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Senior Lebanese officials told the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 2008 that Hezbollah had set up an independent communications network, according to an American diplomatic cable published on the WikiLeaks website.

The information was transmitted less than a month before gun battles erupted in Beirut between Hezbollah and the anti-Syrian governing coalition. The classified cable, sent from the embassy to Washington on April 16, 2008, reflects the tense atmosphere in Lebanon at that time.

Michele Sison, then the embassy's charge d'affaires, wrote that Lebanese Communications Minister Marwan Hamadeh has asked to meet with her directly to discuss a nationwide fiber optic network set up by Hezbollah. Hamadeh is a senior member of the anti-Syrian camp in Lebanon and was the target of a failed assassination attempt in 2004.

Hamadeh told the American diplomat that Beirut had decided to inform several allies - the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates - of its discovery of the Hezbollah network. "[French President Nicolas] Sarkozy was stunned," he told her.

Hamadeh said Iran financed the network's construction.

"Hamadeh highlights the system as a strategic victory for Iran, since it creates an important Iranian outpost in Lebanon, bypassing Syria," the American diplomat wrote. The minister also warned that Hezbollah was setting up a state within a state.

"The value for Hizballah is the final step in creating a nation state. Hizballah now has an army and weapons; a television station; an education system; hospitals; social services; a financial system; and a telecommunications system," Sison reported.

The cable also said that Saad Hariri, then a leading member of the anti-Syrian camp and today prime minister, sent a private jet to deliver a copy of the network's map to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and his head of intelligence, Prince Mukrin bin Abdul-Aziz.

Hamadeh told the diplomat of a meeting between two senior Lebanese defense officials and Wafiq Safa, a senior aide to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The officers demanded that Hezbollah disconnect segments of the network, but Safa rejected the request out of hand and openly threatened the government.

"Safa stated that the network is part of Hizballah's ability to defend Lebanon, and that Hizballah would regard any attack on the network as an act of aggression," Sison wrote.

Hamadeh noted that it took 10 days before the officers sent a written report on the meeting to then-Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, and even then they feared to sign their names to it. Siniora had to return the report to them and demand that they sign, it he said.

The Lebanese minister said his government was considering two courses of action - either approaching the UN Security Council on the issue or sabotaging the network where it ran through areas controlled by the anti-Syrian coalition.

Meanwhile, Lebanon filed a complaint yesterday with the UN secretary general accusing Israel of wiretapping communications in the south of the country. After Hezbollah uncovered the wiretapping devices, they were blown up. A statement issued by Hezbollah makes it clear that the wiretapped network was the same fiber optics network discussed in the 2008 cable. This is the second time this year Hezbollah has uncovered Israeli wiretapping in south Lebanon.