Report about the attack on John Gunther Dean by the New York Daily News
The State of Israel is often touted as America’s closest ally in the Middle East. Yet over the decades, it has acted in clandestine ways that have not only risked the lives of American citizens, but have had the objective of causing their deaths. Examples of such ventures include Operation Susannah, the botched attempt in 1954 by agents of Israeli military intelligence to blow up American civilian establishments in Egypt. There was also the deliberate attack by its armed forces on the USS Liberty in the Mediterranean Sea during the Six Day War of 1967 which killed 34 sailors and wounded 171. In 1980, a shadowy, right-wing group calling itself the Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners (FLLF) claimed responsibility for an attempt on the life of the American ambassador to Lebanon, John Gunther Dean. For long, Dean claimed that the Israelis were behind it, but he was disbelieved. But revelations by former Israeli intelligence officials in a book published last year appear to back up his suspicion.
On August 28th 1980, John Gunther Dean, the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon was travelling as part of a three-car convoy on the main Beirut-Damascus Highway when it came under attack from what news reports at the time described as a hit-squad “firing machine guns and a rocket-propelled grenade”. His car was hit and damaged, but along with his wife, daughter and son-in-law who were travelling with him, he managed to escape serious injury. Responsibility for the ambush was claimed by a newly formed and mysterious group that called itself the Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners (FLLF).
Dean, who is still alive and in his 90s, has always insisted that Israel was behind the attempt on his life. According to him:
Weapons financed and given by the United States to Israel were used in an attempt to kill an American diplomat! Undoubtedly using a proxy, our ally Israel had tried to kill me.
He based this conclusion on his own private investigation. The Lebanese intelligence services had retrieved the empty canisters of two of the light anti-tank weapons that had been used during the attack. A later raid on a house near the scene found 8 more of the kind.
Dean collected the numbers on the 10 missiles and sent them to Washington for analysis. Three weeks later, it was disclosed to him that the weapons had been manufactured in the U.S. and were sold and shipped to Israel in 1974.
Why would Israel attempt to kill the ambassador of the nation often touted as its “closest ally” in the Middle East? Dean, who is of German-Jewish ancestry, believes that he was targeted because he had opened up channels of dialogue with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). He had also criticised Israeli military incursions into Lebanon.
His allegation was ignored.
Later in 1988, when serving as ambassador to India, he voiced the suspicion that Israel was behind the mysterious plane crash that killed Pakistani military ruler General Zia ul-Haq. The response was severe. Dean was declared mentally unfit by officials in Washington and he retired from the foreign service. He was later rehabilitated by the U.S. State Department and given a Distinguished Service Award.
But he remained unswerving in his belief that he had been targeted by a phantom terror group directed by Israeli intelligence.
Phantom organisations are of course not unknown in the secret world of intelligence operations. Under the direction of its head Felix Dzerzhinsky, the Cheka successfully ran ‘The Trust’, a body which posed as an anti-Bolshevik monarchist entity to deceive Russian emigres and others into providing funds for the cash-strapped Soviet regime, as well as luring its enemies to their deaths. And during the Algerian War, the foreign intelligence service of France created the Red Hand, which was tasked with targeting the network of arms suppliers for the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) in Western Europe and North Africa.
Ronen Bergman’s book, Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations, which was published in 2018 revealed for the first time that the FLLF was established in 1979 by Rafael Eitan, the Chief-of-Staff of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and Colonel Meir Dagan, the commander of the South Lebanon Region and a future head of Mossad. It was run under the auspices of the IDF’s Northern Command, which at the time was headed by General Avigdor Ben-Gal. The FLLF would go on to carry out a series of indiscriminate bombings in Lebanon from 1979 to 1983 which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Lebanese citizens.
The purpose of running this fictitious terror group was manifold. It was clearly set up to put pressure on those non-Lebanese actors who were Israel’s primary adversaries: the PLO, which had concentrated forces there since its expulsion from Jordan, and the Syrian army which had occupied part of Lebanese territory since 1976. As Bergman has noted, the FLLF was designed to “cause chaos among the Palestinians and Syrians in Lebanon, without leaving an Israeli fingerprint, to give them the feeling that they were constantly under attack and to instil them with a sense of insecurity.”
Suspicions about the origins of the FLLF were raised by several people including the PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who claimed in 1981 that Israeli intelligence was behind the bombings claimed by the group. Although Israel’s publicly avowed aim at the time was to dislodge the PLO from Lebanese soil, the FLLF was not limited to harassing it and other militant Palestinian organisations. It was also utilised to exacerbate divisions between Lebanon’s warring militias as well as to demoralise Syria’s sectarian communities. A Mossad officer quoted in Bergman’s book said, “We are speaking here about mass killing for killing’s sake, to sow chaos and alarm among civilians.” It was a strategy of tension which provided one of several pretexts for Israel to justify its belligerent policies towards its northern neighbour which it has long sought to balkanise.
The admission that the FLLF was an Israeli front adds credence to Dean’s allegation. His efforts to get his government to investigate his claim were consistently rebuffed:
No matter how hard I tried, I could not get a straight answer from the State Department about what the U.S. had discovered in its investigations … I was simply told to resume my duties as ambassador.
And given the U.S. government’s reluctance to hold the Israeli government to account for incidents such as the fatal attack on the USS Liberty, it is unlikely that a probe will ever be made.
© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)
Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.