TFLE01: HIZBALLAH'S RECKLESSNESS SPLITS AOUN'S ADVISORS



id: 71395
date: 7/14/2006 13:29
refid: 06BEIRUT2390
origin: Embassy Beirut
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 06BEIRUT2390
header:
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OO RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK
DE RUEHLB #2390/01 1951329
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 141329Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4641
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

----------------- header ends ----------------

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 002390

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/DORAN/SINGH/HARDING

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/13/2016
TAGS: IS, KDEM, LE, PGOV, PREL, PTER, SY
SUBJECT: TFLE01: HIZBALLAH'S RECKLESSNESS SPLITS AOUN'S
ADVISORS

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

SUMMARY
-------

1. (C) Aounist advisor MP Ibrahim Kanaan expressed
frustration and deep concern over the present course of
events in Lebanon and said he has advised his party leader
General Michel Aoun to put distance between himself and
Hassan Nasrallah. Kanaan is convinced that Hizballah, with
"its extreme overconfidence," will soon lose control over the
rapidly escalating hostilities. In his view, the resulting
loss of life and stability will produce a severe backlash in
Christian, and possibly Sunni, communities that could destroy
Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, since it is currently viewed
as a Hizballah ally. Kanaan suggested, however, that the
current crisis may offer an opportunity for Aoun and PM
Siniora to form a pro-reform "partnership." Senior Aoun
advisor Gebran Bassil, on the other hand, defended
Hizballah's actions and said Siniora's government was merely
reaping the whirlwind created by its passivity and refusal to
share power. Moderate Aounist MP Farid el-Khazen, meanwhile,
split the difference: strongly criticizing Hizballah's
duplicity and recklessness, while recommending aloofness from
the star-crossed Siniora government. Perhaps reflecting his
party's divisions over the current crisis, Aoun himself gave
a confused performance in a British television interview on
July 13. End summary.

A CRITICAL MOMENT
-----------------

2. (C) In a July 13 discussion with poloff, MP Ibrahim
Kanaan, who is frequently used as an intermediary and
spokesperson by Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel
Aoun, said that FPM's association with Hizballah has been a
mistake. Declaring that Michel Aoun did not have the
slightest idea that Hizballah was planning such a provocative
act, Kanaan professed deep concern that Hizballah was now
effectively steering the ship of state. When asked if he
thought Hassan Nasrallah was acting like a Minister of
Defense, Kanaan retorted, "no, no, much more than that."

3. (C) Kanaan half-heartedly defended the troublesome
February 6 compact between the FPM and Hizballah, saying it
originally held the promise of bringing Hizballah into
Lebanon's political mainstream. But he conceded that the
previous day's "reckless" ambush in Israeli territory is
threatening to completely undo Lebanon's struggling democracy
and threatens to deliver the country back into the tender
mercies of Syria.

4. (C) Expressing fear that events were rapidly spiraling
beyond the control of the participants, Kanaan suggested that
only a radical change in the political dynamic could hope to
forestall the demise of Lebanon's democratic experiment.
Although Kanaan said he did not have authorization from Aoun,
he felt even Aoun now realized the criticality of the moment
and would be amenable to a "partnership" with embattled PM
Siniora. According to Kanaan, who insisted he could persuade
Aoun of the benefits of such an arrangement, only some form
of unity government, comprising the FPM and the March 14
alliance, could hold off the "blatant" power grab being
executed by Hizballah.

5. (C) Kanaan remarked despondently that strong anti-Aoun
elements in the March 14 alliance (mostly Maronite
competitors for the presidency) would try to scuttle such an
attempt, even in the midst of a national crisis, but he saw
no other way to curtail Hizballah's attempt to establish
itself as the pre-eminent authority in Lebanon -- and in the
process, greatly assisting the regional designs of Syria and
Iran.

THE OTHER VOICE OF AOUN
-----------------------

6. (C) Arguably the most senior advisor to Aoun, Gebran
Bassil, presented a dramatically different interpretation of
the past 24 hours in a meeting with poloff late on July 13.
Although he maintained that neither he nor Michel Aoun had
any prior notice of Hizballah's July 12 operation, Bassil
contended that Hassan Nasrallah had clearly warned his fellow
participants in the National Dialogue process more than a
month ago that he was going to "solve" the issue of Lebanese
prisoners held in Israeli jails. "No one should be surprised
at yesterday's events," Bassil stated. When asked how

BEIRUT 00002390 002 OF 002

unilateral and dangerous action by a non-state player would
affect Lebanon's nascent democracy, Bassil blandly responded
that the Siniora government was the real problem blocking
Lebanon's progress, not Hizballah.

7. (C) Bassil went into his oft-repeated litany of
complaints about the "passivity and incompetence" of the
Siniora government, and once again charged that the Saad
Hariri-led parliamentary majority was only trying to create a
system dominated by the country's Sunni elite. He argued
that Siniora and Hariri had their chance last summer, "when
the General wanted to become a part of the government," but
now they were simply reaping the results of poor performance
and self-centered interests.

8. (C) Concerning how he felt the current situation would
resolve itself, Bassil said both sides, under the urging of
the international community, should cease hostilities and
enter into rapid negotiations on the overarching prisoner
issue. Bassil was noticeably nonchalant about the
possibility that events were fast approaching a dangerous
level for the region.

A MODERATE ADRIFT
-----------------

9. (C) Aounist MP Farid el-Khazen, recognized for his
reasoned defense of FPM positions, told a second emboff in a
telephone conversation on July 13 that by its actions the
previous day Hizballah had deliberately cast aside its
responsibilities to Lebanon and had forced a unnecessary
crisis with regional implications -- and complications.
While still attempting to defend FPM's previous position that
Siniora's government was a failed institution, el-Khazen
admitted that Hizballah had exercised powers that should be
strictly reserved to the state -- and had greatly endangered
Lebanon's security.

10. (C) El-Khazen was somewhat at a loss as to where things
were heading and how Lebanon's political leadership should
respond, but he was reluctant to trust the Hariri-led
majority when, in his view, it had failed so completely. He
was adamant that the cycle of escalation had to be broken --
and broken soon -- before the country suffered any more
damage. But as to how that could actually be accomplished,
he could not say.

AN OPAQUE PERFORMANCE
---------------------

11. (C) Late in the afternoon of July 13, Michel Aoun made
his arguments in a British television interview that was
quickly re-broadcast on several Lebanese stations. Perhaps
reflecting the conflicting advice he is apparently receiving
from his closest advisors, former General Aoun swore that he
had no prior knowledge of the attack by Hizballah and that he
had offered his support to the Siniora government. But he
then launched into an inconsistent condemnation of Israeli
culpability and an odd defense of Hizballah's perogatives.

12. (C) Aoun did call for an immediate cessation of
hostilities by both sides, but also one-sidedly criticized
Israel for hitting "Lebanon's infrastructure." His tone was
conciliatory and he was clearly striving to appear the
statesman, but as is often the case, his message was muddled
and difficult to follow.

13. (C) Comment: The deep crisis in which Lebanon finds
itself because of Hizballah's outrageous provocation may well
have some useful side effects. If Michel Aoun is forced
because of public opinion to reconsider his ill-considered
alliance with Hizballah, that is all to the good. Seeing the
possibility of realigning Aoun's affections, PM Siniora
already took the initiative to call the General twice during
this crisis, to brief him on the situation and ask for his
support. How delightful if, because of this Crisis, Aoun is
faced with two options: either stick with Hizballah -- and
lose Christian support -- or shift alliances to the March 14
majority, thus cornering Hizballah.
FELTMAN

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