Marines '83 Beirut Chief: Mughniyeh Killing 'Overdue Justice'

Timothy Geraghty led 1983 Marines mission in Beirut when strike organized by Hezbollah killed 241 troops.

Amir Oren
Haaretz Correspondent
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Amir Oren
Haaretz Correspondent

The assassination of senior Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in February was "long overdue justice," says Colonel (ret.) Timothy J. Geraghty, the commanding officer of the Marine unit devasted by the suicide bombing of its barracks near Beirut in 1983.

In an article in Proceedings Magazine, the flagship publication of the U.S. Naval Institute, Geraghty says Mughniyeh was a key organizer in the two suicide bombings that day. The article marked 25 years since the attack.

Minutes after the blast that killed 241 troops, 58 French soldiers were killed in an explosion at their base in Ramlet al-Baida.

Mughniyeh devised the tactic - later adopted by Al-Qaida - of simultaneous suicide attacks, Geraghty says, noting that Mughniyeh met Osama bin Laden in Sudan in 1996. Geraghty sees a direct correlation between the Americans' "timidity of response" to the 1983 attacks and the Islamists' attack on America on September 11, 2001.

The Marine headquarters was destroyed at 6:22 A.M. when a truck rigged with around 10 tons of explosives and fuel exploded.

"The coordinated dual suicide attacks, supported, planned, organized, and financed by Iran and Syria using Shi'ite proxies, achieved their strategic goal: the withdrawal of the multinational force from Lebanon and a dramatic change in U.S. national policy .... The cost to the Iranian/Syrian-supported operation was two suicide bombers dead," he writes.

The bereaved American families meet on anniversaries of the attack at dawn at the Beirut Memorial in North Carolina. At another ceremony, in the Behesht Zahra Cemetery in southern Tehran, the two suicide bombers are also remembered, with chants of "death to America" and "death to Israel," writes Geraghty. This year, Mughniyeh will not be attending this ceremony, he notes.

The 19-ton truck that rammed into the lobby of the Marine battalion had burst through a roadblock outside the base, but FBI investigators established that even had the guards shot the driver or vehicle outside the compound, the bomb's impact would have had similar results. The truck that killed the French soldiers exploded before reaching its destination, but the blast toppled the building's nine floors.

On November 4, a suicide attack was carried out on the Israel Defense Forces' headquarters in Tyre, Lebanon, 10 days after the suicide attacks on the U.S. and French troops. This happened "even though the Israelis had none of the restrictions of a presence mission and nothing that would hinder their extensive intelligence capabilities." Although the suicide truck was stopped short of its target, there were dozens of fatalities (60) and casualties (30) at the Israeli base, Geraghty notes.

"Unknown to us at the time, the National Security Agency had made a diplomatic communications intercept on 26 September (the same date as the cease-fire ending the September War) in which the Iranian Intelligence Service provided explicit instructions to the Iranian ambassador in Damascus (a known terrorist) to attack the Marines at Beirut International Airport. The suicide attackers struck us 28 days later, with word of the intercept stuck in the intelligence pipeline until days after the attack."

Iran has been waging war against the United States for more than a quarter of a century, from the 1979 revolution to its support of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Shi'ite insurgents in Iraq, and its support of Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria against Israel.