Hezbollah, Lebanon, March 14, Syria

Wikileaks Sheds Light on Origins of Aoun’s Alliance With Hizbullah

Apologies for the brief hiatus in blogging. I’ve just returned from a trip to Beirut, arriving just in time for the start of the academic semester here, so things are quite busy. I’ll try to do some catch-up over the next few days, but in the meantime, here’s a brief comment on a couple items from the latest Wikileaks cable dump.

Some of you will recall our discussion of Michel Aoun’s return to Lebanon in 2005, as recounted in Karim Pakradouni’s book Sadma wa-Sumud. Pakradouni claimed that Aoun cut a deal with the Syrians, whereby he could come back to Lebanon provided that he did not call for Emile Lahoud’s impeachment or the disarmament of Hizbullah. Naturally, Aoun has denied this story and Pakradouni later recanted it.

We may never know exactly what the terms of the agreement were, but two diplomatic cables from 2005 shed a little bit of light on Aoun’s transformation from a fire-breathing, Hizbullah-disarming, UNSCR 1559-championing anti-Syrian oppositionist to a fire-breathing, Hizbullah-championing, UNSCR 1559-decrying pro-Syrian power-broker.

On March 21 2005, one week after the landmark million-strong rally in downtown Beirut, Aoun met with the US Deputy Chief of Mission in Paris to offer some thoughts about the situation in Lebanon. Here’s the gist of what he had to say:

  • I represent the true opposition to Syria in Lebanon. I helped bring about the Syria Accountability Act and I was the only Lebanese politician to publicly support UNSCR 1559. The current members of the opposition are still afraid of Syria after 30 years of “hostage mentality”. They need time to become fully liberated.
  • Hizbullah needs to be disarmed. There are no grounds for maintaining its militia, and the pretext of Shebaa is ridiculous. However, the best way to disarm the party is through negotiation and soft power rather than full-on confrontation. If the US can give some guarantees that Hizbullah officials will not continue to be targeted by US courts, then Nasrallah may be willing to deal on military issues.
  • Syria’s regime will fall after it withdraws from Lebanon. It will probably be replaced with a majority Sunni government, and this will dramatically impact Hizbullah’s power in Lebanon.

A month and a half later, Aoun met with the US Chargé d’affaires three days before his return to Lebanon. The content of their conversation was similar to the previous discussion with the DCM, but there were a few key differences:

  • The current March 14 opposition has rebuffed my appeals to join them in an electoral alliance. They are trying to prevent me from returning to Lebanon, and so there’s no way for me to work with them. So unfair! I hate them!
  • Hizbullah, on the other hand, is an honest and reasonable party and so I’ve decided to ally with it. BFF!
  • I’ve come to an agreement with Lahoud allowing me to return to Lebanon (but I’m not going to divulge the details of that agreement).

We might conjecture, therefore, that the period between March 21 and May 4 2005 was critical to the post-Hariri-assassination history of Lebanon. Had the anti-Syrian opposition made room for Aoun, things might have developed in a very different way than they did.

On the other hand, we know that contacts between Aoun and the Syrians had begun long before these conversations even took place. Aoun sent an envoy to Damascus in January 2005 to discuss a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and the relations between the two countries. What seems most likely to me is that the Assad regime was looking for a way to bring Aoun back to Lebanon as an ally, in order to provide a counterweight to the political opposition that was coalescing in advance of the 2005 elections.

Rafiq al-Hariri knew all about Aoun’s maneuvers and probably guessed what the Syrians were up to, which was why he devoted so much time in his discussion with Walid al-Muallim attacking the “radical Christians” and pretending like he had nothing to do with 1559. If the Syrians did in fact take the decision to kill Hariri, it would have been because they had lost faith in their ability to control him, whereas Aoun, ironically, seemed like someone they could work with.

Anyway, food for thought…
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48 thoughts on “Wikileaks Sheds Light on Origins of Aoun’s Alliance With Hizbullah

  1. Aoun: A drowning man clutching to a snake.
    Bashar: The snake
    Nassrallah: Opportunist divine liar. The “pure incorruptible principled man” clutching at the snake. The Don.

    A true triumvirate. 😀

    Posted by danny | September 7, 2011, 4:32 pm
  2. I remember how surprised I was when I read this:

    ” Ja’Ja even admitted that it was March 14 who excluded
    Aoun when he returned to Lebanon, not the other way around. ”

    Not that I really care … as they say “battikh ykasser ba3dou”

    Posted by TAC | September 7, 2011, 5:12 pm
  3. Yes, it does seem that Aoun’s problem was that March 14 didn’t make enough room for him. On the other hand, it’s quite probable that he asked for too much “room”. From the beginning it appeared he despised Kornet Shehwan (let alone LF) and wanted to be treated as the only Christian interlocutor. It is also clear that he seemed to resent Hariri even in March, I don’t see any other way of explaining the fact that he implied the Future movement would not be able to remain an important political force among Sunnis. I am a bit curious as to the true cause for this resentment. On the other hand, it is not realistic at all in my opinion to accuse Aoun of collusion with the Syrian regime in the period from February to March, even if there were contacts, because it appears very clearly from wikileaks that the demonstrations did play an important role in ousting the Syrian army, and the FPM contributed crucially to them, so much so that there was a worry the demands would appear “too Christian” if they included the implementation of the 1559, and that demand was replaced by “Taif implementation” which looked “less Christian”. I think that in the wake of the March 14 demonstration, he felt that the “ownership” of the “resistance against Syria” was fast escaping him, and it became urgent to “assert his rights” in any way possible. That said, it is also clear that the Syrian regime must have known that he strongly resented the Future Movement, and that the disagreement between them would turn ugly.

    Posted by Shiwa7ad | September 7, 2011, 5:39 pm
  4. And Samir Geagea was granted a pardon on what basis ?

    Posted by R2D2 | September 7, 2011, 6:25 pm
  5. Interesting stuff…Glad to have you back, QN.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | September 7, 2011, 7:04 pm
  6. By “radical Christians” wasn’t it obvious Rafiq was talking about kata’eb and LF? It’s very easy to start looking at things from a purely anti-Syrian point of view and force the jig saw puzzles to fit together, even when they don’t. But we need to remember that today’s Hariri-championing opposition was a Hariri-hating opposition pre-assassination (with the likely exception of Mustaqbal).

    Also, I thought Aoun made it clear, back in 2005 or 2006, when he publicly said that he no longer had problems with Syria after it withdrew its army, and that it was evident to him that Mustaqbal’s current coalition was not interested in Lebanon’s sovereign interests. Even if that was just talk and he was demanding a bigger share of power, it’s hard to argue against his case seeing his bloc’s overwhelming popularity among the Lebanese Christians (judging by percentage of Christian parliamentary seats).

    Posted by Murad | September 7, 2011, 9:14 pm
  7. If Syria turns out to be instrumental in the decision to assassinate Rafic Hariri then it would be only rational to expect Syria to have every expectation to oppose and even put down by force the Lebanese demonstrators that are to be expected to demonstrate their displeasure with the liquidation of Mr. Hariri. The fact that Bash Assad decided to pull out the Syrian troops from Lebanon must not have been in response to the Lebanese demonstrators but in fact the very serious concern that George Bush would deliver on his implied threats to Syria . It is also worth remembering that UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan, kept issuing statements reminding Lebanon of its duties to implement 1559, the threat being if Lebanon does not ask the Syrian troops to leave then the UN might. Bashar Assad blinked first in 2005 and it was not the Lebanese demonstrators that forced him to pull his troops out of the country.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | September 7, 2011, 10:30 pm
  8. The Maronite Patriarch Rai’s defense of the murderous Assad regime is nothing short of a crimson badge of shame that the Maronite church will bear for years to come. I am astonished that my compatriots are still beholden to the pronouncements of men of the cloth in fields besides the strictly religious. It is time to be liberated not only from political dictators but from religious tyranny as well.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | September 7, 2011, 10:39 pm
  9. it seems like Aoun is an egotistical megalomaniac and a whiner. March 14 didn’t acquiesce to his unrealistic demands so he took his toys and went straight into Hezbollah’s arms. If March 14 were smart they would have bribed him with the presidency. Jumblatt didn’t like him and things went south. History would be different if FPM were in the March 14 camp. We would have had a second civil war much sooner.

    Posted by Paul Matuk | September 8, 2011, 1:08 am
  10. The U.N. screwed up when they “decided” to blame Hezbollah.

    They lost all/any authority, and the Lebanese people can’t even imagine Hezbollah going out of its way to kill a Lebanese prime minister (even on behalf of another country).

    Posted by Joshua | September 8, 2011, 9:48 am
  11. Joshua should we believe you or the evidence. I guess you follow the divine Supreme Leader’s logic.

    Off topic…It seems that Iran is further trying to create a room to manoeuvre with a possible new regime in Damascus.

    Posted by danny | September 8, 2011, 10:42 am
  12. Indeed. Interesting what’s coming out of Iran these days.
    And the hypocrisy of Ahmadinejad’s comments too…Considering the way his regime suppressed demonstrations only 2 years ago.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | September 8, 2011, 12:14 pm
  13. Joshua should we believe you or the evidence.


    Not too long ago, Professor Josh also wanted us to believe that Bashar Assad was the best choice for Syria.

    How an educated person could conclude that a regime that doesn’t allow freedom of speech, doesn’t allow free elections, support Islamic jihadists, bankrupts his own country, and who thumbs its nose at the West is best for Syria mystifies me.

    Middle East studies in academia (worldwide and in Israel as well) is broken (except for a handful who are not yet morally corrupt).

    Posted by Akbar Palace | September 8, 2011, 1:04 pm
  14. Ghassan @8,

    I brought up that same issue in the prior post. Shame on these “robed” & “turbaned” clergy! They still think they are in the dark ages. Rahi should be ashamed of himself. Again the only statesman or politician honest enough is Sameer Geagea. He is the only one speaking as is!


    Posted by danny | September 8, 2011, 2:33 pm
  15. Hooray !!

    Tens of thousands of diesel powered generators polluting the skyline over Lebanon for $75/month for 10 Amps of power will finally become redundant.

    Posted by R2D2 | September 8, 2011, 3:26 pm
  16. In your face Walid Jumpallot !

    Posted by R2D2 | September 8, 2011, 3:31 pm
  17. R2D2

    What are you celebrating? This is Lebanon. Let’s wait and see dude. I hope your optimism is justified. 😀

    Posted by danny | September 8, 2011, 3:40 pm
  18. This wikileaks thing is a gold mine!

    Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh suggested during a 2008 meeting with former US Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison that direct talks between Lebanon (partnered with Syria ) and Israel would “resolve” Hezbollah’s arms’ issue, a US cable leaked by WikiLeaks said

    Seriously? Where is the outrage from the so-called resistance camp people? We had to listen to you whining and bitching and calling everyone and their sisters “traitors” and collaborators for weeks. Now that it turns out your own guys (Berri, and now Frangieh) indulged in much of the same, you’re quiet as mice? Hypocrisy has no bounds, apparently.

    For the record: I don’t see anything wrong with peace negotiations with Israel, personally. But I’m just pointing out that such talk was consistently branded as “treasonous” by a certain group of people. And now they are suddenly very quiet…

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | September 8, 2011, 3:55 pm
  19. Danny,

    Whether you or I like it or not, fulfilling the basic necessary needs of all Lebanese wasn’t the highest priority for Rafiq Hariri or March 14.

    Solidere was a great achievement for high rolling investors. The rest of Lebanese remained in the dark in the stink of diesel generators all throughout.

    Posted by R2D2 | September 8, 2011, 4:17 pm
  20. Rafiq Hariri was a pure robber Baron.

    That is why the internet remained at a stone age all throughout.

    The main aim and game of Hariri and Co. was to buy into all of these Government owned companies (including MEA) on the cheap.

    Posted by R2D2 | September 8, 2011, 4:30 pm
  21. R2D2,

    Whether rafiq Hariri was a robber Baron as you allege is totally NOT the point here! He was the PM under the total control of the Syrian Mukhabarat and their leeches. We all would appreciate if all this is put in the right context and perspective. If you have evidence that Hariri and co. was fleecing Lebanon without the acquiecence and control of Syria & HA & Amal…Then go ahead and make your case! The moment Hariri bulked at the Syrian masters he was assassinated by Syrian/HA assassins! So let’s stop this nonsense.
    Also, please let me know who were in the government from 1992-2011??
    If you would like to banter; go ahead otherwise you are blowing hot air!

    Off course they are hiding. What do they have to say about the Zionist/Mossad leaks eh? When it was a comment that Murr made they cried a bloody river. Now their own were advocating a “cleansing” of the HA along with what the king moron; the clAoun was yakking away for 14 years…

    Posted by danny | September 8, 2011, 7:40 pm
  22. According to the Office of Robin Berri, they requested the original cables from the DOS but they refused to provide it (The nerve of those at Foggy Bottom)

    Therefore Amal’s conclusion, this is nothing but a CIA/Mossad part and parcel of the whole campaign against La Resistance (using HK lingo)

    We miss HK 🙂

    Posted by Vulcan | September 8, 2011, 8:38 pm

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | September 8, 2011, 8:47 pm
  24. GK right on Rai,

    It’s the most baffling and depressing thing: for eons, every time the murderous regime loses allies or weakens, a new Lebanese supporter rises from the ashes: Aoun, Jumblatt, etc…and now that the regime is on the ropes, out of fucking nowhere the patriach is making scandalous excuses (and Kabbani is getting closer to HA).

    The country is stuck on stupid, and so doooooomed (deservedly so).

    Posted by Old Hand | September 9, 2011, 12:35 am
  25. QN,

    A privileging of a.different section of the first document would have provided a rational explanation of Aoun’s position and would have contradicted your interpretation that Aoun turned to HA because M14 would not accept him in its ranks.

    If we focus on the actual program of Aoun, and his political position as described in the first document, we will understand that the only rational choice he had in order to pursue his political objectives is to ally himself with HA with whom he claimed to have had high level contact. How could he combat ‘oligarchs’, in a ‘neofeodal economic’ reality, where all state institutions were corrupt or controlled by external powers if he were to ally himself with these same olgarchs and corrupt neofeodal figures? How could he try to achieve “secularism” and a “secular democracy” if he were to work with sectarian chieftains? How can he reassert national sovereignty and transform Lebanese politics while integrating HA into the “political culture” if he were to work with those who wanted to keep the status quo in Lebanon__but without the Syrian influence? The only logical answer, at the time, was to work with HA on achieving his goals and they seem to have promised to work with him on these specific goals from the outset. Even the US is invested in the Lebanese oligarchs with whom it deals, and it is not eager to change the neofeodal economic or political culture of Lebanon. So a closer look at the text would allow us to extrapolate that Aoun did not ally with HA because M14 may have rejected him but because his political program of reforms was antithetical to theirs__and to that of their sponsors.

    Since this is a historical analysis based on archives, I am only limiting my interpretation to the possible month or so you have tried to study here. I am not making any claims about the current political program of GMA or about the current alliance with HA.

    Posted by parrhesia | September 9, 2011, 1:17 am
  26. Shiwa7ad, great analysis. Parrhesia, that’s a good explanation of Aoun’s thinking, but it is a parallax view.

    Posted by Charles | September 9, 2011, 1:40 am
  27. Another question Parrhesia,

    How could he sell his image of the savior/hero of which you depicted him being to his support base and the rest of the ” pro- democratic” Lebanese while allying with none other than the Party of God and the Syrian regime? Does that not scream hypocricy by default?

    Posted by Maverick | September 9, 2011, 2:56 am
  28. danny,

    No one put a gun to Hariri’s head to become PM. He paid his way into the position in order to implement his Solidere project. Thereafter, his only focus was to privatize state institutions so that he could get a piece of that pie too.

    Not a penny was spent into improving the electricity or communications network throughout his time so that he could buy into that on the cheap.

    He was a businessman through and through and was “betting” that Lebanon’s debts would be forgiven once a regional peace deal would be implemented and the 300,000 Palestinians would be nationalized.

    He made this bet with other people’s money. Lebanese citizen’s money. Not his own.

    He came onto Lebanese with $4Billion and left his children $14Billion.

    Posted by R2D2 | September 9, 2011, 4:28 am
  29. onto the Lebanese scene ,,,

    Posted by R2D2 | September 9, 2011, 4:31 am
  30. R2D2,

    So far you just have offered simple opinions and innuendo. Guess who has been in charge of the Electricity ministries all this time. Guess who is not paying their EDL bills. Anyways you are entitled to your unsubstantiated gossip. BTW check again how much the Hariri fortune was when he “left” his children. In your asinine logic the Miqati brothers who are ranked as richer than the Hariri kids must be a worse thieves who never invested back into beautifying Lebanon.

    Anyways I think you guys should have stayed in squalor in Beirut and that would have endeared you with your Kabul counterparts. 😛

    Have a great day.

    Posted by danny | September 9, 2011, 7:07 am
  31. I am dumbfounded! I can’t believe that this person attached Ha’s arms to Palestinians right of return. Wow!


    Posted by danny | September 9, 2011, 8:08 am
  32. Shiwa7ad

    Astute reading. However, we know for a fact that Aoun was reaching out to the Syrians even before the assassination. He believed that the US and France were going to succeed in pushing Syria out of Lebanon after all the pressure coming from SALSRA and UNSCR 1559, and he had already initiated contact with the regime in January of 2005.

    The cause of Aoun’s resentment of Hariri/Future is as clear as day. Hariri was a principal architect of Ta’if, the document that: (1) emasculated the Maronite presidency and empowered the Sunni premiership; (2) legitimized Hizbullah’s militia (which the pre-2005 Aoun deplored); (3) and created a de facto Syrian tutelage over Lebanon. Aoun viewed Hariri as a Syrian vice-regent, which in many ways he was. But perhaps the biggest source of resentment was Hariri’s ambition to rebuild the country and his resulting stature as “Mr. Lebanon”. Aoun wanted to be Mr. Lebanon.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 9, 2011, 9:10 am
  33. Wow. Al-Rahi is proving to be even more of an idiot that Sfeir was.
    Looks like Bkirki hasn’t learned a damn thing from the past 20 years. The views expressed by the patriarch are – besides obscene for completely disregarding the dignity and basic rights of other human beings – still coming from that ignorant, backwards, paranoia that has gripped the Christian community for decades and ironically, been the main cause of their complete marginalization.

    Secularisation remains the only viable option, not only for Lebanese at large (and Syrians too), but also more specifically for the Christians and other minorities of the middle east. Yet idiots with blinders on, like Al-Rahi continue to swim against the current of common sense and rationality.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | September 9, 2011, 12:10 pm
  34. An excellent write-up on the subject of Al-Rai by Michael Young.


    Posted by Bad Vilbel | September 9, 2011, 1:37 pm
  35. Danny, sorry to be so direct, but over time I noticed you consistently use disdainful language with those who disagree with you. Why? I think you can be gentler & less confrontational when you react/respond in such instances.

    Posted by rm | September 9, 2011, 1:48 pm
  36. rm,

    Have a great WE. No one has disagreed with me. I just made a comment. If you do not agree then disregard me.

    BV…Yup EXACTLY!!!

    Posted by danny | September 9, 2011, 2:05 pm
  37. Dany,

    Hariri was as a Saint … and the graying, porno watching, pajama wearing head of the “most lethal and dangerous terrorist organization in the world” throughout the last decade was more valuable dead than alive to the US and the world’s intelligence community.

    They had to maim an apparently uncontrollable “bitch” protecting Ossama that prevented the Navy Seals to shoot him to death during the operation.

    Emotions, emotions.

    Posted by R2D2 | September 9, 2011, 3:58 pm
  38. And don’t get me wrong.

    The world apparently is filled with Saints.

    In fact, every politician is one.

    Posted by R2D2 | September 9, 2011, 4:07 pm
  39. R2D2,
    Do you spend lots of time chilling out at the orange room? 🙂

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | September 9, 2011, 5:22 pm
  40. Harriri nowhere to be found. Qabbani switching sides . The patriarchs of the catholic Maronites and orthodox churches speaking out and all the 14ers have to say is: international tribunal and wait till Assad falls.
    There is a lebanese saying :” ntor ya kdish ta yinbout el hashish.
    Anybody seen 3oqab saqr lately ????

    Posted by Elsheikh | September 9, 2011, 6:55 pm
  41. هل يلام الذئب بعد اليوم إن كان الراعي عدو الغنم
    سيدنا أخطأ و نحن ندفع الثمن،

    Posted by abdo | September 9, 2011, 7:43 pm
  42. elshiekh,

    I saw him in Banias. 😛

    Posted by danny | September 9, 2011, 9:00 pm
  43. How will the Lebanese economy be affected if Syria goes into more chaos and land transport from Lebanese ports though Syria to the Gulf stop for safety reasons, anybody has a thought?.

    Posted by Norman | September 9, 2011, 9:49 pm
  44. You are right Norman it is a scary thought if we cant transport thru Syria to the Gulf,, the world should let Assad kill more Syrians and maintain his grip on power so we can all save the Lebanese economy.

    Posted by Vulcan | September 10, 2011, 12:31 am
  45. So I’ve now heard it from 5 sources so it’s official in Lebanon at least. GMA is now known as General Electrique! 🙂

    Posted by Johnny Seikaly | September 10, 2011, 2:12 am
  46. “However, we know for a fact that Aoun was reaching out to the Syrians even before the assassination.”

    Show us these facts!

    “Aoun viewed Hariri as a Syrian vice-regent, which in many ways he was”

    Many ways? Try all!

    “But perhaps the biggest source of resentment was Hariri’s ambition to rebuild the country and his resulting stature as “Mr. Lebanon”. Aoun wanted to be Mr. Lebanon.”

    Hariri was Prime Minister from 1992 to 1998 and again from 2000 until October 2004, so why did he not rebuild the country outside his beloved square mile in Beirut or Sidon. Last time I looked at the map the country extended beyond these borders. This is more your narrow unsubstantiated speculation probably taken from the so reliable Michael Young and Nicholas Blanford, who wrote a book on Hariri drawing almost entirely on interviews with the Hariri family.

    I had a modicum of respect for you at one point, but you have proven to be as blinkered as an ox pulling a plough.

    Posted by GG | September 10, 2011, 6:20 am
  47. Which makes me think: where the hell is Oqab Sakr again? Seriously, where have gone all the M14 smart asses ? They’re not on tv, they’re not on the blogs…even the new Patriarch is trashing them free of charge…what is Hariri doing abroad all this time? Who are the Saudis protecting while keeping him abroad (if they are indeed), Saad or Assad? If a leader can’t be physically present in the country -unless he’s SHN-, can he still be the leader of a movement that pretends to represent about half of the country?

    Posted by mj | September 10, 2011, 7:13 am
  48. GG

    Aoun sent an envoy to Damascus to discuss ties in January 2005. Look it up.

    As for Hariri and his ambitions, I never said that he was deserving of the sobriquet Mr Lebanon. But like it or not, Hariri became viewed by many Lebanese and the int’l community as the architect of the country’s recovery. That must have irked Aoun greatly.

    While ur here, why not explain how u view GMA’s flip flop from the champion of Lebanese sovereignty to the Assad regime’s greatest defender during its current “reform campaign”?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 10, 2011, 8:07 am

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