

Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah

Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah at a recent Hezbollah gathering. Fadlallah is one of Hezbollah's original founders, and continues to serve as the organization's spiritual leader.
Soon after the hostage crisis eased, the Lebanese government succeeded in bringing the long civil war to a close. More than 150,000 people had lost their lives in 15 years of brutal fighting. A national plan for reconciliation, referred to as the Ta'if Accord, was instituted under President Umar Karami. Though the peace accord disbanded Lebanon's various militias, it also, unexpectedly, helped increase Hezbollah's power. The Lebanese government allowed Hezbollah operatives to keep their weapons under the new peace agreement, Syria allowed Hezbollah to maintain its hold on the region of the Baalbeck, and Iran continued to supply Hezbollah with money and training.

And under the leadership of Sheik Abbas Mussawi, Hezbollah began to set it sights on becoming a legitimate political force within Lebanese politics. The organization continued to operate on several tracks. As its leadership aimed for a voice in parliament and its guerrillas fought Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon, another dimension of Hezbollah revealed itself through a series of explosions around the world.

NEXT - 1992-2001: Global Terror

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