DEFENSE MINISTER AWAITS CABINET DECISION ON DEPLOYMENT



id: 75028
date: 8/16/2006 9:37
refid: 06BEIRUT2665
origin: Embassy Beirut
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 06BEIRUT2553|06BEIRUT2583|06BEIRUT2665
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIRUT 002665

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR NEA, INR, AND PM;
NSC FOR ABRAMS/DORAN/SINGH/HARDING

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/15/2016
TAGS: MOPS, PTER, PREL, LE, SY, IS
SUBJECT: LEBANON: DEFENSE MINISTER AWAITS CABINET DECISION
ON DEPLOYMENT

REF: A. BEIRUT 2553
B. BEIRUT 2583

Classified By: Jeffrey D. Feltman, Ambassador. Reason 1.4(d).

SUMMARY
--------

1. (C) During a downbeat 8/15 meeting with the Ambassador
and poloff, Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr said he
awaits a Cabinet decision on moving forward with LAF
deployment to the South, but that his personal opinion is
that the LAF cannot coexist for long in the South with an
armed Hizballah. He argued that the LAF needs to be
strengthened significantly and as soon as possible in order
to counter the belief, as voiced by a churlish and
patronizing Hassan Nasrallah in his 8/14 speech, that the LAF
isn't capable of defending Lebanon on its own. Murr said
that the relatively weak Israeli military performance,
particularly in the conflict's final days, had bolstered
Hizballah, which was why the group is now reluctant to give
up their arms even south of the Litani. Describing the
atmosphere in the Cabinet (Note. As of this time, the
Cabinet session meant originally for 8/13 has still not taken
place due to differences over disarmament. End Note), Murr
worried that the Sunni leadership -- PM Siniora in particular
-- are simply too weak-kneed to challenge the Shi'a on the
disarmament issue now, and this unwillingness to stare down
Hizballah would leave the materially unprepared LAF stranded
in a dangerously-combustible situation in the South. End
Summary.

"THE WORST ARMY IN THE WORLD"
-----------------------------

2. (C) Sitting in his study surrounded by a stunning
collection of Greek Orthodox icons, Murr informed the
Ambassador that senior LAF and IDF officers met on 8/14 at
UNIFIL headquarters in the southern city of Naqoura to
coordinate the deployment/withdrawal, noting that the
Israelis behaved "sweetly" and asked if the LAF "could come
tomorrow." Murr was amazed that the Israelis had already
pulled most of their troops out of the South, even though the
LAF and UNIFIL-plus might still be several days away from
deploying. Murr complained that the vacuum left by the
Israeli "defection on the ground" is being rapidly reclaimed
by Hizballah. In addition, what he saw as the relatively
poor Israeli military performance, especially over the last
two days of conflict when dozens of Israeli soldiers were
killed, had left Hizballah in a triumphant and uncompromising
mood. "The IDF put us in a difficult situation," complained
Murr, adding in a typical flourish, "They are the worst army
in the world."

3. (C) Murr said that Hizballah now believes that since it
apparently fought the mighty IDF to a standstill on the
ground, that it is therefore in a position to dictate to the
Lebanese what terms it would and would not accept. Whereas
it appeared only a week ago that Hizballah had seemingly
agreed to the LAF deployment and the group's disarmament
south of the Litani, by Sunday 8/13 Hizballah was no longer
in such a generous mood, forcing the postponement of the
Cabinet session. Nasrallah's speech on the evening of Monday
8/14 only further strengthened this feeling that Hizballah,
as the putative "victor" in the conflict, no longer needs to
make concessions. "Nasrallah thinks of himself as stronger
than Abdel Nasser and bigger than Asad," Murr exclaimed,
"Hizballah carries the banner of having beaten Israel.
Nasrallah will be very aggressive now."

"NO KNEES"
----------

4. (C) Murr admitted that the prospect of deploying the LAF
into a zone still crawling with armed Hizballahis is not
ideal and that, if he had his preference, he would not send
the army to become "a filet" between Hizballah and Israel.
Murr said that if the decision were to come down to him, he
would rather resign than deploy into that kind of situation.
However, he believes the Cabinet will ultimately give the
final go-ahead for deployment, which he will abide by, though

BEIRUT 00002665 002 OF 003

he thinks the question of Hizballah's weapons in the South
will unfortunately remain unresolved. Murr said that he had
pressed the disarmament issue during the Cabinet session on
Saturday August 12, but that others in the Cabinet had not
wanted to pursue the matter at that time. "My recommendation
blew up the government in the last meeting." He said that
Hizballah Minister for Energy and Water Mohammad Fneich had
replied to a question about arms, "You want our arms that are
protecting Lebanon from Israel? Come take them by force."
(Comment. As he claims, Murr may indeed have pushed the
issue during the last Cabinet session. An editorial by
Ibrahim Amin, considered a Nasrallah mouthpiece, in the
August 14 edition of Al-Akhbar newspaper noted that the
"Minister of Defense said that he was prepared to deploy the
Army to the South, but there should be no armed presence
except the army." End Comment.)

5. (C) Murr hopes that the disarmament issue causes the
next Cabinet session, whenever it is finally held, to
"explode." Unfortunately, he said, the only people prepared
to go face-to-face against Hizballah in the Cabinet are
himself and non-Sunni March 14 members Joe Sarkis, Pierre
Gemayel, Nayla Moawad, and Marwan Hamadeh. Otherwise, he
lamented, "the Sunna have no knees and no experience" to go
against Hizballah. "Saad (Hariri) should have been tougher
from the beginning," Murr complained, while PM Siniora had
asked Murr to be "firm but smooth" about the disarmament
issue, and to "not cause him any problems." (Note. During
the meeting Murr took a call from PM Siniora, who asked Murr
to call back once the Ambassador had left. Inviting the
Ambassador to stay, Murr called Siniora back after five
minutes. The Prime Minister wanted to know what the
Ambassador had said regarding the deployment. End Note).
While the Sunni March 14 members want Hizballah to disarm,
said Murr, they are unwilling to rock the boat for fear of
exacerbating Sunni-Shi'ite tensions, and will let the
Christians and Druze take the lead. Unleashing an arsenal of
expletives, the Defense Minister complained that, "This is
the problem with the Sunna, they want to f**k with the d**k
of others."

STRENGTHEN THE ARMY
-------------------

6. (C) Acknowledging that the deployment of the army will
likely go ahead, but that disarmament of Hizballah in the
South will likely be put on hold for the time being, Murr
said that the best option is to strengthen the LAF and the
UNIFIL-plus force as much and as soon as possible.
Otherwise, Hizballah can continue to claim, as Hassan
Nasrallah did during his televised August 14 speech, that the
army is not sufficiently equipped and is therefore incapable
of defending Lebanon. Murr wants to snatch away this trump
card from Hizballah and its Iranian and Syrian backers.
Hizballah, he said, had used "super-equipment," such as
Korean anti-tank missiles modified in Iran to pierce the
Merkava tank armor, in order to defeat the Israelis. The LAF
also needs to be "super-equipped" in order -- and clearly
here he was referring to both Hizballah and Israel -- "to
resist, to defend, and to destroy if necessary." Murr asked
if the LAF could be supported and rapidly equipped, so that
in "three months" the Lebanese can come to the negotiating
table and tell Hizballah thank you, but its arms are no
longer needed in defense of the country. Murr basically
explained that he saw the LAF gradually gaining the upper
hand over Hizballah in the south by a combination of new
equipment to the LAF, beefed-up UNIFIL presence, and
enforcement of weapons shipments to Hizballah.

7. (C) Regarding the monitoring of the border between
Lebanon and Syria, Murr said that it wouldn't be a problem to
move 7500 LAF troops there and to erect towers and radar
equipment, and added that "UNIFIL will help." When the
Ambassador asked how Murr planned to get Cabinet support for
this plan, Murr waved his hand dismissively and claimed the
"enforcement of the border doesn't need Cabinet approval."

COMMENT
-------

8. (C) While his comments on border monitoring without

BEIRUT 00002665 003 OF 003

Cabinet approval are clearly unrealistic, Murr seems to
finally be getting a grasp on the complexities involved in
LAF deployment to the South (Note. See reftels for his
earlier, rosier predictions. End Note). Of the options
facing the Lebanese government -- don't deploy the LAF at
all, deploy but with an armed Hizballah presence in the
South, or deploy as Hizballah disarms in the South -- the
last is obviously the preferred choice. Murr prefers this
option as well, but is willing to go with the second option
if so directed by the rest of the Cabinet. His argument is
that Lebanon should not lose the historic opportunity to get
the army to the south, and that reequipping the LAF (and
adding in the beefed-up UNIFIL) will tip the balance of power
in the south to the LAF's favor.

9. (C) Murr's comments on Sunni reticence to challenge
Hizballah highlight a real concern in the current political
bartering in Lebanon. Unless Siniora and others from March
14 are willing to stand as one -- Maronite, Sunni, and Druze
-- and compel Hizballah to disarm in the South now,
disregarding all of Hizballah's and Syria's attempts to paint
them as "traitors" in league with the "Zionist entity," then
it looks as though the GOL will have to settle for the second
option -- with the LAF, UNIFIL-plus, and Hizballah all armed
and in the same bed, and a jumpy Israel just across the Blue
Line. We have noted that the Maronite March 14 members
remain outspoken on the issue of disarmament, despite
implicit death threats against them in the Hizballah-allied
media, while on the Druze side Walid Joumblatt will likely
add to these calls during a press conference scheduled for
August 17. The one weak point remains the Sunnis -- as well
as Nabih Berri who, though he hates Hizballah, is unlikely to
openly confront the group -- and we will work on stiffening
the backbones of PM Siniora, Saad Hariri and other Sunni
March 14 members to join in the fray, if not publicly then at
least in the Cabinet, to press Hizballah to disarm at least
in the South now. As we will report septel, the Ambassador
met with Siniora on 8/16 -- a day after the conversation with
Murr -- and Siniora is moving to retake the initiative in a
step-by-step approach to UNSCR 1701 implementation.
FELTMAN

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