Every Night in a Different Hotel or Hideout

Lebanese sources paint Hezbollah as far less than happy with the situation.

Hezbollah's leadership is under increasing pressure, well-informed Lebanese sources reported a few days ago. "They only pretend that they are successful, in control, and that everything is going according to plan."

This assessment was correct up to the day the Israel Air Force accidentally bombed a building in Qana and caused the deaths of dozens of people. Although the bombing somewhat boosted support for Hezbollah in Lebanon or, more to the point, somewhat reduced hostility to it, the basic feeling of those in Lebanon who have had enough of Hezbollah remained unchanged.

The real sentiments of the majority of Lebanese do not get appropriate coverage in Lebanon, the international media or, to their disappointment, in Israel, said the sources. Fearing for their safety, they asked to remain anonymous. They said that morale among Hezbollah's leadership is low:

"The IAF bombing of the Dahiya neighborhood was a hard and humiliating blow to the Hezbollah leadership," the sources stated. "This is not only because the offices were destroyed. The offices were equipped with command, control and computer systems and valuable intelligence. But the psychological blow was just as important. They were surprised by the attack and by the precise information Israel possessed. The headquarters was their pride and joy. Its destruction served as a painful reminder of the gap, one that no Lebanese can miss, between their pretension of power and the truth."

The sources added that Hezbollah makes use of its security apparatus to terrorize opposing leaders and political activists. In fact, the sources claim, close to 70 percent of the Lebanese opposes Hezbollah and the escapade into which it dragged the country.

The Shi'ites, the source of Hezbollah's authority and power, constitute 40 percent to 53 percent of the Lebanese population. But the sources estimate that among them a third does not support the organization, and some even oppose it.

"But Hezbollah threatens people. Their security men wander armed in the streets of Beirut and, in fact, have control over the capital. The opposition ? Saad Hariri's party and other parties ? oppose Hezbollah, and they privately rejoice at the blows Israel gives the organization. But they are afraid to speak out. Only Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has no fear of publicly expressing his opinion."

According to the sources, Hezbollah almost openly promises that after the war it will settle scores with its opposition. This was confirmed in a Saturday article in "The Guardian," whose reporter talked to Hezbollah fighters. "The real battle will be after the conclusion of this war. We will have a score to settle with Lebanese politicians," they said. "We have the best intelligence bodies in the country, and we can reach anyone who opposes. Let us finish with the Israelis, then we will settle the rest of the scores."

Elusive leadership

The sources claimed that despite IAF success, Israel has still failed to hit any chief Hezbollah leader, especially any of the military command. Israeli sources said last week that Nabil Kauk, the commander of Southern Lebanon, and Nur Shalhob, responsible for rocket supply, were killed by the IAF. But the Lebanese sources said that Kauck escaped and only his bodyguards were killed in the attack.

The sources, however, named a few more of the military command that they believed Israel is interested in eliminating, and hoped it will do so. This Hezbollah command has experience both in terrorist activity against Israeli targets abroad and in the '90s guerrilla struggle in South Lebanon with Israel. They were trained by Iranian experts, and are proficient in covert activity. This military command is politically subordinate to Hassan Nasrallah, but also has fast ties with the intelligence apparatus of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Chief among them is Imad Mugniyeh, "defense minister" of Hezbollah and responsible for its military force, the division of its terrorist operations abroad, its internal security and intelligence units and counter-intelligence operations. Mugniyeh, in his late 40's, is also the key figure in Hezbollah's liaison with Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which have advisers and experts now in Lebanon, although they try to keep a safe distance from IAF bombed areas.

Second to Mugniyeh is the less known Fuad Shukur. He is "chief of staff" of the military force of about 7,000 fighters in regular units assigned to specific roles and duties, such as rocket launchers, radio operators and frontline fighters. These are full-time fighters on salary. Alongside them operates a reserve force, less trained and prepared, but just as determined. Shukur, in his 40's, reportedly injured his left arm a decade ago when fighting the IDF in South Lebanon.

Another key figure is Talal Hamia. Among his other duties, Hamia is in charge of the terrorist operations abroad, which have "sleeper" cells worldwide, mainly in South America, Western Europe and Africa. Since the 1994 bombing of AMIA, the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, some of these cells have been activated, but their intentions were foiled. According to sources in Lebanon, Hamia was responsible for setting up some of these networks, and operated mainly in the Gulf countries and Africa. His modus operandi relies on sympathetic Shi'ite communities from which collaborators and agents are recruited, and funds are raised. The arsenal is delivered via diplomatic bags to an Iranian embassy nearby. Such was the case in the terrorist attacks on both the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and on AMIA.

Hamia has spent the last few months traveling between Beirut and Iraq. Hezbollah sent him there to strengthen ties with Shi'ite militias and coordinate joint operations. The most important contact is with the Mahdi Army of the cleric Moqtada Sadr. It is not clear what exactly Hamia was up to in his sorties to Iraq, but presumably he wanted to recruit volunteers for operations abroad or to coordinate the possibility of dispatching Shi'ite volunteers from Iraq to Lebanon.

Sadr issued an announcement last Friday from his Najaf home, condemning the "Israeli enemy" and expressing support of Hezbollah. One of his men, Abu Mujtaba, said that the Mahdi Army was preparing to send volunteers. "We are choosing the men", he stated, and added that ways are being explored to send the fighters without the knowledge of the Iraqi government.

Incidentally, Sunni clerics ?(opposed to the Shi'ites?) also did not hesitate to condemn Israeli actions. Cleric Abd al-Rahman Duleimi called for volunteers and donations for the war against Israel.

According to the Lebanese sources, another key figure in the Hezbollah military structure, though on a lower rung than the others but also worth mentioning, is Ibrahim Akil, who was in charge of South Lebanon and now operates in counter-intelligence. Israeli intelligence made a failed attempt on his life shortly before the IDF withdrawal in 2000.

Most of Hezbollah's activities are carried out at night, which is when its leaders move about, said the sources. At night hundreds of rockets are moved from hideouts and warehouses to the firing positions while the leaders meet to plan the operations. The sources claimed that Mugniyeh and Shukur spend every night in a different hotel or apartment hideout. They keep switching cars and only a handful of loyalists are aware of their whereabouts. "They suspect everyone", it was stated. Once every few days they arrive at the Iranian embassy in Beirut. The embassy is in a large building with several levels underground. In those underground levels are branches of Iranian intelligence and intelligence units of the Revolutionary Guards.

The sources also claimed that Nasrallah uses the Presidential Palace of his supporter and admirer, President Emil Lahoud, as one of his hideouts. Obviously these claims can not be corroborated. They make sense just as any other assumption made during the fighting as to the hiding places of Hezbollah leaders.

Intelligence

The fact that Israel has failed so far to hit Hezbollah leaders can presumably suggest flawed intelligence, especially by the Mossad. The difficulty shows in the fact that Israel does not even have an updated photo of Mugniyeh. Mossad units face difficulties in obtaining information on targets during combat. Agents are cut off, many have to abandon the villages together with the rest of the population, and Hezbollah leaders have gone underground. In recent cabinet meetings Mossad head Meir Dagan disagreed with the assessments of Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin on everything related to Hezbollah's capabilities and resilience. Dagan sees himself as a great authority on Lebanon. During the 1980s, while he was head of the Lebanon Liaison Unit ?(Yakal?), he tried, and failed, to turn it into an intelligence operations unit to compete with the greater intelligence bodies. The unit under his command was involved in several operations. During one of the last cabinet meetings Dagan made several proposals for operations that reporters called "brash" and were rejected by the cabinet members. It is fair to state that during Ephraim Halevy's ?(Dagan's predecessor?) time, the Mossad also scored many important accomplishments in fighting Hezbollah; in thwarting terror attacks abroad; covering the dormant networks abroad; and especially in obtaining information on the Katyusha arsenal and infrastructure in Lebanon. The information obtained in this area contributed to the success of IAF strikes in the first days of the war: the destruction of the Dahiya in Beirut and the strike on secret storages of Katyusha rockets and launchers that Hezbollah set up in careful secrecy, especially those that stored long-range rockets.

Midway balance

So far Hezbollah has fired 3,500 Katyushas. The IAF and the artillery have destroyed 2,500 more. In toto, from 40 percent to 50 percent of Hezbollah's rocket capability has been destroyed. In addition, at least a third of its launchers has been destroyed.

As for Hezbollah's attempt at psychological warfare by hitting Israeli urban centers, this too has failed. The Israel rear displayed a resilience it didn't know it had ? and Hezbollah didn't expect.

Damage to the military fighting force is also insubstantial: approximately 300 to 400 of its fighters were killed, and dozens more were injured. Nevertheless the political and civilian leadership of Hezbollah, as far as we know, has not been hurt.