By Rannie Amiri
"There are agents, like Mahmoud Rafea, who confessed to have delivered bags with explosives. Other collaborators have confessed to have carried out field reconnaissance missions. Others have facilitated the entrance and exit of Israelis after accomplishing their missions. This is what is meant by executive agents. The door must be opened wide ... this Israeli path should be scrutinized so as to reach a place where we would find information about many crimes, particularly 2005 onwards." – Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, commenting on the recent spate of Israeli spy arrests during a rally marking the ninth anniversary of the removal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, 22 May 2009.
Israel suffered two defeats in Lebanon, and both were by Hezbollah. The first occurred in May 2000 when Israeli troops were expelled (or withdrew, depending on which side of the border you are on) from southern Lebanon after a 22-year occupation. The second was the premeditated yet disastrous 34-day war waged in the summer of 2006. It may have succeeded in ravaging Lebanon but it certainly did not vanquish Hezbollah. They fought the mighty Israel Defense Forces to a draw, and in the minds of many this itself constituted victory.
Israel has neither forgiven nor forgotten these losses. For them, the war against Lebanon and Hezbollah did not end in 2000 or in 2006 but continues today, albeit in different form. And events of the past several weeks revealed exactly what Israel has been up to.
There have always been Lebanese nationals acting as spies for Israel, but this should come as no surprise. They fought on their behalf for two decades after all, as members of the now-defunct South Lebanon Army during the occupation of the south.
Although initially receiving little attention, a crackdown on these spy networks began late last year. Rapid advances in breaking them have evidently occurred, as dozens of suspects have been taken into custody since April.
“If the Lebanese authorities say they have caught Israeli spies, there's a high likelihood that it's true,” said Shlomo Brom, former chief of strategic planning for the Israeli military.
The Lebanese government is currently holding 30 suspects and has already charged 21 with spying for Israel in an ever-widening investigation. Those detained include an army colonel, a retired general, a deputy mayor, a truck driver and a mobile phone salesman, which two managed to escape across the border into Israel before being caught. Confiscated high-tech equipment and electronics used to transmit information to the Mossad were put on display by Lebanese Internal Security afterward.
Because intelligence provided by certain agents may have led to increased destruction in the 2006 war (which killed 1,200 Lebanese, the vast majority civilians), Nasrallah demanded the death penalty be levied against those found to be complicit. As he declared in his speech on “Resistance and Liberation Day”:
“I ask on your behalf and on behalf of the families of the martyrs and the wounded, on behalf of those whose homes were demolished and those who paid taxes to rebuild their infrastructure, I demand that the collaborators who provided the enemy with the data that had caused all of this, be sentenced to death.”
In the midst of unraveling and dismantling these espionage rings operating in Lebanon, a report penned by Erich Follath surfaced in the sensationalist, pro-Israel German weekly Der Spiegel implicating Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The allegation was immediately dismissed by Hezbollah who claimed it was simply an attempt to sully its image prior to the upcoming June parliamentary elections as well as sow discord between Sunnis and Shias.
But does it have any merit?
Not a single piece of credible evidence was presented to substantiate Follath’s claim. No sources were named, no documents were produced and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon charged with investigating the Hariri assassination denied ever coming to those conclusions (yet alone discussing them with Follath).
“We don't know where the Der Spiegel magazine did get their information from and we don't know where they brought this story from. No one in the prosecutor's office has spoken to the German magazine about anything,” said the spokeswoman for the Tribunal.
According to Nasrallah, “The Israelis and the Americans wondered how to scuttle the election and influence its outcome. Der Spiegel was their answer.”
The case against Hezbollah is not only flimsy, but one likely fabricated by the author’s anonymous “sources.” It was discounted or simply ignored in Lebanon, even by Hezbollah’s opponents; Saad Hariri refused comment and Walid Jumblatt cautioned it may “derail justice.”
Readers are referred to the trenchant reporting of Dr. Franklin Lamb who clearly exposed the gaping holes in, and unanswered questions of, Follath’s article.
It is important to appreciate that the killing of “Mr. Lebanon” in February 2005 shook the country and ultimately led to the creation of the opposing March 8 and March 14 Alliances. It sharply divided Lebanese along sectarian lines and led to mutual recriminations and prolonged political paralysis.
The confluence of the aforementioned events – discovering the extent of Israeli spy networks in Lebanon, followed by publication of the Der Spiegel article two weeks prior to crucial elections accusing Hezbollah of ordering the hit on Hariri – is no coincidence.
So how do they relate to one another?
Nasrallah stated it candidly:
“The Israelis are acting preemptively before it is discovered that their spy networks were involved in assassinations in Lebanon.”
Could it be that information fed from Israel to a friendly German periodical was done not just to foment Sunni-Shia tension prior to the June election or divert attention away from an imploding espionage ring, but to obfuscate Israel’s role in Hariri’s murder (which may be disclosed by their captured spies)?
Unlike his son Saad today, Rafiq Hariri had good personal relations with Nasrallah and Hezbollah generally – facts Follath conveniently overlooked – making their participation in his murder especially unlikely.
But, division and destabilization in Lebanon works to Israel’s advantage, and instigating political disorder and civil turmoil has always been its modus operandi. Indeed, the fallout from Hariri’s assassination nearly sparked another civil war.
Should Israel be implicated in his death however, all of Lebanon’s political parties and confessional groups would unite against them in an instant.
The cases of four pro-Syrian generals thought to be involved in the crime and held for four years without charge were recently dismissed by the Special Tribunal due to lack of evidence and recanted witness testimony. When it becomes clear the case against Hezbollah is likewise without merit and Israeli espionage rings operating in Lebanon are fully exposed, the Special Tribunal should waste no time in investigating Israel for its possible involvement in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
- Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.