Lebanon’s Defense Minister Helps Israel Attack Lebanese Civilians

elias-murr-jean-kahwaji-2010-8-11-10-0-34Israel inflicted incredible damage to local civilian infrastructure in the 2006 Lebanon war.

In the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah, there an Islamist paramilitary force that controls most of southern Lebanon, Israel bombed bridges, roads, schools, medical clinics, power stations, even the Beirut international airport. Vast swaths of southern Lebanon were left uninhabitable due to unexploded Israeli cluster bombs, and the Israeli bombing of the Jiyeh power station caused the largest ever oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea and created a ‘toxic cloud’ which rained oil all over Lebanon. The country still has not recovered from the war, with the Lebanese government saying it would take at least 10 years to rebuild the damage done to civilian infrastructure.

What is the Lebanese Defense Minister doing to protect his country’s civilians and national infrastructure?

Giving advice to Israel.

In yet another diplomatic bombshell revealed by Wikileak’s publication earlier this week of over a quarter million US diplomatic wires, Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr is revealed to have offered advice on how Israel could defeat Hezbollah in what many see as an inevitable repeat of the 2006 war.

“Israel cannot bomb bridges and infrastructure in the Christian areas,” Murr was quoted as telling diplomats at the US in the Lebanese capital of Beirut on March 10, 2008. “The Christians were supporting Israel in 2006 until they started bombing their bridges.”

The comments, sent to Washington in a diplomatic cable by the current US ambassador to Lebanon Michel Sison, then-chargé d’affaires at the embassy, imply that it would be perfectly acceptable to the Lebanese defense minister, a Greek Orthodox Christian, for Israel to bomb bridges and infrastructure in Muslim areas.

“I am sure Hezbollah is scared and they are preparing for a severe lesson this time,” the minister added, claiming that the powerful Islamist paramilitary force was much less confident of its abilities to respond to an Israeli attack.

To be clear: Lebanon’s defense minister, the leader of the Lebanese Army, is quoted effectively inviting his arch enemy to attack his country so as to deal “a severe lesson” to a paramilitary group which the Lebanese Army, in cooperation with the United Nations, is tasked with disarming.

The minister even went so far as to try relay a message to Israel via the US diplomat to protect specific Lebanese army units in southern Lebanon.

“Murr was especially concerned for members of the 1st and 8th Brigades in the Beka’a valley,” Sison wrote in the cable. “Murr thinks that these units will be cut off from HQ support while Israel is conducting operations against Hezbollah… They will have to turn to the local populace for food, water etc. Since the populace is mainly Hizballah supporters, Murr is afraid that these two units could be dragged into the fight, the ultimate disaster Murr hopes to avoid.”

Instigated by Hezbollah, the 2006 Lebanon war stretched from the northern Israeli city of Haifa, through all of Israel’s north and all of southern Lebanon and up to Beirut. At least 1300 people were killed and one million Lebanese and up to half a million Israelis were displaced.

Hardly afraid of a repeat of such death and displacement, the Lebanese defense minister asked the US to find out how long it would take Israel to “clean out” Hezbollah so that his brigades in the south could store enough supplies to sit tight and stay out of it. He also told the US that he had instructed the army commanders to keep out of the fighting “when Israel comes.”

In other words, the defense minister is perfectly fine with the Israeli army bombing Lebanese territory and causing damage to civilian infrastructure, so long as Israel does so only in Muslim areas and keeps the Lebanese army out of it.

Murr denied making the comments in the meeting.

“The information posted by WikiLeaks is not complete and is not accurate,” Murr aide George Soulage told AFP. “The aim behind this is to sow discord in Lebanon.”

But it’s pretty hard to believe that WikiLeaks would just make all that up “to sow discord in Lebanon”, and it is not the role of defense ministers to worry for their soldiers’ safety alone. Lebanon’s defense minister is charged with defending all civilians, both Christian and Muslim.

For Minister Murr to be inviting a foreign army to bomb civilian infrastructure in Muslim areas is far beyond the pale of reasonable behind-the-scenes diplomatic dealing.

Call on Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr to immediately resign over the comments, and on Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to fire him, whichever comes first.

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