Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Middle East History: It Happened in December; with Release of Terry Anderson, U.S. Hostage Ordeal Ended in Lebanon

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Middle East History: It Happened in December; with Release of Terry Anderson, U.S. Hostage Ordeal Ended in Lebanon

Article excerpt

MIDDLE EAST HISTORY: IT HAPPENED IN DECEMBER; With Release of Terry Anderson, U.S. Hostage Ordeal Ended in Lebanon

By Donald Neff

It was four years ago, on Dec. 4, 1991, that the agony of America's hostages held in Lebanon finally came to an end. The moment arrived with the release of newsman Terry Anderson, 44, after 2,454 days in captivity--the longest confinement suffered by any of the hostages. 1

At least four Americans had been kidnapped in the mid-1970s, early in Lebanon's civil war. All eventually had been released unharmed, and there was relatively little media attention given to these seemingly random events.

That was not the case with the total of 17 Americans kidnapped after early 1984, when five were taken. Four more were captured in 1985, three in 1986, four in 1987 and one in 1988. After 1988, the kidnappings ended in large part because Americans essentially had been chased out of Lebanon.

Three of the American hostages were killed or died in captivity: CIA Station Chief William Buckley, Marine Lt. Col. William R. Higgins and librarian Peter Kilburn. The remains of Buckley and Higgins were left on Beirut streets in three weeks after Anderson's release and brought back to the United States for burial. 2 Kilburn's body had been similarly found in 1986. 3

Three escaped: Charles Glass, Jeremy Levin and Frank Regier. Three were ransomed in the Reagan administration's Iran arms-for-hostages scandal: David Jacobsen, Lawrence Jenco and Benjamin Weir. Two were released in 1990: Robert Polhill and Frank Reed. And six were released in the final four months of 1991: Joseph Cicippio, Thomas Sutherland, Alann Steen, Edward Tracy, Jesse Turner and Anderson.

The 1980s kidnappings were part of a highly successful campaign by Shi'i Muslims belonging to Hezbollah (Party of God) and supported by Iran to rid Lebanon of all Americans. It began in retaliation for Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon with the massive use of U.S.-made weapons and accelerated after Washington's decision to use U.S. warplanes and ships of the U.S. Sixth Fleet against Muslim and Druze targets in late 1983.

Early Hezbollah attacks included the bombing in 1983 of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, with the loss of 63 lives including some of the CIA's top Mideast experts, and the bombing of the Marine barracks at Beirut Airport, with the initial loss of 241 lives.

On Jan. 18, 1984, President Malcolm Kerr of the American University of Beirut, a distinguished scholar of the Arab world, was gunned down outside his AUB office. 4

At that point Hezbollah openly proclaimed its goal was to "drive all Americans from Lebanon." 5

This seemed an unlikely prospect at the time, since Americans had a long and wellestablished position in Lebanon's educational, business and international refugee relief communities. The American University of Beirut had been founded in 1866 by U.S. missionaries and Americans had been intimately involved with it ever since. Yet by the end of 1988, Hezbollah had won and the U.S. presence in Lebanon essentially was gone.

In reality, Hezbollah was successful against the United States.

The first major retreat was by the 1,400 U.S. Marines then stationed in Lebanon as a result of Israel's invasion nearly two years earlier. 6 President Reagan on Feb. 5, 1984 made one of his stand-tall speeches, saying that "the situation in Lebanon is difficult, frustrating and dangerous. But this is no reason to turn our backs on friends and to cut and run." 7

However, the next day Prof. Frank Regier, a U.S. citizen teaching at AUB, was kidnapped. The day after that, Reagan suddenly reversed course and said that all U.S. Marines would shortly be "redeployed," a euphemism for total withdrawal. 8 All the Marines except those guarding the U.S. embassy were gone by Feb. 26, never to return.

The Marine retreat began a series of strategic withdrawals of the official American presence in Lebanon. …

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