ISF COMMANDER ON AIRPORT SECURITY, NEEDS FOR WEAPONS



id: 75171
date: 8/17/2006 8:10
refid: 06BEIRUT2680
origin: Embassy Beirut
classification: CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN
destination: 06BEIRUT2672|06BEIRUT2680
header:
VZCZCXRO2691
OO RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK
DE RUEHLB #2680/01 2290810
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 170810Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5112
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 0106

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

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 002680

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/DORAN/SINGH/HARDING

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/17/2026
TAGS: EAIR, PTER, MOPS, PREL, PARM, LE, IS, SY
SUBJECT: ISF COMMANDER ON AIRPORT SECURITY, NEEDS FOR
WEAPONS

REF: BEIRUT 2672

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

SUMMARY
-------

1. (C/NF) In a 8/16 meeting with Ambassador and emboff,
Internal Security Forces Commander Ashraf Rifi expressed
confidence that the removal of an LAF unit from the Beirut
airport and its replacement by the ISF (with its Sunni
command hostile to Hizballah) has vastly improved the
security of passenger travel. In arguing for the full
resumption of passenger -- but not cargo -- traffic, Rifi
also reported that the Hizballah-sympathizing airport
security director had been sidelined by a general loyal to
Walid Jumblatt. Rifi admitted, however, that security
procedures for strictly cargo flights remain unchanged, and
he talked of the need for sophisticated cargo screening
equipment and rotation of cargo personnel. Rifi also cited
successful recruitment (albeit with less Christian enlistment
than he hoped) of 3,000 additional ISF officers, bringing the
national police up to 21,700 (with 28,000 his goal). Yet he
has no weaponry to offer many of his offices, Rifi said,
asking the USG for help in getting 10,000 AK-47s or
equivalent to Lebanon. Specifically, he hoped that the USG
would push the UAE and Saudi Arabia to follow through on
promises to provide such weapons and that the USG would
provide coordination to make sure that the 10,000 AK-47s were
permitted to pass through the Israeli blockade. End summary.

DISCUSSIONS ON AIRPORT SECURITY
-------------------------------

2. (C/NF) In light of earlier meetings with PM Siniora and
Acting Minister of Interior Fatfat (reftel), the Ambassador
and emboff asked to see Rifi on 8/16 specifically to talk
about changes in security procedures at the Rafiq Hariri
(formerly Beirut) International Airport (BIA). Rifi
distinguished between passenger flights, which he argued
could be resumed at full capacity and regular destinations
now, and purely cargo traffic, which he implied still had
vulnerabilities.

LAF DEPLOYMENT TO SOUTH
ALLOWS ISF TO ASSUME AIRPORT ROLE
---------------------------------

3. (C/NF) Fatfat confirmed that the LAF unit that formerly
screened passenger baggage and other cargo on passenger
planes had been withdrawn from BIA, in order to deploy to the
south. This was a serendipitous development that provided an
easy opportunity to change airport procedures. The ISF --
with its Sunni command and its close relationship with the
Hariri bloc -- has now replaced that LAF unit. With a
one-for-one replacement, the ISF now has 120 people at the
passenger terminal and will increase that number to 400. If
the LAF (with officers at the airport supposedly linked
directly to President Emile Lahoud) had Hizballah
sympathizers in their ranks, they are now gone from the
passenger area.

HIZBALLAH SYMPATHIZER MARGINALIZED
----------------------------------

4. (C/NF) More important, Rifi argued, BIA security
director General Wafiq Shuqair -- who nominally reports to
the Acting Minister of Interior but is known to have
connections both to President Emile Lahoud and Hizballah --
remains in place but has been sidelined. A new airport
security committee, composed of 12 ISF offices, now reports
to Shuqair's deputy, ISF General Yassir Mahmoud, a Jumblatt
loyalist. (In separate conversations with the Ambassador,
both Jumblatt and Marwan Hamadeh described Mahmoud as good.
Hamadeh expressed great relief in the airport changes.)
Shuqair has accepted his marginalization, Rifi said, because
the ISF "knows all about him": his alcoholism, previous
smuggling activities, etc. Mahmoud's own deputy is General
Elie Obeid, a Christian with strong airport experience and
proven loyalties to the state. The tools that Shuqair used
to have at his command at the passenger terminal, in terms of
the LAF officers, are now gone.

RIFI ADVOCATES RESUMPTION
OF PASSENGER FLIGHTS, UNDER NEW PROCEDURES

BEIRUT 00002680 002 OF 002

--------------------------------

4. (C/NF) These changes were all accomplished without the
need for the cabinet to act, Rifi emphasized, as only the
formal replacement of Shuqair would require cabinet approval.
Rifi expressed satisfaction that passenger flights can
safely resume to all destinations. The Ambassador noted
that, given Lebanon's requirement under UNSCR 1701 to combat
arms smuggling, it is in Lebanon's strong interest to request
international assistance, which could easily start with a
quiet request for a UNIFIL presence at the airport. Rifi
said that PM Siniora would need to discuss that issue. Rifi
did not like the Ambassador's suggestion of phasing in
flights incrementally, starting with shuttles between Amman
and Beirut (an idea he described as "not practical" --
although, we note, such a process is beginning today, 8/17).

CARGO FLIGHT PROCEDURES REMAIN UNCHANGED
----------------------------------------

5. (C/NF) On cargo flights, Rifi was less confident.
Purely cargo flights are handled differently than passenger
flights; if the latter also carries cargo, they are
nevertheless handled as passenger flights. For cargo
flights, the LAF and Lebanese customs are in charge. Rifi
did not have confidence in the loyalties of those assigned
from either institution to the cargo terminal. In
particular, he said, ten Shia LAF officers need to be
replaced. While Rifi will deploy four elite ISF offices to
the cargo area under an arrangement worked out by Mahmoud,
Rifi also suggested that the Ambassador talk to Minister of
Defense Murr and Finance Minister Azour about rotating
officers. Rifi also said that Minister Fatfat was preparing
a list of sophisticated cargo screening equipment that Rifi
said needed to be procured by Arab -- not western -- states,
to prevent the accusation of "mandate"-type arrangements over
Lebanon. (Note: Perhaps mindful of PM Siniora's insistence
that the airport and seaport blockade be lifted completely
and immediately, Rifi never suggested that the blockade on
cargo flights remain in place. But that was the implication
of his message. End note.)

USG SUPPORT REQUESTED IN GETTING
10,000 AK-47S TO LEBANON
--------------------------------

6. (C/NF) Rifi asked for USG support in acquiring 10,000
AK-47s or equivalent for the expanding ISF. He noted that he
had just recruited 3,000 new police officers, increasing the
size of his force to 21,700 (with 28,000 his goal, the level粑
authorized by the cabinet). His only recruitment problem, he
said, was getting sufficient Christians to sign up. But he
has no weapons, he lamented. So while the ISF is taking over
some internal positions in Lebanon previously occupied by the
LAF, the ISF has insufficient weapons for its mandate. Saudi
Arabia and the UAE have both promised such weapons, Rifi
said, but they need to be pushed in order to come through
with them. Rifi expressed hope that the USG would send a
message asking the UAE and Saudi Arabia to provide the guns
and to work to make sure that the weapons were permitted to
pass through the blockade.

COMMENT
-------

7. (C/NF) We hope that we can help Rifi with his desire to
get weapons to the ISF. In general, because of the ISF's
connections to Saad Hariri and its heavily Sunni (i.e.,
essentially anti-Hizballah) officer ranks, the ISF is, in
fact, relatively (albeit not 100 percent) reliable in terms
of its basic outlook. But, especially in light of the ISF's
failure to prevent the attack on UN House, there is a
question as to how effective the ISF is on the ground.
Certainly, the ISF needs weapons. In general, we see as
positive the changes in terms of passenger processing at the
airport. (Given institutional rivalries, we are sure that
some LAF officers will decry the addition of the ISF to a
traditional LAF stronghold.) We will continue to push for an
international element and will continue these discussions
with Minister of Public Works and Transport Safadi and
Minister of Finance Azour (who oversees customs) today.
FELTMAN

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