Profile: Hafiz al-Assad
Hafiz al-Assad was a participant or observer in the following events:
Time magazine cover from June 24, 1985 featuring report on the hijacking of Flight 847. [Source: Time]Islamic militants with the Shi’ite Amal group, an affiliate of Hezbollah, hijack TWA Flight 847 from Athens to Rome. 135 of the 153 passengers are Americans.
Demanding Release of Militant Prisoners - The hijackers demand the immediate release of 17 members of a Shi’ite militant group, Al Dawa, who were arrested in Kuwait for the December 1983 bombing of the American embassy in Kuwait City. (This group, the “Kuwait 17,” features prominently in other hijackers’ demands as well. They will accidentally be released during Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.) The hijackers also demand the release of some 700 fellow Shi’ite Muslim prisoners held in Israeli prisons and in prisons in southern Lebanon run by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army.
Navy Diver Murdered - The TWA pilot is forced to fly to Beirut, Lebanon, where, after their demands are not met, the hijackers shoot and trample Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem to death and dump his body on the tarmac. The plane is flown to Algiers and then back to Beirut again. Most of the passengers are released, but 39 are held captive in Lebanon. President Reagan holds a press conference largely focusing on the hostage crisis, and says that the US will never give in to terrorist demands.
Hostages Freed - After intervention by Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad, the remaining 39 hostages are freed on June 30 in Damascus; the hijackers are allowed to escape. Some of the hostages later compliment their captors for treating them well during their captivity. Nothing is ever confirmed, but speculation is widespread that some sort of quiet deal between Israel and the hijackers has been struck, as Israel begins releasing Shi’ite prisoners immediately after the hostages’ release. The US will deny that any such deal was ever made. In 1985, four of the hijackers will be indicted for their participation in the TWA takeover, but only one will ever be convicted. [PBS, 2000; PBS Frontline, 10/4/2001; BBC, 2008]
Iraq continues to meddle in the affairs of Lebanon as a method of seeking revenge against Syria for refusing to support Iraq in its war with Iran. Syria is in the process of seizing control of Lebanon and imposing military force to quell the fighting between the warring Lebanese factions, and Iraq has tried numerous times to interfere with Syria’s activities in Lebanon. Iraq earns the ire of the US when it tries to ship surface-to-surface missiles into Beirut through the Jordanian port of Aqaba. Such missiles deployed in an urban environment such as Beirut would drastically increase the level of violence throughout Lebanon. The US ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, meets with Iraqi officials daily in the US’s attempt to dissuade the Iraqis from arming Lebanese Prime Minister Michel Aoun and his Maronite Christian faction, in Aoun’s losing struggle against Syria. Glaspie points out that Aoun is a friend of Israel, and by arming Aoun, Iraq is placing itself in a tacit alliance with Israel. Joseph Wilson, Glaspie’s deputy, will later write, “For the Iraqis, of course, it had nothing to do with Israel, or Aoun’s position in Lebanon; it had everything to do with giving Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad a bloody nose and using Beirut as the cudgel with which to bash him. For the Iraqis, the road from Baghdad to Damascus went through Beirut.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 88-89]
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