Terrorist Attack on the U.S. Marine Compound in Beirut Airport in 1983 Term Paper

Pages: 21 (5892 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 15  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Military

Terrorist Attack on the U.S. Marine Compound at the Beirut Airport in 1983

In the early morning hours of October 23rd, 1983, a truckload of explosives would introduce America into a new era of terrorism. Forever gone would be the days where terrorist attacks were small-scale, poorly thought out, schemes. In its stead was the new breed of terrorist. These terrorists, from that point forward, would be well-trained, well-armed, and well-informed with the latest intelligence. Oftentimes, they would now be working for legitimate State governments, governments looking for underhanded means of obtaining their objective, with the deniability of the use of a terrorist outfit. These newly evolved terrorist were no longer afraid to take on big targets for fear of not getting supporters. They had entire governments behind them, and were willing to fry much bigger fish than they had in the past. And on that fateful morning, 241 Marines and 58 French paratroopers would be some of their first victims.

The bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut would place the United States between a rock and a hard place. If they continued with the peacekeeping strategy that had brought them to Lebanon, they were surely to be targeted again. If they left the area, they would be abandoning some of their best allies. and, if they stepped up their position and waged war on those responsible, they may negatively affect other tenuous relationships in the Middle East, while increasing the danger for their troops. In the end, it would be a decision that would be heavily debated and still questioned more than twenty years later.

Factual Summary of Events:

During the process of dividing the former Ottoman Empire, the French and British effectively created Lebanon, following World War I. The French arranged a power-sharing agreement between the Christian, Sunni Arab, and Shiite Arab populations of the country, in 1943. Under this agreement, Maronite Christians would hold the presidency, the Speaker of the Parliament would be a Shiite, and the Prime Minister would be a Sunni. However, three decades later, this arrangement was no longer appropriate as the Maronites, once 50% of the population, had declined to approximately 30% of Lebanon's population. In it's place, the Shiites had garnered the majority ("Marine Barracks Bombing"). This ineffective power-sharing agreement escalated tensions.

In addition, the ousting of the Palestine Liberation Organization, from Jordan, in 1970, further exacerbated an already tenuous situation. Thousands of heavily armed Palestinian guerrillas made their way into established Palestinian refugee camps, within Lebanon. The Palestinians then demanded their sovereignty over the camps, resulting in a nation within a nation, which included its own military forces. Conflict arose and in 1976, Lebanon's Christian president requested that Syria send troops to help curb fighting with the PLO, adding another armed force into the country. Included in this Palestinian presence was a variety of terrorist groups, and in 1978, Israel invaded southern Lebanon in response to several attacks on Israeli targets, with the objective of rooting out the terrorists, withdrawing a year later ("Marine Barracks Bombing").

In June of 1982, Israel returned, pushing their invasion all the way to Beirut, hoping to end Palestine's use of Lebanon as a base for attacking Israeli targets. The United States called for Israel's withdrawal, and on August 25th, 1982, as part of a multinational effort to defuse the crisis, U.S. Marines went ashore. Their job was to oversee the evacuation of the PLO from Lebanon, as agreed upon in a negotiated peace agreement, and to protect civilians in Palestinian refugee camps. Their mission complete, the Marines returned to their ships on September 10th, 1982 ("Marine Barracks Bombing").

However, four days later, the leader of the Christian militia forces, Bashir Gemayel, who had been recently elected president, was assassinated. In response, Israel moved their forces into West Beirut. Between September 16th to the 18th, two camps in Beirut, the Sabra and Shatila camps, were attacked, killing between 700 and 800 Palestinian civilians. In response to the brutality and international outrage, President Ronald Reagan called for a renewed multinational force.

And, on September 29th, 1982, 1,200 U.S. Marines landed along with a contingent of French, British and Italian forces. This number would eventually grow to 1,800 ("Beirut Bombings"; "Marine Barracks Bombing"). Their presence, however, did not have the desired effect and instead, the Marines came under attack, under the notion that they were supporting the Lebanese Army, despite the fact that no such declaration had ever been made.

It would be these events that led to the tragedy of October 23, 1983.

At approximately 6:20 in the morning, on October 23, 1983, a yellow Mercedes-Benz truck made its way onto the grounds of the Beirut International Airport, which had become home to the 1st Battalion 8th Marines, that were part of a multinational force, working to curb the virtual civil war occurring in Lebanon, at that time. With more than 12,000 pounds of TNT in its cargo area, the truck crashed through a chain-link fence and into the lobby of the Marine headquarters, which also served as a barracks, where most of the soldiers were sleeping. When it exploded, it collapsed the four-story building, killing 241 Marines ("Adequacy of U.S. Marine"; "Marine Barracks Bombing").

Nearly simultaneously, a mere 20 seconds later, a second truck exploded at the barracks of French troops, La 3 eme Compagnie, 1er Regiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes, located only 2 miles away, at the Ramlet al Baida area of West Beirut. This second suicide bomber drove his truck into the 'Drakkar' building's underground parking garage, leveling the eight-story building, with its detonation, killing 56 French soldiers. "In the immediate aftermath, rescue workers came under sniper fire" ("Adequacy of U.S. Marine"; "Marine Barracks Bombing").

The responsibility for the attack was never definitively determined. However, it was assumed to be the work of Islamic forces. This was due to the United States providing of military support for the Christian-led Lebanese government against Islamic troops from a myriad of sources, including: Syria, Iran's Revolutionary Guard, and the Palestine Liberation Organization ("Marine Barracks Bombing"). Other sources point to the Iranian-backed terrorist organization, Hezbollah, who were believed to be also responsible for a similar car bombing at the American embassy in Beirut, on April 18th of that same year ("Beirut Bombings").

A pledge was made by both American and French governments that their forces would stay in Lebanon and not be cowed by terrorists. In response to the attacks, France launched an air strike against Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces, in the Beqaa Valley. In addition, President Reagan planned to target Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces that were housed in the Sheik Abdullah barracks in Baalbek, Lebanon, who were believed to be training Hezbollah fighters; however this mission was aborted (Bates).

Four months later, the Marines had been redeployed to American Navy ships that were anchored off-shore. This ended the United State's ground presence in Lebanon. The internal warfare between the factions of Lebanese continued unabated, with the influence of Syria and Israel ("Marine Barracks Bombing").

Deliberation and Debate Within the United States Government:

The deliberation and debate within the United States government regarding their response to the bombing of the Marine barracks, at the Beirut Airport, in 1983 had to take into consideration a variety of factors. They had to serve the interests of American security, first and foremost. However, their were other interests they had to consider as well. These included the interest of their strongest allies who were committed to the region as well, including: France and Italy, not to mention their Israeli ally.

In addition, they had to take into consideration the interest of the Lebanese government, as well as Palestinian civilians living peacefully in refugee camps.

It had been previously suspected that the United States was already active behind the scenes in Lebanese politics. In 1958, the United States had sent troops during a civil disturbance, in Lebanaon. At this time, the United States manipulated the installation of Army commander General Fuad Shehab as the president, blocking President Camille Chamoun's second term. "Twenty-four years later many Lebanese also saw a nexus between American military support for Israel and Israel's supply of weapons to Lebanese Christian militias in South Lebanon fighting to maintain control against Palestinian Muslims" ("Marine Barracks Bombing").

The Threat:

The seriousness of the threat, in the short-term, for the United States was minimal. Although Lebanon was rife with different armed groups, from the PLO, to the Maronian Christian Militia, to Israeli forces, Syrian forces, the multinational forces, and Hezebollah, with several other terrorist factions, the country was a hot bed of violence, yet it was geographically far removed from the Untied States. The short-term interests of the varied threats to the United States were simply to continue the escalation of violence, with the long-term interests centered on seeing their sponsored organization acquire power in Lebanon, specifically, and acquire a greater influence in the Middle East, in general.

However, despite these goals, as Felton notes, at the time of the attack, Congress was… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Terrorist Attack on the U.S. Marine Compound in Beirut Airport in 1983.  (2007, November 30).  Retrieved December 10, 2018, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/terrorist-attack-us-marine-compound/861027

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