Wikileaks-Secret cable, memo fuel tensions in Lebanon

Lebanon’s defense minister offered U.S. officials advice on how Israel could defeat the militant Hezbollah group in a future war and vowed to keep the Lebanese army out of the fighting, according to secret diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

That memo and another secret cable that revealed U.S. secret spy flights over Hezbollah locations in Lebanon in 2008 are sure to fuel tensions between the militant group and the Western-backed prime minister at a sensitive time.

A U.N. tribunal is expected to issue indictments in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, possibly as early as this month.

The tribunal has caused deep divisions within Lebanon’s government, which includes Hezbollah along with pro-Western blocs led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the son of the slain leader.

There are fears of an outbreak of violence if the court indicts members of Hezbollah, which claims the court is bias.

The tribunal has exacerbated tensions and a deep mistrust between Hezbollah and Hariri’s coalition. Hezbollah has accused members of the coalition of collaborating with the U.S. against the group, including during the monthlong 2006 war between Israel and the group.

The diplomatic records exposed on the WikiLeaks website this week revealed a 2008 conversation between the Lebanese Defense Minister, Elias Murr, and U.S. officials in Lebanon, in which he offered advice on how Israel could defeat Hezbollah in a future war.

Although he made clear he is not responsible for passing on messages to Israel, he said the Israelis should, for instance, avoid bombing bridges and infrastructure in Christian areas in a future war, so as not to turn public opinion against them.

“If Israel has to bomb all of these places in the Shiite areas as a matter of operational concern, that is Hezbollah’s problem,” Murr reportedly said.

Murr also said the Lebanese army would not get involved in the next war, adding that the objective was for the army to survive a three week war “completely intact” and to be able to “take over once Hezbollah’s militia has been destroyed.”

The classified memo was published in full on Thursday by the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which was given an advance copy of the document by WikiLeaks.

Murr’s office on Thursday denied he had made the comments, saying the report was “out of context and inaccurate.”

Another memo released by WikiLeaks on Wednesday revealed the U.S. in 2008 flew secret spy plane missions over Hezbollah locations in Lebanon. The planes, which used foreign British airbases, collected intelligence that was passed on to third party governments including Lebanon, according to the memo.

British officials reportedly complained to U.S. diplomats about the secret American spy flights using foreign U.K. airbases, fearing that the data collected during those missions could implicate their country in potential human rights violations.

The documents were part of more than 250,000 cables from hundreds of U.S. embassies around the world obtained by WikiLeaks, and posted on its website. The trove of secret material has been published by newspapers worldwide, embarrassing the U.S. government and numerous foreign leaders. AP

This is the cable as published by al Akhbar newspaper on Thursday

Full Document

VZCZCXRO1782

OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV

DE RUEHLB #0372/01 0711608

ZNY SSSSS ZZH

O 111608Z MAR 08

FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1273

INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN PRIORITY 1112

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY

RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY

RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 2041

RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 2308

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

Content

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 BEIRUT 000372

SIPDIS

NOFORN

SIPDIS

DEPT PASS TO EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE

NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/10/2018

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PTER, PARM, PINR, SY, IS, LE

SUBJECT: LEBANON: MINDEF WORRIED THAT HIZBALLAH WAR WITH

ISRAEL IMMINENT

REF: A. BEIRUT 355

B. IIR 6 857 0185 08

C. IIR 6 857 0189 08

D. BEIRUT 324

BEIRUT 00000372 001.2 OF 004

Classified By: Charge D’Affaires a.i. Michele J. Sison

for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

SUMMARY

——-

1. (S) In a March 10 meeting with Charge, MinDef Murr

expressed his growing concern that a Hizballah war with

Israel is imminent. His assessment is based upon recent

Hizballah preparations, reported movement of families, and

the precipitous increase in Israeli overflights of Lebanon.

Murr does not think that Hizballah can win another war with

Israel and will be defeated. Describing Hizballah as

“scared,” Murr opined that they are scared because they know

that Israel might be about to attack, or, more probably, they

fear the retribution Israel will heap upon them when

Hizballah takes revenge for the killing of terrorist Imad

Mughniya. Murr offered some ideas aimed at avoiding turning

the Christian population against Israel when the next war

with Hizballah occurs. Murr also outlined his orders to the

Lebanese Army when/if Israel invades to counter Hizballah.

End summary.

2. (S) Charge, Defense Attache and ODC Chief met with Deputy

Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Elias Murr on March 10

at his home in Rabieh. The atmosphere of the meeting was

cordial and friendly.

HIZBALLAH MEMBERS RENTING SUMMER HOMES;

NOT ALL REPORTED ACTIVITY

DIRECTLY RELATED TO WAR PLANNING

—————————————

3. (S) Contacts such as Amine Gemayel (ref A) and Walid

Jumblatt have been telling us recently that the Shia, and in

particular senior Hizballah members, have been acquiring land

or renting homes in the Christian areas of Jezzine, Jebel

Rihan, Junieh, Zahle as well as in Druze areas. This is

causing alarm among the Christian populations in these

locations and is being taken as a sign by some that Hizballah

is planning for war.

4. (S) MinDef Murr told us that he has looked into these

rumors and, indeed, it was impossible to find a rental

property in these areas. Regarding the activity in Jezzine,

Murr assured us that this was nothing more than investing in

Lebanon by Lebanese Shia expats based in West Africa. As for

the buying of Christian properties, Murr reported that the

Christians want to sell their property so they can leave

Lebanon. In any case, Murr did not see a military linkage

between the sale of homes in Jezzine and Hizballah planning.

5. (S) As for the areas further north in Lebanon such as

Keserwan and the Metn, Murr confirmed that Shia are renting

in high numbers there because they feel that Israel is going

to attack soon. Such action could take place as early as

April 2008, he warned. (Comment: Shia took refuge

throughout Christian areas in south Lebanon during the July

2006 war, with as many as 300-400 people crowded into a

single church for weeks on end. End Comment.) Murr also told

us that Hassan Nasrallah’s cousin has moved his family out of

the southern suburbs, the Dahiyya, and rented a chalet in the

resort town of Farayya for a year. According to Murr, this

means that Nasrallah is on high alert.

6. (S) In addition to renting homes in these areas, Hizballah

is making many concessions to the Christians who live in

these areas. In a meeting three weeks ago between top

Hizballah officials such as Wafiq Safa and March 14 members

at MoD Headquarters in Yarze, Hizballah agreed to all of the

Christians demands. The two most notable concessions were

that Hizballah will not place any signage with Nabih Berri or

Hassan Nasrallah’s image in these locations and that

Hizballah will not have a visible presence in these areas.

BEIRUT 00000372 002.2 OF 004

(Comment: This is significant. During the July 2006 war,

Hizballah members moved into Christian areas and started

converting them to Hizballah strongholds. On one occasion,

Hizballah attempted to place a Nasrallah banner on the facade

of a local church. When the inhabitants protested, the were

intimidated into acquiescing. The banner was later hung

inside the church. End Comment.) Murr thinks that Hizballah

agreed to these concessions because it wants to avoid

internal problems at all costs while it prepares for its

external fight with Israel. During this same meeting, March

14 members learned that Hizballah has rockets that can fly

over 200 kilometers.

HIZBALLAH NOT CONVINCED THEY CAN WIN

THEY WILL LOSE IF THEY TRY WAR WITH ISRAEL

——————————————

7. (S) Murr told us that Hizballah is not “internally

convinced” that it can win this time. It was internally

convinced that it could win in 2006. Murr predicted that

Hizballah’s war with Israel will not be like 2006 and that

the fight in the Beka’a Valley will be very different.

Saying that Israel paid the price by fighting in the villages

in 2006, Murr harbors no illusion that they will not get

bogged down in the village a second time. Instead, Murr

thinks they will bypass strongholds in villages and pursue

the main forces, the rockets.

8. (S) “I am sure Hizballah is scared and they are preparing

for a severe lesson this time,” Murr said. Hizballah must

respond to the Mughniya assassination, but they know it will

bring retribution. Murr thinks that an attack in West Africa

or South America would be easier for Hizballah but he thinks

Nasrallah would prefer to attack inside of Israel if

possible. Hizballah will attempt to bring in Syria to absorb

some of the Israeli response to their attack, he added.

SYRIA’S ASSAD SEES NO SIGNALS OF WAR

THINKS HIS SUMMIT WILL SUCCEED

————————————

9. (S) Murr related that Saudi journalist Ghassan Charbel of

the Al-Hayat newspaper recently returned to Beirut from

Damascus where he met with Bashar Al-Assad. Charbel told

Murr that Bashar Assad told him “I have no Israeli signal of

a strike or a war even if Hizballah thinks this way.”

10. (S) Assad feels that his Arab Summit will happen and that

he can continue to pursue his agenda in Lebanon, Charbel

informed Murr. Specifically, he intends to push for the

10-10-10 Cabinet formula while waiting for the term of the

Bush Administration to expire. He does not see anything at

all happening this year in Lebanon, Charbel had said. Murr

seemed to think otherwise, reporting that Syria has recalled

250,000 migrant agricultural workers from Lebanon who also

serve in the Syrian military reserves.

UNSCR 1701 AREAS OF LEBANON ARE PROTECTED

HIZBALLAH WILL NOT FIGHT ON THIS TERRAIN

—————————————–

11. (S) Murr said that Hizballah does not want to move inside

the UNSCR 1701 areas or to provoke any problems with the

United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). However,

if Israel violates the 1701 battlespace, Hizballah will use

this opportunity to flood back into this area. If Israel does

not go into the 1701 area, Hizballah will not enter these

areas either.

12. (S) Returning to the theme of a wary Hizballah, Murr told

us that “they (Hizballah) are scared, terrorized. They know

the Israelis will not lose again.” Murr thinks that Ehud

Barak is a very different Minister of Defense than the one

who tried to win a war using airpower. Additionally,

Hizballah knows that President Bush is coming to Israel in

May, so they think that this new war must be completed by

that time.

MICHEL AOUN “GOING INSANE”

————————–

BEIRUT 00000372 003.2 OF 004

13. (S) When asked what role Free Patriotic Movement leader

Michel Aoun is playing right now, Murr deadpanned that he is

“going insane.” Retired BG Fouad Ashkar, an Aoun advisor

dating to Aoun’s time as Lebanese Army Commander, came to see

Murr on March 9 to discuss weapons permits for Aoun’s

bodyguards. Murr told Ashkar that he was authorized only ten

permits. Aoun had recently contacted Murr’s father to try and

pressure the MinDef into agreeing to fifty weapons permits.

A defiant Murr told Ashkar to “go get some of your Hizballah

suicide bombers to serve as bodyguards,” the sub-context

being that perhaps Michel Aoun would get blown up along the

way.

14. (S) Murr is also limiting the number of visitors that can

drive up to Aoun’s house in the protected enclave of Rabieh.

Murr only allows official visitors such as MPs to approach

the house; all the others must park outside and ride

shuttles. Murr says that the residents of Rabieh are

exhausted with Aoun being a bad neighbor and going against

Christian traditions by backing Hizballah.

15. (S) Indeed, Murr assesses that Aoun is “going insane.” He

is increasingly responding to the demands of Ghassan Gebril

and his daughters, no matter how outlandish the ideas. He is

allergic to any mention of Army Commander General Michel

Sleiman and cannot accept a Sleiman Presidency; all this,

while taking up to five insulin shots a day to try and

control his increasingly severe diabetes.

ENTER “THE PRESIDIUM”;

CONVINCING THE PATRIARCH

————————

16. (S) The idea of a more permanent arrangement where the

Cabinet exercises more of its executive (Presidential)

authorities is being discussed. Some have even dubbed this

arrangement a “Presidium” since the Cabinet would move to

exercise full Presidential prerogatives. Murr thinks that

the Maronite Patriarch will be reluctant to accept this idea

as it will effectively terminate the existence of the

Presidency to some indeterminate time in the future. Even so,

some leaders intend to address this subject with the

Patriarch in order to revive some government functions that

are lying dormant.

17. (S) Murr expressed skepticism about this concept, saying

leaders such as Amine Gemayel and Saad Hariri will use this

to elevate “stupid” people so that their own political light

is not obscured or risk being dimmed by another rising

politician. They are looking at this from their selfish

parochial views, an approach not uncommon in Lebanese

politics, Murr complained.

BUT ISRAEL IS STILL MY MAIN CONCERN;

OVERFLIGHTS THE MOST SINCE 1982

————————————

18. (S) Making clear that he was not responsible for passing

messages to Israel, Murr told us that Israel would do well to

avoid two things when it comes for Hizballah One, it must not

touch the Blue Line or the UNSCR 1701 areas as this will keep

Hizballah out of these areas. Two, Israel cannot bomb bridges

and infrastructure in the Christian areas. The Christians

were supporting Israel in 2006 until they started bombing

their bridges. If Israel has to bomb all of these places in

the Shia areas as a matter of operational concern, that is

Hizballah’s problem. According to Murr, this war is not with

Lebanon, it is will Hizballah. Murr also told us that the

number of overflights recently (reftel B and C) are the

highest number since 1982. The last time there were this many

overflights was just prior to Israel invading south Lebanon

in April 1982, he stated flatly.

IT’S NOT OUR WAR

WE HAVE TO PRESERVE THE ARMY

—————————-

19. (S) Murr said that he had summoned LAF Commander General

Sleiman to discuss preparations for a Hizballah conflict with

BEIRUT 00000372 004.2 OF 004

Israel on March 7. Murr was especially concerned for members

of the 1st and 8th Brigades in the Beka’a valley. Murr thinks

that these units will be cut off from LAF HQ support while

Israel is conducting operations against Hizballah in the

Beka’a. As such, they will have to turn to the local

populace for food, water etc. Since the populace is mainly

Hizballah supporters, Murr is afraid that these two units

could be dragged into the fight, the ultimate disaster that

Murr hopes to avoid. As such, Murr is trying to ascertain

how long an offensive would be required to clean out

Hizballah in the Beka’a. The LAF will move to pre-position

food, money, and water with these units so they can stay on

their bases when Israel comes for Hizballah–discreetly, Murr

added.

20. (S) Murr also gave guidance to Sleiman that the LAF

should not get involved “when Israel comes.” This guidance

came four days after Sleiman had instructed his officers to

be prepared (ref D). Murr told us that he promised Sleiman

the political cover for LAF inaction. Murr’s opinion is that

an Israeli action against Hizballah would not be a war

against Lebanon and that Syria and Iran did not ask Lebanon’s

permission to equip Hizballah with its rockets. As such, the

LAF has been ordered to not get involved with any fighting

and to fulfill a civil defense role, such as humanitarian

support, when/if hostilities break out. Murr told us that he

would personally speak to the Shia officers in the Army to

make sure they understood why the Army was not going to

participate. For Murr, the LAF’s strategic objective was to

survive a three week war “completely intact” and able to take

over once Hizballah’s militia has been destroyed. “I do not

want thousands of our soldiers to die for no reason,” Murr

declared.

COMMENT

——-

21. (S) Murr’s concern over another Hizballah war with Israel

appeared to be genuine. The length of time spent on this

topic given the other political machinations in Lebanon

during the two and a half hour conversation was indicative of

his level of concern. Murr seems intent on ensuring the Army

stays out of the way so that Hizballah bears the full weight

of an Israeli offensive. While we have noted the increase in

Israeli overflights, to include one over downtown Beirut

Friday, March 7, we have not seen indications that validate

Murr’s concern that an Israeli offensive might be imminent.

SISON

  • Hannibal

    In the U.S. an official with such treachery would certainly be indicted and jailed.

  • Hannibal

    In the U.S. an official with such treachery would certainly be indicted and jailed.

  • http://www.cadmeia.com Hannibal

    In the U.S. an official with such treachery would certainly be indicted and jailed.

  • PROPHET.T

    I can understand the king of Saudi Arabia,being A king, making any statement he wants, But I can’t understand a minister acting like a king.I ‘m afraid to call for his arrest and indictment, for fear of being offensive to a sect or religion.After all this is Lebanon.

    • Cathy82

      you wont be offending anyone prophet, as an orthodox, I am ASHAMED of this loser!

  • PROPHET.T

    I can understand the king of Saudi Arabia,being A king, making any statement he wants, But I can’t understand a minister acting like a king.I ‘m afraid to call for his arrest and indictment, for fear of being offensive to a sect or religion.After all this is Lebanon.

    • Cathy82

      you wont be offending anyone prophet, as an orthodox, I am ASHAMED of this loser!

  • PROPHET.T

    I can understand the king of Saudi Arabia,being the king, making any statement he wants, But I can’t understand a minister acting like a king.
    I ‘m afraid to call for his arrest and indictment for fear of being offensive to a sect or religion.After all this is Lebanon.

    • Anonymous

      you wont be offending anyone prophet, as an orthodox, I am ASHAMED of this loser!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QRDC5VD6TRKGIZZZGIX55AWUQI MOHAMAD

    This is the guy told everybody on tv in 2006 the army ready to support bizballah so that all nothing but bullshit i can’t believe he talked about the shiate which the only one care about lebanon . mohamad tarhini

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QRDC5VD6TRKGIZZZGIX55AWUQI MOHAMAD

    This is the guy told everybody on tv in 2006 the army ready to support bizballah so that all nothing but bullshit i can’t believe he talked about the shiate which the only one care about lebanon . mohamad tarhini

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QRDC5VD6TRKGIZZZGIX55AWUQI MOHAMAD

    This is the guy told everybody on tv in 2006 the army ready to support bizballah so that all nothing but bullshit i can’t believe he talked about the shiate which the only one care about lebanon . mohamad tarhini

  • libnan1

    WHAT A MONKEY!!!!!! What he said is offensive to all Lebanese not only Shiites. As a Christian I call for his resignation. This guy should never represent Lebanon.

  • libnan1

    WHAT A MONKEY!!!!!! What he said is offensive to all Lebanese not only Shiites. As a Christian I call for his resignation. This guy should never represent Lebanon.

  • Anonymous

    WHAT A MONKEY!!!!!! What he said is offensive to all Lebanese not only Shiites. As a Christian I call for his resignation. This guy should never represent Lebanon.