WikiLeaks exposes Saudi conspiracy against Hezbollah


WASHINGTON – Saudi Arabia proposed setting up an Arab force to fight Hezbollah militants in Lebanon with the help of the United States, UN and NATO, a US diplomatic cable posted on WikiLeaks said on Tuesday.

In a meeting in May 2008 with US ambassador to Iraq David Satterfield, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said a ‘security response’ was needed to the ‘military challenge’ posed to Beirut by the Iran-backed militants.

The Saudi prince feared a Hezbollah victory against the Lebanese government led by then prime minister Fouad Siniora ‘combined with Iranian actions in Iraq and on the Palestinian front would be a disaster for the US and the entire region.’

There was a need for an ‘Arab force’ to create and maintain order in and around Beirut, he argued, saying the Lebanese army was ‘too fragile to bear more pressure,’ according to the cable from the US embassy in Riyadh.

Such a force would be aided by UNIFIL troops deployed in southern Lebanon, while the ‘US and NATO would need to provide movement and logistic support, as well as naval and air cover,’ the cable added.

But the plan would have triggered alarm in Washington, posing a return for US troops to Lebanon for the first time since the 1983 suicide bombing of a US Marine barracks in Beirut which killed almost 300 people.

Saud argued that ‘of all the regional fronts on which Iran was now advancing, the battle in Lebanon to secure peace would be an easier battle to win.’

He told Satterfield that Siniora strongly supported the plan but that only Jordan, Egypt and the Arab League were aware of it.

What was needed was an ‘Arab force’ drawn from Arab ‘periphery’ states to deploy to Beirut under the ‘cover of the UN,’ Saud said, accusing the UN troops in southern Lebanon of ‘sitting doing nothing.’

But Satterfield said there were real questions about the ‘political and military’ feasibility of such a scheme, and winning a new mandate for UNIFIL would be difficult.

The memo suggests Saudi Arabia is obsessed by what it sees as a threat from Iran, fearing Tehran’s alleged ambition to spread Shi’ite Islam. Saudi Arabia is predominantly Sunni, and minority Shi’ites face regular condemnation by officials as having rejected ‘true’ Islam. Iran, is predominantly Shi’ite.

The Saudi foreign minister further argued that the current situation in Beirut was ‘entirely military’ and so the response should be a military one as well.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, in a newspaper opinion piece published on Wednesday after his arrest in London, said the whistle-blowing website was ‘fearlessly’ pursuing facts in the public interest.

In his commentary for The Australian newspaper, Assange made no mention of a legal case against him in Sweden over allegations of rape. He was due to appear in court after surrendering to British detectives on Tuesday.

The 39-year-old Australian defended the website’s methods, and wrote that ‘not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed’ through its revelations.

Assange likened his campaign to the World War I reporting of Keith Murdoch, the father of media baron Rupert Murdoch, which excoriated British generals’ management of the Gallipoli campaign in which thousands of Australians died.

‘Nearly a century later, WikiLeaks is also fearlessly publishing facts that need to be made public,’ the website’s supremo wrote.

Long-established newspapers have published its leaks but WikiLeaks alone ‘has copped the most vicious attacks and accusations from the US government and its acolytes’, he said.

The US State Department, joined by politicians in Australia, was chanting ‘a provocably false chorus’ that WikiLeaks was risking lives, national security and troops’ safety, Assange said.

The Pentagon, NATO and the Australian government had all said there was no evidence of people coming to harm or of sensitive intelligence sources being compromised as a result of the website’s reporting, he said.

He accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard of a ‘disgraceful pandering’ to calls from right-wing US politicians for his assassination or execution.

‘We are the underdogs. The Gillard government is trying to shoot the messenger because it doesn’t want the truth revealed, including information about its own diplomatic and political dealings,’ Assange wrote.

He recapped some of the many revelations made in a trove of US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, and prior releases of US documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, arguing they were all in the public interest.

Assange denied that he was anti-war, supporting the notion of ‘just wars’ when nations have right on their side.

‘But there is nothing more wrong than a government lying to its people about those wars, then asking these same citizens to put their lives and their taxes on the line for those lies,’ he said.

The WikiLeaks founder recalled a landmark ruling in 1971 by the US Supreme Court, which upheld newspapers’ right to publish the government’s secret ‘Pentagon Papers’ about the Vietnam War.

‘The swirling storm around WikiLeaks today reinforces the need to defend the right of all media to reveal the truth,’ Assange concluded.

Meanwhile, in the trove of secret US State Department correspondence, the French daily Le Monde uncovered a secret note that Algeria agreed in January to allow the United States to fly spy planes over its territory to hunt for Al-Qaeda bases in the Sahara.

‘No partner is more important than Algeria in the fight against Al-Qaeda,’ the US embassy in Algiers said, according to Le Monde’s French translation of the memo.

‘Algeria wants to be a strategic partner, not a rival.’

The memo said that the planes would usually operate from the US naval airbase in Rota, in southern Spain.

A previous memo, dated December 30 last year described the negotiations between US officials and senior Algerian foreign ministry official Sabri Boukadoum that led to the deal.

‘The planes, Lockheed Martin EP-3 spy planes operated by the US Navy, intercept radio and other electronic communications and will be tasked to overfly Algeria to patrol the skies over Mali and Mauritania,’ it said.

Al-Qaeda’s north African subsidiary – Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – has bases in the Mauritanian desert and regularly carries out kidnappings of Western civilians. It is holding five French and two African hostages.

The December memo said the United States has asked other governments in the region permission to make the flights and was awaiting their response.