Cablegate: Lebanon: Scenesetter for Fbi Director Mueller

DE RUEHLB #0898/01 1711230
O 201230Z JUN 07





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) As you visit Lebanon, the much-buffeted democratic
government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is fully engaged
on a number of critical issues. The Lebanese Armed Forces
(LAF) are now locked in close combat with Sunni extremists
who profess affiliation with Al Qaida, but who many believe
are directed by the Syrian regime, in the northern
Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Barid. The 57,000
personnel of the LAF are stretched thin: guarding the
country's 450 kilometer border; patrolling south Lebanon for
the first time in 30 years; engaged with Sunni extremists in
the north and patrolling the perimeters of 11 other refugee
camps elsewhere in the country; and perhaps most importantly,
protecting democratic institutions from Hizballah-led
opposition elements that have already tried to overrun the
government in both December 2006 and January 2007.
Politically, the Siniora government continues to search for
an acceptable resolution to a now-seven-month-old crisis
brought on by the November 2006 walk-out of six opposition
ministers. While negotiations to resolve the dilemma are
accelerating, the price the opposition is trying to extract
from Sinora's pro-reform democratic majority, known as the
March 14th coalition, remains too high.

2. (SBU) Add to this intimidating list of challenges the
need to move quickly to maintain the momentum of UNSCR 1757,
which authorized the establishment as of June 10 of the
Special Tribunal for Lebanon under Chapter VII, a parliament
blocked from meeting by its pro-Syrian Speaker, and a very
real threat by the pro-Syrian president of Lebanon to create
a competing, destabilizing parallel government. Amazingly,
these issues actually make the other tasks faced by the
Siniora government -- reducing a USD 44 billion national
debt, reconstructing an infrastructure damaged by last
summer's conflict between Israel and Hizballah, and
revitalization of a struggling economy -- pale by comparison.

3. (SBU) On the plus side of the ledger, it is difficult to
imagine a more resilient people or economy. Despite repeated
blows from an imposing list of unsavory characters -- Syria,
Iran, Palestinian rejectionists, Hizballah, pro-Syrian
sympathizers -- the government of Siniora keeps plodding
steadily forward. We may view with dismay the pace of
reform, but it is undeniable that Siniora and his beleaguered
ministers and allied members of parliament have by and large
doggedly pursued policies that they hope will lead to a
democratic, secure, and prosperous country. Particularly
with regard to matters that concern the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, we believe you will discern trends both good
and bad, but on the whole you will see a country that has an
almost unlimited potential to become a model in a very tough


4. (SBU) As of June 19, elite units of the Lebanese Armed
Forces (LAF) are nearing the end of a month-long, hard fought
battle against Sunni extremists in the dense urban
environment of the Nahr al-Barid refugee camp in northern
Lebanon. The camp is usually home to 35,000 Palestinian
refugees, but it is presently the stronghold of several
hundred, well-trained extremists. The current battle erupted
without notice on May 20, when Fatah al-Islam (FAI) militants
struck LAF units stationed near the camp in the aftermath of
a raid by Internal Security Forces (ISF) on a FAI hideout in
the nearby city of Tripoli. Part of the determination and
sacrifice of the LAF currently engaged can be traced to the
murder of unsuspecting LAF guards during the first few hours
of the conflict.

5. (SBU) As the fight enters its fifth week (the first
three weeks were essentially a holding action designed to
allow innocent refugees a chance to escape the camp --
approximately 2,000 refugees remain somewhere in the
complex), LAF units have suffered high losses: more than 65
soldiers killed in action, mostly from its hard-to-replace
elite units. FAI losses have also been high and the influx
of U.S.-supplied weaponry has been of considerable help.
Many observers have been surprised by the tenacity of the LAF
in attacking and eventually taking FAI strong points. While

BEIRUT 00000898 002 OF 004

armed forces victory over the FAI now seems certain, the
aftermath of the struggle remains in doubt, in part because
FAI is a murky group. A year ago, FAI didn't even exist as
an entity and it is still not known exactly who controls and
supplies it. An educated guess would be Syria.

6. (SBU) The outcome of this fight, and any others against
Palestinian or Al Qaida groups in the immediate future, will
do much to determine the long-term credibility and
operational effectiveness of the LAF. Pro-democratic forces
both in and outside the government believe the outcome will
be pivotal for Lebanon and they are pulling out all the stops
to obtain assistance for their troops. Some of these
well-intentioned calls for assistance are misplaced, because
they unduly emphasize "precision" weapons without fully
understanding engagement constraints, to say nothing about
the lack of pertinent training. But regardless of the
inapplicability of some calls for assistance, it can be
stated with assurance that the LAF desperately needs resupply
of dwindling munitions and upgrades to their intelligence and
urban war-fighting capacities.

7. (SBU) Outside the LAF, the ISF (national police force),
Customs police, and Surete Generale (internal police
activities, such as anti-TIP, anti-piracy, anti-organized
crime) also badly need assistance in the form of training and
equipment to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities.
The Department of State in cooperation with other U.S.
agencies, including the FBI, is fully engaged in a
substantial USD 60 million plus effort to provide this
assistance, but the program is expected to take several years
and requires sustained commitment, as well as additional


8. (SBU) Only one year after Hizballah fired more than
4,000 rockets into northern Israel, prompting an Isaeli
attack on Lebanon and a month-long war, Lebanon is awash once
more in weapons. Despite efforts to improve border security
by positioning approximately 8,000 additional LAF troops on
the border, all evidence indicates that weapons smuggling has
continued unabated to both Hizballah and several Palestinian
rejectionist groups resident in the country.

9. (SBU) The most serious attempt to address this critical
issue, whose enforcement is emphasized in UNSCR 1701, the
resolution which ended last summer's conflict, is the
German-led Northern Border Pilot Project. The chief problem
with this well-conceived and well-financed project is that it
will take until the end of 2007 to fully test the integrated,
intelligence-based concept. The second drawback is that it
will only apply to the less problematic northern border with
Syria, while it appears the primary flow of weaponry and
militants cross into Lebanon along its long eastern border
with Syria. That said, there are already plans to "turn the
corner" and extend the project's integrated approach to the
more difficult eastern border in December 2007. The
German-led effort is presently the best option, and although
we would like to see a more rapid timeline, it holds the
greatest promise to finally seal Lebanon's border to the
destabilizing trafficking of illegal arms and militants.

10. (SBU) One final border issue you may encounter is the
largely-manufactured problem of Shebaa Farms -- a 45 square
kilometer piece of contested land controlled by Israel, that
the UN has formally recognized as Syrian, but which Siniora's
government steadfastly maintains is Lebanese. Although it is
an insignificant slice of border territory with no
inhabitants, PM Siniora seems to believe that if it could be
transferred from Israeli control to UN oversight, it would
give his government the instrument it needs to force the
disarming of Hizballah's powerful militia. This somewhat
naive position has unfortunately become embedded in almost
every policy discussion the Prime Minister now has with U.S.
officials, and even though your interests lie elsewhere, do
not be surprised if Siniora also raises it with you.


11. (SBU) Thirty years of Syrian control and systemic
corruption has eviscerated Lebanon's traditionally strong

BEIRUT 00000898 003 OF 004

judicial culture. The fact that a Lebanese court is not able
to indict or try the perpetrators of the numerous acts of
political violence committed since October 2004 is sad
testament to the present weaknesses of the country's judicial
system. Judges have been murdered, witnesses intimidated,
forensic evidence has disappeared, but perhaps most dangerous
is the widespread public belief that a fair, speedy trial is
nearly impossible to attain.

12. (SBU) There are numerous courageous and progressive
jurists, lawyers and court administrators, but they must cope
with a system that was deliberately distorted and manipulated
to favor and protect Lebanon's Syrian overlords. Making
matters more difficult is the fact that Lebanon's legal code
has not been updated for decades and any attempt to do so in
parliament is obstructed by an anti-reform minority that
seeks to maintain the status quo.

13. (SBU) U.S. programs, under the auspices of USAID and
the Middle East Partnership Initiative, are beginning to make
a dent in the many areas that require reform. And this
effort has been augmented by similar assistance programs
sponsored by our European allies and some agencies of the
United Nations. But overall, the work still to be tackled is
significant and will require several years of sustained


14. (SBU) As implied above, PM Siniora is the glue that
holds it all together. Through an unanticipated war,
difficult cease-fire negotiations, coup attempts by a
well-financed and unscrupulous opposition led by Hizballah,
multiple assassinations and assassination attempts of
pro-reform leaders, and political in-fighting among his own
coalition, PM Siniora has demonstrated remarkable endurance
and commitment to democratic rule. He frequently states that
his most cherished dream is to peacefully leave office to
another democratically elected government.

15. (SBU) That said, it is also clear that Siniora and his
close circle of loyal advisors need help to continue and
persevere in their difficult fight. A key challenge will be
the upcoming presidential election, scheduled to take place
in a special electoral session of parliament in the September
23 - November 26 timeframe. The current president, Emile
Lahoud, makes no secret of his allegiance to Syria and he has
effectively stalled many of the pro-reform programs Siniora
has tried to implement. In the face of its defeat to block
the UN Special Tribunal, Syria appears to be pulling out all
the stops to re-elect another pro-Syrian president, both to
blunt the effectiveness of the tribunal and to keep alive
Syria's deeply held desire to re-establish its hegemony over

16. (SBU) Because of the very high stakes involved, all the
political maneuvering is now centered on this upcoming
election. The terrorist organization Hizballah wants a
president amenable to its self-perceived role as the
"resistance" so that it can keep its powerful armed militia.
Opposition member and Christian leader Michel Aoun is the
tormented Hamlet of Lebanon, deeply desiring the throne, but
forever changing his positions and then attempting to explain
them using tortured logic. The influential Maronite
Patriarch Sfeir continually tries to preserve the "Christian"
institution of the presidency, but remains anxious of open
commitment due to events in the past. At the same time, Saad
Hariri, leader of the parliamentary majority as well as the
Sunni community, wants to protect the fledgling tribunal and
his majority, but at the same time is cognizant of the
charges that the Sunnis already control too much of the
government. And then there are the six, or seven, or even
eight political leaders of the Maronite community who all
want to be president, but in fighting each other, make the
opposition's job that much easier. And finally, there is the
Druse warlord Walid Jumblatt, who has been both ally and
enemy to almost every other participant in Lebanon. At
present, he is the strongest and most impassioned voice for
sovereignty, but everyone is mindful that his ultimate
allegiance is toward his small community.


BEIRUT 00000898 004 OF 004

17. (SBU) In just the past week, discussions between the
myriad political players have increased in both frequency and
seriousness. But we have witnessed increased dialogue
before, only to see it unceremoniously dissolve into
recriminations and renewed impasse. The difference now is
that the coming 150 days are indeed critical: if Lebanon
emerges with a president committed to the country's
sovereignty and stability, democracy stands a good chance of
success. If on the other hand, another pro-Syrian president
is installed in Baabda palace, continued stalemate may
actually be a preferred outcome.


18. (SBU) Director Mueller, you arrive with Lebanon at yet
another crossroads. You will undoubtedly be asked to
re-confirm America's commitment to Lebanon and her struggling
democracy. You will also undoubtedly hear many rumors and
well-meaning but half-baked ideas. Lebanon has become a
critical case for democracy and reform in the Arab world. It
is essentially the only Arab country with a pluralistic
tradition and some (though distant) experience with
democracy. We are convinced our assistance can make a real
difference. We urge you to listen to your Lebanese
interlocutors, give them your valued counsel, and let us know
how we can better help your Bureau advance U.S. interests in
this most important country. Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman

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