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Picnicking on Mount Vesuvius? Is the US Embassy in Lebanon squandering its diplomatic immunity?
Saturday, 17 April 2010 15:01
by Franklin Lamb Ph.D. in Beirut

Tensions are rising  in Lebanon between elected representatives in Parliament, ‘Unity’  Cabinet members  and the American Embassy, as the 27th anniversary of the attack 1983 attack on the US Embassy approaches and the Embassy issues another  warning for Americans to leave Lebanon.

On March 29, 2010 the US Embassy instructed Americans not to travel to Lebanon citing ‘safety and security concerns.”  Simultaneously it warned  those who are in Lebanon to seriously consider leaving.

 Advising that, Lebanon, placed on a US list of 14 countries “linked to Terrorism”  following the Christmas Day attempted aircraft  bombing near Detroit,  has “the potential for a spontaneous upsurge in violence , US citizens living and working in Lebanon should understand that they accept risks in remaining and should carefully consider those risks, as Embassy personnel may not be able to aid them in case of conflict.”

The “Warder Warning” to American citizens follows a series of  recent efforts by the Embassy to pressure the National Lebanese Resistance led by Hezbollah, currently shaping the new Unity’ government with its work in Parliament and the Cabinet. It comes  following Opposition charges, emphasized by Hezbollah’s Secretary Hassan Nasrallah the preceding  week, that the US Embassy in Beirut engages in espionage activities for Israel and cautioning that the collaboration was very dangerous for  Lebanon.

According to Nasrallah during an interview with Al Manar channel: “All the information which the US embassy gathers in Beirut reaches Israel. Here we are not speaking about a normal foreign embassy which is gathering information for its own government … When it comes to the American embassy in Beirut, it is a different story…And so what is given to the US Embassy and what reaches the Israelis, the information, all of these leads to the destruction of Lebanon. This helps the Israeli enemy to understand what is going on in Lebanon, to use this information against Lebanon and to take revenge against our country…What is the difference between espionage networks, which give information directly, or giving information by mediation, meaning giving it to the US embassy who then gives it to the Israeli side?” Nasrallah ask his viewing audience, estimated at more than 100 million viewers around the region.

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April 2010 and April 1983 parallels?

The Hezbollah Secretary-General is not the only one questioning  whether  the Us Embassy operates as “a normal foreign embassy”  with acceptable “ mild spying and information gathering” or operates as “ an espionage network”  for Israel and passing it intelligence  reports  from US assets throughout Lebanon who monitor all roads and paths from Syria as well as South Lebanon and South Beirut.

What increasingly concerns many in Lebanon is the US Embassy role in recent projects including  a “security agreement between the US and the Lebanese Internal Security Force’ (ISF) and the Embassy and their  allies   described as “an American donation” to train and equip the ISF and make Lebanon stronger.

The “donation” resulted from the January 25, 2007  Paris-3 International Conference on the support for Lebanon.  As far as security is concerned, March 14 foes charge that  the then pro-American-pro-Saudi  Fuad  Saniora government “gave away the store” to  U.S. intelligence by placing data related to Lebanon's two mobile phone networks at the disposal of the United States, that it is believed would allow the Embassy and Israel to tap Lebanese phones. There is a  widely held belief in Lebanon that all information the Embassy receives goes to Israel.  Also protested was the  adopting  of the American interpretation of “terrorism” which as applied by the Embassy means that no ISF member who is a Hezbollah member could receive any training to due various US Terrorism lists issues.

According to the Lebanese Ministry of Communications, the US embassy in Beirut filed a request to install reception devices in two positions in Lebanon located in mountainous areas in Aley and overlooking most of the Lebanese regions. The first is 22 kilometers away from Beirut, 760 meters above sea level and stretching over 251 hectares, while the second is 29 kilometers away from Beirut, 540 meters above sea level and stretching over 643 hectares. The  US Embassy position is that it tower demand falls under the headline of technical assistance  stipulated in the “donation” agreement.

Suspicion  were also raised that the commando units  the US wanted to train might be intended for use against the National Lebanese Resistance  during  a future conflicts with Israel.

On March 16, 2010, the Syrian daily  Al Watan asked  Lebanese MP Nawaf Mousawi about  the growing concern in Parliament.  Mousawi, one of Hezbollah’s most popular and sought after  interlocutors with American and other foreign delegations visiting Lebanon, replied :

“If the reports we read in the Lebanese papers are true, this would be a horrid scandal since it would mean that the American embassy was violating Lebanon’s sovereignty and that the American security apparatuses were trying to infiltrate personal and national security in Lebanon. This would constitute an Israeli security infiltration since there is a security agreement between Israel and America in regard to the exchange of information”… "Moreover, I say that today the American embassy in Lebanon has a private militia called the embassy’s guard, arresting each suspected citizen in the massive area surrounding the embassy that has become an isolated geography within the Lebanese geography. It has become a state within a state with tapping devices violating the intimacy of the Lebanese people and intelligence officers monitoring all that goes on in the ministries and public administrations. We in Lebanon now need to liberate our land from the occupation of the American militia and to liberate part of our decisions from the American occupation by limiting the relations of the American embassy to the Foreign Ministry and preventing the American apparatuses from acquiring information in Lebanon.”

Crossing  the boundaries of Diplomatic protection?

The Embassy’s intense and escalating campaign against the Opposition, a main pillar of Lebanon’s government, is also  raising questions among International lawyers  and government officials  whether the Embassy has squandered its diplomatic status under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic  Relations.  A study in underway  in Lebanon to determine the extent of the  US Embassy abuse of Diplomatic Immunity.  Opinions among scholars and analysts  range from a raft of challenges to allowing Israel to have an ‘illegal outpost” in Lebanon to sanctioning the Embassy for violations of the Vienna Convention, specifically under Art. 41 which requires that foreign Embassies, “ respect the laws and regulations of the receiving  State and not interfere in the internal affairs of the receiving  State.”

Researchers point out that 27 years ago this month, on April 18, 1983 the American Embassy was attacked as a direct and foreseeable result of the Embassy’s involvement as a command and control center on behalf of Israel against the majority population of Lebanon.  According to former CIA agent Robert Baer, the CIA never did determine who was behind the bombing( there were a few dozen upstart resistance groups wanting to expel Israel in those days)  but understood that it was the result of hostile US actions against Lebanon.

Food for thought

 Legal experts at the State Department privately admit that despite  years of  public statements to the contrary, the April 18, 1983 attack cannot be accurately labeled ‘terrorism’ because  by bringing in and housing  the command center staffed by at least 8 CIA agents and various ‘special ops’ units who were running a network of pro-Israel assets and providing targeting information to the USS New Jersey offshore and Israel forces in the mountains and Chouf the Embassy lost its claim to diplomatic immunity.  The Embassy actions  enabled the  shelling  of Lebanon and the  killing of hundreds of  innocent Lebanese civilians, among many other activities. Consequently,  the Embassy became a legitimate military target udder the international laws of armed conflict. Lebanese  resistance forces, who opposed the Israeli occupation of their country and their American and French allies who had abandoned their claimed role as ‘peacekeepers” and in fact had taken sides in the conflict were legally within their right and duty to neutralize the threat presented.   The specific and legitimate military target of  the  April 18,1983  attack on the US  Embassy is Beirut were the  eight CIA agents and their teams who had been identified by Soviet sources and the information sent to allies in Lebanon.

While no reasonable person might suggest that the Embassy is  currently subject to a third attack, despite regular salafist and al Qaeda wannabe threats, observers point out the irony that it has been Hezbollah, incessantly attacked by the Embassy and its allies in the Lebanese Forces and Phalange party, (Ed: the same groups who held power in 1983 and sponsored  the giveaway May 17, 1983 Agreement with Israel),  that has  invisibly protected the Embassy several times over the past two decades, just as it quietly provided security in south Beirut during last spring’s visit of President Carter with Lebanon’s  Senior Shia cleric, Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, still on a US Terrorism list for purely political reasons.

Lebanon’s recourse

 Lebanon  currently has few practical or easy diplomatic options. The ultimate sanction and prevention measure available for Lebanon is the severance of diplomatic relations. That is unlikely unless Israel attacks Lebanon for the 6th time with the predictable American ‘green light’. The doctrines of self defense and self preservation are also available to Lebanon in order to prevent a foreign Embassy from  facilitating aggressor against it.

Additional activities viewed as arguably incompatible  with its legitimate diplomatic functions is the drum beat of attacks on certain parties in Parliament (those allied with Hezbollah) including the current widely believed to be fake “Sryia gives Scuds to Hezbollah” charges.   On April 15, 2010,Syria emphatically denied the charge and asked for evidence while claiming  that Israel was paving the way for new military action in the region with its false allegation.

Zero evidence has been offered by Washington or the Embassy  to support this rumor, which like so many these days, originated with Israel’s President Shimon Peres and given credence in the US Congress and now the American Embassy.  Inquiries of the American Ambassador at yesterday’s  talk by former US Senator Bob Graham (R-Fla.)  at the American University of Beirut, as to why the Embassy offered no satellite photos for the large easily detected outdated missiles  were meet mutely  with a radiant and  wide smile.

The  US Embassy  is further accused of feeding certain politicians including the Phalange and Lebanese Forces parties with disinformation to attack the Lebanese Resistance.   For example, MP Samir Geagea regularly meets and communicates with Embassy personnel and the next day invariably launches another attack aimed at lowering  the high 84%  polling statistics  showing the level of Lebanese support   for  the  Resistance, led by Hezbollah, deterrence capability against Israel.

MP Mousawi again: “ the U.S. embassy in Awkar is harming national reconciliation efforts through the policy of sabotage and fragmentation it is adopting in Lebanon and the region."

As of the morning of April 16, 2010 the US Embassy in Beirut, said that, “the United States  is “increasingly concerned” about the transfer of more sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah.”  But it has now  admitted that  it has no proof of Scuds being transferred to anyone from Syria.

As of the morning of April 16, 2010 Hezbollah intends that  the Lebanese government   will review every bi-lateral agreement made with the US Embassy.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and volunteers with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign. He can be reached at fplamb@gmail.com.

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