With all the media focus on the recently concluded talks in Geneva with Iran over its nuclear program, it’s easy to overlook the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut 30 years ago on Oct. 23, 1983.
On that day, 241 of our finest military personnel were killed, with scores more seriously injured. Almost simultaneously, a similar attack was carried out at the French military headquarters, killing 58 French paratroopers. We have positive proof that these attacks were planned and ordered by Iran using their Islamic Amal terrorist proxies — forerunners to Hezbollah — in Lebanon. It is astounding that we had the information to prevent these attacks, and even more astounding is the “reason” for not retaliating.
The National Security Agency issued a highly classified message dated Sept. 27, 1983, which contained the instructions that Iranian Ambassador Ali Akbar Montashemi in Damascus had previously received from Tehran and then gave to Husayn al-Musawi, the leader of the Islamic Amal. Those instructions directed the terrorist group to concentrate its attacks on the Multi-National Force but take a “spectacular” action against the U.S. Marines.
I was deputy chief of naval operations at that time, and I did not receive that message until Oct. 25, two days after the bombing. That same day, I was called out to the CIA’s Langley headquarters because CIA Director William Casey wanted to see me. At the meeting, Casey asked me whether I would develop plans to take out the perpetrators if he discovered who they were and where they were located. I readily agreed.
The terrorist group, Islamic Amal, was located in the Lebanese Army Sheik Abdallah barracks near Baalbek, Lebanon. The organization had taken over the barracks on Sept. 16 with the help of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. I had the strike plans couriered to the 6th Fleet Carrier Strike Force for the commander, Rear Adm. Jerry Tuttle, because I knew then the Soviets were reading our communications.
Everyone had been briefed, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger. According to National Security Adviser Robert McFarland, at the key meeting with President Reagan, Weinberger stated that he thought there were Lebanese Army groups in the barracks. This was false.
The president turned to Casey for clarification. Casey, who had just returned from an overseas trip, was not up to speed on such details. The president then said, “Get that sorted out.” As it turned out, there were no Lebanese Army troops in the barracks. But Weinberger threw more dust into the air by stating that we will lose all of our Arab friends if we go ahead with this strike.
Consequently, we never received the execute order, even though the planes were loaded and ready to launch. In the words of the Carrier Strike Force commander, “This was a chip shot.” The failure to retaliate was tragic, and we are still living with that mistake.
Compounding the problem, Reagan approved a combined strike with the French against the same target several days later. This time, the secretary of defense simply ignored the president’s order and would not issue the strike order. Mr. McFarland and Secretary of State George Shultz both told me that they tried to get Weinberger to change his position but failed. The French were furious. They carried out the strike alone, but did no damage, contrary to Reagan’s diary entry that stated the French wiped out the terrorists.
At the time of these “acts of war,” President Obama was still a student at Columbia University and later at Harvard. He was probably more involved in absorbing the wisdom of the leftist agenda than on the tragic events carried out by Iran against our military. However, he is certainly aware today of the thousands of our military personnel who have died as the result of Iran’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also must realize that Iran has provided material and training support to the September 11 hijackers. Iran was found guilty of providing such support by Judge George B. Daniels of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in December 2011. Previously, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found Iran guilty in the Marine barracks bombing.
Iran remains the world leader in state-sponsored terrorism. It is a rogue regime that will do anything to ensure the survivability of the corrupt theocracy. The mullahs have not spent billions to build underground nuclear facilities, as well as absorbing crippling economic sanctions, to simply negotiate away their nuclear weapons objectives. In August 1995, Russia offered to provide Iran with a 10-year supply of fuel for their nuclear plant at Bushehr for only $30 million. Iran adamantly rejected the proposal because Russia insisted that Iran return the spent fuel rods to Russia for reprocessing. Case closed. Iran, with enough oil and gas to last at least a few hundred years, doesn’t need nuclear capability for electricity.
With Mr. Obama’s eagerness to negotiate with Iran, it has been reported that he is weighing the possibility of unfreezing billions in Iranian assets in response to “potential” concessions by Iran. Such a move would be nonsensical. If Mr. Obama were to unfreeze billions of Iranian assets, then the money should not go to Iran, but to the surviving families of the Marine barracks bombing, as well as to the surviving families of the September 11, 2001, atrocity, as our courts have mandated.
Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.