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Cablegate: Lebanon: Theories About Mughnieh's Assassination

VZCZCXRO8413
PP RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0237/01 0451656
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 141656Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1008
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 2226
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 000237

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/14/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL IS KPAL LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: THEORIES ABOUT MUGHNIEH'S ASSASSINATION

REF: TD 314-011416-08

Classified By: DCM William Grant for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

SUMMARY
--------

1. (C) Two days after the February 12 Damascus car bomb
attack that killed senior Hizballah commander Imad Mughnieh,
theories abound in Beirut on who was behind the assassination
and why. The timing of the killing also cannot be ignored,
occurring just two days before the third anniversary of the
assassination of former PM Rafiq Hariri and a March 14
commemorative rally in downtown Beirut. With tensions in
Lebanon already high -- and both sides hardening their
positions -- due to the ongoing political impasse, many
Lebanese are predicting that Lebanon will pay the price for
Mughnieh's death.

2. (C) The assassination of a figure who was an icon for the
Lebanese Shia resistance, but one of the U.S.' and Israel's
most sought after terrorist fugitives, raises questions about
who wanted Mughnieh dead now, and why. While most regional
finger pointing is directed at Israel, with the U.S. coming a
close second, several local political and intelligence
sources believe the Syrian regime had good reasons to rid
itself of Mughnieh.

3. (C) As the Hizballah controlled southern suburbs of
Beirut are in deep mourning for the February 14 burial of
one of their own, reaction from members of the pro-government
March 14 bloc ranges from private satisfaction to the sober
condolence statement issued by Future Movement leader Saad
Hariri. However, the possibility that March 14 could have
been involved has also surfaced in the rumor mill. There is
widespread concern that retaliation will not be good for
Lebanon. End summary.

CONCURRENT MAJORITY AND
OPPOSITION MEMORIALS
-----------------------

4. (C) On a dreary and wet February 14 afternoon Hizballah
buried its hero, Imad Mughnieh, in a mass funeral service
that included speeches by Hizballah SYG Hassan Nasrallah and
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. A few hours
earlier, and just a short drive from Mughnieh's funeral, the
pro-government March 14 bloc held a mass rally in Martyrs'
Square commemorating the third anniversary of the
assassination of former PM Rafiq Hariri. The mass gathering
of March 14 supporters (claims of attendance ranged from
100,000 to a million supporters) was an attempt to
re-energize the majority's base and regain the political
initiative against the opposition. Nasrallah vowed "open
war" with the "Zionists," pledging to carry out operations
against Israel outside of Lebanon in retaliation for
Mughnieh's death. The speechmaking at the peaceful March 14
rally focused on the need for Lebanese "consensus and
agreement," and the immediate election of a president. Among
the many speakers, only Druse leader Walid Jumblatt came out
tough on Syria and its opposition allies, vowing that Lebanon
will not be "handed to Damascus or to the black
Syrian-Iranian world."

MARCH 14'S PUBLIC CONDEMNATION:
MORE THAN CROCODILE TEARS?
-------------------------

5. (C) On February 13, March 14 leader MP Saad Hariri
publicly denounced Mughnieh's assassination and offered his
condolences to Hizballah SYG Hassan Nasrallah. In an LBCI
television interview the same day, Hariri agreed with
Hizballah's accusation that Israel was behind the killing.
However, Hariri also hinted at a Syrian role when he noted
that Mughnieh was killed in Damascus, near an Iranian school,
and in an area controlled by Syrian intelligence.

6. (C) The day of the assassination. March 14 SYG Fares
Suaid spoke of Mughnieh's death as though it were a lesson
for Hizballah. Namely, Hizballah should realize that its
only protector and guarantor is the Lebanese state and the
Lebanese army and not/not the Syrian security apparatus and
its arsenal.

7. (C) Meanwhile Druse leader and March 14 member Walid
Jumblatt, believes that either the Israelis, for obvious
reasons, or the Syrians, for reasons unknown, eliminated
Mughnieh. In any case, Jumblatt, candid as usual, called
Mughnieh's death "good news."

8. (C) A number of majority politicians, including former
Lebanese Ambassador to the U.S. Simon Karam and National
Liberal Party leader Dory Chamoun, believe Syria liquidated
Mughnieh as a "gift to the Americans." Both hoped that the
deal will not turn out to be at Lebanon's expense.

9. (C) Minister of the Interior Hassan Sabaa told
Ambassador that he was relieved that Mughnieh was not killed
on Lebanese soil, otherwise March 14 would have been accused
of conspiring with Israel against Hizballah. Sabaa,
undecided as to the identity of the perpetrator, commented it
could be Syria wanting to send a message to Hizballah or to
the U.S., or even the result of a split within Hizballah.
He, too, expressed concern that Lebanon could pay a price in
case the message was directed to the U.S. as reminder that
the U.S should deal with Syria over the presidential election
and Hizballah.

10. (C) 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 opposition and their
allies Syria and Iran. This idea is based on previous
allegations that Saad Hariri and Saudi Arabia were involved
in arming Sunni militants in an effort to counter Hizballah.

ISF OFFICIALS SEE BASHAR'S HAND
-------------------------------

11. (S/NF) Mid-level officials from Lebanese Internal
Security Forces (ISF) told emboffs they believe Syrian forces
affiliated with President Bashar al-Asad may be responsible
for the assassination in an effort to force a compromise in
the ongoing political impasse by lessening pressure on Syria
(Ref A). The officials further speculated that the attack
would be a severe blow to Hizballah, leading to extensive
confusion and lack of cohesion. They attribute their
assessment to alleged tension between al-Asad and his
military intelligence chief Asef Shawkat resulting from a
disagreement between the spouses of the two men. The ISF
officials further noted that al-Asad was becoming
increasingly independent, sidelining
previously trusted advisors such as Shawkat.

SOME OPPOSITION OBSERVERS
DOUBT ISRAELI "GUILT"
-------------------------

12. (C) While most observers in the Lebanese opposition
rallied behind Hizballah's accusation against Israel,
Aoun-bloc MP Ghassan Mokheiber noted privately to emboffs
that it was bizarre that Mughnieh was killed after stepping
out of a Syrian intelligence office, adding that Mughnieh's
death represented a big challenge for Hizballah. Mokheiber
commented that the days ahead would probably reveal the
nature of a possible "deal" made.
SISON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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