A classified cable published by WikiLeaks reveals that the Government of Lebanon told U.S. diplomats in 2008 that “Iran Telecom is taking over the country!”
This took place less than a month before Hezbollah took over Beirut in May 2008 and tried but failed to take over Mt Lebanon .
The uncovering of the network and the demand to shut it down was the main reasons behind the May 2008 attack by Hezbollah.
The US ambassador to Lebanon on Monday condemned the release of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks as “illegal and irresponsible,” saying they only increased tensions in the turbulent country.
“As a matter of policy we don’t comment on documents that purport to contain classified information, but we would condemn in the strongest possible terms the deliberate and unauthorized disclosure of any classified materials,” Ambassador Maura Connelly said after meeting Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
“Illegal and irresponsible releases like those made by WikiLeaks serve those who want to increase tensions and settle political scores through inaccurate, out-of-context, and deliberate misinterpretations of material that is claimed to be authentic, but cannot be verified.”
Former Communications Minister MP Marwan Hamadeh denied the Wikileaks report and described it as “a story full of slanders and fabrications” .
Here is the cable
Wednesday, 16 April 2008, 16:42
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 BEIRUT 000523
NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER, STATE FOR NEA/ELA,
EO 12958 DECL: 04/16/2018
TAGS PTER, ECPS, PINR, LE, IR, SY
SUBJECT: LEBANON: HIZBALLAH GOES FIBER OPTIC
REF: BEIRUT 490
Classified By: Charge d’Affaires Michele Sison for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (S) Requesting a special meeting with Charge, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh decried the establishment of a complete fiber optics network by Hizballah throughout Lebanon. The GOL has been sharing this information widely among friends of Lebanon, to include the governments of France, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE. Hamadeh sees only two choices for the GOL: approach the UN Security Council, or use the “cover” of March 14-friendly municipalities to cut the lines. However, he questioned whether the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF) have the “guts” to do so, given that Hizballah already stated to Lebanese security officials that it would view this as equal to an Israeli act of aggression, and would then take action against the GOL. Hamadeh hopes that Saad Hariri, now in Geneva, will return soon to Lebanon so that March 14 can meet to formulate a strategy. End summary.
GOL HAS BEEN SHARING HIZBALLAH FIBER OPTIC MAP, REPORT WIDELY
2. (S) &Iran Telecom is taking over the country!8 were the first words out of the mouth of Minister of Telecommunications Marwan Hamadeh when he met with Charge and Econoff on April 16. He was referring to the discovery of a complete fiber optic system (FiOS) installed by Hizballah throughout Lebanon – reftel. In addition, Hizballah has introduced Wi-Max in Beirut’s southern suburbs. Hamadeh pointed out that although Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) television had run a story the previous night about the Hizballah FiOS network, it was already widely known. The LBC story was not planted by the GOL, nor planned, but in Hamadeh’s opinion it was no bad thing to get the story out there. Hamadeh himself has been sharing the news both within the GOL and outside, with &friends,8 which includes the Arab countries, the U.S., France (Sarkozy was &stunned”) and Terje Roed-Larsen of the UN. He briefed Bernard Kouchner, Jean-David Levitte, Boris Bouillon and Michel Barnier while in Paris. In Beirut he spoke to Charge Andre Parent of France and Ambassador Abdul Aziz Khoja of Saudi Arabia. Saad Hariri, when he heard, sent a private plane from Saudi Arabia to pick up a copy of the map, which traces in detail the route of the system, to share with Saudi King Abdullah and Intelligence Chief Prince Mukrin bin Abdul-Aziz. PM Siniora briefed the Jordanians and Emiratis, as well as Arab League SYG Amr Musa on the network during his recent trip around the region, Hamadeh confirmed. Within Lebanon Hamadeh says that the first person he told, after the Prime Minister and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt was Maronite Patriarch Sfeir. Hamadeh described the strategic implications of the Hizballah plan, which he says is targeting the Christian areas, despite a denial of that by Hizballah. In addition to Hamadeh and PM Siniora, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Defense Minister Michel Murr have been active in the GL information campaign on the network.
INTERFERENCE IN TELECOMS LINKED TO NETWORK
3. (S) While the confrontation over the FiOS system was taking place with Hizballah, mobile telecommunications were being subject to interference by Syria in the north, Israel in the south and possibly by the UN at sea, according to Hamadeh. The information about Israeli interference was passed &unofficially8 by UNIFIL, since, in a recurring complaint by Hamadeh during the conversation, the LAF has not reported any problems officially. The Syrian interference is similar to that occurring during the Nahr al-Barid fighting, and highlights the ability of the Syrians to communicate within Lebanon through non-Lebanese mobile systems. Because the system in the part of Syria bordering on northern Lebanon is a private company, MTM, Hamadeh believes that they offer political cover to the Syrian government, who he nevertheless believes is behind the problem. Hamadeh views these events as part of the same strategic interference in Lebanon, both internally and externally. Hamadeh has a map that delineates
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the interference, in an arc that runs from the north to the south of Lebanon.
MARCH 14 NEEDS TO MEET, BUT SAAD SHOULD BE THERE
4. (S) Hamadeh said that he, the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Elias Murr are all danger, but he and Murr will take the biggest risk in exposing the Hizballah FiOS network. Hamadeh told the PM that he could not assume the risk alone for a showdown with Hizballah. He also used the risk of physical harm as a deterrent with Jumblatt, who wanted to hold a press conference to expose the Hizballah system. Hamadeh believes that this is a March 14 issue, and cannot be resolved without the participation of Saad Hariri. Hamadeh complained that there has not yet been either a March 14 meeting or a cabinet meeting to discuss this matter. He says he asked for such discussions in a meeting with PM Siniora April 15, and will raise it again when they meet April 16. Hamadeh also discussed the issue with Larsen, whom he met with recently in Paris, although he did not give Larsen the map. If the GOL decides to raise the issue with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) he will then provide the map, said Hamadeh.
HIZBALLAH RESPONSE – DON’T TOUCH!
5. (S) Hamadeh reported that LAF G-2 Brigadier General Georges Khoury and ISF Major General Ashraf Rifi saw Wafiq Safa, the Hizballah liaison to the Lebanese intelligence services, together. Khoury asked Safa to take down two parts of the network as a first step; Safa refused. Safa stated that the network is part of Hizballah’s ability to defend Lebanon, and that Hizballah would regard any attack on the network as an act of aggression. However, PM Siniora only got a written report from Khoury ten days after the meeting, Hamadeh complained. Even then, the report was unsigned and thus returned to Khoury for signature. According to their report, Hizballah argued that the PM, Hamadeh and Murr are only raising the issue of the FiOS system in order to bring up the issue of Hizballah weapons. Safa stated categorically that the FiOS system is not up for discussion because it is a key part of the Hizballah arsenal. Safa freely acknowledged to Rifi and Khoury that the network exists. It could only be discussed as part of a defense strategy, he said, adding that the network has no commercial or trade implications. He maintained that it does not penetrate the Christian areas.
HIZBALLAH ASSERTIONS UNTRUE
6. (S) Hamadeh believes both Hizballah assertions to be untrue. He refutes the Hizballah claim that the system exists solely to give them defensive communications throughout the country, saying that there are ¢rales8 or hubs in many villages along the route, and no doubt these have lines running off to other villages and residences. He also believes that Hizballah crews are only waiting for the snows in the Christian regions of Metn and Kswaran to melt before completing penetration of these regions from the east.
WORK DONE UNDER VARIOUS FORMS OF COVER
7. (S) To complete the installations and at the same time stay below the radar, Hamadeh says that Hizballah has used the municipalities to issue local permits. For example, in Sidon they are working under the cover provided by Abdel Rahman Bizri, the mayor. In another case the Ministry of Energy issued a permit for work that was &to reinforce energy lines,8 although Hamadeh says that was clearly not true. Hamadeh says that the whole of the Bekaa valley was done with local permits, and installations were done by different groups, each unaware of what the others were doing. However, he also says that some of the work was done with the knowledge of resigned Minister of Energy Fneish, a Hizballah member.
DISCOVERY AND REPORT
8. (S) The first official report was from the region of
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Chouifat, which reported installation of an unknown fiber optic system, and asked the Minister of the Interior to stop it. No one did anything because, in Hamadeh’s opinion, they &had no guts.8 At the time of the earlier exposure of the Hizballah telephone lines running through Beirut, and even along the wall of the French embassy, the GOL asked Hizballah to remove those lines, which Hizballah did, and Hamadeh said that he believed at the time that would be the end of the network in the south. The full Ministry of Telecommunications report on the system was compiled by engineers in the ministry and othersXXXXXXXXXXXX who Hamadeh believes could be in great danger because of the report. Once again Hamadeh pointed out that there were no official reports yet from ISF Major General Rifi or LAF G-2 Brigadier General Khoury.
FUNDING FROM IRAN
9. (S) The current installations, as per the map Hamadeh has given us, shows lines running from Beirut, around both sides of the airport, into the south below the Litani and back up through the Bekaa valley to the far north. It covers the Palestinian camps, and the Hizballah training camps in the Bekaa, and is penetrating deep into the Christian Metn and Ksarwan areas. Although Hamadeh says he has &a few names,8 he did not list the companies who are responsible for the installation, but said that information would be made available shortly. He cited the Iranian Fund for the Reconstruction of Lebanon as the source of the funding. This same group has been rebuilding roads and bridges since the July 2006 war with Israel, and has been accused before of installing telecommunications lines in parallel with new roads. Hamadeh said that he wants to get the list of companies involved and black list them with the GOL.
10. (S) Hamadeh highlights the system as a strategic victory for Iran, since it creates an important Iranian outpost in Lebanon, bypassing Syria. He sees the value for the Iranians as strategic, rather than technical or economic. The value for Hizballah is the final step in creating a nation state. Hizballah now has an army and weapons; a television station; an education system; hospitals; social services; a financial system; and a telecommunications system. As a sign of its confidence Hizballah official Safa told Khoury and Rifi that any move against the FiOS system would be taken as &an Israeli attack8 and dealt with accordingly. When Khoury and Rifi pointed out that the people in the area might not accept this and might show hostility to Hizballah in this case, Safa replied, &We don’t care; we will accept hostile reactions.8 At that point, according to Hamadeh, the GOL decided it needed to inform its friends and make a decision on the next steps to be taken.
HAMADEH PREPARES INTERNAL CAMPAIGN
11. (S) Meanwhile, Hamadeh is preparing a &very strong8 internal campaign. This campaign, he said, has the potential to &destroy8 Aoun and mobilize Christians, as well as influence those Shia who are already beginning to worry about Hizballah. He is waiting for a March 14 meeting to discuss this campaign. Saad has apparently traveled to London and Geneva this week, and is expected to be back in Riyadh by 4/20. Saad has been out of Lebanon for some several weeks and it is not known when he will return. Hamadeh sees only two choices for the GOL: approach the UN Security Council directly, or take on Hizballah by cutting lines. But do the Lebanese security forces have the “guts” for that, or are they frightened by Safa’s statement that those actions would be considered an act of aggression, he wonders.
12. (S) Comment: Last year, when Hamadeh’s telecommunications ministry “discovered” the well-known Hizballah telephone system, including the line strung along the wall of the French embassy, he maintained that the GOL would not tolerate the erosion of its “last monopoly” by Hizballah, However, aside from the ceremonial cutting of the French embassy line, there was no further action. This time around, it appears that by sharing as widely as possible the details of the plan, the GOL may hope that someone else will take on the challenge. End comment.
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