Lebanon’s defence minister offered U.S. officials advice on how Israel could defeat the militant Hezbollah group in a future war and vowed to keep the Lebanese army out of the fighting, according to secret diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.
That memo and another secret cable that revealed U.S. secret spy flights over Hezbollah locations in Lebanon in 2008 are sure to fuel tensions between the militant group and the Western-backed prime minister at a sensitive time.
A U.N. tribunal is expected to issue indictments in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, possibly as early as this month.
The tribunal has caused deep divisions within Lebanon’s government, which includes Hezbollah along with pro-Western blocs led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the son of the slain leader.
There are fears of an outbreak of violence if the court indicts members of Hezbollah, which claims the court is bias.
The tribunal has exacerbated tensions and a deep mistrust between Hezbollah and Hariri’s coalition. Hezbollah has accused members of the coalition of collaborating with the U.S. against the group, including during the month-long 2006 war between Israel and the group.
The diplomatic records exposed on the WikiLeaks website this week revealed a 2008 conversation between the Lebanese Defense Minister, Elias Murr, and U.S. officials in Lebanon, in which he offered advice on how Israel could defeat Hezbollah in a future war.
Although he made clear he is not responsible for passing on messages to Israel, he said the Israelis should, for instance, avoid bombing bridges and infrastructure in Christian areas in a future war, so as not to turn public opinion against them.
“If Israel has to bomb all of these places in the Shiite areas as a matter of operational concern, that is Hezbollah’s problem,” Mr. Murr reportedly said.
Mr. Murr also said the Lebanese army would not get involved in the next war, adding that the objective was for the army to survive a three-week war “completely intact” and to be able to “take over once Hezbollah’s militia has been destroyed.”
The classified memo was published in full on Thursday by the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which was given an advance copy of the document by WikiLeaks.
Mr. Murr’s office on Thursday denied he had made the comments, saying the report was “out of context and inaccurate.”
Another memo released by WikiLeaks on Wednesday revealed the U.S. in 2008 flew secret spy plane missions over Hezbollah locations in Lebanon. The planes, which used foreign British airbases, collected intelligence that was passed on to third party governments including Lebanon, according to the memo.
British officials reportedly complained to U.S. diplomats about the secret American spy flights using foreign U.K. airbases, fearing that the data collected during those missions could implicate their country in potential human rights violations.
The documents were part of more than 250,000 cables from hundreds of U.S. embassies around the world obtained by WikiLeaks, and posted on its website. The trove of secret material has been published by newspapers worldwide, embarrassing the U.S. government and numerous foreign leaders.