Twenty-five years ago, at astir 9:30 pm in the evening of June 25, 1996, a immense detonation rocked the barracks for the United States Air Force 4404 Provisional Wing successful Khobar, Saudi Arabia. The blast from a motortruck weaponry was truthful monolithic it was felt successful Bahrain 20 miles away. Nineteen American airmen were killed and 498 radical were wounded, astir of them Saudis and overseas impermanent workers successful adjacent buildings adjacent to the parking batch wherever the weaponry exploded.
The violent onslaught connected the Khobar Towers was the bloodiest onslaught connected America betwixt the Beirut Marine barracks catastrophe successful 1983 and September 11, 2001. Its bequest inactive haunts Washington’s relations with Iran. I watched the play up close.
I was successful Jerusalem that evening traveling with Secretary of State Warren Christopher arsenic the typical of the Secretary of Defense William Perry. The adjacent greeting we flew straight to Dhahran Airfield to spot the tract and conscionable with the survivors. En way I was told that I should enactment successful Dhahran erstwhile Christopher departed and hole for a sojourn by Perry successful a week oregon so. My luggage was successful the hold, it near without me.
The weaponry country was horrific. The outer walls of the barracks had been blown retired truthful you could spot the devastation within. An tremendous crater marked wherever the weaponry had exploded. The adjacent Saudi assemblage was besides decimated.
As the lawman adjunct caput of defence for the Near East and South Asia I was the astir elder civilian Defense Department authoritative successful Saudi Arabia. The Air Force assigned to maine a power serviceman arsenic usual. She was a lieutenant who had been wounded successful the attack. In our archetypal gathering she was inactive bleeding a little.
I conscionable with the Saudi ambassador to the United States who had been location successful Riyadh erstwhile the onslaught occurred and rushed to Dhahran immediately. Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz was an aged friend; we had worked intimately unneurotic aft the Iraqi penetration of Kuwait successful August 1990 and the Gulf War successful 1991. Bandar was cautious not to authorities unequivocally that Iran was down the onslaught but helium surely pointed successful that direction.
We learned aboriginal that the Saudis had sizeable accusation connected the bombers that they were not sharing. The Saudis knew of the beingness of a Iranian-backed Saudi Shia violent enactment which had been smuggling explosives into the Dhahran area.
The crippled was hatched 2 years earlier astatine the Sayyihdah Zaynab Mosque successful Damascus, Syria, by 3 parties: Iranian intelligence, Lebanese Hezbollah, and a postulation of Saudi Shia violent groups nether assorted names including Hezbollah successful the Hejaz. The mosque is the tomb of Zaynab, the girl of the Prophet Muhammad’s girl Fatima and his nephew Ali. It is simply a precise beatified tract for Shia pilgrims to visit. In the 1990s it was a stronghold of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) successful Damascus. When I visited the mosque successful 1988 it was afloat of widows and orphans of Guards killed successful the Iran-Iraq war.
The Iranians relation has rightly gotten the astir attraction but Lebanese Hezbollah was the cardinal to the bombing. It provided the weaponry shaper who enactment the explosives unneurotic successful the truck. He has ne'er been identified. The person of the Saudi Shia collaborators, Ahmed Mughassil, was captured by the Saudis successful Beirut successful 2015.
Once Secretary Perry arrived, toured the weaponry site, and met with the Air Force commanders connected the scene, the adjacent measurement was to find a caller determination to run from, with amended security. The Khobar Towers were successful the mediate of an municipality area. Minister of Defense and Aviation Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz (Bandar’s father) suggested a basal southbound of Riyadh named aft him and isolated heavy successful the desert.
Perry and I inspected the past bare basal and agreed to determination there. Within months the American, British, and French craft and crews were transferred from Khobar to Prince Sultan Air Base wherever they had miles of bare abstraction successful each direction.
Back successful Washington, the Clinton medication was uncomfortable with the grounds of Iran’s role. The Saudis were reluctant to stock what they knew due to the fact that they assumed Clinton would bid a retaliation against Iran if helium was definite that Tehran was responsible. That could bring warfare betwixt the U.S. and Iran with Saudi Arabia successful the middle, a nightmare script for the kingdom.
Clinton did authorize a concealed effect to the Iranians. Around the world, CIA officers approached Iranian quality and IRGC operatives moving undercover arsenic diplomats and threatened to exposure them publicly. The operatives would past person to archer their bosses backmost location that their screen was blown and spell backmost to Iran. The sting forced dozens of Iranian militants to suffer their positions abroad, disrupting their operations significantly. It was acold much devastating for Iran than an aerial onslaught would person been, without the risks of starting an open-ended warfare with nary viable endgame and unexpected consequences.
Three years aboriginal arsenic the grounds of Iran’s culpability mounted, Clinton sent a letter to Iran’s caller President Mohammad Khatami calling connected the reformist person to bring those IRGC officials liable for Khobar to justness oregon extradite them to Saudi Arabia. As the president’s peculiar adjunct for Near East and South Asia Affairs, I was tasked to present it by giving the missive to Sultan Qaboos of Oman, a state with bully relations with some America and Iran.
Accompanied by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Martin Indyk, I met with Sultan Qaboos astatine his chateau extracurricular Paris. As we expected, the Iranians denied immoderate engagement successful the bombing. It was a utile connection to the Iranians that we were watching them closely. However, the missive had the unintended effect of intensifying the already tense narration betwixt Khatami and the hardliners successful the Iranian government.
Just past twelvemonth a tribunal ordered Iran to wage $879 cardinal successful damages to the victims of Khobar. The contented volition not conscionable spell away.
Back astatine the barracks successful 1996, I was hosted by the consulate successful Dhahran and shared a necktie with the chargé d’affaires. After 5 days of lasting down, the Air Force held a ceremonial to retrieve the fallen. Then astatine precocious noon, 2 F-15s hurled down the runway and mildly lifted into the sky. The basal was backmost enforcing the confederate no-fly portion implicit Iraq. The somesthesia connected the tract was implicit 120 degrees Fahrenheit. I person ne'er been prouder of our men and women successful uniform.