Ayatollah Khomeini has established another Islamic state, a theocratic regime after the Iranian model, in the Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon. It is a frightening and forbidding place -- patrolled by Syrian soldiers, yet controlled from afar by Khomeini and overrun with his terrorists.
Our associate Barbara Newman has just returned from there, with an exclusive, eyewitness report on how Khomeini has transformed this corner of Lebanon into a terrorist stronghold. She traveled through this dangerous land with a trigger-ready military escort of Lebanese bodyguards and Syrian commandos, arranged by a Lebanese warlord.
Before Lebanon was splintered into warring factions, the Bekaa Valley was a playground for the rich. The valley also attracted crime lords, who operated at the subterranean level, growing, refining and marketing hashish. But the villages were heavily populated by Shiite Moslems, the poor and downtrodden, who did the grunt work and resented the monied classes.
As Lebanon was plunged into chaos, Khomeini took advantage of the political, economic and social disruption. He dispatched several hundred revolutionary guards to the city of Baalbek, where they sought out the dispossessed and disillusioned Shiites, then recruited and trained them as terrorists. Sullen young men, who had been nobodies going nowhere, suddenly were somebodies. The ayatollah commissioned them "soldiers of God," told them they were invincible and taught them puritanical Islam, with a fierce hatred for Israel and America.
Ideological indoctrination was given precedence over terrorist training. But the trainees were shown how to handle weapons and explosives. They were taught the grim arts of sabotage, kidnaping and hijacking. There was a special course, too, for suicide fighters. After four to six months, the graduates came out professional terrorists, sworn to die for the Islamic revolution.
Khomeini rules the Bekaa Valley by slogans and sermons, intrigues and alliances. He uses demagoguery to hold the many and terrorism to intimidate the few. He digs into his oil coffers to pay salaries to terrorists and to bribe those whom he can't mesmerize.
Some Shiite women told Newman they are paid to wear the black chador, which covers their faces. This gives the false impression that the Shiite community, which has always been fragmented by bitter rivalries, is united behind Khomeini and his fundamentalist movement. He also distributes welfare and provides some social services.
Khomeini's investment in his Islamic state in the Bekaa Valley has been minimal. For the most part, the terrorists finance their operations by refining and smuggling hashish. Municipal services are strictly limited. There is no running water, no sanitary services, little health care. The streets stink of accumulated garbage; dysentery is rife; typhoid and plague are common.
One villager, reacting to Newman's armed escort, begged plaintively: "People have died. People have disappeared. What do you want from us?" Another said wearily: "This is a hard place to live."