This is the 17th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.
This month marks 10 years since the July war with Israel happened, so I thought it would be interesting to see how the first days of the clashes were described in WikiLeaks cables. I unearthed three cables which I found to be the most relevant. Every war has a political motive, and in those cables, several Lebanese politicians are discussing with the ambassador the likely reasons that might have led to the military escalations.The 2006 war is one of the most edited Wikipedia pages of all times, and the stances of the Lebanese politicians during the first three days of that war should be very important to see how they were planning to use the military clashes in their political maneuvers: The 2005 protests were a little more than a year old and the Hezbollah-FPM alliance was still in its early days and any change in the March 8/14 coalitions was possible. The first cable is a detailed description of a meeting between PM Siniora (+ his chief of staff, Mohammad Chatah, who was assassinated in 2013) and the American ambassador the morning after the war started. In the second one, you’ll find the opinion of Michel Samaha (yeah, seriously), as well as other minor Lebanese politicians. In the third cable (which is rather popular among Lebanese), Berri says that “the potential for Israel’s assault to weaken Hizballah militarily and undermine the organization politically is a positive development”. In the fourth cable, and “while expressing deep concern about some of the Israeli targeting, Jumblatt and Hamadeh expressed their hope that Israel would continue its military operations until Hizballah’s military infrastructure was seriously damaged even if it meant a ground invasion into southern Lebanon.”
So yeah, while innocent civilians were dying throughout the country, Lebanese politicians were trying to use the July war to their advantage. Enjoy the cables.
|MGLE01: LEBANESE PM SINIORA: “WE NEED HELP.”|
2006 July 13, 11:01 (Thursday)
1. (S) Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora expressed deep concern to the Ambassador this morning that the current security crisis is unfolding “as if by script,” with Israel and Hizballah dutifully playing out the assigned roles one would expect in a worst case scenario path to regional war. He argued that the only possible way to salvage the situation will be for the GOL to “change the script” by dissociating the GOL from Hizballah’s actions, asserting the Lebanese government’s responsibility for security in the south, maintaining peace along the Blue Line, respecting all relevant international resolutions, and soliciting United Nations support to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the current crisis. Siniora also criticized Israel’s military response over the past 24 hours as “disproportionate” and “unhelpful,” and he requested USG and international assistance in asking the Israelis to scale back their military assault and lift the air and sea blockade of Lebanon. Siniora argued that Israel’s response plays into the hands of Hizballah and Damascus and is paving the way for a Syrian re-occupation of Lebanon. Siniora and the Ambassador discussed international diplomatic initiatives to resolve the crisis, including a German offer to serve as an intermediary between Lebanon and Israel. Siniora also said that a Presidential statement from the UNSC would be beneficial — even if critical of Lebanon — and could explore the possibility of using UNIFIL renewal as a tool to reassert control in the south. The mood in the Grand Serail was grim today, and as the meeting was breaking up, Siniora leaned close to the Ambassador and flatly whispered, “We need help.” End Summary.
CONCERNED BY RAPID ESCALATION, SINIORA SUGGESTS A STRONG GOL RESPONSE
2. (C) On the morning of July 13, the Ambassador and emboff called on Prime Minister Siniora at the Grand Serail. The British Ambassador to Lebanon, James Watt, was present in the meeting as well. As the Prime Minister sat down, he complained that Israel’s strong military response has been counterproductive and is uniting the Lebanese people behind Hizballah. He then said he is planning a strong government response of his own however, and had scheduled a Council of Ministers meeting for that afternoon. In it, he said he would push for a strong statement “dissociating” the GOL from Hizballah’s actions. Siniora also told the Ambassador that the only way to “change the script” and take the initiative away from Hizballah is to push for a unified GOL position asserting the government’s sole authority for security in south Lebanon, calling for a cease-fire along the Blue Line, respecting all relevant international resolutions, and soliciting United Nations support to negotiate an immediate, mutual cease-fire with Israel. The Ambassador asked the Prime Minister if he had publicly made such a statement yet. Siniora replied, “No, but I will.” He added that he had made a statement last night dissociating the government from Hizballah’s actions, but recognized that in the face of the significant escalation from both sides that took place this morning, he would need to take a stronger, more comprehensive position.
3. (C) Siniora then returned again to the topic of Israel’s punishing military response this morning, and complained that they were making the situation worse with “disproportionate” actions that were uniting Arab opinion behind Hizballah and against Israel. “They are crippling our economy, killing our people, they are going to take us back twenty years. This does not help.” In response. the Ambassador suggested that it would be important for the GOL to credibly distance itself from Hizballah’s assaults if they hoped to temper the severity of Israel’s retaliation.
A HIZBALLAH PROXY FOR THE SYRIAN-IRANIAN ENDGAME
4. (C) The Prime Minister acknowledged as much, but said he was concerned about Syria and Iran as well. The Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Ambassador Mohammad Chattah, said that Hizballah’s recent campaign was obviously conducted for the benefit of Syria and Iran, “They want to distract BEIRUT 00002353 002 OF 002 attention from the UNIIIC investigations and the nuclear issue. That’s the only explanation for why Hizballah would do this after they’ve been assuring us they would be quiet.” The Prime Minister took it one step further, adding, ‘They knew what the result of this would be. They saw Gaza, they knew how the Israelis would react. This isn’t about trading prisoners at all, even if that is the declared objective.” The Ambassador asked, in that case, what the Prime Minister thought the Iranian – Syrian endgame is. Siniora sighed, “They want to break our government and delay the tribunal,” acknowledging that after crippling the Lebanese government, Syria would then re-invade to “save” Lebanon from Israel. He added that Iran also wants to open a front on Israel’s northern border to distract from the mounting tensions regarding its own nuclear program.
ATTEMPTS AT RESOLUTION
5. (C) Siniora thanked the Ambassador for the Secretary’s remarks yesterday, and said that he had also talked twice to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. He said that Annan was considering sending an envoy to Lebanon to help mediate the crisis. Siniora said he would prefer “someone who understands the region,” suggesting Terje Roed Larsen, although he was aware that Annan is considering two other candidates first. Siniora also said that he talked to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the Saudi government yesterday as well, adding that Prince Saud gave strong support by telling Siniora that they should not allow “any organization (e.g. Hizballah) to undermine sovereign national Arab security.”
6. (S) Siniora also revealed an offer he said he had received from Germany yesterday to serve as an intermediary in negotiations between Lebanon and Israel. UK Ambassador Watt said he thought it was a good idea, and that if the Israelis were receptive, it would serve as useful and discreet back channel. But, the UK Ambassador said, it is far from clear that the Israelis are in any mood for such an initiative. The Ambassador underscored the point, expressing reservations. The Prime Minister’s special assistant, Rola Noureddine, pointed out that they would have to be careful in setting up the back channel so that it doesn’t look like they are trying to negotiate a prisoner release, which would be interpreted as a victory for Hizballah, or at least a GOL endorsement of Hizballah’s plan.
7. (C) Mohammad Chattah raised the possibility of a UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) on the situation. Ambassador Watt noted that any UNSCR would inevitably include a condemnation Hizballah’s actions as well. Prime Minister Siniora responded by saying that at this point, a supportive statement from the UNSC Presidency would be better than a UNSCR. Siniora suggested that with UNIFIL renewal on the table, perhaps the UNSC President could look at UNIFIL renewal as a tool to reassert control in south Lebanon. Even if the UNSC presidency statement would contain sharp criticisms of Lebanon as well as calling for Israeli restraint, Siniora said, he still thought action in New York would be helpful.
HELP ON BLOCKADE
8. (C) Soon after the Ambassador left the meeting, Siniora called by phone to say that he had forgotten to mention a key point. Israel’s announced air and sea blockade of Lebanon, he said, was “pushing us all into the arms of Syria.” “Syria is becoming our lungs,” he said; “we can only breathe through the Syrians.” He urged that the U.S. press the Israelis to lift or at least lighten the blockade. He also passed on one specific request: the Lebanese want to get six empty jets (five belonging to MEA and a sixth) out of Beirut and to Larnaca. Siniora expressed hope that the U.S. could at least get the Israelis to allow the airport to function for 60-90 minutes to evacuate the planes. (Siniora claimed that the runways could be temporarily patched quickly, in order to allow the departure of the planes.)
|TFLE01: ISRAEL HITS SOUTHERN BEIRUT HARD; AIRPORT STRUCK AGAIN|
2006 July 14, 10:13 (Friday)
Classified By: Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman. Reason: Section 1.4 (d) .
1. (C) Subsequent to reftel, Israeli aircraft have bombed two small airports, a power plant, and struck hard at targets in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Two rockets were reported to have struck Haifa, but Hizballah denied responsibility and UNIFIL could not confirm that the rockets were launched from Lebanon. Press is reporting that three Lebanese civilians were killed and 50 wounded in the Israeli airstrikes on the southern suburbs. All five MEA planes left BIA by 1100 hrs. local this morning. Embassy contacts expressed frustration with Hizballah for provoking a major escalation with Israel. End summary.
SUMMARY OF EVENTS IN LAST 24 HOURS
2. (C) The following is an update of events since reftel using UN sources and Embassy contacts, and where necessary, press reporting. All times are approximate and in local time. July 13 1500 Rumors surfaced that Israel threatened to bomb the southern suburbs of Beirut and warned residents to evacuate. A trusted Shia journalist who lives in south Beirut reported to polstaff that no one was taking the warning seriously. In fact, Shia morale in south Beirut was high, and Hizballah buses were collecting people for a 1700 demonstration. 1600 UN Political Officer Georges Nasr briefed econoff on the current situation in the south. According to Nasr, sporadic gunfire exchanges have continued throughout the day at various points along the Blue Line. A few more Israeli airstrikes were reported this afternoon. UNIFIL observed three Israeli gunboats crossing the line of buoys that represents the maritime Blue Line. Later, UNIFIL observed one gunboat off the coast just north of Naqoura and another off Tyre. The third is unaccounted for. As of 1600 hrs. local, UNIFIL had not observed any Israeli ground forces in Lebanon. 1700 Two small airports were hit by Israeli airstrikes. The first is Quleiat Airport, located 20 km northeast of Tripoli near the Syrian border, and the second is Rayak Airfield, a small utility airfield in the Biqa’ Valley. (See 05 BEIRUT 4117 for background on Quleiat Airport.) An official at the Ministry of Transportation confirmed these reports. 2100 Two rockets hit Haifa, Israel. Hizballah denied that its fighters launched the rockets. UNIFIL did not observe the rockets launched from Lebanon, and has no further information to confirm or dispute Israeli claims. 2120 Israeli gunboats bombarded Beirut International Airport, setting fuel tanks on fire. July 14 0330 Israeli aircraft pounded the southern suburbs of Beirut. Explosions, sonic booms, and antiaircraft artillery fire could be heard at the Embassy. Press reported three Lebanese civilians dead and 50 wounded. Embassy contacts in the southern suburbs have left the area. In the morning, a large pillar of black smoke hung over Beirut. Early morning Israeli jets bombed power plant in Jiyye, just north of Sidon. 0430-0900 UNIFIL observed very little fighting in southern Lebanon, apart from some sporadic gunfire. 0500 Israeli jets struck the PFLP-GC base at Qussaya in the Biqa’ Valley just a few kilometers from the Syrian border. (See 05 BEIRUT 1604 for background information on the PLFP-GC base.) 0800 Al Manar tlevision station claimed Israeli jets bombed BEIRUT 00002386 002 OF 003 a television antenna in the Biqa’ Valley. 0822 Unconfirmed reports of Israeli gunboats shelling north of Sidon. 0825 An Israeli air raid against a major bridge of the Beirut-Damascus highway has made that bridge impassable. 0900 UNIFIL observed Israeli airstrikes near Khiam. 1030 UNIFIL reported Israeli artillery shells falling in southern Lebanon near the Blue Line. There is little to no return fire from Lebanon at this time. No Israeli ground forces observed inside Lebanon. 1030 UN Political Officer told econoff that it appears Middle Eastern Airlines will be able to evacuate its remaining five aircraft from the airport, pending UN negotiations. 1100 All five MEA planes and one private plane (belonging to former PM Mikati) successfully left BIA by 1100. PM Siniora, Central Bank Governor Salameh expressed their appreciation to the U.S. President and USG for their help on this matter. 1125 Israel dropped four bombs on the two runways at BIA, according to Civil Aviation DG Hamdi Chaouk.
REACTIONS TO ISRAELI STRIKES
3. (C) Speaking with emboff on July 13, former Information Minister Michel Samaha characterized the ongoing Israeli reaction as a “normal” one. Based on his reading of public Israeli statements, he did not expect “real escalation.” No Israeli military action was capable of changing the internal situation in Lebanon. Only internal Lebanese dialogue can make that happen. This is the task that lies ahead once the situation calms down. Rather than the national dialogue, he advocated the formation of trilateral negotiations among MP Saad Hariri, Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, and MP Michel Aoun. This arrangement was necessary to “cook” a solution before the broader National Dialogue process started up again. (Comment: Samaha may be taking inspiration from the Syrian-brokered Tripartite Agreement of the 1980s, which brought together the LF, Amal, and the PSP, and in which he played a major “fixer” role. End comment.)
4. (C) Samaha did not argue with the suggestion that the ongoing crisis has diminished Aoun’s credibility, but insisted that the Lebanese still need to build on the “bridge” that Aoun extended to Nasrallah. The idea is to get the Maronite and Sunni communities jointly to “contain” Hizballah. The only alternative is “civil war with Hizballah.” The immediate task, Samaha said, is to find a way to get Saad Hariri back to Lebanon, in order to get 3-way talks started.
5. (C) Separately on July 13, Aounist MP Farid el-Khazen told emboff that Lebanon was in a “terrible situation,” and that he did not “see a way out.” He saw Hizballah’s kidnapping of Israeli soldiers as a “carbon copy” of what provoked the ongoing crisis in Gaza, and worried about the implications of Israeli retaliation. He was also furious at what he saw as Nasrallah’s lies at the national dialogue promising to keep the Blue Line quiet this summer. He admitted that Aoun’s agreement with Hizballah is becoming hard to defend.
SHIA JOURNALIST FLEES SOUTH BEIRUT; VIEWS HIZBALLAH STRATEGY
6. (C) On July 13, Ali al-Amin, columnist for the Arabic language daily al-Balad and son of Shia “third way” leader Sheikh Mohammad Hassan al-Amin, told emboff that he had taken his family out of Beirut’s southern suburbs because of reports that the Israelis had called on the civilian population to evacuate. Amin noted that, were Israel actually to launch attacks on Beirut (which it later did), his family would be in a fix, since moving to their village home in southern Lebanon is no longer an option, either.
7. (C) Offering his analysis of why Hizballah provoked the violence by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers, Amin described Hizballah as being made up of two wings: a military/security BEIRUT 00002386 003 OF 003 wing, and a political wing. The military/security wing held decision-making authority, with Imad Mughaniyeh as one of the central figures. In recent years, especially following Syria’s withdrawal, however, a large portion of Hizballah’s membership took interest in a more “political” direction, and had seen that doing so could lead to benefits (such as participation in a cabinet for the first time). In this spirit, Hizballah officials revived discussion of the “Elisar” land development project, for example, talking about turning that area into a major tourism zone. While “some were betting on this new trend,” according to Amin, Hizballah’s military/security wing decided to re-assert control. Taking into consideration Iranian calculations (such as in the Persian Gulf and the nuclear issue) and the situation in Gaza, they decided to launch the July 12 attack on the Blue Line, and, in so doing, “open a battle” with Israel.
8. (C) The hostage-taking of July 12 had been planned for some time, according to Amin. It was fair to say that Hizballah, in the lead-up to July 12, had taken advantage of recent steps that suggested it was going in the opposite (that is, a more “political”) direction, such as the February 6 agreement with Michel Aoun. Amin suggested that some in Hizballah — presumably in the military/security wing — share an interest with the Israelis in the kind of destruction that would set Lebanon back, as some Israeli officials have reportedly threatened, 20 years or so.
9. (C) Amin said there were two possible outcomes to the current situation, and he was worried about both. If Hizballah wins, this would mean that the project of building a Lebanese state had failed decisively. If Hizballah loses, this would portend even greater sectarian strife in Lebanon. Regarding the second possibility, Amin said that most Lebanese Shia see Hizballah not as “the resistance,” and not in terms of confrontation with Israel, but rather as the most powerful defender of Shia communal interests against threats from other Lebanese communal groups. Amin suggested that it was difficult to imagine that Lebanese Shias pushing for a political “third way” independent of both Hizballah and Amal would be able to make much progress in the current situation. FELTMAN
|TFLE01: BERRI SAYS CEASE-FIRE NECESSARY EVENTUALLY, BUT FOR NOW, ISRAELI STRIKES ARE “LIKE HONEY.”|
2006 July 17, 17:50 (Monday)
(B) AND (D) SUMMARY
1. (C/NF) Lebanon’s Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri told the Ambassador today (7/17) that within another week, continued Israeli strikes will solidify Lebanese popular opinion against Israel. For now, however, he suggested in a most oblique manner that the potential for Israel’s assault to weaken Hizballah militarily and undermine the organization politically is a positive development. “It’s like honey. A little bit is good, but if you eat the whole jar you get sick.” For the leader of a community that has by virtue of its physical location borne the brunt of the Israeli assault, Berri’s spirits during the meeting were remarkably high. His condemnation of “Israeli aggression” against Lebanon was perfunctory at best. Berri insisted that Hizballah miscalculated Israel’s response to its kidnapping operation last week. He added that now a cease-fire must be conducted in a way to restore the Lebanese government’s sovereignty over its territory, and ensure that Hizballah does not use the cease-fire to entrench its positions and rebuild. In another positive development, Berri saw Prime Minister Siniora immediately before his meeting with Ambassador, and explained that he and the Prime Minister are now meeting “every day” to coordinate their efforts to resolve the current crisis. Berri dismissed a UN sponsored plan for Hizballah to turn over its two IDF hostages to the GOL, preferring instead an immediate cease-fire, followed by a hostage exchange (which we judge is a non-starter). The speaker may have been playing coy with this issue, however, as he studiously avoided suggesting any other proposals to induce Israel into accepting cease-fire. End summary.
A SHIITE – SUNNI RECONCILIATION
2. (C) On 7/17, the Ambassador and emboff called on Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri at his Ain el Tineh residence. Berri was in a jovial mood when he received the Ambassador, having just finished a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his chief of staff, Ambassador Mohammad Chattah. The prime minister and Ambassador Chattah seemed up-beat as well, especially given Siniora’s grim disposition during previous meetings this week. After teasing the Ambassador good-naturedly, the prime minister then departed. As the Ambassador and emboff sat down in Berri’s office, Berri explained of Siniora, “He just stopped by, didn’t even have an appointment. We are seeing each other every day now. We are having very good cooperation.” (This, we note, is in stark contrast to a few weeks ago, when Berri — the master of backroom politics — complained that Siniora was not consulting with him sufficiently.)
WE NEED A CEASE-FIRE SOON…
3. (C) As the meeting’s content moved towards Israeli’s ongoing military strikes in Lebanon, Berri made perfunctory complaints about Israeli aggression and civilian casualties, especially in southern Lebanon, where he said the this week’s destruction surpassed even that wrought by Israel in their 1982 invasion. He described several Israeli attacks as “massacres,” showing emotion in describing the deaths of civilians in Tyre and Marwaheen. Overall, however, Berri seemed more focused on the need to achieve a cease-fire in the next “four to five days,” and the importance of making sure Hizballah does not use the opportunity of the cease-fire to claim a political or military victory. Berri emphasized that any cease-fire should result in full GOL responsibility for security in the south, and (amazingly), “the complete implementation of UNSCR 1559.” “This is what my national dialogue was about, wasn’t it?” Speaker Berri asked. “We need complete implementation of 1559.”
4. (C) Berri said he believed that if a cease-fire were achieved today, Hizballah would certainly claim victory and be politically and militarily emboldened by having forced an Israeli-cease fire without having turned over the two IDF BEIRUT 00002407 002 OF 003 hostages they seized last Wednesday morning. But Berri also worried that a prolonged Israeli campaign would start to make Lebananese popular opinion sympathetic to Hizballah. ‘The Israelis have another four or five days; after that people will turn against them.”
BUT FIRST LET’S HAVE MORE HONEY
5. (C) Berri said he thought Hizballah had miscalculated Israel’s response when they executed their kidnapping operation last Wednesday, but admitted that he felt betrayed by Nasrallah for misleading Lebanon with assurances of stability during the national dialogue. “We can never sit down at the table with him again. We think he lied to us.” Berri then condemned the ferocity of Israel’s military response, but admitted that a successful Israeli campaign against Hizballah would be an excellent way to destroy Hizballah’s military aspirations and to discredit their political ambitions. He warned only that Israel would have to complete its mission quickly, before a sustained military campaign pushed Lebanon’s popular sympathies into Hizballah’s arms. Berri then suggested that Israel’s strikes were “like honey.” “I like a little bit of honey, but if you eat the whole jar you get sick!,” Berri exclaimed, and then threw his head back in riotous laughter.
6. (C) Unfortunately, Berri suggested, for the overwhelming force shown by Israel in the past week, they have had only limited success in weakening Hizballah militarily. “In the past week, they have killed only three Hizballah fighters!” he claimed, citing a figure of 150 dead overall. Berri said that the IDF would have to markedly improve its targeting intelligence to make air strikes more effective. Either that, or they would have to wipe Hizballah out of the south with a ground offensive. “But they won’t be able to sustain that for very long. They will have casualties, and popular opinion in Israel will turn against them.”
7. (C) Berri seemed convinced, however, that for any chance of a lasting peace, the IDF would have to be successful in its mission to neutralize Hizballah’s military capabilities. He explained that over the past several years, Hizballah has continuously built up its military capabilities in the south alongside UNIFIL observers and limited LAF deployments. He said that during any new cease-fire, the LAF should fully deploy across the south, but they would need to make sure that Hizballah was completely destroyed first. Otherwise, he explained, they would rebuild right alongside LAF troops who were supposed to be in charge of security, but who in actually, are too weak to stand up to Hizballah at their current strength.
INTERNATIONAL CEASE-FIRE INITIATIVES
8. (C) The Ambassador suggested to Berri that he should play leading role in the government’s efforts to secure the conditions that could lead to a cease-fire with Israel, and asked Berri what initiatives he had in mind. After avoiding the question several times, Berri finally mentioned the proposal suggested by last night by Ambassador Veejay Nambiar’s UN delegation. “That was the only thing they talked about for three hours,” Berri said. Berri quickly dismissed Nambiar’s suggestion for GOL to demand custody of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers from Hizballah, but never came up with any other proposals himself, only saying that there should be an immediate cease-fire with Israel based on “political agreements.”
9. (C) Regarding other international initiatives, Berri was “mostly” impressed with last night’s G8 summit statement, saying, “There were a few things we didn’t like, but overall it was very good.” Berri dismissed outright, however, the visit from EU Envoy Javier Solana and any suggestion that the EU may have offered to broker direct talks between Israel and Hizballah. “The EU had nothing,” Berri said. “(Solana) just came here and talked, but they had nothing to offer.”
10. (C) Berri, of course, is an ally of Syria and Iran. BEIRUT 00002407 003 OF 003 But, the quintessential Lebanese political survivor, he’s not a fully-owned subsidiary of the two, and it would be inaccurate to see him simply as “Hizballah-lite.” If Berri can be weaned away from his Hizballah tactical alliance, Hizballah would no longer be able to use Lebanon’s strange confessional politics to veto any initiative not in its (or Syria’s) interest. We are certain that Berri hates Hizballah as much, or even more, than the March 14 politicians; after all, Hizballah’s support (with the exception of General Aoun and those who blindly follow him) is drawn from the Shia who might otherwise be with Berri. If Israel succeeds in weakening Hizballah militarily, then Berri will be more willing to weaken them politically. He certainly hinted at that possibility in speaking favorably for the first time in our presence of UNSCR 1559. But, while his honey description was unexpected given the subject matter, he drew a very fine line between “just enough” Israeli action and too much. We suspect that Nabih Berri’s sense of the location of that fine line is quite far from the location where Israeli will ultimately choose to draw it. Berri, for example, seems to think that we are rapidly approaching the point where Israeli action becomes counterproductive to political goals. We doubt, based on the ongoing Israeli strikes, Israel is there yet.
|TFLE01: LARSEN TO PROPOSE HANDOVER OF ISRAELI SOLDIERS TO GOL; JUMBLATT AND HAMADEH CONCUR|
2006 July 17, 11:49 (Monday)
1. (C/NF) On July 16, the Ambassador and econoff had a late night meeting with UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen and UNSYG Personal Representative to Lebanon Geir Pederson. Larsen showed a draft proposal to the Ambassador, which Larsen said that he was drawing from orally but not providing to GOL officials. It started with calling for Hizballah to transfer custody of the two Israeli soldiers it is holding to the GOL under the auspices of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and then transfer them to Israel. This would be followed by a multi-step plan that would result in a cease-fire, a buffer zone in southern Lebanon policed by the Lebanese military, and a UNSC resolution calling for the full implementation of UNSC 1559. Larsen did not expect Hizballah to accept the proposal but its rejection would paint it in a corner. Larsen and Pederson met with Siniora and Speaker Berri that day, and they seemed open to the idea. Mid-way through the meeting, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, Telecoms Minister Marwan Hamadeh, and Information Minister Ghazi Aridi arrived unannounced. Jumblatt liked Larsen’s idea. While expressing deep concern about some of the Israeli targetting, Jumblatt and Hamadeh expressed their hope that Israel would continue its military operations until Hizballah’s military infrastructure was seriously damaged even if it meant a ground invasion into southern Lebanon. Jumblatt said that publicly he must call for a cease-fire, but he saw the fighting as an opportunity to defeat Hizballah. After Jumblatt and company departed, Larsen said he agreed that an Israeli invasion might be positive. Pederson added that Hizballah called him several times on July 16, and seemed desperate for mediation. End summary.
LARSEN SHARES DRAFT PLAN WITH AMBASSADOR
2. (C/NF) On July 16, the Ambassador and econoff met UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen and UNSYG Personal Representative to Lebanon Geir Pederson at Larsen’s suite at the Phoenicia Hotel. Pederson excused himself early to return to the other part of the UN delegation (Ambassadors Nambiar and Ambassador De Sota) so as to not arouse suspicion about Larsen-U.S. collusion. Meanwhile, Larsen showed the Ambassador a draft plan to de-escalate the fighting in Lebanon step by step. He made it clear that he would not leave a copy of the draft with the Lebanese but would draw from its ideas in his discussions. While Larsen did not allow us to keep a copy, we took notes. Its main elements follow: Element One: Ask the Prime Minister and Speaker to support a statement by the UN on July 17 to call for Hizballah to hand over the two Israeli soldiers it is holding to the custody of the GOL under the auspices of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The Red Cross will be allowed to visit the soldiers. Next, an understanding between Israel and Lebanon with the following conditions: a) transfer of the two Israeli soldiers to Israel, and Israel releases the two Lebanese citizens still in its prisons, followed by a non-mandatory “lull” in the fighting, b) creation of a buffer zone to extend 20 km north of the Blue Line, c) the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) deploy into the buffer zone, and d) Siniora sends a letter to the SYG and UNSC stating that the GOL, in spite of its reservations, will respect the Blue Line in its entirety until agreements are made. Element Two: The UNSC passes a resolution with the following attributes: a) condemns Hizballah’s violation of the Blue Line, b) calls for an immediate and safe return of the two Israeli soldiers, c) deplores the lack of progress in implementing UNSC 1559, d) condemns the targeting of civilian infrastructure, e) deplores loss of civilian life and reminds Israel of its responsibility to protect civilians, f) deplores the disproportionate use of force by Israel, g) calls for immediate cessation of military operations and the full implementation of UNSC 1559, and h) reminds neighboring states of their obligation not to interfere in Lebanon’s affairs. Mechanisms: The models under consideration include three options: a) a council of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, U.S., France, Britain, Russia, and the EU, or b) option A with the BEIRUT 00002403 002 OF 003 addition of pro-Syria states like Iran and Qatar, or c) a council of neutral countries like Switzerland, New Zealand, and Norway. Ideally, Israel and Lebanon could sit on the council, but this is unlikely to happen. Comprehensive Deal: Israel ceases all military operations and withdraws all its forces from Lebanese territory. The GOL deploys the LAF to southern Lebanon and ensures that no “armed elements” attack Israel. The LAF deployment to the south must have enough forces to “maintain respect along the Blue Line.” UNIFIL would verify compliance. Follow-up: The GOL, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Arab League organize a Taif II conference. The Arab League announces that it sanctions a Taif II. Israel returns to the conditions of the 1949 armistice agreement with Lebanon.
3, (C/NF) Larsen explained that he and Pederson had met with Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on July 16 and received a positive response from Siniora and a non-negative response from Berri for the basic concepts. He interpreted Berri’s lack of negativity as quiet interest restrained by the need to keep his constituency happy. Larsen said that he knew that Berri was planning to meet with Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah on the night of July 16. Berri was focused on “grabbing the opportunity” now or else the situation will spiral out of control, according Larsen. Larsen said that he had an excellent brainstorming session with Siniora regarding his draft proposal. Larsen said that his mediation will focus only on Siniora and Berri in order to avoid confusing the matter by including the “naive-ists” Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri. Larsen planned to meet with Berri and Siniora on July 17.
4. (C/NF) Larsen continued that he was working to derail Javier Solona’s efforts. “Solona is an embarrassment.” Larsen explained that Berri had told him that Solona had brought a German Ambassador with him with the intention of hostage negotiations like those that freed Elhian Tannebaum and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers in 2004 in exchange for hundreds of Arab prisoners. Siniora was equally skeptical. The Ambassador called Adviser to the Prime Minister Mohammad Chattah, who confirmed that Siniora had told Solona that his initiative was dead in the water.
SETTING A TRAP FOR HIZBALLAH; JUMBLATT AND HAMADEH AGREE
5. (C/NF) Larsen agreed that Hizballah would most likely reject his plan. This would be not be a problem because then the Arab countries, possibly including Qatar, would be pressured to come on board. Hizballah would look like the party that is denying an opportunity for a cease-fire. 6. (C/NF) Mid-way through the meeting three visitors arrived at Larsen’s room unannounced. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, Minister of Telecommunications Marwan Hamadeh, and Minister of Information Ghazi Aridi entered the room in good humor and indulged in generous orders to room service with the others present. The three Lebanese politicians reacted positively to Larsen’s proposal to call for a transfer of the Israeli soldiers to the GOL. They said it would be best for Larsen to hold his press conference at 1500 hrs. local on July 17 before the cabinet is scheduled to meet at 1700 hrs. local. This would give momentum to the proposal and an opportunity for the cabinet to endorse it. Hamadeh assessed that Hizballah would be a loser either way. If Hizballah rejected the Larsen proposal, then it would be blamed for the continued destruction of Lebanon. If Hizballah accepted, then March 14 could say what did Hizballah bring all this destruction to Lebanon for, if to just return the Israeli soldiers.
INVADE MY COUNTRY
7. (C/NF) Over a glass of red wine, a large bottle of vodka (the quality of which sparked a long exchange between Jumblatt and the startled room service waiter), and three bottles of Corona beer, Jumblatt gave a briefing on the thinking of the March 14 coalition which had met that evening. Jumblatt noted the heavy destruction of Lebanese infrastructure but bemoaned the irony that Hizballah’s BEIRUT 00002403 003 OF 003 military infrastructure had not been seriously touched. Jumblatt explained that although March 14 must call for a cease-fire in public, it is hoping that Israel continues its military operations until it destroys Hizballah’s military capabilities. “If there is a cease-fire now, Hizballah wins,” said Jumblatt. “We don’t want it to stop,” Hamadeh chimed in. Hizballah has been stockpiling arms for years and its arsenal is well-hidden and protected somewhere in the Biqa Valley. Jumblatt marveled at the cleverness of the Iranians in supplying Hizballah with the anti-ship missile that hit an Israeli gunboat.
8. (C/NF) Responding to Jumblatt’s complain that Israel is hitting targets that hurt the GOL while leaving Hizballah strategically strong, the Ambassador asked Jumblatt what Israel should do to cause serious damage to Hizballah. Jumblatt replied that Israel is still in the mindset of fighting classic battles with Arab armies. “You can’t win this kind of war with zero dead,” he said. Jumblatt finally said what he meant; Israel will have to invade southern Lebanon. Israel must be careful to avoid massacres, but it should clear Hizballah out of southern Lebanon. Then the LAF can replace the IDF once a cease-fire is reached. A defeat of Hizballah by Israel would be a defeat of Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon, Hamadeh added. For emphasis, Jumblatt said that the only two outcomes are total defeat or total success for Hizballah.
9. (C/NF) Hamadeh said that an Israeli invasion would give Siniora more ammunition to deal with Hizballah’s arms. Jumblatt thought the crisis could end in an armistice agreement like after the 1973 war. A buffer zone in the south could then be created. However, Jumblatt added, Israel should not bomb Syria because it would simply bring Syria back into the Arab fold without damaging the regime in Damascus. Weaken Syria by weakening Hizballah, he counseled; don’t make Syria a hero of the Arab world. Jumblatt made it clear he approved with Israel’s scrupulous avoidance of direct military action against Syria.
INVASION ON THE TABLE
10. (C/NF) After finishing their room service, Jumblatt and company departed. Pederson, now back at the meeting said he thought Israel might launch a ground incursion into southern Lebanon. Larsen agreed, noting that much could be achieved if Israel invades southern Lebanon. “No one wants the status quo ante,” said Larsen. Pederson sensed Hizballah was getting nervous. “They called me several times today; they seem desperate,” Pederson said.
11. (C/NF) Jumblatt’s comments echoed those of other March 14 contacts. Like the Israelis, they see the status quo ante as not an appealing destination. Thus, they also privately share their belief that a cease-fire now would leave Hizballah’s capabilities largely intact, with Nasrallah stronger and March 14 even weaker. But they fret that Israel’s stated aims of weakening Hizballah, while theoretically attractive, is not in fact happening. Marwan Hamadeh commented bitterly that al-Manar television is still broadcasting, while infrastructure under “March 14” control, like the fixed telephone network, has been seriously damaged.