Setback for Iran as US court orders $1.68 billion payout for 1983 Beirut bombing


A US judge on Wednesday ordered Iran to pay nearly $1.7 billion to the families of US soldiers killed in the 1983 Beirut bombing. The decision may be appealed, but the order is a legal setback for a government of Iran and could further damage US-Iranian relations.

Background: Reuters reported that judge Loretta Preska in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered Iran’s central bank and Luxembourg-based Clearstream Banking SA to pay $1.68 billion to the families of the US Marines who died. The relevant assets are currently held in a fund by Clearstream.

The case relates to the 1983 attack when two suicide bombers used truck bombs to blow up barracks housing US Marines and French soldiers in Lebanon. The soldiers were in the country as part of an international peacekeeping mission amid the Lebanese civil war. 241 US soldiers and 58 French soldiers were killed, as well as six civilians and the two suicide bombers.

A group known as Islamic Jihad took credit for the attack. US officials have long blamed Iran and its Lebanese military proxy Hezbollah for the attack. There is no consensus that Hezbollah existed at the time, although it emerged in Lebanon in the 1980s.

There have been many legal proceedings against the Iranian government since then. A 2020 decision by the US Supreme Court ordered a reconsideration of the case because of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019. Preska found that this law allowed the families to seize the assets, according to Reuters.

Clearstream’s parent company, Deutsche Boerse AG, told Reuters it is considering an appeal. In the past, Iran’s central bank has argued that it has sovereign immunity. This principle gives foreign governments legal immunity in the legal systems of other governments.

US courts have rejected this argument in another case involving Iran. In 2019, the US Department of Justice charged Turkey’s Halkbank with helping Iran evade US sanctions. Halkbank, which is majority owned by the Turkish state, has claimed sovereign immunity, but two US courts have rejected Halkbank’s appeals in the past. The US Supreme Court heard arguments for the case in January.

Lawyers for the victims’ families and Iran’s central bank did not respond to Al-Monitor’s request for comment. The Iranian government did not appear to immediately comment on the ruling.

Why is it important: The ruling could lead to the families finally receiving compensation, according to some observers.

Matthew Levitt, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Al-Monitor, “Clearstream may try to appeal, so payment may be delayed, but it’s likely to happen at least in part .”

Levitt, who was previously a senior official on terrorism and financial intelligence at the US Treasury Department, said the judge’s decision was a blow to the Iranian government.

“Cases like this will not by themselves end Iran-sponsored terrorism, but they do have a tangible cost,” he said. “It’s not just a factor of the financial judgment, but also the federal court’s guilty verdicts that provide important messages that Iran is accountable as a rogue actor in the court of public opinion.”

The ruling could also further damage US-Iranian relations. US President Joe Biden resumed talks with the Iranian government in 2021 on Iran’s nuclear program, but those negotiations deteriorated over Iran’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing protests in Iran.

The Iranian government has criticized US court rulings on the Beirut bombing in the past. In 2016, the then President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, called for a ruling in favor of the families at the time to “continue the war against Iran.”

More information: Iran continues to maintain strong relations with Hezbollah. On Thursday, the head of Iran’s Strategic Council for Foreign Relations, Kamal Kharrazi, met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut. Kharazzi brought a political and economic delegation to Lebanon and discussed regional developments with Nasrallah, the Official News Agency of the Islamic Republic reported.

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