SHIA MINISTER CLAIMS BERRI TRICKED HIZBALLAH, NOW AT ODDS WITH NASRALLAH



75463 8/19/2006 8:23 06BEIRUT2699 Embassy Beirut SECRET//NOFORN 06BEIRUT2699 "VZCZCXRO5062
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RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 0122" "S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIRUT 002699

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NSC FOR ABRAMS/DORAN/SINGH/HARDING

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/19/2026
TAGS: PREL, PTER, PGOV, LE, SY, IR, IS
SUBJECT: SHIA MINISTER CLAIMS BERRI TRICKED HIZBALLAH, NOW
AT ODDS WITH NASRALLAH

BEIRUT 00002699 001.3 OF 003

Classified By: Jeffrey Feltman, Ambassador, per 1.4 (b) and (d).

SUMMARY
-------

1. (S/NF) Minister of Health (Shia, member of Amal)
Mohammed Khalifeh (please protect throughout) told the
Ambassador in a 8/18 meeting that Parliament Speaker Nabih
Berri and Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah are
currently at odds. By Khalifeh's account, Berri was
infuriated by Nasrallah's 8/14 ""victory speech."" Wanting to
rein in Hizballah, the Speaker essentially tricked Hizballah
ministers into agreeing to the 8/16 cabinet decision on
deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to the south,
even though part of the decision went beyond Nasrallah's ""red
lines."" Nasrallah and Berri, however, maintain agreement on
certain ""red lines,"" including no NATO presence in Lebanon
and no international soldiers along the Syrian-Lebanese
border. Khalifeh claimed his own small victory, saying that
his tour of the south restored GOL control to hospitals and
clinics that Hizballah had tried to occupy. Citing health
records and anecdotal evidence, Khalifeh estimated that
300-400 Hizballah fighters had been killed. He gave a
gruesome account of wounded Hizballah fighters who emerged
from underground bunkers after the Israelis pulled back. No
fan of Hizballah, Khalifeh thought that the ""victory
atmosphere"" would die down and that the people of the south
would soon sober up to the losses they suffered because of a
conflict Hizballah provoked. But, at the same time, hatred
of Israel and the United States is prevelant everywhere in
the south, Khalifeh said, and will not fade. End summary.

NASRALLAH, BERRI AT ODDS
------------------------

2. (S/NF) Asking to receive the Ambassador at his home
(away from media and his staff), Khalifeh -- one of the Shia
cabinet ministers loyal to Berri -- claimed that Berri and
Nasrallah are not currently speaking to each other.
Khalifeh, who has long complained to us that Berri has been
too deferential to Nasrallah (allowing, in his view, Amal to
be swallowed up by Hizballah), was clearly delighted by this
turn of events. With whispered gusto as the TV blared to
interfere with any listening devices, he said that the
Berri-Nasrallah spat stems from two developments. First,
Berri was furious by Nasrallah's 8/14 ""victory speech,"" in
which Nasrallah ""acted like he thought he was bigger than
Salahaddin, bigger than all of us!""

HIZBALLAH DEFINES RED LINES
FOR CABINET DECISION
---------------------------

3. (S/NF) Second, Nasrallah is furious that Berri tricked
the Shia cabinet ministers into approving the 8/16 cabinet
decision that deployed the LAF to the south. The decision,
Khalifeh explained, exceeded what Nasrallah could accept.
Khalifeh said that Nasallah, through messengers, had told
Berri that Hizballah was prepared to concur with the LAF
deployment to the south and would permit the LAF to
confiscate any weapons it stumbled across. But Hizballah was
not prepared to turn over its fixed positions to the LAF.
Most important, Hizballah wanted an understanding that
certain parts of south Lebanon would remain off limits to the
LAF and thus effectively off-limits to the beefed-up UNIFIL.

4. (S/NF) Berri, Khalifeh said, wore down Hizballah on the
fixed positions issue, eventually persuading Nasrallah that,
given that the Israelis knew where the fixed positions were
and had so damaged them, they were a liability, not an asset,
for Hizballah. But Nasrallah would not budge on
maintainining ""no-go"" areas in the south. Berri and Siniora,
meanwhile, agreed fully that the LAF had to have the right to
go anywhere in the country, that no area of the south could
be off limits to the LAF. Berri took particular offense by
Nasrallah's assertion that the national army would have to
defer to Hizballah even in a cabinet statement. Berri told
Siniora not to worry, that the cabinet would pass the LAF
deployment decree unanimously, with the ""no-go"" areas
eliminated.

USING A DIFFERENT MESSENGER
TO FOOL HIZBALLAH MINISTERS
---------------------------

BEIRUT 00002699 002 OF 003

5. (S/NF) During the cabinet meeting, Berri then called
Minister of Agriculture Talal Sahali. (Lebanon's cabinet
sessions are constantly interrupted by calls to the ministers
from the political bosses -- Saad Hariri calling Siniora,
Walid Jumblatt calling Marwan Hamadeh, etc.). Berri told
Sahali to vote yes for the measure and to tell Khalifeh and
Foreign Affairs Minister Salloukh to do the same. Given the
close coordination between Berri and Nasrallah throughout
this crisis, Hizballah's two ministers took Sahali's action
to mean that Nasrallah was on board, and the measure passed
quickly and without debate, with Trad Hamadeh and Mohammed
Fneish concurring. (Indeed, other ministers have told us
that they were amazed at how uneventful the 8/16 cabinet
meeting was, considering how close the cabinet had come to a
breakdown over the deployment details only a few days
earlier.)

6. (S/NF) Later, Nasrallah read the details of the cabinet
decision and exploded. When the Hizballah ministers
confronted Berri, Berri responded that he consistently uses
Khalifeh to pass messages to the Shia ministers -- a true
assertion -- when there has been an Amal-Hizballah agreement
on something. The Hizballah ministers should have realized
that something coming from Sahali is of a different nature.
Had they checked, they could have voted no; no one forced
them to vote yes. Not willing to split the cabinet or the
Shia solidarity or admit that they'd been fooled into
approving something without checking with their master, the
Hizballah ministers -- and Nasrallah -- begrudingly accepted
the cabinet decision.

BUT BERRI AND NASRALLAH
MAINTAIN SOME COMMON RED LINES
------------------------------

7. (S/NF) The Ambassador asked Khalifeh if he thought there
was some unwritten understanding that, while the LAF indeed
received the right from the cabinet to go anywhere, in fact
the LAF would not push. Khalifeh said that he expected that
would be the case at first, but the LAF will become stronger
and stronger, eventually able to assert its authority
everywhere, which Berri is counting on. The Ambassador asked
Khalifeh whether Berri and Nasrallah, despite their current
spat, maintained any common ""red lines"" about implementation
of UNSCR 1701. ""Absolutely,"" Khalifeh responded, tapping his
fingers to tip off a list: ""Nothing that looks or smells
like NATO,"" he said; ""we cannot accept NATO here, period.""
Second, even if there is a second resolution, it cannot be
Chapter VII. Third, no foreign troops along the
Syrian-Lebanese border.

8. (S/NF) Accepting any of these conditions, Khalifeh said,
would be akin to Lebanon throwing itself back into a mandate
status. ""We become Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine (STET).""
The Ambassador, pulling out the UNSCR 1701 text, reviewed
with Khalifeh the unambiguous paragraphs on arms smuggling
and border controls, noting that Lebanon has clear
obligations. Moreover, the Ambassador said, Speaker Berri
has a real interest in seeing that Hizballah cannot resupply
its arsenals. Khalifeh argued that Lebanon must do the
border controls, perhaps with high-tech help, but not with
foreign troops. The Ambassador cautioned Khalifeh that the
air and sea blockade on Lebanon will continue until the
international community has confidence that border controls
are being improved, and a quick way to do so would be to ask
UNIFIL's help, per the resolution. ""Berri will never accept
that,"" Khalifeh said, ""never! You can't ask him."" The
Ambassador tried to make the point that tightened border
controls with international assistance strengthened the
state, not weakened it.

HOPING THE SOUTH SOBERS UP,
ANTI-AMERICANISM ON THE RISE
----------------------------

9. (C/NF) Changing the subject, Khalifeh described what he
saw on his two-day tour of southern Lebanon. The destruction
in some villages, he said, was ""unbelievable, far worse than
the civil war."" He thought that, as the extent of the damage
sinks in, the population would stop being ""drunk on victory""
and start questioning the Hizballah policies that provoked
the Israeli wrath. In the long term, he claimed, Hizballah
will suffer. But he said that he found the hatred of the
United States and Israel to be very high. ""The people think
you are as guilty as Israel,"" Khalifeh said, telling stories

BEIRUT 00002699 003 OF 003

of even Christian villagers blaming the United States for
providing cluster bombs and political support for what is
seen as indiscriminate targetting of civilians. They may get
around to blaming Hizballah -- ""let's hope they do"" -- but
that doesn't mean that their hatred for the United States and
Israel will drop, Khalifeh predicted.

COUNTING THE DEAD --
HIZBALLAH LOSES 300-400 FIGHTERS
--------------------------------

10. (S/NF) The Ambassador, noting that estimates of
infrastructure damage appeared to be exaggerated for
political reasons, asked about the actual death toll.
Khalifeh said that there were somewhere between 850 and 875
bodies identified and claimed. In addition, there were
approximately 300 corpses in mass graves or in hospital
morgues that had not been identified or claimed. Those in
graves were photographed, described, and DNA samples removed,
in case people seek missing relatives. Some of those were
probably Hizballah fighters that Hizballah does not want to
publicly acknowledge, but many of the unclaimed bodies are
also elderly and in some cases entire families. In addition,
he said, he guessed from gathering anecdotal information that
Hizballah had independently buried about 100 of its fighters
out of sight, to prevent its real losses from being known.

11. (S/NF) Going through a complicated accounting process
of whom Hizballah acknowledged was killed, how many of the
unclaimed bodies were of fighting-age men, and how many
Hizballahis might have been buried surreptitiously, Khalifeh
estimated that the Israelis killed 300-400 Hizballah
fighters. That number is actually quite a blow, he said, and
will also help make the population think twice about
Hizballah as the losses become more known. Khalifeh then
gave some gruesome accounts of Hizballah fighters who emerged
from hiding and sought medical attention only after the IDF
started pulling back. In one gut-wrenching example, Khalifeh
pointed to his shin, saying that one fighter had a huge wound
and burns in his lower leg. Although he stopped the
bleeding, he did not seek medical attention for 15 days. By
the time he saw a doctor, maggots had penetrated up his
rotting leg tissue as high as his thigh. ""Who are these
people?"" Khalifeh said; ""how could you stay like that? Did
someone make him stay like that?""

RESTORING CENTRAL AUTHORITY IN HEALTH
-------------------------------------

12. (S/NF) Khalifeh expressed deep pride that he had
planted the flag of the central state during his tour.
Accompanied by ISF forces, Khalifeh reclaimed hospitals and
clinics that Hizballah had started to occupy, to compensate
for the destruction of Hizballah's facilities. Except for
those state health clinics damaged beyond use, Khalifeh said
that he had restored Ministry of Health control to all health
institutions in the south. The Ambassador noted that the GOL
should be more assertive across the board, and Khalifeh
agreed.

COMMENT
-------

13. (S/NF) We don't doubt Khalifeh's hatred of Hizballah,
and his account of the cabinet deliberations explains the
curious lack of controversy and discussion last Wednesday --
after political fireworks during the preceding cabinet
session. But we also think that he was trying to place his
boss Berri in a more heroic light for us. Berri may indeed
have been able to trick Nasrallah this one time. But Berri
is nevertheless very much the junior partner and does not yet
seem willing to confront Hizballah frontally. For example,
if Berri were willing to join with the March 14 movement in
removing Emile Lahoud from the Presidency, then we would
could truly classify him as a courageous leader. And as for
the Nasrallah-Berri ""red lines,"" we can probably avoid
provoking the Shia on the NATO issue, making sure that any
NATO countries' security or troop contributions to Lebanon do
not come in explicit NATO packaging. But we will have to
keep pushing on the international element that is clearly
needed along the Syrian border and at entry points, including
at the airport and seaports.
FELTMAN
"

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