If you haven’t yet seen them, be sure to check out the latest Wikileaks cables released to al-Akhbar, at least one of which is tremendously damning and could have major implications for the Lebanese political scene. (See here for the Lebanon-specific ones).
In the cable mentioned, the Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias al-Murr discusses with U.S. Embassy officials his preparations for an impending war with Israel, which involved sequestering the Lebanese Army in its bases until Hizbullah is destroyed. You should read the entire cable, but I’ll post the juiciest bits below.
What makes this leak especially damning is the fact that al-Murr specifically mentions his meeting with General Michel Sleiman (who, in March 2008, was still the commander of the Lebanese Army, and not yet the President of Lebanon) and talks about sharing his plans with him. Today, al-Murr is considered to be one of the President’s key ministers, so it’s quite possible that the toxic nature of this scandal will spread beyond the Ministry of Defense all the way to the Presidential Palace.
There has been a lot of noise over the past few weeks from March 8 circles to the effect that President Sleiman is no longer considered a “consensual” president (because of his support for Hariri’s bid to table the false witness file until after the STL indictment is released). The Wikileaks scandal is going to provide the perfect excuse for Hizbullah and Aoun to go on the offensive again against the STL and the March 14 camp. I would not be surprised if Sleiman demands al-Murr’s resignation, just to save his own position.
Anyway, enough from me. The cable is posted below (with my emphasis in bold), and the floor is open.
18. (S) Making clear that he was not responsible for passing messages to Israel, Murr told us that Israel would do well to avoid two things when it comes for Hizballah. One, it must not touch the Blue Line or the UNSCR 1701 areas as this will keep Hizballah out of these areas. Two, Israel cannot bomb bridges and infrastructure in the Christian areas. The Christians were supporting Israel in 2006 until they started bombing their bridges. If Israel has to bomb all of these places in the Shia areas as a matter of operational concern, that is Hizballah’s problem. According to Murr, this war is not with Lebanon, it is will Hizballah. Murr also told us that the number of overflights recently (reftel B and C) are the highest number since 1982. The last time there were this many overflights was just prior to Israel invading south Lebanon in April 1982, he stated flatly.
19. (S) Murr said that he had summoned LAF Commander General Sleiman to discuss preparations for a Hizballah conflict with Israel on March 7. Murr was especially concerned for members of the 1st and 8th Brigades in the Beka’a valley. Murr thinks that these units will be cut off from LAF HQ support while Israel is conducting operations against Hizballah in the Beka’a. As such, they will have to turn to the local populace for food, water etc. Since the populace is mainly Hizballah supporters, Murr is afraid that these two units could be dragged into the fight, the ultimate disaster that Murr hopes to avoid. As such, Murr is trying to ascertain how long an offensive would be required to clean out Hizballah in the Beka’a. The LAF will move to pre-position food, money, and water with these units so they can stay on their bases when Israel comes for Hizballah–discreetly, Murr added.
20. (S) Murr also gave guidance to Sleiman that the LAF should not get involved “when Israel comes.” This guidance came four days after Sleiman had instructed his officers to be prepared (ref D). Murr told us that he promised Sleiman the political cover for LAF inaction. Murr’s opinion is that an Israeli action against Hizballah would not be a war against Lebanon and that Syria and Iran did not ask Lebanon’s permission to equip Hizballah with its rockets. As such, the LAF has been ordered to not get involved with any fighting and to fulfill a civil defense role, such as humanitarian support, when/if hostilities break out. Murr told us that he would personally speak to the Shia officers in the Army to make sure they understood why the Army was not going to participate. For Murr, the LAF’s strategic objective was to survive a three week war “completely intact” and able to take over once Hizballah’s militia has been destroyed. “I do not want thousands of our soldiers to die for no reason,” Murr declared.
21. (S) Murr’s concern over another Hizballah war with Israel appeared to be genuine. The length of time spent on this topic given the other political machinations in Lebanon during the two and a half hour conversation was indicative of his level of concern. Murr seems intent on ensuring the Army stays out of the way so that Hizballah bears the full weight of an Israeli offensive. While we have noted the increase in Israeli overflights, to include one over downtown Beirut Friday, March 7, we have not seen indications that validate Murr’s concern that an Israeli offensive might be imminent.
Update: One slightly fishy thing about this cable is the lack of a unique identifying ID at the top of it. Based on the code in the header and throughout the document, it would appear to be 08BEIRUT372, but if you check the previous cable detailing the meeting with Samir Geagea (which is also untitled but would appear to be 08BEIRUT331), it has the 372 marker at the bottom.) Anyone have a good contact at al-Akhbar?