It was early in the morning when a huge explosion almost threw me off the bed. I have never heard such a sound before: long, loud and heavy. Another one followed minutes later.
As I was looking for a radio transistor to inquire about these monster bombs, Lebanon and the United States were set to enter a long journey. I learned an hour later that the US Marines headquarters in Beirut, along with the French fusiliers base, were attacked by suicide bombers. But what I didn't know then was that those Jihadist slaughters against American -- and other -- peacekeepers would pave the way, 18 years later, for September 11.
It was in Beirut, October 23, 1983. One man, with one truck, blew himself up at the entrance of the buildings where hundreds of US Marines were sleeping. Another suicide terrorist repeated the massacre against the Drakkar, where the French force had established its camp. Evidently, the attackers were not two frustrated men who chose to express their discontent with colonialism, as Western leftist intellectuals would have us believe. The men who massacred the Marines and the Fusiliers were two fingers in a hand at the service of a mind. There was a plan. They were the tools. And behind those tools there was an architect.
The US units that landed in Beirut in 1982 became part of a multinational force whose initial objective was to protect the Palestinian population, left abandoned after Yassir Arafat pull out from Beirut. In short, those American soldiers were on a Peace mission when they were awakened by Jihadist death in October 1983. Washington had decided to dispatch its military to look after Arab Muslim civilians caught in a Lebanese civil war and an Israeli invasion. Ironically, the Marines and their colleagues from France and Italy had to scramble back to Beirut after the Sabra and Chatila massacres of September 1982. Bottom line, those 350 men who died that morning were deployed for a humanitarian mission. But the attack was aimed at destroying peace, exactly as Osama bin Laden's last speech explained to the world: "We do not believe in peaceful and democratic solutions."
Who was behind the attack against the Marines? If Western sources may seem biased, Al-Jazeera can help. In a series titled Harb Lubnan (The War of Lebanon), the Jihadist satellite channel admitted that with the blowing up of the multinational force, Hafez Assad scored an immense victory on America. Indeed, throughout the 1980s, the Baathist regime of Damascus is said to have assassinated US (and French) ambassadors, blown up American embassies, staged the hostage crisis and sponsored Hizbollah's rampage along with the Iranian regime.
The perpetrators of the October terror attacks were under Imad Mughniya, Hizbollah's chief terrorist. And he was under the dual sponsorship of the Syrian and Iranian intelligence services. Baathists and Khumanists were in a joint venture, not just to eject US influence from the Eastern Mediterranean, but to pre-empt the stabilization of Lebanon, and of the establishment of a democratic, multiethnic and terrorist-free Republic in that little country.
Yes, a bloody reminder of a similar alliance that aims nowadays to destabilize the developing Iraqi government, and bring down this other attempt at a multiethnic and democratic republic in Mesopotamia. This is the same crowd aiming at the same ideals with the same tools. Today, most observers can see the convergence between Iran and Syria's regimes in fighting the US in Iraq. The real objective is Iraqi democracy. The latter is the most lethal enemy of dictatorship. But the world of post 9/11 is greater in dangers, simply because the world of pre-9/11 was sleeping tight.
When Hizbollah unilaterally attacked US peacekeepers in 1983, Jihadists around the world were watching carefully. Washington chose to pull out in silence and shame. That dictated the further bombings and hostage taking. The US abandoned the Eastern Mediterranean all together, including weak Lebanon to Syria. A message traveled into Jihadist minds: that the US was a sinner that was caught, not a victim of its own mistakes. Bin Laden took it from there. After the embassies, he did the USS Cole. And on September 11, 19 of his men repeated what two Hizbollah men had done in Beirut. But this time, they were in Manhattan and Washington, killing not sleeping soldiers, but thousands of innocent civilians.
No doubt about it, the Marines attacks in 1983 paved the Jihad route to September 11.
Walid Phares is a professor of Middle East Studies and an MSNBC Terrorism Analyst.