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Cablegate: Tfle01: Nassib Lahoud Offers Advice for the Day

VZCZCXRO9792
OO RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK
DE RUEHLB #2529/01 2151709
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 031709Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4887
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 0012
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 02 BEIRUT 002529

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/DORAN/SINGH/HARDING

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/02/2016
TAGS: IS LE MOPS PGOV PREL PTER SY
SUBJECT: TFLE01: NASSIB LAHOUD OFFERS ADVICE FOR THE DAY
AFTER

Classified By: Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman. Reason: Section 1.4 (b).

SUMMARY
-------

1. (C/NF) Displaying notable resilience and cautious
optimism despite the difficult conditions his country faces,
pro-reform leader Nassib Lahoud advised the Embassy that the
most critical element in preventing a Hizballah "victory"
after the war is to take the lead in the reconstruction of
post-conflict Lebanon. Acknowledging the numerous risks
involved, Lahoud maintained that a comprehensive
reconstruction effort achieves three imperatives: deprives
Hizballah of the governmental vacuum it needs to reassert its
control over the south; allows/encourages the return of the
Shia population to the south, and finally, ensures that the
Lebanese economy expands rapidly to prevent a national
collapse of confidence. Taking an unexpected tack for a
March 14 leader, Lahoud advised USG not to try to blame
Hizballah for the destructive conflict -- let the Lebanese
people come to that conclusion by themselves. Instead, he
strongly advised USG to engineer the rebirth of the south and
compel the many nations now pledging funds to live up to
their commitments. But Lahoud also somberly noted that the
Hizballah stronghold of South Beirut will be the most
difficult challenge in any reconstruction effort -- far more
than south Lebanon. End summary.

2. (C/NF) Former Lebanese ambassador to the US. and veteran
anti-Syrian politician Nassib Lahoud met the Ambassador and
poloff on August 2. Despite the damage inflicted on his
country, he expressed his hope that IDF's continuing
operations would materially degrade Hizballah's military
strength -- the key to its power in Lebanon. But he warned
that Hizballah's leadership would try to claim victory no
matter how damaged it is when it emerges from the conflict.

3. (C/NF) Without stating his sources, Lahoud said the
extent of damage inflicted on Hizballah was somewhere between
the claims of IDF and the organization itself. He is certain
their civil infrastructure in south Beirut and south Lebanon
is basically wiped out, but their leadership and the great
majority of their fighters have survived. Even so, the
elimination of this infrastructure was a significant
achievement, and an important opportunity that could be taken
advantage of in the post-conflict reconstruction phase.

"CHANGE YOUR TIME HORIZON"
--------------------------

4. (C/NF) Commenting on the growing anti-American sentiment
in Lebanon, Lahoud said emotions were understandably high and
the sentiment was to be expected. Instead of trying to fight
the almost inexorable short-term phenomenon, he advised us to
focus on the post-conflict phase, because that is where the
natural strengths of the US would be most effective -- and
most damaging to Hizballah. If the US took the lead, and
partnered with the Government of Lebanon, on a comprehensive,
well executed reconstruction, he believed Hizballah's thunder
could be stolen.

5. (C/NF) Right now, he noted, the international community
is ready to pledge sgnificant amounts of aid and
reconstruction assistance, but without US leadership, these
good intentions were likely to evaporate -- and with it the
chance to develop a stable, democratic Lebanon. He urged us
to seize the day (after) and formulate, with the Government
of Lebanon and our international partners, a reconstruction
plan that would stabilize the south and reverse the
destabilizing flood of Shia IDPs that have fled north.

6. (C/NF) Lahoud argued that the Shia of the south want to
return to their ancestral homeland, but will not return to a
wasteland. In his view, if there are real jobs (from a
Government-coordinated reconstruction effort) with
respectable pay, the Shia IDPs currently living in crowded,
sterile shelters in Beirut, Sidon, and elsewhere will flow
back at a rate that will calm confessional tensions and, just
possibly, restore some credibility to the Government in the
south -- where it has been invisible for decades.

AN ALTERED POLITICAL CALCULUS
-----------------------------

BEIRUT 00002529 002 OF 002

7. (C/NF) Lahoud, an astute and knowledgeable observer of
Lebanese politics, expressed quiet incredulity at Michel
Aoun's continuing trumpeting of his now badly-tattered joint
FPM/Hizballah communique of February 6. Like many other in
the Maronite community, Lahoud said Aoun's power is
definitely slipping and his day in the sun nearly over. His
one remaining trump card in the Christian community was that
he has so few able competitors.

8. (C/NF) Lahoud, long opposed to Syrian interference in
Lebanon, urged the US and the international community to
support and indeed strengthen the efforts of Serge Brammertz
and the UNIIIC to pursue both the assassins of former Prime
Minister Rafiq Hariri, and the persons responsible for the
campaign of political violence unleashed against pro-reform
leaders of Lebanon over the past two years. Lahoud believes
that President Bashar al-Asad thinks he has dodged the UNIIIC
bullet and it would completely confound him if Mr. Brammertz'
investigative team re-applied themselves with renewed vigor.
FELTMAN

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