LEBANON: SAAD HARIRI CALLS FOR SYRIAN REGIME CHANGE; MAYBE IRAN TOO

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id: 75976
date: 8/24/2006 6:17
refid: 06BEIRUT2735
origin: Embassy Beirut
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 BEIRUT 002735

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/DORAN/MARCHESE/HARDING

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/23/2016
TAGS: PREL, PTER, LE, SY
SUBJECT: LEBANON: SAAD HARIRI CALLS FOR SYRIAN REGIME
CHANGE; MAYBE IRAN TOO

REF: JEDDAH 561

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

SUMMARY
--------

1. (C/NF) In a wide ranging discussion at his Qureitem
home on August 22, an effusive and provocative Saad Hariri
met with senior Senate Foreign Relations staffer Puneet
Talwar and poloff (notetaker). Saying that the continued
Israeli blockade of ports and airports is "killing the Cedar
Revolution," Saad called instead for arming the Lebanese
Armed Forces (LAF) and Internal Security Forces (ISF) to
control the frontier with Syria and to cope with Hizballah.
Saad added that while Hizballah's very survival against
Israel is considered a "victory" for them, people will begin
to grow disenchanted with Hizballah within a couple of weeks
when the scale of the destruction begins to sink in. Some
positive movement on the Sheba'a Farms issue would also help
to undermine Hizballah's insistence on maintaining its
weaponry. On the apparent French reluctance to take a
leading role in UNIFIL-plus, Saad said he prefers the
Italians take the lead and that he understands the French
point of view, since as the major proponents of several UN
resolutions against Syria and Hizballah, they would be
putting their soldiers in a situation where they could easily
become targets.

2. (S/NF) On the regional level, Saad said that major Arab
states, most prominently Saudi Arabia, are "fed up" with
Bashar al-Asad following his bullying 8/15 anti-Lebanon
speech, and he implied they would not object to the USG
taking a firmer stance vis-a-vis the SARG. This would
include moving forward on the special tribunal with
international character and engineering international
sanctions on Syria. Saad himself counselled a complete
regime change in Syria, with a possible replacement being a
hybrid Muslim Brotherhood/ex-Baathist government more in line
with the moderate Islamist government in Turkey than with the
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas. Saad also urged that
the international community not send any mixed messages to
the Iranians, who he said are bent on spreading their brand
of revolution throughout the Middle East, to both Sunni and
Shi'i. END SUMMARY.

"LEBANON IS BEING KILLED"
-------------------------

3. (C/NF) Saad started right off by saying that the best
way the USG can help Lebanon now is by getting the Israelis
to lift "this senseless blockade" on the ports and airports.
The siege is effectively strangling the Lebanese economy and
not allowing the government to bring in needed humanitarian
assistance (Note. The Israelis recently denied entry to a
shipload of cattle, which was forced to wait off the coast.
When the livestock began to die, the ship had to offload in
Latakia, Syria. End Note). The government is made to look
powerless to do anything about the blockade; contrast that,
Saad suggested, with the images of Hizballah's "victory" over
Israel and handing out $10,000 a pop to families who had lost
their homes in the conflict. "Lebanon is the only moderate
democracy in the Middle East," exclaimed Saad, "And it's
being slowly killed!"

GIVING TEETH TO THE LAF AND ISF
-------------------------------

4. (C/NF) Besides, argued Saad, it's well known that Iran
and Syria hardly ever use the sea and the airport, but prefer
"99 per cent of the time" to bring in weapons over the land
frontier. Realizing that border control remains a major
problem, Saad said that "8,400 LAF troops" have been quietly
deploying along the Lebanese-Syrian frontier, but that, as
long as they do not have the requisite equipment, they can
not be expected to do an effective job in monitoring the
frontier. The same goes for the 15,000 LAF troops currently
deploying in the South; Saad gave an oft-repeated laundry
list of needs - trucks, cars, M-16s, fuel, ammunition,
helicopters. How, Saad asked, can the army be expected to

BEIRUT 00002735 002 OF 004

present an obstacle to Hizballah when it only has four hours
worth of ammunition? "It's ridiculous!"

5. (C/NF) Dismissing the possibility that the LAF has been
infiltrated by Hizballah (and the image of LAF checkpoints
waving through weapons-laden Syrian trucks bound for
Hizballah bunkers), Saad said that the LAF takes its mission
seriously and that weapons given to the LAF would never end
up in Hizballah's hands. He claimed that the army only
recently came across a Hizballah stash of 70-80 missiles and
confiscated them. When Hizballah demanded that the missiles
be returned forthwith, the LAF refused to hand them over,
according to Saad (Note. We have been unable to verify this
story. End Note). Surprisingly, Hariri described the head
of the LAF's G2 intelligence bureau George Khoury (generally
described as pro-Syrian by other March 14 leaders like Walid
Jumblatt) as "a good guy." Still, urged Saad, in order for
there to be more success stories, both the LAF and the ISF
(which is now has a greatly enhanced role for security at
Rafiq Hariri Beirut International Airport) need to be
strengthened significantly in order to effectively secure
points of entry and provide an imposing central government
counterweight to Hizballah's militants.

UNDERSTAND THE FRENCH POSITION
------------------------------

6. (C/NF) Talwar asked Saad about the apparent French
reluctance to provide a sizeable force to an augmented
UNIFIL, which Saad said is based on the rational French fear
that their soldiers would become targets due to their heavy
involvement in diplomatic pressure on Syria and Iran. "I
think the French are smart," said Saad, who is close to
President Chirac; "I'd rather have the Italians lead." Saad
remarked that Turkish involvement would be a major plus,
since the Syrians, Iranians, and Israelis are all "afraid of
the Turks."

HIZBALLAH WILL LOSE ITS LUSTRE
------------------------------

7. (C/NF) Saad claims (perhaps overconfidently) that
Hizballah's missile stockpile is no longer such a deterrent
since it was seriously depleted during the conflict.
Admitting that there is little to be done now to combat
Hizballah's trumpeting of "victory" over the Israelis, since
very survival means victory for Hizballah, Saad believe that
once the triumphant afterglow has worn off, people will see
only the destruction wrought by Hizballah's unilateral action
against Israel. "In a week, two weeks," predicted Saad,
"when it starts raining, and the economy's crumbling. Then
people will be annoyed with Hizballah." Even the Shi'a will
begin looking around and realizing that "their society has
been pulverized," and while "it's fine and dandy to have
10,000 dollars, where are the jobs?! What will they eat?!"
Plus, it will be hard to encourage any kind of investment in
Lebanon as long as Hizballah remains armed and dangerous.

8. (C/NF) Saad said he has completely shut down
communication with Hizballah. "I want them to change their
attitude and give up their weapons. Else they will have a
problem with me." When Talwar asked if Saad intends to
return to the negotiating table with Hizballah, Saad
dismissed the idea and quipped, "What? The national dialogue?
You want me to sit in the same room with Hassan Nasrallah
while the Israelis know exactly where to find him?!"

BUT SHEBA'A WOULD HELP
----------------------

9. (C/NF) Noting that the Sheba'a Farms issue is "a major
key to the disarmament of Hizballah," Saad expressed shock
that the Israelis may now be ready to discuss the status of
the Golan with Syria, but balk at talking about Sheba'a with
Lebanon. "That's a sick logic," complained Saad. Saying the
reference to Sheba'a in UNSCR 1701 was a "great
accomplishment," Saad hopes it will not be squandered and
will be further addressed in the SYG's one month report on
UNSCR 1701 implementation.

BEIRUT 00002735 003 OF 004

THE HEART OF THE MATTER
-----------------------

10. (S/NF) Looking to the East, Saad said that the regimes
in Syria and Iran are the biggest obstacles to peace in the
region. The USG has tried for years to bring about a "change
in regime behavior" in Syria, to no avail. Saad argued that
nothing is really being done about Syria. Israel, he claims,
protects Syria due to its fear of the unknown. "Better the
enemy you know than the enemy you don't know," is how Saad
views the Israeli position on the Asad regime.

11. (S/NF) Saad urged that now is a golden opportunity for
the international community to "weaken" Bashar. The USG
needs a clear, new policy to isolate Syria. "My belief is,
if you don't isolate Syria, if you don't put a blockade, they
will never change." By subduing Syria, you remove Iran's
main bridge for playing the troublemaker in Lebanon and
Palestine. "If you weaken Syria," Saad suggested, "then Iran
has to work alone." The Saudis and other Arab states have
all had enough of young Bashar, according to Saad, and no
longer want to try a conciliatory approach to the Syrian
regime. After Bashar's recent speech threatening civil war
in Lebanon, they are no longer interested in "talking" with
Damascus. Saad said he had hear this directly from the
Saudis, and that Prince Bandar is delivering this message in
Washington now (Comment. It is also interesting that Saudi
Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal made similar comments, but
about Iran specifically, during an 8/22 meeting with
Ambassador Oberwetter, as reported in reftel. End Note).
"The Saudis and Egyptians have turned. Look into that."
When Talwar asked what the United States could do to increase
the pressure on Syria, Saad suggested forging ahead on the
special tribunal with international character on the Hariri
assassination and organizing international sanctions on Syria.

12. (S/NF) Getting a little more animated as the
conversation continued, Saad argued that the Syrian regime
needs to be gotten rid of entirely. "This regime has always
lived on conflict. It will only stop if we get rid of the
regime." Saying that he had tried to play nice with Syria
over the past year and a half since March 14, even asking PM
Siniora to go to Damascus (as Saad put it), he asked what had
this approach achieved for Lebanon. "What did it get us?"
exclaimed Saad, "These people don't want us. They want
(former PM) Omar Karami. People who will follow orders."

13. (S/NF) If the regime were to fall in Syria, who would
be there to fill in the vacuum? Perplexed that the Alawites,
who make up only 7-8 per cent of Syria, could rule so
exclusively as "a family business" over a vast Sunni
majority, Saad suggested that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood,
in partnership with ex-regime figures like Abdel Halim
Khaddam and Hikmet Shehabi ("though he's still close to the
regime"), could step into the void. Saad claimed that the
Syrian Brotherhood is similar in character to Turkey's
moderate Islamists. "They would accept a Christian or a woman
as President. They accept civil government. It's like
Turkey in Syria. They even support peace with Israel."
Saying that he maintains close contact with Khaddam (in
Paris) and Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader-in-exile Ali
Bayanuni (in London), Saad urged us to "talk to Bayanuni.
See what he's like. You will see wonders."

THE PROBLEM WITH PERSIA
-----------------------

14. (S/NF) But, Saad remarked, Syria is just a bridge to
the bigger problem, Iran, and its network of support for
Islamists including Hizballah and Hamas, is the nerve center.
The Iranians are dangerous and are not about to settle down.
They are hell-bent on spreading the concept of the Islamic
revolution throughout the Muslim world, no matter the sect.
"It's nothing to do with Shi'ism, it's the whole idea," said
Saad, cautioning that if Iran gets a warhead, then "the
Arabs" - presumably he means al-Qaeda-style organizations -
will get one too. Saad urged that the P5 1 have a clear and
unified purpose going forward in the standoff with Iran, and
must be willing to go all the way if need be. "Iraq was
unnecessary," claimed Saad, "Iran is necessary."

BEIRUT 00002735 004 OF 004

COMMENT
-------

15. (S/NF) Just as we are trying to get the Lebanese to do
more internally to secure against Syrian and Iranian
interference here, Saad is hoping that we can turn up the
external pressure to keep Damascus and Tehran bay. Behind
Saad's comments is a growing worry among Lebanese of the
March 14 persuasion that the international community may
decide to offer Syria a carrot following the conflict in
South Lebanon (as they believe -- falsely -- Israel is doing
vis-a-vis the Golan). We will continue to reassure them that
our initiatives on the "special tribunal with international
character" and securing the border against arms supply to
Hizballah, as well as diplomatic isolation of the Syrians,
will not let up.

16. (SBU) Mr. Talwar did not have the opportunity to clear
this cable.
FELTMAN

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