Terrorist negotiation strategy in Lebanon KAReN A . FeSTe
The history of anti-American terrorism in Lebanon in the mid-1980s is sad and shameful. Following in the wake of the dramatic Tehran hostage-taking incident that marred Jimmy Carter’s presidential term, it was shaped by two events in the 1980s with diffusion effects that led to a spiral of declining respect for US power in the Middle East, marking a legacy that has carried forth into the twenty-first century. First came the massive suicide bombing against US Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983. Alleged to be the largest non-nuclear blast ever detonated until that time, the attack killed 241 soldiers (Hammel 1985, p. 303). President Ronald Reagan, in response to the tragedy, decided to withdraw all of the approximately 3,000 remaining troops a few months later; the last soldier left on March 31, 1984. The second incident involved an illegal (and, most thought, unethical) negotiated solution to free abducted American citizens who were being held captive in Beirut by local terrorist groups: the arms-for-hostages exchange. What eventually became known as the Iran-Contra affair produced high-level political scandal when the secret agreement surfaced in November, 1986. True to form, terrorism struck the innocent. Fear and frustration followed. Attacks and abductions affected those who had believed a ring of security surrounding their immediate environment would protect them from the violence of Lebanon. The soldiers had been deployed as neutral peacekeepers, not partisan warriors; most were sleeping when the attack hit in the early morning hour on a Sunday. Kidnapped American professionals living in Beirut – nearly all of them academics, writers, or members of the clergy – were grabbed openly in daylight near their home or workplace. Lamenting this sorry state, terrorist expert Bruce Hoffman (1989) noted: “The legacy of one presidency destroyed by its inability to free American diplomats held hostage in Tehran and another tarnished by its futile attempt to trade arms for hostages in Lebanon is a constant reminder of America’s failure to loosen terrorism’s grip.” How is it possible to loosen the grip? Does it make sense to negotiate with the terrorists? Under what conditions will negotiations succeed? What standards should apply for measuring success? The situation in Lebanon during the final quarter of the twentieth century offers one lens in a laboratory of discovery to help us understand some of the features of modern-day global terrorism and
grasp its strategic bargaining complexity. The following analysis, focusing on the grim decade-long American terrorism experience there, is designed to explain why violent acts were directed at US targets and when and how an apparent conflict resolution phase seemed to be achieved as a result of negotiation. One of the important conclusions to emerge from the research suggests that a specific style of negotiating with an enemy who employs terrorism, an interestbased bargaining framework including a fair exchange of goods to produce mutual gains, is an important, perhaps necessary, feature in stopping terrorism. Such agreement will not terminate the full set of conflict issues between antagonists, nor bring about party reconciliation; rather, it remains a stop-gap measure to push aside the use of terrorist tactics and thereby it lessens public fear of randomly generated violence. With resurfaced physical violence in the region in mid-2006, it is unclear whether the temporary halt in attacks was directly linked to a longer-term strategy of struggle and conflict against the West. However, particular evidence, strongly worded verbal assaults directed at the United States by Iranian President Ahmadinejad, and a new fighting phase in the Arab-Israeli dispute initiated by Lebanese Hezbollah, suggests continuity with the past.