BEIRUT — Lebanon’s parliament speaker, a seemingly unshakeable ally of the powerful Shiite Hezbollah, drew pleasure from Israel’s deadly raids on the militant group in 2006, a leaked US diplomatic cable said.
The July 2006 cable, classified confidential and released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks last week, said speaker Nabih Berri suggested the conflict was an opportunity to deal a serious blow to the Iranian- and Syrian-backed group.
“Berri condemned the ferocity of Israel’s military response but admitted that a successful Israeli campaign against Hezbollah would be an excellent way to destroy Hezbollah’s military aspirations and discredit their political ambitions,” read the cable, filed by former US ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman, now an undersecretary of state.
Berri, a veteran Shiite politician and ex-warlord who has held the post of parliament speaker uninterrupted for almost two decades, responded to the cable Monday by saying his Amal movement remained a staunch ally of Hezbollah.
“The Amal movement was and remains a fundamental ally of Hezbollah,” said a statement from his office.
“We have demanded the US State Department provide us with the original cable through its embassy in Lebanon to determine whether WikiLeaks or Feltman is the liar.”
In his cable, Feltman indicated that Berri’s comments appeared to be motivated by the fact that Hezbollah holds unrivalled command over Lebanon’s Shiite Muslim community.
“We are certain that Berri hates Hezbollah as much, or even more, than the (Western-backed) March 14 politicians; after all, Hezbollah’s support… is drawn from the Shiites who might otherwise be with Berri,” read the cable.
Feltman described Berri as having had “remarkably high” spirits during the meeting, which came a few days into the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah that summer, at one point throwing his head back in “riotous laughter”.
The US diplomat also said Berri felt betrayed by his fellow Shiite, Hezbollah commander Hassan Nasrallah, who had promised stability in Lebanon.
“We can never sit down at the table with him (Nasrallah) again,” Feltman quotes Berri as saying in the cable. “We think he lied to us.”
Berri also criticised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a key supporter of Amal and Hezbollah, slamming statements made by Assad at the end of the war as “stupid and unbelievable”, according to a separate cable filed in August 2006.
In a speech on August 15, 2006, one day after the end of the war, Assad said Lebanon’s Western-backed March 14 alliance was an “Israeli product”.
The 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah was sparked on July 12 by the cross-border kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and ended three days after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a ceasefire.
The fighting destroyed much of Lebanon’s major infrastructure and killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.