It’s one thing to go for a stroll down memory lane but it’s quite another to receive a blast from the past, when the blast is so real.
At the beginning of the week, the IDF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Israel Police issued an unusual statement announcing they would reopen investigations into what was known as the First Tyre Disaster, 40 years after it happened. Like the term “The First Lebanon War,” which in November 1982 was still largely known as Operation Peace for Galilee, the very fact that the word “First” appears in the name is a trigger warning. This is like the principle of Checkov’s proverbial gun in the theater world, applied to the global stage.
The First Tyre Disaster refers to a deadly explosion early on November 11, 1982, at the seven-story building housing the Israeli Liaison and Assistance Office, the de facto IDF headquarters in Lebanon. The building collapsed in the blast and 76 Israelis and 14 Lebanese were killed.
An official IDF commission of inquiry at the time claimed that the explosion had been caused by a gas leak in a badly constructed building and was not terror-related. Nonetheless, questions were immediately raised about the possibility that a suicide bomber was responsible, with reports of a car being driven toward the HQ. The statement this week said the case was being reopened “out of respect for the fallen and in pursuit of truth... using modern technologies that did not exist at the time.”
The Second Tyre Disaster
The “Second Tyre Disaster” took place a year later, almost to the day: At 6 a.m. on November 4, 1983, a terrorist driving a car loaded with approximately 600 kilograms of explosives crashed through the barriers at the entrance to the IDF HQ on the outskirts of Tyre. Although guards fired at the vehicle, the driver manage to position himself between two buildings, and blew himself up, bringing both down. This time there were 60 fatalities.
Until now, the 1983 incident was officially considered the first suicide attack against Israelis. However, it is likely that following the reopened investigation, it will lose that dubious title and the First Tyre Disaster will be recognized as the first such suicide attack aimed at an Israeli target.
By November 1983, all those involved in the Lebanon quagmire were older and wiser. Just a few days earlier, on October 23, 1983, a truck laden with explosives crashed through the gates of the US Marine barracks in Beirut. Nearly 300 were killed – including more than 240 American service members and dozens of French personnel, members of a multinational peacekeeping force – when the building collapsed. Before that, on April 18, 1983, a car bomb was used to bring down the US embassy in Beirut, killing 49.
But back to the First Tyre Disaster. Many families of the victims as well as soldiers who served there have maintained that the tragedy was a terror attack and not an accident. They voiced satisfaction at the news of the reopened investigation. Nothing will bring back their loved ones, but they long for the recognition that those they grieve for were killed in the line of duty rather than as the result of a faulty gas pipe.
It’s possible that the deadly explosion was attributed to a gas leak because Hezbollah had not previously operated suicide bombers against Israelis. The concept of martyrdom in the jihadist sense was still, literally, foreign. Israeli authorities perhaps did not want to believe that Lebanese Shi’ites had adopted this method of suicidal warfare. Also, so close to the events of the Sabra and Shatila Massacre of September 1982 – when Christian Phalangists murdered hundreds of Palestinians, with IDF troops standing outside the refugee camp – it’s likely that Israel did not want an escalation.
But escalation there was. The blast of the First Tyre Disaster should have been treated at the time as a wake-up call. Finding the full circumstances behind the disaster could help even now understanding the entities operating in the still-chaotic Lebanese reality and to understand the jihadist mentality.
According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, on November 11 this year, Hezbollah marked Shahid Day and issued a video honoring Ahmed Qasir as the “first shahid,” saying he had carried out the suicide bombing attack on the IDF’s administration building in Tyre 40 years ago.
EVEN PEACE efforts – particularly peace efforts – have led repeatedly to murderous attacks on Israelis. The Oslo Accords of the 1990s led to a wave of suicide bombings just as the bombings of the Second Intifada in the 2000s, after Yasser Arafat rejected a peace agreement, are etched on Israel’s collective psyche.
The sound of an explosion followed by the sirens of emergency vehicles made their unwelcome return this week. A double, apparently coordinated, bombing attack in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning took Israelis back to a dark time and place where they don’t want to go. Sixteen-year-old Aryeh Shechopek was killed and 18 others wounded in the attacks. The bombs, placed at crowded bus stops during peek travel time, reportedly contained nails and other sharp objects, aimed at increasing the death and injuries. This too was a well-known tactic from the Hamas bombings of years gone by.
Jerusalem twin bombings were different from recent terror wave
While there has been a wave of terror attacks recently, including the lethal stabbing and car-ramming in which three people were killed near Ariel last week, most have been attributed to “lone wolves” using readily available means.
The use of explosives in the Jerusalem attacks, on the other hand, suggests a terrorist organization was behind them. This was not the work of a single perpetrator acting almost on the spur of the moment.
Watching Moshe Shechopek burying his son, killed as he waited for his school bus, was excruciating.
The anguish of another father – Hossam Ferro, the father of 17-year-old Tiran – was almost unfathomable this week. On Tuesday, his son and a friend, from the Druze town of Daliat al-Carmel in northern Israel, went to the Jenin area to fix his car at a local garage. It was, if anything, an innocent expression of coexistence.
Although there are warning signposts telling Israeli citizens not enter Palestinian Authority areas without prior security approval and coordination, many Israeli Arabic-speakers and others routinely go there for everyday errands, to fix a car, get cheaper dental treatment, buy appliances and furniture or just for a meal.
But this time it did not end well. The car crashed on the way and while his injured friend was airlifted to an Israeli medical center, Palestinians took Tiran to a local Jenin hospital where he underwent an operation. His father and uncle, alerted to his situation, raced to his bedside to be with him. They then both witnessed what happened next: Some 20 armed Palestinians burst into the hospital room, detached Tiran from his life-support system and abducted his body. It’s likely they thought they were grabbing an Israeli soldier, rather than a high-school student. Whatever they thought doesn’t matter when the thinking is so twisted.
Only on Thursday, following intensive diplomatic mediation and pressure tactics, did the family – including the father and uncle who managed to escape – receive the body to bury and to mourn.
Hamas supporters have been filmed distributing candies to celebrate the attacks. It’s hard to understand the warped beliefs behind this. But it is essential.
The acts of terrorism are not new. They’re not the result of poverty – millions of poor people around the world don’t plot how to blow up a crowd of innocent people. Nor are they an expression of the anger at the results of Israel’s recent elections – it could be argued that the ongoing wave of terror was a contributing factor to the increased support of the far-right. The attacks are the result of the cult of martyrdom. Being educated to see taking lives and becoming a “shahid” as a way to gain an elevated status is the real threat. Even those who don’t die outright in the attacks they commit know they risk being caught later and help foster the martyrdom concept. And that is why the sounds of the explosion in Tyre 40 years ago and the bombings in Jerusalem this week are blasting a warning that should be heard around the world. As we have seen over the last few decades, jihadi terror that starts with Israeli targets doesn’t end there.