Lines separating warring camps in the region are becoming increasingly clearer as news emerged Monday that foreign intelligence services - including Israel's Mossad - provided Egyptian authorities with intelligence that contributed to the uncovering of a Hezbollah-run terrorist ring and led to the arrest of dozens of suspects.
Meanwhile, Egyptian sources upped the tone of the charges against Hezbollah Monday by claiming that the aim of the underground activity was not limited to plans for terrorist attacks against tourist areas frequented by foreigners, but also against targets in the Suez canal.
Foreign intelligence services, including the Mossad and the CIA, contributed information to Egypt that led to the uncovering of the Hezbollah terror cell in that country, Philippe Vasset, editor of Intelligence Online told Haaretz.
In its latest edition which comes out tomorrow, the online biweekly reports that the Egyptian security forces operated on the basis of intelligence "provided to them by several foreign intelligence services."
According to the report, the head of the ring operating in Egypt, Lebanese citizen Sami Shihab, had been in touch for some time with a special branch of Hezbollah. The report also states that following the assassination of Hezbollah's terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyeh over a year ago in Damascus, the special branch has been led jointly by three senior operatives: Nawaf al-Mussawi, Wafic Safa and Sheikh Ali Dugmush. The three operate in coordination with General Faisal Bagherzadeh, head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard mission to Lebanon.
Western sources told Haaretz that in recent years cooperation between the intelligence services of a number of western countries has intensified with regard to Iran. Israel is a leading player in this cooperation.
The issue of Iran is divided into two: Tehran's nuclear program and its role in international terrorism.
Iran's intelligence and security service, and Al-Quds, an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard whose mission is to assist Shi'ite militias and organizations throughout the world, have deployed "sleeper cells" of agents, who are activated according to need. In some cases the cells were activated directly by Iranian agents, while in other cases Hezbollah was used, especially through a special branch originally set up by Mughniyeh.
The CIA, Mossad, Britain's MI6, the German BND and other intelligence services - like those of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan who have suffered attacks by terrorist cells operated by Iran - have stepped up collaboration, information sharing and joint assessments. Egypt's chief of intelligence, General Omar Suleiman, is a frequent visitor to Israel and the doors of his counterparts in Israel are always open, as are those of the Prime Minister's bureau.
Security sources in Israel have issued warnings on a number of occasions that Hezbollah will try to avenge the killing of Mughniyeh, which it blames on Mossad agents, thereby fulfilling a promise made publicly by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. In response to these concerns, Israeli diplomatic missions were placed on high alert on a number of occasions, and the London Times reported that several weeks ago an attempt against an Israeli target in Baku, Azerbaijan, was foiled.
Meanwhile, Egyptian security sources said yesterday that the Hezbollah agents arrested in Egypt had planned a series of terrorist attacks against tourist sites in Sinai where Israeli and western tourists vacation. However, the Egyptian sources also noted that the Suez Canal was a target of the ring - possibly one of the larger ships passing through the strategic waterway.
Incapacitating a large ship in the canal would have had a serious impact on the country's economy, as the canal is a major source of revenues for the local economy, worth several billion dollars a year. An attack on the Suez Canal and tourist sites in the country would have undermined the Egyptian economy sufficiently to destabilize the standing of the regime in the Arab world.
A senior Egyptian source told Haaretz yesterday that "Egypt will take active measures against anyone who threatens its national security. We will not allow anyone to do this: Hezbollah, Iran or others. They sought to strike at the national security of Egypt, but luckily we stopped them and uncovered their plot."
The same source also said that "it is not unlikely that Hezbollah sought to strike at the Egyptian regime. They wanted to undermine our position in the region, and harm our economy and our ties with countries in the area."
Senior Israeli security sources said yesterday that Hezbollah appears to have been aiming to strike at the regime of Hosni Mubarak. They note that the tourist sites where Israelis visit were a secondary target for the group. The same sources assessed that Mubarak is now fully aware of the severity of the threat posed to Egypt's security. "Mubarak understands that Iran has turned Egypt and Sinai into a forward base of operations. It is no wonder he is concerned," a senior source said.
The uncovering of the ring will result in greater understanding in Egypt of Israel's considerations, however no one should expect an immediate improvement in Egyptian efforts to counter arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip, the same source said.
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