The latest Wikileaks dump by the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar extends the series of intriguing and record-changing insights into the tumultuous 2006-08 period, which witnessed the July War between Hizbullah and Israel, an 18 month-long downtown sit-in, and a takeover of Beirut by Hizbullah forces on May 7, 2008.
Two cables are especially worth reading in their entirety. I link to them below, along with relevant excerpts and some commentary.
08BEIRUT490 (April 8, 2008) | Subject: JUMBLATT CONCERNED ABOUT UNIIIC DELAYS, SUNNI MILITIAS, AND HIZBALLAH FIBER OPTIC NETWORK
5. (S) Jumblatt revealed what he deemed a “very serious blow” to the UN Commission investigating the assassination of former PM Rafiq Hariri and others. According to information he received from Internal Security Forces (ISF) Intelligence Director Wissam Hassan the previous evening, Wissam Eid, who worked for Hassan and was assassinated January 25, had discovered a year and a half ago a link between Abd al-Majid Qasim Ghamlush and a network of 17 other cell phone numbers. Former UNIIIC Commissioner Brammertz reportedly did not act upon this information.
6. (S) In January 2008, however, after Daniel Bellemare took over as Commissioner, Eid met with Bellemare, and was killed one week later. (Note: UNIIIC contacts have confirmed to us that Eid had met with Bellemare exactly one week prior to his death. End note.) The assassination of Hizballah leader Imad Mougnieh followed two weeks later, leading Jumblatt to believe there was a link between Ramloush [sic]and Mougnieh, “assuming Ramloush [sic]was still alive.”
8. (S) The second issue Jumblatt raised was Saad’s reported training of Sunni militias in Lebanon (allegedly 15,000 members in Beirut and more in Tripoli). In establishing his own “security agencies” in Beirut and Tripoli, Saad was being badly advised by “some people,” Jumblatt said, such as ISF General Ashraf Rifi. In his meeting with Jumblatt, Hassan admitted having knowledge that members of Saad’s Future Movement were being trained. Hassan reportedly opposed such training, but “people around Saad” (i.e., Rifi) were telling him to go ahead. (Note: The Jordanians have refused to train Internal Security Forces (ISF) members hand-picked and vetted by the Embassy to participate in a DA/ATA-funded Terrorism Crime Scene Investigation program, reportedly because they don’t want to be involved in training “Saad’s militia.” End note.) Jumblatt said Saad’s militia would cause significant damage to March 14, especially because Geagea’s Lebanese Forces and Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada were in line to train their own forces.
08BEIRUT642 (May 9, 2008) | Subject: GEAGEA PROPOSES ARAB PEACEKEEPERS; A STRONG SINIORA IS PLANNING A TELEVISED ADDRESS SATURDAY
5. (C) Geagea then asked to speak privately to the Charge. It was important for everyone to push the LAF to do its job, said Geagea. However, he wasn’t sure that the army would succeed. If the army failed to protect Christian areas, Geagea said he wanted to make sure Washington knows he has between 7,000 and 10,000 well-trained Lebanese Forces fighters who could be mobilized. “We can fight against Hizballah,” he stated with confidence, adding, “We just need your support to get arms for these fighters. If the airport is still closed, amphibious deliveries could be facilitated.”
The Charge assured Geagea that the U.S. was encouraging Sleiman and the LAF to protect state institutions and the citizens of Lebanon. (Note: At 2315, Geagea telephoned the Charge to relay that his morale had been boosted by a telephone call from NEA A/S Welch. End note.)
There’s a lot to discuss here, but I’ll just point out the following tidbits:
1. Brammertz, Wissam Eid, and the CBC Report:
Some of you will recall the famous CBC report on the Hariri investigation, which came out several months ago. (See my commentary on it here, here, here, and here.) In that report, Neil Macdonald revealed that the UN investigating team (led by Serge Brammertz) did not begin doing any telecommunications analysis until late 2007. As I pointed out, Macdonald’s assertion simply did not tally with the UNIIIC record, which mentioned telecommunications analysis in eight different reports from 2005-07.
Now, in the first cable posted above, Jumblatt makes the same point that Macdonald does in his article, and cites his source as Wissam al-Hassan (the ISF intelligence chief). This, then, seems to bolster the points made in the CBC article, except it still does not explain why the UNIIIC claimed to be performing telecommunications analysis for three years when it actually wasn’t. Another possible explanation for this discrepancy is that Macdonald’s source for the information about Brammertz was also Jumblatt’s source: Wissam al-Hassan. Thoughts?
2. Saad al-Hariri and the Mustaqbal Militia
After the events of May 7 2008 (when Hizbullah’s fighters took over Beirut and parts of Mount Lebanon as a response to the Siniora government’s attempted crackdown on the party’s fiber optic network), there were rumors circulating about a “Sunni militia” sponsored by Saad al-Hariri that had been training in Jordan. No real evidence of any such militia ever emerged, and March 14th has always insisted that it never entertained a military option against the Shiite party.
The Jumblatt cable is the first indication that these rumors may indeed have been true. Of course, we have no idea how far along al-Hariri’s militia-building plans had gotten. Hizbullah’s 2008 strike was remarkably efficient… practically surgical, which leads one to believe that Saad’s fighters were either: (a) nonexistent; (b) poorly trained; (c) or ordered to give up their weapons without a fight.
3. Geagea’s 10,000 LF Fighters
The Lebanese Forces released a statement today saying that the May 9 2008 cable which quotes Samir Geagea as requesting weapons from the Americans for his fighters is actually a vindication, because it shows that the LF is not armed after all, but rather merely “well-trained”. I’m not sure I buy that… what Geagea was probably asking for was heavier weapons — mortars, grenade launchers, field guns, etc. — to complement the machine guns that every self-respecting Civil War vet still has tucked away in the cellar.