Israeli Foreknowledge of the Bombing of US Marines In Beirut, 1983
From the book 'By Way of Deception' by Victor Ostrovsky (pp. 322-5)
In the summer of 1983, this same informant told the Mossad about a large Mercedes truck that was being fitted by the Shi'ite Muslims with spaces that could hold bombs. He said it had even larger than usual spaces for this, so that whatever it was destined for was going to be a major target. Now, the Mossad knew that, for size, there were only a few logical targets, one of which must be the U.S. compound. The question then was whether or not to warn the Americans to be on particular alert for a truck matching the description.
The decision was too important to be taken in the Beirut station, so it was passed along to Tel Aviv, where Admony, then head of Mossad, decided they would simply give the Americans the usual general warning, a vague notice that they had reason to believe someone might be planning an operation against them. But this was so general, and so commonplace, it was like sending a weather report; unlikely to raise any particular alarm or prompt increased security precautions. In the six months following receipt of this information, for example, there were more than 100 general warnings of car-bomb attacks. One more would not heighten U.S. concerns or surveillance.
Admony, in refusing to give the Americans specific information on the truck, said, "No, we're not there to protect Americans. They're a big country. Send only the regular information."
At the same time, however, all Israeli installations were given the specific details and warned to watch for a truck matching the description of the Mercedes.
At 6:20 a.m. on October 23, 1983, a large Mercedes truck approached the Beirut airport, passing well within sight of Israeli sentries in their nearby base, going through a Lebanese.army checkpoint, and turning left into the parking lot. A U.S. Marine guard reported with alarm that the truck was gathering speed, but before he could do anything, the truck roared toward the entrance of the four-story reinforced concrete Aviation Safety Building, used as headquarters for the Eighth Marine Battalion, crashing through a wrought-iron pate, hitting the sand-bagged guard post, smashing through another barrier, and ramming over a wall of sandbags into the lobby, exploding with such a terrific force that the building was instantly reduced to rubble.
A few minutes later, another truck smashed into the French paratroopers' headquarters at Bir Hason, a seafront residential neighborhood just two miles from the U.S. compound, hitting it with such an impact that it moved the entire building 30 feet and killed 58 soldiers.
The loss of 241 U.S. Marines, most of them still sleeping in their cots at the time of the suicide mission, was the highest single-day death toll for the Americans since 246 died throughout Vietnam at the start of the Tet offensive on January 13,1968.
Within days, the Israelis passed along to the CIA the names of 13 people who they said were connected to the bombing deaths of the U.S. Marines and French paratroopers, a list including Syrian intelligence, Iranians in Damascus, and Shi'ite Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.
At Mossad headquarters, there was a sigh of relief that it wasn't us who got hit. It was seen as a small incident so far as the Mossad was concerned -- that we had stumbled over it and wouldn't tell anybody. The problem was if we had leaked information and it was traced back, our informant would have been killed. The next time, we wouldn't know if we were on the hit list.
The general attitude about the Americans was: "Hey, they wanted to stick their nose into this Lebanon thing, let them pay the price."
For me, it was the first time I had received a major rebuke from my Mossad superior, liaison officer Amy Yaar. I said at the time that the American soldiers killed in Beirut would be on our minds longer than our own casualties because they'd come in with good faith, to help us get out of this mess we'd created. I was told: "Just shut up. You're talking out of your league. We're giving the Americans much more than they're giving us." They always said that, but it's not true. So much of Israeli equipment was American, and the Mossad owed them a lot.
During all this time, several westerners continued to be held captive while others became, fresh hostages of the various factions. One day in late March 1984, CIA station head William Buckley, officially listed as a political officer at the U.S. embassy, left his apartment in West Beirut and was abducted at gunpoint by three Shi'ite soldiers. He was subsequently held for 18 months, tortured extensively and, finally, ritually murdered. He could have been saved.
The Mossad, through its extensive network of informants, had a good idea of where many of the hostages were being held, and by whom. Even if you don't know where, it's always crucial to know by whom, otherwise you might find yourself negotiating with someone who doesn't have any hostages. There's the story of the Lebanese who instructed his aide to find someone to negotiate a hostage with. The aide said, "Which country is your hostage from?" The reply: 'Find me a country and I'll get the hostage."
Men at Buckley's level are considered of major importance because they have so much knowledge. Forcing information from them can mean a death sentence for many other operatives working around the globe. A group calling itself the Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War) claimed responsibility for Buckley's kidnapping. Bill Casey, CIA chief, was so anxious to save Buckley that an expert FBI team specially trained in locating kidnap victims was dispatched to Beirut to find him. But after a month, they'd come up with nothing. Official U.S. policy then prohibited negotiations to ransom hostages, but Casey had authorized considerable sums to pay informants and, if need be, buy Buckley's freedom.
It didn't take the CIA long to turn to the Mossad for help. Shortly after Buckley's kidnapping, the CIA liaison officer in Tel Aviv asked the Mossad for as much information as it could get about Buckley and some of the other hostages.
About 11:30 one morning, an intercom announcement at headquarters asked all personnel to stay off the main floor and the elevator for the next hour because there were guests. Two CIA officials were escorted in and taken to Admony's ninth-floor office. The Mossad head told them he would give them everything the Mossad had, but if they wanted something in particular, they'd have to go through the prime minister, "because he's our boss." In fact, Admony wanted a formal request, so that he could collect on the favor later on, if need be.
In any event, the Americans made a formal request through their ambassador to then prime minister, Shimon Peres. Peres instructed Admony to have the Mossad give the CIA everything it could to help with the U.S. hostage situation. Normally, this sort of request includes limitations such strictures as "We'll give you whatever information we can, as long as it doesn't harm our personnel" - but in this case, there were no limitations, which was a clear indication of how significant both the United States and Peres considered the hostage issue to be.
Politically, these things can be dynamite. The Reagan administration would remember only too well the irreparable political damage and humiliation Jimmy Carter suffered when Americans were held hostage in Iran following the overthrow of the Shah.
Admony assured Peres that he would do everything he could to help the Americans. "I have a good feeling in this regard," he said. "We might have some information that will help them." In truth, he had no intention of helping them.
Two CIA officials were called in to meet with the Saifanim ("goldfish") department, the PLO specialists. The meeting took place at Midrasha, or the Academy. Since Israel considers the PLO its main enemy, the Mossad often calculates that if something can be blamed on the PLO, it has done its job. So they set about attempting to blame the PLO for the kidnappings, even with the knowledge that many of them, including Buckley's, had no PLO connection.
Still, hoping to look as if they were cooperating fully, the Saifanim men plastered maps all over a boardroom wall and offered the Americans a considerable amount of data regarding general locations of hostages; although they were constantly being moved to new locations, the Mossad usually had good general knowledge of where they were. The Mossad left out many of the details they had garnered from their sources, but told the Americans that from the general picture, they could decide if it was worth going further into the specifics. This was all part of an unstated, but very real, system of debt repayment, building Brownie points in return for future favors.
At the end of the meeting, a full report was sent to Admony. For their part, the Americans went back and discussed it with their officials. Two days later, they returned, seeking more specific information on one answer given them in the original briefing. The CIA thought this might prove to be a diamond in the rough, but they wanted to verify the specifics. They asked to speak to the source.
"Forget it," the Mossad man said. "Nobody talks to sources."
"Okay," the CIA man said. "That's fair enough. How about letting us talk to the case officer?"
The Mossad protects katsas' identities vigorously They simply can't risk letting others see them. After all, who knows when they might be recognized as a result? A katsa in Beirut today could end up working anywhere tomorrow, run into the CIA man, and blow an entire operation. Still, there are many ways of arranging interviews where the two sides don't actually meet. Such methods as speaking behind screens and distorting the voice, or wearing a hood, would have served the purpose. But the Mossad had no intention of being that helpful. Despite direct orders from their "boss," Peres, the Saifanim officials said they'd have to check it with the head of the Mossad.
Word went around headquarters that Admony was having a bad day. His mistress, who was the daughter of the head of Tsomet, had a bad day, too. She was having her period - at least, that was the joke. At lunch in the dining room that day, everybody was talking about the hostage thing. By the time it got down to the dining room, the story may have been slightly exaggerated, but Admony is supposed to have said, 'Those fucking Americans. Maybe they want us to get the hostages for -them, too. What are they, crazy?"
In any event, the answer was no. The CIA could not see a katsa. Furthermore, they told the Americans that the information they'd been given was outdated and related to a completely different case, so it had nothing to do with the Buckley case. That wasn't true, but they further embellished their story by asking the Americans to disregard that information in order to save the lives of other hostages. They even promised to double their efforts to help the Americans in return.
Many people in the office said the Mossad were going to regret it someday. But the majority were happy. The attitude was, "Hey, we showed them. We're not going to be kicked around by the Americans. We are the Mossad. We are the best."
It was just this concern over Buckley and the other hostages that prompted Casey to circumvent the congressional arm of the U.S. system and become involved in the plan to supply Iran with embargoed arms in return for the safety of American hostages, culminating in the Iran-Contra scandal. Had the Mossad been more helpful initially, it not only could have saved Buckley and others, it might also have averted this major U.S. political scandal. Peres had clearly seen it as being in Israel's interest to cooperate, but the Mossad - Admony in particular - had other interests and pursued them relentlessly.
The final tragedy of Israel's Mossad-led involvement in Lebanon was that when their station "Submarine" was closed, a lot of agents were left behind, and their entire network collapsed. Many agents were killed. Others were smuggled out successfully.
Israel didn't start the war and they didn't end it. It's like playing blackjack in a casino. You don't start the game, and you don't end it. But you're there. Israel just didn't hit any jackpots...
Extract from 'By Way of Deception', Ostrovsky, Victor and Hoy, Claire, St.Martin's Press, 1990