Israeli Arabs Indicted Over Spying for Hezbollah

Two Arab Israelis were indicted yesterday at courts in Haifa and Nazareth for allegedly spying for Hezbollah. The charges, which include a series of other security related violations, resulted in the partial lifting of the gag order on the details of the case. The two suspects have been identified as Amir Makhoul, 52, from Haifa, and Dr. Omar Sayid, 50, from Kafr Kana.

The indictments are based in large part on statements made by the two during questioning, however Makhoul is now claiming that he was forced to admit things during his interrogation, while Said says he was deprived of sleep during long hours of questioning.

A senior source in the Shin Bet security service denied that the two had been mistreated during their interrogations.

In addition to spying - which is the gravest charge being leveled against the two - Makhoul and Sayid are also charged with aiding the enemy during war and of having contact with a foreign agent.

Sayid was arrested on April 24, while Makhoul was arrested on May 6. Makhoul had served in the past as director of Ittijah, also known as the Union of Arab Community-Based Associations, and is the primary suspect in the case.

According to the indictment, the two were recruited as agents for Hezbollah by Hassan Ja'ja, a Lebanese businessman living in Jordan and working for the Lebanese Shi'ite group. The link between them was established through the transfer of funds to Arab philanthropic groups in Israel.

Makhoul admitted to having met with a Hezbollah agent in Denmark in 2008 who had contacted him through Ja'ja. Makhoul allegedly agreed to collect intelligence on Israel for the group and to identify potential recruits to spy for Hezbollah from the Israeli Arab community. He is said to have subsequently relayed a list of six possible agents.

All six (and two others whom Sayid allegedly recommended ) were questioned by the Shin Bet and the police; all denied having been contacted in any way by Hezbollah. They were released with no legal steps taken against them.

It is alleged that Makhoul received a list of subjects on which Hezbollah asked him to provide information. For example, he was asked to identify Shin Bet sites in northern Israel and give their precise address and the security there (he allegedly provided such information on two locations ), as well as information on the location of the Rafael armaments plant in the north, a Mossad base in central Israel, the Nahshonim base (which he allegedly surveilled ), and a location in Haifa which had been hit by rockets fired by the group during the Second Lebanon War.

Makhoul was also asked to analyze the situation in Israel and the psychological state of Israeli society in view of a future war. He allegedly pointed to the home front as a weakness. He apparently did not relay any information on two subjects. He had been asked to provide the location of the home of Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, and also the security arrangements for the prime minister and the defense minister.

The Shin Bet says Makhoul tried but failed to identify Diskin's private home.

Hezbollah gave Makhoul a computer program through which he could send encrypted information to his contacts through the Web. An evaluation by encryption experts argued the data relayed by Makhoul was of high security value.

"Some of the information Makhoul relayed could have been relayed by anyone with a pair of eyes and access to Google Earth," said one Shin Bet source. "But Makhoul, as an Israeli Arab, has the freedom to move and access throughout the country, as well as the ability to analyze Israeli society from within."

Sayid apparently admitted during questioning that he met with a Hezbollah agent two years ago in Sharm el-Sheikh, also through Ja'ja. He allegedly gave Hezbollah the names of two potential agents, who are also Israeli Arabs.

Sayid claims that he refused to personally provide any information and did not maintain contact with Hezbollah. However, he did stay in touch with Ja'ja, who asked him shortly before his arrest to relay a message to Makhoul - that Hezbollah suspected that he had been uncovered and that he should flee Israel.

Makhoul tried to leave to Jordan, but police stopped him from exiting the country.