UK concerned over US-Israel Beirut strike
MARGARET THATCHER believed a joint US-Israeli response to the Beirut barrack bombings during the Lebanon Civil War could be “very damaging”.
Records of a summit between Mrs Thatcher and then West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in November 1983 reveal that they discussed the situation in Lebanon at length, with the British Prime Minister explaining that she “did not like the idea of retaliation” for the bombings, in which 241 United States servicemen died. The attack was later traced to Hizbollah and Iran.
At the time, a multi-national force was stationed in Lebanon, comprised of French, Italian and British servicemen. In her meetings with Chancellor Kohl, Mrs Thatcher raised concerns about the implications a potential American revenge strike might have for the force.
Ahead of a joint press conference, Mrs Thatcher’s press secretary Bernard Ingham advised that she could expect questions on Lebanon and her view on “closer American co-operation with Israel”.
Mr Ingham suggested she take the opportunity “to present the arguments against revenge but for self-defence”, saying that it was “important to keep the temperature down”.
Mrs Thatcher appears to have agreed. Her view was that should America retaliate “innocent people could be harmed; there would be implications for all members of the multi-national force and the Middle East was in turmoil already”.
In the end, the US did not mount a major retaliatory strike, but the bombings did lead to the withdrawal of the multi-national force the following year.
Notes from a dinner at the summit also reveal the two leaders agreed that Jordan was not a threat to Israel and instead saw it as the victim of “a historic injustice”.
A write-up circulated by Robin Butler reported Chancellor Kohl expressing “agreement with the Prime Minister’s view” that Jordan, as a stable neighbour, “had been a buttress to Israel”.
The West German leader also suggested that Israel was making “brutal use” of the uncertainty in American politics ahead of the 1984 presidential election to advance its cause against the Palestinians on the West Bank.
Some 299 people were killed in the Beirut barracks bombing in 1983