Adonis Diaries

Israel ravaged Lebanon and Beirut, even before the occupation in 1982, with a series of car bombing tactics

Posted on: January 9, 2019

Israel ravaged Lebanon and Beirut, even before the occupation in 1982, with a series of car bombing tactics

Rise and Kill First: First-Hand Accounts of Israel’s Role in a Widespread Campaign of Car (and Bicycle and Donkey) Bombings in Lebanon

Early on, Bergman explains, the operation used mostly “explosives concealed in cans of oil or preserves” built in a metal shop of Kibbutz Mahanayim where Ben-Gal used to live.

The explosives themselves came from the bomb disposal unit of the IDF so as to “greatly minimize the chance that any connection with Israel might be revealed if the explosive devices fell into enemy hands.”

““We’d come there at night,”” Ben-Gal told Bergman, “Meir [Dagan] and I and the rest of the guys, with the Northern Command’s chief engineer, who brought the explosives, and we’d fill those little drums and connect the  fuses.”

The cover of Rise and Kill First

These “little drums” were then “dispatched to couriers in large backpacks, or, if they were too big, on motorcycles, bicycles, or donkeys.”

As Bergman tells it: “Soon the bombs began exploding at the homes of the PLO’s “collaborators” in southern Lebanon, killing everyone there, as well as in PLO positions and offices, mostly in Tyre, Sidon, and the Palestinian refugee camps around them, causing massive damages and casualties.”

The operation was run in complete secrecy, according to Bergman. It was never approved by the government itself, and there is “no way of knowing” to what extent Ezer Weizman, the Defense Minister when the operation was launched, knew about it.

In spite of their efforts, Eitan, Ben-Gal and Dagan were unable to keep their operation fully airtight, leading several senior officers from AMAN (the Hebrew acronym for the Intelligence Department of the Israel Defense Forces General Staff) to push back and strenously object.

The head of AMAN’s Research Division, Amos Gilboa, described to Bergman what he called a “constant struggle” between AMAN and the Northern Command.

“Yanosh [Ben-Gal] lied to us all the time. We did not believe any of  their reports,” Gilboa said. “This was one of the ugliest periods in the history of the country.” Later, AMAN learned “from its sources in Lebanon” about the “car and donkey bombings” but, writes Bergman, they eventually decided to drop the issue.

Pushback also came from within the government itself, as when Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zippori learned of an attack that had taken place in April 1980 and during which women and children had been killed following the explosion of a car bomb in southern Lebanon.

The aim had been, according to Bergman, to hit “PLO personnel.” In June, a meeting was convened in Begin’s office, with Zippori accusing Ben-Gal of “carrying out unauthorized actions in Lebanon” and that “in these activities, women and children have been killed.” The latter replied: “Not correct. Four or five terrorists were killed. Who drives around in Lebanon in a Mercedes at 2 a.m.? Only terrorists.”

Begin accepted Ben-Gal’s assurance that he had in fact received permission for the action and called an end to the meeting. According to Bergman, the extent of the Prime Minister’s knowledge about these activities is unclear.

From that point on, however, “the top brass realized there was no point in asking the prime minister to rectify the situation.” The Tel Aviv meeting thus marked the end of any kind of internal pushback against the covert operation conducted by Eitan, Ben-Gal and Dagan, a fateful development as the operation was about to enter its second (and even more violent) stage following the appointment of a new Defense Minister.

On July 16, 1981, Palestinian Katyushah rockets had killed 3 Israeli civilians in the village of Kiryat Shmonah. The next day, the Israeli air force had responded with a massive bombing raid targeting the headquarters of the PLO in downtown Beirut as well as several bridges around Sidon, killing between 200 and 300 people, mostly Lebanese civilians, and wounding over 800.

Philip Habib, President Ronald Reagan’s special envoy in the region, mediated a ceasefire whereby the PLO was required to stop any attacks inside Israel. To Israeli leaders, such an agreement was unacceptable.

The PLO was a “terrorist” organization, and the American decision to consider Arafat a partner in a ceasefire a veritable affront. As to the specifics of the accord, they argued that the PLO should stop all attacks against Israel and Israeli interests, including attacks that took place in the occupied territories or in places like Europe.

As Bergman notes however, “the outside world saw things differently, and Habib made it clear to the Israelis that the United States would back a land incursion into Lebanon only in response to a gross provocation by the PLO.”

On August 5, 1981, Begin picked Ariel Sharon to replace him as Defense Minister.

For the next 10 months or so, as Israeli historians like Zeev Schiff and Ehud Yaari, Benni Morris, Avi Shlaim or Zeev Maoz have long documented, Israel engaged in numerous military operations with the clear purpose of goading the Palestinians into some form of military response, which Israel would then be able to condemn as a “terrorist” attack that justified a major offensive into Lebanon.

August 1981: Ariel Sharon Becomes Defense Minister and Intensifies the FLLF Bombing Campaign to Goad the PLO into Resorting to “Terrorism”

Rise and Kill First represents a major contribution to our understanding of this historical moment, as it demonstrates, based on first-hand accounts from Israeli officers involved in the operation, that the car-bombing campaign that greatly intensified once Sharon became Defense Minister should be understood precisely as one element of this broader strategy of provocation.

Immediately after taking his new functions Sharon decided to “activate Dagan’s secret apparatus in the Northern Command.” He picked Eitan as a “personal emissary” who would “keep an eye on the clandestine activities in the north” and, Bergman explains, “by mid-September 1981, car bombs were exploding regularly in Palestinian neighborhoods of Beirut and other Lebanese cities.”

The author then specifically mentions bombings in Beirut and Sidon in early October, notes that “in December 1981 alone, eighteen bombs in cars or on motorcycles, bicycles, or donkeys blew up near PLO offices or Palestinian concentrations, causing many scores of deaths” and adds that “a new and unknown organization calling itself the Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners took responsibility for all of these incidents.”

As Bergman writes: “Sharon hoped that these operations would provoke Arafat into attacking Israel, which could then respond by invading Lebanon, or at least make the PLO retaliate against the Phalanges, whereupon Israel would be able to leap in great force to the defense of the Christians.”

The author goes on to add remarkable operational details. During that stage of the operation, the explosives were “packed in Ariel laundry powder bags” so as to look “like innocent goods” when going through roadblocks. Women were sometimes enlisted to drive “to reduce the likelihood of the cars being caught on the way to the target zone.”

The cars themselves “were developed in the IDF’s Special Operations Executive (Maarach Ha-Mivtsaim Ha-Meyuchadim).” These operations involved an early generation of aerial drones, used to observe as Dagan’s agents drove and parked the cars, then to remotely set off the devices.

The FLLF also “began attacking Syrian installations in Lebanon,” Bergman adds, and even “claimed responsibility for operations against IDF units.” According to Dagan the FLLF was never behind any such attacks but it “took responsibility in order to create credibility, as if it was operating against all of the foreign forces in Lebanon.”

The American Press and its Contemporary Coverage of the FLLF Car-Bombings

Frontpage of the New York Times from February 6, 1983 featuring an article by on Thomas Friedman on a bombing by the Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners

While providing remarkable details about the Israeli side of this secret operation, Bergman’s account remains very vague when it comes to the attacks themselves and, more importantly, their victims. Contemporary media accounts of the October 1981 Beirut and Sidon bombings, which he refers to specifically, give a clearer sense of the violence and destruction involved.

On October 1, a car “booby-trapped with 220 pounds of TNT and 20 gallons of gasoline” exploded near the offices of the PLO, in what a UPI journalist described as “a busy street in Moslem west Beirut packed with fruit and vegetable venders and housewives doing their morning shopping.”

The bomb “tore the facade off buildings, destroyed 50 cars and left the street littered with debris and dismembered bodies.” Immediately following the blast a second bomb, weighing 330 pounds and which had been planted in another car parked on the same street, was found and dismantled by bomb disposal experts.

Later that same day, “six other cars loaded with hundreds of pounds of explosives were found and defused in Beirut and Sidon in what was intended as a devastating blitz against Palestinians and leftist Lebanese militiamen by rightist terrorists.”

As Barbara Slavin and Milt Freudenheim reported in the pages of the New York Times, an “anonymous caller” for the FLLF had told “foreign news agencies that the attacks were directed against Palestinian and Syrian targets in Lebanon and would continue “until no foreigners are left.”

” They went on to add that both Mahmoud Labadi, the spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Lebanese Prime Minister Chafik Wazzan “blamed Israel and its Christian allies in Lebanon for the car bomb” while “Israel attributed the bombing to internecine P.L.O. warfare.”

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adonis49

adonis49

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