Lebanon's parliament speaker Nabih Berri (Photo:Reuters)
Lebanon's parliament speaker, a seemingly unshakeable ally of the powerful Shiite Hezbollah, drew pleasure from Israel's deadly raids on the militant group in 2006, a leaked US diplomatic cable said.
The July 2006 cable, classified confidential and released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks last week, said speaker Nabih Berri suggested the conflict was an opportunity to deal a serious blow to his sworn ally, the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah.
"Berri condemned the ferocity of Israel's military response but admitted that a successful Israeli campaign against Hezbollah would be an excellent way to destroy Hezbollah's military aspirations and discredit their political ambitions," read the cable, filed by former US ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman, now an undersecretary of state.
Berri is a veteran Shiite politician who has held the post of parliament speaker uninterrupted for almost two decades.
Feltman attributed the simmering acrimony between him and Hezbollah to the fact that the militant movement held unrivalled command over Lebanon's Shiite Muslim community.
"We are certain that Berri hates Hezbollah as much, or even more, than the (Western-backed) March 14 politicians; after all, Hezbollah's support... is drawn from the Shiites who might otherwise be with Berri," read the cable.
Feltman described Berri as having had "remarkably high" spirits during the meeting, which came a few days into the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah that summer, at one point throwing his head back in "riotous laughter".
The US diplomat also said Berri felt betrayed by his fellow Shiite, Hezbollah commander Hassan Nasrallah, who had promised stability in Lebanon.
"We can never sit down at the table with him (Nasrallah) again," Feltman quotes Berri as saying in the cable. "We think he lied to us."
The 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah was sparked on July 12 by the cross-border kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and ended on August 14, three days after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a ceasefire.
The fighting destroyed much of Lebanon's major infrastructure and killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.