WikiLeaks

Berri on Aoun in WikiLeaks

aoun-hariri-berri-baabda

Image source – National news Agency

This is the 21st post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

There were many shocking political events in Lebanon  during 2016, but between Geagea’s alliance with Aoun, Hariri’s endorsement of Frangieh, Frangieh’s rivalry with Aoun, Hariri’s endorsement of Aoun and Aoun’s decision to share power with Hariri, a very important political developement went unnoticed in the mainstream media, and was probably at the center of all of the previous political maneuvers: The dynamism of the Berri and Aoun’s political ties.

Since President Aoun and Speaker Berri are now (by law) the two most important politicians of the country, and since they’re supposed to be allies (remember the March 8 alliance?), but apparently aren’t (since Berri was the only major Lebanese politician not to vote for Aoun in the 31st of October’s presidential election), this month’s WikiLeaks cable I’m sharing is a 9 year-old one about the 2007 presidential election. In the cable, speaker Berri awkwardly says that “Michel Aoun had the right to be president”, that “Aoun could not just be cut out of the negotiations”,  that “the majority of Christians are with Aoun”, that isolating Aoun “would be like leaving a cat alone in a room by itself”, that “he knows Aoun is irrational”, while also noting “his personal dislike of Aoun”, and “saying Aoun was not his ally but an ally of Hizballah”.

So yeah, this conversation kind of… sums up what awkwardly happened 9 years later… right?

I only kept the relevant parts of the cable that are about Berri and Aoun. Enjoy:

LEBANON: A/S WELCH WARNS BERRI TO HOLD ELECTION
2007 December 21, 15:46 (Friday)
07BEIRUT1985_a

AOUN CANNOT BE IGNORED

———————-

16. (C) Berri said “all Lebanese are now behind Michel Sleiman,” but Aoun had the right to be president because the strongest representative of the Shia held the Speaker’s position, the strongest of the Sunni would hold the prime minister’s seat (referring to Saad Hariri), and under this logic, Michel Aoun, the leader of the Christian party with the largest number of seats in parliament, should be President. He noted that the largest party in parliament is Saad Hariri’s Future Party, followed by Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, then Berri’s Amal party, then Hizballah. He added that Aoun’s party controlled 20 of the 64 seats allotted to Christians; therefore, Aoun could not just be cut out of the negotiations.

17. (C) Berri also thought that A/S Welch’s visit to Lebanon on December 15 and 16 was a “snub” to Aoun, highlighting the fact that A/S Welch is perceived to have purposely avoided a meeting with Aoun, because A/S Welch visited Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, but not Aoun. In Berri’s view, the majority of Christians are with Aoun, and in the future Sleiman would be the only man able to challenge Aoun’s popularity. He noted that many Christians left Aoun’s party after he signed his pact with Hizballah, but these Christians did not cross over and join Geagea’s party, because the Christians know that Geagea is a “criminal.”

18. (C) A/S Welch stated that “Aoun is a problem,” adding maybe it is Aoun’s ambition or the support he receives from outsiders that persuades him to act as irrationally as he does. A/S Welch continued that most politicians can be reasoned with if there is a disagreement between two parties, and that a solution can ultimately be reached, but that such a scenario was impossible with Aoun. “How do you deal with Aoun?” he asked Berri. Berri said that the key was for A/S Welch to visit Aoun. Berri continued that isolating Aoun “would be like leaving a cat alone in a room by itself.” DAPNSA Abrams replied that nothing comes out of a Aoun visit. A/S Welch said that he would not meet with Aoun, but that Ambassador Feltman would upon his return. A/S Welch added that Berri was a skilled politician, and that he should leave Aoun behind.

19. (C) Berri lamented that he could not leave Aoun behind because Aoun is an ally of Hizballah, and Hizballah will only deal with March 14 through its interlocutor, Aoun. He said that March 8 decided to make Aoun its negotiator to give him the ability to take credit for a possible solution. He confided to A/S Welch that he knows Aoun is irrational. Berri also noted his personal dislike of Aoun, saying Aoun was not his ally but an ally of Hizballah. He highlighted the fact that Aoun voted against him for the speaker’s position and tried to convince other Christians in parliament to do the same (Note: Berri also revealed that Aoun admitted to him that his insistence on a two-year mandate for Sleiman was only a bargaining chip to secure other concessions. End Note.) He told A/S Welch that he reached out to Ambassador Feltman for help on dealing with Aoun and that if A/S Welch talked with Aoun, he would feel more accepted and less like an outsider.

20. (C) A/S Welch reiterated his belief that Aoun would not lead March 8 anywhere. Berri then asked A/S Welch to ask Hariri to speak to Aoun, which A/S Welch said he do. A/S BEIRUT 00001985 004 OF 004 Welch noted that if Berri really wanted to move things along, he would use his influence over Hizballah to influence Aoun, who is a “nobody” without Hizballah’s support. Berri said he held no such influence over Hizballah and that Aoun’s power comes from his own popularity amongst the Christians,

FRENCH EFFORTS

————–

21. (C) Lastly, Berri asked A/S Welch about the Paris donors’ meeting for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and inquired whether or not France would be in contact with Syria in order to find a solution to the current political crisis. A/S Welch said that the French did not think they could succeed working with the Syrians any longer. A/S Welch added that the French were very disappointed with the results of their efforts, referring to the now dead French initiative. A/S Welch noted that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was very disappointed at the outcome and that he personally blamed Syria.

22. (U) A/S Welch has not cleared this cable.

GRANT

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The Aoun-Hariri rivalry on WikiLeaks

aoun-and-hariri-endorsement

Michel Aoun, right, with Lebanon’s former prime minister, Saad Hariri, left, as Mr. Hariri said he will back him to become president. (Image source: Reuters)

This is the 20th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

Because spoiling political agreements between the Zuamas by sharing Wikileaks cables of them talking behind each others’ backs has become a tradition on this blog (see here, here and here), this month’s WikiLeaks cables I’m sharing are about Hariri and Aoun speaking (unspeakable) things about each other.

Inspired by Hariri’s endorsement of Aoun that is finally ending more than two years of presidential deadlock, the cables quote (among other things) Aoun calling Hariri “inexperienced” and Hariri calling Bassil “crazy” and Aoun a “disaster” .

Note that in the second cable I’m quoting, from March 2006, Aoun clearly states that”once Aoun is president, he foresees no problems cooperating with Hariri as Prime Minister”, although “he went on to label Hariri inexperienced, and unwilling to share power”.

Well, who knew that 10 years later, in 2016, the two Zuamas were eventually going to share power?

I only kept the relevant parts of the most relevant cables I found. Enjoy.

MGLE01: HARIRI AND JUMBLATT DISCUSS STRATEGY
2006 February 24, 15:01 (Friday)
06BEIRUT563_a

Hariri was confident that he could gain Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri’s support for efforts to remove Lahoud. “He is easy to bring in,” said Hariri. He even thought there was a chance Hizballah could be persuaded. MP Michel Aoun, sighed Hariri, was the real problem. Aoun believes that “it is him or nobody else” for the presidency. 3. (S) Thinking out loud, Jumblatt asked Hariri about a compromise wherein Aoun would be the “godfather” of the next president. It was apparent by Hariri’s expression that Jumblatt had not raised this idea before. Hariri asked Jumblatt what he meant. Jumblatt replied that Aoun could name the next president as long as it wasn’t Aoun. Hariri dismissed the idea, joking that Aoun would “choose someone crazy” like Gibran Bassil (son-in-law, senior advisor, and sycophant to Aoun). ”

Link to the full cable.

 

MGLE01–AOUN READY TO COOPERATE WITH EVERYONE WHO SUPPORTS HIM
2006 March 24, 09:09 (Friday)
06BEIRUT929_a

5. (C) Once Aoun is president, he foresees no problems cooperating with Hariri as Prime Minister. “As long as they obey the law and follow the constitution.” But Aoun had a warning for March 14 as well. He accused members of March 14 of the habit of abusing power. The members of the group were involved in business scandals in the telecommunications, construction and contracting sectors, Aoun claimed. When the Ambassador pointed out that Hizballah runs illegal telecom and internet service and receives covert funds from a foreign government, Aoun acknowledged that “Berri, Jumblatt, and everyone except General Aoun” was involved in such activities and they would have to “stop it,” to make way for a new era in public policy when Aoun is in charge. Aoun is still unimpressed with Saad Hariri as a political leader, “He acts like a Saudi prince.” Aoun went on to label Hariri inexperienced, and unwilling to share power. He doesn’t even share power within March 14. They are very obedient to Hariri,” Aoun claimed.

Link to the full cable.

 

MGLE01: HARIRI SAYS HE IS READY TO CONFRONT HIZBALLAH AT NATIONAL DIALOGUE
2006 April 25, 15:56 (Tuesday)
06BEIRUT1277_a

8. (C) Hariri then asked the Ambassador to deliver a strong message to Aoun. Stridently, Hariri said that the Embassy must scare the Aounists. Don’t meet with Aoun. Rather, invite Aoun’s senior adviser Gibran Bassil to the Embassy and “chew him out,” Hariri said. “Tell them we know what you are doing and we are watching you; we know you are pushing Aoun to Hizballah,” Hariri advised. “You need to scare Bassil.” Hariri also advised that the Embassy deliver similar messages to Aounist MPs. Hariri continued that he wants to find the killers of his father, but Aoun does not seem to.

Link to the full cable.

 

LEBANON: HARIRI SEES NO END IN SIGHT TO POLITICAL DEADLOCK
2009 August 19, 16:51 (Wednesday)
09BEIRUT933_a

3. (C) During an August 18 meeting with Ambassador and PolOff, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri described Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun as a “disaster” and insisted that he had told the FPM leader several times he would not acquiesce to reappointing Aoun’s son-in-law and go-to man Gebran Bassil as Minister of Telecommunications. “It’s ridiculous to make Gebran Bassil a minister. I’d rather go home and not form a government,” Saad declared. (Note: Bassil lost his race for a parliamentary seat in the June 7 elections. Both President Michel Sleiman and Hariri oppose appointing failed parliamentary candidates as ministers. End note.) A spent and somewhat muted Hariri dismissed the possibility of a compromise with Aoun based on granting Bassil a different ministry and disparaged Aoun’s decision to use a fiery televised press conference to reject Hariri’s invitation to meet to discuss government formation. “You can ask for whatever you want as long as it is not in the media. If you put it in the media, that’s it. You’ve drawn a red line.”

Link to the full cable.

 

 

HARIRI DESCRIBES CHALLENGES FACING LEBANESE ARMED FORCES
2009 October 23, 15:40 (Friday)
09BEIRUT1169_a

8. (C) A visibly tired Hariri described himself as “very angry” at Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun’s public rejection of his cabinet proposal on October 21. “We were so close; why did he go to the media? We could have discussed his concerns in private,” he complained. Describing Aoun as “full of surprises,” Hariri explained that he was analyzing the source of Aoun’s outburst but that “it is important not to stop” efforts to form a government. Hariri outlined his hope to rebuild a relationship with Aoun to “pull his umbrella from the other parts of March 8.

Link to the full cable.

 

40 Years of Kataeb and Resignations

Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel announces the resignation of his party's two ministers from the Cabinet

Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel announces the resignation of his party’s two ministers from the Cabinet, June 2016 (Image source: The Daily Star / Hassan Shaaban)

This is the 19th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

There has been a lot of talk recently of a government resignation due to the recent failures of the cabinet when it came to solving the trash crisis and promoting the election of a president. With the recent phalangist decision to leave the government, followed by the FPM’s decision to boycott the cabinet sessions until the other parties give them political concessions, I thought it would be interesting to go back 40 years in time to see how the Kataeb party managed another resignation. The WikiLeaks cable I found isn’t directly relevant to anything happening right now, but shows how a party that resigned from the government in a brilliant political maneuver two months ago and currently isn’t willing to elect Sleiman Frangieh as president, once refused to support the request for Sleiman Frangieh’s grandfather to resign from the presidency after General Al Ahdab made his coup in 1976.

In other words, Lebanon and its parties are weird. Enjoy the cable.

MARONITE SHOW OF SUPPORT FOR FRANGIE BRINGS FEAR OF MAJOR CONFLECT
1976 March 15, 12:32 (Monday)
1976BEIRUT02307_b

SUMMARY: MARONITE OPINION HAS SWUNG AWAY FROM AL-AHDAB TOWARD FRANGIE. IN EFFECT, PUBLIC CHALLENGE BEING GIVEN TO AL- AHDAB AND HIS ALLIES. THIS MAY BE FOR BARGAINING PURPOSES, BUT ALL GROUPS REALIZE A MLITARY CONFRAONTATION COULD COME BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE. END SUMMARY.

1. AFTER SIX-HOUR DEBATE, WHICH WE GATHER WAS MARKED BY MUCH AGONIZING REAPPRAISAL, KATAEB POLITBURO VOTED MAR 14

CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 02 BEIRUT 02307 151309Z

TO RALLY BEHIND FRANGIE. PARTY ISSUED STATEMENT DURING EVENING SAYING FRANGIE SHOULD NOT RESIGN, SINCE THIS WOULD SIMPLY CREATE POWER VACUUM AND LEAVE COUNTRY TO UNKNOWN DESTINY. AT SAME TIME, PARTY AFFIRMED ITS SUPPORT FOR SYRIAN MEDIATION. KATAEB DELEGATION LED BY KARIM PAKRADOUNI GOING TO DAMASCUS TODAY. DELEGA- TION WILL ALSO REPRESENT NATONAL LIBERALS.

2. NATIONAL LIBERALS LIKEWISE GIVING PUBLIC SUPPORT TO FRANGIE, WITH CAMILLE CHAMOUN THE PARTY’S SPOKESMAN. AS WITH KATAEB, HOWEVER, SOME ANGUISH EVIDENT IN PARTY RANKS. DEPUTY FUAD LAHOUD OF THE PARTY, FOR EXAMPLE, ADDED SIGNATURE TO PARLIMANE PETION CALLING FOR PRESIDENT TO RRSIGN. (THIS PETITION WAS SUBMITTED FORMALLY TO PRESIDENT MAR 14 WITH 70 NAMES, BUT FRANGIE REFUSED TO ACCEPT IT). ANOTHER REPORT HAS IT THAT DANNY CHAMOUN IS STAYING AT ARMY HQ AND SHARPLY DISAGREES WITH HIS FATHER ON FRANGIE RESIGNA- TION ISSUE.

3. MARONITE LEAGUE, WHICH WE ARE TOLD HAD AT ONE POINT VOTED SUPPORT AL-AHDAB BY CLOSE MARGIN, NOW DENYING THIS. LEAGUE EXPECTED TO MEET MAR 15 TO DISCUSS ITS STAND AGAIN.

4. SOME SOURCES SAY THAT MARONITES IN ARMY COM- MAND LIKEWISE PUTTING SELVES AT ARM’S LENGTH FROM AL-AHDAB. COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF HANNA SA’ID RE- PORTEDLY DRIFTING WITH OTHER MARONITES TOWARD FRANGIE. WE NOT YET INCLINED CREDIT THESE STORIES, HOWEVER.

5. NEW SUPPORT FOR AL-AHDAB ALSO COMING OUT. FOLLOWING KATAEB STATEMENT MAR 14, A GROUP OF CHRISTIAN OFFICERS PREVIOOSLY CONSIDERED PRO-FRANGIE SPOKE OUT FOR THE COUP. A SECOND GROUP OF OFFICERS JOINED AL-AHDAB MORNING MAR 15 AND GIAVE FRANGIE UNTIL 1400 HOURS LOCAL SAME DAY TO RESIGN OR FACE CONSEQUENCES.

6. DESPITE ESCALATING ATMOSPHERE, THERE ARE SIGNS THAT KATAEB AND NATIONAL LIBERAL SHIFTS MAY BE FOR TACITCAL PURPOSES. KATAEB’S DECLARATION FOR FRANGIE

CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 03 BEIRUT 02307 151309Z MAR 14

WAS NOT CLEAR-CUT. DISPATCH OF DELEGATION TO DAMSCUS SUGGESTS CHRISTIAN LEADERS WANT SYRIANS TO GET INTO MEDIATION ACT AGAIN. A NATIONAL LIBERAL SOURCES TOLD EMBOFF MAR 15 THAT CAMILLE CHAMOUN REALIZES FRANGIE CANNOT STAY IN PRESIDENCY FOR LONG. MUCH BEHIND-THE- SCENES TUGGING AND HAULING IS EVIDENT ON QUESTIONS RANGING FROOM TEMPORARLY TRUCES TO FRANGIE SUCCESSOR. BUT MEANWHILE SITUATION ON GROUND DEVELOPING QUICKLY TO- WARD ARMED CONFRONTATION. SECURITY IN BEIRUT STREETS AS OF MID-MORNING MAR 15 REMAINS ANARCHIC. EX- CANGES OF FIRE CONTINUE IN AIN EL-MRESSE AND HITEL DISTRICT. WIDER MILITARY CONFRONTATION BETWEEN COUP SUPPORTERS AND FRANGIE SUPPORTERS COULD COME TODAY.

7. MOMENTUM OF AL-AHDAB COUP APPEARS TO BE LOSING STEAM, ALTHOUGH SHIFTS OF SUPPORT GOING BOTH WAYS ARE COMING THICK AND FAST. HIS MAIN ULTIMATE RECOURSE NOW IS LT. KHATIB’S TROOPS, ASSUMING LATTER WILLING. ACCORDING TO UNCONFIRMED REPORT, KHATIB’S FORCES ARE MASSING IN MOUNTAINS ABOVE BEIRUT. STANDING BEHIND KHATIB POLITICALY IS JUMBLATT, WHO CONTINUES TO UTTER A DOWN-WITH-THE-REGIME LINE. THIS RISING TIDE OF LEFTIST REVOLUIONARY RHETORIC IS INDEED THE MAIN SCARE SEEN BY KATAEB AND OTHER CHRISTIANS AND MODERATES,WHO WONDER WITH CONSIDERABLE JUSTICE WHERE THE END LIES TO THEIR STREAM OF CONCESSIONS.

8. PARLIAMENT MEMBERS CONTINUING THEIR CONREASINGLY FORLORN SEARCH FOR A “FORMULA.” SPEAKER ASSAD APPARENTLY TURNING IN DESPAIR TO IDEA THAT SYRINS MUS ENTER PICTURE QUICKLY. IN SHORT, WE HAVE ANOTHER RACE BETWEEN RAPID DETORIATION ON GROUND AND SEEMING SNAIL’S PACE OF POLITICAL NEGOTIATIONS. MAIN HOPE AGAIN SEEMS TO BE “SYRIA EX MACHINA.”

9. THIS REPLACES 0900 REPORT. LAMBRAKIS CONFIDENTIAL NNN

The Lebanese Senate in WikiLeaks

Rival leaders meet for national dialogue at Speaker Nabih Berri's residence in Ain al-Tineh, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016

Rival leaders meet for national dialogue at Speaker Nabih Berri’s residence in Ain al-Tineh, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016. (the Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website, HO)

This is the 18th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

When the Supreme Council of the Tribal Federation (in case you’re new to this blog, the SCTF = National dialogue session guys) met last month, Lebanon’s zuamas decided that solving a three year old presidential vacancy crisis as well as an electoral law were too mainstream, and took it upon themselves to find ways to establish a lebanese senate. According to the Taef constitution, Lebanon should have a non-sectarian lower house and an upper house (senate) that should be elected based on sectarian quotas (like the 50-50 parliament right now)- By the way, see what Elias Muhanna from Qifa Nabki has to say on the possibility of a bicameral Lebanese parliament.

So since the SCTF decided to finally bring up the senate debate, 26 years after the Taef agreement, I thought it would be interesting to see how the Lebanese politicians spoke about the creation of a senate behind closed doors. Turns out they didn’t really mention their plans about it, as I only found two relevant cables about the subject.

Plot twist: The cables aren’t actually that relevant, but hey, we’re talking about a major reform in the Lebanese political system, so it’s till worth seeing how politicians might use the senate card to their advantage. I only kept the important parts of the cables. Enjoy.

Cable 1

5. (C) In response to a question from the Secretary, Sleiman said that although Lebanese politicians are difficult to work BEIRUT 00000632 002 OF 002 with, the presidency was still an easier job than his previous position as commander of the LAF. He recalled each decision he made to send soldiers into harm’s way — from dealing with instances of sectarian street conflict to rooting out extremists in the Nahr al-Barid refugee camp — and assessed that that responsibility was heavier than any he had taken on in the political realm in the past year. Nonetheless, he joked that at least soldiers followed orders, unlike Lebanon’s unruly political class. POST-ELECTION AGENDA: REFORM ———- 6. (C) Although Sleiman expected the process of government formation after the elections to be difficult and potentially long, he anticipated that tensions would decline afterwards. He thought this would offer an opportunity to reform the judicial system and the electoral law, moving toward a system of proportional representation, and potentially creating a second parliamentary chamber. Sleiman envisioned a Senate where each confessional community could elect its representatives, while all Lebanese would vote for representatives of all confessions in the lower chamber. Nonetheless, he did not necessarily think the existence of a Senate should mean elimination of the 50-50 Muslim-Christian quota in parliament. “We have a national understanding,” he said. “We are a country of both Christians and Muslims, and it is important to preserve that.”

– Link for the entire cable: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09BEIRUT632_a.html

Cable 2

7. (C) Berri argued that the Taif agreement should be implemented in full, including the formation of a bicameral legislature and the establishment of a committee to discuss abolishing sectarianism. Berri supported the formation of a small senate with six or seven representatives from each of the key sects that would be charged with “big questions,” such as decisions of war and peace and issues of major concern for each sect. A larger lower house elected without regard to sect would handle day-to-day operations of government. 8. (C) Berri admitted that formation of a senate would be unpopular among current MPs, who would have to cede some authority to the new body. He also supported formulating a new electoral law based on proportional representation to elect parliamentarians, a step he argued needed to be in place before two legislative bodies were formed. 9. (C) (Note: Lebanon had both a senate and parliament 1923-27, under the French Mandate. The parliament was non-sectarian and continued that way until 1943. The National Pact of that year established a 6-5 Christian-Muslim split of the seats in parliament and allocated the presidency to the Christians, the prime minister to the Sunnis and Speaker of the parliament to the Shia. The Taif Accord in 1990 changed the Christian-Muslim division of parliament to 50-50 and shifted some powers from the president to the prime minister. End note.)

– Link for the entire cable: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09BEIRUT674_a.html

The July War, 10 Years Later: What WikiLeaks Tells Us

Disaster Sightseen in Southern Beirut

BEIRUT, LEBANON – AUGUST 19: on August 19, 2006 in the southern suburb of Haret Hreik in Beirut, Southern Lebanon. Most of the people going around in Southern suburbs of Beirut are Lebanese leaving in other neighborhood who came to see and photograph the destruction and to collect Hezbollah posters. Hezbollah pose banners on top of each destroyed buildings reading: ” Made in USA, Trade Mark, The Divine Victory ” the local residents are not coming back to leave to those areas due to the destruction, the suburbs are becoming an amusement attraction. (Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

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)
06BEIRUT2353_a

SUMMARY

——-

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

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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.)

FELTMAN

TFLE01: ISRAEL HITS SOUTHERN BEIRUT HARD; AIRPORT STRUCK AGAIN
2006 July 14, 10:13 (Friday)
06BEIRUT2386_a

Classified By: Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman. Reason: Section 1.4 (d) .

SUMMARY

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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

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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

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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

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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)
06BEIRUT2407_a

(B) AND (D) SUMMARY

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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

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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…

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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

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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

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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.”

COMMENT

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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.

FELTMAN

TFLE01: LARSEN TO PROPOSE HANDOVER OF ISRAELI SOLDIERS TO GOL; JUMBLATT AND HAMADEH CONCUR
2006 July 17, 11:49 (Monday)
06BEIRUT2403_a

SUMMARY

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

COMMENT

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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.

FELTMAN

Al-Qaa’s WikiLeaks Diaries During the Civil War

Qaa Suicide Bombing.jpg

Lebanese army soldiers patrol near the site where suicide bomb attacks took place in the Christian village of Qaa, in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Hassan Abdallah

 

This is the 16th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

Monday was a sad day for Lebanon as eight suicide bombings killed five people and wounded more than 30 in the Lebanese border village of Al-Qaa. Even by Lebanon’s Syrian spillover standards, eight suicide bombings in less than 24 hours is a very tragic development and reminds us of the dark days of the Lebanese civil war: Sectarianism, the return of “self-security”, tensions vis-a-vis refugees, government failure, and border control issues. Which is why this month’s Wikileaks post is a compilation of several cables (I only kept the relevant parts to Al-Qaa) dating from the civil war era about the violence that used to happen there. The cables might be from a different era, the fighting might be between different groups than today, but some thing stays the same: Tensions lead to more tensions, more tensions lead to violence, violence only leads to more violence, and the political repercussions of violence are the same everywhere: In one of the cables, you’ll see that a Lebanese president was threatening to resign because of a massacre in Al-Qaa. How ironic is it that almost 40 years after that, Lebanese politicians are still bickering among themselves in the middle of  presidential vacancy while violence returns to that same village? Now more than ever, the Lebanese cannot fall into the trap of civil strife and cold-blooded violence. The Lebanese armed forces have to intervene more efficiently when such developments happen because self-security can quickly turn into civil war. Those suicide bombers wanted us to head into chaos  by causing panic, and almost succeeded. After all, who wouldn’t panic after eight suicide bombings?

TEMPERATURE RISES ONCE AGAIN IN LEBANON
1975 December 18, 13:45 (Thursday)
1975BEIRUT15337_b

(A) AFTERMATH OF SEBNAY INCIDENT (REFTEL) CONTINUES TO HAVE REPERCUSSIONS IN BEIRUT AND NEARBY AREAS OF THE SHOUF. ATTACKS AND COUNTER-ATTACKS WERE REPORTED IN AND AROUND BAABDA YESTERDAY AND INTO MORNING DEC 18. NEW AND SERIOUS ELEMENT IN SITUATION IS EXTENSION OF ACTIVE CONFLICT INTO SHOUF WHERE KAMAL JUMBLATT’S DRUZE ARE POWERFUL FACTOR. JUMBLATT’S PSP MILITIAMEN STAGED SEVERAL RETALIATORY ATTACKS ON CHRISTIAN CENTERS ALONG ROAD TO SOUK AL GHARB AND AT KAHALE AND ALEY AND ARE ON ALERT IN BEIRUT. ALL HOT SPOTS OUTSIDE EARSHOT OF EMBASSY EXPERIENCED AT LEAST SOME FIRING IN LAST 24 HOURS, ALTHOUGH TRUCE IN HOTEL DISTRICT APPEARS TO BE HOLDING AS OF 1300 HOURS DEC 18. NEW SPARK OR EVEN MOMENTUM OF STRIFE ELSEWHERE COULD CHANGE SITUATION AROUND CHANCERY INSTANTANEOUSLY. FIGHTING CONTINUES IN TRIPOLI WHERE OPPOSING ELEMENTS ARE SAID TO HAVE ENGAGED DEC 17 IN “TANK BATTLES” USING ARMORED VEHICLES TAKEN FROM SECURITY FORCES. IN BEQA, SHIITES ARE REPORTEDLY ON WARPATH AGAINST CHRISTIAN VILLAGES OF KAA AND RAS BAALBEK FOR ALLEGED CHRISTIAN PROVOCATIONS.

LEBANESE SITUATION: JULY 5, 1200 HOURS LOCAL
1978 July 5, 00:00 (Wednesday)
1978BEIRUT03720_d

ASKED ABOUT FAYYADIYAH, AYN AR-RUMMANEH, ASHRAFIYAH AND QAA INCIDENTS, CHAMOUN REPLIED “IF THESE EVENTS HAD NOT OCCURRED, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN TIME TO PUT AN END TO THE PRESENCE OF THE ARAB DETERRENT FORCES IN LEBANON. THE INCIDENTS THAT YOU HAVE EVOKED HAVE PRECIPITATED THE NECESSITY OF THE TOTAL EVACUATION OF THESE FORCES FROM LEBANON. THE LEBANESE MUST TAKE CARE OF THEIR PROBLEMS THEMSELVES.”

CHAMOUN VILIFIES THE PRESIDENT
1978 July 13, 00:00 (Thursday)
1978BEIRUT03917_d

1. SUMMARY: CAMILLE CHAMOUN HAS SENT AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT SARKIS, BOTH CRITICIZING THE PRESIDENT FOR THREATENING TO RESIGN AND IMPLYING HE HAS IN THE RECENT PAST ACQUIESCED IN THE “TYRANNICAL BEHAVIOR OF THE SYRIANS.” CHAMOUN WRITES, “I WILL NOT GO TO BAABDA, AND I WILL NOT TELL YOU TO GO AHEAD WITH YOUR RESIGNATION OR TO WITHDRAW IT.” BEIRUT PRESS HAS REACTED NEGATIVELY. END SUMMARY.

[…]

“AND THERE ARE SOME WHO SAY THAT YOUR RESIGNATION WAS IN PROTEST AGAINST THE TYRANNICAL BEHAVIOR OF THE SYRIANS (By “Syrians”, Chamoun means Syrian regime here) IN AL-QAA, RAS BAALBECK, JDEIDET AL-FAKIHA, AYN AR-RUMMANEH AND ASHRAFIYAH. “ASSUMING THAT THIS IS TRUE, IT WAS YOUR DUTY TO EXPLAIN THE SITUATION TO LEBANESE AND INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC OPINION AND TO DEMAND THE DEPARTURE OF THE DETERRENT FORCES, INSTEAD OF DEPARTING YOURSELF.

SITUATION IN LEBANON: CONVERSATION WITH MINISTER OF FINANCE RAPHAEL
1978 September 14, 00:00 (Thursday)
1978BEIRUT05373_d

6. HE AGREED THAT MARONITE MILITIAS REPRESENTED ONLY A MINORITY OF CHRISTIANS AND EVEN OF MARONITES BUT MISGUIDED SYRIAN ACTIONS HAD DRIVEN PEOPLE INTO THEIR ARMS. EVERYBODY WAS TIRED OF WAR AND THE EXACTIONS OF THE MILITIAS, BUT NO CHRISTIAN WANTED TO BE LEFT DEFENCELESS AGAINST THE SYRIANS, WHOM THEY DID NOT TRUST. IF THE SYRIANS HAD SHOWN RESTRAINT AFTER EHDEN MASSACRE, KATAEB WOULD HAVE FALLEN APART. THE SYRIAN MASSACRE OF CHRISTIANS AT QAA AND THE CEDARS AND THEIR BOMBARDMENT OF ASHRAFIEH HAD SAVED THE KATAEB FROM DISSOLUTION..

2010 Municipal Elections Reforms and WikiLeaks

2012 by-elections

A man casts his vote during the municipal by-elections in the southern village of Bisarieh, Sunday, May 6, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

This is the 15th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

Lebanon is a country best known for its presidential vacancy, for its trash crisis, for its political deadlock, for the lack of infrastructure and government services – basically for the lack of everything. That includes fair electoral laws. Since it’s municipal elections season this month, and since I couldn’t find anything worth sharing about the dynamics of the previous municipal elections that happened in 1998, 2004, and 2010 on WikiLeaks (If you find anything interesting, nudge me), I thought it would be interesting to focus on the municipal elections draft law that was proposed in February 2010 by the former minister of interior Ziad Baroud: Among the reforms, you’ll find pre-printed ballots, a 30% quota for women, direct election of council presidents and their deputies, and proportional representation in larger districts. A draft law eventually made it into the drawers of the Lebanese parliament and – as expected – sadly never made it out. This month’s WikiLeaks cable is basically the American ambassador’s point of view on the reforms and why she tought they wouldn’t pass before the May 2010 elections (Fact: We’re in May in 2016, and the reforms still never made it to the parliament’s floor – because Lebanese politicians). To sum up the WikiLeaks cable in two sentences, “The draft bill as a whole is not in the interest of any of the traditional political players, since it weakens the ability of powerbrokers to manipulate the electoral system. Although the motivation varies from party to party and confession to confession, all sides have an interest in minimizing the impact of the proposed reforms.”

Today, those reforms are more important than ever: If the elections were based on proportional representation, the anti-establishment lists would have gotten at least 9 seats out of 24 in Beirut.  Women are still struggling in municipal elections, and the number of violations on the first day of elections was too damn high: Just check LADE’s report, and you’ll get an idea.

Here’s the full cable:

CABINET APPROVES MUNICIPAL ELECTORAL REFORMS, BUT PARLIAMENT IS NEXT HURDLE
2010 February 19, 15:59 (Friday)
10BEIRUT164_a

Classified By: Ambassador Michele J. Sison for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Despite pressure from multiple sides to delay, the Lebanese municipal elections are still scheduled for June 2009. In January Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud presented a draft bill to cabinet containing a menu of electoral reforms, including measures to create standardized pre-printed ballots, set aside a quota for female candidates, directly elect council presidents and deputies, and introduce proportional voting. Although many politicians have opposed one or more of the reforms, seeing them as undermining existing power structures, the cabinet has approved a surprisingly high proportion of them. Baroud will now redact the bill and it will move to parliament, where many believe differences of opinion and opposition to reform could cause it to stall. End Summary.

BAROUD’S DRAFT LAW FRAMES DEBATE

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2. (U) On January 19, Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud introduced a draft law for municipal elections to the cabinet. Simultaneously, the cabinet voted to extend the term of the sitting councils by a month, thus extending the deadline for elections to the end of June. The cabinet also approved Baroud’s proposal to reduce council terms from six to five years. Although most political observers speculated that the majority of parties would seek to postpone the elections on a technical basis, Baroud has consistently maintained publicly that his ministry was ready logistically to carry out the municipal election in the spring with or without the reforms.

3. (U) Baroud’s draft electoral law called for several major reforms: pre-printed ballots, a 30% quota for female candidates, direct election of council presidents and their deputies, and proportional representation in larger districts. Baroud, who is widely respected for his expertise in electoral processes, anticipated many of the cabinet’s objections to the reforms and included comprehensive responses in the materials submitted to the cabinet. In fact, the careful construction of the draft law ensured that any individual proposed reform could be removed without affecting the overall law. In addition to the reforms actually proposed in his draft law, Baroud also voiced support for a constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18 years of age, though privately he indicated to us that it would be difficult to stick to the existing electoral schedule if such an amendment were passed.

CABINET SURPRISE

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4. (SBU) Although the cabinet has made few substantive decisions since being seated in December, in mid-February it approved a number of Baroud’s proposals during several sessions of debate. On February 11, the cabinet voted to approve the most fundamental reform — the use of pre-printed ballots. Traditionally, candidates create and distribute their own ballots, which discourages voters from splitting their votes and allows parties visually to monitor voting at the polls. The proposal approved by the cabinet stipulates that Baroud’s interior ministry (MOI) will print a standardized ballot for each contest and distribute the ballot at the polls on election day. 5. (SBU) The most controversial reform, which the cabinet approved on February 17, was implementing proportional representation in all municipal elections, not just in larger districts as originally proposed by Baroud. Unlike parliamentary elections, municipal elections have not previously followed a sectarian formula. Local candidates have run on negotiated unified lists that were often affiliated with local powerbrokers. With this reform, each council would be drawn from competing electoral lists in proportion to the percentage of the vote each list garners in the poll. Although some political figures, such as Labor Minister Boutros Harb, have publicly decried the proposed change as opening the door to paralysis on local councils, its goal is to increase participation by outsiders, since any list that obtains at least 6% of the vote will win representation on the council. For his part, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) head Michel Aoun lobbied for linking proportional representation to the splitting of Beirut into three electoral districts, but the latter proposal has not been approved. 6. (SBU) The cabinet also approved reserving a 20% quota for female candidates on each list instead of the 30% proposed by Baroud. That such a reform measure passed in any form is surprising, given the general absence of female politicians from Lebanese political life. While there is no legal bar to female political participation in politics, social mores and security concerns reduce female participation, and only four women — all of them from political dynasties — currently serve in parliament. However, many more women are involved in municipal government than in national government. Even so, the barriers women face are underscored by several recent studies indicating that women are actually more likely to vote for a male candidate than a woman, believing that a woman has too many family responsibilities and mistrusting her capacity.

NOT ALL PROPOSALS APPROVED

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7. (C) Despite initial internal disagreement the cabinet approved many of Baroud’s proposals, but some key proposals remain pending. Contacts say that Prime Minister Saad Hariri is opposed to one — direct election of council presidents and deputies — because he views strong, popularly elected council leaders in the majority Sunni cities as a threat to his position as Sunni political leader. Harb told us on February 18 that Aoun’s proposed division of the Beirut municipality, which Hariri and his Christian allies also oppose, would similarly not be approved.

8. (C) On February 17 the cabinet also gave its approval for parliament to debate Speaker Nabih Berri’s proposal to modify the constitution to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 years of age — something that did not figure in Baroud’s draft law. Such a change would add approximately 283,000 new voters, according to Baroud. Some Christian politicians insinuate that the amendment would sharply increase the number of Muslim voters, but Richard Chambers of the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) estimated that the overall increase in the percentage of Muslim voters would be approximately one percent, most of it concentrated in Muslim-majority regions. Even so, Christian leaders are attempting to link the amendment to a proposal to allow expatriate Lebanese (many of them Christian) to vote. Complicating matters further, contacts say Aoun opposes Berri’s proposed amendment — despite the fact that the two are coalition partners — fearing that Christian youth added to the rolls would vote against him. Berri has scheduled a parliamentary debate on the amendment for February 22 and 23.

DRAFT LAW MAY WITHER IN PARLIAMENT

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9. C) On February 17, the cabinet directed Baroud to redraft his proposed electoral law to consolidate the approved proposals, then submit it to parliament for action. The bill will have to pass through parliament’s defense, justice, and finance committees before coming to a floor vote. Many suspect that the law will wither along the way. Harb told us on February 18 that the cabinet approved the proposals so that it could appear to be active, but that all the disagreements aired in cabinet would play out in parliament. Baroud himself implied to the Ambassador on February 18 that the process in parliament would be slow but that “even if the law is not passed before the elections, we have put the ideas out for discussion.” Aoun meanwhile has said repeatedly to the press that it is more important to enact reforms than to hold elections on time. Future MP Oqab Saqr told poloff on February 18 that the battle over the elections would begin with the February 22 parliamentary debate on amending the constitution, during which he predicted the majority would stage a walk-out.

10. (C) COMMENT: Although getting the reforms out of the cabinet was merely the first step, Baroud is right that the debate has increased public awareness of the need for reform. The draft bill as a whole is not in the interest of any of the traditional political players, since it weakens the ability of powerbrokers to manipulate the electoral system. Although the motivation varies from party to party and confession to confession, all sides have an interest in minimizing the impact of the proposed reforms.

SISON