Posted by Joshua on Saturday, December 11th, 2010
WikiLeaks cables: Saudis proposed Arab force to invade Lebanon
Foreign minister wanted US, Nato and UN backing for offensive to end Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s siege of government
Ewen MacAskill in Washington, Tuesday 7 December 2010
Saudi Arabia proposed creating an Arab force backed by US and Nato air and sea power to intervene in Lebanon two years ago and destroy Iranian-backed Hezbollah, according to a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks. The plan would have sparked a proxy battle between the US and its allies against Iran, fought in one of the most volatile regions of the world. The Saudi plan was never enacted but reflects the anxiety of Saudi Arabia – as well as the US – about growing Iranian influence in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East…” [Guardian]
A WikiLeaks cable details a discussion that took place as pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian groups laid siege to Beirut and threatened the government of Lebanese prime minister
Fouad Siniora, seen here with US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Photograph: Ali Haider/EPA
The proposal was made by the veteran Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, to the US special adviser to Iraq, David Satterfield. The US responded by expressing scepticism about the military feasibility of the plan.
It would have marked a return of US forces to Lebanon almost three decades after they fled in the wake of the 1983 suicide attack on US marine barracks in Beirut that killed 299 American and French military personnel.
Faisal, in a US cable marked secret, emphasised the need for what he referred to as a “security response” to the military challenge to the Lebanon government from Hezbollah, the Shia militia backed by Iran and, to a lesser extent, Syria.
The cable says: “Specifically, Saud argued for an ‘Arab force’ to create and maintain order in and around Beirut.
“The US and Nato would need to provide transport and logistical support, as well as ‘naval and air cover’. Saud said that a Hezbollah victory in Beirut would mean the end of the Siniora government and the ‘Iranian takeover’ of Lebanon.”
The discussion came just days after Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon laid siege to Beirut, threatening the pro-western government of Fouad Siniora, after 17 months of street demonstrations.
Siniora survived, though only after making enormous concessions to Hezbollah. He was replaced by another pro-western leader, Saad Hariri, but Hezbollah remains a force in Lebanon, lionised by many Arabs after defeating Israel in the 2006 war along the Lebanese border.
According to the cable Saud argued that a Hezbollah victory against the Siniora government “combined with Iranian actions in Iraq and on the Palestinian front would be a disaster for the US and the entire region”. Saud argued that the present situation in Beirut was “entirely military” and the solution must be military as well. The situation called for an “Arab force drawn from Arab ‘periphery’ states to deploy to Beirut under the ‘cover of the UN’.”
Saud said Siniora strongly backed the idea but the only Arab countries aware of it were Egypt and Jordan, along with the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa.
No contacts had been made with Syria on any Beirut developments, Saud said, adding: “What would be the use?”
Saud said that of all the regional fronts on which Iran was advancing, Lebanon would be an “easier battle to win” for the anti-Iranian allies…..
US embassy cables: Israel warns of reprisals against Lebanon in case of rocket attacks
Thursday, 18 June 2009, S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 TEL AVIV 001324
EO 12958 DECL: 06/18/2009
SUBJECT: GOI DISCUSSES LEBANON AND SYRIA WITH HOF
Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Luis G. Moreno, reason 1.4 (b) a nd (d)
1. (C) SUMMARY. On June 10, Fred Hof, Special Advisor for Regional Affairs in the office of Special Envoy Mitchell, held a series of meetings with GOI officials from the MFA and MOD to discuss the situation in Lebanon and Syria and the possibilities for progress towards opening negotiations with each. The Israeli officials expressed cautious optimism over the election results in Lebanon, but did not believe they would lead to major changes in the power balance in Lebanon, or serious reduction of Hizballah influence. However, both Amos Gilad, Pol-Mil Director in the MOD and Nimrod Barkan, Director of the MFA Political Research Division (INR equivalent), told Hof that the Lebanese election results took Syria by surprise, and were a blow for Syrian President Asad. The officials were split over the prospects for Israeli peace with Syria. Alon Ushpiz, Chief of Staff for the MFA Director General, believes Syria is only interested in a process that gives it international legitimacy. However, in a separate meeting, Gilad called Syrian/Iran ties a “marriage of convenience” which could possibly be broken with a peace agreement with Israel and incentives from the United States. On Ghajar and Sheba’a, there was consensus within the GOI that Ghajar can be resolved, but doing so will not have much utility, while Israeli will only agree to discuss Sheba’a within the context of Syria. End Summary….
7. (S) Negotiations with Syria may succeed, Gilad said, because Iran was a marriage of convenience for Syria. He believes Syria would much rather be close to their fellow Arabs and the rest of the international community, if given the chance. Gilad stressed that both the Iranians and the Arab Sunnis despise the ruling Alawite minority in Syria – he recalled that Sadat used to call the Alawites “pagans” – and said the Iranians would like to get rid of the Asad regime at the appropriate time. Gilad noted that Syria did not inform Iran of its nuclear reactor, which was built entirely with North Korean assistance, and did not notify Iran in advance of its proximity talks with Israel. In addition, he said, the Golan Heights have remained Israel’s quietest front, evidence that Syria can uphold its commitments as long its commitments are clear.
8. (C) While Syria may want peace, Gilad cautioned that it may be impossible for Syria to extricate itself from Iran and Hizballah, even if it tried. Hizballah is now an integral part of Syria’s defense concept, and is a more effective fighting force than the Syrian army. But in the end, Gilad stated, Israel only has two choices with Syria: war or peace.
Syrian officials were stunned by the mysterious assassination of a senior Hezbollah operative in Damascus two years ago, triggering a blame game between rival security services and frenzied speculation across the Middle East about who did it. US …
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 DAMASCUS 000804
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/07/2009
TAGS: PTER PREL LE IZ IS SY
SUBJECT: IS NOW THE TIME TO RAISE HIZBALLAH WITH SYRIA?
Classified By: CDA Charles Hunter, Reasons 1.4 b and d.
¶1. (S/NF) Summary: Syria’s determined support of Hizballah’s military build-up, particularly the steady supply of longer-range rockets and the introduction of guided missiles, could change the military balance and produce a scenario significantly more destructive than the July-August 2006 war. If rockets were to rain down on Israeli civilians in Tel Aviv, Israel would still have powerful incentives, as it did in 2006, to keep Syria out of the conflict, but it might also face compelling reasons for targeting Hizballah facilities in Syria, some of which are in and around populated areas.
Syria’s current strategic mindset appears to assume Syria could avoid involvement in a new conflict, based largely on its 2006 experience. Syrian leaders also appear convinced that arming Hizballah will increase Syria’s leverage in bringing Israel to the negotiating table. As Washington weighs how to approach Syrian officials in upcoming engagement efforts, discussing Hizballah from the perspective of the regional strategic landscape may help to facilitate a “big picture” conversation in which we could challenge these assumptions and focus Damascus on the importance of taking cooperative steps with the U.S. now. Though raising this subject could well distract from a cooperative approach that shows signs of progress after months of investment, we believe sounding a warning, probably in a one-one-one meeting with President Asad, would be worth considering in pursuit of a broader, more strategic dialogue. End Summary.
Is the Strategic Balance Changing?
¶2. (S/NF) Syria’s determined efforts to re-arm Hizballah during and after the July-August 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah have consistently grabbed Israeli headlines, most recently with Israeli Chief of Staff Ashkenazi’s November 10 revelation that Hizballah possessed 320-kilometer range rockets. Jane’s Defense Weekly reported October 28 on Hizballah’s deployment of the first guided surface-to-surface M600 missile on Lebanese soil, with a range of 250 kilometers and circular error probability of 500 meters. Public estimates put Hizballah’s stockpile as high as 40,000 rockets and missiles, reinforcing assessments by some experts that this build-up may portend a shift in the military balance between Israel and its northern nemesis. Hizballah SecGen Nasrallah’s recent claims of possessing a capability to “destroy” the IDF may overstate the case for domestic and regional propaganda purposes, but reporting in other channels confirms Nasrallah’s bragging on November 11 that Hizballah can sustain fire on Tel Aviv and reach “all of Israel.” This capability, if fully used, would represent a quantum leap over the damage and psychological terror Hizballah rockets caused in northern Israel during the 2006 war.
¶3. (S/NF) There is overwhelming evidence that shows Syria provided not just logistical and other support in moving the weapons, but was the main source of the weapons. Syria’s integration of Hizballah into its military doctrine, moreover, means that Hizballah operatives and facilities enjoy a growing footprint in Syria.
¶4. (S/NF) At least two potential consequences flow from Hizballah’s increased capabilities and Syria’s role in creating them: (1) If there is another war between Hizballah and Israel, it will be far deadlier than the 2006 conflict; (2) as in 2006, there would be compelling reasons for Israel to want to keep Syria out of any future war if possible, but there might be a countervailing need to hit Hizballah and perhaps targets in Syria, some of which are located in populated areas.
Agreeing to Disagree on Hizballah
¶5. (S/NF) U.S.-Syrian discussions on Hizballah have tended to “agree to disagree” after hitting the wall of conflicting views on the legitimacy of armed resistance and Israeli occupation. Syrian officials, including President Asad, emphasize their political link to Hizballah and flatly deny that Syria is arming Hizballah. They then defend the right to armed resistance in response to prolonged Israeli occupation of Syrian and Lebanese territory. When convenient, Syrian officials claim they no longer have responsibility for Hizballah, noting “we are out of Lebanon.” President Asad and FM Muallim have also suggested that the challenge of disarming Hizballah would be solved after Syria and Israel signed a peace treaty. This agreement would lead naturally to a deal between Lebanon and Israel, thereby removing the rationale for Hizballah’s resistance movement and setting the stage for the transition of Hizballah to a purely political party.
¶6. (S/NF) The Syrian government’s strategic view of relations with Hizballah is difficult to assess with high confidence. According to various contacts, President Asad appears to be focused on the possibility of a new conflict between Israel and Syria, but many suggest he believes that the red lines of the 2006 war would be preserved. According to this model, Syria could avoid direct involvement as long as Israel refrained from striking targets on Syrian soil. Syria also seems to be hedging its bets through improved relations with Turkey, France, and Saudi Arabia, which, Syrian officials probably hope, would object to Israeli attacks against Lebanon and/or Syria.
¶7. (S/NF) Asad nonetheless appears more convinced than ever that arming Hizballah is necessary for Syrian security and perhaps as a stick to bring the current Israeli government back to negotiations on the return of the Golan. Syrians remain resistant to the notion that Syria bears responsibility for managing a potentially explosive situation that could draw Damascus into a war neither sought nor winnable. They have ably deployed a force field of cognitive dissonance to resist arguments linking Syria’s arming of Hizballah and the future prospects of Syrian-Israel peace negotiations. Israel, they insist, remains the problem, and only a more active U.S. role can bring and sustain a resolution. According to the prevailing Syrian view, however, U.S.-Syrian relations must normalize before the U.S. can play the role of a credible honest broker.
The Cooperative Approach Shows Potential
¶8. (S/NF) As the interagency continues to plot future plans to engage Syrian officials and thinks about how to recruit other countries to support our efforts, we face a choice not only about the level of our engagement, but about the approach itself. Up to now, U.S. efforts have largely focused on developing a cooperative relationship on issues of mutual interest, such as Iraq and U.S. sanctions. Our four month pursuit of military-to-military cooperation on Iraqi border security represented, in effect, a first step toward establishing a broader and higher-level dialogue on Iraqi security issues, including Syrian support of foreign fighters. After the August 19 bombings Baghdad rendered implementation of this initiative impracticable, discussions in late-September shifted toward a possible CT dialogue. This new focus provides an alternative mechanism to continue discussions on Iraqi security issues such as foreign fighters. Syrian officials appear willing to go along with this approach, as long as the emphasis is on building bilateral relations first. After months of investment, our engagement efforts are close to enabling both sides to exchange positive gestures. This cooperation should help to the stage for more focused discussions on a broad range of issues and strategic choices about the future direction of the relationship.
¶9. (S/NF) During this process, U.S. officials have carefully placed markers on key issues, including human rights, IAEA compliance, Bank Aman, Lebanon (e.g., border demarcation), and Palestinians (pushing Hamas to accept the Quartet principles), and the new embassy compound. We have addressed these issues mainly in discussions with Vice Foreign Minister Miqdad and the Syrian Embassy in Washington (with less dialogue between Embassy Damascus and the Syrian MFA). Our view is that the cooperative approach will have more chance of success if we continue to use these channels to deal with such issues, until the relationship can sustain discussion at higher levels that will yield a higher probability of favorable progress.
¶10. (S/NF) Against this backdrop, sending U.S. officials to focus on Syrian relations with Hizballah could distract significantly from our efforts to build a cooperative foothold. There is unlikely to be common ground or any breakthroughs, and a new focus on Hizballah-related issues could further set back our efforts to re-energize the engagement process, not least by spurring the Syrians to demand a reciprocal change in U.S. behavior, e.g., lifting sanctions. Focusing our higher political-level discussions on the issue of foreign fighters provides a more familiar subject with a higher chance for initial progress.
But Hizballah’s Arsenal Poses Urgent Challenges
¶11. (S/NF) While the near-term chances for a successful dialogue on Syria’s strategic relationship with Hizballah are much lower, the stakes — the possibility of a regional conflict and significant obstacles to achieving comprehensive peace — are just as, if not more, urgent. Sharing our concerns about the dangers of Syria’s arming of Hizballah, probably best done privately in a one-on-one session with President Asad, could serve to establish the basis of a more frank exchange about Syria’s role, and enable us to challenge potentially dangerous Syrian assumptions as part of a wider strategic dialogue. Recent revelations about Syria’s role in weapons shipments create some urgency in turning Syrian attention toward ending these supplies and restraining Hizballah from making good on its provocative rhetoric.
¶12. (S/NF) We don’t expect these points immediately to change Syrian behavior or its relations with Hizballah, but we believe sounding this warning would put President Asad and others (such as Turkey and France) on notice that Syria’s actions have created a situation in which miscalculation or provocative behavior by Hizballah could prove disastrous for Syria and the broader region. This message could likewise underscore our belief that Syria needs to demonstrate a more active role in achieving peace with Israel and better relations with the United States. Even if a war between Israel and Hizballah does not materialize in the immediate future, we should try find a way to use our ongoing cooperative engagement with Syrian officials to help them recognize their overriding interest and responsibility in preventing this unappealing scenario altogether.
Tuesday, December 07, 2010 4:56 PM
If Syria’s improved relations with France, Saudi Arabia and Turkey can initiate cracks in the Syrian-Iranian axis, then perhaps discrete U.S.-Syrian cooperation could add further stress to these fault lines. A willingness to offer concrete deliverables as evidence of a U.S. desire for improved relations would force Syrian officials to calculate how far they would go in response, providing us with a more accurate measure of their intentions. At a minimum, increased Washington interest in Syria would increase Tehran’s anxiety level and perhaps compound Syrian-Iranian tensions, at a time when Syrian officials themselves may be unsure how they will react to unfolding events.
Guardian (GB): US embassy cables: Strains show in Iran-Syria ties,
Tuesday, 22 December 2009, 03:40 S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 DAMASCUS 000880 NOFORN SIPDIS DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/FO, NEA/ELA, NEA/I NSC FOR SHAPIRO/MCDERMOTT PARIS FOR NOBLES LONDON FOR LORD EO 12958 DECL: 12/20/2029 TAGS PREL, IR, LE, IZ, TU, SY …
both Gilad and Barkan agreed that the elections were a blow to Syria, which was completely caught off-guard by the results. The Syrian presidential advisors on Lebanon, they said, are now in trouble……
Guardian (GB): US embassy cables: Hezbollah man’s murder fuels fear and loathing in Damascus, 2010-12-07
Thursday, 28 February 2008, 13:07 S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 DAMASCUS 000146 SIPDIS SIPDIS STATE FOR NEA/ELA, EEB/TFS; TREASURY FOR LEVEY/GLASER; NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/GAVITO EO 12958 DECL: 02/28/2028 TAGS ECON, EFIN, EINV, KCOR, PGOV, SY, LE …
4- feeling of the “street” is obtained from reading (arabic) “syrianews” and counting that 70% of the comments were anti.
5- one dissident xxxxxx “shouted and kissed” the press attache’s cheek upon hearing the news.
6- American Embassy “business contact” xxxxxxxxxxxx, a businessman xxxxxx argued so and so
7- A reporter for xxxxxx said he……
8- xxxxx a xxxxx (foreign?) correspondent working on his piece passed along that
9- a former xxxxx employee of Rami’s empire who had 10- xxxxx knowledge of Rami’s holdings
11- xxxxx supported the designation and said it was overdue and that “one a week for the next three months would pressure the syrians and force them to capitulate”. 12- XXXXXXXXXXXX admitted to Econoff that, after hearing about the designation on Al Jazeera, he had run his own name through Google to see what public information might connect him to Rami. Claiming to have no affection for the Makhlufs or the regime, he said he still could not imagine divesting XXXXXXXXXXXX and remaining in Syria. “I love the U.S.,” he explained, “but my entire life is in Syria. What am I supposed to do, take my family to the U.S. and get a job making 5000 dollars a month, or be my own boss and XXXXXXXXXXXX a better life in Syria?” XXXXXXXXXXXX would not put him in legal jeopardy, he finally shrugged his shoulders and said, “Whatever happens to Rami…happens to all of us.”
13- XXXXXXXXXXXX assessed Rami’s designation as an empty, desperate attempt by the outgoing Bush administration to punish a member of Bashar’s inner circle. A marketing expert XXXXXXXXXXXX asked, “What was the intended message (of the designation)? I looked and looked, but could find very little. The time for such an action was two years ago.” Unless the U.S. could sanction Rami’s Byblos Bank (five percent share) or convince the Emiratis to freeze Rami’s UAE-based assets, he concluded that the designation would have very little teeth and would be regarded by most Syrians as yet another “wayward arrow from the warped bow of George Bush.”
14- XXXXXXXXXXXX characterized Rami’s designation as a “mostly symbolic gesture” that would have little impact on the regime’s policies. XXXXXXXXXXXX said Bashar had already put some distance between himself and his cousin and Makhluf had moved a great deal of his personal assets to Dubai. XXXXXXXXXXXX conceded that most Syrians viewed Rami in a negative light and that his strong-arm business tactics had earned him many enemies. He nonetheless believed that a majority of Syrians, at least the few who had heard about it on BBC or read about it on the internet, would see the act as a last-ditch effort by the Bush administration to punish Bashar.
15- XXXXXXXXXXXX said he had had several run-ins with Makhluf XXXXXXXXXXXX during his tenure, but that Rami had learned “the hard way” from Bashar that there was a limit to how much he could get away with on the basis of his family ties. He predicted that Bashar would secretly welcome any U.S. sanctions against corruption, because corruption was rife in Syrian government and society and had undermined the President’s credibility with the Syrian people
Syria and America: The End of the Honeymoon Period
Saturday 06 November 2010
By Tariq Alhomayed
It seems that the American – Syrian honeymoon has come to an end, and to make matters worse, the Republican Party has gained control of the US Congress following this week’s mid-term elections. Damascus wasted two years of Obama’s presidency, failing to achieve anything; during this period the Syrians dealt with Washington in the same manner that they deal with certain Arab countries, and this is something that can be seen in their response to the statement made by US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, in which Damascus called on Feltman to “recognize historical and geographical facts.”
Two years after Washington extended its hand to Damascus, the US is outraged by the Syrian behavior in Lebanon, with the Americans believing that Damascus is contributing to undermining security and stability there. This is something expressed by US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, and Feltman himself reiterated this in his statement that provoked the Syrians. If we add a Republican-controlled Congress to this equation, then we can say that Obama cannot continue opening up to Syrian in this manner, especially as there have long been demands in Washington that the US reassess the manner in which it is dealing with Syria.
When we say Damascus has wasted opportunities, this can be seen in the number of times that US members of Congress have visited Syria, especially the Democrats, without making any progress worth mentioning.
Charge d’Affaires Michael Corbin, 02/28/2008
Contacts report that Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) and General Intelligence Directorate (GID) officials are currently engaged in an internecine struggle to blame each other for the breach of security that resulted in Mughniyeh’s death.
Guardian: After 12 days of WikiLeaks cables, the world looks on US with new eyes
Reaction across the globe to the leaked US embassy cables has ranged from anger and bitterness to extreme indifference