HIZBALLAH TELEPHONE NETWORK 'DISCOVERED'

id: 119940
date: 8/24/2007 14:28
refid: 07BEIRUT1301
origin: Embassy Beirut
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination:
header:
VZCZCXRO9384
PP RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #1301/01 2361428
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 241428Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9166
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 1486
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

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

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 001301

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/GAVITO/HARDING/DEMOPULOS, STATE FOR
NEA/ELA, NEA/FO FOR ATACHCO,

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/23/2017
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PTER, ECONEGE, EFIN, LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: HIZBALLAH TELEPHONE NETWORK 'DISCOVERED'

Classified By: CDA William Grant for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

SUMMARY
-------

1. (C) The Ministry of Telecommunications announced it had
found an illegal telecom network established and operated by
Hizballah in the parts of Lebanon Hizballah controls.
Minister of Telecom Marwan Hamadeh initially said the GOL
would react "fiercely" to what he portrayed as a surprising
discovery. Embassy contacts indicate privately, however,
that the existence of the alternate system was well known.
An ad hoc government committee of four ministries was
investigating, but two weeks after the announcement of the
discovery, there was no decision on what action, if any the
GOL would take. The system links villages in the south to
the southern suburbs of Beirut, and may also link the Biqaa'
and even downtown Beirut. Hamadeh says that he will not take
action without full GOL support. End Summary.

MINISTRY OF TELECOM EXPRESSES SURPRISE AT DISCOVERY
-----------------------------------

2. (C) The Lebanese press on August 7 reported that the
Ministry of Telecommunications had discovered an illicit
telecommunications system established and operated by
Hizballah in the areas of southern Lebanon that Hizballah
controls. In a meeting with DCM on August 8, Minister of
Telecommunications Marwan Hamadeh reacted with apparent fury
over the discovery. He explained that the GOL had
established an ad hoc group of four ministries: Defense,
Interior, Justice and Telecommunications, to investigate the
installation and recommend action. He confirmed that neither
Hizballah nor any other organization had applied for a
license for the separate system and that it violated the law
that gives a monopoly on fixed line service to the
government.

3. (C) DCM and Emboffs followed up with Minister Hamadeh on
August 21. Hamadeh said the Ministry of Telecom had
completed its report, as had the Ministry of Interior, whose
report complemented the MOT's report with pictures. However,
he noted with surprise that the Ministry of Defense did not
"fulfill its duties." MOT reported that Israel totally
destroyed the earlier Hizballah telephone system in the south
in the July 2006 war, and Hizballah replaced it with an
underground system. Hamadeh also pointed out that the GOL
informants, who include leftists imprisoned in Israel, are
fearful of retaliation from Hizballah. DCM asked what action
the GOL planned to take. Hamadeh, a stalwart member of the
March 14 government coalition, did not answer directly but
said it would be a decision at the PM level and including all
cabinet members, not a decision by his Ministry alone.
Hamadeh gave us no indication of if or how the GOL intends to
break up the network.

4. (C) In the August 21 meeting, Hamadeh read from his
Ministry's report explaining the extent of the system. It
links ten villages in southern Lebanon, and Hamadeh believes
the Iranian organization doing postwar reconstruction of
roads and bridges in the south installed it. He further
noted that fiber optic lines are being installed to link the
south to the Biqaa another Hizballah stronghold. He then
explained the GOL cannot investigate the southern suburbs of
Beirut for connections, because "the area is off limits for
the government." However, he seemed to know about a cable,
run above ground on the regular telephone and electricity
poles, linking the southern suburbs to Shia neighborhoods in
Beirut. He even claimed that there is a "huge" cable linking
the area to the site of the opposition sit-in at Riad Solh
square, which is central Beirut, not far from the seat of the
GOL. He said the report indicated that this cable runs along
the wall of the French embassy. He did not explain the
location of the hardware and software operations needed to
run such a system; he only identified cabling. (Comment: It
is extremely difficult to believe that the French embassy,
heavily guarded with cameras outside of the walls in every
direction, would not notice the installation of a large
cable. It is true that the GOL does not officially enter the
southern suburbs or provide infrastructure repair there. End
comment)

OTHER SOURCES SKEPTICAL THIS IS A NEW DISCOVERY
--------------------

5. (C) Subsequently we attempted to confirm this information

BEIRUT 00001301 002 OF 002

through a variety of sources, including Embassy staff,
workers at NGOs in southern Lebanon, and members of the MOT
staff. It appears that people in the south knew that
Hizballah had installed an underground telephone system a few
years ago. We have eyewitnesses who saw the work and
questioned the workers, who admitted that it was in fact a
Hizballah telephone system. An MOT official told us at an
earlier meeting that the GOL had repaired or replaced the
entire damaged government-run telecom infrastructure in the
south in a few months after the war and that the illicit
lines were found at that time, directly beside the MOT lines.

6. (C) Gilbert Najjar, Chairman of the Owner Supervisory
Board, which represents the GOL as owner of the two mobile
companies, said the MOT suspected illicit activity about a
year ago, due to both a decrease in the number of new
subscribers to the government's fixed line provider Ogero in
certain parts of the south, and signal interference in the
south. However, the July war and the discovery of signal
interference coming from the west (which continues to this
date), subsequently threw the investigation off track.
Everyone else, including the chairman of Ogero, claimed the
discovery of the alternative system was a complete surprise.
Asked if the bandwidth monitoring equipment that the
Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) is proposing
would have caught this, the chairman of the newly-formed TRA
responded with a cautious "yes."

7. (C) One of our sources at the MOT was much more cynical
about the vehement denial of knowledge at the senior level of
the Ministry. He believes firmly there are people within the
MOT who not only knew about the system, but also benefited
from it. He directed our attention to an article in the
pro-Syrian Ad-Diyyar newspaper that focuses on the sale of
land in a Christian village in the south. The article
attempts to link one Mohammad Khalil Chebli Yassine to the
ownership of 140 plots of land in this village, which would
make him "filthy rich" according to our source. He is also
the director of finance at the MOT, which is a fact not
mentioned in the article.

8. (C) Comment. Establishing a telecom system would be a
logical step for Hizballah, which provides a number of
services as a virtual government to residents in the south
and other areas it dominates. These include its own
electric company, school system, armed militia, and road
works capability. Despite the Minister's tough talk, the GOL
may be reluctant to take strong action that would result in a
head-to-head conflict with Hizballah.

GRANT

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