ISRAEL HITS SOUTHERN BEIRUT HARD; AIRPORT STRUCK AGAIN
date: 7/14/2006 10:13
origin: Embassy Beirut
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O 141013Z JUL 06
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIRUT 002386
NSC FOR ABRAMS/DORAN/WERNER/SINGH/HARDING
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/14/2016
TAGS: IS, LE, MOPS, PTER
SUBJECT: TFLE01: ISRAEL HITS SOUTHERN BEIRUT HARD; AIRPORT
REF: BEIRUT 2349
Classified By: Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman. Reason: Section 1.4 (d)
1. (C) Subsequent to reftel, Israeli aircraft have bombed
two small airports, a power plant, and struck hard at targets
in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Two rockets were reported
to have struck Haifa, but Hizballah denied responsibility and
UNIFIL could not confirm that the rockets were launched from
Lebanon. Press is reporting that three Lebanese civilians
were killed and 50 wounded in the Israeli airstrikes on the
southern suburbs. All five MEA planes left BIA by 1100 hrs.
local this morning. Embassy contacts expressed frustration
with Hizballah for provoking a major escalation with Israel.
SUMMARY OF EVENTS
IN LAST 24 HOURS
2. (C) The following is an update of events since reftel
using UN sources and Embassy contacts, and where necessary,
press reporting. All times are approximate and in local time.
1500 Rumors surfaced that Israel threatened to bomb the
southern suburbs of Beirut and warned residents to evacuate.
A trusted Shia journalist who lives in south Beirut reported
to polstaff that no one was taking the warning seriously. In
fact, Shia morale in south Beirut was high, and Hizballah
buses were collecting people for a 1700 demonstration.
1600 UN Political Officer Georges Nasr briefed econoff on
the current situation in the south. According to Nasr,
sporadic gunfire exchanges have continued throughout the day
at various points along the Blue Line. A few more Israeli
airstrikes were reported this afternoon. UNIFIL observed
three Israeli gunboats crossing the line of buoys that
represents the maritime Blue Line. Later, UNIFIL observed
one gunboat off the coast just north of Naqoura and another
off Tyre. The third is unaccounted for. As of 1600 hrs.
local, UNIFIL had not observed any Israeli ground forces in
1700 Two small airports were hit by Israeli airstrikes. The
first is Quleiat Airport, located 20 km northeast of Tripoli
near the Syrian border, and the second is Rayak Airfield, a
small utility airfield in the Biqa' Valley. (See 05 BEIRUT
4117 for background on Quleiat Airport.) An official at the
Ministry of Transportation confirmed these reports.
2100 Two rockets hit Haifa, Israel. Hizballah denied that
its fighters launched the rockets. UNIFIL did not observe
the rockets launched from Lebanon, and has no further
information to confirm or dispute Israeli claims.
2120 Israeli gunboats bombarded Beirut International
Airport, setting fuel tanks on fire.
0330 Israeli aircraft pounded the southern suburbs of
Beirut. Explosions, sonic booms, and antiaircraft artillery
fire could be heard at the Embassy. Press reported three
Lebanese civilians dead and 50 wounded. Embassy contacts in
the southern suburbs have left the area. In the morning, a
large pillar of black smoke hung over Beirut.
Early morning Israeli jets bombed power plant in Jiyye, just
north of Sidon.
0430-0900 UNIFIL observed very little fighting in southern
Lebanon, apart from some sporadic gunfire.
0500 Israeli jets struck the PFLP-GC base at Qussaya in the
Biqa' Valley just a few kilometers from the Syrian border.
(See 05 BEIRUT 1604 for background information on the PLFP-GC
0800 Al Manar tlevision station claimed Israeli jets bombed
BEIRUT 00002386 002 OF 003
a television antenna in the Biqa' Valley.
0822 Unconfirmed reports of Israeli gunboats shelling north
0825 An Israeli air raid against a major bridge of the
Beirut-Damascus highway has made that bridge impassable.
0900 UNIFIL observed Israeli airstrikes near Khiam.
1030 UNIFIL reported Israeli artillery shells falling in
southern Lebanon near the Blue Line. There is little to no
return fire from Lebanon at this time. No Israeli ground
forces observed inside Lebanon.
1030 UN Political Officer told econoff that it appears
Middle Eastern Airlines will be able to evacuate its
remaining five aircraft from the airport, pending UN
1100 All five MEA planes and one private plane (belonging to
former PM Mikati) successfully left BIA by 1100. PM Siniora,
Central Bank Governor Salameh expressed their appreciation to
the U.S. President and USG for their help on this matter.
1125 Israel dropped four bombs on the two runways at BIA,
according to Civil Aviation DG Hamdi Chaouk.
REACTIONS TO ISRAELI STRIKES
3. (C) Speaking with emboff on July 13, former Information
Minister Michel Samaha characterized the ongoing Israeli
reaction as a "normal" one. Based on his reading of public
Israeli statements, he did not expect "real escalation." No
Israeli military action was capable of changing the internal
situation in Lebanon. Only internal Lebanese dialogue can
make that happen. This is the task that lies ahead once the
situation calms down. Rather than the national dialogue, he
advocated the formation of trilateral negotiations among MP
Saad Hariri, Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah,
and MP Michel Aoun. This arrangement was necessary to "cook"
a solution before the broader National Dialogue process
started up again. (Comment: Samaha may be taking
inspiration from the Syrian-brokered Tripartite Agreement of
the 1980s, which brought together the LF, Amal, and the PSP,
and in which he played a major "fixer" role. End comment.)
4. (C) Samaha did not argue with the suggestion that the
ongoing crisis has diminished Aoun's credibility, but
insisted that the Lebanese still need to build on the
"bridge" that Aoun extended to Nasrallah. The idea is to get
the Maronite and Sunni communities jointly to "contain"
Hizballah. The only alternative is "civil war with
Hizballah." The immediate task, Samaha said, is to find a
way to get Saad Hariri back to Lebanon, in order to get 3-way
5. (C) Separately on July 13, Aounist MP Farid el-Khazen
told emboff that Lebanon was in a "terrible situation," and
that he did not "see a way out." He saw Hizballah's
kidnapping of Israeli soldiers as a "carbon copy" of what
provoked the ongoing crisis in Gaza, and worried about the
implications of Israeli retaliation. He was also furious at
what he saw as Nasrallah's lies at the national dialogue
promising to keep the Blue Line quiet this summer. He
admitted that Aoun's agreement with Hizballah is becoming
hard to defend.
SHIA JOURNALIST FLEES SOUTH
BEIRUT; VIEWS HIZBALLAH STRATEGY
6. (C) On July 13, Ali al-Amin, columnist for the Arabic
language daily al-Balad and son of Shia "third way" leader
Sheikh Mohammad Hassan al-Amin, told emboff that he had taken
his family out of Beirut's southern suburbs because of
reports that the Israelis had called on the civilian
population to evacuate. Amin noted that, were Israel
actually to launch attacks on Beirut (which it later did),
his family would be in a fix, since moving to their village
home in southern Lebanon is no longer an option, either.
7. (C) Offering his analysis of why Hizballah provoked the
violence by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers, Amin described
Hizballah as being made up of two wings: a military/security
BEIRUT 00002386 003 OF 003
wing, and a political wing. The military/security wing held
decision-making authority, with Imad Mughaniyeh as one of the
central figures. In recent years, especially following
Syria's withdrawal, however, a large portion of Hizballah's
membership took interest in a more "political" direction, and
had seen that doing so could lead to benefits (such as
participation in a cabinet for the first time). In this
spirit, Hizballah officials revived discussion of the
"Elisar" land development project, for example, talking about
turning that area into a major tourism zone. While "some
were betting on this new trend," according to Amin,
Hizballah's military/security wing decided to re-assert
control. Taking into consideration Iranian calculations
(such as in the Persian Gulf and the nuclear issue) and the
situation in Gaza, they decided to launch the July 12 attack
on the Blue Line, and, in so doing, "open a battle" with
8. (C) The hostage-taking of July 12 had been planned for
some time, according to Amin. It was fair to say that
Hizballah, in the lead-up to July 12, had taken advantage of
recent steps that suggested it was going in the opposite
(that is, a more "political") direction, such as the February
6 agreement with Michel Aoun. Amin suggested that some in
Hizballah -- presumably in the military/security wing --
share an interest with the Israelis in the kind of
destruction that would set Lebanon back, as some Israeli
officials have reportedly threatened, 20 years or so.
9. (C) Amin said there were two possible outcomes to the
current situation, and he was worried about both. If
Hizballah wins, this would mean that the project of building
a Lebanese state had failed decisively. If Hizballah loses,
this would portend even greater sectarian strife in Lebanon.
Regarding the second possibility, Amin said that most
Lebanese Shia see Hizballah not as "the resistance," and not
in terms of confrontation with Israel, but rather as the most
powerful defender of Shia communal interests against threats
from other Lebanese communal groups. Amin suggested that it
was difficult to imagine that Lebanese Shias pushing for a
political "third way" independent of both Hizballah and Amal
would be able to make much progress in the current situation.