The crisis began last Sept. 30, you might recall, when four attaches from the Soviet Embassy were kidnapped in Beirut by Muslim extremists. Western news agencies received individual photos of the four men that same night, each with an automatic pistol pressed against his head.
The photos were accompanied by a note from a hitherto unknown group calling itself the Islamic Liberation Organization. The message warned that the four Soviet captives would be executed, one by one, unless Moscow pressured pro- Syrian militiamen to cease shelling positions held by the pro-Iranian fundamentalist militia in Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli.
Although the Soviets attempted to open some channel for negotiations with the kidnappers, there was no immediate let-up in the shelling at Tripoli.
Only two days after the kidnappings, the body of one of the four kidnapped men, a 30-year-old consular secretary named Arkady Katov, was found, shot through the head, on a Beirut trash dump.
Apparently, that's when the Soviets dropped the idea of sweet talk and turned the matter over to the KGB.
Less than four weeks later, the three remaining hostages were freed on foot only 150 yards from the Soviet Embassy.
The pro-Syrian daily Al Sharq credited their release to the clandestine efforts of Brig. Gen. Ghazi Kanaan, the chief of intelligence for Syrian forces in Lebanon.
Western journalists reported that the kidnappers were forced to free the hostages because a block-to-block search by pro-Syrian militiamen was closing in on them.
But it wasn't until last week that Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent Benny Morris uncovered the most compelling reason why the three Soviets were released, emaciated and tired, but otherwise unharmed.
According to Morris, the KBG determined the kidnapping to be the work of the Shiite Muslim group known as Hezbollah, or Party of God. This was the same radical pro-Iranian faction that figured so belligerently in the mass hostage-taking from the TWA airliner at Beirut Airport last June.
Unlike the approach the United States used to resolve the TWA crisis, however, the Soviets did not bother negotiating with Hezbollah through Nabih Berri, Lebanon's justice minister and leader of the Shiite Amal militia.
Instead, the KGB kidnapped a man they knew to be a close relative of a prominent Hezbollah leader. They then castrated him and sent the severed organs to the Hezbollah official, before dispatching the unfortunate kinsman with a bullet in the brain.
In addition to presenting him with this grisly proof of their seriousness, the KGB operatives also advised the Hezbollah leader that they knew the indentities of other close relatives of his, and that he could expect more such packages if the three Soviet diplomats were not freed immediately.
The message was a lot more extreme than Ronald Reagan's vague allusions to using "Rambo next time," but the swift release of the three remaining hostages indicated that the Hezbollah big shot couldn't handle having terror shoved back in his face.
Post reporter Morris quoted unidentified observers in Jerusalem as noting:
"This is the way the Soviets operate. They do things - they don't talk.
"And this is the language the Hezbollah understand."