SaudiLeaks: Khoja’s fear on Mughniyeh death

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

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