Friday 3 December 2010

Operation Cedar Sweep: Lebanon Requests US Reconnaissance Flights over Territories

As-Safir Lebanese daily mentioned that Wikileaks leaked diplomatic cables issued on Thursday revealed secret US spy flights taking place from the UK's Cyprus airbase.

Codenamed "Cedar Sweep", the Lebanese defense ministry had asked Washington to conduct this operation over a period extending from April to August 2008 at least.

This was the phase during which internal political conflict was escalating in Lebanon in light of the Seniora government.

The leaks, by disclosing "espionage" American missions over Lebanon and uncovering the blatant breach of Lebanon's sovereignty, and the compliance of these missions with the daily "Israeli" aerial violations, grew concerns of Britain that the request for reconnaissance flights may have been made by the Lebanese Minister of Defense, rather than the entire Lebanese government.

In addition, while these cables describe the main aim behind the missions of the Cedar Sweep as "fighting terrorism", yet it does not determine the Lebanese areas over which the US flights were conducted over, neither did the cables determine the "terrorist" sides which are the aim of the operation.

The use of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus for US U2 spy plane missions over locations in Lebanon, prompted an acrimonious series of exchanges between British officials and the US embassy in London, according to the cables released by WikiLeaks.

The then foreign secretary David Miliband said the planes gathered intelligence that was then allegedly passed to the Lebanese authorities to help them "track down Hizbullah, reported the Guardian.

He further stated that in the past, such flights have also been carried out on "Israel's" behalf by the US.

The British Government believed that the Lebanese government is denying statements that it had requested aerial reconnaissance flights.

British Foreign Office official, John Hillman said if the Lebanese government denied the said request, then the British government will face difficulties in exploiting British territories in the Cedar Sweep mission.

Hillman clarified that the Human Rights department in the British Foreign Ministry, has referred that in spite of Lebanon's Defense Ministry's guarantees, it will not exploit the exchanged intelligence information in an illegal way.

Furthermore, Human Rights Watch, and the US Foreign Ministry has documented cases of torture and arbitrary arrest by the Lebanese armed forces.

Hillman stressed that the Human Rights reports will be evaluated by the first of May, referring that the approval on the Cedar Sweep mission had been discussed in the War and Foreign Ministry, and was finally approved by then Minister of State for Middle East Affairs Kim Howells.
 The wikileaks cables also confirmed the presence of data including the scheduled Cedar Sweep reconnaissance mission in the period of 1 May - 31 August 2008, also confirmed that there had been reconnaissance planes covering northern Iraq and Turkey.

On its part, the US Embassy in Britain considered the additional conditions demanded by the British government were "not only burdensome but unrealistic".

US War and Foreign Ministry Officials also tried to convince British counterparts that "Excessive conditions such as described above will hinder, if not obstruct, our co-operative counter-terrorism efforts", as came in the cables, stressing that the British government supports the Seniora government.

The US cables leaked documents also confirmed that the planes used in Cesar Sweep mission were flown from British Royal Air Force Akrotiri base in Cyprus.

Documents refer that the Foreign Office's director general for British war and intelligence, Mariot Leslie, demanded imposing conditions on launching the reconnaissance planes, and differentiated between the normal reconnaissance planes and those seeking for operations that Cedar Sweep mission.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband (L)
shakes hands with Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora
at the government palace in Beirut November 19, 2008.
Leslie referred that the Americans had not been obedient to the conditions agreed upon by both parties, stressing that Cedar Sweep mission flights were operational and concerned with gathering information.

The cable read, in reference to Mariot Leslie, "She explained that because CEDAR SWEEP was an operational flight, as well as intel-related, "all sorts of additional UK legal obligations come into play," including the EU Convention on Human Rights".

In the cable sent on 20 May 2008, Leslie stated that the British government "desperately needs" its Akrotiry base in Cyprus for its intelligence operations, also committing to keeping the base available for the US and France.

On the other hand, Leslie referred that the Cypriots are hypersensitive concerning the British presence on their territories, which could result in turning off the utilities at any time.

Leslie expressed annoyance from John Hillman's stance referred to in the cable sent on May 14, where she confirmed that the British stance"merely meant to lay out that the HMG approval for CEDAR SWEEP was based on the U.S. assurance that the operation had been requested by the Government of Lebanon and was being conducted in a permissive environment", the cable read.

The Wikileaks revealed cables also included one saying that Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr gave "Israel" advice on how to occupy Lebanon.

According to a secret March 2008 conversation revealed in a diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks, Lebanon's Defense Minister Elias Murr told Americans the Lebanese army would stay out of the way if "Israel" tried to wipe out Hizbullah.

"Making clear that he was not responsible for passing messages to "Israel", Murr told us that "Israel" would do well to avoid two things when it comes for Hizbullah," the cable read.

"One, it must not touch the Blue Line or the UNSCR 1701 areas as this will keep Hizbullah out of these areas," the cable read, in reference that the southern Lebanese area are being patrolled by international troops.

"Two, "Israel" cannot bomb bridges and infrastructure in the Christian areas," Murr was cited as saying.

The US cable also added, "Murr is trying to ascertain how long an offensive would be required to clean out Hizbullah... The LAF will move to pre-position food, money, and water with these units so they can stay on their bases when "Israel" comes for Hizbullah - discreetly, Murr added".

"For Murr, the LAF's strategic objective was to survive a three week war ‘completely intact' and able to take over once Hizbullah's militia has been destroyed", the leaks further added.

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