The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged spy
Israel's Lebanese Spy Ring
To my knowledge there's been little coverage of the recent Lebanese spy scandal in the English-language press (although the Arabic press has talked about it plenty), but Le Figaro has a long piece on the arrests, labeling them as one of the most important reverses in the (long) history of Israeli espionage:

Dans cette guerre de l'ombre, les services de renseignements israéliens ont subi, cette année au Liban, l'un des plus importants revers de leur histoire. Comme il se doit, ils n'ont pas commenté le démantèlement de leur plus grand réseau d'espionnage dans un pays arabe. Les chiffres sont pourtant sans précédents. Plus de soixante-dix Libanais ont été inculpés d'espionnage au profit d'Israël ces derniers mois. Une quarantaine de suspects ont été placés en détention. Une trentaine d'autres agents supposés sont toujours recherchés par les autorités libanaises. Certains ont réussi à fuir, prenant l'avion vers une destination inconnue, ou ont franchi la frontière entre les deux pays, toujours techniquement en guerre depuis 1949. D'autres ont cessé leurs activités.

À la différence des maîtres espions des romans, les membres de ces réseaux appartiennent à l'univers moins glamour du renseignement de terrain. Celui des petites mains, des cellules anonymes chargées de glaner des informations fragmentaires, de préparer des dossiers d'objectif ou de suivre les mouvements quotidiens de l'adversaire. Parmi ces agents, certains dormants depuis des années, toutes les communautés libanaises sont représentées : chrétiens, sunnites, chiites, originaires du Sud-Liban, de la Bekaa ou de Beyrouth.

«Certains travaillaient pour Israël depuis des années, parfois depuis les années 1980», explique le général Achraf Rifi, directeur général des Forces de sécurité intérieures libanaises, qui ont effectué une bonne partie des arrestations. «Ils ont été recrutés, ajoute-t-il, pour des motifs variés : financiers, idéologiques ou psychologiques. On a même des cas de chantage, sexuels ou autres. Mais le principal facteur de ce recrutement a été la longue occupation israélienne du Sud-Liban, qui a mis en contact des Libanais avec les Israéliens, et qui a, d'une certaine façon, rendu acceptable les relations avec eux».

«Une chose est sûre, c'est un beau coup de filet, commente une source diplomatique occidentale à Beyrouth. Il est possible que, depuis leur semi-échec pendant la guerre de 2006, où ils s'étaient appuyés sur leurs renseignements aériens et technologiques, les Israéliens aient un peu trop demandé à leurs réseaux, leur faisant prendre plus de risques pour reconstituer leurs listes de cibles. Mais ces arrestations sont surtout le fruit d'un travail sans précédent des forces de sécurité libanaises.»

My translation:

In this shadow war, the Israeli intelligence services have gone through, this year in Lebanon, one of the most important setbacks in their history. As expected, they have not commented on the dismantling of their largest espionage network in an Arab country. The numbers are however unprecedented. Over 70 Lebanese have been accused of espionage for Israel in recent months. About 40 suspects are currently held. Another 30 are currently being sought by Lebanese authorities. Some have managed to flee, or crossed the border between the two countries, which have been technically at war since 1949. Others have ceased their activities.

As opposed to spymasters in novels, the members of these networks belong to the less glamorous universe of ground-level intelligence gathering. That of small hands, of anonymous cells tasked with gathering fragments of intelligence, of preparing objective dossiers or follow the movements of the enemy. Among these agents, some of which have been asleep for years, all Lebanese communities are represented: Christians, Sunnis, Shias, South Lebanese, from the Bekaa or Beirut.

"Some have worked for Israel for years, sometimes since the 1980s," explains General Ashraf Rifi, director of the Internal Security Forces, which carried out most of the arrests. "They've been recruited through various motives: financial, ideological, or psychological. Or even a few cases of blackmail, sexual or otherwise. But the most important factor for recruitment was the long Israeli occupation of South Lebanon, which put Lebanese in touch with Israelis, and which, in a way, made relationships with them acceptable."

"One thing is certain, it's a major catch," commented a Western diplomat in Beirut. "It is possible that, since its semi-failure during the 2006 war, when they heavily relied on technological and aerial intelligence, the Israelis asked for too much of their networks, making them take risks to draft their target lists. But these arrests have also been the result of unprecedented work by the Lebanese security forces."

I'm not sure what this means in terms of internal politics -- the ISF are supposed to be pro-March 14, but it certainly gives some more national security kudos to the government, an area where Hizbullah and its allies have had the upper hand since the liberation of the South.

The article has a lot more detail on the arrests, for instance on the arrest of Lebanese Army Colonel Mansour Diab, who had been a leading figure in the 2007 Nahr al-Bared attacks. He was allegedly recruited in the US during a training seminar (which begs all sorts of questions.)

Le Figaro also highlights the use of phone-listening equipment and software capable of processing thousands of calls as being instrumental in catching the spies. Ironically, the equipment had been provided to the ISF by Western intelligence agencies in the aftermath of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, and that was originally probably targeted at monitoring Hizbullah. The officer running this program, Captain Wissam Eid, died in a car bombing in early 2008. Hizbullah is said to have been behind the attack, but the listening system has since been turned to other uses, leading to the dismantling of the Israeli networks.
Links for 07.21.09 to 07.22.09
جريدة الراية -مجرد سؤال .. ماذا تريد القاهرة من دارفور
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The List: The Middle East's Most Powerful Spooks | Foreign Policy | It's missing a few... will try to work on a complete list. Also not sure whether Assef Shakwat is still at the top of his game in Damascus.
Facebook | Protest Facebook's categorisation of Israeli settlements as "Israel" | Tell Facebook to correct itself.
From gods to garbage dwellers | GlobalPost | On Egypt's cats.
Israeli funding angers filmmaker | "ENGLISH filmmaker Ken Loach has withdrawn his film Looking for Eric from the Melbourne International Film Festival because the festival receives funding from the Israeli Government."

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