CIA gets the go-ahead to
take on Hizbollah
By Toby Harnden, US Editor
Telegraph" -- -- The Central Intelligence
Agency has been authorised to take covert action against
Hizbollah as part of a secret plan by President George
W. Bush to help the Lebanese government prevent the
spread of Iranian influence. Senators and congressmen
have been briefed on the classified "non-lethal
presidential finding" that allows the CIA to provide
financial and logistical support to the prime minister,
The finding was signed by Mr Bush before Christmas after
discussions between his aides and Saudi Arabian
officials. Details of its existence, known only to a
small circle of White House officials, intelligence
officials and members of Congress, have been passed to
The Daily Telegraph.
It authorises the CIA and other US intelligence agencies
to fund anti-Hizbollah groups in Lebanon and pay for
activists who support the Siniora government. The
secrecy of the finding means that US involvement in the
activities is officially deniable.
The Bush administration hopes Mr Siniora's government,
severely weakened after its war with Israel last year,
will become a bulwark against the growing power of the
Shia sect of Islam, championed by Iran and Syria, since
the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Mr Bush's move is at the centre of a fresh drive by
America, supported by the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia,
Jordan and Egypt as well as Israel, to stop Iranian
hegemony in the Middle East emerging from the collapse
The finding, drawn up at the White House by National
Security Council (NSC) officials, is a sign of Mr Bush's
growing alarm at the threat posed by Iran, which has
infiltrated the Iraqi government and is training Shia
insurgents as well as supplying them with roadside
A former US government official said: "Siniora's under
siege there and we are always looking for ways to help
allies. As Richard Armitage [a former deputy US
secretary of state] said, Hizbollah is the A-team of
terrorism and certainly Iran and Syria have not let up
in their support of the group."
Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, the former Saudi Arabian
ambassador to Washington, is understood to have been
closely involved in the decision to prop up Mr Siniora's
administration and the Israeli government, which views
Iran as its chief enemy, has also been supportive.
"There's a feeling both in Jerusalem and in Riyadh that
the anti-Sunni tilt in the region has gone too far,"
said an intelligence source. "By removing Saddam, we've
shifted things in favour of the Shia and this is a
Prince Bandar, now King Abdullah's national security
adviser, made several trips to Washington and held
meetings with Elliot Abrams, the senior Middle East
official on the NSC.
Prince Turki al-Faisal resigned abruptly as ambassador
to Washington last month. Intelligence sources said that
a principal reason for this was his belief he had been
undermined by Prince Bandar, who had not told him of the
Lebanon plan or even that he was visiting Washington.
As a quid pro quo to the Sunni Arab states, Mr Bush and
Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, have agreed to
work harder to re-start negotiations about a peace deal
with the Palestinians.
According to the Swoop website (theswoop.net), which
contains briefings on diplomatic and intelligence
matters: "US officials point to the Israeli release of
some tax monies owed to the Palestinian Authority as the
first fruits of this approach.
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former clandestine CIA officer,
said that such a finding would involve "various steps
and types of non-military activity" agreed to by the
Lebanese. "It takes two to tango. You're only those
things that the Lebanese themselves would want you to
do," he said.
Bush administration officials have spoken of their
desire to promote "mainstream" Arab states and have even
spoken of the existence of a "Sunni crescent" in the
Middle East. But there is tension between this policy
and the support for Nouri al-Maliki's Shia-led
government in Iraq, which has links to Shia death squads
"The administration is reaping its own whirlwind after
Iraq," said the intelligence source. "For 50 years the
US preferred stability over legitimacy in the Middle
East and now it's got neither. It's a situation replete
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