The New Spy Charges / Hezbollah's Work? Not So Fast

There is a simple way to gauge the gravity of the offenses allegedly committed by the noncommissioned officer who is suspected of giving information to the Lebanese. The fact that the Shin Bet security service did not launch its own investigation, but instead left it to the regular police and the Military Police, implies that Hezbollah's involvement in the affair is minor, if it exists at all.

Had the Shin Bet suspected it was dealing with a sophisticated spy ring operated by Hezbollah with the goal of gaining access to sensitive Israeli military sites, it would have insisted on taking part in the investigation itself.

The suspicions in the case relate at least indirectly to drug trafficking. The narcotics route from Lebanon to Israel remains active even 10 years after the Israel Defense Forces withdrew from south Lebanon.

Smugglers will do nearly anything to avoid getting caught, and therefore eagerly track down any information they can get on troop movements along Israel's northern border, security cameras and lookout posts. A career NCO hoping to pad his pockets can give them all the information they need.

From a security standpoint, the primary concern is the possible connection between drug dealers, terrorists and spies. Hezbollah is deeply involved in the Lebanese drug trade and often recruits criminals to collect intelligence and even carry out violent attacks. Information obtained by drug smugglers about troop routines can easily be used by Hezbollah to infiltrate Israel or kidnap more of its soldiers.

The incident made public yesterday is the second case this week of security offenses allegedly committed by Israeli Arabs in the Galilee. Earlier this week, several members of a group suspected of links to Al-Qaida were charged with killing a Jewish taxi driver last year. And two months ago, two Arab residents of the north were held over suspected ties to Hezbollah.

The IDF is paying a high price for preserving the ideal of the "people's army." Since nearly all Israelis serve in the military, and the IDF does not meticulously check the background of every recruit, it is impossible for it to properly supervise every man or woman in uniform who may veer off the straight and narrow path.

Thousands of soldiers and NCOs are regularly exposed to sensitive information. If some of them decide to use it for illicit purposes - whether political, criminal or other - the army's ability to stop them is minimal.