When Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers crossed into southern Lebanon and were caught snooping around the village of Ayta al-Shab on July 12, 2006, it was the pretext needed for Israel to launch a vicious 34-day land, sea and aerial assault on the country. The offensive’s principal objective?the destruction of Hezbollah?was not achieved. Two years after the war’s end we now learn, thanks to WikiLeaks, that Lebanese Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Elias Murr gave Israel strategic military advice on how to finish the job.
The 2006 Lebanon War resulted in the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure, primarily in the Shia Muslim-majority areas of southern Lebanon and southern suburb of Beirut known as the Dahiyeh. Of the 1,200 Lebanese killed and 4,400 injured, the vast majority were civilians. A full quarter of the population was displaced. Of the 160 Israelis killed, most were soldiers.
Evidence soon surfaced that the Lebanese government under the leadership of then-Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, was complicit in the Israeli attack.
Haaretz correspondents Amos Haren and Avi Issacharoff write in their book “Spider Webs ? The Story of the Second Lebanon War” (2008, published in English as “34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon”):
“For the first time, we reveal ? that moderate Arab states and the people close to the Lebanese government have conveyed messages to the Israeli government via different sides demanding Israel continue the war until Hezbollah was completely crushed.”
Cables to the U.S. State Department disclosed by WikiLeaks reveal the continued collusion of Lebanese government ministers with Israel.
Israel’s inside man
The diplomatic cable of note was first published in Lebanon’s leftist Al-Akhbar daily on Dec. 7 . It recounts a March 2008 meeting that took place in Beirut between U.S. Charg? D’affaires Michele Sison (who later became ambassador to Lebanon) and Defense Minister Murr.
In the conversation with Sison, Murr made suggestions and offered Israel advice on how best to defeat Hezbollah in a war he believed was imminent.
U.S. officials were quoted as saying:
“Murr told us that Israel would do well to avoid two things when it comes for Hizballah. One, it must not touch the Blue Line [the line demarcating the Israeli-Lebanese border] or the UNSCR 1701 areas [the buffer zone patrolled by United Nations peacekeepers] as this will keep Hezbollah out of these areas. Two, Israel cannot bomb bridges and infrastructure in the Christian areas. The Christians were supporting Israel in 2006 until they started bombing their bridges.”
Murr tried to determine how long the invading Israeli forces would take to “clean out” Hezbollah fighters from the Beka’a valley so he could determine the amount of supplies needed to support Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) troops stationed in an area sympathetic to Hezbollah:
“Murr was especially concerned for members of the 1st and 8th Brigades in the Beka’a valley. Murr thinks that these units will be cut off from HQ support while Israel is conducting operations against Hizballah in the Beka’a ? The LAF will move to pre-position food, money, and water with these units so they can stay on their bases when Israel comes for Hizballah?discreetly, Murr added.”
It was amusing to note how he made clear that Hezbollah?who forced the mighty IDF to retreat from Lebanon twice, in 2000 and 2006?could not count on help from the woefully ill-equipped and under-supplied LAF. He told then-LAF commander and current Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to stay out of the fighting “when Israel comes” but “take over, once Hezbollah’s militia has been destroyed.”
Murr relayed to American embassy officials that he was not responsible for passing messages to Israel, but by giving military advice to their closest ally, he knew he was doing exactly that.
When confronted with the revelations, an aide to Murr said, “The information posted by WikiLeaks is not complete and is not accurate.”
“Operation Cedar Sweep”
WikiLeaks also exposed that the U.S. flew U-2 reconnaissance missions over Hezbollah positions in Lebanon, known as “Operation Cedar Sweep,” and used a British airbase in Cyprus to do so.
In addition to expressing fears they might become de facto accomplices to torture should the U.S. end up capturing and interrogating Hezbollah members, according to Reuters, “British officials were also concerned that the Lebanese request for the intelligence flights, dubbed “Operation Cedar Sweep,” had come solely from Lebanon’s Defense Ministry without endorsement from the government as a whole” (emphasis added).
The Los Angeles Times wrote: “Britain, U.S. diplomatic officials bristled, wanted assurances that the entire Lebanese Cabinet, which included Hezbollah, and not just Murr had signed off on the missions and that captured Hezbollah members would not be tortured” (emphasis added).
It is clear from the March 10, 2008 cable that even after Israel ravaged Lebanon in the July 2006 war, Murr was giving them tips on the best way to defeat Hezbollah when the next one erupts. He also displayed clear sectarian bias in advising Israel not to attack the Christian areas of the country while apparently having no qualms about bombs falling on the heads of Shia civilians:
“If Israel has to bomb all of these places in the Shia areas as a matter of operational concern, that is Hizballah’s problem,” he said.
(In another cable , Murr extols the virtues of Lebanese Christians soldiers, lauding their “trustworthiness and reliability” but said Shia LAF soldiers “? come to the Army for a salary and to eat. Christians come with a sense of community service ?”).
He seems more suited to lead one of Lebanon’s Christian militias than Lebanon’s defense ministry.
Regardless of whether Murr’s advice was considered helpful, he nonetheless provided an enemy with guidance on how to attack his country, even if that meant Lebanese civilians ostensibly under his protection would be killed.
If there is any question why Hezbollah refuses to surrender its arms to the LAF, under the authority and command of defense ministers like Murr, WikiLeaks has given us the answer.
The unanswered questions
Who else in the government, then and now, knew about Murr’s actions?
What authority did he have in asking the U.S. to spy on Hezbollah locations in Lebanon without government approval?
How much of what Murr said to Sison did then-Army Commander Michel Suleiman know? Was he aware that Murr passed on military advice to the IDF?
What was Suleiman’s reaction to Murr’s instruction for the army to stand down should Israel attack?
The cable read: “Defense Minister Murr told us that he promised Sleiman the political cover for LAF inaction.”
Is Suleiman, Lebanon’s current president, also complicit?
There are petitions circulating calling for Murr to resign or be fired. When one betrays the defense of his nation to a foreign power, it does not call for a simple resignation letter or job termination. It requires a thorough judicial inquiry. After the WikiLeaks memo is authenticated and its veracity confirmed, Murr must stand trial for treason.
Shortly after this article’s completion, Al-Akhbar’s website was attacked and brought down, likely over their publication of WikiLeaks documents. Once functionality has been restored, the referenced cables can be read here:
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator.