Fast-paced narrative account of events in the Middle East 35 years ago, the opening salvo in a war that continues to unfold.
Burton and Katz (co-authors: Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi, 2013) open at a climactic moment: the kidnapping, in March 1984, of the CIA station chief in Beirut, William Francis Buckley. His Hezbollah captors tortured him for months before finally killing him. The authors focus sharply on key players and actors in the murder, which was but one act in an orchestrated campaign that played out on a stage marked by chaos. By their account, U.S. policy in the region was not well-articulated, and Reagan administration officials were divided over whether and how to support Israel in its actions against neighboring Lebanon and Syria, the former of which had emerged as a center of Iranian activity in the Middle East, the latter as “the Soviet Union’s chief client in the Arab world.” Buckley’s abduction closely followed a bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, a second suicide bombing of a Marine Corps barracks, and other terrorist actions coordinated by Imad Mughniyeh, a senior Hezbollah officer who planned operations against the U.S. and Israel for decades before finally being killed by the CIA and Mossad. Mughniyeh, the authors make clear, was serving Iranian interests, and Iran’s activities in Lebanon amounted to an undeclared war against the U.S., “a rapid march of calculated measures defined by cold-blooded ruthlessness.” These matters have since been revisited many times over, most recently by the Trump administration’s resumption of sanctions against Iran, but they resound in haunting ways throughout these sometimes-redacted pages—for, after all, Buckley’s murder and the back-channel dealings that would soon become known as Iran-Contra are roughly contemporaneous events. As the authors suggest, it seems that only insiders sworn to secrecy knew “that the spies didn’t do enough to save William F. Buckley.”
A sturdy tale of terror and counterterror that speaks to events that are happening even now.