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05BEIRUT3658 2005-11-10 17:07:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beirut
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O 101707Z NOV 05
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L  BEIRUT 003658 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/10/2015


Classified By: Jeffrey Feltman, Ambassador. Reason: Sections 1.4 (b)
and (d).

1. (C) Summary and Introduction: The full range of
Lebanon's political spectrum has reacted angrily to Syrian
President Bashar al-Asad's November 10 speech at Damascus
University. Our contacts find the speech confrontational,
threatening, and insulting. Most take special note of Asad's
description of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora as the "slave of
his masters, who are slaves of their masters," an apparent
reference in turn to Sa'ad Hariri, and beyond him, the U.S.,
Western partners, and even Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The
speech, in our view, is a further step in Syria's already
unhelpful behavior in the region, including its stirring up
of regional tensions and its defiance of the Mehlis
Commission's efforts to arrive at the facts behind the
assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri. At an
early evening Lebanese Cabinet meeting, however, the five
Shia members of the Cabinet walked out of the meeting when PM
Fouad Siniora raised the issue of Asad's speech. End summary
and introduction.

"A Declaration of War"


2. (C) Bashar al-Asad's hard-line speech in Damascus has
provoked outrage and even surprise at the latest Syrian
tactics in Syria's response to developments in Lebanon,
including the Mehlis Commission report and UNSCR 1636. An
advisor to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told us at mid-day
that Siniora and his staff were working on a statement in
response to the speech. Siniora's staff is hoping to secure
Cabinet approval of a statement when the Cabinet convenes
this evening. Our MFA contact for the Americas doubted that
Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh would issue any statement of
his own, given the precedence of a Cabinet-level or Prime
Ministerial statement.

3. (C) Parliamentary Speaker and Amal party leader Nabih
Berri told the Ambassador moments after seeing the speech
that it neared a "declaration of war." Berri was concerned
that it could incite Palestinian violence. A Shia
turnaround, however, appears to have taken place during the
day. Minister of Telecommunications Marwan Hamade passed the
message to us in the middle of today's Cabinet meeting, which
began at 5:00 PM, that all five Shia members of the Cabinet
walked out of the meeting when PM Fouad Siniora introduced on
the agenda the subject of Asad's speech. We believe that
this Shia action would most likely have come at Syrian

4. (C) We also spoke with the office of Nabih Berri. His
foreign affairs point man, Ali Hamdan, said that "it appears
Asad is going for confrontation." Hamdan gamely but lamely
suggested that U.S. pressure on Syria had given Asad no
choice but to strike back from his corner. Druze leader
Walid Jumblatt told us he was struck by the threats directed
at Lebanon, as well as the disdain that Asad showed for
Siniora and Parliamentary Majority leader Sa'ad Hariri.
Jumblatt added that he did not think that Asad would
cooperate with the UNSCR 1636.

5. (C) Two former Lebanese ambassadors to the U.S. (Simon
Karam and Abdallah Bouhabib, please protect) expressed
concern that the Syrian regime is trying to treat Lebanon as
a battlefield in its confrontation with the U.S. Karam
called Asad's speech "a declaration of war." Bouhabib
recalled a recent television interview by Hizballah's Sheikh
Na'eem Qasim, who seemed to be hinting that an escalating
Syrian campaign of destabilization was in the offing.

6. (C) Christian MP Boutros Harb, a likely contender for
the Lebanese Presidency, echoed concerns about
destabilization. He told us (with some self-interest) that
the only way to prevent Asad from sustaining his threatening
posture and tactics was to remove from office President Emile
Lahoud, a Syrian ally. Harb's fellow Bristol Group MP,
Mosbah al-Ahdab, a Sunni from Tripoli, said that Asad had
tried to play on the emotions of Sunni Islamists in Tripoli
by including in his speech the words, "Tarabolus al-Sham,"
that is, using the historic place name of Tripoli as part of
the conceptual greater Syria. Ahdab also thought that the
address was meant to mobilize Syrian public opinion and
especially to rally Syrian youth. Hariri-bloc MP Atef
Majdalani told us that Asad is either heading toward suicide,
or has been given assurances by someone, somewhere, that he
will be taken care of while raising his rhetorical tone.

7. (C) MP and An-Nahar editor in chief Gebran Tueni said
the speech was a declaration of war against all those who are
for democratic change in the region, including journalists
and academics. Tueni beleived that the Asad speech was
prompted by an Iranian message asking him to be steadfast in
the face of American pressure while the U.S. faces
difficulties in Iraq and the French are busy with domestic
problems. A prominent lawyer in Beirut told us that Asad
shows that he is taking the confrontation option. He thus
feared that some pro-Syrian groups here might engage in
bombing operations to destabilize the situation in Lebanon.
Another lawyer told us that the speech was full of lies,
which the Syrian people have been conditioned to accept, but
that no Lebanese or citizen of any modern country would be so
naive as to take seriously.

8. (C) Some of our contacts have compared today's speech
with one that Asad gave before the Syrian Parliament last
March. They pointed out that Asad's rhetoric in March had
likewise been confrontational toward the U.S. and threatening
toward pro-sovereignty groups in Lebanon. But, our contacts
reminded us, just a month or so later the Syrians withdrew
their military forces and overt intelligence operations from
Lebanon. They suggested that Asad's hostile language, in
this case as well, may yet be followed by constructive
actions. Either way, one of these people said, "It's the end
for the Asad regime. A dirty, messy end, but an end

Press Editorial Views


9. (C) Our public affairs section has spoken to several
newspaper editorial writers. Most agreed that Asad's speech
is "a declaration of war against Lebanon." One pro-Hariri
editorialist called the speech an insult to the international
community and a clear violation of UNSCR 1636. He added that
if he were in PM Siniora's place, he would complain to the UN
Security Council because the speech "is a foundation for
additional chaos in Lebanon, and a call for the Zarquawis to
go ahead with terrorist operations in Lebanon." Two
Hizballah-oriented editorialists were less dramatic. They
noted that most of what Asad said could have been
anticipated, except for the surprising escalation of rhetoric
against the Hariri family. They admitted, however, that the
speech could prompt more chaos and terrorist operations in
Lebanon. Another editorialist suggested that Asad was
concerned about his own Syrian Sunni Muslims, and wanted to
highlight dangers that the Hariris represent to Syria as a
tactic in maintaining Syrian internal unity. Several
editorialists commented that Asad seems to have decided to
confront the international community via Lebanon. They said
they were reminded of a saying, "I am ready to sacrifice
myself to destroy my enemies." Their sense is that Asad no
longer has much hope for himself and does not care about his

Modest Economic Impact?


10. (C) The local economic impact of the Asad speech may be
far lighter than the political effects. Beirut 3657 reports
on how the Beirut business community has taken Asad's
comments negatively, but without special worry about these
comments' business or financial consequences.