Lebanon 1982: the spark for 9/11

The events that affected my soul in a direct way
started in 1982
when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon

and the American Sixth Fleet helped them in that.
This bombardment began and many were killed and injured
and others were terrorised and displaced.

I couldn’t forget those moving scenes,
blood and severed limbs,
women and children sprawled everywhere.
Houses destroyed along with their occupants and
high rises demolished over their residents,
rockets raining down on our home without mercy.

In those difficult moments
many hard-to-describe ideas bubbled in my soul,
but in the end they produced
an intense feeling of rejection of tyranny,
and gave birth to a strong resolve to punish the oppressors.

And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon,
it entered my mind that
we should punish the oppressor in kind
and that
we should destroy towers in America
in order that
they taste some of what we tasted
and so that
they be deterred from killing our women and children.

Osama bin Laden

The purpose of this post is to take a close look,
from a Western viewpoint,
at the events to which bin Laden refers.

To that end, below is a lengthy excerpt from Righteous Victims
by the Israeli historian Benny Morris.
The excerpt is divided into two parts,
the first about
the reasons Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and
the extent to which America assented to that invasion, and
the second about the invasion’s effects,
especially those that bin Laden specifically uses as justification
for the 9/11 attack.

The excerpt runs from the green start line to the red end line.
Emphasis, links, and paragraph numbers have been added;
some comments appear in brackets and this color;
finally, the parts that seem to be most specifically relevant to
bin Laden’s message are highlighted in red.

Lebanon 1982

1. Before the war

Seeking a pretext for war
[RV, page 509]

Israel spent the months between August 1981 and June 1982
seeking a pretext to invade Lebanon.
Diplomacy had failed to dislodge the surface-to-air missiles,
and had only aggravated the problem posed by the PLO....
Nor had diplomatic efforts done much to shore up
the Christians’ flagging fortunes.
In all three spheres the solution,
for Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon,
lay in a massive offensive.

The most immediate problem was the PLO’s military infrastructure,
which posed a standing threat
to the security of northern Israeli settlements.
The removal of this threat was to be the battle cry
to rouse the Israeli cabinet and public,
despite the fact that the PLO took great pains
not to violate the agreement of July 1981.
Indeed, subsequent Israeli propaganda notwithstanding,
the border between July 1981 and June 1982
enjoyed a state of calm unprecedented since 1968.

But Sharon and Begin had a broader objective:
the destruction of the PLO and its ejection from Lebanon.
Once the organization was crushed, they reasoned,
Israel would have a far freer hand to determine
the fate of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Indeed, the Palestinians might give up
their national political aspirations altogether
or look to their fulfillment in Jordan.

[RV, page 512]

Repeatedly during the first months of 1982 Sharon
and Israeli chief of general staff Lt. Gen. Rafael Eitan
pounced on this or that incident,
usually far from the Lebanese-Israeli border,
that might serve as the necessary detonator.
On January 28 a squad of Palestinians tried to infiltrate into Israel across the border with Jordan.
Sharon and Eitan proposed to retaliate
with an air attack on PLO targets in Lebanon.
They hoped this would trigger a PLO artillery response
across Israel’s northern border settlements—
providing the casus belli....

Seeking Washington’s assent
[RV, pages 513–514]

During the first half of 1982,
the Reagan administration was repeatedly informed by Israeli officials
of the resolve to invade Lebanon.
Washington tended to sympathize with the Christians;
the PLO, the Syrians, and their Lebanese allies were seen as Soviet clients.
But, to the Americans, a more compelling consideration was
the desire to maintain the status quo;
with all its pitfalls, it left them uninvolved....

According to the memoirs of Secretary of State Alexander Haig,
he repeatedly and consistently “cautioned” Israel
against attacking,
at least not “disproportionately” or without adequate provocation.
In January, after meeting Begin, he had written to him saying that
“only” a “strictly proportional response”
to “an internationally recognized provocation”
would be acceptable.
But Haig recognized the limitations
of Washington’s influence over Israel....

The crucial American-Israeli exchange was to take place
when Haig and Sharon met in Washington in May.
It appears that Sharon obtained a limited green light
for the invasion—
or “a dim yellow light,” in the words of one American analyst....
Haig let Sharon understand that,
if Israel was adequately provoked,
he would support a swift, sharp operation;
he spoke of a “lobotomy.”
Sharon went home pleased.
[Doesn’t Sharon always go home from Washington pleased?]

But Washington was far more equivocal
than Haig’s remarks indicate.
Haig himself, under pressure from his aides (and perhaps Reagan),
wrote directly to Begin expressing concern
over a possible offensive
and called on Israel to exercise “absolute restraint.”
Begin had been warned:
There might or might not be American support
for a forty-kilometer anti-PLO venture;
but certainly there would be none for anything that went beyond
[i.e., not to Beirut].

The casus belli: an assassination attempt
[RV, page 514]

On the night of June 3, 1982,
Israel’s ambassador in London, Shlomo Argov,
was shot in the head and severely wounded
[by members of the Abu Nidal organization]....
Although the shooting was clearly not a PLO operation,
Begin was not to be deterred;
here was the provocation for his long-sought war.
[Compare the nonreactions of Britain and Sweden
to the assassinations of Lord Moyne and Count Bernadotte
by Zionist terrorists.]

He was not perturbed by the fact that the deed
had been carried out by anti-PLO gunmen.
“They’re all PLO. Abu Nidal, Abu Schmidal.
We have to strike at the PLO,”

he [Begin, Israel’s Likud prime minister and
former leader of the Zionist terror organization Irgun,
who himself had the blood of the King David Hotel bombing on his hands]

[That was then.
Fast forward twenty-one years, to 2003:
“They’re all terrorists. Al Qaeda, Al Schmaeda.
We have to strike at Iraq,”
the Weekly Standard and its puppets
among America’s elite said.
Even earlier,
to see what the neocons really did demand just days after 9/11,
recall the PNAC letter of 2001-09-20.
Note how precisely our country obeyed
the neocons’ grossly flawed logic.
Note how America’s grossly flawed policies towards the Mideast
so exactly echo Likud’s equally flawed policies.]

Begin’s enthusiasm was fueled by his view of the PLO
as a reincarnation of Nazism,
and of Yasser Arafat as a latter-day Hitler.
He was wont to call Arafat a “two-legged beast”
and to compare the Palestinian National Covenant—
which called for the dismantling of Israel—to Mein Kampf.
In the final cabinet session before the invasion of Lebanon,
on the evening of June 5, Begin told his ministers:
“Believe me, the alternative to this
[invading Lebanon to attack the PLO]
is Treblinka,
and we have decided that there will not be another Treblinka.”
[Notice how the Jewish right
uses false threats of concentration camps and holocausts
to justify and obtain its goals.
If Israel had not invaded Lebanon,
there would have been another Treblinka?

Later he was to write to President Reagan that
the destruction of Arafat’s headquarters in Beirut
had given him the anachronistic feeling
that he had sent the IDF into Berlin to destroy Hitler’s bunker.
Amos Oz was later to write an open letter to Begin:
“But Mr. Prime Minister ... Hitler died 37 years ago....
Hitler is not hiding in Nabatiya, Sidon, or Beirut.
He died and was burned.”
Dr. Herzl Rosenblum, the editor of Israel’s most popular daily newpaper,
Yediot Aharonot, responding to Oz’s letter:
Arafat, were he stronger, would do to us
things that Hitler never even dreamed of....
Hitler killed us with a measure of restraint [???] ....
If Arafat were to reach power,
he would not amuse himself with such “small things.”
He will
cut off our children’s heads with a cry and in broad daylight and will
rape our women before tearing them to pieces and will
throw us down from all the rooftops and will
skin us as do hungry leopards in the jungle ...
without the famous “order” of the Germans....
Hitler is a pussycat compared to what Arafat will bring upon us.

Weeks later a Holocaust survivor, Dr. Shlomo Schmalzman,
was to declare a hunger strike at Yad Vashem
to protest Begin’s exploitation of the Holocaust to justify the Lebanon war.

[RV, page 521]

[On the morning of June 6, when Israel launched its invasion]
Begin took steps to cover his political flanks.
He wrote to President Reagan explaining the aim of the war,
which he dubbed “Operation Peace for Galilee”
(shades of Orwell’s “War Is Peace”):
to push the PLO back forty kilometers,
so that the settlements of northern Israel
would be beyond the range of its guns and rockets.

2. The effects of the war on civilians

[RV, pages 533–537]

[During June 1982 the Israeli army
advanced to the edge of Beirut.]
[T]he Israelis gradually tightened the noose
around the PLO and Syrian defenders of Beirut
in what was to be
a bloody nine-week siege
characterized by almost daily artillery barrages and aerial attacks,
punctuated by intermittent ground assaults.
The staggered cutoff of food supplies, fuel, electricity, and water
to the embattled population and
massive use of IDF firepower against civilians
traumatized Israeli society, caused rents in the military itself,
and raised hackles in the West
[not to mention what it did to the residents of Beirut].
The artillery and the air force tried to pinpoint military targets,
but inevitably many civilians were hit
[as, inevitably, has also been occurring in Iraq].
Western television showed the Israeli gunners and planes
doing their worst,
with brown-and-black smoke clouds over the dying city.

[Compare Osama bin Laden’s view.]

The siege and bombardment continued through July....

On July 11 Sharon told senior officers that
the IDF would have to assault Beirut,
or at least those southern districts containing the refugee camps,
and PLO headquarters.
The aim would also be to
destroy the refugee camps
[culminating in this tragic event]
so that Beirut would once and for all
be rid of the “terrorist” presence.
(Sharon often used the word “terrorist”
as a synonym for “Palestinian.”)

[The above is exactly as in the original.]

At the end of July ... the IDF stepped up its attacks.
The Mossad ...
began to send Arab agents with car bombs into Beirut
to terrorize
the Palestinians into submission and
the Lebanese into increasing the pressure on them to depart.
Dozens of people were killed....
The IAF was also frequently activated....
A number of large apartment houses were destroyed,
with hundreds of Palestinians and Lebanese
killed or wounded....

Begin, with his view of Arafat as a resurrected Hitler
and Beirut as Nazi Berlin in 1945,
seemed to feel that the city deserved its fate.

In early August, Sharon, with Begin’s approval, intensified the campaign.
The IAF and navy were given their head,
and ground troops were thrown against several of Beirut’s southern suburbs.
The aim was to show the PLO that the IDF would not be deterred
by American or internal Israeli opposition, or
by the fear of casualties in a major ground assault....

The campaign climaxed on August 12, [1982,]
with seventy-two sorties and a massive artillery bombardment
(the unofficial Arab death toll that day was three hundred).

[American marines attempted to stabilize Beirut
starting in September 1983,
but the well-known truck bombing of October 23, 1983
killed 241 marines and led to their withdrawal.
It was in support of that, and subsequent to that,
that the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey fired shells into Lebanon,
but none into Beirut.]

The casualties
[RV, page 558]
Between June 1982 and June 1985 ... there were ...
substantial Palestinian and Lebanese civilian casualties,
mostly caused by IDF artillery and air strikes,
largely in and around Beirut.
No accurate or reliable figures exist.
A Lebanese police report from late 1982 speaks of
19,085 persons killed and 30,000 wounded,
but this seems a vast exaggeration.
Israeli spokesmen usually claimed that
Lebanese and Palestinian civilian dead during the war
ran into the hundreds rather than the thousands.
[How would the Israelis know that?
It seems to me that the Lebanese and Palestinians
would be in a better position to know
how many of their comrades and neighbors died
than the Israelis,
who were killing from a distance by artillery and air strikes.]


  1. Project for the New American Century
    2001-09-20 Letter to President Bush
    (emphasis added):
    [E]ven if evidence does not link Iraq
    directly to the [9/11] attack,

    any strategy aiming at
    the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors
    must include
    a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein
    from power in Iraq.”

    KH comment:
    This statement really deserves a close examination,
    for what it reveals about
    the fundamental assumptions of neocon central, the PNAC.
    If Iraq is not linked to the 9/11 attack,
    then what terrorism would be eradicated by
    the removal of Saddam Hussein from power?
    In fact, what international terrorism did Hussein sponsor?
    I think the only generally accepted examples are
    cash payments to the families of suicide bombers
    who struck in Israel or its occupied territories.
    The PNAC statement pointedly leaves out
    the specification of terrorism against whom
    is central to their concerns.
    Is the U.S. to be the world’s guardian against all terrorism,
    whether it involves U.S. interests or not?

  2. Kevin MacDonald,
    Neoconservatism as a Jewish Movement,
    as quoted in KHarbaugh, Neoconservatism:
    “[B]y far the best predictor of neoconservative attitudes,
    on foreign policy at least, is
    what the political right in Israel
    deems in Israel’s best interests

  3. Fareed Zakaria, “How to Fight The Fanatics,”
    Newsweek, 2002-12-09
    “Today’s Islamic terrorism is motivated
    not by a specific policy
    but [by] a nihilistic rage against the modern world.”

    This, Michael Scheuer claims on page 106 of IH
    (emphasis added),
    “again prov[es] that
    Westernized Muslim scholars
    are among the least reliable guides
    in the war on al Qaeda.

    Though incorrect,
    the work of these writers is worth examining
    because it is useful to leaders and others
    intent on claiming victory over, or at least downplaying,
    the national security threat posed by bin Laden, al Qaeda,
    and the forces they lead or incite.
    These writers also provide the grist
    that allows senior U.S. government leaders
    to offer their countrymen such gems of ignorance as
    saying bin Laden and Stalin are two peas in a pod,
    and those Muslims who follow bin Laden are
    ‘the fringe of the fringe of the Muslim world.... ’ ”

    [The inner quote is by,
    and presumably the “senior U.S. government leader”
    that Scheuer is twitting is,
    James Pavitt, then CIA Deputy Director of Operations.]

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