- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

This Thursday marks the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Headquarters bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, on Oct. 23, 1983.

Killed were 241 of our finest military personnel were killed. Scores were seriously injured. Almost simultaneously, a similar attack at the French Headquarters was carried out by the same group, killing 58 French paratroopers and injuring 15. We have proof positive these attacks were orchestrated by Iran using their Islamic Amal proxies in Lebanon. What’s astounding is that these attacks could have been prevented. Even more astounding is the “reason” we did not retaliate!

On Sept. 27, 1983, the National Security Agency (NSA) issued a highly classified message, which contained the instructions that the Iranian Ambassador Ali Akbar Mohtashemi in Damascus, Syria, gave to Hussayn Musawi, the leader of the terrorist group Islamic Amal in Lebanon - which later evolved into Hezbollah. Those instructions, received from Tehran, directed that the terrorists concentrate their attacks on the Multi-National Force (MNF), but take a “spectacular” action against the U.S. Marines.

I was the deputy chief of naval operations at that time and I did not receive that message, which was brought to me by Rear Adm. John Butts, director of naval intelligence, two days after the attacks, Oct. 25. Incredible! That same day, Vice Adm. Al Burkhalter who was on the director central intelligence (DCI’s) staff, asked me to go to Langley, Va., because CIA Director Bill Casey wanted to see me. When I arrived, I met with Bill Casey, Deputy Director John McMahon and several others including Bob Gates, the current defense secretary.

Bill Casey asked me, if they found out who did the attack, to make up the plans to take them out. I readily agreed. He then added one condition - whatever we give you cannot be shared with the Joint Staff. He did not want to read about it on the next edition of a major newspaper. I agreed and for the record did not turn the material over.

Suffice to say, the terrorist group was located in the Lebanese Army Sheik Abdullah barracks above Baalbek, which they had taken over on Sept. 16, 1983, with the help of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). I had the strike plans couriered to our 6th Fleet Strike Force Carrier commander Rear Adm. Jerry Tuttle because I knew then that the Soviets were reading our communications. This was long before we knew Lt. Cmdr. John Walker was selling the Soviets our codes.

Everyone had been briefed, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

The attack would be completed in 90 seconds and would fulfill President Reagan’s vow to avenge the tragic loss of our military personnel. According to Robert “Bud” McFarland, the national security adviser at the critical National Security Council meeting with the president for final approval, Weinberger told Reagan there were Lebanese Army troops in the Sheik Abdullah barracks. Of course, this was false.

The president turned to Bill Casey for clarification. Casey, who had just returned from a trip, was not up to speed. The president then said, “Get this sorted out.” As it turned out, there were no Lebanese Army troops in the barracks, but this time Weinberger threw one more dust in the air, by implying this attack might damage our relations with other Arabs.

We never received the orders to attack. In the words of the Strike Force Commander Rear Adm. Jerry Tuttle, “This would have been a chip shot.” The failure to retaliate was tragic. We could have changed the course of events that we still live with today.

Compounding the problem, several days later, the president approved a combined strike with the French against the same target. This time, the defense secretary simply ignored the president’s order and would not issue the strike order. Bud McFarland told me both he and Secretary of State George Shultz tried to get Weinberger to change his position but failed. The French carried out the strike alone but had little impact, contrary to Reagan’s diary entry that stated the French wiped them out.

From the Carter administration to the current administration, we have always found excuses not to strike Iran. The Iranian track record of conducting war against the United States in undeniable. From their takeover of our Embassy in November 1979 through the current conflict in Iraq, hundreds, if not thousands of our military and personnel have died as a result of Iranian actions. Because we have failed to act in the past, we are faced with a much more complicated situation today. The prospect of a nuclear Iran that uses proxies to carry out both open aggression and terrorist acts is unacceptable.

The next administration has a monumental task ahead of them. The weak economic sanctions have not worked against an Iran flush with petrodollars and that continues to do business as usual with Russia, China and European Union nations.

However, with the current financial crises, we may have an opportunity to impose more serious economic sanctions. If these sanctions fail to achieve suspension of Iran’s nuclear weapon program, then more serious action will be required. We will have built the case that like-minded nations will support.

James A. Lyons Jr., U.S. Navy retired admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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