Five Years After Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah Steps Up Claims of Israeli Espionage

The Lebanese media never seems to tire of exposing Israeli spy cells as news reports reflect a massive rise in arrests on suspicions of espionage.

One of the issues most written about during and after of the 2006 Second Lebanon War was that of Hezbollah uncovering alleged Israeli agents and entire intelligence networks in Lebanon. News reports clearly reflected a massive rise in arrests on suspicions of espionage, especially from 2007 to 2009.

Israel has declined official comment on the reports, which received generous numbers of column inches in the Lebanese press, particularly in the pro-Hezbollah "As-Safir" and "Al Akhbar." They published numerous articles, often with quotes from Lebanese intelligence sources and the Lebanese military confirming the reports. Were all the reports true, they paint a picture of massive success for the Lebanese army and for Hezbollah, and of the collapse of the Israeli intelligence network in the country. The exposure of the espionage networks offers a glance at Israel's methods, from human intelligence to the hacking of cellular networks as well as the email accounts of senior officials.

Israeli spy equipment - AP

In June 2006 Lebanon submitted to the UN Security Council the findings of an investigation into Lebanese citizens who allegedly carried out a number of assassinations at Israel's behest. The main suspect was Mahmoud Kassem Rafaa, 59, a retired Lebanese police officer. The Lebanese authorities claimed Rafaa was recruited in 1994 to the Mossad through an officer of the South Lebanon Army. He was arrested in the course of the investigation into the assassination on May 26, 2006 of the head of the Islamic Jihad military wing in Lebanon, Mahmoud Majzoub, and his brother Nidal.

In April 2009 Lebanese news outlets reported the arrest of members of an Israeli spy cell headed by a general in the Lebanese army reserve, Adib al-Alam, together with his wife, Hayat Saloumi, and their son ewphew Joseph. Al-Alam owned an agency that brought in foreign workers to Lebanon and that he allegedly used as a cover for his intelligence activities.

Hayat Saloumi told investigators he was recruited back in 1982. According to Lebanese news reports he was handled by Unit 504 of Israeli Military Intelligence, which is responsible for agents outside the country's borders. Lebanese reports also claimed that al-Alam was in possession of advanced communications equipment supplied by Israel, including a radio that was capable of transmitting signals in response to messages it received from his Israeli handlers.

A few months later 20 more suspects were arrested in Lebanon. Al Akhbar reported that as many as eight espionage rings were uncovered in May 2009 alone. One of those arrested was the deputy mayor of Saadnayel, Ziad al-Homsi. Hezbollah claimed Homsi was a member of Saad Hariri's March 14 alliance and that one of his missions was to monitor senior Hezbollah officials, beginning with the organization's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.

In June 2009, two Lebanese army colonels were arrested. One of them, Mansour Diab, was head of the army's school for commandos.

In July the Lebanese government sent a letter to the UN Secretary General reporting the arrests of 35 suspected Israel spies between June 2006 and May 2009. "Israel is setting up terrorist cells that operate independently within Lebanon to carry out attacks," the Lebanese ambassador to the United Nations wrote.

In August 2009 several senior officials in telecommunication companies operating in Lebanon were arrested. Lebanese intelligence raided the offices of an Internet service provider that allegedly was supported by an Israeli company. "As-Safir" and "Al Akhbar reported that an antenna aimed at Israel was discovered in the course of the raid, and that further examination of the confiscated equipment proved an ongoing relationship with an Israeli company providing Internet services to Lebanese civilians and state institutions. Sources close to Hezbollah claimed at the time that Israel had taken over a central server in Lebanon and was using it to monitor the activities of senior state officials.

In June 2010 Lebanon was rocked by scandal with the arrest of Sharbel Qazi, a senior employee of Lebanon's Alfa cell phone carrier. Qazi was head of the company's communication and transmissions stations, and investigators claimed he was giving sensitive information to MI. According to Lebanese reports MI had provided him with electronic devices that he installed in the Alfa network, giving MI real-time access to location and other information about Lebanese political and military officials.

In August 2010 an employee from a rival Lebanese mobile provider, Ogero, was arrested. This came a few days after a former senior Lebanese military officer and four technicians, all of them Alfa employees suspected of being Israeli spies, fled to Germany.

In October 2010 there was a flurry of reports in Lebanese news outlets about Israeli equipment seized in several sites in Lebanon.

Last month Nasrallah announced that Hezbollah had uncovered three Israeli spies in the organization, but stressed that they were far from the first tier of decision-making.