The White House today issued a statement marking thirty years since a Hezbollah suicide bomber attacked the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, killing 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and 3 soldiers in the “the deadliest single-day death toll for the U.S. Marine Corps” since World War II. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo today directed all state buildings to fly their flags at half-staff, and memorial ceremonies took place at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, at the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, and around the country.
The anniversary has focused attention on ongoing diplomacy surrounding Hezbollah itself and on Hezbollah’s Iranian sponsors. Washington Institute Fellow Matthew Levitt outlined this morning how “the legacy of that moment haunts us to this day”:
The attacks, perpetrated by Hezbollah under orders from Iran, announced the arrival of the Lebanese Shiite group as a potent, anti-Western terrorist force supported and directed by Tehran. Today, despite warming relations between the United States and Iran, Hezbollah remains a weapon in Iran’s arsenal, a means to pursue the agenda of the Islamic Revolution in Syria and in terrorist operations around the world. Despite the current charm offensive of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani — and suggestions by some that the Islamic Republic is moderating its stance — it is highly unlikely that Iran will ever give a thought to reining in Hezbollah.
Levitt calls particular attention to a recent highly sophisticated plot, disrupted by Israeli officials, that involved an Iranian operative photographing among other things the American embassy in Tel Aviv.
Meanwhile officials linked to the Rouhani government – including Rouhani himself – have explicitly and repeatedly recommitted Iran’s support for Hezbollah.
Rouhani’s defense minister, Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan, is not just closely aligned with Hezbollah but was directly tied to the 1983 barracks bombing. Israeli Brigadier General Shimon Shapira has documented how Dehghan, as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard commander in Lebanon, centralized Hezbollah’s command infrastructure and led the group out of the Imam Ali barracks. From there Iran “controlled Hizbullah’s military force and planned, along with Hizbullah, the terror attacks on the Beirut-based Multinational Force and against IDF forces in Lebanon.”
Shapira notes that the Iranian orders to strike the U.S. barracks were intercepted by the NSA and that “it is difficult to imagine that such a high-level directive to the Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon would be transmitted without the knowledge of their commander, Hossein Dehghan.”
Rouhani’s August nomination of Dehghan garnered controversy in the United States when it was announced in August. His connection to the barracks bombing was pointedly noted today in the Lebanese press:
The bombing was blamed on the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran… Iraninan Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan, Hassan Rouhani’s choice for Defense minister was a commander overseeing Hezbollah forces (an Iranian proxy) in Lebanon in 1983 when the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut were bombed. Dehghan spent his military career in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, serving from its inception in 1979 and taking command of its air force in 1990. Dehghan was given command of the Revolutionary Guard force in Lebanon around 1983, and moved later that year to set up a Revolutionary Guard headquarters in the country’s Beqaa Valley.
[Photo: USA Today / YouTube]