Saturday, May 30, 2009

"...Israel's ability to wage another war against Lebanon may have been compromised by the arrests of its spies..."

File photo of scene of devastation at Bint Jbeil in Lebanon.
BBC, here

"Experts say the arrests appear to add up to a major strategic blow to Israel. ..Lebanese newspapers have reported that more than 40 members of more than a dozen spy networks have been detained so far in a campaign that has gathered pace over the past six weeks, and shows no sign of stopping.

Israel has so far made no public comment on what could be one of its worst-ever intelligence setbacks..... Several alleged agents who knew they were on the wanted list fled across the border to Israel.

Lebanon has asked the United Nations forces in the south, Unifil, to get them back....

A retired general from the Internal Security Forces, Adib al-Alam, and his wife were among the earlier detentions.....

Newspapers reported another startling penetration among the most recent arrests - a highly-decorated, twice-wounded Lebanese army colonel from the Christian area of Akkar in northern Lebanon, who commanded the military's Special Forces school.

Another unusual suspect was Ziad al-Homsi, the deputy mayor of Saadnayel, a Sunni town in the eastern Beqaa valley. .....Mr al-Homsi was associated with the western-backed, anti-Syrian "14th of March" coalition that is fighting to retain its narrow majority in national elections on 7 June.

But the coalition did not take up his cause, and the arrests in general have not become an election issue, because they have been across the board - Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Palestinians are all among those detained, with no obvious political or sectarian bias.

Lebanese security forces displayed hi-tech communication and surveillance gadgets said to have been found concealed in the homes of some of the suspects.

Explaining the sudden spectacular rash of arrests, Lebanese officials have said that unspecified technological breakthroughs made it all possible.

That may be so. But many unanswered questions remain.

One of the basic principles in setting up espionage networks is that their cells should not be linked in any way, so that the discovery of one does not lead to the kind of wider collapse that seems now to be taking place.

Did the Israelis - who have said nothing to discredit the daily revelations in Beirut - break that fundamental rule?

"Certainly it seems to have been a systemic failure by Israel," said security expert Alastair Crooke, who focuses on Islamic movements.

"Maybe it was a chance find, maybe it was from one person that they interrogated leading to the uncovering of many others, but that in itself would be highly unusual."

Most likely, the arrests were the product of months, perhaps several years, of counter-intelligence work.

But by whom? Is it just coincidence that the various different arms of Lebanese security suddenly began making this series of surprise detentions? Or were they being primed by other intelligence services?

Hezbollah's own role remains obscure. Lebanese officials say it has not been involved in the campaign, and it has certainly taken a low and ostensibly passive profile during the revelations....

Before the 1979 revolution in Iran, Israel's Mossad was deeply involved in training and advising the Shah's dreaded secret police, Savak - a legacy of expertise inherited by Tehran's current Islamic rulers, who were instrumental in establishing Hezbollah in Lebanon and retain very close ties with the movement....

"The loss of these eyes and ears within Lebanon is undoubtedly a major strategic setback for Israel," said intelligence analyst Alastair Crooke.

"Networks of these sorts don't come off the shelf in a supermarket. You can lose them in ten minutes, but they can take 5, 10, 15 years to put in place. So the importance of this should not be underestimated."...

In any future confrontation with Hezbollah, the Israelis would want to rely heavily on vital human intelligence.The indications are that their capabilities in that respect may have been severely compromised."

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