Friday, December 03, 2010

Lebanon defence minister denies WikiLeaks cable

(AFP) – 12/3/2010

BEIRUT — Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Murr denied on Friday allegations in a diplomatic cable revealed by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks that he gave advice to Israel in 2008 on how to get rid of Hezbollah, an aide said.

"The information posted by WikiLeaks is not complete and is not accurate," said Murr aide George Soulage. "The aim behind this is to sow discord in Lebanon."

Soulage said that while the minister did meet with Michele Sison, who was the US ambassador in 2008, a cable published in Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar on Thursday did not accurately reflect the tenor of their talks.

"The cable does not reflect the truth about what happened during the meeting and it has no value," he told AFP.

According to the cable, Murr expressed concern during his March 10, 2008 meeting with Sison that another war between Hezbollah and Israel was imminent.

Israel attacked Lebanon in the summer of 2006 after guerrillas from the Shiite militant party captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. The war killed 1,200 Lebanese, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

"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 Hezbollah," the cable read.

"One, it must not touch the Blue Line or the UNSCR 1701 areas as this will keep Hezbollah out of these areas," said the memo, referring to the border region in southern Lebanon patrolled by UN peacekeepers.

"Two, Israel cannot bomb bridges and infrastructure in the Christian areas," Murr is cited as saying.

The cable adds that, according to Murr, in the case of any new conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, "this war is not with Lebanon, it is with Hezbollah".

It said Murr had given "guidance to (army chief Michel) Sleiman that the Lebanese Armed Forces should not get involved 'when Israel comes'."

Sleiman was elected president in May 2008, ending a protracted crisis between the Western-backed government and a Hezbollah-led alliance.

Another cable published on the Al-Akhbar website quoted Christian leader Samir Geagea, a key member of Prime Minister Saad Hariri's "March 14" coalition, as telling US embassy officials in 2008 that the premier opposed boosting an independent Shiite leader to counter Hezbollah.

"Proposing that March 14 enlarge its reach, Geagea said he wanted to join forces with non-Hezbollah Shiites, and in particular, Ahmad Assaad, leader of Lebanon Intimaa ("Belonging"), an anti-Hezbollah 'third way Shiite' political movement," read the cable.

Geagea "cautioned that Saad is opposed to Assaad, in part because the Saudis (Saad's allies) do not want to be at loggerheads with Hezbollah."

Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah featured in several cables ranging from arms smuggling to who was behind the 2008 assassination of top commander Imad Mughnieh in Damascus.

One cable said "most observers" in a Hezbollah-led alliance accused Israel in the bombing that killed Mughnieh, but mid-level police officers told US embassy officials they thought it likely Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might be responsible for the assassination.

"Another theory in the Beirut rumor mill has it that the Saudis and the Hariri family collaborated with Syrian Sunni jihadis to deal a blow to the (Hezbollah-led) opposition and their allies Syria and Iran," read the cable.

Another leaked cable, originating in Dubai, quoted an Iranian source as saying the Iranian Red Crescent was used as a cover to smuggle arms as well as members of the elite Revolutionary Guard into Lebanon during the 2006 war.

WikiLeaks has also published cables revealing a US-British clash over the use of a Cyprus air base for US spying missions to track militants in Lebanon.

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