1983 Beirut barracks bombing
|1983 Beirut barracks bombing|
|Part of the Lebanese Civil War|
A smoke cloud rises from the rubble of the bombed barracks at Beirut International Airport.
|Date||October 23, 1983
|Attack type||Suicide truck bombs|
|Deaths||241 American servicemen
58 French servicemen
2 suicide bombers
|Perpetrators||Islamic Jihad Organization|
The Beirut Barracks Bombing (October 23, 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon) occurred during the Lebanese Civil War, when two truck bombs struck separate buildings housing United States and French military forces—members of the Multinational Force in Lebanon—killing 299 American and French servicemen. The organization Islamic Jihad, later known as Hezbollah, claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Suicide bombers detonated each of the truck bombs. In the attack on the American Marines barracks, the death toll was 241 American servicemen: 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers, along with sixty Americans injured, representing the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima of World War II, the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States military since the first day of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War, and the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II.[dead link] In addition, the elderly Lebanese custodian of the building was killed in the first blast. The explosives used were equivalent to 5,400 kg (12,000 pounds) of TNT.
In the attack on the French barracks, the eight-story 'Drakkar' building, two minutes after the attack, 58 paratroopers from the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment were killed and 15 injured, in the single worst military loss for France since the end of the Algerian War. The wife and four children of a Lebanese janitor at the French building were also killed.
The blasts led to the withdrawal of the international peacekeeping force from Lebanon, where they had been stationed since the withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization following the Israeli 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
The bombings 
At around 6:20 a.m., a yellow Mercedes-Benz truck drove to Beirut International Airport, where the 1st Battalion 8th Marines under the 2nd Marine Division had set up its local headquarters. The truck was not the water truck they had been expecting, but a hijacked truck carrying explosives. The truck turned onto an access road leading to the compound and circled a parking lot. The driver then accelerated and crashed through a barbed wire fence around the parking lot, passed between two sentry posts, crashed through a gate and drove toward the lobby of the Marine headquarters. The sentries at the gate were operating under rules of engagement which made it very difficult to respond quickly to the truck. Sentries were ordered to keep their weapons at condition four (no magazine inserted and no rounds in the chamber). By the time the two sentries were able to engage, the truck was already heading towards the building's entry way, armed.
The suicide bomber reached the entry way at 6:22 and detonated his explosives, which were equivalent to 5,400 kg (12,000 pounds) of TNT. The force of the explosion collapsed the four-story building into rubble, crushing many inside. According to Eric Hammel in his history of the Marine landing force,
"The force of the explosion initially lifted the entire four-story structure, shearing the bases of the concrete support columns, each measuring fifteen feet in circumference and reinforced by numerous one-and-three-quarter-inch steel rods. The airborne building then fell in upon itself. A massive shock wave and ball of flaming gas was hurled in all directions."
The explosive mechanism was a gas-enhanced device, probably consisting of bottled propane, butane, hexane or acetylene, placed in proximity to a conventional explosive such as primacord,. The bomb was carried on a layer of concrete covered with a slab of marble to direct the blast upward. Despite the lack of sophistication and wide availability of its component parts, a gas-enhanced device can be a lethal weapon. These devices are similar to fuel-air or thermobaric weapons, explaining the large blast and damage.
About two minutes later, a similar attack occurred against the barracks of the French 3rd Company of the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment, 6 km away in the Ramlet al Baida area of West Beirut. Another suicide bomber drove his truck down a ramp into the 'Drakkar' building's underground parking garage and detonated his bomb, leveling the eight-story building and killing 58 French soldiers. Many of the soldiers had gathered on their balconies moments earlier to see what was happening at the airport It was the worst military loss for France since the end of the Algerian War in 1962.
According to Robert Fisk, a major motivation for the bombing was the ill will generated by the Multinational Force (MNF) among Lebanese Muslims, especially Shi'ites living in the slums of West Beirut and around the airport where the Marines were headquartered, as they saw the MNF siding with the Maronite Catholics in their domination of Lebanon. Muslim feelings against the American presence were "exacerbated when missiles lobbed by the U.S. Sixth Fleet hit innocent by-standers in the Druze-dominated Shuf mountains." There was a growing feeling of frustration inside the Muslim and Druze community in Lebanon with US direct backing of Israel in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and other pro-Israeli factions within Lebanon. These factions had been responsible for multiple attacks committed against the Muslim and Druze Lebanese population.
Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty, the commander of the marines in Beirut during the incident, has said that the marine and the French headquarters were targeted primarily because of "who we were and what we represented;" and that,
It is noteworthy that the United States provided direct naval gunfire support -- which I strongly opposed -- for a week to the Lebanese Army at a mountain village called Suq-al-Garb on September 19 and that the French conducted an air strike on September 23 in the Bekaa Valley. American support removed any lingering doubts of our neutrality and I stated to my staff at the time that we were going to pay in blood for this decision.
Some authors, including Thomas Friedman point to the use of this naval gunfire as the beginning point of the U.S. forces being seen as participants in the civil war rather than peace keepers and opening them up to retaliation.
Some analysts believe the newly formed Islamic Republic of Iran was heavily involved and that a major factor leading it to participate in the attacks on the barracks was America's support for Iraq in the Iran–Iraq War and its extending of $2.5 billion in trade credit to Iraq while halting the shipments of arms to Iran. A few weeks before the bombing, Iran warned that providing armaments to Iran's enemies would provoke retaliatory punishment.[Notes 1]
U.S. President Ronald Reagan called the attack a "despicable act" and pledged to keep a military force in Lebanon. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who had privately advised the administration against stationing U.S. Marines in Lebanon, said there would be no change in the U.S.'s Lebanon policy. On October 24, French President François Mitterrand visited the bombed French site. It was not an official visit, and he only stayed for a few hours, but he did declare "We will stay." U.S. Vice President George H. W. Bush toured the site on October 26 and said the U.S. "would not be cowed by terrorists."
In retaliation for the attacks, France launched an airstrike in the Bekaa Valley against alleged Islamic Revolutionary Guards positions. President Reagan assembled his national security team and planned to target the Sheik Abdullah barracks in Baalbek, Lebanon, which housed Iranian Revolutionary Guards believed to be training Hezbollah militants. A joint American-French air assault on the camp where the bombing was planned was also approved by Reagan and Mitterrand. Defense Secretary Weinberger lobbied successfully against the mission, because at the time it was not certain that Iran was behind the attack.
There was no serious retaliation for the Beirut bombing from the Americans, besides a few shellings. In December 1983, U.S. aircraft from the USS John F. Kennedy and USS Independence battle groups attacked Syrian targets in Lebanon, but this was ostensibly in response to Syrian missile attacks on American warplanes.
Multi-service ground-support units were withdrawn from Beirut after the attack on the barracks due to retaliatory threats.
In the meantime, the attack boosted the prestige and growth of the Shi'ite organization Hezbollah. Hezbollah officially denied any involvement in the attacks, but was seen by Lebanese as involved nonetheless as it praised the "two martyr mujahideen" who "set out to inflict upon the U.S. Administration an utter defeat, not experienced since Vietnam." Hezbollah was now seen by many as "the spearhead of the sacred Muslim struggle against foreign occupation".
The 1983 report of the U.S. Department of Defense Commission's on the attack recommended that the National Security Council re-examines alternative ways to reach "American objectives in Lebanon" because, "as progress to diplomatic solutions slows," the security of the USMNF base continues to "deteriorate." The commission also recommended a review for the development of a broader range of "appropriate military, political, and diplomatic responses to terrorism." Military preparedness needed improvement in the development of "doctrine, planning, organization, force structure, education, and training" to better combat terrorism, while the USMNF was "not prepared" to deal with the terrorist threat at the time due to "lack of training, staff, organization, and support" specifically for defending against "terror threats."
Amal movement leader Nabih Berri, who had previously supported U.S. mediation efforts, asked the U.S. and France to leave Lebanon and accused the U.S. and France of seeking to commit 'massacres' against the Lebanese and of creating a "climate of racism" against Shias. Islamic Jihad phoned in new threats against the MNF pledging that "the earth would tremble" unless the MNF withdrew by New Year's Day 1984.
The U.S. Marines were moved offshore where they could not be targeted. On February 7, 1984, President Reagan ordered the marines to begin withdrawing from Lebanon. Their withdrawal was completed on February 26, four months after the barracks bombing; the rest of the multinational force was withdrawn by April 1984.
On February 8, 1984, USS New Jersey (BB-62) fired almost 300 shells at Druze and Syrian positions in the Bekaa Valley east of Beirut. This was the heaviest shore bombardment since the Korean War. New Jersey's shells killed probably hundreds of people, mostly Shiites and Druze. In his memoir, General Colin Powell (at the time an assistant to Caspar Weinberger) noted that "When the shells started falling on the Shiites, they assumed the American ‘referee’ had taken sides." Some analysts subsequently criticized the decision to have U.S. warships shell Druze and Syrian forces. They claim that this action forced a shift in the previously neutral U.S. forces by convincing local Lebanese Muslims that the United States had taken the Christian side.
Rescue efforts 
Rescue efforts continued for days. While the rescuers were at times hindered by sniper fire, some survivors were pulled from the rubble[clarification needed] and airlifted to the USS Iwo Jima, located offshore, and/or to the hospital at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus or to U.S. and German hospitals in West Germany. The last survivor pulled from the rubble, USMC Lance Corporal James Young, Jr., had been buried for over 52 hours. An 18 year-old local woman was killed after firing several shots at a rescue team nearby.
Search for perpetrators 
At the time of the bombing, several Shia militant groups claimed responsibility for the attacks, and one, the Free Islamic Revolutionary Movement, identified the two suicide bombers as Abu Mazen and Abu Sijaan.
After some years of investigation the bombing was thought to have been carried out by the Lebanese Shia militant militia and political party Hezbollah while it was still "underground," though opinion is not unanimous. Hezbollah did not formally announce its existence until 1985. The U.S. government believes that elements that would eventually become Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, were responsible for this bombing, as well as the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut earlier in April. Hezbollah, Iran and Syria have denied any involvement.
Two years after the bombing, a U.S. grand jury secretly indicted Imad Mughniyah as having ordered the bombing. Mughniyah was never captured; he was killed by a car bomb in Syria on February 12, 2008.
Imad Mughniyeh and Mustafa Badr Al Din took charge of the Syrian-Iranian backed operation. Mughniyeh had been a highly trained security man with the PLO's Force 17 . . . Their mission was to gather information and details about the American embassy and draw up a plan that would guarantee the maximum impact and leave no trace of the perpetrator. Meetings were held at the Iranian embassy in Damascus. They were usually chaired by the ambassador, Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi, who played an instrumental role in founding Hezbollah. In consultation with several senior Syrian intelligence officers, the final plan was set in motion. The vehicle and explosives were prepared in the Bekaa Valley which was under Syrian control.
Commentators argue that the lack of a response by the Americans emboldened terrorist organizations to conduct further attacks against U.S. targets. Along with the U.S. embassy bombing, the barracks bombing prompted the Inman Report, a review of the security of U.S. facilities overseas for the United States Department of State.
Alleged retaliation 
On March 8, 1985, a truck bomb blew up in Beirut killing more than 80 people and injuring more than two hundred. The bomb detonated near the apartment block of Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a Shia cleric thought by many to be the spiritual leader of Hezbollah. Although the US did not engage in any direct military retaliation to the attack on the Beirut barracks, the 1985 terrorist bombing was widely believed by Fadlallah and his supporters to be the work of the United States; Sheikh Fadlallah stating that `They sent me a letter and I got the message,` and an enormous sign on the remains of one bombed building reading: `Made in the U.S.A.`" Robert Fisk also claims that CIA operatives planted the bomb and that evidence of this is found in an article in the Washington Post newspaper. Journalist Robin Wright quotes articles in the Washington Post and New York Times as saying that according to the CIA the "Lebanese intelligence personnel and other foreigners had been undergoing CIA training" but that "this was not our [CIA] operation and it was nothing we planned or knew about." "Alarmed U.S. officials subsequently canceled the covert training operation" in Lebanon, according to Wright.
Lessons learned 
Shortly after the barracks bombing, President Ronald Reagan appointed a military fact-finding committee headed by retired Admiral Robert L. J. Long to investigate the bombing. The commission's report found senior military officials responsible for security lapses and blamed the military chain of command for the disaster. It suggested that there might have been many fewer deaths if the barracks guards had carried loaded weapons and a barrier more substantial than the barbed wire the bomber drove over easily. The commission also noted that the "prevalent view" among U.S. commanders was that there was a direct link between the navy shelling of the Muslims at Suq-al-Garb and the truck bomb attack.
Following the bombing and the realization that insurgents could deliver weapons of enormous yield with an ordinary truck or van, the presence of protective barriers (bollards) became common around critical government facilities in the United States and elsewhere, particularly Western civic targets situated overseas.
An article in Foreign Policy titled "Lesson Unlearned" argues that the U.S. military intervention in the Lebanese Civil War has been downplayed or ignored in popular history - thus unlearned - and that lessons from Lebanon are "unlearned" as the U.S. militarily intervenes elsewhere in the world
Civil suit against Iran 
On October 3 and December 28, 2001, the families of 241 servicemen who were killed as well as several injured survivors filed civil suits against Islamic Republic of Iran and the Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS) in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  In their separate complaints, the families and survivors sought a judgment that Iran was responsible for the attack and relief in the form of damages (compensatory and punitive) for wrongful death and common-law claims for battery, assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress resulting from an act of state-sponsored terrorism.
Iran (the defendants) was served with the two complaints (one from Deborah D. Peterson, Personal Representative of the Estate of James C. Knipple, et al., the other from Joseph and Marie Boulos, Personal Representatives of the Estate of Jeffrey Joseph Boulos) on May 6 and July 17, 2002. Iran denied responsibility for the attack but did not file any response to the claims of the families. On December 18, 2002, Judge Royce C. Lamberth entered defaults against defendants in both cases.
On May 30, 2003, Lamberth found Iran legally responsible for providing Hezbollah with financial and logistical support that helped them carry out the attack. Lamberth concluded that the court had personal jurisdiction over the defendants under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, that Hezbollah was formed under the auspices of the Iranian government and was completely reliant on Iran in 1983, and that Hezbollah carried out the attack in conjunction with MOIS agents.
On September 7, 2007, Lamberth awarded $2,656,944,877 to the plaintiffs. The judgment was divided up among the victims; the largest award was $12 million to Larry Gerlach, who became a quadriplegic as a result of a broken neck he suffered in the attack.
The attorney for the families of the victims uncovered some new information, including a National Security Agency (NSA) intercept of a message sent from Iranian intelligence headquarters in Tehran to Hojjat ol-eslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi, the Iranian ambassador in Damascus. As it was paraphrased by presiding U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth, "The message directed the Iranian ambassador to contact Hussein Musawi, the leader of the terrorist group Islamic Amal, and to instruct him ... 'to take a spectacular action against the United States Marines.'" Musawi's Islamic Amal was a breakaway faction of the Amal Movement and an autonomous part of embryonic Hezbollah.
In July 2012, federal Judge Royce Lamberth ordered Iran to pay more than $813m in damages and interest to the families of the 241 US soldiers that were killed, writing in a ruling that Tehran had to be "punished to the fullest extent legally possible... Iran is racking up quite a bill from its sponsorship of terrorism."
Mossad conspiracy theory 
Former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky, in his 1990 book By Way of Deception, has accused the Mossad of knowing of the plans for the bombing, but decided against informing the Americans of the attack. According to Ostrovsky, then Mossad head Nahum Admoni decided against informing the Americans on the grounds that the Mossad's responsibility was to protect Israel's interests, not Americans. Admoni denied having any prior knowledge of the attack. Ostrovsky further claimed that among the high level officers of the Mossad there was a view that if the Americans "wanted to stick their nose into this Lebanon thing, let them pay the price." Benny Morris, in his review of Ostrovsky's book, wrote that Ostrovsky was "barely a case officer before he was fired; most of his (brief) time in the agency was spent as a trainee" adding that due to compartmentalization "he did not and could not have had much knowledge of then current Mossad operations, let alone operational history." Benny Morris wrote that the claim regarding the barracks was "odd" and an example of one of Ostrovsky's "wet" stories which were "mostly fabricated."
Terrorism classification 
The bombing was categorized by the United States as an act of terrorism.:191 But according to academic Oded Lowenheim, the U.S. Marines had become allied with the Maronite Christians in Lebanon and were actively engaging in battles, thus waiving their non-combatant status.:191 The U.S. still categorized this attack as an act of terror as it was directed against off-duty servicemen, whom the U.S. defines as non-combatants.
Memorials and remembrance 
A Beirut Memorial has been established at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, and has been used as the site of annual memorial services for the victims of the attack. A Beirut Memorial Room at the USO in Jacksonville, North Carolina has also been created.
The Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center, the site of Chaplain Corps training for the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force at Fort Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina, includes the partially destroyed sign from the Beirut barracks chapel as a memorial to those who died in the attack. According to Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, one of the navy chaplains present during the attack, "Amidst the rubble, we found the plywood board which we had made for our "Peace-keeping Chapel." The Chaplain Corps Seal had been hand-painted, with the words "Peace-keeping" above it, and "Chapel" beneath. Now "Peace-keeping" was legible, but the bottom of the plaque was destroyed, with only a few burned and splintered pieces of wood remaining. The idea of peace - above; the reality of war - below."
Other memorials to the victims of the Beirut barracks bombing have been erected in various locations within the United States, including one at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and one in Florida. Additionally, a Lebanese cedar has been planted in Arlington National Cemetery near the graves of some of the victims of the attack, in their memory. A plaque in the ground in front of the tree, dedicated in a ceremony on the first anniversary of the attack, reads: "Let peace take root: This cedar of Lebanon tree grows in living memory of the Americans killed in the Beirut terrorist attack and all victims of terrorism around the world."  The National Museum of the Marine Corps, in Quantico, Virginia, unveiled an exhibit in 2008 in memory of the attack and its victims.
One memorial to the attack is located outside the U.S., where Gilla Gerzon, the director of the Haifa, Israel USO during the time of the attack coordinated the creation of a memorial park that included 241 olive trees, one for each of the U.S. military personnel who died in the attack. The trees lead to an overpass on Mount Carmel looking toward Beirut.
There is also an ongoing effort on the part of Beirut veterans and family members to convince the United States Postal Service and Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee to create a stamp in memory of the victims of the attack, but the recommendation has not yet been approved. In the meantime, Beirut veterans have created a "PC Postage" commercially produced Beirut Memorial statue private vendor stamp (with or without the words "They Came in Peace") that is approved for use as postage by the U.S. Postal Service.
See also 
- Tyre headquarters bombings, similar attacks against Israeli military posts in Lebanon
- Khobar Towers Bombing
- Mountain War
- For Iran's threat of retaliatory measures; see Ettela'at, 17 September 1983; Kayhan, 13 October 1983; and Kayhan, 26 October 1983, quoted in Ranstorp, Magnus, Hizb'allah in Lebanon : The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis, New York, St. Martins Press, 1997, p. 117
-  Wall Street Journal:The mullahs are at war with us. Maybe we should return the favor.]
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- Ranstorp, Magnus (1997). Hizb'allah in Lebanon: the politics of the western hostage crisis. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-312-16491-1. Retrieved 1 March 2011.
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- Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation, 1990, p.581, paragraph 4
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Further reading 
- Geraghty, Timothy J.; Alfred M. Gray Jr. (Foreword) (2009). Peacekeepers at War: Beirut 1983--The Marine Commander Tells His Story. Potomac Books. ISBN 978-1-59797-425-7.
- Dolphin, Glenn E. (2005). 24 MAU 1983: A Marine Looks Back at the Peacekeeping Mission to Beirut, Lebanon. Publish America. ISBN 978-1-4137-8501-2.
- Frank, Benis M. (1987). U.S. Marines in Lebanon, 1982-1984. U.S. Marine Corps. Retrieved 12 February 2010.
- Petit, Michael (1986). Peacekeepers at War: A Marine's Account of the Beirut Catastrophe. Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-12545-6.
- Hammel, Eric M. (1985). The Root: The Marines in Beirut, August 1982-February 1984. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 978-0-15-179006-7.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: 1983 Beirut barracks bombing|
- President Reagan reads Chaplain Arnold Resnicoff's first-hand account of bombing: Text Version; Video Version; Text of original report,
- Lebanese civil war Full Information
- 241.SaveTheSoldiers.com A Honorary Tribute to the soldiers who died
- Lebanese civil war 1983 Full of Pictures and Information
- John H. Kelly : Lebanon 1982-1984 – includes Diary entries by Ronald Reagan: " I have ordered the use of Naval Gunfire. " – September 11, 1983
- Report on the bombing
- Aftermath pictures
- The Beirut Memorial Online
- Memorial to those killed
- BeirutCoin.com – Commemorative Challenge Coin honoring those KIA
- Official Beirut Veterans of America Website
- Drakkar, Beirut, October 23, 1983 – French tribute site with photographs
- "A Soldier's Perspective: Remembering America's First Suicide Bombing, Oct 20, 2008.
- A chaplain remembers: brief YouTube interview with Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, recalling attack and its aftermath.
- "Finding Accommodation," Washington Jewish Week, Oct 23, 2008. Looking back 25 years at lessons of interfaith cooperation from the bombing.
- Extensive CBS Radio breaking newscast recordings
- Richmond Times Dispatch online presentation
- 30th Anniversary of the Beirut Bombing