By Avi Davis

Those seeking to identify a date for the commencement of the ruthless Muslim extremist campaign against America, should forget September 11, 2001. There is a far better candidate for that distinction. October 23, 1983 stands as America's first day of post World War 2 infamy. That was the morning Hezbollah guerillas ended the lives of 241 Marines and over 70 French soldiers at the Beirut barracks of the multi-national peace-keeping forces in Beirut. The event claims its mark on history on two counts. It was the first time a Muslim extremist group had caused mass casualties against a U. S. target. It was also the first time since the Second World War that a U.S. military force had failed to seek retribution for a mass attack against American servicemen. Acting under a cautious warning from Caspar Weinberg, Ronald Reagans' Secretary of Defense, the Administration rejected retaliation against Hezbollah so as not to threaten a shaky relationship with Saudi Arabia. Instead, American forces were quickly recalled from Lebanon.

The failure to launch any significant reprisal against this slaughter of American peace keepers, coupled with the hasty retreat was to have catastrophic repercussions. Emboldened by its success, Hezbollah's power and prestige in southern Lebanon was greatly enhanced. In the nest five years it consolidated its political control over southern Lebanon and took pride in the harassment of the Israeli forces lodged in the 14 mile security zone the Israelis had created following their 1982 invasion. From 1983 through 1992 the Israelis suffered 49 suicide attacks by Hezbollah guerillas. Israel's hasty withdrawal in May 2000, mimicking the earlier U.S. retreat, only confirmed what many Muslim extremists had concluded 17 years earlier: neither the Israeli nor American military machines had the stomach for mass losses or for combating the threat of suicide bombings.

For the past twenty years Hezbollah, strengthened by support from the Iranian mullahs and given freedom of movement by the nominal rulers of Lebanon in Syria, was able to become the virtual government of Southern Lebanon. In doing so it began the development of an international network of financiers and fund raising operations that created a steady flow of both arms and cash into southern Lebanon. Quietly Hezbollah became the model and inspiration for all extremist Muslim factions both Sunni and Shiite.

It should therefore come as little surprise that investigations into the Paradise Hotel bombing and the attack on the Arkia plane in Mombassa are pointing to the strong possibility of joint operations between Hezbollah and al-Qaida.

In fact a clear pattern is emerging that suggests Hezbollah is actively cooperating with al-Qaida. Osama Bin Laden was apparently impressed enough with the devastating attacks Hezbollah conducted in Lebanon and Argentina (where it has been fingered as the prime suspect in the 1993 bombings of the Israeli embassy and Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aries) that it adopted similar methods against American facilities in Dharhan in 1996, the U.S embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 and against the USS Cole in 1999.

Western intelligence has now revealed a high level of cooperation between Bin Laden and Imad Muganiyeh, the Hezbullah terrorist who masterminded some of Hezbollah's most spectacular atrocities and kidnappings in Lebanon. Reports have Muganiyeh first meeting with Bin Laden as early as 1995 and those meetings have continued.

More than this, since al-Qaida fled Afghanistan at the end of last year, the Sunday Telegraph reports, between 80 and 100 al- Qaida fighters were provided with false passports by Hezbollah before being relocated to southern Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The same report acknowledges that Hezbollah, working hand in hand with al-Qaida, has set up cells in the Far East including Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. It is well known that Hezbollah has operated in Gaza and the West Bank for years, but the recent revelation by the Shin Bet in Israel that al- Qaida has now also joined them there, is chilling evidence of a level of cooperation previously unsuspected.

Such news comes as a dire warning to American, Israeli and Jewish communities throughout the world. A world wide campaign of destruction, linking two of the most fanatical and murderous terrorist operations on earth should be of grave concern to all who understand the war against terrorism as a world war, ablaze with all the lethality of the conflagrations that preceded it. While Iraq certainly presents a menace to world peace, we ignore the growing relationship between al-Qaida and Hezbollah at our peril.

Yet there are signs that some American leaders are starting to get it. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Graham, told CNN in November that the U.S. should launch attacks on Hezballah and Hamas headquarters and training camps. Graham said the U.S. made a major mistake in the 1990s when "al Qaeda was training hundreds, if not thousands of people in the skills of terrorism in those camps in Afghanistan. We had the capability to take those camps out. We chose not to do so." Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby added, "Hezbollah and some others are probably the A team, not the B team or the C team, as far as potential terrorist threats to this country. The U.S. must start planning to take out Hezbollah before they take us out."

Therefore in a post Saddam world, bringing down Hezbollah, whose headquarters and whereabouts is no secret, should become the American military's number one priority. Operating in conjunction with the IDF, the Hezbollah operation in Southern Lebanon must be brought to its knees, its operatives throughout the world identified and eliminated, its financial network dismantled. Syria and Iran must be threatened with reprisals for their continued financial and strategic support of Hezbollah and Saudia Arabia should be made to pay the diplomatic price for its double-faced attitude to the war on terror.

Pursuing al-Qaida may well slake a justified American thirst for revenge. But eliminating that organization's progenitor and model may, in the meantime, be just as effective in delivering a message to all Muslim extremists that the American government failed signally to convey 19 years ago.


Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.

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