Lebanon holds its breath over leaked revelations

Robert Fisk
Friday 10 December 2010 01:00
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Julian Assange may claim that WikiLeaks' disclosure of US documents is for the good of the world, but in Lebanon they have had an incendiary effect. The Hezbollah party is using the cables as proof of UN involvement with Washington – and thus, by extension, with Israel – and politicians are desperately denying that they gave intelligence information to the Americans about Hezbollah's secret communications system.

For weeks, the Hezbollah's secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, has been denouncing the UN's tribunal into the murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri as an American-Israeli plot. He says that anyone giving security information to the Americans is an Israeli spy.

Beirut newspapers have devoted pages to the unexpurgated US cables, in which Lebanese officials revealed the names of suspected assassins to American diplomats, an act which – in this country – can end in a flowered coffin and crocodile tears from the murderers. Mercifully, opposing sides in Lebanon have chosen to accept the weird and unbelievable denials of those involved. An outbreak of violence would be blamed on the Americans, not on WikiLeaks.

The UN tribunal's forthcoming accusations – which may be mercifully delayed – have already caused the Beirut government to divide into opposing camps. Now the US cables reveal that the UN has indeed been cooperating with the United States, asking for aerial reconnaissance pictures of the Bekaa Valley and sending DNA samples from Mr Hariri's suspected killer, Ahmad Abu Adass, to FBI headquarters for examination.

One of the most damaging reports is a conversation between the Lebanese defence minister Elias Murr and then US ambassador Jeffrey Feltman that his government had "intercepted conversations that link Fatah al-Islam [Islamic extremists who fought a war against the Lebanese army in 2007] and the Syrian regime". Mr Feltman "urged Murr to share that information via intelligence channels".

At a separate meeting, the Lebanese interior minister Hassan Sabah told Mr Feltman that "Fatah al-Islam is under the direct tactical control of Syria". Mr Murr has been the target of a failed assassination attempt.

Yet more dangerous still is a 2008 cable stating that former Lebanese telecommunications minister Marwan Hamadeh provided the US with maps detailing locations of Hezbollah's communications network. The network, according to former US ambassador Michele Sison, "covers the Palestinian camps, and the Hezbollah training camps in the Bekaa, and is penetrating deep into the Christian Metn and Kesrwan areas". Mr Hamadeh, who denies these details, had also earlier been the target of an attempted assassination in which his bodyguard was killed. Only weeks after this conversation, Hezbollah took over West Beirut, after gun battles with pro-government forces in which more than 100 civilians died, because of the government's demand to break the Hezbollah's networks.

There are some details in the cables on Lebanon which are provably wrong. A claim by Samir Geagea, a right-wing Christian politician, that Iran had provided Syria with 15 submarines, was palpably untrue. Mr Geagea has refused to comment on this cable. Another allegation – that missiles were smuggled into Lebanon on board planes carrying first aid during the 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli war – is provably untrue: Beirut airport was bombed on the first day of the battles and never reopened until the conflict had ended.

Added to this is a cable showing that although the UN no longer believed that four Lebanese security officers imprisoned after the murder of ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri were in any way responsible, Mr Feltman wrote that he feared their release might prompt one of them to take "revenge" against the US embassy in Beirut. The generals, released much later, remained in prison.

All of this is causing the Lebanese to hold their breath for more revelations. And for those named in the cables to hold their breath even more fearfully. "Sister" Syria is known to have taken its own revenge for much less. As for the Hezbollah, their MP for Tyre, Hassan Fadlallah, says the cables prove "that the US is using the court and the investigation committee as a tool to target the [Hezbollah] resistance".

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