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Cablegate: Lebanon: Army Commander Says He Will Protect The

VZCZCXRO2067
OO RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0661/01 1331620
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 121620Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1814
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN PRIORITY 1201
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 2259
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 2563
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIRUT 000661

NOFORN
SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER/GAVITO
DOD/OSD FOR USDP ERIC EDELMAN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/20/2018
TAGS: MASS MCAP PTER PARM PINR KPAL SY AE IS LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: ARMY COMMANDER SAYS HE WILL PROTECT THE
GOVERNMENT

REF: IIR 6 8578 0249 08

BEIRUT 00000661 001.2 OF 003


Classified By: CDA Michele J. Sison for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d).

SUMMARY
-------

1. (C/NF) In two meetings on Sunday, May 11, Lebanese Armed
Forces (LAF) Commander Sleiman explained that he had not
meant to embarrass the Prime Minister with his comments on
GOL cabinet decisions, that reports of massive army
resignations were not true, and that the Army would "defend
until the death" Lebanese institutions. Sleiman also gave
lengthy explanations of his view of the ongoing crisis and
how to get out of the current impasse using dialogue as the
primary methodology. Sleiman characterized Hizballah's
activities as "militia" activities and said their current
actions had nothing to do with "resistance." Sleiman
reiterated previous claims that he does not have enough
troops and that he cannot pull troops off the camp at Ain Al
Hilweh for fear of terrorists leaking out into the community
and causing even greater problems. End Summary.

2. (C/NF) Charge, DATT, and PolOff met with LAF Commander
Michel Sleiman on two separate occasions at his office in
Yarze on May 11, once in the morning, and one at night.
Sleiman was more relaxed than one would have expected given
the amount of recent fighting between Hizballah and the
Druze, as well as the amount of political pressure he is
receiving from the March 14 leaders.

ARMY OFFICERS HUMILIATED BY CURRENT EVENTS;
TENDER RESIGNATION
-------------------------------------------

3. (C/NF) Sleiman told Charge that the reports of massive
resignations in the Army were not true. Instead, the
officers, some of them with tears in their eyes were coming
to him tendering their resignations. The senior Sunni Muslim
intelligence officer in the LAF, Colonel Ghassan Bala'a, who
is also very close to Prime Minister Siniora, was one of the
first to tender his resignation. The senior Sunni Commander
in the LAF, Northern Area Commander Brigadier General Abdul
Hameed Darweish, has also tendered his resignation. Sleiman
met with both officers and asked them not to resign.

4. (C/NF) According to Sleiman, he has called upon their
patriotism and commitment to the Army to prevent acceptance
of the resignation letters. Sleiman acknowledged that the
Sunni and Druze officers, and their confessional communities,
have been humiliated by recent events. Sleiman recalled to
these officers that he had been humiliated in 1982 when he
was a Captain in the city of Dammour and the Christians were
rousted by the Druze. Although he was humiliated, he did not
leave the Army and that they should not leave now. Even with
this strong call to not submit their resignations from the
Army Commander, both men subsequently tendered resignations
to the Army personnel offices. Sleiman told us he would not
accept the resignations. Concerning the Druze Chief of Staff
of the Army, Major General Shawki Al-Masri, Sleiman dodged
our question saying, "I did not ask him about his
resignation." Sleiman told us that Druze Leader Walid
Jumblatt had phoned to say he had given instructions to Masri
that he should stay with the Army. According to officers
inside Masri's office, he has submitted his resignation as
well. It is unclear if these are bluffing tactics to pressure
Sleiman, or if the officers intend to leave the Army. As of
the morning of May 12, these officers are still at work and
have not left the Army.

URBAN TERRAIN IS DIFFICULT FOR FIGHTING;
HIZBALLAH USED A CANCER ATTACK IN BEIRUT
----------------------------------------

5. (C/NF) Sleiman spent an extended period of time, to
include making sketches of troop positions, to explain why
things had been so difficult in Beirut. Sleiman told Charge
that the confessionally mixed nature of the neighborhoods in

BEIRUT 00000661 002.2 OF 003


West Beirut made it impossible to put troops in between all
of the factions. At the same time, Sleiman assessed that the
Shia had been planning for this type of event for a long time
and had many more weapons and ammunition than the Sunnis.
Sleiman explained the "cancer attack" tactics of Hizballah.
When fighting would start in a mixed neighborhood, Hizballah
would infiltrate into the Shia controlled buildings,
establish their forward headquarters, and then expand
outwardly from building to building, much like a spreading
cancer. In Sleiman's view, the only military way he could
have dealt with this would be to evacuate the civilians and
attack the remaining fighters, "like we did in Nahr Al Bared
where we destroyed everything." It was noteworthy that
Sleiman, ever cognizant of the political sensitivities of
name branding, called all of Hizballah's activities "militia
activity." When pressed on this, Sleiman said he knew
exactly what he was saying. "This is not resistance. This is
militia activity," said Sleiman. (Note: This is the first
time we have ever heard Sleiman refer to Hizballah activity
as militia activity. End note.)

6. (C/NF) Given these types of tactics, Sleiman said that he
needed many more men in Beirut, possibly as many as 10,000 to
15,000 more troops. Sleiman said his force was under great
stress as they could not abandon any of their other missions
to reinforce Beirut. Sleiman was especially concerned about
Ain Al Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp and leakage of
terrorists out of the Palestinian Camps. When asked about
the role of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), Sleiman said,
"the ISF has done nothing."

I ADVISED PM SINIORA NOT TO TAKE
DECISIONS AGAINST HIZBALLAH
--------------------------------

7. (C/NF) Sleiman told Charge that the recent Cabinet
decisions about Hizballah's communications network and the
removal of the airport security chief, BG Wafiq Choucair were
precipitous. Sleiman surmised that it was Druze leader MP
Walid Jumblatt and Minister of Telecommunications Marwan
Hamadeh who pressured Siniora into these decisions to
embarrass Hizballah. Sleiman told us, "I don't think their
decision was wrong, but they could have chosen a better time
given the planned labor strikes and ongoing political
problems." When the Cabinet took the decision against
Hizballah without any Shia on the Cabinet, they saw this as a
direct threat against them and reacted. Sleiman thinks that
there were other, less obtrusive, measures that could have
been taken to address March 14 concerns without plunging the
country into crisis.

BUT I DID NOT MEAN TO EMBARRASS HIM
WITH MY LETTER TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM
-----------------------------------

8. (C/NF) After PM Siniora's speech on May 10 that called on
the Army to examine these two issues, Gen. Sleiman issued a
press release offering to accept responsibility for these
items (reftel). Thirty minutes after offering to examine
these two issues, Sleiman sent a "report" to the PM saying
that his initial investigation was complete and he suggested
rescinding the two Cabinet decisions. Siniora told us he
found this letter to be highly embarrassing and insulting
simultaneously. Charge queried Sleiman on the timing and the
apparent rump decision making process that resulted in the
letter. Sleiman said, "I did not mean to embarrass him. This
was not my intent. I thought I could give him cover to get
out of this political problem."

9. (C/NF) Sleiman then told us that he had prepared the
report ("compte rendu" was the exact term he used), not a
"letter" as has been reported in the press, three days prior,
on March 6, at his weekly Military Council Meeting. At this
meeting, Sleiman put this decision to his Military Council,
which has independent decision making authority as a check on
the Army Commander's authority. The council, comprised of
Druze, Sunni, Shia and Christian officers, said that the
decisions were taken without using accepted investigatory
methodologies. Additionally, they found that the Airport

BEIRUT 00000661 003.2 OF 003


Security Chief, BG Wafiq Choucair, was, at most, guilty of
failing to make a report to higher, an offense that merited
much less than removal from his post. When the vote was
taken, the Military Council returned a vote of 3 to 1 for
recommendation to annul the two Cabinet decisions pending
further investigation by the Army. The one dissenting voice
was Sunni Major General Sa'ad Eid, PM Siniora's military
advisor. After the decision was taken, Eid told Sleiman that
he agreed with the Council, but that he had no choice but to
oppose the decision. Sleiman said he understood this
position, as did all of the other officers on the Military
Council.

THE ONLY WAY OUT OF THIS IS DIALOGUE
HIZBALLAH KNOWS THEY CANNOT HAVE EVERYTHING
-------------------------------------------

10. (C/NF) Sleiman told Charge that there was no way out of
the current impasse without dialogue. Sleiman does not think
that Hizballah knows what they want after their gains during
the past three days. At the same time, Sleiman is sure
Hizballah knows it cannot have "everything." Even so,
Sleiman anticipates that Hizballah will remain persistent as
it is unsure of what is happening regionally. Sleiman said
that Hizballah is concerned about a deal between Syria and
Israel, after which the "the head of Hizballah will be the
price."

11. (C/NF) "I tell them they have made a big mistake," said
Sleiman. Sleiman thinks that Hizballah's "militia" activities
over the past three days may have opened a new front in the
Sunni-Shia conflict in the wider Middle East. Sleiman said he
had told a Hizballah MP recently, "in your conduct, you have
created terrorists in the Sunnites; not one, but many
Zawahiris will be in the streets against you now." According
to Sleiman, this is the message he sent to Hassan Nasrallah
as a warning to be heeded.

WE WILL DEFEND THE GOVERNMENT
UNTIL THE DEATH, AND OVER OUR DEAD BODIES
-----------------------------------------

12. (C/NF) Charge told Sleiman that the Embassy had spoken
with an LAF officer who had complained that "the politicians
put us into this mess; it is not the Army's job to protect
them." Charge told Sleiman that this was not acceptable and
that the Grand Serail (where the PM and many Cabinet members
live and work) and the homes of political leaders needed to
be protected, especially in view of rumors that these
locations would be attacked in the course of the night.
During the evening meeting with Sleiman, USDP Eric Edelman
called to confer with Charge and subsequently spoke with Gen.
Sleiman. After delivering a strongly worded statement to
Sleiman about USG expectations concerning the protection of
state institutions and the protection of political leaders,
Sleiman called his commanders. In front of Charge, Sleiman
reinforced his previous orders to the Ranger Regiment
Commander, Colonel Saleh Kais, a Shia. Specifically, Sleiman
said, "You will defend until the death, the Grand Serail (PM
Siniora's seat of government), Qoraetem (MP Saad Hariri's
Residence) and Clemenceau (Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt's
residence). You are to sacrifice yourselves to protect these
places. The enemy should have to walk across your dead bodies
to enter these places. I repeat, open fire if you are
attacked."

COMMENT
--------

13. (C/NF) We cannot help but wonder if there is something
afoot with regards to a deal. Sleiman, normally a very
fidgety interlocutor during times of crisis, seemed quite at
ease. He was in his complete uniform, to include polished
boots -- vice his normal tennis shoes when there is a crisis.
While we have no information that would corroborate any such
deal making, we remain skeptical at Sleiman's all-too-cool
posture given that there is fighting in the streets.

SISON

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