Thursday, June 16, the ambassadors or the United States, Britain and France and the UN Secretary’s representative Terje Larsen went into a very private conference in Paris to repair the damage wrought by an unforeseen turn of events in last week’s election in central Lebanon.
No one was supposed to know about the meeting. After a few leaks appeared about an unusual conference, a spokesperson for the French foreign ministry insisted the ambassadors’ meeting was “not extraordinary” and concerned “the international community’s efforts to help Lebanon.”
A US embassy spokesman added: “The meeting is to coordinate a forward march towards democracy in the country.”
But the press leaks did not do justice to the level of the conference or its urgency. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, the level was that of deputy directors-general of ministries. The US was represented by assistant secretary of state David Welsh. Also there were the heads of the Middle East desks of the CIA, Britain’s MI6 secret service and the French General Directorate for External Security, the DGSE.
Since the February assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, this secret group has been acting on behalf of the three Western governments as the forum for determining the future of Lebanon and possibly Syria.
Its existence is revealed here for the first time.
The group’s original game plane was to bring General Michel Aoun, 69, home from his 15-year Paris exile and set him up as the Lebanese opposition’s unifying symbol. Damascus would be forced to remove its army from Lebanon by pressure applied through the United Nations, after which a general election would take place to get rid of the pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud. The process was to have culminated with the election of Aoun as president.
The US-UK-French game plan that went agley
DEBKA-Net-Weekly outlined this plan in several issues and finally revealed its collapse.
Three factors were instrumental in undoing the original plan:
1. The two Lebanese opposition leader who were to have played along – the Druze chief Walid Jumblat and the slain politician’s son Sunni Muslim leader Saad Hariri – backed away from their assigned supporting role for Aoun.
2. The returning exile, suspecting their desertion was part of an American double-cross, crossed the lines and allied his Free Patriotic Movement with the most prominent pro-Syrian figures in Lebanese politics.
In central Lebanon he recruited Michel More, brother-in-law of Lahoud; in the Baabda-Aley district of the Druze Chouf mountains, he sought out Jumblatt’s rival Talal Arselan. Readying himself for the final and last round of voting in the north, he forged alliances with senior members of the pro-Syrian government in power when Hariri was murdered, former prime minister Omar Karami and former interior minister Suleiman Franjieh. The anti-corruption theme of his campaign struck an answering chord among voters.
3. The anti-Syrian coalition woke up too late to the point of Aoun’s exercise, which was to divide its ranks and split the Christian community. The behind-the-scenes wire-pullers were taken aback by the extent of his victory last Sunday, June 12.
In the first three rounds, the opposition collected 46 seats, the pro-Syrian Hizballah and allies 33. But the 21 seats picked up by Aoun pose a major threat. In the last of the four rounds of voting, 28 seats are at stake in the north next Sunday, June 19. Aoun now has a good chance of preventing the opposition from winning the missing 19 seats and so denying the anti-Syrian camp a majority in the 128-member elected legislature.
This victory would put paid to the core elements of the US-British-French game plan for Lebanon, a parliamentary majority for sacking Lahoud as president and Saad Hariri’s appointment as prime minister.
Saad Hariri prime minister, Aoun president
Last week’s upset forced the Paris conference to think about revising their plans and prepare for the anti-Syrian coalition failing to raise enough votes to form a government headed by Hariri.
The obvious course would be to solicit the support of the Shiite Hizballah-Amal list. This would mean foregoing the Western demand endorsed by the UN to disarm the Hizballah terrorists. Leaving them armed would preserve the military role played in Lebanon by the radical Shiite group’s allies, Syria and Iran.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources reveal that the Paris session ended by proposing two top-secret alternatives for salvaging their Lebanon strategy.
One, the three Western governments would deploy their undercover agents to boost the number of votes for the anti-Syrian list, working through local vote-getters and laying out money.
If this failed, Two would come into play with a five-point post-election program for presentation to the election winners and prime movers:
A. Aoun and his supporters would help Saad Hariri get elected as prime minister.
B. The same combination of factions would sack Lahoud.
C. The new parliament would amend the constitution to curtail the president’s powers. This amendment is necessary to elicit Jumblatt and Hariri’s consent to endorse Aoun’s appointment as president.
D. Aoun would take over as president.
E. These steps would obviate the need to bring Hizballah into the government. Steps to disarm the Shiite terrorists could begin.
This program if executed would in fact restore the Western Lebanese coalition’s game plan to its original form and repair the damage caused by the dumping of Aoun.