The WikiLebanon Files

WikiLeaks and 40 Years of National Dialogues

Lebanon's National Dialogue Committee in 1975

Lebanon’s National Dialogue Committee in 1975 (Image source)

This is the 8th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon. 

The Lebanese have been living among trash for the past two months. Instead of properly solving the garbage crisis, the Lebanese political class brilliantly concluded that the source of the crisis was – no, not the corruption – the lack of communication between Lebanese politicians.

We don’t have water, electricity, presidential elections, parliamentary elections, or freedom of speech. Actually, we don’t have anything. And no, it’s not because our politicians don’t work and are too lazy to do their job.

It’s because our politicians don’t communicate enough with one another.

It’s not because they have failed time after timeeven with popular pressure – to come up with an eco-friendly solution to the garbage crisis and have instead amazed us with government plans as trashy as the garbage piling up on the streets, thinking that the people will eventually accept the fait accompli and cheer for the government’s bad solutions when the first rains come and there is nothing else but their solution to save us from the worst to come.

It’s because our politicians don’t communicate enough with one another.

You see, the Hezbollah-Mustaqbal dialogue was not enough. The FPM-LF dialogue was not enough. The 2006 dialogue was not enough. The 2007 La Celle-Saint-Cloud dialogue was not enough. The 2008 Doha dialogue was not enough. The 2009 dialogue was not enough. The 2010 dialogue was not enough. The 2012 dialogue was not enough. The 2013 dialogue was not enough. The 2014 dialogue was not enough. The 2015 dialogue was postponed, so clearly it’s also not enough. 10 years of dialogue weren’t enough. The 2055 dialogue won’t be enough, the same way the 1975 dialogue wasn’t enough. They should talk more. Even more. Perhaps discuss the weather. The sandstorm. The snowstorm. All kind of storms. We pay them to talk, don’t we?

1975.  Yes, you read that right. We had national dialogues in 1975, and as our politicians discussed, postponed and kept on discussing, the country was enjoying the looting, the massacres, the destruction and the various foreign occupations, the same way the country is today enjoying the smell of garbage, corruption and political repression.

This month’s Wikileaks cable is inspired by the September 2015 dialogue sessions between the Lebanese Za’ims. It’s a Kissinger cable discussing the newly formed national dialogue committee in 1975 that was supposed to solve the crisis at the very beginning of the Lebanese civil war. As you read the cable, you’ll see how we have been basically stuck in the seventies for the past 40 years. This quote from the cable, “thus far, dialogue committee has succeeded only in applying soothing balm to national wounds requiring radical surgery” sums up 40 years of Lebanese national dialogues.

Note how our politicians always seem to put the word “national” in the dialogue’s name as an attempt to monopolize the crises, exclude everyone else, and give themselves legitimacy and the national dialogue’s decisions more power than the official laws or decrees (the Baabda declaration, among other decisions, is a perfect example) although the “national dialogue” body has no constitutional basis and its members aren’t even elected by the people.

Take a look at the cable:

COMMITTEE OF NATIONAL DIALOGUE: LEBANON BITES THE BULLET WILL IT EASE THE PAIN?
1975 September 26, 05:25 (Friday)
1975BEIRUT11967_b
CONFIDENTIAL
UNCLASSIFIED
Margaret P. Grafeld Declassified/Released US Department of State EO Systematic Review 06 JUL 200
SUMMARY: THE NEWLY FORMED ” COMMITTEE OF NATIONAL DIALOGUE” (COMPOSED OF 10 CHRISTIANS AND 10 MOSLEMS) WAS DEVISED AS THE
CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 02 BEIRUT 11967 01 OF 02 261052Z
ONLY DISCERNIBLE WAY OUT OF THE CURRENT CRISIS. CONCEIVABLY IT WILL DAMPEN THE FIGHTING, BUT ITS LARGER AIM OF TACKLING BASIC SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ISSUES MAY PROVE TOO FORMIDABLE A TASK. EVEN THE IMMEDIATE GOAL OF STOPPING ROUND 4 COULD BE BEYOND ITS CAPABILITIES, SINCE ITS FIRST SESSION SEPT 25 POSTPONED DELIBERATIONS UNTIL MONDAY, SEP 29 AND THE FRAGILE CEASEFIRE MUST HOLD UNTIL THEN TO PRESERVE THE COMMITTEE’J CREDIBILITY. LEFTISTS ARE STRONGLY REPRESENTED IN THE “DIALOGUE”, BUT THEIR VOICE IS DIVIDED.
THE ECLIPSE OF PRES FRANGIE IS INSTUTIONALIZED, SINCE NONE OF THE MEMBERS IS CLEARLY A FRANGIE MAN. IN GENERAL: SO FAR SO GOOD, BUT THE HARD ROAD LIES AHEAD. END SUMMARY.
1. LEBANON HAS WAGERED MUCH ON A SINGLE CAST OF THE DICE WITH THE FORMATION OF THE 20 MAN “COMMITTEE OF NATIONAL DIALOGUE” (REFTEL). AN EXAMINATION OF PREVIOUS ROUNDS THIS YEAR WILL SHOW THAT TEMPORARY OF A SIDE ISSUE WHICH HAD ASSUMED CENTRAL IMPORTANCE IN THE COURSE OF THE FIGHTING. ROUND ONE WAS BROUGHT TO VMA CLOSE BY GEMAYEL’S AGREEMENT TO TURN OVER FOR QUESTIONING SEVERAL INDIVIDUALS ACCUSED OF COMPLICITY IN SO-CALLED AIN RUMMANEH “MASSACRE” OF APRIL 14. ROUND TWO TAPERES OFF FOLLOWING THE RESIGNATION OF THE MILITARY CABINET WHICH ASSUMED POWER ONLY AFTER RPT AFTER THAT ROUND BEGAN; AND ROUND THREE ENDED WITH NAMING OF KARAME CABINET. FOLLOWING SUCCESSION OF ABORTIVE CEASEFIRE, LEBABESE, WITH ASSISTANCE OF SYRIANS, HAVE SETTLED UPON DIALOGUE COMMITTEE AS DEVICE FOR HOPEFULLY BRINGING RELIEF FROM STRIFE WHICH HAS BROUGH THIS COUNTRY AS NEAR TO NATIONAL COLLAPSE AS ANY DEVELOPMENT IN ITS TROUBLED HISTORY.
2. THE DIFFERENCE, THIS TIME, IS THAT THE SIDE ISSUE EMPLOYED (FORMATION OF THE COMMITTEE) IS DIRECTLY RELATED TO SENSITIVE ISSUES WHICH UNDERLIE THE BASIC CONFLICTS IN THIS SOCIETY. IF THE ENVISIONED DIALOGUE DOES NOT BEAR SUSTANTIVE FRUIT, THE COSMETIC EFFFECT OF ITS INSTITUTIONALIZATION WILL NOT PRESERVE FOR LONG THE FRAGIL LULL IN THE CLASHES THAAT HAVE BEEN TEARING AT LEABNON VITALS. SHOULD THE OPTION OF TALKING TO HEAL THE DEEP AND DIVISIVE FISSURES IN THE LEBANESE BODY POLITIC FAIL, LEBANON MAY FIND ITSELF WITH OUT EVEN THE HOPE OF “NATIOAL RECONCILATION” TO PREVENT ITS BEING SWEPT OVER THE EDGE INTO THE ABYSS OV CIVIL WAR.
CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 03 BEIRUT 11967 01 OF 02 261052Z
3. NATURE OF THE COMMITTEE: THE” DIALOGUE COMMITTEE” WHICH ASSEMBLED AT 1100 HOURS(LOCAL ) THIS MORNING FOR ITS INAUGURAL SESSION IS, TO OUT KNOWLEDGE AT LEAST, THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE GROUPING BROUGH TOGETHER IN LEBANON SINCE INDEPENDANCE. WE FIND IT NOE WORTHY AS A STRAW IN THE WIND THAT COMMITTEE INCLUDES TEN CHRISTIANS AND TEN MOSLEMS (DIVIDED AMONG SUNNI, SHIITE AND DRUZE). A USEFUL PRECEDENT HAS THEREFORE BEEN SET AT THE OUTSET FOR A POSSIBLE 50-50 DIVISION BETWEEN MOSLEMS AND CHRISTIANS AS A STEP TOWARD MEETING MOSLEMS DEMANDS FOR GREATER POLITICAL POWER. CONFESSIONAL AFFILIATION, OF COURSE, DOES NOT TELL THE ENTIRE STORY. TO GIVE BUT TWO EXAMPLES, ONE OF THE TWO DRUZE, ARSLAN (JUMBLATT IS THE OTHER), CAN BE EXPECTED TO ACT IN CLOSE CONCERT WITH PRESENT INTMIN CHAMOUN. ABBAS KHALAF, ALTHOUGH A CHRISTIAN, WILL BE HAVE IN HIS CAPACITY AS A LEFTIST. CONAEQUENTLYUN IT IS NECESSARY TO LOOK ALSO TO THE POLITICAL COMPOSITION OF THE GROUP.
GODLEY CONFIDENTIAL NNN CONFIDENTIAL
4. THE LEFT: ONE IMMEDIATELY STRIKING FACT IS THAT THE LEBANESE LEFT ACHIEVED CONSIDERABLE (PROBABLY DISPROPOR- TIONATE) REPRESENTATION (JUMBLATT, KHALAF, AWADAH, KANSU, AND POSSIBLE QARANOUH). THIS ADDED WEIGHT WAS QUITE LIKELY THE PRICE JUMBLATT EXTRACTED FOR HIS AGREEMENT TO SIT DOWN WITH GEMAYEL AND TO SOFTEN HIS DEMAND THAT THE LEFTIST RE- FORM PROPOSALS BE ACCEPTED AS THE BASIS OF DISCUSSION. ON THE OTHER HAND, KANSU (SHIITE) REPRESENTS THE PRO-SYRIAN BAATH PARTY OF LEBANON AND CAN BE BROKEN STEP IN PAST WITH
CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 02 BEIRUT 11967 02 OF 02 260711Z
JUMBLATT AND OTHER LEFTISTS. QARANOUH IS ALSO REPORTEDLY CLOSE TO SUNNI GRAND MUFTI KHALED HASSAN AND MAY TEND TO ORIENT HIMSELF TOWARD OTHER MORE MIDDLE-OF-THE ROAD SUN- NIS (KARAME, SALAAM, AND YAFI). NEVERTHELESS, LEFTIST ROLE IN COUNTRY’S POLITICAL XUTURE FINDS SUBSTANTIAL RECOGNI- TION IN COMMITTEE.
5. SUNNI/SHITTE EQUALITY: TO THE EXTENT THAT COMMITTEE MAKE- UP MAY PROVIDE A BELLWEATHER FOR THE FUTURE, WE ALSO FIND PARITY BETWEEN SUNNI AND SHIITE PARTICIPANTS SIGNIFICANT. LIKE SUNNIS, SHIITES HAVE FOUR REPRESENTATIVES (ASAAD, WAHID, AWADAH, AND KANSU). SHIITE CHOSEN, HOWEVER, REFLECT SERIOUS DIF- FERENCES WITHIN LEBANON’S LARGEST AND POOREST MINORITY. WAHID IS THE SOLE SPOKESMAN FOR THE IMAM MUSA SADR AND THERE ARE ALREADY RUMBLINGS OF THE IMAM’S DISSATISFACTION WITH THE SLIM RECOGNITION ACCORDED HIS ROLE IN LEBANON. ASAAD IS, OF COURSE, A BITTER POLITICAL RIVAL OF THE IMAM AND DID NOT ATTEND THE FIRST SESSION OF THE COMMITTEE, PLEADING THE PRESS OF PARLIAMENTARY BUSINESS. HE HAD EARLIER CALLED A SPECIAL SESSION OF PARLIAMENT TO CONSIDER THE COUNTRY’S PROBLEMS. AWADAH AND KANSU, AS NOTED ABOVE, ARE TO THE LEFT OF THE IMAM IDEOLOGICALLY, BUT, OF THE TWO, WE BELIEVE WAHID WOULD FIND KANSU MORE COOPERATIVE. SABRI HAMADE, FORMER SPEAKEC AND A SHIITE POWER IN THE BAALBEK REGION, IS RE- LIABLY REPORTED TO BE LIVID AT HIS EXLUSCION FROM PRO- CEEDINGS AND ADEL OSSEIRAN (CURRENTLY MINISTER) IS THE ONLY MEMBER OF CABINET NOT INCLUDED IN GROUP OF TWENTY. WE SUSPECT BECAUSE OF ILL HEALTH.
6. ECLIPSE OF FRANGIE: COMMITTEE OF NATIONAL DIALOGUE REPRESENTS, IN OUR VIEW, FURTHER EVIDENCE OF THE DECLIN- ING INFLUENCE AND INCREASING IRRELEVANCE OF THE PRESIDENT. CURRENT JOKE AROUND BEIRUT IS QUERY REGARDING HOW LONG FRANGIE HELD UP FORMATION OF COMMITTEE ARGUING FOR INCLU- SION OF HIS SON, TONY–A CONSPICUOUS ABSENTEE. WE CAN FIND NO RPT NO MEMBER OF COMMITTEE WHO MIGHT BE LABELLED A “FRANGIE MAN.” DEPUTY RENE MOUAWAD PROBABLY WOULD BE SYMPATHETIC TO FRANGIE’S VIEWS SINCE HE IS ALSO A MARONITE FROM ZGHORTA/EHDEN, BUT IT IS PROBABLY TOO STRONG TO SUGGEST THAT HE IS THE PRES’S REPRESENTATIVE. SABA, WHO HAS FREQUENTLY SERVED AS A GO-BETWEEN FOR
CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 03 BEIRUT 11967 02 OF 02 260711Z
FRANGIE TO JUMBLATT, IS DEFINITELY NOT ON THE FRANGIE TEAM. ON THE OTHER HAND, THE FULL MEMBERSHIP OF THE TRIPARTITITE ALLIANCE (KARAME, SALAAM, AND EDDE), WHICH WAS FOUNDED UPON THE BEDROCK OF OPPOSITION TO FRANGIE, MADE THE RE- CONCILIATION TEAM.
7. COMMITTEE’S FIRST SESSION: COMMITTEE HAS JUST COM- PLETED ITS FIRST FOUR-HOUR STVSION AND SET 1000 HOURS, MON, SEPT 29 FOR THE NEXT MEETING. IN ADDITION TO ASAAD, BOTH TAQLA AND RABBATH WERE ABSEND DUE TO LRAVEL ABORAD. KARAME SERVED AS CHAIRMAN THIS GO-ROUND, BUT WE UNDERSTAND THAT POSITION WILL ROTATE IN SUBSEQUENT SESSIONS. ACCORDING TO PRELIMINARY REPORTS OF MEETING, EXCLUSION OF MENTION OF PALESTINIAN PRESENCE IN COUNTRY WAS ONLY PRECONDITION OF SESSION. WE UNDERSTAND ALSO THAT ALL PARTICIPANTS SHOOK HANDS AND THAT ATMOSPHERE OF SESSION WAS AS CONCILIATORY AS COULD BE EXPECTED. STATEMENT ISSUED AT CLOSE OF TODAY’S MEETING COVERED THREE POINTS: (A) RESPECT FOR CEASEFIRE; (B) ADHERENCE TO LEBANESE FORMULA ON BASIS THAT LEBANON IS FOR ALL CITIZENS AND NOT ANY ONE GROUP, AND (C) AGREEMENT TO CONTINUE CONSULTATIONS TO REACH POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND TZVTAL REFORM WITHIN DEMOCRATIC FRAMEWORK.
8. THUS FAR, DIALOGUE COMMITTEE HAS SUCEEDED ONLY IN APPLYING SOOTHING BALM TO NATIONAL WOUNDS REQUIRING RADI- CAL SURGERY. FACT THAT IT DID NOT RPT NOT COLLAPSE ON ITS FIRST OUTING SHOULD BE ACCOUNTED A PLUS, BUT PARTIES ARE STILL VERY FAR FROM ATTACKING CONSTRUCTIVELY SUBSTANTIVE IS- SUES WHICH DIVIDE THEM. EVEN MINIMAL PROGRESS ACHIEVED BY THE VERY HOLDING OF TODAY’S SESSION MAY, IN COMBINATION WITH LEBANESE WAR-WEARINESS AND AMMUNITION OHORTAGES, BUY AT LEAST BRIEF RESPITE FROM CAPITAL’S AGONIES. CHRISTIANS OF THE RIGHT AND LEFTISTS, WHO ARE RELIABLY REPORTED TO HAVE BEEN BULLIED BY KHADDAM INTO ACCEPTING TALKS, BOTH HOLD INFLEXI- BLE POLITICAL VISIONS OF THE APPROPRIATE SHAPE OF THIS COUNTRY. IF CEASEFIRE BREAKS DOWN SUBSTANTIALLY PRIOR TO NEXT COMMITTEE MEETING FOUR DAYS FROM NOW, ENTIRE RECONCILIATION STRUCTURE SO LABORIOUSLY PUT TOGETHER WILL PROBABLY COME CRASHING DOWN. BEIRUT IS RELATIVELY QUIET THIS AFTERNOON, BUT ARMED MEN ARE NOT FAR FROM MILITARY POSTIONS THEY OCCUPIED UNTIL THIS MORNING AND COULD QUICKLY BE BACK IN COMBAT. IF
CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 04 BEIRUT 11967 02 OF 02 260711Z
STANDDOWN HOLDS FOR THE TIME BEING (WE WOULD RATE CHANCES AT NO MORE THAN 50 PERCENT), SUBSEQUENT COMMITTEE SES- SIONS WILL BE REPLETE WITH OPPORTUKITIES FOR A BREAKDOWN OF PROCESS AS CONCRETE ISSUES ARE TACKLED.
9. LEBANON IS RIPE FOR ON E OF ITS FABLED “MIRACLES,” BUT IT IS DIFFICULT FOR US TO PREDICT ONE IN THE MIDST OF THE HATREDS AND ANIMOSITIES WHICH HAVE BLOSSOMED INTO FULL FLOWER OVER THE LAST SIX MONTHS. THE OUTLOOK REMAINS GRIM. IF THE LEBANESE HAVE TAKEN THE BULLET IN THEIR TEETH AT LAST, ONE MUST CONSTANTLY BE AWARE THAT THEY ALSO RE- TAIN A ROUND IN THE CHAMBER.
GODLEY
CONFIDENTIAL
NNN

The WikiLebanon Files (Part VII): How Berri Tricked Hezbollah in August 2006

Nabih Berri Hassan Nasrallah poster

Two weeks ago, a political maneuver by Nabih Berri gave the green light to the March 14 alliance to go through with their plans and extend the commander of the army’s term for one year, much to the dismay of the Free Patriotic Movement. Berri, who gave signals throughout that week that he was at odds with Aoun, indirectly opened a window of opportunity for the cabinet and its minister of defense to extend the terms of the top security officials. Berri’s move against the FPM crippled them politically as any plan to respond – including bringing the government down – was made impossible. Without Berri’s support, a double Hezbollah-FPM resignation would have only resulted in a stronger and surely legitimate cabinet – since Berri’s M8 AND Shia ministers would remain in the government – officially dominated by M14. That meant that Hezbollah – regardless if they approved of the extension or not – couldn’t have supported a Aounist resignation move. The bottom line here is that Amal (1) succeeded in creating distrust between Hezbollah and the FPM (which Nasrallah tried to counter by officially supporting and endorsing the FPM’s interests in his latest speech), while at the same time  (2) making Salam, M14 and the centrists owe Berri.

Berri’s genius maneuver wasn’t a first, and definitely won’t be his last. This is why this month’s WikiLeaks cable will be a document detailing a similar ruse: How Berri, exactly 9 years ago, “tricked Hezbollah into agreeing to the 8/16 cabinet decision on deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to the south, even though part of the decision went beyond Nasrallah’s “red lines.”

The cable is a conversation between Amal’s minister of health, Mohammad Khalifeh and U.S. ambassador Feltman. I hope you enjoy the epic stratagems of Nabih Berri.

SHIA MINISTER CLAIMS BERRI TRICKED HIZBALLAH, NOW AT ODDS WITH NASRALLAH
2006 August 19, 08:23 (Saturday)
06BEIRUT2699_a
— Not Assigned —
SUMMARY
——-
1. (S/NF) Minister of Health (Shia, member of Amal) Mohammed Khalifeh (please protect throughout) told the Ambassador in a 8/18 meeting that Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah are currently at odds. By Khalifeh’s account, Berri was infuriated by Nasrallah’s 8/14 “victory speech.” Wanting to rein in Hizballah, the Speaker essentially tricked Hizballah ministers into agreeing to the 8/16 cabinet decision on deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to the south, even though part of the decision went beyond Nasrallah’s “red lines.” Nasrallah and Berri, however, maintain agreement on certain “red lines,” including no NATO presence in Lebanon and no international soldiers along the Syrian-Lebanese border. Khalifeh claimed his own small victory, saying that his tour of the south restored GOL control to hospitals and clinics that Hizballah had tried to occupy. Citing health records and anecdotal evidence, Khalifeh estimated that 300-400 Hizballah fighters had been killed. He gave a gruesome account of wounded Hizballah fighters who emerged from underground bunkers after the Israelis pulled back. No fan of Hizballah, Khalifeh thought that the “victory atmosphere” would die down and that the people of the south would soon sober up to the losses they suffered because of a conflict Hizballah provoked. But, at the same time, hatred of Israel and the United States is prevelant everywhere in the south, Khalifeh said, and will not fade. End summary.
NASRALLAH, BERRI AT ODDS
————————
2. (S/NF) Asking to receive the Ambassador at his home (away from media and his staff), Khalifeh — one of the Shia cabinet ministers loyal to Berri — claimed that Berri and Nasrallah are not currently speaking to each other. Khalifeh, who has long complained to us that Berri has been too deferential to Nasrallah (allowing, in his view, Amal to be swallowed up by Hizballah), was clearly delighted by this turn of events. With whispered gusto as the TV blared to interfere with any listening devices, he said that the Berri-Nasrallah spat stems from two developments. First, Berri was furious by Nasrallah’s 8/14 “victory speech,” in which Nasrallah “acted like he thought he was bigger than Salahaddin, bigger than all of us!”
HIZBALLAH DEFINES RED LINES FOR CABINET DECISION
—————————
3. (S/NF) Second, Nasrallah is furious that Berri tricked the Shia cabinet ministers into approving the 8/16 cabinet decision that deployed the LAF to the south. The decision, Khalifeh explained, exceeded what Nasrallah could accept. Khalifeh said that Nasallah, through messengers, had told Berri that Hizballah was prepared to concur with the LAF deployment to the south and would permit the LAF to confiscate any weapons it stumbled across. But Hizballah was not prepared to turn over its fixed positions to the LAF. Most important, Hizballah wanted an understanding that certain parts of south Lebanon would remain off limits to the LAF and thus effectively off-limits to the beefed-up UNIFIL.
4. (S/NF) Berri, Khalifeh said, wore down Hizballah on the fixed positions issue, eventually persuading Nasrallah that, given that the Israelis knew where the fixed positions were and had so damaged them, they were a liability, not an asset, for Hizballah. But Nasrallah would not budge on maintainining “no-go” areas in the south. Berri and Siniora, meanwhile, agreed fully that the LAF had to have the right to go anywhere in the country, that no area of the south could be off limits to the LAF. Berri took particular offense by Nasrallah’s assertion that the national army would have to defer to Hizballah even in a cabinet statement. Berri told Siniora not to worry, that the cabinet would pass the LAF deployment decree unanimously, with the “no-go” areas eliminated.
USING A DIFFERENT MESSENGER TO FOOL HIZBALLAH MINISTERS
—————————
BEIRUT 00002699 002 OF 003
5. (S/NF) During the cabinet meeting, Berri then called Minister of Agriculture Talal Sahali. (Lebanon’s cabinet sessions are constantly interrupted by calls to the ministers from the political bosses — Saad Hariri calling Siniora, Walid Jumblatt calling Marwan Hamadeh, etc.). Berri told Sahali to vote yes for the measure and to tell Khalifeh and Foreign Affairs Minister Salloukh to do the same. Given the close coordination between Berri and Nasrallah throughout this crisis, Hizballah’s two ministers took Sahali’s action to mean that Nasrallah was on board, and the measure passed quickly and without debate, with Trad Hamadeh and Mohammed Fneish concurring. (Indeed, other ministers have told us that they were amazed at how uneventful the 8/16 cabinet meeting was, considering how close the cabinet had come to a breakdown over the deployment details only a few days earlier.)
6. (S/NF) Later, Nasrallah read the details of the cabinet decision and exploded. When the Hizballah ministers confronted Berri, Berri responded that he consistently uses Khalifeh to pass messages to the Shia ministers — a true assertion — when there has been an Amal-Hizballah agreement on something. The Hizballah ministers should have realized that something coming from Sahali is of a different nature. Had they checked, they could have voted no; no one forced them to vote yes. Not willing to split the cabinet or the Shia solidarity or admit that they’d been fooled into approving something without checking with their master, the Hizballah ministers — and Nasrallah — begrudingly accepted the cabinet decision.
BUT BERRI AND NASRALLAH MAINTAIN SOME COMMON RED LINES
——————————
7. (S/NF) The Ambassador asked Khalifeh if he thought there was some unwritten understanding that, while the LAF indeed received the right from the cabinet to go anywhere, in fact the LAF would not push. Khalifeh said that he expected that would be the case at first, but the LAF will become stronger and stronger, eventually able to assert its authority everywhere, which Berri is counting on. The Ambassador asked Khalifeh whether Berri and Nasrallah, despite their current spat, maintained any common “red lines” about implementation of UNSCR 1701. “Absolutely,” Khalifeh responded, tapping his fingers to tip off a list: “Nothing that looks or smells like NATO,” he said; “we cannot accept NATO here, period.” Second, even if there is a second resolution, it cannot be Chapter VII. Third, no foreign troops along the Syrian-Lebanese border.
8. (S/NF) Accepting any of these conditions, Khalifeh said, would be akin to Lebanon throwing itself back into a mandate status. “We become Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine (STET).” The Ambassador, pulling out the UNSCR 1701 text, reviewed with Khalifeh the unambiguous paragraphs on arms smuggling and border controls, noting that Lebanon has clear obligations. Moreover, the Ambassador said, Speaker Berri has a real interest in seeing that Hizballah cannot resupply its arsenals. Khalifeh argued that Lebanon must do the border controls, perhaps with high-tech help, but not with foreign troops. The Ambassador cautioned Khalifeh that the air and sea blockade on Lebanon will continue until the international community has confidence that border controls are being improved, and a quick way to do so would be to ask UNIFIL’s help, per the resolution. “Berri will never accept that,” Khalifeh said, “never! You can’t ask him.” The Ambassador tried to make the point that tightened border controls with international assistance strengthened the state, not weakened it.
HOPING THE SOUTH SOBERS UP, ANTI-AMERICANISM ON THE RISE
—————————-
9. (C/NF) Changing the subject, Khalifeh described what he saw on his two-day tour of southern Lebanon. The destruction in some villages, he said, was “unbelievable, far worse than the civil war.” He thought that, as the extent of the damage sinks in, the population would stop being “drunk on victory” and start questioning the Hizballah policies that provoked the Israeli wrath. In the long term, he claimed, Hizballah will suffer. But he said that he found the hatred of the United States and Israel to be very high. “The people think you are as guilty as Israel,” Khalifeh said, telling stories
BEIRUT 00002699 003 OF 003
of even Christian villagers blaming the United States for providing cluster bombs and political support for what is seen as indiscriminate targetting of civilians. They may get around to blaming Hizballah — “let’s hope they do” — but that doesn’t mean that their hatred for the United States and Israel will drop, Khalifeh predicted.
COUNTING THE DEAD — HIZBALLAH LOSES 300-400 FIGHTERS
——————————–
10. (S/NF) The Ambassador, noting that estimates of infrastructure damage appeared to be exaggerated for political reasons, asked about the actual death toll. Khalifeh said that there were somewhere between 850 and 875 bodies identified and claimed. In addition, there were approximately 300 corpses in mass graves or in hospital morgues that had not been identified or claimed. Those in graves were photographed, described, and DNA samples removed, in case people seek missing relatives. Some of those were probably Hizballah fighters that Hizballah does not want to publicly acknowledge, but many of the unclaimed bodies are also elderly and in some cases entire families. In addition, he said, he guessed from gathering anecdotal information that Hizballah had independently buried about 100 of its fighters out of sight, to prevent its real losses from being known. 11. (S/NF) Going through a complicated accounting process of whom Hizballah acknowledged was killed, how many of the unclaimed bodies were of fighting-age men, and how many Hizballahis might have been buried surreptitiously, Khalifeh estimated that the Israelis killed 300-400 Hizballah fighters. That number is actually quite a blow, he said, and will also help make the population think twice about Hizballah as the losses become more known. Khalifeh then gave some gruesome accounts of Hizballah fighters who emerged from hiding and sought medical attention only after the IDF started pulling back. In one gut-wrenching example, Khalifeh pointed to his shin, saying that one fighter had a huge wound and burns in his lower leg. Although he stopped the bleeding, he did not seek medical attention for 15 days. By the time he saw a doctor, maggots had penetrated up his rotting leg tissue as high as his thigh. “Who are these people?” Khalifeh said; “how could you stay like that? Did someone make him stay like that?”
RESTORING CENTRAL AUTHORITY IN HEALTH
————————————-
12. (S/NF) Khalifeh expressed deep pride that he had planted the flag of the central state during his tour. Accompanied by ISF forces, Khalifeh reclaimed hospitals and clinics that Hizballah had started to occupy, to compensate for the destruction of Hizballah’s facilities. Except for those state health clinics damaged beyond use, Khalifeh said that he had restored Ministry of Health control to all health institutions in the south. The Ambassador noted that the GOL should be more assertive across the board, and Khalifeh agreed.
COMMENT
——-
13. (S/NF) We don’t doubt Khalifeh’s hatred of Hizballah, and his account of the cabinet deliberations explains the curious lack of controversy and discussion last Wednesday — after political fireworks during the preceding cabinet session. But we also think that he was trying to place his boss Berri in a more heroic light for us. Berri may indeed have been able to trick Nasrallah this one time. But Berri is nevertheless very much the junior partner and does not yet seem willing to confront Hizballah frontally. For example, if Berri were willing to join with the March 14 movement in removing Emile Lahoud from the Presidency, then we would could truly classify him as a courageous leader. And as for the Nasrallah-Berri “red lines,” we can probably avoid provoking the Shia on the NATO issue, making sure that any NATO countries’ security or troop contributions to Lebanon do not come in explicit NATO packaging. But we will have to keep pushing on the international element that is clearly needed along the Syrian border and at entry points, including at the airport and seaports.
FELTMAN

The WikiLebanon Files (Part VI): Garbage Crises and the Lebanese Civil War

A parking meter is seen between a pile of garbage on a Beirut street, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP/Hassan Ammar)

A parking meter is seen between a pile of garbage on a Beirut street, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP/Hassan Ammar)

This is the sixth post in a series of monthly posts covering Lebanese WikiLeaks cables.

On July 17, activists in the town of Naameh, just south of Beirut, forcibly closed Lebanon’s largest landfill, halting trash collection in Beirut and its environs and flaring tempers this summer.

Earlier this year, the government finally agreed that the landfill would be shut down for good this July. But they never agreed on an alternative way to handle the massive amounts of waste produced by Beirut and surrounding communities.

As Beirut drowns in its own garbage and corruption, I’m publishing four 40-year-old U.S. diplomatic cables  mentioning similar garbage crises the country suffered from during the chaotic days of the Lebanese civil war.

Ironically enough, the last two cables date from May 1976 and talk about the presidential election’s deadlock as well as the garbage crisis. 2015 much?

Unless you really, really enjoy reading about the battles of 1975 and the forgotten presidential elections of 1976, look for the mentions of the garbage crises in bold.

Hope you enjoy Lebanon’s 20th century trash-talk.

0900 LEBANON REPORT
1975 October 18, 07:57 (Saturday)
1975BEIRUT12952_b
CONFIDENTIAL
UNCLASSIFIEDFrom:
Margaret P. Grafeld Declassified/Released US Department of State EO Systematic Review 06 JUL 2006
YESTERDAY’S RELATIVE PEACE AND QUIET SLIPPED A BIT YESTERDAY AFTERNOON WITH KIDNAPPINGS INCREASING THE UNEASINESS OBVIOUSLY EXISTING BOTH SIDES. LAST EVENING WAS QUITE NOISY IN RAS BEIRUT. CONSIDERABLE AUTOMATIC WEAPONS FIRE AND EVEN A FEW MORTARS AND/OR ROCKETS GOING OFF. TRAFFIC INTO AND IN THE CITY THIS MORNING NOT QUITE AS HEAVY AS YESTERDAY BUT ALL ACCESS ROADS ARE OPEN. PALL OF SMOKE OVER CITY BUT DUE TO SYSTEMATIC GARBAGE BURNING ABOUT EVERYWHERE AND NOT REPEAT NOT DUE ARSON OR BOMBINGS. FOR THE FIRST WEEKEND IN OVER A MONTH WE ARE PERMITTING EMBASSY PERSONNEL TO GO TO DAMOUR, JUNIEH AND INTO THE MOUNTAINS BEHIND BEIRUT.
LATEST TIME AND WEWSWEEK COPIES REACHED BEIRUT YESTERDAY. HAVE OBVIOUSLY CAUSED CONSTERNATION IN MOST COMPANIES’ HOME OFFICES. AMERICAN BUSINESSMEN HERE CURRENTLY FREQUENTLY MORE WORRIED ABOUT WHAT’S GOING ON IN HOME OFFICES THAN WHAT IS TRANSPIRING IN BEIRUT. ZAHLE AGAIN DICEY. PRESS REPORTS SEVEN DEAD PRINCIPALLY DUE KIDNAPPING.
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0900 LEBANON REPORT
1976 January 5, 12:01 (Monday)
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UNCLASSIFIED
Margaret P. Grafeld Declassified/Released US Department of State EO Systematic Review 04 MAY 2006
1. WEEKEND SAW MUCH KIDNAPPING AND LOOTING. THIS MORNING, MON., JAN 5, CALLED ON MARONITE PATRIARCH (SEPTEL), SO DROVE DIRECTLY FROM HOUSE VIA AIN RUMMANEH, ASHRAFIYEH, QARANTINA, BORJ HAMMUD, DORO TO BKIRKE. MANY PHALANGE ROADBLOCKS, SOME ARMENIAN (VIGILANTE TYPE) KEEPING ARMED MEN OUT OF ARMENIAN PORTIONS OF CITY. NO REPEAT NO MOSLEM, EVEN IN PORT AREA, THROUGH WHICH I RETURNED. CONSIDERABLE TRAFFIC IN AND OUT OF TOWN, NOTWITHSTANDING RADIO WARNINGS THIS MORNING RE DANGER DRIVING. NEVERTHELESS, BEIRUT IS A JUNGLE OR BEDLAM; NO ONE FOLLOWING TRAFFIC RULES, ARMED LOCAL MEN TRYING DIRECT TRAFFIC; STREETS POTHOLED AND FULL OF WATER DUE GARBAGE BLOCKING SEWERS AND HEAVY RECENT RAINS. NO GARBAGE HAS BEEN COLLECTED FOR WEEKS.
2.AUG OPENED THIS MORNING, AS DID BUC, IC AND ACS. AUB ATTENDANCE BETTER THAN EXPECTED, BUT EVERYONE VERY, VERY NERVOUS. PAN AM RESUMING ONCE WEEKLY FLIGHTS. BANKS CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 02 BEIRUT 00055 051228Z
NOT REPEAT NOT OPEN.
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1. LEBANON IS QUIETER 5 MAY WITH NOTICEABLE REDUCTION IN CLASHES AND SHELLINGS OBSERVED BEGINNING AFTERNOON 4 MAY AND CONTINUING THROUGH HOURS OF DARKNESS. CLASHES IN PORT AREA HAVE FALLEN OFF AND PLA FORCES HAVE REPORTEDLY BEGUN MOVING INTO BUFFER ZONE BETWEEN ALLENBY AND PATRIARCH HOYEK STREETS TO SEPARATE AND DETER COMBATANTS. PUBLIC INDICATIONS HAVE BEEN THAT THESE FORCES WILL FIRE UPON EITHER SIDE BREAKING CURRENT TRUCE TO WHICH ALL MAJOR FACTIONS, RIGHT AND LEFT, HAVE NOW PUBLICLY ENDORSED. REMAINS TO BE SEEN, HOWEVER, WHETHER PLA WILL BE ABLE OR WILLING TO FUNCTION AS EFFECTIVE AND IMPARTIAL DETERRENT FORCE ALONG CONFRONTATION LINE AND IN DOWNTOWN BUSINESS DISTRICT.
2. EXCEPTIONS TO OVERNIGHT QUIET WERE TRADITIONAL TROUBLE ZONES– SHIAH, HADATH, AND LAYLAKI–IN BEIRUT SUBURGS. NO GROUND MOVE- MENTS HAVE BEEN REPORTED THERE, BUT SUBSTANTIAL SHELLING AND MORTARING OCCURRED IN EARLY MORNING HOURS OF 5 MAY. BEIRUT AIR- PORT WAS AGAIN RECIPIENT OF MORTAR FIRE MID-AFTERNOON 4 MAY AND AT APPROX. 0100 HOURS LOCAL 5 MAY, POSSIBLY AS RESULT OF OVERSHOTS ORIGINATING IN HADATH.NO DEATH AND LIMITED MATERIAL DAMAGE RESULTED FROM LATEST SHELLING, BUT AIR FRANCE HAS ANNOUNCED THAT IT IS SUSPENDING REGULAR SERVICE TO BEIRUT AND WILL CONSIDER LANDING HERE ON CASE BY CASE BASIS. FRAGMENTARY REPORTS INDICATE THAT CLASH OCCURRED IN AKKAR AREA OF NORTH YESTERDAY BUT INIT AL INDICATIONS RECEIVED BY DATT SUGGEST THIS DUST-UP MAY HAVE BEEN RESULT OF INTERNAL SQUABBLING WITHIN LOOSELY STRUCTURED LEBANESE ARAB ARMY (LAA) ADHERENTS IN THAT REGION.
3. NO PALPABLE PROGRESS HAS BEEN ACHIEVED ON THE POLITICAL FRONT DESPITE THE RAPID APPROACH OF SCHEDULED PARLIAMENT SESSION ON
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MAY 8. THERE ARE GROWING ANTICIPATIONS THAT ELECTION OF PRESIDENT AT THAT TIME WILL NOT RPT NOT BE POSSIBLE BECAUSE OF FAILURE OF BROAD SPECTRUM OF LEBANESE POLITICAL OPINION TO COALESCE BEHIND SINGLE CANDIDATE ACCEPTABLE TO SYRIA. AMIN AL HAFEZ HAS RETURNED FROM DAMASCUS, HELD NON-ILLUMINATING PRESS CONFERENCE, AND SCHEDULED MEETING TODAY WITH HIS COHORTS IN SPEAKER ASSAD’S “INDEPENDENT” BLOC TO REPORT RESULTS OF HIS MISSION. IT IS WIDELY ACCEPTED THAT HIS EFFORTS TO CONVINCE SYRIANS TO ACCEPT “THIRD” CANDIDATE FOR PRESI- DENCY MET STONE WALL. ADDITIONALLY, PRIMIN KARAME AND SHIITE IMAN MUSA SADR HAVE EXPRESSED OPPOSITION TO COMPROMISE CANDIDATE CONCEPT–A PRETTY GOOD INDICATION OF WHERE SYRIA STANDS.
4. AT MOMENT, THEREFORE, EDDE AND SARKIS REMAIN ONLY SERIOUS CONTENDERS AND STALEMATE BETWEEN THEM PERSISTS. EDDE IS CAMPAIGNING HARD, ISSUING HARD-CHARGING STATEMENT AGAINST SYRIA 4 MAY IN WHICH HE PREPARED GROUND FOR HIS DEFEAT BY STATING THAT,IF HE NOT ELECTED,HIS FAILURE DUE TO SYRIAN INTERFERRENCE. NEWSPAPERS CON- TINUE MEANWHILE TO REPORT FAITHFULLY ACTIVITIES OF MINOR HOPEFULS, INCLUDING NEWCOMER SAID AKL.
5. STATEMENTS OF BOTH KARAME AND JUMBLATT FOLLOWING 4 MAY MEETINGS WITH AMBASSADOR BROWN WIDELY CARRIED IN PRESS. BOTH POLITICIANS EMPHASIZED USG POSITION THAT ELECTION OF PRESIDENT IS PURELY LEBANESE DECISION AND JUMBLATT TOLD REPORTERS THAT AMB. HAD ASSURED HIM THAT USG HAS NO RPT NO CANDIDATE IN PRESIDENTIAL SWEEPSTAKES. JUMBLATT ALSO REPORTED TO PRESS THAT AMB HAD EXPRESSED HIS CONCERN ABOUT INDISCRIMINATE SHELLING BY BOTH SIDES OF RESIDENTIAL AREA AND JUMBLATT ADDED THAT HE AGREED WITH AMB. THAT THIS SHOULD CEASE FOR HUMANITARIAN REASONS.
6. ON BRIGHTER SIDE, MANY AREAS OF RAS BEIRUT RECEIVED 5 MAY FIRST VISITS FROM NEWLY PAINTED CITY GARBAGE TRUCKS IN MANY MONTHS AS CONCERTED EFFORT APPARETNLY BEING MADE TO REMOVE HUGE HEAPS OF ACCUMULATED REFUSE WHERE LARGE COLONIES OF RODENT REFUGEES HAD MADE THEIR ABODE. EYEWITNESS HAS TOLD US THAT SIMILAR EFFORT IN AL HOUT STREET AREA WAS ABORTED WHEN ARMED ELEMENTS FIRED ON GARBAGE TRUCKS.
7. KARIM PAKRADOUNI OF PHALANGE POLITBURO HAS JUST INFORMED EMBOFF THAT HE IS TRAVELLING 5 MAY TO DAMASCUS FOR CONSULTATIONS. TRIP APPARENTLY DECIDED DURING HIGH-LEVEL MEETING OF PHALANGE LEADERSHIP
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AT NOON TODAY.
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1. FURTHER ELEMENTS OF UNCERTAINTY WAS INTERJECTED INTO LEBANESE POLITICAL PROCESS EVENING 6 MAY WHEN KAMAL JUMBLATT, SPEAKING ON BEHALF OF “PROGRESSIVES”, PUBLICLY OPPOSED CONVENING THE PARLIAMENT TO ELECT A NEW PRESIDENT BEFORE “ALL FORMS OF PRESSURE ARE LIFTED AND ALL INTERFERENCE IS ENDED.” WHILE JUMBLATT’S REMARKS DO NOT RPT NOT CONSTITUTE A FORMAL DEMAND THAT THE 8 MAY SESSION BE POSTPONED, THEY DO INDICATE THAT JUMBLATT AND THE SYRIANS HAVE NOT YET BEEN RECONCILED. AS FURTHER EVIDENCE, SYRIAN-SPONSORED DAILY, “AH SHARQ”, UNLEASED 7 MAY BROADSIDE AGAINST JUMBLATT.
2. WHETHER SOME OF ‘ARAFAT’S UNDERLINGS HAD SECRETLY JOURNEYED TO DAMASCUS PREVIOUSLY OR NOT, IT NOW SEEMS CLEAR THAT ‘ARAFAT HIMSELF DID NOT RPT NOT DEPART LEBANON UNTIL 6 MAY, WHEN HE FLEW TO SYRIA. IF HE IS SEEKING, AS SOME OBSERVERS BELIEVE, TO MEDIATE BETWEEN JUMBLATT AND THEY SYRIANS, IT DOES NOT APPEAR THAT HE WILL BE ABLE TO PUT THE FROSTING ON THE CAKE IN TIME FOR SATURDAY’S PARLIAMENT SESSION TO PROCEED ON SCHEDULE. WE BELIEVE THAT JUMBLATT MIGHT BE WILLING NOW TO REACH SOME COMPROMISE WITH SYRIA BECAUSE OF INTERNAL WEAKNESSES IN HIS POSITION. THERE HAVE BEEN SOME INDICATIONS THAT SECOND-ECHELON DRUZE AND PSP PARTY LEADERS CLOSE TO JUMBLATT HAVE BECOME DISENCHANTED WITH REPEATED DELAYS IN THE POLITICAL PROCESS, FOR WHICH JUMBLATT HIM- SELF BEARS A SHARE OF THE BLAME. SIMILARLY, ‘ARAFAT AND HIS FATAH COLLEAGUES ARE CHAFING UNDER PRESENT PRECARIOUS SITUATION WHICH THEY PROBABLY BELIEVE LEAVES JUMBLATT (AND HIS EVEN LESS RELIABLE LEFTIST COHORTS) WITH CONSIDERABLE LEEWAY TO REHEAT THE MILITARY SITUATION AND PULL THE PALESTINIANS BACK INTO A CONFLICT WHICH COULD THIS TIME INCLUDE THE SYRIANS.
3. WE WOULD EXPECT SOME INDICATION FRIDAY, MAY 7 OF WHETHER OR NOT PARLIAMENT WILL ATETEMPT TO MEET 8 MAY. GEN. AHDAB, SELF-ANNOUNCED MILITARY GOVERNOR OF LEBANON, HAS
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ANNOUNCED THE IMPOSITION OF A CURFEW IN A PROSCRIBED AREA AROUND THE VILLA (WHERE PARLIAMENT WILL ONCE AGAIN GATHER IN EXILE) EFFECTIVE AT 1400 HOURS LOCAL TODAY. PREPARATIONS THUS CON- TINUE FOR THE SESSION WHILE THE POLICOS DECIDE WHETHER TO ATTEND OR NOT. WE UNDERSTAND THAT MOST CHRISTIAN DEPUTIES AREPREPARED TO ATTEND, GIVEN MINIMAL SECURITY WHICH AT PRESENT EXISTS, BUT ALMOST NONE OF THE OTHER PARLIAMENTARIANS, INCLUDING THOSE CON- TROLLED BY JUMBLATT, HAVE YET CALLED THEIR SHOTS.
4. SINCE THE ADMINISTRATIVE AND JUDICIARY COMMITTEE OF THE PARLIAMENT DECIDED TWO DAYS AGO THAT AMINIMUM OF 66 DEPUTIES MUST BE PRESENT BEFORE GAVEL FALLS, “INDEPENDENT” GROUPING LED BY SPEAKER ASSSAD PROBABLY CAN DETERMINE WHETHER OR NOT SESSION COMES OFF. THIS GROUP, WHICH AS WE NOTED IN REFTEL, MAY BE COMING APART AS MEMBERS CHOOSE UP SIDES, HAS SLATED A MEETING FOR TODAY WHICH PROBABLY WILL GIVE AN INDICATION OF THE DIRECTION OF THE WIND. THERE STILL SEEMS TO BE SOME MOVEMENT WHITHIN THE UNCOMMITTED TOWARD SARKIS IP RESPONSE TO WHAT STIMULI WE CAN ONLYSPECULATE AT THE MOMENT, BUT CAMPAIGN POSTERS PROCLAIMING THAT “EDDE IS THE MAN” HAVE GONE UP OVERNIGHT IN SOME PARTS OF WEST BEIRUT. FOR ANALYTICAL PURPOSES, THEREFORE, PARLIAMENTARY MEMBERSHIP BREAKS DOWN INTO THREE BASIS GROUPS TODAY AS FAR AS WE CAN DETERMINE: PRO-SARKIS (LARGEST BUT NOT YET DETERMINANT); INDEPENDENTS (SECOND AND KEY); AND PRO-EDDE. PRECISE NUMBERS ARE ANYBODY’S GUESS BUT WE WOULD PLACE SARKIS VOTES IN HAND TODAY AT SLIGHTLY OVER 50 RPT 50 AND, THEREFORE SUFFICIENT FOR ELECTION ON SECOND BALLOT IF SESSION GOES AHEAD. ELECTION BY THIS SLIM MARGIN, HOWEVER, WOULD LEAVE THE NEW PRESIDENT IN A RELATIVELY WEAK POSITION AND FACING A DIVIDED ELECTORATE–NOT A HAPPY PROSPECT.
5. SECURITY SITUATION CONTINUED TO HOLD FAIRLY WELL IN BEIRUT WITH SOME EXCHANGES OF FIRE IN METN. LAST NIGHT, FURN ASH SHUBAK WAS HEAVILY SHELLED FROM DIRECTION OF RAS AN NABA ACCORDING TO LOCAL RESIDENT; THIS COULD BE WORK OF SPOILERS SUPPORTING “REJECTIONISTS”. PHALANGE SOURCES ALSO REPORT LIMITED GROUND ACTION (TWO PHALANGISTS KIA) IN VICINITY OF TAYOUNE CIRCLE, WHICH CONSTITUES ONE OF OUTER LIMITES OF SECURITY ZONE SURROUNDING PARLIAMENT SITE. ON OTHER HAND, SAME SOURCE IN AL HOUT STREET THAT TOLD US OF BATTLE OF THE GARBAGE TRUCKS TWO DAYS AGO REPORTS THAT TRUCKS THRUST INTO NEIGHBORHOOD THIS MORNING WITHOUT ENCOUNTERING ARMED RESISTENCE.
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ALSO ESCAPED SHELLING YESTERDAY AND THIS MORNING FOR FIRST TIME IN SEVERAL DAYS.
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The WikiLebanon Files (Part V): Mikati Called Hezbollah a Tumor Needing Removal in 2008

Nasrallah and Mikati

In the past month, there has been a lot of talk in Lebanon about what Hezbollah calls “The Shias of the U.S. Embassy” (شيعة السفارة), an expression taken from an Al-Akhbar article that exposed some WikiLeaks cables where anti-Hezbollah Shia were quoted cooperating with the embassy in order to undermine the main Shia party. Anyway, and since it’s apparently that time of the year when people start mentioning anti-Hezbollah officials chatting with the ambassador, here’s an anti-Hezbollah Najib Mikati calling Hezbollah a tumor needing removal, 7 months after the 7th of May events, 7 months before the 2009 general elections, and 3 years before Hezbollah chose him to replace Hariri as a Prime Minister.

Enjoy the irony of Lebanese politics.

LEBANON: WITH DAS HALE, MIKATI CALLS HIZBALLAH A “TUMOR” NEEDING REMOVAL
2008 December 19, 15:08 (Friday)
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— Not Assigned —
(b) and (d). SUMMARY
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1. (C) Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati told visiting NEA DAS Hale and the Ambassador that Sunni leader Saad Hariri, with whom Mikati acknowledged seeking an electoral alliance, would win the Tripoli district in Lebanon’s 2009 parliamentary elections. Mikati said he would refuse the position of prime minister absent backing of the Sunni population and acknowledged that Hariri would likely be Lebanon’s next prime minister. On President Sleiman, Mikati expressed concern that the LAF and the Maronite Patriarch — traditional stalwarts of support for the president — were not 100 percent behind Sleiman. DAS Hale emphasized the need to support Sleiman — who has proven himself independent-minded and supportive of UNSCR 1701 and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon — despite imperfect conditions.
2. (C) Describing Hizballah several times during the December 18 meeting as a “tumor,” Mikati said the group’s mini-state must be removed in order to preserve Lebanon. He noted that diplomatic relations with Syria were purely “cosmetic” but argued better relations with Lebanon’s neighbor provided the GOL space to counter Hizballah. Hale agreed that relations between the two sovereign neighbors was important, but must be based on mutual respect and non-interference. Mikati opined that Hizballah’s ultimate goal in Lebanon was to create an Iranian military base on the Mediterranean from which Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution could be carried to the west. Mikati called Russia’s recently-announced gift of MIG-29 fighter planes “strange.” End summary.
“BLOOD OF HARIRI” STILL IN TRIPOLI
———————–
3. (C) In a December 18 meeting with visiting NEA DAS David Hale and the Ambassador, accompanied by NEA/ELA Desk Officer Matthew Irwin and Econoff, former Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he expected the 2009 parliamentary elections to be tough only in certain areas, specifically the Metn, west Bekaa, and Zahle. Akkar and Mina would go entirely to Hariri, Mikati assessed. He acknowledged that “because I exist,” there will be a fight in Tripoli. However, Mikati — who described himself as not a “man of fighting” — said “the blood of (assassinated former Prime Minister Rafiq) Hariri still exists” in Tripoli and Saad Hariri would take the electoral district. DAS Hale noted that Lebanon’s independence was a priority for the U.S.
4. (C) Mikati expected 70 percent of the Tripoli population would back Hariri; the other 30 percent Mikati described as those whose votes are for sale. While admitting he had no desire for a slot for himself on the Hariri list, Mikati said he was trying to join forces with Hariri. Mikati said he could not go against the popular sentiment in the north favoring Hariri. On northern Lebanon’s other major Sunni politicians, Mikati said he had heard Minister of Economy and Trade Mohammed Safadi was trying to build bridges to former Prime Minister Omar Karami.
NO PM POST WITHOUT SUNNI BACKING
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5. (C) On post-election cabinet scenarios, Mikati assessed that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was “expired.” Describing Siniora as a friend whom he respects, Mikati, nonetheless, said Siniora should take a break from the position. Mikati tallied a checklist to determine Hariri’s potential as prime minister. He assessed Hariri wanted the slot but wondered whether Saudi Arabia wanted Hariri in the post. Mikati offered a hesitant yes to his own rhetorical question on Hariri’s capabilities for the position. The job was challenging; the person chosen would need to build the state
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again, Mikati said. According to Mikati, Hariri is the most likely candidate for prime minister after the 2009 elections.
6. (C) Responding to a question about the prime minister post in the event of a March 8 victory, Mikati said he would refuse the position under the circumstances because he would not be representing the Sunni population. Citing the unsuccessful governments of Salim Hoss and Omar Karami, Mikati said becoming prime minister without the full support of the Sunni community would always result in failure. Mikati said he was “not ready to fail.” He mentioned former Prime Minister Abdul-Rahim Mrad as a potential PM in a March 8-dominated government. DAS Hale acknowledged the need for Sunni backing of any prime minister — who is the highest Sunni representative in government — and stressed the importance of avoiding candidates such as Mrad in the post.
HESITATION ON SLEIMAN
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7. (C) Describing President Michel Sleiman as quiet and unchallenging, Mikati said he had not yet seen in Lebanon the results of Sleiman’s efforts, domestically or from his many trips abroad. However, Mikati assessed Sleiman was trying to demonstrate his wisdom and judgment before serving as arbitrator, the traditional role of Lebanon’s presidents. According to Mikati, once Sleiman is arbitrator, he can govern. Nonetheless, Mikati described as “worrisome” a December 17 conversation with Sleiman in which the President said his job was easier than what he had expected. Mikati told DAS Hale and the Ambassador he had counseled Sleiman to create strong state institutions to counter Hizballah’s mini-state.
8. (C) The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Maronite Patriarch, traditional strongholds of presidential support, are not stalwartly pro-Sleiman, according to Mikati. He described the LAF as polarized toward March 8 with most officers supporting Hizballah and opposition Christian leader Michel Aoun. Mikati described Sleiman as unsure he had the LAF’s full support. Fear of fracturing the army had probably also prevented then LAF Commander Sleiman from taking any drastic decision between 2005 and 2008, Mikati said.
9. (C) On the traditional buttress of support for the president from the Patriarch, Mikati ceded that Sfeir was “not in love with Sleiman.” DAS Hale opined, however, that despite these concerns President Sleiman seemed to recognize he had more room for maneuvering than his predecessor. Sleiman had demonstrated support for Lebanon’s independence, adherence to UNSCR 1701, and progress on the Hariri tribunal, DAS Hale said. Despite his operating in an imperfect situation, President Sleiman still deserved support.
HIZBALLAH: A “TUMOR” IN THE STATE ———————–
10. (C) Mikati, speaking as a “statesman,” argued Lebanon could not survive with a Hizballah mini-state. Regardless of his personal views on the group, Mikati said he was expecting Hizballah to bring Lebanon to a “sad ending.” He assessed that Hizballah was just like a tumor that, whether benign or malignant, must be removed. While acknowledging weakening the group would take time, DAS Hale agreed that a non-state entity with the power of creating war and peace in Lebanon was tremendously dangerous. He supported enacting multiple policies and employing multiple tools to confront the group and to make Hizballah’s backers see more liabilities in their support than assets. Continuation of the National Dialogue would also help counter Hizballah.
11. (C) On Hizballah’s goals in Lebanon, Mikati assessed Iran was using the group to create a military base on the Mediterranean. Ayatollah Khomeini’s goal to export the Islamic revolution to the west required a launching point, which, according to Mikati, is Lebanon. This goal will take time but Hizballah is patient, he said. DAS Hale told Mikati that peace with Israel was the most direct way to counter
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such intentions. Mikati agreed that peace with Israel would be a “happy ending,” but questioned whether Syria would make an agreement without Iranian permission.
12. (C) Mikati expressed doubt that upcoming parliamentary elections, regardless of a March 14 or opposition victory, would change Lebanon’s tumorous “reality.” DAS Hale stressed, however, that a Hizballah-dominated government would significantly change the country’s internal situation and potentially the U.S. stance toward the GOL. DAS Hale emphasized preservation of a pro-independence cabinet, even if not all the ministers are March 14.
“NEUTRALIZE” SYRIA THROUGH DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS
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13. (C) Mikati called diplomatic relations with Syria “cosmetic,” but important. He emphasized the need to keep Lebanon’s interests a priority, but assessed that “neutralizing” the Syrian track made completing work simpler in Lebanon. While acknowledging the need for good state-to-state relations between the neighbors, DAS Hale said Syria’s faction-based support of Lebanese politicians was unacceptable. Noting the visits of Lebanon’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Interior, and LAF Commander, and the upcoming visit of Minister of Defense Elias Murr, Mikati assessed the Syrians had chosen the particular “island” of coordination they sought in Lebanon. Mikati argued that neutralizing Syria would enable the GOL to “gain time” on Hizballah.
CONCERNED ABOUT GOL DEBT
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14. (C) Responding to DAS Hale’s inquiry about the state of the Lebanese economy, Mikati said that, looking at loans from commercial banks, the Lebanese economy was doing well. However, Mikati expressed concern about government debt –projected to reach $9.5 billion next year — held in commercial banks. He argued some of the short-term government loans should be negotiated to long-term loans. Additionally, a shortage of transfers from abroad could cause liquidity problems in Lebanon. The transfer of dollars into Lebanese pounds — which yield much higher interest rates — would also reduce bank liquidity. However, Mikati expressed confidence in Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh and his handling of the issues.
A “STRANGE” GIFT FROM THE RUSSIANS
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15. (C) Talking with the Ambassador before DAS Hale’s arrival, Mikati described the Russian gift of MIG-29 fighter planes — which received extensive local media coverage in recent days — as “strange.” He questioned whether Defense Minister Murr asked specifically for the planes or if the Russians had chosen independently to offer them. Mikati said the planes would be “impossible” to maintain and small helicopters would have been more useful for the LAF.
16. (C) Comment: Mikati clearly was presenting himself for our benefit as a foe of Hizballah, as he is looking forward to potential opportunities to return to the Prime Ministry. End comment.
17. (U) DAS Hale has cleared this cable.
SISON

The WikiLebanon Files (Part IV): The Hezbollah-Amal Electoral Deal that Preceded the Israeli Withdrawal

The Khiam Detention Center, bombed in 2006, was one of the most infamous landmarks associated with the Israeli occupation

The Khiam Detention Center, bombed in 2006, was one of the most infamous landmarks associated with the Israeli occupation

This month marks the 15th anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from the South Lebanon security zone and the subsequent collapse of the South Lebanon Army. People often focus on the military side of the end of the occupation, and forget the political implications that followed, notably Hezbollah’s accelerated rise to power after basking in the glory of ending the occupation in the South. In this post, I’m only going to quote one cable, about one of the direct political consequences of the Israeli withdrawal: How Amal gave up two MPs to the stronger Hezbollah (Via a Syrian-mediated deal) in order to avoid what would probably be a lost electoral battle, and most importantly, how both party feared the new liberated security zone might influence the rest of the electorate in the South. Amal was confident that the Christians of the liberated regions would fear Hezbollah retribution and would side with Berri, and Hezbollah feared that Kamel Al-Assaad would manage to make a political comeback, especially that the security zone is “his power base” and that the “symbol of the old guard” had managed to secure 40% of the votes in 1996.

Just to be clear here, the cable was written in April, the Israeli withdrawal happened in May, and the general elections in late August/early September

This is one of the most awesome/non circulated/informative cables I have read in a while, so I hope you enjoy it.

ELECTION 2000: AMAL-HIZBALLAH MAKE A DEAL, FOR NOW
2000 April 17, 16:04 (Monday)
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— Not Assigned —
FOR NOW
CLASSIFIED BY AMB. DAVID SATTERFIELD. REASON: 1.5 (B, D)
1. (C) SUMMARY: AMAL MOVEMENT AND HIZBALLAH HAVE MADE A SYRIAN-INDUCED DEAL TO DISTRIBUTE SEATS AMONG THEMSELVES IN THE UPCOMING PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. IF THE DEAL HOLDS, HIZBALLAH WOULD HAVE A NET GAIN OF TWO SEATS, PLUS A STRONGER FIGURE IN A THIRD ONE. THESE EXPEDIENT PAIRINGS ARE TYPICAL OF LEBANESE LEGISLATIVE CAMPAIGNS AND SYRIAN MACHINATIONS. THIS YEAR, DAMASCUS SEEMS EAGER TO SEW UP WINNING COALITIONS NOW, BEFORE ISRAELI WITHDRAWAL, TO ENSURE THAT THE POLITICAL STATUS QUO IS PRESERVED AND TO MINIMIZE INTERNAL LEBANESE RIVALRIES. HOWEVER, MANY OF THESE DEALS ARE BEING CUT SO EARLY, AND SO UNNATURALLY, THAT THEY ARE UNLIKELY TO HOLD TOGETHER UNTIL THE LATE SUMMER ELECTION. BOTH HIZBALLAH AND AMAL MOVEMENT BELIEVE THEY CAN DO BETTER, AND GET MORE SEATS, POST-WITHDRAWAL: HIZBALLAH BECAUSE OF THEIR “VICTORY” OVER ISRAEL, BERRI BECAUSE HE THINKS NEWLY LIBERATED CHRISTIANS IN THE SECURITY ZONE WILL VOTE FOR HIM AS THE STRONGEST ALTERNATIVE TO THE PARTY OF GOD.
END SUMMARY.
2. (C) THE HORSETRADING AND DEALMAKING ASSOCIATED WITH LEGISLATIVE CANDIDATE LISTS HAS BEEN UNDERWAY FOR SOME TIME, AND WILL LIKELY CONTINUE UP UNTIL THE EVE OF THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN EARLY AUGUST. AMONG THE MORE INTERESTING ELECTION DEVELOPMENTS IS WITHIN THE SHI’A COMMUNITY. THE SYRIANS HAVE GOD- FATHERED AN ALLIANCE BETWEEN AMAL MOVEMENT, LED BY PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER NABIH BERRI, AND HIS ARCH- RIVAL, HIZBALLAH.
3. (C) ACCORDING TO ALI KHALIL, AMAL MP FROM TYRE AND THE PARTY’S CAMPAIGN COORDINATOR FOR THE ELECTIONS, AMAL AND HIZBALLAH STRUCK THEIR DEAL IN FEBRUARY. AMAL AND HIZBALLAH CANDIDATES WILL RUN ON A SINGLE LIST IN THE SOUTH, ACHIEVING MUTUAL AGREEMENT ON ALL NOMINEES FOR THE 23 SEATS THERE. NATIONWIDE, THE DEAL CALLS FOR A NET INCREASE OF TWO SEATS FOR HIZBALLAH, FROM NINE TO ELEVEN IN PARLIAMENT, BRINGING BACK INTO PARLIAMENT EX-MPS ALI AMMAR AND MUHAMMAD BERJAWI. THE CHANGES WOULD COME AT THE EXPENSE OF AN INDEPENDENT SHI’A IN BEIRUT CLOSE TO PM HOSS (EDUCATION MINISTER BEYDOUN) AND A SHI’A FROM BAABDA ALLIED WITH HARIRI (EX-INFORMATION MINISTER SABA), THEREBY SPREADING THE PAIN AMONG OTHER ALLIES OF SYRIA. IN ADDITION, NAZIH MANSUR, AN MP FROM BINT JUBAYL ALLIED TO HIZBALLAH, WOULD REPUTEDLY BE REPLACED BY A CARD-CARRYING PARTY MEMBER. KHALIL SAID AMAL AND HIZBALLAH HOLD REGULAR ELECTION MEETINGS NOW TO COORDINATE CAMPAIGNS, EVIDENCE OF AN AT LEAST SUPERFICIAL EFFORT TO FORGE A TRUE PRAGMATIC ALLIANCE.
4. (C) EVERY ELECTORAL YEAR, AMAL AND HIZBALLAH COME TO TERMS — VIA SYRIAN MEDIATION — ON A “FAIR” DISTRIBUTION OF SEATS. IT IS NOTABLE THAT THE ARRANGEMENT HAS BEEN MADE SO EARLY THIS YEAR, AND THAT AMAL APPEARS WILLING TO CONCEDE THAT IT IS HIZBALLAH’S TURN TO GROW. JUDGING FROM THE ELECTORAL LAW AND THE ACTIVITIES OF SYRIAN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE CHIEF FOR LEBANON GHAZI KANAAN, SYRIA’S GOAL FOR THE 2000 LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS IS IN GENERAL THE STATUS QUO. POLITICAL RIVALRIES LIKE THE ONE BETWEEN HIZBALLAH AND AMAL CAN ESCALATE INTO OPEN POWER STRUGGLES, POSSIBLY OPENING UP THE COMPETITION TO ANTI-SYRIAN ELEMENTS, SUCH AS FORMER SPEAKER KAMAL AL-ASAD, WHOSE POWER BASE IS IN THE SECURITY ZONE. BERRI’S APPARENT WILLINGNESS TO CONCEDE ANY EXPANDED PRESENCE IN PARLIAMENT TO HIZBALLAH IS ALSO NOTABLE (HIS 19-MEMBER PARLIAMENTARY BLOC HAS ONLY FOUR AMAL MEMBERS; THE OTHER 15 ARE LOOSE ALLIES.) WHILE AMAL MOVEMENT REMAINS THE ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE FOR POLITICS IN SOUTH LEBANON, YEARS OF CORRUPTION HAVE DISCREDITED THE PARTY. BERRI MAY HAVE JUDGED IT BEST TO LOCK IN A MODEST GAIN FOR HIZBALLAH NOW, RATHER THAN FACE HIZBALLAH DEMANDS FOR A GREATER SHARE OF THE SEATS AFTER THE EXPECTED SURGE IN POPULARITY FOR HIZBALLAH AT OCCUPATION’S END.
5. (C) SOUTHERN MPS YASSINE JABER AND SAMIR AZAR, ALLIES OF AMAL MOVEMENT, TOLD US SEPARATELY THAT THE AMAL-HIZBALLAH COALITION, WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF A UNILATERAL WITHDRAWAL, HAS QUESTIONABLE LONGEVITY. THEY MAINTAIN BERRI WAS NOT COMPLETELY CONVINCED THAT ISRAEL WOULD ACTUALLY WITHDRAW UNTIL RECENTLY. AS REALITY SINKS IN, HIS CALCULATIONS ARE CHANGING. THEY CLAIM BERRI ASSUMES THAT NEWLY-LIBERATED CHRISTIANS OF THE SOUTH WILL LOOK TO HIM FOR REPRESENTATION, NOT HIZBALLAH, WHICH IS FEARED AS THE PARTY OF POSSIBLE RETRIBUTION. HIZBALLAH’S WITHDRAWAL OF ITS SLA AMNESTY PROPOSAL IN PARLIAMENT IS SEEN AS AN ABANDONMENT OF ITS EFFORT TO APPEAL TO SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN VOTES.
COMMENT
6. (C) SYRIAN HANDLERS FOR LEBANON MADE EVERY SIGN OF WANTING TO SEW UP THE ELECTION RESULTS EARLY ON. THE MOST EFFECTIVE TOOL IN THIS PROCESS IS TO COMPEL ALLIANCES BETWEEN NATURAL RIVALS IN EACH DISTRICT WHICH EFFECTIVELY ELIMINATE COMPETITION AND GIVE “FIXED MENU” COALITION OFFERINGS TO THE VOTERS. IN SOME DISTRICTS FRACTIOUS LEBANESE, EVEN THOSE ON EXCELLENT TERMS WITH DAMASCUS, ARE DEFEATING THIS AIM, AS THE BARGAINING MELEE CONTINUES. THIS HAS BEEN ESPECIALLY ACUTE IN THE NORTH, WHERE TRADITIONAL POWER CENTERS OF UMAR KARAME, SULEIMAN FRANJIYAH, AND NAYLA MUAWID CONTINUE TO MANEUVER IN WAYS WHICH UNDERMINE COALITION LIST FORMATION.
7. (C) IN THE SOUTH, BERRI HAS HIS WORK CUT OUT FOR HIM. OF THE TWO PARTIES, HIZBALLAH CAN EASILY OUTSPEND AMAL. IT WILL NOT BE ENOUGH FOR BERRI TO MARKET AMAL TO THE LIBERATED SECURITY ZONE. AFTER DECADES OF OCCUPATION, DESTRUCTION, AND AN ABYSMAL ECONOMY, PEOPLE WANT ASSISTANCE, NOT RHETORIC. HIZBALLAH COULD GAIN SIGNIFICANT POLITICAL GROUND FROM AMAL IF, FOLLOWING AN IDF WITHDRAWAL, IT ACCENTUATES CONSTITUENT SERVICES. HOWEVER, IN ITS PERPETUAL GAME OF PLAYING FACTIONS AGAINST EACH OTHER, THE SYRIAN REGIME MAY SEE A NEED TO DEFLATE HIZBALLAH FOLLOWING AN ISRAELI WITHDRAWAL, TO KEEP IT OFF BALANCE AND DEPENDENT. BERRI IS THE ONLY RELIABLE TOOL AT THEIR DISPOSAL TO COUNTER HIZBALLAH, AN ARGUMENT HE NO DOUBT MAKES IN DAMASCUS.
8. (C) ONE WILD CARD IS THE SUPPORT RETAINED BY KAMAL AL-ASAD. ALTHOUGH A SEEMINGLY DISCREDITED SYMBOL OF THE OLD GUARD, VIEWED AS TOO ACCOMMODATING TO ISRAEL, ASAD POLLED A RESPECTABLE 30% OF THE VOTE IN 1992 AND 40% IN 1996, AGAINST THE AMAL/HIZBALLAH ALLIANCE LIST. HIS APPEAL IN THE SECURITY ZONE — THE FAMILY’S TRADITIONAL POWER BASE — IS UNTESTED BUT NO DOUBT STRONG. ENSURING HE REMAINS FIRMLY AT THE BOTTOM OF THE ELECTORAL SWEEPSTAKES IS A GOAL SHARED IN COMMON BY SYRIA, BERRI, AND HIZBALLAH.
SATTERFIELD

The WikiLebanon Files (Part III): Gemayel’s Comments On Sleiman (2009)

Gemayel and Sleiman

Gemayel and Sleiman

ANOTHER WIKILEAKS POST? AGAIN? (In case you missed it, I published around 40 WikiLeaks cables dating from the 70s and 80s in order to to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Lebanese Civil War.)

But hey, on the bright side, today’s cable is a short one, and I’m mainly publishing it because it mentions several negative comments that Gemayel said about Sleiman right after the parliamentary elections in 2009 (Look for the sentences in bold at the end).

The relevance of this cable right now comes from the fact that the two former presidents, Gemayel and Sleiman, have recently joined hands together and formed an alliance/rapprochement/agreement/gathering  (I have no idea what to call it) that apparently seeks to create a unified bloc for the small parties represented in the government (although deep down we all know that this rapprochement is in fact a reaction to the Aoun-Geagea dialogue and an epic-fail tentative of a “centrist presidential campaign”).

Hope you enjoy the cable.

LEBANON: GEMAYEL SAYS MARCH 14 MUST STAND FIRM AGAINST A BLOCKING THIRD
2009 June 11, 14:50 (Thursday)
09BEIRUT654_a
CONFIDENTIAL
CONFIDENTIAL
— Not Assigned —

(b) and (d).

SUMMARY

——-

1. (C) In a June 10 meeting with the Ambassador, Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel stressed that March 14 must be strong in opposing a blocking third for the opposition in the new cabinet, even if government formation takes longer as a result. He worried that some of his March 14 allies would be more “docile” in their dialogue with Hizballah. Gemayel said he would seek clarification from Hizballah on where its allegiance lies, and what its definition of sovereignty is. He believed National Dialogue participants should be chosen based on the number of seats each bloc received in parliament, with special allowances for under-represented confessions. He predicted that Amal leader Nabih Berri would once again be Speaker of Parliament, but thought it would be good to circulate other names for the position, to put Berri on notice following his negative role in the previous parliament. He also expounded on how the election results heralded the return of the Kataeb Party to its historical place of importance. End summary.

NO BLOCKING THIRD; MUST BE CLEAR WITH HIZBALLAH

—————————-

2. (C) The Ambassador, accompanied by EconOff, called on Amine Gemayel at Kataeb Party headquarters in Beirut June 10. Losing Kataeb candidate (Keserwan) Sejean Qazzi and a Kataeb notetaker also attended the meeting. Gemayel expressed his pleasure that March 14 had won such a solid majority in the June 7 elections, but he emphasized that Hizballah was still present on the ground, with forces stronger than those of the Lebanese army. This situation would make government formation difficult and possibly long. Nonetheless, Gemayel believed it crucial that March 14 stand together against any opposition calls for a blocking third in the new cabinet. He pointed to the impasse that reigned in the previous cabinet, and said March 14 needed to create a government that can function effectively.

3. (C) Gemayel worried that some of his March 14 allies would tend toward being too “docile” in a dialogue with Hizballah, and he stressed it was important for March 14 not to compromise its principles. He felt March 14 decision-making would be more productive if it were run by a directorate of its party leaders, rather than through the intermediary of a March 14 secretariat. With the secretariat out of the way, said Gemayel, the leadership could determine a joint path to take in any dialogue with Hizballah. He was not certain March 14’s strong showing in the elections would tame March 14 Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s desire to engage more with Hizballah, but stressed that Kataeb would not compromise on the issue of the blocking third.

4, (C) Gemayel complained that in past discussions with Hizballah, March 14 leaders had danced around issues, using vague language that Hizballah could interpret in a variety of ways. It is imperative to be clear on what we stand for, he explained, and to ask for clarification from Hizballah on its definition of certain concepts, such as allegiance (“is Hizballah’s allegiance with Lebanon or with Iran?”) and sovereignty, ideas at the heart of national identity. Gemayel was emphatic that these issues should be ironed out before forming a government, even if the process takes longer. He suggested that if things dragged out longer than expected, perhaps the President could put in place an interim technocratic government, as Gemayel himself had done when he was president during the civil war.

NATIONAL DIALOGUE: WHO SHOULD PARTICIPATE?

BEIRUT 00000654 002 OF 002

———————–

5. (C) Gemayel believed participants in the National Dialogue following the elections should be chosen according to the criteria established by Speaker Nabih Berri in 2006. All blocs with four or more seats in parliament should send a representative, with the president appointing representatives of confessional groups not otherwise represented at the dialogue table. (Note: Gemayel participated in the current version of the dialogue with only two seats in parliament, because he is a former president. His suggestion that representatives should have at least 4 seats to participate would exclude opposition Christian Suleiman Frangieh, whose Marada party won 3 seats. End note.) He argued that March 14 Armenians, who won four seats in these elections, should send their own representative to the dialogue, replacing Tashnaq MP Hagop Pakradounian, whose party won only two seats. He believed Michel Pharaon, the re-elected Greek Catholic MP from Beirut I, should replace Elie Skaff, who lost his race in Zahle.

BERRI TO REMAIN

—————

6. (C) Gemayel said Berri enjoyed wide support for his candidacy to remain parliament speaker, and noted that both Hizballah and Jumblatt had expressed their intention to vote for him. He believed Saad Hariri would also have his bloc — the largest in parliament — vote for Berri. That said, Gemayel thought it a good idea to start floating names of other Shia as possible candidates, from March 14 Beirut III MP Ghazi Youssef or new Zahle MP Okab Sakr, to put Berri on notice that there were other options available. He assessed such as March 14 should call Berri to task for his behavior during the last parliament, when he shut down parliament operations for over a year, and set conditions for his re-election.

SLEIMAN STILL STRONG

——————–

7. (C) Gemayel disagreed with observers who believe former presidential advisor Nazem Khoury’s defeat in the parliamentary race in Jbeil weakened President Sleiman. He saw Khoury’s loss as a result of his lack of charisma, as well as his place “stuck between the two camps.” The President should not be blamed, believed Gemayel, because he remained neutral and did not intervene on Khoury’s behalf. (Comment: Some contacts have told us Sleiman made attempts to drum up for support for Khoury in the final days of campaigning through is army contacts in Jbeil, which may have backfired. Khoury’s victorious opponent from the opposition complained strongly to us about the President’s interference. End comment.) Gemayel added that Sleiman was never a true political figure in Jbeil, so the political loss should not hurt his stature. “He’s a military man, not a regional leader. He is just from there,” said Gemayel.

“KATAEB HAS TAKEN BACK ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE”

———————-

8. (C) Gemayel spoke at length on how his party’s winning five seats in the new parliament — after having two MPs in the previous parliament, both of whom were assassinated — placed Kataeb back at the center of Lebanese politics. He said his candidates had worked hard to win, and he believed that his young MPs (his son Sami Gemayel and his nephew Nadeem Gemayel) would bring youth to his party, which had a long history in Lebanese politics. “We have always been moderators in Lebanon, and protectors of Lebanese sovereignty,” he said.

SISON

The WikiLebanon Files (Part II): March 2005 – Berri, Larsen, And Syrian Withdrawal

Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, meets U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, Saturday, March 12, 2005.  AP

Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, meets U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, Saturday, March 12, 2005. AP

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the March 8 and 14 demonstrations. These two events eventually led to the creation of Lebanon’s two mainstream coalitions, and set the rules of the political game for the next 10 years. This is why this month I will focus on two cables.

The first one is about Speaker Berri telling the U.S. ambassador, on March 9, 5 days before the 14 March rally and only one day after the March 8 rally, that “Syria will redeploy its forces to the Biqa’ Valley, starting possibly as soon as March 9″, and that Hezbollah would eventually fill the vacuum.

The second cable is a conversation between French officials and the U.N. envoy Terje Rod-Larsen (Remember him?). I am publishing it because Larsen mentions that “Syria may seek to sow inter-communal violence by targetting Lebanon’s pro-Syria camp, including a possible Nasrallah assassination.

Voila:

MGLE01: PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER BERRI SEES SYRIANS ON THEIR WAY OUT FAST, BUT FEARS DELAY IN ELECTIONS
2005 March 9, 16:43 (Wednesday)
05BEIRUT767_a
CONFIDENTIAL
CONFIDENTIAL
— Not Assigned —
——-
Summary
——-
1. (C) Nabih Berri, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies and leader of the Shia Amal Movement, assured the Ambassador that Syrian forces would redeploy to the Biqa’ Valley in short order and complete their withdrawal to Syria within months. Looking on the bright side, Berri claimed that Syria’s departure will give its Lebanese allies more freedom of maneuver. On the other hand, he gloomily conceded that his Amal Movement’s rival for leadership of Lebanon’s Shia community, Hizballah, may well steal the show (as Hizballah did later that same day, March 8, in a huge downtown rally). Berri is emphatically for a strong “national unity government,” and frustrated by the opposition’s lack of interest in joining. Any further delay in forming a government makes a delay of parliamentary elections almost certain, Berri said. End summary.
———————————————
Syrian withdrawal — they mean it, Berri says
———————————————
2. (C) Berri was laconic at first when called on by the Ambassador and poloff on March 8 at Berri’s Beirut residence. The Ambassador asked about the March 7 meeting in Damascus between Syrian President Asad and Lebanese President Lahoud, whom Berri accompanied. “Good, no problem,” Berri replied, turning away to stare at a point in space, lips pursed, hands clasped over his knee. Was he confident the Syrians would commit to full withdrawal? “No problem,” Berri repeated, pronouncing the two words slowly and exactly.
3. (C) “I’m sure of one thing,” Berri told the Ambassador. That is that Syria will redeploy its forces to the Biqa’ Valley, starting possibly as soon as March 9. Following that, UN Special Envoy Terje-Roed Larsen would return to the region and arrive at a “more than positive solution” for full Syrian withdrawal.
4. (C) Berri expressed frustration with criticism made by Lebanese oppositionists, among others, of the results of the March 7 Damascus meeting, particularly the fact that it did not announce a timetable for full withdrawal. The plan agreed on by Asad and Lahoud would apply the Ta’if Agreement “exactly,” and “in the way of (UNSCR) 1559” (which Berri admitted he opposed, but “in a democratic way”). All Roed-Larsen had to do was arrange a “marriage” between the Ta’if Agreement and UNSCR 1559, and then he could extract a timetable from the Syrians.
5. (C) Berri expressed certainty not only that Syrian forces would redeploy to the Biqa’ quickly, but also that they would start to withdraw across the Syrian border before April. Full withdrawal would be completed not within a year, but within months. Queried by the Ambassador, Berri said that all Syrian intelligence personnel would be withdrawn as well.
6. (C) Berri insisted that this was not a matter of all talk and no action. President Asad had made clear his intent about complying with UNSCR 1559. The SARG would obey any demands made on it by Roed-Larsen’s forthcoming report. The reason the SARG was so intent on full withdrawal was that it did not want to be responsible for implementation of the other provisions of UNSCR 1559, such as disarmament and disbandment of militias.
7. (C) Berri said that, faced with the disarmament of Hizballah, Asad could say it was “not my business.” Also, the SARG wanted to be able to claim credit for implementing UNSCR 1559. That way, it could make a stronger case for implementation of other Security Council resolutions dealing with the Middle East.
—————————————–
With Syria leaving, it’s Nasrallah’s show
—————————————–
8. (C) Asked by the Ambassador about the massive rally in central Beirut being organized at that moment by Hizballah, Berri gloomily said of his rival for leadership of the Shia community, Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, that “it is his case now.” With the Syrians withdrawing from Lebanon, Nasrallah had “come to the front.” No one could claim that the rally was a “Syrian project,” claimed Berri.
9. (C) Berri said he was trying hard to keep people “off the streets” and minimize the possibility of violence in the current tense atmosphere. He noted reports of violent incidents following Asad’s March 5 speech, provoked by individuals in vehicles flying flags of Berri’s Amal Movement and driving through pro-opposition neighborhoods. None of the perpetrators were Amal members, he said — in one case, they had been Palestinians. “Many people want to make trouble,” he said. Lebanon was not united, it had too many sects, it was — in a negative metaphor increasingly favored by loyalists — “not Ukraine.”
10. (C) The Ambassador suggested that it was a positive sign that Lebanese, whether opposition or loyalist, were all marching under the same flag, the Lebanese national flag. Their confessional identify was not determining their stance on the question of the Syrian presence. Berri, still gloomy, answered that it was “apparently” good for the Lebanese to be under one flag. The problem was that “everyone sees their own color in the flag.” The Lebanese remained “a divided people.”
11. (C) Perhaps indicative of his bad mood, Berri proceeded to instruct the Ambassador on points that, while arguably true, were irrelevant. If Hariri had not been assassinated, Berri asserted, the Sunni community would not have joined the opposition. If the Syrians are proven innocent of Hariri’s assassination, the Sunnis will “change in one day.” Druze leader Walid Jumblatt subscribes to the Ta’if Agreement but not UNSCR 1559; he is therefore in favor of the Syrians remaining in the Biqa’ Valley (comment: while the first point is true, the second is clearly not).
———————-
Politics without Syria
———————-
12. (C) With the Syrians gone, Berri claimed, Syria’s Lebanese allies would be more free to do what they want. For example, Berri expected more elements on the loyalist side (Hizballah, President Lahoud) to move closer to his original position on the electoral law. That is, they would support large electoral districts drawn along the lines of the “mohafazah” administrative unit, rather than the smaller “qada.” Berri himself had supported the “qada” plan only because of Syrian pressure to go along with a supposed deal between Damascus and the Maronite Patriarch.
13. (C) Another example: Berri and his Amal Movement could now take full credit from their constituents in return for largesse. Previously, they had often faced constituents suspicious that the real donor of state-funded projects and services was “the ally,” i.e., Damascus, not Berri and Amal. “We (the Amal Movement) paid the price sometimes!”
—————————
Forming a new government…
—————————
14. (C) Berri told the Ambassador that a strong government, a “national unity government,” was needed in the aftermath of the Karami government’s February 28 resignation. Only a strong government could handle the several “big issues” that any successor to Karami’s government would face: the investigation of Hariri’s assassination, Syrian withdrawal, and the new electoral law. He joked that, in response to opposition demands, he had tried to look up the term “neutral government” in “my dictionary of Lebanese politics.” It didn’t exist.
15. (C) Berri expected ‘Umar Karami to come back as Prime Minister in the next government. The list of viable candidates to fill the post was short: Karami, Salim al-Hoss, Fouad Siniora, and Adnan Kassar. Berri opposed naming an anti-Hariri figure, so that ruled out Hoss. On the other hand, Hariri supporters did not want Siniora or Kassar elevated to the position. That left Karami. Berri believed Karami would be a good choice; if brought back, Karami would “try to make it work.”
16. (C) Berri said he wanted the opposition to join the new cabinet. They were making a serious mistake if they held back. There was a precedent for effective national unity governments in Lebanon, such as the one that brought civil-war-era leaders on both sides of the East Beirut-West Beirut divide into the same cabinet in 1984 (comment: a grim precedent).
17. (C) Berri claimed to be puzzled by the opposition’s demand that seven security service heads be dismissed before the opposition would consider joining a new government. The Ambassador said that the opposition was arguing that there was no sense in joining a cabinet when the real power remained in the hands of unaccountable security chiefs. Based on our conversations with the opposition, however, it seems that the opposition might be willing to bargain to an extent, perhaps agreeing to let the other chiefs remain in place for the time being in return for the immediate dismissal of Internal Security Force Director General Ali al-Hajj. “Why the innocent one and not the guilty one?” Berri asked, without clarification (but presumably in reference to fellow Shia Jamil al-Sayyed, whom Berri detests — and the feeling is mutual).
18. (C) Berri fretted about the confessional complications that would come into play with the dismissal of any or all of the security service chiefs. Anyway, the cabinet would have to name a replacement for any dismissed security service chief — why did the opposition not want to be in the cabinet and influence the decision?
———————————
… and holding elections on time
———————————
19. (C) Berri told the Ambassador that the consultations for designating a new Prime Minister and forming a cabinet could easily take a week. A genuine “national unity government” could take even longer to form. Then there was the matter of the election law, and parliamentary elections cannot begin less than one month after the law enters into effect. 20. (C) Berri said that, until now, plans to hold elections on schedule in May have remained in the realm of feasibility. Any further delay would put these plans in jeopardy, however. The Ambassador told Berri that a genuinely strong government cannot be formed until after elections, so they need to remain on schedule.
——-
Comment
——-
21. (C) The massive demonstration in central Beirut on the afternoon of March 8 appeared to vindicate Berri’s fears about being left behind, coughing in Hizballah’s dust on a post-Syrian Lebanese political landscape. Some of the concerns he tried to raise and link with Syrian withdrawal — Hizballah ascendancy, civil disorder, pro-Syrian elements having an even freer hand — sounded a little disingenuous, given that the Syrians still have yet to leave.
FELTMAN
FRENCH OFFICIALS ON LARSEN VISIT, LEBANON NEXT STEPS
2005 March 16, 18:41 (Wednesday)
05PARIS1765_a
SECRET
SECRET
— Not Assigned —
— N/A or Blank —
B. BEIRUT 805 (EXDIS)
Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Josiah Rosenblatt, reasons 1.5 (b) and (d).
1. (S) Summary: MFA and Elysee officials are stressing the need for continued insistence on a full Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon before elections, in the wake of UN Special Envoy Larsen’s meetings in Beirut and Aleppo. The GoF views a four to six-month Syrian withdrawal as too long. According to Chirac’s Middle East advisor, Larsen expressed worry to the GoF that Syria may seek to sow inter-communal violence by targetting Lebanon’s pro-Syria camp, including a possible Nasrallah assassination. Larsen also expressed a preference for delaying release of the Fitzgerald report, and criticized the Lebanese opposition for not being more pragmatic on the need for a new government. French officials agree with Larsen that continued delays in forming a new Lebanese government could delay elections and full Syrian withdrawal, and view the “dump Lahoud” demands of the opposition as counter-productive. French officials continue to commend U.S.-GoF cooperation on Lebanon, but suggest that we may eventually part ways on the Hizballah issue or regime change in Syria. MFA officials also report that the GoF has no enthusiasm for an international force in Lebanon, that the EU may soon send election observer trainers to Lebanon, and that FM Barnier may attend the March 22-23 Arab League summit, where he will avoid contact with Lebanese or Syrian officials. End summary.
LARSEN VISIT
————
2. (S) UN Special Envoy for UNSCR 1559 implementation Terje Roed-Larsen visited Paris March 14 and had a working lunch with Presidential Diplomatic Advisor (NSA-equivalent) Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, MFA A/S-equivalent for Near East Jean-Francois Thibault, and MFA IO A/S-equivalent Jean-Maurice Ripert. We received readouts on Larsen’s visit from Presidential Middle East Advisor Dominique Boche March 16 and from MFA DAS-equivalent for the Levant Christian Jouret March 15. Jouret stressed that the GoF opted to receive Larsen with maximum discretion and not at the presidential or ministerial level to avoid feeding perceptions that Larsen is controlled by the GoF and USG. Jouret said the GoF was encouraged by Larsen’s meeting with Bashar and cautiously optimistic that Bashar would follow through on his commitments, but concluded that the lack of a timetable for full withdrawal was insufficient. Jouret described Larsen as optimistic (more so that the GoF) and determined, and convinced that Bashar understood the gravity of the current situation and the accusations against him on Hariri’s assassination. Both Jouret and Boche concurred that the four to six month full withdrawal suggested by Bashar to Larsen (ref b) was “too long.”
3. (S) According to Elysee Advisor Boche, Larsen stressed four additional points to the GoF: 1) the need for the international community to continue to insist upon a full (troops and security services) Syrian withdrawal before elections, to avoid giving the impression of being satisfied by Syrian steps so far; 2) worry that Syria may seek to sow inter-communal violence by assassinating a major figure in the loyalist camp, possibly Hizballah leader Nasrallah; 3) the need to delay release of the Fitzgerald report, to avoid the impression that it is linked to Larsen’s visit; and 4) the need for the Lebanese opposition to be more realistic on the urgency of forming a new Lebanese government, without which full Syrian withdrawal and timely parliamentary elections would not be possible. Boche stressed that the GoF shared the view that a forming a new GOL was imperative, and opined that a neutral, technical government might be a more feasible option than a national unity government, given GOL unwillingness to meet opposition demands to fire GOL security officials. Boche added that the calls by some oppositionists for a Lahoud resignation were counterproductive, as Lahoud’s dismissal would result in a further impasse that would serve Syrian interests.
4. (C) Jouret told us separately that FM Barnier, during a March 11 meeting with a visiting Lebanese opposition delegation led by Marwan Hamade, urged the group, to no avail, to show more flexibility in forming a national unity government with PM Karami. Jouret described the delegation as unrealistic on its prospects for winning elections; the group expressed confidence that it could win at least 50 percent of the vote if elections were free and fair. Jouret also commented that the group did not appear to have a political plan beyond getting Syria out of Lebanon and clearing the GOL of pro-Syrian elements after their presumed electoral victory. Jouret conceded that the massive March 14 demonstration changed the dynamic in the opposition’s favor since Barnier’s March 11 meeting, and that the degree to which both camps could mobilize numbers in the street would affect the political jockeying now underway.
PARTING OF WAYS OVER HIZBALLAH?
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5. (C) Both Jouret and Boche commended GoF-U.S. cooperation on Lebanon and U.S. willingness to “listen to” French views; at the same time, they both speculated that our common approaches may diverge eventually over Hizballah, once full Syrian withdrawal is achieved. Jouret described Hizballah dismantling as the real problem in UNSCR 1559 implementation, now that Bashar had already caved, in principle, to Larsen on full withdrawal. Jouret asked rhetorically how we could achieve the dismantling of Hizballah, expressing doubt on the Lebanese army’s capacity to do so. He added that the Lebanese opposition, during their meeting with Barnier, stressed the view that Hizballah was a longterm internal question, not an international issue. In the opposition view, dismantling of Hizballah could only come after Hizballah’s full integration as a political player, and not the other way around, as previewed in UNSCR 1559. The GoF, meanwhile, was trying to approach the Hizballah issue on a pragmatic basis, rather than an ideological one, which meant we should not expect a shift on EU Hizballah designation. Boche reiterated the latter point with us, and reiterated that the GoF wanted to avoid alienating Lebanon’s majority Shi’a community, for which Hizballah remained the most credible political force. Boche added that the GoF hoped that a Syrian withdrawal would make Hizballah realize there was no alternative to political integration, however he was not confident this was the case. Syrian withdrawal would make Hizballah more dependent on Iran, whose intentions were unclear, though it had claimed to the GoF that it was playing a moderating influence on Hizballah in the current crisis. Boche opined that the Iranians had the tendency to see themselves as respected internationally only when they are perceived as dangerous.
6. (S) Jouret and Boche also expressed concern on prospects for the fall of Bashar’s regime, an outcome which the GoF was not deliberately seeking. Jouret stressed the need for the U.S. and France to think about the implications of a full Syrian withdrawal and whether it might result in Bashar’s overthrow and replacement by a more hardline leader, a prospect which Boche viewed as entirely possible. Boche described Bashar al-Asad as weak, lacking the experience and intelligence of his father, and losing control over the circle which surrounds him. He cited Larsen’s description of the Syrian leader’s nervousness during the recent Aleppo meeting, and added that the fact that recent pro-SARG demonstrations in Damascus had rallied such low numbers — in the 30,000 range — showed that Bashar was being sabotaged by others within his security services, possibly his powerful brother-in-law, SMI Chief Asif Shawkat. Jouret opined that he still viewed Bashar, despite all his weaknesses, as redeemable, but said the question remained whether the Syrian leader would rid himself of the circle around him, including the negative influence of FM Shara.
NEXT STEPS: ARAB LEAGUE, UN, OBSERVERS
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7. (C) On next steps, Jouret stressed that the GoF would continue to advise Larsen to issue a tough report in April, and would continue to seek maximum pressure from Arab governments on Syria for full withdrawal. On the latter point, Jouret noted that next week’s Arab League summit did not have Lebanon on the agenda, though the issue might be discussed in a smaller “group of seven” (NFI) within the gathering. Jouret reported that FM Barnier was likely to attend the Arab League summit, at the invitation of Algeria, but that the French FM would studiously avoid any contact with Lebanese or Syrian officials. On further UN action, Jouret said the MFA originally had been favorable to the idea of a PRST to follow the Larsen visit to Syria and Lebanon, but was overruled by the Elysee. Jouret stressed that the GoF was entirely negative on the idea of an international force or expanded UNIFIL filling the void left by a Syrian withdrawal, and cited the French experience of losing troops in Lebanon in the 1980’s as weighing heavily on GoF thinking. On observers for the May elections, Jouret reported that the EU planned to send a small-sized team, to include two French nationals, to Lebanon to train Lebanese election observers in advance of the ballot and would not seek GoL permission to do so; the GoF was also intent on participating in an international observer mission, once the GoL relents on the issue. Boche, meanwhile, stressed to us that the real determinant to whether elections would be free and fair was whether or not Syrian troops and security services fully withdrew prior to the ballot.
Leach