ISRAELI ATTACKS ON NORTH COAST BRIDGE HURT EMBASSY OPERATIONS, OUR IMAGE AND EFFORTS TO ISOLATE HIZBALLAH

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id: 73751
date: 8/4/2006 13:38
refid: 06BEIRUT2534
origin: Embassy Beirut
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIRUT 002534

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/DORAN/SINGH/HARDING

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/04/2026
TAGS: PREL, MOPS, PTER, PROG, CASC, LE, IS
SUBJECT: TFLE01: ISRAELI ATTACKS ON NORTH COAST BRIDGE
HURT EMBASSY OPERATIONS, OUR IMAGE AND EFFORTS TO ISOLATE
HIZBALLAH

Classified By: Jeffrey Feltman, Ambassador, per 1.4(b) and (d).

SUMMARY AND COMMENT
-------------------

1. (C) No doubt the Israelis can provide military
justification for their attacks on three bridges going north
starting from the Christian port city of Jounieh this morning
(8/04) and cutting off the &corridor8 that the GOI told the
world would remain open to Syria. But whatever the Israeli
rationale, the severing of the main road linking Beirut with
the Christian heartland of Lebanon is psychologically
devastating, isolating Christian communities from one another
and impeding travel to Maronite Patriarch Sfeir (in his
summer residence) and Samir Ja,ja,. Moreover, the attacks
deal a severe blow to Embassy operations -- many of our staff
(including security staff) cannot get to work, and the
resupply we had anticipated to our dwindling gasoline
reserves is now difficult, with impassable roads from the
north and fears of further Israeli air strikes. There is a
new s粑ike in Amcits wanting our help in departure. Given
that all of our assumptions about what is safe have been
proven wrong, the EAC has judged that none of us can leave
this compound without having coordinated all of our moves
with the IDF via Embassy Tel Aviv -- a time-consuming process
that prevents us from any timely, cutting-edge diplomatic
efforts.

2. (C) None of our Lebanese contacts believe that these
highway bridges were Hizballah targets (even if the Israelis
can make that argument). For the sake of our own credibility
in Lebanon, we strongly recommend that the USG use this
example to put distance between us and some of the Israeli
tactics in Lebanon. For the sake of our operations, we also
urge an understanding with the Israelis that the greater
Beirut area, through Awkar (where the Embassy is located) and
Jounieh, is generally off limits to IDF strikes, with the
exception of obvious Hizballah strongholds like the southern
suburbs. We also urge that we get behind a high-profile
initiative now *- perhaps opening a ferry link between
Cyprus and Jounieh, or a limited airport link to Amman or
somewhere else -) to change our image and provide
psychological relief to the beleaguered Lebanese. End
summary and comment.

ISRAEL TARGETS THREE COSTAL BRIDGES
IN HEART OF CHRISTIAN LEBANON
----------------------------------

3. (SBU) Just as the morning rush hour was coming into full
swing, Israel bombed three bridges on the coastal highway
(Lebanon,s only north-south major thoroughfare), starting on
the northern side of the Christian port of Jounieh (about 10
kilometers from the Embassy) and running up through Batroun.
News reports indicate that several commuters were killed and
others injured. But, while the death toll is probably fairly
low, the psychological blow is enormous: this was the
highway that the Israelis had promised to keep open (and had
highlighted in a power point distributed widely) as the
lifeline through Tripoli and the Arida checkpoint to Syria.
This was the road the Israelis assured people would remain
open. Representatives of humanitarian relief organizations
had relied on this road for getting many humanitarian
supplies into Lebanon, so today,s land deliveries have been
halted.

4. (C) The Christian community is particular is in shock,
as the Christian coastal towns of Tabarjah, Mamaltein,
Ajaltoun, Jbeil (Byblos), Batroun, etc. are no longer within
commuting distance of Jounieh and Beirut. Mount Lebanon no
longer "feels safe," one Christian told us. Even though we
believe that there are complicated, circuitous routes through
wadis and ravines, and via minor side bridges, by which
people can still travel between the heart of what is jokingly
referred to as "Maronistan" and Beirut, people are frightened
to do so, worried about when the Israelis will take out the
remaining bridges. (Over the last two days, the Israelis
have destroyed even historic Ottoman bridges in the Akkar
region of north Lebanon, no doubt to interrupt possible
resupply routes between Syria and Hizballah.) Moreover,
these side roads are hardly conducive to the type of
humanitarian convoys that had been using the highway.

PATRIARCH SFEIR, SAMIR JA'JA' ISOLATED;
CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY WITH HIZBALLAH ON THE RISE

BEIRUT 00002534 002 OF 003

------------------------------------------

5. (C) Travel between Beirut and Tripoli, Lebanon,s
"second city" (and a major Sunni stronghold) is now difficult
and time-consuming (and possible only via the minor side
bridges people are now afraid to use). Residing in his Diman
summer residence, Maronite Patriarch Sfeir ) who has played
a leadership role in getting Lebanon,s diverse religious
clerics behind the Siniora cabinet and behind the idea of
"equality of citizens" (euphemism for disarmament of
Hizballah) ) is now essentially cut off from much of his
flock and from Lebanon,s political leadership. Ditto for
Lebanese Forces leaders Samir Ja'ja', who plays a key role in
the March 14 movement. Dismissing the logic that these
essential traffic links for Christians and Sunnis could be
Hizballah targets (even though, as we note, the Israelis
probably can give reasons), the Christians and Sunnis who
have been calling us all see this as an attack on their
communities. One moderate Christian told the Ambassador that
"we are all 'resistance' now."

EMBASSY OPERATIONS SERIOUSLY AFFECTED
-------------------------------------

6. (C) The Embassy has been adversely affected by these
Israeli attacks in several ways. First, much of our staff --
including security staff (both ESF and bodyguards) -- cannot
get to work, hindering our operations. Second, we had worked
out resupply of our dwindling gasoline stocks from the north,
via the now impassable road. (Ambassador Jones in Tel Aviv
has agreed to help us coordinate travel along side roads, and
we are exploring possibilities now. Our fuel situation is
dire. We do not yet know if the tanker truck that would
deliver our gasoline can travel through the narrow and
winding but still passable second roads.) Third, hundreds of
American citizens who heretofore had felt safe in Mount
Lebanon have now decamped to our gates and have deluged our
phone lines with queries about possible evacuation
assistance.

7. (C) Our diplomatic initiatives are also more difficult
to accomplish. While we have greatly hardened our compound
and limited our moves because of possible Hizballah attacks,
we operated under the assumption that the Israelis would not
target the areas in which we tend to live and work )
basically from West Beirut through the Maronite Christian
heartland. Those assumptions were proven wrong this morning.
Thus, the EAC has determined that no one can leave this
compound unless we have coordinated the moves with the
Israelis, a time-consuming and labor-intensive process in
which we depend entirely on Embassy Tel Aviv (which has done
an exemplary job of supporting our needs but probably at
considerably cost to Tel Aviv,s own priorities). We are
deeply concerned that no one had provided any forewarning of
these unexpected attacks, nor in their aftermaths any
projections about future attacks, including in Central
Beirut, that could affect our operations ) and our lives.

COMMENT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
-----------------------------

8. (C) We emphasize that we expect that Israel will give
military justification for its actions this morning, and we
look forward to explanations of what seems to our military
experts in the Embassy to be a pre-arranged &strike
package.8 But, whatever the rationale, the costs for our
goals in Lebanon are quite high. Based on the hysteric
reactions of our contacts and staff who suddenly feel more
affected than ever by the conflict, we do not think it is an
exaggeration to say that these attacks have accelerated an
already losing PR battle for us here.

9. (C) These attacks in the Christian heartland serve to
increase Christian and Sunni (because of the impact on
Tripoli) sense of victimhood and have the potential to build
solidarity between the Christians, Sunnis, and Hizballah.
There is a certain understanding of, and even -- in some
quarters *- some (quiet and, unfortunately, diminishing)
enthusiasm for, Israel,s efforts in the south to root out
Hizballah infrastructure. These three bridges are a whole
different matter. Given that the psychological and
operational blows to our goals in Lebanon are so great, we
recommend that we use the bridge attacks to highlight, even
if in a subtle, way, that we do not concur with all of

BEIRUT 00002534 003 OF 003

Israel,s tactics. The destruction of the bridges may
provide a good opportunity for us to distinguish our policy
from that of Israel, which, while sharing many similar goals,
are not identical. This would help our credibility here.

10. (C) In light of the fact that the Israelis can
probably come up with many post-facto military explanations
for whatever action they deem necessary, we also hope
Washington would be willing to press the Israelis on the idea
of having greater Beirut (through Jounieh) being generally
off limits, except for obvious Hizballah targets like the
southern suburbs. This will help check dwindling Christian
support for us and bolster GOL credibility. It will also
allow us to focus our security concerns on Hizballah and
other terrorists and enable us to continue our diplomatic
initiatives without fear of being caught on the wrong side of
a bridge by an Israeli strike (or an the bridge at the wrong
time). For trips out of Beirut, we will continue to turn to
Tel Aviv for help in coordination (and offer again our deep,
sincere appreciation to Ambassador Jones and all of Embassy
Tel Aviv for their ongoing efforts on our behalf). But,
after this morning,s attacks, we are completely at the mercy
of Embassy Tel Aviv,s ability to get some kind of green
lights from the IDF, which prevents any time of quick action.

11. (C) Given the Israeli targeting of these bridges
today, it may also be worth exploring with the GOI some of
our understandings regarding potential Israeli military
action. We hope, for example, that the Israeli assurances
about not hitting the power plants and other essential
infrastructure remain current. We hope that Washington would
be willing to underscore the importance of avoiding hitting
the power plants and other similar installations.

12. (C) Finally, we would like to make a pitch for some
high-profile initiative that could be announced as soon as
possible to provide psychological relief to compensate for
the attacks on the bridges. Perhaps we could get behind some
kind of ferry link between Jounieh port and Cyprus, or a
limited airport shuttle to Amman or another city where the
Israelis would have reasonable security assurances (to
prevent smuggling of weapons or persons).
FELTMAN

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