Picnicking on Mount Vesuvius?

Is the US Embassy in Lebanon
squandering its diplomatic immunity?

Franklin Lamb
April 16, 2010

Beirut — Tensions are rising in Lebanon between elected representatives in
Parliament, ‘Unity’ Cabinet members and the American Embassy, as the
27th anniversary of the 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 was speaking to an audience estimated at more than 100 million
viewers around the region.

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) which 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,
[the] March 14 [opposition] charges 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 its tower demand falls under
the headline of technical assistance stipulated in the “donation” agreement.

Suspicions 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 conflict 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

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 under 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, (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 – “Syria 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

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and volunteers with the
Palestine Civil Rights Campaign. He can be reached at [email protected].