Three Irish soldiers killed in Lebanon in 1989 were targeted in revenge for the abduction of a Lebanese bomb-maker by Israeli commandos, newly declassified papers show.
The three soldiers, who were serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) at the time, were blown up in roadside bomb, and a report from the Irish chief of staff at the Department of Defence has now been published.
It said the “most plausible” explanation was that the three soldiers were “deliberately targeted” as an act of revenge by supporters of a known Lebanese explosives expert who had been abducted by the Israelis the previous year.
The master bomb-maker was nabbed from an area patrolled by the Irish, and Corporal Fintan Heneghan, 28, Private Tomas Walsh, 30, and Private Mannix Armstrong, 26, appear to have been killed in response. They were in a truck when it drove over a massive land mine near Braashit in south Lebanon on 21 March 1989.
The incident led to a diplomatic spat between the Israeli and Irish governments. At the time, Israel was financing and training the South Lebanon Army (SLA), whose troops had killed another two Irish soldiers in 1986.
An Irish government minister told an Israeli diplomat that the incident was “bound to have a negative effect” on Israeli-Irish relations. The Israelis later told the Irish that an SLA member had since been jailed and the unit had been removed from the area.
Other Irish government papers released this week show that preparations to open an Israeli embassy in Ireland in the 1980s were shelved in part because Private O’Brien and Corporal McLaughlin had been killed by shells fired from an SLA area.
“Israeli authorities have continued over the years to raise this matter [of the embassy] at most meetings with Irish representatives at political and official level,” a 1989 memo read.
“It has also been raised by representatives of the Jewish community in Ireland and elsewhere, by distinguished political visitors from the US and… by the embassy of the United States.” An Israeli embassy in Ireland finally opened in 1994.