WikiLeaks: America’s Shia Tools in Lebanon
By: Sabah Ayoub
Published Thursday, September 20, 2012
The US government has never attempted to hide its “peaceful” efforts to neutralize Hezbollah in Lebanon. There was more or less an official declaration circulated by the US embassy in Beirut through its many channels, prompting devotees and volunteers from all over the country to answer its call to action.
The embassy in Awkar, North of Beirut often welcomed political, religious, security and media figures, offering services of various kinds, and showcasing their talents in snitching and spying on their countrymen.
The Lebanese who came to pledge allegiance were so numerous that the embassy had to “sift through them” to select those who could be most useful to them, particularly by gauging their hostility towards Hezbollah.
One scheme, overtly pursued by the US government since 2006, was to demonize Hezbollah among Lebanese youths, and create alternative frameworks to replace it.
Jeffrey Feltman, current UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs and former US ambassador to Lebanon, spoke explicitly of this during a congressional hearing, when he stated that Washington, “through USAID and the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), [had] contributed more than $500 million to this effort since 2006.”
MEPI is a very lucrative US project over which many informants salivate. One of the prominent features of MEPI, according to cables leaked and published by WikiLeaks, is to deal a blow to Hezbollah.
This assault would be carried out by Lebanese Shia figures who would tarnish Hezbollah’s image and create political alternatives to the resistance movement within the Shia community.
It did not take long for the US embassy to find people willing to do their bidding. Several Shia clerics and politicians went on to found a group that they dubbed the Independent Shias. They soon believed their own delusions, began their work, and cashed in on it.
Selling themselves as “independents” and “moderates,” these Shia “civil society activists,” clerics and politicians then shuttled back and forth between Washington and Awkar, to receive their instructions before they were deployed to the South, the Bekaa and Beirut to carry out them out.
Awkar has kept a watchful eye on their activities, monitoring their progress on the ground, and receiving reports from them on an almost daily basis. These reports contain items from tips on Hezbollah’s movements and rocket arsenal, to tip-offs on what children are saying in the streets of Dahiyeh – Beirut’s southern suburb and Hezbollah’s stronghold.
Sometimes, as the leaked cables demonstrate, even the US diplomats were surprised by the enthusiasm, courage and initiative shown by some informers. From 2006 to 2010, these individuals and others provided the US embassy with detailed information and analyses on every arcane issue the embassy had inquired about – and sometimes even without it asking.
This select series of cables highlight the US plan and identifies some of the Lebanese Shia proxies used to implement it, including politicians, civil society activists and clerics.
Loukman Slim: Take Me to the Israelis
Loukman Slim runs an NGO in the heart of Haret Hreik in Beirut’s southern suburbs. The area is also considered a strong hold of Hezbollah. Slim was hawkish in his views of the resistance movement seeing it as controlled by Iran and Syria.
Slim surprised his embassy hosts by openly stating interest in building relations with Israel.
Sayyid Ali al-Amin: More Than Prayers
The former mufti of Tyre, Sayyid Ali al-Amin, was promoted by March 14 forces as the religious alternative to pro-resistance clerics. When meeting with US embassy officials, Amin was always pointing out how they needed to be tougher with Hezbollah.
Sheikh Ahmad Taleb: California Dreaming
As the son-in-law of one of the most prominent Lebanese clerics, Sheikh Ahmad Taleb’s main task when meeting US embassy officials was to distance himself from whom he saw as a hurdle on his quest to get to the US – his father-in-law Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.
Ali al-Amin: Proud to Serve
The columnist for the Arabic language daily al-Balad was a trusted source of information for the US ambassador, and Ali al-Amin was proud of that.
Ahmad al-Assaad: Failure to Impress
The son of a former speaker of parliament, Ahmad al-Assaad talked a big game, but US embassy staffers saw him as an unimpressive nag.
Dureid Yaghi: In Baalbeck We Kill
Dureid Yaghi, a member of Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party, was the embassy’s source of information on Hezbollah in Baalbeck. Yaghi bragged how his cousin had actually killed a member of his rivals.
Mohammad Baydoun: The Nabih Berri Complex
The ex-member of the Amal Movement, Mohammad Baydoun, had his former boss, speaker of the house Nabih Berri, in sight whenever he met with US embassy staff.
Ibrahim Shamseddine: A Friend, Not a Terrorist
March 14 former minister Ibrahim Shamseddine has the lineage to prove he is a genuine Shia, but the son of the former head of the Higher Islamic Shia Council wants the embassy to know that he is a friend.
In addition to this sample of US embassy frequenters there were many others like Mohammad Ali al-Hajj [08BEIRUT665, 09BEIRUT234], the religious face of Hayya Bina; former MP Salah al-Harake [06BEIRUT336, 06BEIRUT634, 09BEIRUT234]; son of another former house speaker Ali Sabri Hamade [06BEIRUT336]; Sheikh Maarouf Rahal [08BEIRUT560]; and businessman Abdallah Bitar [08BEIRUT786]. But not all regular embassy visitors were always cooperative. Riad al-Assaad [06BEIRUT634], who ran against Hezbollah in the 2005 parliamentary elections, was angry at the US government support for Israel during the 2006 war and he made that clear to the embassy staffers.