Cairo: Saudi Arabia proposed deploying an Arab
military force backed by US and NATO airpower to Lebanon two
years ago to crush Hezbollah and prevent the militant group _
and its patron Iran _ from taking power in Beirut, leaked US
government documents show.
The proposal _ made by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud
al-Faisal during talks with US diplomat David Satterfield in
May 2008 _ was never acted on, but it reflects concerns in
Riyadh and other Sunni Arab capitals about the growing
influence of Shiite Iran in the region.
In the meeting, Saud said that a ``security response``
was needed to Hezbollah`s challenge to the Lebanese government
of then-Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, warning that a Hezbollah.
``victory in Beirut would mean the end of the Siniora
government and the `Iranian takeover` of Lebanon,`` according
to a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.
The talks took place just days after Hezbollah, which is
the strongest military force in Lebanon, briefly seized
control of large parts of Beirut in fighting with
Hezbollah`s success raised the prospect of the militant
group staging a permanent takeover of the Lebanese capital.
To counter that, Saud proposed ``an `Arab force` to
create and maintain order in and around Beirut.`` The cable
said Saud argued for the US and NATO to ``provide movement and
logistic support, as well as `naval and air cover.```
The troops, he said, could be assisted and come under the
cover of the current UN peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon,
known as UNIFIL. Such a force would ``keep out Hezbollah
forever`` in Lebanon, Saud was quoted as saying in the memo.
The cable goes on to say Saud told Satterfield that
Siniora ``strongly supports`` the idea, but that only Egypt,
Jordan and the head of the Arab League were also aware of the
plan. Syria, another Iranian ally with strong influence in
Lebanon, had not been consulted, Saud said, adding ``what
would be the use?``
The US response to the proposal appeared lukewarm. In the
memo, Satterfield questioned the political and military
feasibility of carrying out such a plan. But he added that
Washington would carefully study and Arab decision on a way
Siniora survived the 2008 crisis, but only after making
major concessions to Hezbollah, including giving them and
their allies veto power in the government he formed weeks
after the clashes.