September 16, 1982: Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut, Lebanon

A Lebanese Christian group massacred hundreds and perhaps thousands of Shia Muslims in Beirut as the Israeli army looked on in September 1982.

When it comes to terrorism the involvement of a state sponsor can change everything – for the worse.

BEIRUT, LEBANON – Most of the attacks we have looked at over the past year have been the work of individuals or groups. Many of the former claim to be part of the latter, and sometimes the latter claim the former. All of the above are described as ‘non-state actors’.

So imagine if a state were to sponsor a terrorist group? Imagine the possibilities! From a terrorist’s perspective of course. It could be huge.

Hizballah is often seen as a the prototype state-backed terrorist group. A Lebanese Shia organisation/charity/popular movement, it has long been on the Iranian payroll, in part because Iran is largely Shia too and in part because, well, Iran likes to stir up shit. In truth, things are more complicated than that – Hizballah does not always take its orders from Iran – but Iran is an important sponsor.

On this day in 1982

On occasions, groups aligned with a state are responsible for heinous acts of terrorism. On this day in 1982, smack dab in the midst of the Lebanese civil war, the Kataeb Party (also known as the Phalange), a predominantly Christian group, on the orders of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), went in to the Sabra neighbourhood of Beirut and the Shatila refugee camp to ‘clear the area’ of Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) fighters. Except that the Phalange went on to massacre somewhere between 460 and 3,500 civilians (the upper end would make it bigger than 9/11).

The IDF stood by and did nothing as the killing went on. As the victims were predominantly Shia and Palestinian (Sunnis?) this act would qualify most definitely as terrorism on religious and/or ideological grounds. And Israel did not lift a finger to stop it. In fact, Israeli forces surrounded the camp to prevent anyone from leaving.

Technically, this would not be ‘state-sponsored’ I suppose but there is no question in my mind that Israel bears a significant amount of blame. This is important to remember as we tend to see the Jewish state as the victim, not the perpetrator, of terrorism.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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