Wikileaks are still publishing US diplomatic cables, often under the radar, as it were, because media have moved on to the Arab uprisings after the initial impact of the Wikileaks material. I’d like to draw some more attention to those concerning Saudi Arabia. This is the latest one, released on 21 July (from 19 Febuary 2008; http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/02/08BEIRUT271.html). It has been published in Arabic in al-Akhbar of Lebanon. What I found interesting about it is 1. the general conviction among Lebanese politicians the US diplomats talk to and probably US official themselves that Syria carried out or facilitated the assassination of Hizbollah operative Emad Mughniyeh in 2008 in order to move closer to the Western governments (which I’d heard before was the view of some Arab diplomats in London) and 2. Saudi paranoia. Al-Khoja, now minister of information, worries that it was a Syrian job to ingratiate themselves with the Americans and that in return the Special Tribunal investigation Rafiq al-Hariri’s murder will be allowed to drift down the US list of priorities. Behind this, it would appear, though it’s not stated directly, is the perma Al Saud fear of Washington making a deal someday with Iran. Khoja also believes Assad in Syria will approve Michel Suleiman as Lebanon’s new president as a ruse to get Arab leaders to turn up at the Damascus Arab summit that year, before then having him assassinated. Then charge d’affaires Michele Sison tries to discredit somewhat Khoja by referring to his “dramatic claims”.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 000271 SIPDIS SIPDIS NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER DEPT FOR NEA/ELA AND NEA/ARP DEPT PASS TO EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/15/2018 TAGS: PREL PGOV LE SA SUBJECT: LEBANON: SAUDI AMBASSADOR FEARS PLOT TO KILL SLEIMAN Classified By: Charge d'Affaires a.i. Michele J. Sison for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). SUMMARY ------- ¶1. (C) The Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon claimed that Syria plans to allow the election of Michel Sleiman just before the Damascus Arab League summit, then assassinate him after the summit but before a new PM or cabinet is agreed. The purpose would be to create multiple vacuums in Lebanese institutions. He probed Charge about rumors that the USG had made a deal with Syria to go easy on the Special Tribunal in return for Syria allowing the assassination of Hizballah official Imad Mughniyeh. He also claimed that Hizballah SYG Hassan Nasrallah had attended a meeting with Mughniyeh and Syrian and Iranian intelligence officials just before Mughniyeh was killed on February 12. End Summary. ¶2. (C) Charge Sison, accompanied by DCM, met Saudi Ambassador Abdulaziz Khoja at his residence on February 15. This was Charge's introductory call on Khoja, although she had phoned him a few days before seeking confirmation that Saudi Arabia would make a contribution to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Khoja has served in Beirut for several years and is seen as well connected, particularly to the Hariri family. He noted the close working relationship he had with previous U.S. COMs in support of pro-democracy forces in Lebanon and against Syria and told Charge he was confident it would be the same with her. SYRIANS TO ALLOW PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION JUST BEFORE SUMMIT; MARCH 14 MUST RESIST --------------------------------------------- ------------- ¶3. (C) Khoja quickly moved to the subject of the Lebanese presidential impasse and laid out a scenario about which he was seemingly convinced and very concerned. He believes that Syria will instruct its Lebanese allies to finally allow the election of Michel Sleiman as president just before the Damascus summit of the Arab League in late March. It will be timed so that Sleiman will be able to attend the Summit as Lebanon's president, but there will be no time for agreement on a new prime minister and formation of a cabinet. With the Lebanese presidential impasse resolved, other senior Arab leaders such as Mubarak and King Abdallah will go to Damascus, sparing Syria any embarrassment over the Summit. Soon after Sleiman's return to Beirut, he will be assassinated, before there is any action on a new PM or cabinet. The result will be multiple vacuums that Syria seeks. The presidency will be empty. Saad Hariri will not be PM and Fouad Siniora's influence as PM will be greatly reduced since he will be a caretaker following the election of a new president. Cabinet the same. No functioning parliament -- and perhaps no LAF commander if Sleiman is not officially replaced quickly. ¶4. (C) The solution to this, Khoja said, is that the pro-government March 14 bloc must decide that if there is no agreement on election of a president by the next scheduled session of parliament on February 26, it will not agree to an election until after the Damascus summit. "I told Saad" this, Khoja said, urging that Charge give the same message to majority leader Saad Hariri. Khoja did not provide evidence to support his belief that this scenario was truly Syria's plan. DRAMATIC THEORIES ON MUGHNIYEH ASSASSINATION -------------------------------------------- ¶5. (C) Hizballah suspects that Syria was behind the killing of Hizballah official Imad Mughniyeh the night of February 12 in Damascus, Khoja asserted. He noted that no Syrian officials attended Mughniyeh's funeral in Beirut on February 14 and claimed that the Iranian FM, who did attend the funeral, had come to calm down Hizballah and keep it from taking action against Syria. ¶6. (C) Making another dramatic claim, Khoja claimed that Hizballah SYG Hassan Nasrallah was at the meeting with Syrian intelligence officials in Damascus that some say Mughniya attended just before he was killed, along with Iranian intelligence officials. Khoja offered no proof to back up either of his claims related to the Mughniya killing. WAS THE U.S. BEHIND IT? ----------------------- ¶7. (C) Khoja said many in Saudi Arabia have raised questions about why Mughniya was killed, particularly about possible Syrian deals with the U.S. or Israel. He cited a rumor that he said has currency in Beirut that the U.S. made a deal with Syria to pull back on the Special Tribunal in return for the Syrians allowing the U.S. to get Mughniya. Another rumor, Khoja said, was that Syria and Israel had made a deal to allow Mughniya to be killed, an Israeli objective. (Comment. Rumors about Syrian-Israeli cooperation on a wide range of issues are a staple of the Beirut political rumor mill. End comment.) UNIFIL AND TRIBUNAL ------------------- ¶8. (C) Khoja also expressed concern about a new Hizballah-Israeli war in Lebanon. He cited Qatar's recent announcement it would withdraw troops from UNIFIL as a sign that the Qataris were tipped off that something is coming. ¶9. (C) Charge noted Saudi Arabia's contribution to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, confirmed the day before, and asked about the status of donations from other Gulf nations. Khoja replied confidently that "they will pay" following Saudi Arabia's lead. SISON