Twenty-six years ago today, on June 15, 1985, the world watched one of the most horrific atrocities taken against innocent civilians—this event was aired live on televisions around the world. TWA Flight 847 was hijacked, held its captives for seventeen day, and brutally murdered 23-year old Robert Stethem, a proud American and a U.S. Navy diver. This terrorist attack was conducted by the Iranian supported terrorist group Hezbollah.
Hezbollah remains one of the world’s most threatening Islamist terrorist organizations. It often goes unmentioned in traditional media due to the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Al Qaeda has appeared to supersede it like a global pandemic as we continue to fight this war against terror but make no mistake: Hezbollah has been and remains a deadly threat to Israel, the United States and all free peoples .
Hezbollah was founded in 1983 by numerous individuals including Sheik Abbas Moussawi who was later killed in February 1992 by Israel. According to Jane’s World Insurgency and Terrorism (pg. 270), “The main objectives Hezbollah has is to establish a revolutionary Shi’a Islamic State in Lebanon, eliminate non-Islamic influences, and force Western interests out of the region.” They are a hate induced religiously fanatic terrorist group.
There is no question that Hezbollah is anti-American and anti-Israeli. They have conducted hundreds of terrorist attacks against both nation states. One of the most notorious acts of terrorism conducted by Hezbollah against the Western world was in the year 1983.
The “Beirut Bombings” occurred on October 23rd 1983 at the Beirut International AirPort which was the staging location for headquarters elements of a U.S. Marine Corp Battalion Landing Team. The method of operation involved a yellow in color Mercedes Benz truck that was filled with explosives roughly equivalent to 12,000 pounds of TNT. The vehicle ran through two entry control points that were manned by highly trained Marine Corp guards. The vehicle detonated as it ran into the housing complex of the Marines killing 241 of its estimated 350 occupants.
Approximately two years later, Hezbollah decided to make another terrorizing impact instilling fear around the globe. They targeted another U.S. owned and operated asset—TWA Flight 847. Their objectives against the Marines in 1983 were strictly to kill as many U.S. service members as possible. In 1985, their objective was to gain the release of fellow “Party of God” terrorists from prison.
Some point in the 1985 hijacking, Robert Stethem was identified as a U.S. service member. Like any service member, Robert had the strength and courage to fight relentlessly to stay alive. Overwhelmed by his assailants, he was brutally beaten and then shot in the head. His body was then dumped on the tarmac—all because he was part of one of America’s greatest assets, an active U.S. military service member.
Today, many continue to fight the asymmetric and unconventional war we face. These are our brave men and women willing to sacrifice their friends, families, and even self if need be. Our nation’s service members will not tire, they shall not quit, and they shall seek victory no matter who threatens our nation be it Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, or any other identified threat. They do this for the love of this great nation and what it stands for, something our enemies hate—Freedom.
Many of our best and brightest have paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting today’s war. As a nation, this is a debt that cannot be repaid. We can only honor them and we do this best by remembering that is it because of these fallen heroes, like U.S. Master Chief Robert Dean Stethem, that America is the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Kerry Patton is the Co-Founder of the National Security Leadership Foundation, a non-profit organization pending 501c (3) status. He has worked in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, focusing on intelligence and security interviewing current and former terrorists, including members of the Taliban. He is the author of “Sociocultural Intelligence: The New Discipline of Intelligence Studies” and the children’s book “American Patriotism.”