Marine veterans pay respect to the victims of the Beirut Embassy bombing during a remembrance ceremony at Lejeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville, N.C. Iran's new defense minister has been linked to the attack 30 years ago. (Lance Cpl. Jackeline Perez Rivera / Marine Corps)
A new report from an Israeli think tank links the new Iranian defense minister to a 1983 terrorist attack that killed 220 peacekeeping Marines and 21 U.S. sailors and airmen.
The Aug. 11 report, written by former Israel Defense Force Brig. Gen. Dr. Shimon Shapira, connects Iranian Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan to the deadly attack at the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which was carried out by a Shiite suicide bomber who drove a dump truck into the compound. A second, simultaneous suicide attack killed 58 French paratroopers at their nearby barracks. Dehghan was appointed to the country’s top defense post by new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and confirmed by the Iranian parliament Aug. 15.
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. Shapira writes that Dehghan was given command of the Revolutionary Guard force in Lebanon around 1983, and moved later that year to set up a Revolutiontary Guard headquarters in the country’s Beqaa Valley.
“It was from this headquarters that Iran controlled Hezbollah’s military force and planned, along with Hezbollah, the terror attacks on the Beirut-based Multinational Force and against IDF forces in Lebanon,” Shapira wrote. “The attacks were carried out by the Islamic Jihad organization, headed by Imad Mughniyeh, which was actually a special operational arm that acted under the joint direction of Tehran and Hezbollah until it was dismantled in 1992.”
The orders for the attack, Shapira said, came from Tehran and were passed from the Iranian ambassador to Damascus on to the Revolutionary Guard troops in Lebanon.
“According to the U.S. Marine commander, the U.S. National Security Agency intercepted the Iranian orders to strike on Sept. 26, 1983,” he wrote. “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.”
The commander Shapira refers to is retired Col. Timothy Geraghty, who commanded the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit during its Beirut peacekeeping mission. The unit suffered most of the casualties from the attack.
In a 2008 article for the U.S. Naval Institute, Geraghty said the intercepted order was received “unbeknownst to us at the time.”
“The suicide attackers struck us 28 days later, with word of the intercept stuck in the intelligence pipeline until days after the attack,” Geraghty wrote.
In October 2011, he testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security about Iran’s involvement in the bombings and the influence key players continue to wield in Iranian governance.
“I believe that Iran is intent in attacking us in our homeland,” Geraghty said in remarks prepared for the committee. “All one needs to do is review their strategy, behavior, attacks and targets the past three decades.”
In May 2003, a federal judge determined that Hezbollah had been responsible for the 1983 attack, acting at the behest of the Iranian government. This cleared the way for survivors and family members of those killed in the attack to sue Iran. U.S. District Court judges have since ordered Iran to pay billions of dollars in settlements to affected groups, though efforts to recover this money are still ongoing.
Randy Gaddo, a retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 who was in Beirut at the time of the bombings as a Marine photojournalist, said it was no shock to see information suggesting that one of the Beirut conspirators remains in a high position of power in Iran, despite reports that the Iranian government is moving in a more moderate direction under Hassan Rouhani.
“It would not surprise me to know that there are people in the government now that are connected,” Gaddo, a former president of Beirut Veterans of America, said. “You can connect the dots all the way back to 1983.”
Dehghan’s appointment to Iran’s top defense post was confirmed by the Iranian parliament Aug. 15.