Israel preparing for 'large scale war' in Middle East: cable
Oslo: Israel's army chief told a US Congress delegation in late 2009 he was preparing for a large war in the Middle East, probably against Hamas or Hezbollah, leaked US diplomatic cables showed Sunday.
"I am preparing the Israeli army for a large scale war, since it is easier to scale down to a smaller operation than to do the opposite," Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi was quoted as saying in a cable from the US embassy in Tel Aviv.
The document, dated November 15, 2009, was quoted on Sunday in Norwegian by Oslo-based daily Aftenposten, which said it had obtained WikiLeaks' entire cache of 251,187 leaked US embassy cables.
"The rocket threat against Israel is more serious than ever. That is why Israel is putting such emphasis on rocket defence," Ashkenazi told the US delegation led by Democrat Ike Skelton, the cable showed.
The army chief lamented that Iran has some 300 Shihab rockets that can reach Israel and stressed that the Jewish state would have only between 10 and 12 minutes warning in case of an attack.
However, it was Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon that posed the most acute threat, he cautioned.
According to the quoted cable, Hezbollah is thought to have more than 40,000 rockets, many of which are believed capable of reaching deep into Israel.
US officials meanwhile reportedly estimate the militant group has acquired an arsenal of around 50,000 rockets.
A 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel killed 1,200 Lebanese, many of them civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.
And in his comments made nearly a year after Israel on December 27, 2008 launched the deadly Gaza war, Ashkenazi said "Israel is on a collision course also with Hamas, which rules Gaza."
"Hamas will have the possibility to bombard Tel Aviv, with Israel's highest population concentration," he was quoted as saying.
The Gaza war killed some 1,400 mainly civilian Palestinians and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers. It ended on January 18, 2009.
Israel had been harshly criticised for putting civilians at risk during fighting in the densely populated Gaza Strip.
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/FO, NEA/ELA, S/CT NSC FOR SHAPIRO/MCDERMOTT PARIS FOR NOBLES LONDON FOR LORD
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/07/2029 TAGS: PTER PREL LE IZ IS SY SUBJECT: IS NOW THE TIME TO RAISE HIZBALLAH WITH SYRIA?
Classified By: CDA Charles Hunter, Reasons 1.4 b and d.
¶1. (S/NF) Summary: Syria's determined support of Hizballah's military build-up, particularly the steady supply of longer-range rockets and the introduction of guided missiles, could change the military balance and produce a scenario significantly more destructive than the July-August 2006 war. If rockets were to rain down on Israeli civilians in Tel Aviv, Israel would still have powerful incentives, as it did in 2006, to keep Syria out of the conflict, but it might also face compelling reasons for targeting Hizballah facilities in Syria, some of which are in and around populated areas. Syria's current strategic mindset appears to assume Syria could avoid involvement in a new conflict, based largely on its 2006 experience. Syrian leaders also appear convinced that arming Hizballah will increase Syria's leverage in bringing Israel to the negotiating table. As Washington weighs how to approach Syrian officials in upcoming engagement efforts, discussing Hizballah from the perspective of the regional strategic landscape may help to facilitate a "big picture" conversation in which we could challenge these assumptions and focus Damascus on the importance of taking cooperative steps with the U.S. now. Though raising this subject could well distract from a cooperative approach that shows signs of progress after months of investment, we believe sounding a warning, probably in a one-one-on meeting with President Asad, would be worth considering in pursuit of a broader, more strategic dialogue. End Summary.
---------------------------------- Is the Strategic Balance Changing? ----------------------------------
¶2. (S/NF) Syria's determined efforts to re-arm Hizballah during and after the July-August 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah have consistently grabbed Israeli headlines, most recently with Israeli Chief of Staff Ashkenazi's November 10 revelation that Hizballah possessed 320-kilometer range rockets. Jane's Defense Weekly reported October 28 on Hizballah's deployment of the first guided surface-to-surface M600 missile on Lebanese soil, with a range of 250 kilometers and circular error probability of 500 meters. Public estimates put Hizballah's stockpile as high as 40,000 rockets and missiles, reinforcing assessments by some experts that this build-up may portend a shift in the military balance between Israel and its northern nemesis. Hizballah SecGen Nasrallah's recent claims of possessing a capability to "destroy" the IDF may overstate the case for domestic and regional propaganda purposes, but reporting in other channels confirms Nasrallah's bragging on November 11 that Hizballah can sustain fire on Tel Aviv and reach "all of Israel." This capability, if fully used, would represent a quantum leap over the damage and psychological terror Hizballah rockets caused in northern Israel during the 2006 war.
¶3. (S/NF) There is overwhelming evidence that shows Syria provided not just logistical and other support in moving the weapons, but was the main source of the weapons. Syria's integration of Hizballah into its military doctrine, moreover, means that Hizballah operatives and facilities enjoy a growing footprint in Syria.
¶4. (S/NF) At least two potential consequences flow from Hizballah's increased capabilities and Syria's role in creating them: (1) If there is another war between Hizballah and Israel, it will be far deadlier than the 2006 conflict; (2) as in 2006, there would be compelling reasons for Israel to want to keep Syria out of any future war if possible, but there might be a countervailing need to hit Hizballah and perhaps targets in Syria, some of which are located in populated areas.
--------------------------------- Agreeing to Disagree on Hizballah ----------------------------------
DAMASCUS 00000804 002 OF 003
¶5. (S/NF) U.S.-Syrian discussions on Hizballah have tended to "agree to disagree" after hitting the wall of conflicting views on the legitimacy of armed resistance and Israeli occupation. Syrian officials, including President Asad, emphasize their political link to Hizballah and flatly deny that Syria is arming Hizballah. They then defend the right to armed resistance in response to prolonged Israeli occupation of Syrian and Lebanese territory. When convenient, Syrian officials claim they no longer have responsibility for Hizballah, noting "we are out of Lebanon." President Asad and FM Muallim have also suggested that the challenge of disarming Hizballah would be solved after Syria and Israel signed a peace treaty. This agreement would lead naturally to a deal between Lebanon and Israel, thereby removing the rationale for Hizballah's resistance movement and setting the stage for the transition of Hizballah to a purely political party.
¶6. (S/NF) The Syrian government's strategic view of relations with Hizballah is difficult to assess with high confidence. According to various contacts, President Asad appears to be focused on the possibility of a new conflict between Israel and Syria, but many suggest he believes that the red lines of the 2006 war would be preserved. According to this model, Syria could avoid direct involvement as long as Israel refrained from striking targets on Syrian soil. Syria also seems to be hedging its bets through improved relations with Turkey, France, and Saudi Arabia, which, Syrian officials probably hope, would object to Israeli attacks against Lebanon and/or Syria.
¶7. (S/NF) Asad nonetheless appears more convinced than ever that arming Hizballah is necessary for Syrian security and perhaps as a stick to bring the current Israeli government back to negotiations on the return of the Golan. Syrians remain resistant to the notion that Syria bears responsibility for managing a potentially explosive situation that could draw Damascus into a war neither sought nor winnable. They have ably deployed a force field of cognitive dissonance to resist arguments linking Syria's arming of Hizballah and the future prospects of Syrian-Israel peace negotiations. Israel, they insist, remains the problem, and only a more active U.S. role can bring and sustain a resolution. According to the prevailing Syrian view, however, U.S.-Syrian relations must normalize before the U.S. can play the role of a credible honest broker.
---------------------------------------- The Cooperative Approach Shows Potential ----------------------------------------
¶8. (S/NF) As the interagency continues to plot future plans to engage Syrian officials and thinks about how to recruit other countries to support our efforts, we face a choice not only about the level of our engagement, but about the approach itself. Up to now, U.S. efforts have largely focused on developing a cooperative relationship on issues of mutual interest, such as Iraq and U.S. sanctions. Our four month pursuit of military-to-military cooperation on Iraqi border security represented, in effect, a first step toward establishing a broader and higher-level dialogue on Iraqi security issues, including Syrian support of foreign fighters. After the August 19 bombings Baghdad rendered implementation of this initiative impracticable, discussions in late-September shifted toward a possible CT dialogue. This new focus provides an alternative mechanism to continue discussions on Iraqi security issues such as foreign fighters. Syrian officials appear willing to go along with this approach, as long as the emphasis is on building bilateral relations first. After months of investment, our engagement efforts are close to enabling both sides to exchange positive gestures. This cooperation should help to the stage for more focused discussions on a broad range of issues and strategic choices about the future direction of
DAMASCUS 00000804 003 OF 003
¶9. (S/NF) During this process, U.S. officials have carefully placed markers on key issues, including human rights, IAEA compliance, Bank Aman, Lebanon (e.g., border demarcation), and Palestinians (pushing Hamas to accept the Quartet principles), and the new embassy compound. We have addressed these issues mainly in discussions with Vice Foreign Minister Miqdad and the Syrian Embassy in Washington (with less dialogue between Embassy Damascus and the Syrian MFA). Our view is that the cooperative approach will have more chance of success if we continue to use these channels to deal with such issues, until the relationship can sustain discussion at higher levels that will yield a higher probability of favorable progress.
¶10. (S/NF) Against this backdrop, sending U.S. officials to focus on Syrian relations with Hizballah could distract significantly from our efforts to build a cooperative foothold. There is unlikely to be common ground or any breakthroughs, and a new focus on Hizballah-related issues could further set back our efforts to re-energize the engagement process, not least by spurring the Syrians to demand a reciprocal change in U.S. behavior, e.g., lifting sanctions. Focusing our higher political-level discussions on the issue of foreign fighters provides a more familiar subject with a higher chance for initial progress.
--------------------------------------------- -- But Hizballah's Arsenal Poses Urgent Challenges --------------------------------------------- --
¶11. (S/NF) While the near-term chances for a successful dialogue on Syria's strategic relationship with Hizballah are much lower, the stakes -- the possibility of a regional conflict and significant obstacles to achieving comprehensive peace -- are just as, if not more, urgent. Sharing our concerns about the dangers of Syria's arming of Hizballah, probably best done privately in a one-on-one session with President Asad, could serve to establish the basis of a more frank exchange about Syria's role, and enable us to challenge potentially dangerous Syrian assumptions as part of a wider strategic dialogue. Recent revelations about Syria's role in weapons shipments create some urgency in turning Syrian attention toward ending these supplies and restraining Hizballah from making good on its provocative rhetoric.
¶12. (S/NF) We don't expect these points immediately to change Syrian behavior or its relations with Hizballah, but we believe sounding this warning would put President Asad and others (such as Turkey and France) on notice that Syria's actions have created a situation in which miscalculation or provocative behavior by Hizballah could prove disastrous for Syria and the broader region. This message could likewise underscore our belief that Syria needs to demonstrate a more active role in achieving peace with Israel and better relations with the United States. Even if a war between Israel and Hizballah does not materialize in the immediate future, we should try find a way to use our ongoing cooperative engagement with Syrian officials to help them recognize their overriding interest and responsibility in preventing this unappealing scenario altogether.
Classified By: Jeffrey Feltman, Ambassador, per 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (S/NF) On 8/20, UN envoys Vijay Nambiar and Terje Roed-Larsen briefed the Ambassador on their Lebanon consultations regarding UNSCR 1701. They were impressed with the progress of LAF deployment. Concerned over UNIFIL Commander Pellegrini's comments about inadequate LAF-UNIFIL coordination, they brokered a political-security issue on 8/19, chaired by Prime Minister Siniora, on a range of security issues. (Patting himself generously on the back, Larsen claimed that this meeting, held at his initiative, had revealed information that no one in the international community had known before. We told Terje that we had already reported his so-called breaking news.) They described a "dire need" for equipment, spare parts, and ammunition for the LAF. The UN envoys admitted that they failed in one of their goals, getting Siniora to ask for UNIFIL presence at the seaport and airport. Citing sovereignty concerns, Siniora (as he has with us) deferred a decision pending the visit of German experts this week. On larger issues, Larsen mused about demarcating a "very small" Shebaa Farms. Nambiar (who mostly deferred to Larsen) fumed about the Israeli raid in the Biqa' that he said put the GOL on the defensive vis-a-vis Hizballah. They did not get verifiable information about the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Earlier, on 8/18, Larsen met with Ambassador Feltman privately. While spending most of the time at that meeting discussing UN politics (and why Larsen insists he is a viable fall back candidate for SYG), Larsen quoted from Kofi Annan's telephone call with Iranian President Ahmadinejad in expressing fear that Iran was going to "punish" the United
States. End summary.
UN ENVOYS IMPRESSED BY LAF DEPLOYMENT
2. (C/NF) Nambier and Roed-Larsen (joined by staffers Lee O'Brien, Imran Riza, Salman Sheikh, and Fabrice Aidan, with Geir Pedersen flitting in and out in cameo appearances) briefed the Ambassador on 8/20, near the end of their Lebanon program and a few hours before flying to Israel. Larsen, who took the lead in the briefing, touched briefly on individual meetings but focused largely on themes. On LAF deployment, Larsen said, while Nambiar nodded, that the UN envoys had discovered that the deployment was "more serious than any of us knew." They noted that, while Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Murr had initially exaggerated numbers of troops and equipment to impress the UN, even the actual figures confirmed later by the Lebanese military representatives and UNIFIL were impressive and indicated GOL seriousness regarding UNSCR 1701 implementation. What came out in all of their meetings, Larsen said, is that the LAF has a "dire need" for equipment, spare parts, and ammunition.
IDF-UNIFIL-LAF COORDINATION GOOD, BUT UNIFIL-LAF PARTNERSHIP LACKING ---------------------------------- 3. (C/NF) Larsen noted that, in his private meeting with the UN envoys, UNIFIL Commander Alain Pellegrini had given them a mixed message. On the positive side, Pellegrini expressed satisfaction with the LAF-UNIFIL-IDF coordination regarding troop movements in southern Lebanon. Also, Pellegrini basically praised the LAF's forward movement into the south. But Pellegrini complained about what he described to as an overly secretive LAF command structure. The LAF, Pellegrini told Larsen and Nambiar, seems to see a relationship with UNIFIL not as one of partners but rather as one by which UNIFIL provides fuel, supplies, and spare parts to the LAF. UNIFIL wants to be much better informed about LAF thinking on coping with threats, force protection, etc.
UN BROKERS SECURITY MEETING CHAIRED BY PM ---------------------------
4. (C/NF) This comment, Larsen said, sparked a UN-brokered meeting late on 8/19, chaired by Siniora, that included, besides the UN envoys, Defense Minister Murr, Acting Interior Minister Fatfat, LAF Commander Michel Sleiman, Military Intelligence (G-2) chief Georges Khoury, ISF (national police) chief Ashraf Rifi, Pellegrini, and others. Discussion on UNIFIL-LAF cooperation -- the ostensible purpose of the meeting -- was cut off when Pellegrini contradicted his earlier, private comments by praising the LAF's cooperation with UNIFIL. ("Pellegrini was star struck by seeing all those people looking at him," Larsen claimed; "he completely undermined one of the major purposes of the meeting.")
5. (C/NF) So instead of focusing on improving UNIFIL-LAF coordination, the PM-chaired session moved quickly to the second topic, the GOL's obligations under UNSCR 1701. Larsen marveled to the Ambassador that he and Nambiar had received information regarding changes in airport security and deployment of Lebanese troops to the Syrian border that no one in the international community would have known, had Larsen not thought to convene the security meeting. "This is big news," Larsen said, melodramatically. He brandished maps, with hand-written notes of troop numbers, and described the replacement by LAF officers at the airport with the ISF. The Ambassador noted that we had passed that information to Washington already (reftels) but we were still evaluating the seriousness of it. Larsen argued that, in any case, no one could deny that the GOL was taking steps toward meetings its obligations under UNSCR 1701.
6. (C/NF) Looking to trump the Ambassador, Larsen said that something new came out of the meeting: Siniora, Murr and Sleiman agreed that UNIFIL could travel freely to the Syrian border to verify the deployment trumpeted by the GOL. The Ambassador asked if UNIFIL would be able to stop and examine the deployment and what the LAF troops were doing. "My understanding is that it's more like a road reconnaissance," Nambiar interjected. Also, Larsen said, the same group that gathered on Saturday night would meet at least once a week, including with the PM, under UN auspicies (with both Pellegrini and Geir Pedersen present), to work out other issues. "This is a good sign."
NO REQUEST TO UNIFIL TO HELP AT BORDERS --------------------
7. (C/NF) The Ambassador asked about Lebanon's 1701 obligations to combat arms smuggling. Had Larsen and Nambiar managed to extract a request from Siniora to get a UNIFIL presence at the airport and seaports? Larsen acknowledged that they had pushed this topic hard, but that Siniora repeated his usual infringement-of-sovereignty concerns. Siniora seemed interested in technical solutions to border issues, and he said that he would listen carefully to what the German team of experts would recommend this week. Larsen agreed with the Ambassador that Siniora's answers have not been satisfactory on this point.
8. (C/NF) Moving to the broader issues, Larsen said that he was struck by the importance the Lebanese place on the 1949 Armistice Agreement, a framework that the Lebanese find reassuring and that "allows them to be creative." Aware that the Israelis see no relevance to the Armistice Agreement, Larsen said that he would nevertheless explore with the GOI whether there might be some way to make creative reference to it.
USING PROPERTY DEEDS TO DEFINE DIMINUTIVE SHEBAA FARMS ------------------------------
9. (C/NF) Not surprising, all the Lebanese interlocutors -- including the pro-Syrian relics (Omar Karami et al.) the UN envoys choose to meet to show "balance" -- emphasized the need to "solve" Shebaa Farms as the key to Hizballah disarmament. Larsen gave a long briefing of familiar arguments. He said that he now believes that the only way to demarcate the border is to use private property deeds, as maps simply aren't clear or don't support the Lebanese claims in the Shebaa area. By examining where private property was registered (e.g., Lebanon or Syria), Larsen predicted that UN cartographers would end up with a "very small" Shebaa Farms. This is because much of what is claimed to be Shebaa Farms was actually state land, never properly documented, and the maps in those areas support Syrian sovereignty. Larsen said the trick will be to convince the Lebanese to accept a modest-sized Shebaa Farms as ending the dispute once and for all -- if Israel could be persuaded to give up that modest-sized Shebaa Farms in the first place.
10. (C/NF) The Ambassador asked about Ghajjar village, which Larsen acknowledged no Lebanese claims. But, yes, Larsen admitted, even under a "tiny Shebaa" solution, Ghajjar would end up as a salient, a finger surrounded on three sides by Lebanon, which could give the Israeli military great pause. The Ambassador also asked Larsen whether, if the UN started noting when private property was registered by Lebanese authorities, the UN would also be looking into Syrian-registered property deeds, to be able to tell where Lebanon's authorities stopped and Syria's started -- and to note any overlap. "Interesting question," Larsen said. "And it gives us another opportunity to corner Syria, show a lack of cooperation." Larsen closed the Shebaa discussion by saying that he planned to have a frank discussion with the Israelis on the issue, even though he did not expect much receptivity.
BIQA' RAID PROVIDES HIZBALLAH ADDITIONAL EXCUSE FOR WEAPONS -----------------------------
11. (C/NF) Nambiar asked the Ambassador his view of the 8/19 early morning Israeli raid in the Biqa'. The Ambassador said that he knew only what he had read in the press and what the Lebanese had told him in multiple, middle-of-the-night, frantic and angry phonecalls. Nambiar, suddenly animated (while Larsen studiously maintained a politically correct silence on this topic), said that the Israelis had almost succeeded in destroying the cessation of hostilities. Based on everything he had heard, Nambiar expressed concern that the Israelis had undermined the Siniora government. By declaring that they would kill Hizballah officials wherever they could find them, the Israelis had given Hizballah the perfect excuse to refuse to disarm. "Who else will protect them?" Moreover, the Israeli action in the Biqa' would only serve to discourage troop contributors to UNIFIL. Particularly egregious, Nambiar said, was the fact that, according to the Lebanese, the Israelis had come dressed in LAF uniforms, thus making Hizballah suspicious of the LAF. The Ambassador repeated that it is important for the GOL to take action against arms smuggling, lest Israel continue to do so.
NO NEWS ON KIDNAPPED SOLDIERS -----------------------------
12. (C/NF) The Ambassador asked Nambiar and Larsen whether they had found out anything about the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers. They said that the ICRC told them of reports that the Israelis were being "humanely treated." The ICRC had no independent verification of that. But the ICRC told the UN envoys that, generally, such reports turn out to be fairly accurate. Larsen admitted that the ICRC statements were "not much."
EARLIER DINNER WITH TERJE -- WORRIED ABOUT IRAN, OBSESSED WITH UN TRANSITION ---------------------------------------
13. (S/NF) The Ambassador also had a late night, private dinner with Larsen two days earlier, just after Larsen's arrival on 8/18. While much of the dinner revolved around Larsen's proposed messages to the Lebanese (with the Ambassador urging Larsen to push Siniora to request UNIFIL help for border monitoring), Larsen -- please protect -- also talked of "a terribly frightening" conversation between Kofi Annan and Iranian President Ahmadinejad, when Annan urged compliance with UNSCR 1701. The Iranian, Larsen said (quoting from a transcript of the conversation), spoke of "punishing" the U.S. and UK. "He's crazy, and he's going to attack you," Larsen said. Larsen then launched into a long discussion of "38th floor politics" at the UN, while suggesting that none of the names being circulated as Kofi Annan's successor are acceptable. That means, Larsen concluded, that he could still very much become the fall-back candidate. And if Prince Zaid of Jordan becomes the front-runner, then the U.S. should demand that Prince Zaid "have a ticket," with -- you guessed it, readers -- Larsen as Deputy SYG.
14. (C/NF) The UN envoys have had no more luck than we have in convincing Siniora to ask for UNIFIL help at the borders, including airport and seaports. Since the continued blockade of the air and seaports does not seem to be sufficient to get Siniora to ask, we have tried to use the Israeli raid in the Biqa' to strengthen our argument in favor of such a request: as long as Lebanon doesn't get international help at its borders, then Israel will continue to take matters into its own hands. But most people tell us that the raid has made it harder, not easier, for Siniora to refute the charge that he is complicit in a scheme to allow the international community to infringe upon Lebanon's sovereignty by intrusive, foreign-imposed border procedures. In short, we aren't there yet on the UNIFIL request. FELTMAN
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is on a global "apology tour" to clean up the damage from U.S. cables revealed by WikiLeaks.
The messages contained frank and often unflattering portraits of world leaders.
Speaking to reporters en route to Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, Clinton said, "I think I will be answering concerns about WikiLeaks until the end of my life, not just the end of my tenure as secretary of state."
"I've told my team that I want to get one of those really sharp looking jackets that rock 'n' roll groups have on tours," she said. "And I could have a big picture of the world, and it could say 'The Apology Tour,' because I have been very, very much involved in reaching out to leaders and others who have concerns about either the general message of our confidential communications being exposed in this way or specific questions about their country or themselves."
"That aspect of it has receded a lot," she added. "I've done an enormous amount of work, as have other members of our government, but it still is in the atmosphere."
Meanwhile, Ahmad (Tea) Fatfat just said on NTV that (the very suspiciously selected) Wikileaks documents, constitute a palpable proof that Sanioura is a great patriot and that he was always a great back up to the resistance.
STATE FOR INL - ERINDLER; S/CT FOR NNOYES; WHA/BSC FOR CCROFT; NEA FOR DAS DIBBLER TREASURY FOR TFI-C
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: EFIN PTER KCRM BR LE SUBJECT: LEBANESE SUSPECT IN HARIRI ASSASSINATION ARRESTED IN BRAZIL
REF: 05 BEIRUT 2216
آ¶1. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Brasilia.
آ¶2. (SBU) Sao Paulo State Civil Police arrested Rana Abdel Rahim Koleilat (PDOB Lebanon 23 JAN 1976) on March 12 based on an Interpol warrant for her involvement in the mid-2003 collapse of the Lebanese-based Al-Madina Bank. She is the main suspect in the USD one billion fraud that allegedly involved money laundering for various Islamic extremist groups. Koleilat was arrested in the Parthenon Accor Hotel in the Santana district of Sao Paulo based on an anonymous tip. She had a British passport (suspected to be fake) with her real name, as well an Egyptian passport with the name Fakhriya Mhanna. A Civil Police spokesman told the press that Koleilat tried to bribe Brazilian police with USD 200,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to release her. Lebanese Consul General in Sao Paulo Joseph Sayah told us that she has apparently been in Brazil for six months (including in Rio de Janeiro and other cities) and is in an illegal immigration status in Brazil since she had overstayed her initial entry permit, even if the passport she used turns out to be real. Sayah also told us that the UN Independent International Investigation Commission set up to look into the February 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri wants to question her with regard to the assassination, since Syrian Military Intelligence Chief Rustom Ghazaleh, the chief suspect in the Hariri assassination, was heavily involved in the Al-Madina Bank's money laundering scheme.
آ¶3. (SBU) Koleilat is to be turned over shortly to the custody of the Federal Police, which has jurisdiction over Interpol cases. While Lebanese CG Sayah confirmed that Lebanon and Brazil do not have an extradition treaty, both Sayah and Civil Police contacts told us they expect Koleilat will be deported to Lebanon. He added that he has seen Koleilat in custody and that she seems willing to return to Lebanon. Sayah told us the UN Investigation Commission is aware of Koleilat's arrest and has communicated to the Brazilian Mission at the UN their request to interrogate her. Sayah asserted that all UN member countries, like Brazil, are obligated to assist the Commission.
آ¶4. (SBU) Sayah, initially concerned that Koleilat would bribe her way to freedom, seems more confident she will stay in jail for now. Post has let various police contacts know our interest in keeping her detained until she can be removed to Lebanon. RSO is working via channels to ensure Interpol and the British Consulate act quickly to provide Brazilian police with whatever they need to move the case forward.
آ¶5. (SBU) Action Request: Mission Brazil requests guidance from the Department on any actions to be taken with regard to the Koleilat case.
DEPT FOR WHA/BSC, DS, DS/DSS. DS/DSS/IP,DS/IP/WHA, DH/IP/NEA, DS/IP/ITA, DS/CR/CIL, DS/IP/IPO, WHA/PD, INL NSC FOR SUE CRONIN AND ZARATE TREASURY FOR OFAC
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/21/2015 TAGS: SNAR PTER ASEC PGOV ETTC EFIN SOCI BR SUBJECT: BREAK-UP OF LEBANESE DRUG RING IN BRAZIL REF: SAO PAULO 683 Classified By: A/CG DAVID WOLFE FOR REASONS 1.4(D)
آ¶1. (S) SUMMARY: On June 17, 2005, the Brazilian Federal Police (DPF) broke up a Lebanese-organized drug ring based in Sao Paulo and operating in a number of cites in southern Brazil. 8Operation Tamara,8 (thedate fruit in Portuguese,) involved coordinationwith the German federal police and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration,s (DEA) Regional Office atConsulate General Sao Paulo (SPRO). Press repors on the operation specifically mentioned DEA,s nvolvement in the operation, although no direct inolvement of DEA personnel from Consulate Sao Paulo has yet been made in the press. The press also reported that DPF stated that the drugs seized, some 65 kilos of cocaine worth USD 400,000, came from Paraguay and Bolivia and were destined for Europe and the Middle East. Press reports indicated that in addition to the drug seizures, one goal of the DPF was to identify members of Hezbollah living and operating in Brazil. Post is attempting to ascertain if any of the arrested Lebanese drug traffickers have connections with Hezbollah or any terrorist group.
END SUMMARY PRESS SPOTLIGHTS INTERNATIONAL CONNECTIONS AND COOPERATION --------------------------------------------- -------------
آ¶2. (SBU) On Friday, June 17, after eleven months of investigation, Brazilian Federal Police arrested 17 members of a Lebanese-organized drug ring operating in Sao Paulo and southern Brazil. Extensive press reports on the operation highlighted the transnational scope of the drug ring as well as international law enforcement cooperation with the DPF investigating the group. The press reports indicated that authorities believe that the ring, which comprises five Lebanese families, typically sends approximately 120 kilos of cocaine per month from Brazil to Europe and launders the proceeds by purchasing real estate and expensive luxury automobiles in Brazil and Lebanon. (Note: The reports differ on the quantity smuggled each month. End Note) Authorities reportedly believe that the drugs enter Brazil from Bolivia and Paraguay through the border city of Foz do Iguacu in the Brazil-Paraguay-Argentina tri-border region and from Ponta Pora on the border of the southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul State and Paraguay. Ring members reportedly transported the drugs to Sao Paulo, where they contracted Brazilian, Dutch, Canadian, Nigerian and South African couriers to smuggle the drugs to Frankfurt, Lisbon and locations in the Middle East, passing through the airports of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Recife. Press reports indicate that the authorities first became aware of the drug-smuggling operation in June 2004, when three Americans were arrested on drug charges in Istanbul, after disembarking from a flight from Sao Paulo.
آ¶3. (U) Press reports indicate that the drug ring is believed to comprise several families of Lebanese descent who, having fled Lebanon during the 1980s, settled in Brazil, Germany and Switzerland. The press reports describe the confiscation of documents written in Arabic and a large, framed picture of the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, in one of the apartments of the ring members. The press indicated that USD 190,000 was found in the apartment of one of the ring members. 4. (U) Folha do Sao Paulo, Brazil,s largest circulation daily, reported that in addition to dismantling the drug ring, the DPF,s objective is to identify members of Hezbollah operating in Brazil. The same press article claims that Hezbollah has 140 members in Brazil. According to press statements, documents confiscated during Operation 8Tamara8 will be passed to international intelligence agencies for evaluation.
POST PERSPECTIVE ON THE OPERATION ---------------------------------
آ¶5. (S) DEA personnel working with DPF agents note that a possible Hezbollah connection was not a focus during the course of the investigation. It should be noted that the GOB has consistently denied that any Hezbollah agents or agents of any other Middle Eastern terrorist organization operate in Brazil. Operational aspects of the case are being reported through DEA channels. Post DEA reports that the amount seized in the raid was closer to USD 300,000, not USD 190,000, as reported in the press.
آ¶6. (S) DEA began investigating the ring in cooperation with DPF after the three Americans were arrested in Istanbul, Turkey and one in Sao Paulo in 2004. In addition, two other Americans were arrested in Madrid and Amsterdam in early 2004 with links to this ring. Currently, DEA authorities in Florida are conducting investigations on these Americans and the Lebanese-Brazilian involved.
آ¶7. (S) COMMENT: DEA notes that one of the outstanding questions from this operation is the final destination for the profits of this lucrative cocaine trade. Past experience has been that Brazilian authorities lack effective tools to track the profits of illicit drug operations; coordination between financial officials and counter-narcotics agents has not been good. While DEA, DPF and German Federal Police were arresting members of the Brazilian drug ring in 8Operation Tamara,8 Ecuadorian authorities reportedly arrested seven operatives in a drug smuggling/Hezbollah ring in Quito, Ecuador in 8Operation Damascus.8 BBC On-Line indicates that organizers of the Ecuadorian ring were sending seventy percent of profits to Hezbollah.
آ¶8. (S) Regional Security Office (RSO) Sao Paulo is coordinating with DEA to determine whether any of the documents obtained in these, or other recent arrests include U.S. passports or visas. RSO is investigating any possible repercussions against post or personnel from these recent arrests, or from the press reports identifying DEA,s participation in the investigation. Post is attempting to determine whether any of the arrested Lebanese-Brazilians have connections to Hezbollah, or any other middle-eastern terrorist network. So far we have not found any evidence of such a connection. End Comment.
STATE FOR WHA/BSC, NEA/ELA H PASS REP. ISSA NSC FOR CRONIN TREASURY FOR OASIA, DAS LEE AND FPARODI
TAGS: OREP PGOV PREL ETRD PTER EFIN BR LE SUBJECT: REP. ISSA'S MEETING WITH LEADERS OF LEBANESE COMMUNITY IN SAO PAULO SENSTIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY.
------- SUMMARY -------
آ¶1. (SBU) During the visit to Sao Paulo of CODEL Grassley (septels), Rep. Darrel Issa (CA) held a separate meeting with four leaders of Sao Paulo's Lebanese community. They discussed the size and activities of Brazil's Lebanese community as well as the influence of the broader Arab community on the Foreign Ministry (Itamaraty) in formulating Brazil's Middle East policy. End Summary.
-------------------------------------- REPRESENTATIVE ISSA MEETS SAO PAULO'S LEBANESE LEADERS --------------------------------------
آ¶2. (U) In a separate meeting from the rest of the CODEL, California Representative Darrell Issa met over drinks at the CG's residence with four leaders of Sao Paulo's Lebanese community to discuss issues of Lebanon, the Middle East, and Lebanese expatriates. In addition to Rep. Issa, CG, Issa staffer Laurent Crenshaw, and Poloff, participants included Joseph Sayah, Lebanese Consul General in Sao Paulo; Souheil Yamount, a long-time investment and government relations advisor to the Hariri Family Group; Alfredo Cotait Neto, President of the Brazil-Lebanon Chamber of Commerce; and Guilherme Mattar, a Director and Secretary-General of the Brazil-Lebanon Chamber of Commerce. Rep. Issa told the group he is of Lebanese descent and his grandfather lived in Rio de Janeiro before settling in the United States. He has been actively engaged in issues related to Lebanon and the Middle East for years, both as a Congressman and before that as a businessman.
آ¶3. (U) Brazil's Lebanese community is the largest expatriate group of Lebanese worldwide. CG Sayah confirmed for Representative Issa that after four generations since large-scale immigration began, Sao Paulo alone is home to some eight million persons of Lebanese descent. Issa wondered aloud if large Lebanese expatriate communities such as Sao Paulo's might be tapped to support the democratic process in Lebanon. Sayah pointed out that currently Lebanon does not have an absentee voter process, and the country's parliamentary system would not provide the opportunity to affect presidential elections, which is critical to advancing Lebanon's fragile democracy.
آ¶4. (SBU) Rep. Issa and the group discussed a range of issues facing Lebanon today, the most pressing being Iran's new influence in the country after the power vacuum left by Syria's pullout. Sayah repeatedly linked Hezbollah to Iran, and warned that in upcoming presidential elections in Lebanon, any candidate who does not specifically denounce Hezbollah is implicitly supporting Iran as Hezbollah's current benefactor and puppet-master. Closer to home, the group candidly acknowledged that Hezbollah supporters operate in Parana State and the tri-border region where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet.
----------------------------------------- ALLEGED SYRIAN INFLUENCE WITHIN ITAMARATY -----------------------------------------
آ¶5. (SBU) Sayah and Yarmout gave a somewhat surprising account of the current influence on the GoB of various elements of the Arab community in Brazil. When asked why the GoB had taken some confusing stands counter to the United States regarding Middle East policy, both men described the MFA (Itamaraty) as being greatly influenced by Syrians in Brazil. They said that for generations, Syrian-Brazilians have become diplomats, while Lebanese immigrants have focused on business. In the past these trends were not noticed because there was no divergence in opinion or interests among the various elements of the greater Arab community in Brazil.
آ¶6. (SBU) However, with the Syrian pullout from Lebanon and a growing hostility between the two countries fueled by the assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the GoB finds itself behaving almost schizophrenically, both Sayah and Yarmout asserted. The descendents of Syrians purportedly entrenched in the Brazilian Foreign Ministry have taken public stands in
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support of Syria, allegedly at times even without the knowledge or authorization of others in the Lula administration. Further, the Arab-Brazil Chamber of Commerce has become extremely influential, and the organization tends to oppose U.S.-led initiatives in the Middle East.
EMBASSY BRASILIA COMMENT: Lebanese CG Sayah's comments reflect a fascinating and apparently sincere point of view within Brazil's Lebanese community, and merit further examination and reporting. That said, while under the Lula administration the MFA's positions on a number of Middle Eastern issues have been problematic for the USG, vexing and even inexplicable, we have no way at present of verifying whether or not they are signs of the existence of a cabal of Syrian-Brazilian diplomats pursuing their own agenda. END COMMENT.
آ¶7. (SBU) Yamout said that to counter this putative Syrian-based influence, he recently obtained 10,000 signatures of Lebanese-Brazilians on a petition demanding that the Lula administration as a whole, including Itamaraty, play a more balanced role regarding the Middle East. (NOTE: Both Yamout and Sayah implied that "Arab" interests may no longer be the same as "Lebanese" interests. They referred to a subtle change in Itamaraty policy from being pro-Lebanese to pro-Arab, and thus increasingly incompatible with Lebanese interests. END NOTE.) He called the petition a down-payment on grass-roots activism, and said the community will push Itamaraty to support U.S. resolutions on Lebanon, Syria and Iran. Rep. Issa said it will be important to garner international support for a new U.N. resolution following Resolution 1559, and for smart investments in Lebanon, avoiding the corruption that has been seen in past programs.
آ¶8. (U) Issa wrapped up the evening by declaring that if the Lebanese expatriate communities of Brazil and the Unites States can stand together to press their respective governments to cooperate on promoting democracy and strengthening institutions in Lebanon, the day may come soon when Lebanon will finally be free of all foreign influence. 9. (U) This cable was coordinated/cleared with Embassy Brasilia.
STATE FOR WHA/BSC, NEA/ELA, AND DRL/IRF NSC FOR CRONIN SOUTHCOM FOR POLAD
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL KPAO KISL KIRF SOCI SCUL BR SUBJECT: SAO PAULO'S ARAB COMMUNITY: DIVERSITY AND DIVISIONS DIMINISH POLITICAL CLOUT
REF: A) Sao Paulo 360 B) 04 Sao Paulo 850 SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY.
------- SUMMARY -------
آ¶1. (SBU) While the Lebanese Christian community in Sao Paulo is active in politics, the Arab community in general (Muslim and Christian) lacks political clout at the national level. In fact, our conversations with a number of Christian and Muslim leaders of Sao Paulo's large Middle Eastern community (mostly Lebanese and Syrian), suggest there is neither a cohesive Christian nor Muslim political interest group or voting bloc in Brazil. To the limited extent that Muslims are politically active, they tend to support the governing Workers Party (PT) and other leftist parties. This reflects the diversity and divisions within both of their economically important but religiously and politically divided communities. GoB officials often attempt to justify some of their more controversial positions and policies on Middle East matters as a response to the political demands of the Brazil's Muslim community. However, neither the Christian nor the Muslim community appears to be keenly interested in the Middle East political scene. This begs the larger question of what is driving the Brazilian government's sometimes controversial and contradictory policies in the Middle East. END SUMMARY.
----------------------------------------- CONSULATE REACHES OUT TO ARAB COMMUNITY LEADERS -----------------------------------------
آ¶2. (SBU) Following up on our recent meeting with leaders of the Lebanese Christian community during the visit of Congressman Issa (Ref A), consulate officers met separately with three other prominent leaders of Sao Paulo's Arab community: Federal Deputy Ricardo Izar, grandson of Lebanon's first Consul in Sao Paulo; Raul Tarek Fajuri, an influential Arab publisher; and Said Mourad, a Sao Paulo state legislator who claims to be the only elected Muslim official in the state of Sao Paulo. Although these contacts represent different sub-groups of Sao Paulo's large Arab community, they share similar views of the openness of Brazilian society to people from other cultures and the comfortable place Arabs have in this cultural melting pot. (NOTE: The Lebanese Consul General in Sao Paulo estimates that the Arab community in Brazil, based mostly in this consular district, consists of some seven million Christians and one million Muslims. Both the Christian and Muslim communities are divided along sectarian religious lines; the Christian community includes Maronites and members of other Eastern churches; among the Muslims, Sunnis outnumber Shias, though reliable numbers are hard to come by. Also, it appears that a rift has developed between these two communities since the assassination of Lebanese former PM Hariri. END NOTE.)
-------------------------------------- "ARABS" AND LEBANESE, CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS --------------------------------------
آ¶3. (SBU) Poloff and Political Assistant visited Federal Deputy Ricardo Izar at his campaign headquarters in an upscale neighborhood in south-central Sao Paulo. Izar, a member of the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), recently gained prominence due to his chairmanship of the Chamber of Deputies' Ethics Council, which has attempted to discipline Deputies implicated in the political corruption scandal. His views on the current domestic political situation and upcoming elections will be reported septel. When asked to talk about his association with the Arab community on the national and state level, Izar grew enthusiastic. He said his grandfather ("that's his picture on the wall there"), had fled Lebanon due to persecution by the Ottoman Turks and eventually settled in Brazil; he was appointed in 1918 by Lebanon's French occupiers as the country's
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representative to Sao Paulo's growing Lebanese community. Like our other interlocutors, Izar said Lebanese and Syrian Muslims are of more recent provenance, residing mostly in Foz do Iguacu (Parana state) and on the outskirts of major cities, where they sell furniture. The Muslim community is fragmented, he said, and not politically influential; each mosque and beneficent society tends to represent some parochial interest, and there is little common orientation. Izar characterized one mosque in the Bras neighborhood of eastern Sao Paulo as radical in its political orientation.
آ¶4. (SBU) While there are many links between the Arab Christian and Muslim communities in Brazil, they are not all that close to each other. By way of example, Izar noted that the Mount Lebanon Club - "the best club in Sao Paulo, no, in all of Brazil" - a center of Lebanese community social activity, did not have a single Muslim member. He commented in passing that the Lebanese in Brazil did not like to be referred to or thought of as "Arabs" - there was a linguistic affinity with Arabic-speakers, but not an ethnic or cultural one. There were of course important links between the Lebanese and Syrian communities, as illustrated by the highly regarded Syrio-Lebanese Hospital in Sao Paulo, whose Board had members of both communities (again, all were Christians). There are 43 Federal Deputies of Arab descent, he noted, but only one - Jose Janene (Progressivist Party from Parana, the last remaining Member to face expulsion for his role in the public bribery scandal. NOTE: Izar expressed confidence that, despite the recent exoneration by the Plenary of numerous Deputies, Janene will in fact be expelled. End NOTE.) - is a Muslim. Another, Jamil Murad (Communist Party of Brazil from Sao Paulo), "is not even sure what his background is, but he's close to the Muslim community." To the extent that they are active in Brazilian politics, Izar said Muslims tend to be affiliated with President Lula's Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores - PT) or parties further to the left.
آ¶5. (SBU) Some members of the Brazilian Lebanese Christian community, Izar said, are so completely assimilated or integrated that they retain only a vague sense of their Middle Eastern heritage, and no interest in the politics of the region. He himself was active in the Brazil-Lebanon Parliamentary Group, and had attended the 1998 inauguration of Lebanese President Lahoud. Izar expressed disagreement with many aspects of the current government's Middle East policy, and said he had taken the Foreign Minister to task over it, but had not accomplished much.
--------------------------------------------- ARAB PUBLISHER DENIES PERSECUTION, DOWNPLAYS MIDEAST TIES ---------------------------------------------
آ¶6. (SBU) Poloff and Information Officer (IO) recently met with publisher Raul Tarek Fajuri in the offices of CHAMS magazine, a leading Arab monthly based in Sao Paulo with a circulation of approximately 10,000. The magazine, launched by Fajuri's late Lebanese Christian mother, caters to both the Muslim and Christian Arab communities and reports on major political and social events. With a focus on institution openings and ribbon-cutting, benevolent society functions, high-profile weddings, and the visits of prominent religious and secular dignitaries from the Middle East, the magazine is popular in Sao Paulo's Syrian and Lebanese communities.
آ¶7. (SBU) According to Fajuri, neither the Christian nor Muslim Arab community finds itself the target of discrimination or persecution in Brazil. He noted that the general openness of Brazilian society results in acceptance of ethnic Arabs of any religion. Fajuri pointed out that Arab immigrants, particularly Lebanese and Syrian Christians from the post-World War I immigration wave, have been highly successful in Brazilian business and society (see Ref B for a broader discussion of Arab immigration to Brazil). Furthermore, widespread intermarriage has softened the lines between Syrian and Lebanese, Muslim and Christian. However, Fajuri observed that new arrivals are far more likely to retain ethnic and social ties to the Levant and the rest of the Middle East. He also said social
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divisions among members of the various churches of Eastern Christianity have all but disappeared in Brazil.
آ¶8. (SBU) Fajuri stated that Arab-Brazilians who have been in Brazil for a few generations have little in common, except religion, with their ancestral homeland. They remain largely uninterested in political activity here in Brazil or in political developments in the Middle East. (NOTE: Fajuri's opinion differs from that expressed in Ref A by leaders of the Brazilian Lebanese Christian community, who said that although Lebanese nationals resident in Brazil are not eligible to vote in Lebanese elections, they are very interested in developments in the Levant, as well as Brazilian policy toward the region, particularly since the assassination of former PM Hariri. END NOTE.) Fajuri averred that newer immigrants, particularly Muslims, are much more likely to travel back frequently to their homeland, to own land and have family ties there, and to follow more closely political developments in their countries of birth.
------------------------------------------ MUSLIM POLITICIAN ECHOES VIEWS BUT EVINCES PARANOIA ------------------------------------------
آ¶9. (SBU) Poloffs and Political Assistant also met recently with Said Mourad, the only Muslim elected official in the Sao Paulo state legislature. Ironically (and reflecting the irrelevance of party or religious labels in Brazil), Mourad is one of two representatives of the Social Christian Party (PSC) in the Sao Paulo State Legislative Assembly. Mourad won office in 2002 under the banner of the rightist Party for the Re-edification of the National Order (PRONA), but subsequently switched to the Liberal Front Party (PFL) and from there to the PSC. (COMMENT: Three parties in less than four years is a bit extreme, but party-hopping is not uncommon in Brazil, where political parties often lack a clear identity and ideology. For example, according to his Chamber of Deputies official biography, Deputy Izar, during his 43-year career, has been affiliated with nine different political parties, including two different stints (1963-66, 1989-93) with the Liberal Party. END COMMENT.)
آ¶10. (SBU) Having served as state deputy for almost four years, Mourad claims to be the only elected Muslim in state politics, and refers to himself as the informal leader of the "Peace Group," comprised of himself and eleven politicians of Arab (and Christian) descent. While Mourad does not appear to be an "up and coming" young politician on the state scene (and appears unlikely to win his re-election bid), he illustrates the lack of political clout of the Arab community or the existence of a solid voting bloc among Brazilian Muslims. Mourad stated that he represents the Muslim community but does not articulate any specifically pro-Muslim agenda
آ¶11. (SBU) Mourad echoed Fajuri's remarks about the openness of Brazilian society and the general lack of prejudice experienced by members of the Arab community. He stated emphatically that Muslims do not feel harassed in Brazil, nor are they prevented, by government or society, from freely practicing their faith. At the same time, he voiced some of the paranoia that is occasionally expressed among Brazilian Muslims regarding closer government scrutiny of Arab activities (particularly in the Tri-border area shared by Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay). For instance, he claimed that "intelligence and security groups," including the Mossad, watched and followed him and harassed his family. Mourad also complained about what he considers the negative and distorted representation of the Arab world in the Brazilian media. He claimed that the press portrays Arabs as "terrorists." Seeking to counter this alleged bias, Mourad said he escorts groups, including fellow State Deputies, to religious services at local mosques and to other Islamic events.
------------------------------------- COMMENT: DUBIOUS GOB CLAIMS OF MUSLIM VOTING BLOC -------------------------------------
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آ¶12. (SBU) GoB officials often attempt to justify some of their more controversial positions and policies on Middle East matters as a response to the political demands of the Brazilian Arab community. These officials claim they want to avoid stirring up, offending or alienating this putatively politically influential community. However, the commentary of these three prominent Arab Brazilians, along with our previous conversations with Lebanese Christian leaders (Ref A), suggest there is no strong or cohesive Arab Christian or Muslim voting bloc in Brazil. (The Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, whose members include the Ambassadors of Arab League nations with diplomatic representation in Brazil, is actively engaged in promoting Arab culture and has close ties to the Foreign Ministry, but its political activity and influence are limited.) Moreover, mainstream political commentators and analysts post has spoken to have stated that ethnicity and religion in Brazil tend not to influence political orientation to a great extent. Even the more dominant Lebanese Christians do not constitute a monolithic political bloc. In fact, the broader Arab community - Christian or Muslim - may share certain interests and affinities, such as an attachment to the homeland, but these sub-groups do not appear to be keenly interested in the Middle East political scene. This begs the larger question of what is really driving the Brazilian government's sometimes controversial and contradictory policies in the Middle East. END COMMENT.
آ¶13. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Brasilia.
Souheil Yamount, a long-time investment and government relations advisor to the Hariri Family Group
The Independent Municipal Fund (IMF)
Former ministers of rural and municipal affairs Hagop Demirdjian and Bassem Sabaa and former minister of state for finance Fouad Siniora gave testimony on May 10 in the case of alleged misuse of public funds and illegal expenditure of IMF funds.1 Meanwhile, a warrant has been issued by Assistant State Prosecutor Amin Abu Nassar for the arrest of former Mount Lebanon Governor Mohammed Souheil Yamout in connection with the case. Yamout, who currently lives in Brazil, had not responded to a series of court orders requiring him to return to Lebanon and testify about his knowledge of the scandal.
الحكم على يمّوت 15 سنة أشغالاً شاقّة بجرم اختلاس أموال عامة
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 SAO PAULO 000542
NSC FOR JUAN ZARATE, ELLIOT ABRAMS, NIC RAMCHAND, MEAGHEN MCDERMOTT, GREG GATJANIS STATE S/P FOR DAVID GORDON STATE NEA FOR DAVID WELCH, JEFF FELTMAN EMBASSY BEIRUT FOR AMBASSADOR SISAN, DCM GRANT LEBANON DESK FOR CHRISTINE LAWSON, MATT IRWIN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/06/2023 TAGS: PGOV PHALANAGE PARTY PINR PREL KISL LE BR SUBJECT: LEVERAGING LEBANON,S DIASPORA FOR DEMOCRACY/DEEPENING LOCAL CONTACTS
SAO PAULO 00000542 001.4 OF 005
Classified By: Classified by Econpol Chief James B. Story for Reasons 1 .4 B,C
آ¶1. (C) This message contains an Action Request. See Paragraph 12. Summary:
آ¶2. (C) Brazil's extensive Lebanese Diaspora, the largest such community in the world, contains important, influential people who want to work with the USG to help the cause of democracy in Lebanon, a position made evident during the 9/24-26 visit of Jared Cohen (S/P) and Janine Keil (INR) to Sao Paulo. The visit also made clear that an appreciation of the local Lebanese Brazilians' ties to their ancestral homeland strongly enhances our outreach to this influential local ethnic and economic group. Brazil's Lebanese community offers the possibility for a powerful "two-fer," a local group that can reinforce Middle Eastern democracy and that is influential, in its own right, in Brazil. Brazil could become a model for Diaspora-mobilization for democracy in the Middle East and Muslim outreach in WHA, adding important transnational aspects to our efforts at Transformational Diplomacy. End Summary. Cohen and Keil Visit Sao Paulo
آ¶3. (C) Jared Cohen (S/P) and Janine Keil (INR) visited Sao Paulo, Brazil September 24-26. They met with a variety of representatives -- Christian, Jewish and Muslim -- of Brazil's ethnic Lebanese community. Among the Lebanese Brazilians who met Cohen and Keil were: Joseph Sayah, Lebanon's Consul General; Sheik Jihade Hamade of the World Assembly of Islamic Youth (WAMY, Sunni); Berty Tawil and Ernesto Chayo (Banco Safra); Alfred Cotait (Secretary of International Relations for Sao Paulo City Hall); Guilherme Mattar (Cotait's Chief of Staff); Suheil Yammout (Head of the Lebanese March 14 Movement and representative of Saad Hariri in Brazil); Mohammed Zoghby (President of the Muslim Federation of Brazil); Fouad Naime (journalist, editor of the magazine "Carta do Libano," representative of Phalangist and Lebanese Forces); Salim Schahin (businessman and banker, participant in the Abraham Path Project); and Naji Nahas (businessman). The flagship event of the trip was a cocktail organized by the Lebanese Consul General (CG) at his residence on 9/25, where he invited a variety of Lebanese-Brazilian interlocutors to meet with Cohen and Keil. This was supplemented by a visit to a local mosque as well as a series of private meetings with Banco Safra Officials, leaders of the Future Movement, and Lebanese-Brazilian businessman and billionaire Naji Nahas at the latter's residence. The Community: Broad, Deep, Diverse, and Selectively Engaged
آ¶4. (C) Brazil's Lebanese Diaspora reflects the diversity of its country of origin. As a rough guide, Brazil's ten million persons of Lebanese descent (many of them second and third generation) are 90 percent Christian. The remaining ten percent is 9-to-1 Sunni/Shia. According to those interviewed, Brazil's ethnic Lebanese are divided along both generational and religious lines into three general groups: --The Shia (approximately 160,000 according to the Lebanese CG). The Lebanese-Brazilians interviewed (none of whom were
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Shia) said that the Shia in Brazil are usually first-generation immigrants not well-integrated into Brazilian society. They generally speak little Portuguese and sympathize with Hezbollah, likely even those who do not publicly voice their support for the group. The Shia maintain a close partisan identification with Lebanese politics and many intend to return. There are anecdotal reports, (which have not been verified-NFI), that they receive financial help from the Iranian Embassy in Brazil, including funds distributed to young Shia to start businesses. --The second, third, and fourth generation immigrants, majority March 14-oriented Christians, but also a significant number of Sunni Muslims. (Note: The March 14 Movement or March 14 Alliance refers to Lebanon's 2005 Cedar Revolution, when Lebanese citizens opposed to Syria's occupation of their country rose up in protest against the occupiers following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on 2/14/05. End Note.) This group makes up the vast majority of the Diaspora. Beyond a shared hope for a peaceful and unified Lebanon, they are not deeply involved in the particulars of Lebanese politics. Those interviewed stressed the Diaspora's spirit of integration, insisting the Lebanese conflict's ethnic divisions for the most part do not exist among Lebanese-Brazilians. Their presence in Brazil's business and political life is extensive. Some of Brazil's most successful business and banking leaders hail from the Lebanese community (Safra Bank) as well as the country's political lead ers (Sao Paulo Mayor Gilberto Kasssab is Lebanese; there are 35 members of the Brazil-Lebanon Parliamentary Friendship Group). Interlocutors told us that "there is not a province in Brazil" that does not have an ethnic Lebanese elected to some office. This group, which includes descendants of original Lebanese immigrants, may number into the millions and is the largest Lebanese community in the world. --The third group is a subset -- really a leadership set -- of the broader Lebanese community described above. It consists of very successful and well-connected business persons who are intimately familiar with Lebanese politics. They are often emotionally stricken by the turmoil they see in their ancestral homeland, but have trouble identifying worthy projects to support Lebanese democracy. Members of this leadership group reject Hezbollah's extremism and Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon, but are also disappointed in the corruption that they say permeates all sides of Lebanese politics. They also fear that the U.S. will give up all hope for Lebanese democracy and "abandon" the country. This last group proved most responsive to the Cohen/Keil visit and expressed keen interest in learning more about U.S. initiatives to support Lebanese democracy and in how they could support such efforts. Engagement Not Across-the-Board, But Intense
آ¶5. (C) While most Lebanese Brazilians keep Lebanon's divisions at arms-length, the leaders described above can be intensively engaged in the country. Several of our interlocutors communicate with Lebanese political leaders regularly. President Suheil Yamout of the Future Institute provided perhaps the most concrete example of intense selective engagement when he described his organizations "get out the vote" drive for Lebanon's March parliamentary elections to Cohen and Keil. The Future Institute aims to fly some ten thousand Brazilian citizens who also hold Lebanese passports back to Lebanon to vote this March,
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providing up to USD 10,000 in financial support to each one to make the trip. The Future Institute also mentioned that a likely 50,000 Lebanese will self-finance trips back to Lebanon in the spring to participate in the March elections. They are coordinating with Saad Hariri (son of the Prime Minister assassinated in 2005, leader of the Lebanese Future Movement) to ensure that they maximize thes e votes in the right districts. Meeting participants estimated that there are up to one half-million Lebanese in Brazil who are eligible to hold Lebanese passports and who could conceivably vote in that country's elections. When asked, Lebanese stakeholders explained that the vast majority of these are March 14 supporters. Pre-Polarization Lebanon Meets Brazil
آ¶6. (C) The bulk of the Lebanese community in Brazil contrasts with Lebanon itself in the critical area of polarization. Where Lebanon has become a synonym for religious/ethnic division and state breakdown, the older, second/third/fourth generation Lebanese Brazilians are a community noted for their openness, internal diversity, and tolerance. (The more recently-arrived Shia do not fall under this umbrella.) This became evident throughout a series of meetings that featured local Lebanese Christians, Jews and Sunni Muslims all conversing easily in fluent Lebanese Arabic. Interlocutors attributed this to several factors: the basic tolerance that older Lebanese, products of the pre-1970s Beirut, have for one another; the "melting pot" quality of Brazilian culture, which emphasizes mixing and moderation, the reality that they all want to do business with one another; and finally the conscious desire of the Lebanese Brazilian community not to import Lebanon's troubles into their community. Participants in our meetings were eager to tell the story of the successful Lebanese Brazilian "melting pot" back in the Middle East and particularly in Lebanon. The Diaspora may have lessons for the homeland when it comes to teamwork and tolerance. Response Highly Positive, But....
آ¶7. (C) The majority of Lebanese Brazilian interlocutors eagerly embraced the idea of coordinating engagement with Lebanon with USG efforts. The community manages large financial resources and appears more than willing to engage. That said, conversations revealed two intriguing elements that indicated frustration with the U.S. and a possible need for more Muslim outreach here in Brazil. -At the 9/25 cocktail, Lebanese Brazilian interlocutors worriedly asked Cohen whether or not the U.S. had "given up" on Lebanese democracy? Would the country be abandoned? Cohen replied emphatically that this was not the case, that the President and the Secretary remained firmly engaged. Nonetheless, the participants' disquiet was evident along with their enthusiasm for engagement. -Our 9/25 visit to a local mosque was highly cordial. Sheik Jihad Hassan presented his group as non-political and eager for outreach. Nonetheless, during the visit, Cohen noted that the mosque uses the Salafist (or more radical) of two translations of the Koran available. In addition, when asked about outside support for the mosque, the Sheik said that all financial help came "from the community," an answer that appeared to point to the local communitym, but that seemed ambiguous in the face of the mosque's ample resources for teaching and outreach.
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What Is To Be Done?
آ¶8. (C) Cohen discussed several concrete project ideas for Lebanon with our interlocutors, who responded enthusiastically. Among the ideas put forward: -Filming a documentary about teamwork and tolerance among Christians, Muslims and Jews in Brazil's Lebanese community as a tolerance model that could be broadcast in Lebanon and in the Middle East, possibly by Al-Jazeera Network. -Creating a Brazilian-Lebanese Business Council that could undertake high profile efforts to provide youth employment and internships back in Lebanon. Cohen specifically mentioned the "Teach for Lebanon" initiative as an example that could maybe benefit from this. -Developing a version of the "Birthright" Program (under a different name) that reinforces the connections American Jews feel for Israel by funding travel to Israel. Lebanese youth overseas could be encouraged to travel and even work in Lebanon. -Translating interviews with USG Officials on Lebanon into Portuguese for the Brazilian Lebanese community. Likewise, USG officials who work on Lebanon could give interviews in Brazilian media. -Arranging for the Lebanon-Brazil Parliamentary Friendship Group to visit Washington DC and meet U.S. officials overseeing our policy toward Lebanon. -Setting up meetings for the Lebanese CG in Sao Paulo, Joseph Sayah, to discuss our policies with Washington officials when he next travels to the United States. -The vast majority of interlocutors suggested that Cohen make a follow up visit to Brazil at some point in the near future. Comment: The Multiple Benefits in Diaspora-Engagement
آ¶9. (C) The most important opportunity to emerge from Cohen/Keil's visit was the possibility that Brazil's Lebanese community could support USG efforts to build a democratic and independent Lebanon. Community members expressed enthusiasm for a range of cultural and economic initiatives and appeared ready to self-finance efforts which would work in coordination with the USG.
آ¶10. (C) As potentially important as the Lebanese Diaspora might be for Lebanon, its members remain a strong and influential group here in Brazil. Engaging them, particularly some of their most influential leaders, on an ancestral homeland issue near and dear to their hearts only deepened our already good contacts with this critically important local group and some of its most prominent members.
آ¶11. (C) The Lebanese Diaspora provides a bridge to more moderate Muslim groups that would be excellent targets for outreach.
آ¶12. (C) Lastly, Brazil's diversity and the strong home-country connections of some of its Lebanese Diaspora could make it a testing ground for both Diaspora-engagement strategies and Muslim outreach in Latin America.
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آ¶13. (C) As a point of departure for efforts to engage Middle Eastern communities in Brazil, Post would be interested in models that other posts -- particularly the UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, and Germany -- have employed successfully for Muslim outreach. These would be good points of departure for our own efforts to engage Middle Eastern communities in Brazil.
آ¶14. (C) This message was coordinated with and cleared by the U.S. Embassy, Brasilia.