Wikileaks And The 2008 Presidential Elections: Behind The Scenes

Doha Agreement

There’s not a lot to comment on concerning the presidential elections, so I thought It would be nice if I made a compilation of interesting cables connected to the 2008 presidential elections that I found on Wikileaks. What makes these texts so awesome is that they give hints on everything that happened afterwards: The May 7 events, Walid Jumblatt’s 2009 shift, Safadi and Mikati’s 2011 shift, the Sleiman-Aoun tensions, and even Michel Sleiman’s 2013 rivalry with the March 8 alliance. Elias El Murr sees his next president (Sleiman) as a coward, and Geagea wants to arm the Lebanese Forces.

Enjoy.

Pre-May 7

SAMIR GEAGEA ON AOUN’S ARMS, PRESIDENCY

Date:

2007 September 18, 12:48 (Tuesday)

Canonical ID:

07BEIRUT1435_a

The early preparations for the May 7 events?

2. (S) The Ambassador met privately with Samir Geagea in the Lebanese Forces stronghold of Bsharre, a town in north Lebanon, on 9/17 before a lunch with local officials attended by both. Geagea, with his usual intensity, zeroed in on what he insisted were tangible plans, training, and weapons distribution by pro-Syrian forces for a forcible military take-over of Lebanon. Claiming to have inside sources, Geagea said that Michel Aoun, Hizballah, Marada chief Suleiman Franjieh, Druse opposition figures Talal Arslan and Wi’am Wihab, and other pro-Syrians like Zahar Khatib were preparing their followers for militia-type street action to cut March 14 strongholds off from one another. Many things could spark putting this plan into action, Geagea said, but the election of a March 14 president without the presence of two-thirds of the parliamentary members would be the most likely.

HIZBALLAH ARMS ALLEGEDLY GO TO AOUN VIA FRANJIEH

3. (S) Geagea said that Hizballah is being careful to avoid direct military support to Aoun, which, if discovered, would discredit Aoun with the Christians and Hizballah (with its claims that its arms are directed against Israel only) more generally. Instead, Hizballah is providing arms to Franjieh. Franjieh then opens his arsenals to Aoun, making the arms transfers, if leaked, appear to be one Christian opposition leader helping another with personal protection. One of the main recipient of the arms from Franjieh is MP Selim Aoun, an Aoun bloc MP on Ily Skaff’s Zahleh list. Selim Aoun is charged with distributing the arms to others in the Aoun camp and has established strategically located cells of 50-70 fighters each. Franjieh is providing some of the training facilities and has recently opened Marada offices far beyond its Zghorta headquarters in order to serve as rallying and training points as well as safehouses. Zahar al-Khatib plays a key training role of Aounist fighters, again in order to keep Hizballah somewhat at arms distance from Aoun.

ONE EXAMPLE OF MARCH 8-AOUN PLANS: ISOLATING JUMBLATT’S FIGHTERS

4. (S) When ordered into action, the cells will immediately cut off roads and communication links, to divide and isolate March 14 groups from one another. As only one example in what he said was a long list of plans, Geagea described how Walid Jumblatt’s fighters would be bottled up. In a detailed account, Geagea said that Aoun forces in Kahali (along the Damascus highway, above Aley) have operational plans to join forces with Arslan’s anti-Jumblatt Druse forces in Aley in order to sever the Damascus highway just above Beirut. Hizballah, helped by Selim Aoun’s forces in Zahle, will cut off the Biqa’ valley end of the road. At the same time, Arslan’s people will join with the PFLP-GC and Hizballah to cut the southern highway out of Beirut south of the airport. This will prevent Walid Jumblatt’s Druse fighters from being able to reach Beirut from the Chouf and west Biqa’. Hizballah, while part of this, will attempt to stay in the background, using, for example, orange shirts in the Zahleh area to imply that the Aounists are more numerous than they are.

GEAGEA CLAIMS LAF KNOWS BUT CHOOSES TO DO NOTHING

5. (S) Geagea expressed deep frustration with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). G-2 (army intelligence) chief Georges Khoury is aware of these plans. Not only has Geagea shared his information, but Khoury has his own confirmation. But the LAF is doing nothing. If the LAF would raid a single safehouse of Selim Aoun, for example, it would put a chill through the entire operation. But the LAF has too many Aoun sympathizers within its officer ranks to move against what Aoun is doing. Geagea claimed to have pushed for Zahar Khatib (once close to Jumblatt but now a staunch ally of Syria) to be pulled in for questioning, as a fall-back to questioning Aoun’s followers. But the LAF refuses to move. 6. (S) The Ambassador suggested that the LAF may be looking at weapons distributions by Aoun, Jumblatt, Franjieh, and Geagea himself as all part of the same pattern of increased personal protection and preparedness. Shaking his head, Geagea said that, were the LAF to look into the weapons distribution by Aoun and Franjieh, they would see offensive, not defensive, plans. If the LAF would call in some of Aoun’s weapons distributors, such as Selim Aoun, for questioning, then all of the arms dealing would decrease. Geagea asked for USG pressure on the LAF to respond to the growing threat: “they (the March 8-Aoun forces) already have an army, Hizballah. Now they’re building another army (the alleged arming of Aoun forces). They can’t have the LAF, too.” (We note that Georges Khoury has recently expressed anger and bitterness about March 14 complaints regarding LAF performance; Geagea’s comments are surely among the type that annoy Khoury.)

“He expressed concern, however, about whether Mohammed Safadi and the Tripoli MPs would be with March 14 when needed.”

HARB’S FLIRTATION WITH BERRI: METHOD IN HIS MADNESS

7. (S) The Ambassador asked Geagea about the presidential race. Geagea repeated the familiar two-pronged March 14 strategy: to welcome unconditional dialogue to seek a consensus candidate, while simultaneously shoring up March 14 ranks in preparation of electing Nassib Lahoud with an absolute majority (but without two-thirds quorum) if attempts to find a consensus candidate fail. He expressed concern, however, about whether Mohammed Safadi and the Tripoli MPs would be with March 14 when needed. The Ambassador asked, realistically, who would be acceptable consensus candidates for March 14. Maybe Charles Rizk, Geagea said, but certainly not LAF Commander Michel Sleiman. He expressed some concern about whether Saad Hariri might be willing to do a deal regarding Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, whom Geagea dismissed as too close to the Syrians. 8. (S) The Ambassador asked whether Geagea thought Boutros Harb’s current, exaggerated courtship of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri might make Harb acceptable to the March 8-Aoun forces. Unlike Saad Hariri’s concern (reftel), Geagea said that he was not worried about the constant verbal bouquets Harb throws Berri’s way. While he judged Harb to only have 10-15 percent chance of getting Berri on board, it was worth trying. If Harb can be elected as a consensus candidate with two-thirds quorum, then everybody is better off. Harb starts out his presidency with sufficient credibility and backing to work. Nassib Lahoud, on the other hand, is a better candidate, “the best,” Geagea said (reversing his previous ranking, which put Harb above Lahoud). But Nassib, despite his fortitude, would be at a great disadvantage in taking office, if half the country questions his legitimacy and the March 8-Aoun forces militarily take over sections of the country. Better to have Harb, if he can win consensus.

Read the full text here.

LEBANON: MICHEL SLEIMAN ANNOYED AT AOUN

Date:

2007 December 7, 17:09 (Friday)

Canonical ID:

07BEIRUT1928_a

“That man needs to see a doctor!”

4. (C) The Ambassador asked Sleiman about Aoun’s other public pronouncements and demands, such as the proportional split of the cabinet according to parliamentary bloc representation. “That man needs to see a doctor!” Sleiman said, wiggling his forefinger to the side of his head as if indicating mental illness). Aoun claims to want to strengthen the president. But, instead, Aoun wants to deny Sleiman one of the few absolute powers accruing to the president — the ability to co-sign with the PM the cabinet formation decree, naming ministers and portfolios. Sleiman indicated that he would use that signatory authority in order to place some of his own people on the cabinet. He said that, in his view, his ministers should, by swinging between March 14 and March 8 blocs within the cabinet, be able to provide the decisive cabinet votes.

Read the full text here.

LEBANON: JUMBLATT CONCERNED ABOUT UNIIIC DELAYS, SUNNI MILITIAS, AND HIZBALLAH FIBER OPTIC NETWORK

Date:

2008 April 8, 15:59 (Tuesday)

Canonical ID:

08BEIRUT490_a

The Sunnis are arming themselves, the army has no morale, and a  fiber optics network creates problems

8. (S) The second issue Jumblatt raised was Saad’s reported training of Sunni militias in Lebanon (allegedly 15,000 members in Beirut and more in Tripoli). In establishing his own “security agencies” in Beirut and Tripoli, Saad was being badly advised by “some people,” Jumblatt said, such as ISF General Ashraf Rifi. In his meeting with Jumblatt, Hassan admitted having knowledge that members of Saad’s Future Movement were being trained. Hassan reportedly opposed such training, but “people around Saad” (i.e., Rifi) were telling him to go ahead. (Note: The Jordanians have refused to train Internal Security Forces (ISF) members hand-picked and vetted by the Embassy to participate in a DA/ATA-funded Terrorism Crime Scene Investigation program, reportedly because they don’t want to be involved in training “Saad’s militia.” End note.) Jumblatt said Saad’s militia would cause significant damage to March 14, especially because Geagea’s Lebanese Forces and Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada were in line to train their own forces.

9. (C) Meanwhile, the LAF has lost its morale after the January 27 clash with Shia protesters. Jumblatt also decried the casualties inflicted on innocent civilians every time celebratory — and illegal — gunshots are fired following a major political speech.

HIZBALLAH’S FIBER OPTIC NETWORK

10. (C) Jumblatt’s last agenda item was the recent report on Hizballah’s (illegal) fiber optics network in Lebanon. According to fellow Druze and Telecom Minister Marwan Hamadeh, under whose auspices the report had been prepared, the report had not yet officially been presented to PM Siniora, because the “security apparatus” was hesitating to make it official. Jumblatt said that LAF G-2 Intelligence Director George Khoury and ISF General Rifi were talking about coordinating the report with Hizballah security chief Wafiq Safa, who reportedly warned that any action taken against the network would be considered an “act of war.” Jumblatt provided Charge with a copy of the map indicating the location of the network.

11. (C) Jumblatt expressed perplexity at Siniora’s failure to push on the report. (Note: LAF Commander Sleiman asked the same question in his conversation last week with the Charge. End Note.) Defense Minister Elias Murr reportedly was blaming Khoury for the delay.

NEXT STEPS FOR MARCH 14

12. (C) Jumblatt complained that March 14 (in part due to Saad’s absence) did not yet have a unified position on cabinet expansion, nor on how to respond to Speaker Berri’s call for a new National Dialogue. Pulling out a power point presentation prepared by the March 14 Secretariat, he confirmed, however, that the Secretariat was consulting with March 14 leaders on the way forward. One of the Secretariat’s ideas was to hold an international conference SIPDIS for Lebanon, though it was not clear how, where, or who would host such a conference. He agreed with the Charge that March 14 needed to be proactive, especially to combat the “Lebanon fatigue” that was spreading not only in the international community, but also in his hometown Chouf region, where the people he met with were fed up with the situation.

Jumblatt Says Sleiman’s statement is stupid

MICHEL SLEIMAN’S STATEMENT “STUPID”

13. (C) Never one to mince words, Jumblatt called Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Commander Michel Sleiman’s recent announcement that he planned to retire August 21, three months before the end of his commission, “stupid.” Jumblatt interpreted the announcement as a warning to both the majority and opposition to hurry up with the election. It’s as if he’s asking us to beg him to stay, Jumblatt said, adding, “He’s a nice guy, but not too bright.” He called the As-Safir newspaper editor who had interviewed Sleiman “a bad egg.”

Read the full text here.

Post-May 7

LEBANON: MINDEF MURR MEETING ON 11 MAY 2008

Date:

2008 May 13, 21:32 (Tuesday)

Canonical ID:

08BEIRUT681_a

“These are Sleiman’s three C’s; caution, coward, collusion.”

2. (C) Charge, accompanied by Defense Attach and PolOff, met with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Elias Murr at his residence in Rabieh on Sunday, May 11 at 10:00 a.m.

HIZBALLAH IS JUST OUTSIDE MY WALLS OVER 200 FIGHTERS MOVED IN LAST NIGHT

3. (C) Murr set the stage for our early Sunday morning by telling us about his newest neighbors. Evidently, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun has received 200 new body guards to protect his residence in Rabieh which is not far from Murr’s home. These fighters had infiltrated into Rabieh on dirt tracks that were not guarded. Now, according to Murr, his nine year old daughter asks him, “who are those dirty men with beards outside?” (Comment. If Murr were really in distress about this new development, it is unlikely that he would still have his two children in the house while his ex-wife was out of the country. End Comment.) 4. (C) In addition to the 200 fighters around his house, Murr told us that he knew of an additional 400 fighters that had infiltrated the Dikwayne areas of the Metn. Murr assessed that all of these forces were being brought in to intimidate Amine Gemayel’s Phalange Party and to prepare to cut the main highway leading north out of Beirut. (Note. Defense Attach noted a significant increase in the number of LAF armored vehicles deployed on this highway on the morning of 11 May. This was the first time Defense Attach has seen armored personnel carriers on this highway in the last two years. End Note.)

ARMY COMMANDER AND INTELLIGENCE CHIEF IN HIZBULLAH’S BACK POCKET

5. (C) Murr, clearly upset with the LAF’s lack of performance, told Charge that Sleiman was a “coward.” Charge recalled USDP Edelman’s question to Sleiman about a lack of LAF action leading to questions of either caution or collusion on the part of the LAF. Murr agreed saying , “these are Sleiman’s three C’s; caution, coward, collusion.” (Note. Former President

Read the full text here.

LEBANON: GEAGEA DROPS BY AGAIN

Date:

2008 May 12, 21:34 (Monday)

Canonical ID:

08BEIRUT669_a

Geagea wants to arm the Lebanese Forces…via Rifi!

10. (C) Geagea noted that the current situation is not terrible, but that March 14 needed something significant to “hold Hizballah back.” He offered, “We could turn a defeat into a victory.” He told the Charge that the focus needs to shift to a more long-term look at how to defeat Hizballah.

11. (C) Privately, Geagea followed up on his previous requests for ammunition for his LF fighters (Ref D), and informed the Charge that he had seen Internal Security Forces (ISF) Director General Ashraf Rifi earlier in the day. Geagea reported that he is working with Rifi on buying ammunition at list price from other countries for himself and Walid Jumblatt. (Comment: We visited Rifi at 1300 today, May 12, and then saw him later in the afternoon at his close friend Saad’s residence, septel. It looks like Geagea is moving along with his preparations to arm his fighters. End comment.) COMMENT

12. (C) Geagea approached us to ask that we urge Saad and Jumblatt to ease their pressure on Siniora to agree to withdraw the Cabinet’s decisions. While Siniora has been resolute in upholding the Cabinet’s decisions, to the point of choosing to resign rather than concede on this issue, it is interesting to note that we were told by several interlocutors that Siniora had walked into the May 5 Cabinet meeting believing the head of airport security Wafiq Chucair should be investigated before a transfer decision was made. Always thinking strategically, Geagea appeared indifferent as to whether the Cabinet withdrew its decisions or not, and was more interested in moving beyond the “issue of the day” so that the bigger problems (Hizballah) can be tackled. 13. (C) We hear Saad Hariri and Geagea when they say that they do not want the Arab League delegation to be in “listening-mode” during their visit. We agree that the delegation can be most helpful if it brings a serious program to table. Geagea and Siniora have started thinking along these lines by suggesting that the Cabinet’s decisions be discussed in a National Dialogue. To make this visit effective, we suggest the delegation draws up a firm program prior to its arrival. End comment. SISON

Read the full text here.

LEBANON: PARLIAMENT ELECTS MICHEL SLEIMAN AS PRESIDENT

Date:

2008 May 26, 14:04 (Monday)

Canonical ID:

08BEIRUT766_a

A Resistance In The Past Tense

10. (C) Most of our interlocutors deemed Sleiman’s speech, which they believed he drafted himself, as “unexpectedly” strong. One contact said Sleiman had been overheard to say “they won’t be expecting this” just moments before entering the plenary. Caretaker FM Tareq Mitri noted as significant Sleiman’s references to the “resistance” in the past tense, as assessment shared by Justice Minister Rizk and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan, who believed it was a deliberate nuance that merited attention. Seated at dinner with the Charge and Pol/Econ Chief, Internal Security Forces (ISF) General Ashraf Rifi, Surete Generale head Wafiq Jezzini and Lebanese Armed Forces G-2 (military intelligence) Director BG Georges Khoury expressed surprise that Sleiman’s remarks had been as hard-hitting as they were. All three believed he had drafted the text himself.

“This is how it starts. Remember this moment. Walid is moving toward Hizballah.”

15. (C) Following the election, Speaker Berri hosted a dinner in honor of the Qatari Emir at the Biel convention center, where Patchi chocolates were placed at each plate with the words “Thank you Qatar” inscribed on the wrapping. While many of the foreign dignitaries had departed, the Lebanese were out in full force. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt created great consternation at the Charge’s dinner table when he walked across the room to greet FM Mottaki. Surete General Gen. Jezzine told the Charge, “This is how it starts. Remember this moment. Walid is moving toward Hizballah.” Jumblatt later pooh-poohed the encounter, telling the Charge FM Mottaki did not even know who Jumblatt was.

Read the full text here.

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