Towers of Beirut
Readers have asked me to what Bin Laden was referring when he said he first conceived the idea of attacking US skyscrapers when the Israelis destroyed the “towers” of Beirut.
Beirut had been among the more advanced cities in the Arab world. I saw it in 1968 and 1974 before the civil war when it was called the Geneva of the Middle East. Although there was fighting in Beirut 1975-1981 by local militias, in fact by the early 1980s the situation had calmed down substantially and the economy was roaring back.
Then Ariel Sharon took it into his head to invade Lebanon in 1982. Sharon always has plots within plots. He wanted to install a far-rightwing government of his liking in Beirut and reshape the Eastern Mediterranean. And he wanted to murder the Palestinian leadership in Beirut, just bomb them all or otherwise rub them out. Although the Palestine Liberation Organization was an annoyance to Israel, it had been substantially defeated by the Syrians in the late 1970s and was extremely weak in 1982. In a way, Sharon’s attack was made possible by the Camp David Accords, in which Egypt made a separate peace. Sharon took advantage of the neutralization of Egypt to launch an aggressive war on Lebanon. Egyptians were boiling mad as a result.
The horrible Israeli siege of Beirut in summer of 1982, which lasted for weeks, involved the brutal and indiscriminate bombing of the city. Many of the “towers” that were destroyed contained hundreds of innocent Beirutis. Sharon’s proposed puppet ruler, Bashir Gemayyel, used to keep posters of Hitler in his locker at college. He was promptly assassinated and the whole scheme fell apart.
The invasion killed some 18,000 persons, half of them innocent civilians. During this period Sharon turned the task of guarding the disarmed and helpless Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps over to his allies, the fascist Phalangist paramilitary. The latter promptly murdered hundreds of defenseless Palestinians.
One of the 9/11 hijackers, Ziad Jarrah, was a Lebanese Sunni who was 8 when the Israelis invaded his country and wrought so much destruction. He obviously was deeply traumatized by the experience.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was a wanton act of aggression and destruction that ended up radicalizing the Lebanese Shiites and leading them to develop the technique of suicide bombing. A majority of Israelis was disgusted with the war, and in the aftermath Sharon was politically marginalized for two decades. Somehow he has managed to rehabilitate himself and now pursues his agenda of killing without any let or hindrance.
Beirut under Israeli bombardment.
The US has since the late 1970s coddled the Likud Party about its aggression, whether in the Occupied Territories or in Lebanon (part of which it occupied for 20 years!), which has helped to generate anger among Arabs at the United States. A whole generation of Arab politicians and intellectuals was marked by humiliation and helplessness in the face of Sharon’s Lebanon war.
None of this justifies the monstrous attack on the US of September 11. As Gandhi pointed out, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
But it is in the interests of all Americans for our government to find a way for Israelis and Arabs to live in peace and justice with one another. In a world where small numbers of terrorists have enormous power because of new technologies, it is dangerous to let such situations fester.
When Dwight Eisenhower perceived the 1956 war launched against Egypt by France, the UK and Israel to be a threat to US security, he knocked some heads together and made it stop. He ordered the Israelis summarily out of Sinai, and cursed out Anthony Eden “like an old soldier.” He also threatened the French with an end to US loans if they didn’t settle the Algerian crisis because he was afraid the Algerians would go Communist if it festered along. We need someone in the White House who will do more than ignore Arafat and kiss Ariel Sharon’s enormous backside. We need an Eisenhower to reshape the political realities in the region in a positive way. Right now we don’t have an Eisenhower in the White House.
(By the way, it is highly unlikely that Bin Laden started thinking about hitting the US in 1982. But once the idea was proposed by Khalid Shaikh Muhammad in 1996, he may well have flashed back to those scenes of Sharon’s siege of Beirut.)
The full transcript of Usamah’s diatribe is at al-Jazeera.