In all the talk about people whose lives have been endangered by WikiLeaks’ broad release of diplomatic cables, why don’t you hear more about Elias Murr?
According to March 2008 notes prepared by then-chargé d’affaires in Beirut (later ambassador to Lebanon) Michele J. Sison, Lebanese Minister of Defense Murr offered tips on how the Israeli Defense Force could invade his own country without getting into a fight with his army.
The cable indicates Murr believed Israel in the summer of 2008 would repeat its 2006 broad-based attack on Hizbollah in Lebanon. (It didn’t.) During that conflict, Murr reportedly said his aim as defense minister would be to ensure that the Lebanese Army did not engage the Israelis. He described plans to stash food, money, and water for the marooned soldiers of the 1st and 8th Brigades, who while sitting out the war in the Beka'a Valley would be unable to forage from a local populace described as “mainly Hizballah supporters.”
According to Sison:
Murr also gave guidance to [then-Lebanese Armed Forces commander and now President of Lebanon Michel] Sleiman that the LAF should not get involved "when Israel comes." This guidance came four days after Sleiman had instructed his officers to be prepared (ref D). Murr told us that he promised Sleiman the political cover for LAF inaction. Murr's opinion is that an Israeli action against Hizballah would not be a war against Lebanon and that Syria and Iran did not ask Lebanon's permission to equip Hizballah with its rockets. As such, the LAF has been ordered to not get involved with any fighting and to fulfill a civil defense role, such as humanitarian support, when/if hostilities break out. Murr told us that he would personally speak to the Shia officers in the Army to make sure they understood why the Army was not going to participate.
The offensive never happened, but Murr’s plan to cooperate tacitly with an army on the attack—from a country with which Murr’s country is technically at war—seems like exactly the kind of sensitive information whose release could endanger life and limb, and underscores the many calls for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be hunted down, executed, or at least subjected to absurdly loaded questions. (In the event, Assange was jailed yesterday on none-too-compelling sex crimes charges.) Here you have a minister of defense abjuring the defense of his own country’s territory, in a country where political violence is never far away.
Yet Murr does not appear to be in any peril. A spokesman for the defense minister says the cable (which surfaced in the Lebanese paper Al Akhbar, not in the original searchable WikiLeaks cable dump) is “not complete and not accurate…does not reflect the truth about what happened during the meeting and it has no value” and is only intended “to sow discord in Lebanon.” After a brief dustup in the Israeli and local media, the issue fizzled out.
That’s because the Murr cable—like, apparently, every cable included in the rapidly fading WikiLeaks diplomatic database—simply revealed what everybody already knew. The Lebanese army would not engage Israel just as it has declined to engage Israel on all previous occasions; a Lebanese official exudes a mixture of bravado (“Murr told us that ‘they (Hizballah) are scared, terrorized’”) and confessional self-pity (“Murr reported that Christians want to sell their property so they can leave Lebanon”); and somebody in the Middle East is both looking for revenge and anticipating counter-revenge (“Hizballah must respond to the Mughniya assassination, but they know it will bring retribution”).
This is news?
And it’s the same way no matter what you look for. Whether you choose to drill down on intellectual property or Canadians or (as I did) Lebanon, the disclosures are eerily in tune with the cocktail party view of U.S. policy. Pick a topic, any topic, and it will conform to what you pretty much understood from following the mainstream media. Vladimir Putin (or just Vladimir, as George W. Bush insists on calling him in one of several cool literary effects in his memoir Decision Points) has broad regional desires but is uncannily tuned in to public and international perceptions. The Sunnis want the Americans to attack the Shiites. Israel is wary of, but realistic about, military assistance the United States provides to other countries in the Levant. And so on. It’s a drama without plot twists, as measured and judicious as one of those unsigned editorials The New York Times and its imitators still run every morning.
Let’s take an example. In March 2005 Hervé de Charrette (then an official of Nicolas Sarkozy’s political party, now president of the French-Arab Chamber of Commerce, "a permanent business forum for French and Arab entrepreneurs") offers “a hand of friendship and cooperation” to then-U.S. Ambassador to France Howard Leach. He praises U.S. efforts in the Middle East, regrets the “embarrassing” decline in relations with the United States under then-president Jacques Chirac, and promises his party will reach out “to its natural partner the Republican Party, but also to the Democrats.”
Now repair to page 465 of Decision Points, wherein Bush in turn gushes about “Nicolas Sarkozy, the dynamic French president who had run on a pro-American platform.”
This smoothness of cross-referencing applies within the cables themselves. Here’s Murr (again, per Ambassador Sison’s 2008 notes) sizing up the lessons Israel learned during its unsuccessful and broadly destructive incursion into Lebanon in 2006:
Murr harbors no illusion that they will not get bogged down in the village a second time. Instead, Murr thinks they will bypass strongholds in villages and pursue the main forces, the rockets…
Murr thinks that Ehud Barak is a very different Minister of Defense than the one who tried to win a war using airpower…