More than 24 hours before journalist Charles Glass was abducted in Beirut on Wednesday, U.S. intelligence received a report that an American working with the Lebanese Defense Ministry was to be kidnaped, according to administration sources.
The report was among several puzzling aspects of the seizure of the former ABC correspondent, who was grabbed by unidentified gunmen along with the son and driver of Lebanese Defense Minister Adel Osseiran.
At the time of the intelligence report, Washington officials did not know that Glass was in Lebanon or that he was visiting the family of the Lebanese defense minister, the sources said. A U.S. defense attache and several American military personnel attached to the U.S. Office of Military Cooperation still in Beirut have taken extensive security precautions, so officials did not believe the kidnap report referred to them.
Although no one had asserted responsibility for the kidnaping as of last night, U.S. officials are operating on the belief that Glass was taken hostage by the Hezbollah, or Party of God, a radical Islamic faction with close ties to Iran. Some officials said the kidnaping could well be another move in an Iranian "war of nerves" against the United States that is aimed at altering U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf.
Since the United States made known a plan to protect 11 "reflagged" Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf, Iran has stepped up oral attacks, military maneuvers and psychological warfare in an effort to stop it, U.S. sources said.
Besides the Glass kidnaping, among the events being attributed to this campaign are:Provocative displays of the Chinese-made Silkworm antiship missiles, which the United States has described as a serious threat to shipping in the Persian Gulf. A debate has been taking place within the administration about whether to mount a preemptive strike against the Silkworms if they are deployed as expected near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.The laying of antiship mines in the northern Persian Gulf, in waters leading to Kuwait's main oil port. The Pentagon has dispatched U.S. Navy experts to assess the potential danger from these mines.Recent maneuvers of Iranian aircraft and small boats in the Persian Gulf -- maneuvers that stop just short of displays of hostile intentions that could bring attacks from U.S., European or Arab military forces.Recent reports in Iranian-connected publications in Lebanon that some of the U.S. hostages being held in Lebanon have been moved to Iran and may be placed on trial. Officials said they have no evidence that the reports are true.
The speculation in official quarters is that these reports are intended to add fuel to the domestic U.S. debate on whether to give an enhanced mission to U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf.
Iran is seeking in every way possible to "keep the political pot boiling" in the United States while the debate on the reflagging of the Kuwaiti tankers continues, an official said.
Iranian leaders have made clear their passionate opposition to a greater role for either the United States or the Soviet Union or both in protecting shipping or undertaking other military roles in the gulf.
Glass, the grandson of Lebanese immigrants, has become the ninth American to be held hostage in that country.
Official sources in Washington said the evidence suggests that the three carloads of gunmen who seized Glass Wednesday were seeking to abduct the American and that the Lebanese defense minister's son was taken into custody, along with his driver, only when the younger Osseiran courageously objected to the kidnaping of his American friend.