At approximately one o'clock pm, local time, on April 18, 1983, a delivery van driven by a suicide bomber and carrying 2,000 pounds of explosives hit the US Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. The blast collapsed the entire front of the building. Sixty-three people were killed in the explosion including a significant number of Central Intelligence Agency personnel. An additional 120 individuals were wounded.
Early on the morning of October 23, 1983, the headquarters of the US Marine landing force in Beirut, Lebanon was struck by a suicide truck bomber. The truck crashed through an outer fence, passed between two sentry posts and then penetrated an inner gate before coming to rest in the lobby of the building where the Marines where housed. The subsequent detonation, equivalent to 12,000 pounds of TNT, lifted the entire four-story building off its foundation and severed the concrete support columns holding it up. The building collapsed in on itself. Two hundred and forty-one American servicemen died.
On March 16, 1984, the CIA Station Chief in Beirut, William Buckley, was kidnapped on his way to work. He was held and tortured for fifteen months. Most torture victims mercifully die from their injuries within a few days. In Buckley's case, his captors took extraordinary efforts to keep him alive and prolong his agony. Videos released periodically by his kidnappers showed a man who was systematically ruined both physically and mentally until he descended into madness.
On February 17, 1988, U.S. Marine Colonel Rich Higgins, who at the time was serving as a U.N. military observer, was taken. He too was tortured and, ultimately, killed. His mistreatment and manner of death is such as to be impossible to describe in this forum. Suffice it to say that he was subjected to measures so hideous and so continuous as to be almost beyond comprehension. A final video released by his captors showed his badly mutilated body hanging from the ceiling of the room where he had been murdered.
All of these actions were the work of the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, the so-called Party of God.
Hezbollah is based in Lebanon. It was formed in response to the 1982 Israeli invasion of that nation and is committed absolutely to the destruction of Israel and to waging war against its allies, including the United States. It receives massive financial, military, and political support from both Iran and Syria, and it has thousands of men under arms.
When Al Qaida was nothing more than a glimmer in the eye of Osama Bin Laden, Hezbollah was already a deadly adversary. Until 9/11 it had killed more American citizens than any other terrorist group in history. Speaking shortly after the Twin Towers fell, in the fall of 2001, Hassan Nasrallah, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, stated, "It is our pride that the Great Satan (U.S.) and the head of despotism, corruption and arrogance in modern times considers us as an enemy that should be listed in the terrorism list."
Hezbollah has not lost any strength since. If anything, it has gained in power and capability. Members of the organization now hold official positions in the government of the nation of Lebanon. Large swathes of that nation are under the complete control of Hezbollah. When Israel launched an invasion of Hezbollah controlled areas in Lebanon in 2006, it was fought to a standstill and forced to withdraw. Hezbollah even has its own radio and television stations.
Hezbollah also has a reach that extends well beyond the Middle East. It has access to a network of supporters throughout Africa and Latin America, longstanding contacts with drug smuggling networks and a robust relationship with the Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Recent hearings in Congress have, in fact, focused extensively on Hezbollah's ability to threaten our nation in this hemisphere.
The news is filled these days with references to the dangers of the Iranian nuclear weapons program and the possibility of impending action by the United States to destroy the facilities where Iran is building its bomb. We would do well to remember, as we plan for any such contingency, that Iran is not limited in its response to confronting our conventional forces directly nor even to attempting to make good on its threat to close the Straits of Hormuz.
We have learned the meaning of asymmetric warfare well over the last ten years. We have seen that our adversaries in the Middle East and South Asia have chosen, not to stand toe to toe with us on the battlefield, but to look for ways to strike at us, which minimize our strengths and maximize theirs.
The Iranians will be no different. We may have spent the last ten years ignoring Hezbollah. They have not.
The Iranians have in Hezbollah a virulently anti-American group with massive worldwide terrorist capabilities. They will almost certainly turn that capability loose in response to any attack by us on Iran. That means terrorist attacks worldwide by a group that has demonstrated that it is capable of almost unimaginable brutality and lethality. It means our going to war with a group that has resources and capabilities Al Qaida, even at its height, could only dream of.
We need to recognize that threat now and begin immediately to position ourselves to confront it. The time to focus on Hezbollah is not after that killing begins but before. This is unfinished business. It may not remain so for long.