Cablegate: Mgle01: Initial Reaction to Nasrallah's Speech
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 002351
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/12/2016
TAGS: IS KDEM LE PGOV PREL PTER SY
SUBJECT: MGLE01: INITIAL REACTION TO NASRALLAH'S SPEECH
JUSTIFYING HIZBALLAH'S ABDUCTION OF IDF SOLDIERS
Classified By: Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman. Reason: Section 1.4 (b).
1. (C) Hassan Nasrallah's latest attempt to portray
Hizballah as the "Great Arab Protector" has embarrassed and
cornered much of Lebanon's political elite. Nasrallah used a
widely watched news conference late on July 12 to defend
Hizballah's unprovoked abduction of two IDF soldiers from
Israeli territory to both threaten and shame Lebanon's
political leadership. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt told the
Embassy that Nasrallah's speech was well designed and
effectively embarrassed the Siniora government. Jumblatt
said it would be difficult to criticize Hizballah's
successful operation in light of the events in Gaza.
Maronite MP Robert Ghanem expressed concern that the Siniora
government might not survive this challenge to its authority
and competency. Fares Souaid, a former MP and veteran
political observer, said that if Nasrallah gets away with his
dangerous gambit, the Shia could well be perceived as the new
"defender of the Arab cause," replacing the traditional
bearers of this title, the Sunni regimes of Egypt and Saudi
Arabia. End summary.
2. (C) Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah's
carefully structured rationalization of the unexpected and
destabilizing operation of July 12 elicited immediate and
concerned reaction from Lebanon's astute political leaders.
The dramatic events along the Blue Line -- which are still
playing out -- and Nasrallah's defiant challenge to the
Siniora government -- will generate additional comment in the
3. (C) In a phone call to the Embassy late on July 12,
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt conveyed both admiration and deep
concern over the skill of Nasrallah and the ability of
Hizballah to set everyone in the region back on their heels.
Jumblatt flatly stated that the day's events were "supremely
embarrassing" to the Siniora government, the March 14
pro-reform movement, as well as the Sunni regimes of the
region. Commenting that Nasrallah's plan must have been
under consideration for some time, Jumblatt said it cleverly
strikes two deep chords in the Muslim community: Arab
prisoners held in Israeli jails, and the escalating events in
4. (C) Jumblatt suggested that Nasrallah had taken them all
for a ride with his promise in the National Dialogue that now
was the time for easing tensions in Lebanon. He was not
impressed with Nasrallah's profession in his speech that
"opportunities to take prisoners were never part of the
bargain," but said the time to settle accounts has to be set
aside for now. The Druze leader, a long-time observer of
Nasrallah, believes that Nasrallah wants to keep his
"winnings" and enter into protracted hostage negotiations,
which will only enhance his standing in the Arab world.
5. (C) With regard to Siniora and the March 14 movement,
Jumblatt feels it is facing its greatest challenge. Both the
government and the pro-reform movement have been made to
"look like fools" and are now trapped between an enraged
Israel and a confident, aggressive Nasrallah.
6. (C) Lastly, Jumblatt said that to confront Hizballah at
this time would likely lead to its (long-planned?) departure
from the Siniora government -- and with its departure would
go any chance to reach consensus on moving forward with the
critically important UNIIIC process. Jumblatt implied that
this may be the real prize after all.
7. (C) Influential parliamentarian Robert Ghanem likewise
viewed the current situation as dire for the Siniora
government. Ghanem said that Nasrallah had not only
successfully kidnapped Israeli soldiers, but had also
kidnapped the government's authority. As a Maronite leader
in the March 14 alliance, Ghanem said he would strongly
advise caution to his colleagues and hope the situation would
calm down -- even though he believed the chances for that
8. (C) Fares Souaid expressed frustration and anxiety over
Nasrallah's "very smart message," which in his view had
successfully wrested the banner of "Arab Protector" from its
traditional standard bearers, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Souaid
specifically noted that in his speech, Nasrallah had deftly
embarrassed the principal Sunni regimes as incompetent with
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regard to Arab aspirations and ambitions.
9. (C) Souaid remarked that the Sunni community, both in
Lebanon and other Arab countries, would now be in a highly
defensive mood and the repercussions were unpredictable.
Much would depend on how the situation evolved, but Souaid
did not see how an outcome favorable to Lebanon's pro-reform
forces was possible. He felt Israel would soon strike
Lebanon (as it did that evening), and as a result, greatly
increase the stature of the reactionary Hizballah.
10. (C) These admittedly few comments were obtained from a
narrow spectrum (all were from the March 14 movement) and
were made immediately following Nasrallah's news conference.
The Blue Line events of July 12 are still being absorbed in
Lebanon and reaction will adjust as the situation plays out,
but the deeply pessimistic tone is notable and may be
difficult to reverse. End comment.