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Cablegate: Iran Pushes Into Lebanese Demining Operations

VZCZCXRO3586
PP RUEHBC RUEHDBU RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHHM RUEHKUK RUEHPW RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0971/01 2401442
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 281442Z AUG 09 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5628
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNDMI/HUMANITARIAN DEMINING COLLECTIVE
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 3567
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 4100
RHMCSUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 000971

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/FO, NEA/ELA
ALSO FOR IO A/S EBRIMMER
P FOR AWELLS/RWALLER
DRL/NESA FOR JBARGHOUT
PARIS FOR DNOBLES
USUN FOR AWOLFF/EGERMAIN/ASCHEDLBAUER
NSC FOR DSHAPIRO/MMCDERMOTT
DOD/OSD FOR FLOURNOY/KAHL/DALTON
OVP FOR HMUSTAFA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/26/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER PINR MOPS MCAP PM IS LE IR
SUBJECT: IRAN PUSHES INTO LEBANESE DEMINING OPERATIONS

Classified By: Classified by Ambassador Michele J. Sison for reasons 1.
4 (b) and (d).

SUMMARY
-------

1. (C) The demining NGO Mine Advisory Group (MAG) has
confirmed the launch of a new Iranian demining NGO in south
Lebanon. The Iranian NGO Peace Generation Organization for
Demining (PGOD) is starting with a small presence. In
addition, MAG director Christina Bennike reaffirmed that some
of her MAG staff were solicited by Hizballah to work on
demining operations. Lebanese Mine Action Center (LMAC)
director Brigadier General Mohammad Fehmi separately
confirmed that LMAC was offered donations by Iranians for
demining and victims assistance, but he claimed to have
refused the offer because the grants would come with
"Hizballah tied to them." MAG and LMAC also disparaged
Israeli strike data from the June 2006 war as being too vague
to be useful. UNIFIL, however, was more positive about the
value of the data and about the importance of the Israeli
gesture. With demining funds growing tighter, the door looks
open to all comers. End summary.

IRAN JOINS DEMINING EFFORT
--------------------------

2. (C) MAG's Bennike confirmed press reports of the launch of
a new Iranian demining NGO in LMAC's south Lebanon area of
operations. The NGO PGOD, which is reportedly funded by an
Iranian foundation and assisted by the Iranian company Ayman
Sazan, is focusing on the south Lebanese villages of Zawtar
al-Sharquiya and Qabrikha, according to newspapers. Bennike
reported that PGOD was accredited by the LMAC on August 20
and has fielded three teams of 10-12 deminers, as compared to
the eight to ten teams that MAG heads as the largest demining
NGO in Lebanon. Bennike repeated her comments from last May
that some of her MAG staff were solicited by Hizballah to
work on demining operations. (Note: Bennike is very hesitant
to speak about Hizballah due to safety concerns. Although
she has not received any personal threats, she lives in Tyre
and works in Nabeytieh and was advised by an LMAC officer
last May to keep references to Hizballah quiet. End note.)

3. (C) LMAC director BG Fehmi, who spoke at the launching of
PGOD on August 20, separately told poloff that the new NGO
has signed a work agreement with LMAC, the controlling
authority for demining operations in Lebanon. He also
confirmed that LMAC had been offered unspecified donations by
other Iranians for demining and victims assistance. BG Fehmi
claimed to refuse any Iranian offers because they would come
with "Hizballah tied to them." Contrary to rumors that LMAC
was considering an Iranian as director of its Mine Victims
Assistance Program, BG Fehmi insisted that the position would
be filled by a Lebanese.

DEMINING OPERATORS DISPARAGE
ISRAELI STRIKE DATA
----------------------------

4. (C) Both Bennike and Fehmi advised poloff that the strike
data provided by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in May 2009
to UNIFIL and passed along to NGOs in the field had not
improved the pace or quality of demining operations. Fehmi
described the data as "useless," especially after the deaths
of 45 persons (many of them children) and three years of
clearing minefields while the IDF refused to release the
information. He also cast doubt on Israeli claims of
ignorance regarding the type and quantity of munitions used
in artillery and aerial bombardment, given the sophistication
of Israel's armed forces and weapons. "How could the IDF not
know; they are not a militia," Fehmi remarked. Although the
LMAC knew most of the strike locations before the Israelis
shared their records, Fehmi reported, the LMAC found 51
confirmed contaminated sites that do not appear on the "fire
dispersion" data spreadsheet and 289 locations that lack the

BEIRUT 00000971 002 OF 002


direction or altitude used by the aircraft that dropped the
munitions, making pinpointing munitions dispersion
impossible.

5. (C) Bennike assessed that MAG operations, which are
largely funded by PM/WRA, were not materially affected by the
release of the data. MAG's Technical Field Manager Jeffrey
Caldwell told poloff that even though the data had confirmed
areas already known to have been infested with cluster bombs,
it is not detailed enough to facilitate a quicker day-to-day
pace. New UNIFIL Chief of Staff BG Vincent Lafontaine
evinced a more positive attitude to the strike data, however,
affirming that the maps were in fact useful and a positive
Israeli gesture that UNIFIL appreciates. (Note: UNIFIL
leads the Tripartite talks between the IDF and Lebanese Armed
Forces (LAF) on UNSCR 1701 issues and has pressed the IDF for
years to hand over strike data. The data turnover is one of
few success stories from the Tripartite talks. End note.)
For his part, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon PolOff Rami
Shehadeh criticized demining NGOs and accused them of not
making a serious effort to use the data since May. "The
Israelis have given a lot, more than they had to give. We
just need to put an end to this issue," he explained to us.

COMMENT
-------

6. (C) The LMAC cannot turn down demining assistance from
Iranian-affiliated NGOs while the Lebanese Armed Forces is
trying to build up its reputation for social support and
services in the south. Even more, with demining funds
growing tighter, MAG, like other international NGOs, is
slashing staff as it awaits $1.5 million in PM/WRA money
still pending congressional notification. In such a funding
environment, the door is open to all comers.
SISON

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