Cablegate: Lebanon: Moderate Shi'a Mp Yassine Jaber On

Published: Thu 31 Aug 2006 03:03 PM
DE RUEHLB #2826/01 2431515
P 311515Z AUG 06
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 BEIRUT 002826
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/29/2016
Classified By: Jeffrey D. Feltman, Ambassador. Reason: 1.4 (d).
1. (S) The Lebanese economy, government and armed forces have
been weakened by years of crisis and the recent armed
conflict, according to moderate Shi'a MP Yassine Jaber.
Lebanon's institutions are incapable of heading off the
Hizballah threat without significant support from the
international community and especially the USG. Jaber, who
may represent a significant strain of Lebanese political
thought, minimized the role of arms smuggling and suggested
that the GOL might not succeed in grappling earnestly with
the problem, even as a condition for lifting the blockade on
Lebanon's ports and airport. End Summary.
Lebanon Suffering
2. (S) The Ambassador, Pol/Econ Chief and FSN political
adviser hosted Yassine Jaber, a prominent but moderate Shi'a
Member of Parliament and two-time former Minister for lunch.
Jaber, a frequent Embassy contact, is AN MP on Nabib Berri's
Amal list, although not an Amal member himself. Jaber opened
by claiming that, "the blockade is worse than the war." The
economy has suffered and he hinted at capital flight.
International companies, he claimed, have had to endure 35
days without communication with the outside world and would
not remain in Lebanon under such conditions. The Ambassador
noted that many U.S. companies had decided that Hizballah's
increased popularity and triumphalism after the conflict made
Lebanon an undesirable place to be based.
2. (S) Many of Lebanon's wealthiest families have also
delayed their return to Lebanon or departed for good, Jaber
noted. The "big spenders" were staying away from Lebanon
because, among other things, private schools had recently
decided to follow the lead of public schools and officially
delay the beginning of the academic year. (Note: The
American Community School, on whose board Jaber serves,
decided this week to delay its opening to October 9, a week
earlier than the new target opening for public schools. End
Note.) Jaber cited the disruption to education as one of the
hardest blows to Lebanon from the recent conflict.
3. (S) The conflict made Hizballah popular, Jaber claimed,
but it destroyed a lot of lives and livelihoods -- in
particular, due to the targeting of infrastructure. If arms
smuggling is not controlled, the Ambassador noted, the next
conflict will be worse; Hizballah is willing to destroy
Lebanon to ensure its own survival.
4. (S) Jaber complained that there is a perception in Lebanon
that Israel operated with a green light from the
international community in the recent conflict. While the
Ambassador clarified that there was no secret Israeli
"September-October War Plan" as alleged this week by
Hizballah SYG Nasrallah, Jaber noted that the latest rumor
had it that Israel launched its attack out of an "Agenda of
Envy" to target the Lebanese economy because of its recent
success, especially in the tourism and other service sectors.
When challenged by Pol/Econ Chief who noted that Lebanon's
tourism infrastructure was left largely untouched, Jaber
noted that the oil spill had made Lebanon's beaches
unattractive and sparked rumors that its seafood was
contaminated and might cause cancer, even from breathing the
fumes. Peddling the usual conspiracy theories, Jaber also
alluded to local reports that the Israeli forces had used
ordnance containing depleted uranium.
Arms Smuggling and the Blockade
5. (S) Jaber repeatedly asked why the blockade could not be
lifted at least to allow flights from European airports to
Beirut International Airport as a "Phase One" in reopening
Lebanon's access to the outside world. Ambassador and
Pol/Econ Chief pointed out that "Phase One" had been the
opening of flights to Amman, and the Ambassador noted that
BEIRUT 00002826 002 OF 004
should the international community grant a "Phase Two"
without any assurances from Lebanon on the arms smuggling
issue, there would in all likelihood be no real progress.
While grateful for "Phase One," Jaber noted that the current
situation was difficult for both Siniora and the Jordanians,
the latter being accused of collaborating with Israel or
Israeli intelligence.
6. (S) Jaber noted that Israeli PM Olmert had stated in a
press conference with UN SYG Annan that lifting the blockade
depends on direct negotiations between Israel and Lebanon --
which would be untenable. The Ambassador repeated the USG
position -- that we hope for a total lifting of the blockade
but that Lebanon has to demonstrate a clear will and effort
to abide by its commitments and UNSCR 1701 obligations to
stop arms smuggling.
7. (C) Jaber challenged the Ambassador's assertion that
smuggling was a real problem, in particular at the airport.
The Ambassador maintained that airport procedures had, in
fact, allowed smuggling of all sorts. This implied that arms
smuggling and other security issues are far from resolved
8. (C) Jaber repeatedly raised the possibility of technical
solutions to the arms smuggling issue. He noted that Lebanon
had tried using customs verification services such as that
offered by the Swiss company Societe Generale de Surveillance
in the past but that "the time wasn't right." He hoped for
deployment of equipment, technicians and trainers from
Germany at border points. Pol/Econ Chief noted that the
German assistance, according to the Chief of the Customs
Brigade with whom he had spoken earlier that day, would be
deployed at only four crossings on the land border with Syria
and would do very little to stop clandestine smuggling.
Also, even if the equipment was world-class, the Lebanese
still needed to show that they would use it as intended. The
more important issue is that Lebanon demonstrate the
political will to stop smuggling, and provide support to
officials who may face intimidation or corruption in
attempting to stop it.
9. (C) Jaber asserted that Hizballah wants to "absorb the
anger and let things calm down" for the time being, and that
its supporters -- in particular, the Shi'a -- have no
appetite for another war, or a "round two" in Nasrallah's
phrase. The Ambassador reminded Jaber that "Hizballah is
provoking the next war right now" through its arms smuggling
Siniora Government in Trouble
10. (C) Jaber said "we need an injection of support" and that
Siniora needs some political gesture or victory to help him
survive after the Stockholm Conference. He bemoaned the
government's performance during and after the crisis, citing
in particular the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' inability to
take energetic diplomatic action abroad. It is inexcusable
that the GOL lacks Ambassadorial representation in Washington
and in New York. Furthermore, he suggested that the GOL
should have rented out hotels to house people made homeless
during the conflict, which would have helped the destitute
while propping up the hospitality sector.
11. (C) While Jaber admitted that Siniora and Speaker Berri
had scored well with their Seven Point Plan, both figures
have lost ground due to the perception that Hizballah has
been more active against Israel and on Lebanon's behalf.
Jaber maintained that Berri had asked Hizballah not to
rebuild houses in Amal areas, so that Berri could (with some
uncertain resources) do the job and keep his supporters'
Lebanese Armed Forces
12. (C) The Lebanese Armed Forces, which Jaber and the
Ambassador agreed performed admirably and gained confidence
and integrity during the 2005 Cedar Revolution, also are in
dire need of support before they can take up the additional
responsibilities that will come with their deployment around
the country. Jaber asked, "Why can't we have a bridge of
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immediate assistance?" He suggested an emergency program to
equip the army and checkpoints. He bemoaned the delays in
getting UNIFIL deployments to the south, and noted that the
German assistance to the customs and other border authorities
could take two months or more.
13. (C) The Ambassador suggested that Lebanon should ask for
UNIFIL help on the Syrian border. The LAF Chief had not
specified needs to the international community; he had merely
announced that the Syrian border was "watertight," which was
neither serious nor credible. Jaber countered that UNIFIL's
deployment was already taking too long and that the LAF could
not wait to coordinate its deployment with UNIFIL, and at any
rate such an idea was "controversial." In addition,
Hizballah is currently trying to project an image of
cooperation rather than confrontation, weakening the case for
the GOL to call in UNIFIL.
Lebanese Parliament to Snub Visitors?
14. (C) Jaber informed us that the Parliament had taken a
decision today to refuse to receive any official delegations
-- including the CODEL planned for this weekend -- or to
travel, in protest against the blockade. The Ambassador
characterized the decision as unwise, in particular in view
of the Lebanese-American character of upcoming visits, and
appealed to Jaber to fight to reverse it. He noted that many
of our cooperative programs, including humanitarian
assistance and disposal of unexploded ordinance, could be
jeopardized as a result. It seemed foolish for the
Parliament to miss the opportunity to make Lebanon's case to
congressional visitors.
15. (C) Pol/Econ Chief asked whether yesterday's visiting
Iranian delegation -- including the Iranian Vice President --
had been entertained by MPs. Jaber confirmed that MP's had
met the Iranians, explaining that, "that was yesterday."
Pol/Econ Chief told Jaber that was a distinction that may be
lost on some, as well as a bad signal to send to the
international community. The Ambassador noted that several
figures in the U.S. political scene are questioning their
support for Lebanon and again stressed to Jaber the
importance that the Parliament remain open to visiting
delegations. (Note: For the upcoming Codel, MPs will come to
a lunch hosted by the Ambassador. End note.)
Shebaa Farms -- Obsession or Pretext?
16. (C) While more pragmatic than many of our interlocutors
on the subject of the Shebaa Farms, Jaber stressed several
times the importance of the territorial issue as a pretext
for Hizballah to retain its weapons and gather supporters.
He had no answer, however, when the Ambassador challenged him
on next steps after a proposed return of the Shebaa (and
satisfaction of other public Lebanese demands such as the
freeing of Samir Kantar and an end to airspace violations by
the IAF). The Ambassador said that people might be more
willing to think creatively about Shebaa if Lebanon had a
clear, credible blueprint for dealing with Hizballah's arms
and Iranian influence after a resolution.
17. (C) Jaber stressed also that Hizballah's armed force was
of a quality both different and more dangerous than any
unofficial force previously seen in Lebanon. "These are not
normal Arab fighters -- they stayed under bombardment and did
not flee. They have an ideology" that empowers them to
prodigious acts of resistance, Jaber said. The Shebaa Farms
issue provides them with political cover, but Israeli
incursions -- Jaber used the analogy of a rape -- convinces
Lebanese to join and support the group. Even Al-Qaeda leader
Aiman Zawahiri, who has waged a genocidal terrorist campaign
against Shi'a, and other fellow Sunni extremists lent their
support to Hizballah.
18. (C) In response to the Shebaa-as-pretext argument, the
Ambassador noted that the UN had certified the 2000 Israeli
pullout from southern Lebanon. Jaber claimed that "one of
the biggest mistakes" was the U.S. decision at the July 2000
donors' conference to stipulate that the LAF would have to
deploy to the south as a condition of international aid to
that region. Arab donors, Jaber said, also neglected the
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south. These factors had made the south fertile for
extremism. Disputing that no assistance had flowed to hte
south since 2000, the Ambassador repeated that Lebanon had
offered no credible plan to reward the return of the Shebaa
and the freeing of Lebanese prisoners with a serious
disarmament of Hizballah.
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