October 23 marks the 40th anniversary of the bombing of a U.S. Marine Corps barracks at Beirut International Airport and a French military installation nearby. A total of 307 people died, including 241 U.S. forces and 58 French.
It is critical for U.S. security—and that of Israel and other American allies—that we remember who the enemies were 40 years ago, says former CIA officer Claire Lopez. That is because, since we didn’t punish them then and hardly since, they mutated repeatedly, including into the Sept. 11, 2001 attackers. With Iran at their head, she said, they are still active today.
Lopez reminded a Jewish Policy Center webinar August 31that Washington deployed forces to Lebanon to protect Palestinian Arabs during the country’s inter-communal warfare after Israel expelled Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1982.
“The mastermind of those [truck bomb] attacks was Imad Mugniyeh,” Lopez said. Islamic Jihad Organization, which Mugniyeh reportedly founded, claimed credit. He, and it, soon were part of Hezbollah, the Iranian-funded and trained Lebanese Shi’ite “Party of God.”
After the bombing, “President Reagan convened a meeting of national security advisers,” Lopez said. “He wanted to find out who did this … and can we go after them.”
Adm. James “Ace” Lyons (soon to command the U.S. Pacific fleet) and others, working with the French, quickly identified the perpetrators and devised a plan to strike them, according to Lopez. But Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and others convinced the president that “somehow this would upset the Arab world.” The United States “never retaliated.” Instead, Washington and Paris soon withdrew their troops from Lebanon.
That served as a green light for jihadis around the world, Lopez said. And halfway across Asia a leader of the various international mujahideen (holy warriors) who had been fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan, “asks[Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani … can you show my boys how to do this?” Rafsanjani, who would serve as president of the Iranian Islamic Republic from 1989 to 1997, “ordered Imad Mugniyeh to set up training camps for al-Qaeda in Sudan, Lebanon, Iran and perhaps elsewhere,” Lopez said.
What followed included:
*The 1986 truck bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, attributed to Saudi Hezbollah, which killed 19 U.S. Air Force members and wounded hundreds;
*1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 220 people, including 12 Americans, and wounding thousands;
*2000 boat bomb attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, in which 17 sailors died and 39 were wounded; and
*The Sept. 11, 2001 al-Qaeda airliner strikes against New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington and crash in southwestern Pennsylvania killing nearly 3,000 people.
“It was Imad Mugniyeh himself who went to Saudi Arabia” and recruited the Saudi 9/11 participants, 15 of the 19 involved, Lopez said. This was but one example of Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim fundamentalists cooperating against the West even though historically at odds with each other, she added.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps arranged for the would-be hijackers to train on flight simulators even before they reached the United States and some enrolled in flight schools, Lopez said. In addition, Tehran allowed the Saudi hijackers to cross its borders without stamping their passports. “Clean” passports eased their path to obtaining visas to enter the United States.
But “much of this information was quashed by [presidents] George W. Bush and [Barack] Obama,” she charged. “And the news media played it down as well.”
Mugniyeh died by a car bomb in Damascus in 2008, Lopez noted. The attack, often attributed to the CIA—Mugniyeh also reportedly was involved, perhaps personally, in the death by torture of the agency’s Beirut station chief William Buckley in 1985—sometimes is laid to Israel.
Iran, through Hezbollah, also executed the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish community center there. The organization spread outward from the poorly-governed “tri-border” region of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, she added, and today has links to the Nicolas Madura regime in Venezuela, among others.
Lopez said that on top of the failure of the United States to punish Hezbollah and Iran in ways that would resonate must be added the U.S. flight from Afghanistan in 2021, leaving tens of billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment behind, and continued “groveling” to induce the ayatollahs to sign some kind of nuclear weapons agreement. This means “jihadis are gathering again in Afghanistan” and, with the United States’ southern border unsecured, “we have no idea who” is entering this country.
She does not believe Washington can deal with Tehran diplomatically. “The clerical leaders in Iran are ‘Twelver’ Shi’ites, true believers in the ideology of the 12th imam.” This holds that the Shi’ite Mahdi or messiah will return for the day of judgement and end of the world.
The ayatollahs believe they can accelerate the end of days by sowing chaos via Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen, militia in Iraq and so on, Lopez said. Iranian leaders mean it when they say, “death to America” and “death to Israel” and are driving for nuclear weapons.
“We should be supporting the people of Iran opposing the regime” as seen by repeated protest demonstrations, “but we have not done that,” she said.