Israel ambushed: Double agent lured soldiers to death in Lebanon

The 12 Israeli soldiers killed in an ambush in southern Lebanon this month were betrayed by a Lebanese double agent. It was Israel's greatest military humiliation in Lebanon since 1985 and Hizbollah's most crushing intelligence operation ever. Even the Israeli map that led the soldiers to their deaths was drawn by the pro-Iranian militia, as Robert Fisk writes from Ansouriyeh

Robert Fisk
Tuesday 16 September 1997 23:02 BST

The site of Israel's worst military disaster in Lebanon since 1985 has become a place of pilgrimage. Above the burned and broken stumps of evergreen trees, the rags of Israeli uniforms and the scorched leaves, there hangs a series of banners, all declaring the killing of the 12 Israeli raiders as God's work.

Posters praise the Lebanese army - who lit up the night sky with Verey lights when the Israelis arrived at 1.30 in the morning of 5 September - and the Shiite Muslim Amal militia - who came rather late on the scene - and the Hizbollah guerrillas who planned the ambush and President Assad of Syria who knew nothing about it until he read about in the next day's papers. But a young woman who climbed from her car at the scene yesterday caught the Lebanese mood rather well. She pulled apart the blackened strands of barbed wire and stared for almost a minute at the mud and burned trees, hugging her arms to her body. "Thanks be to God," she muttered.

But God had less to do with the ambush of Israel's supposedly elite commandos than a young Lebanese Muslim man whose cousin is a prisoner in one of Israel's jails and who - blackmailed and bribed - had for more than five years worked for the Israeli army's intelligence service inside southern Lebanon. Israeli ground raids into Lebanon are regularly planned and even accompanied by Lebanese spies. But in an underground war that usually goes unreported in Lebanon, the Hizbollah have steadily been breaking Israel's army of collaborators.

Investigations by The Independent leave no room for doubt that a double agent - in his mid-thirties and working for Israel since 1992 - deliberately led the Israeli raiders into a minefield. Even the map carried by the Israeli unit commander, containing details of his soldiers' five-mile trek on foot from the Mediterranean through the olive groves towards the village of Ansouriyeh at 1.30 in the morning - a map supposedly the work of Israel's faithful collaborator - was drawn by Hizbollah officers.

Israeli intelligence had been told - via their "turned" collaborator - that an important Hizbollah leader was staying in Ansouriyeh on the night of 4 September.

In fact, it was this same leader - the assassination target of the Israelis - who set up what can only be described as a classic guerrilla ambush. Instead of being in the village, he was hiding in the darkness scarcely a mile from the grove of lemon and orange trees through which the Hizbollah map would lead the Israelis - and in which the Hizbollah had already placed dozens of mines, some beneath the ground, others hanging from the branches of the fir trees lining the tiny lane to Ansouriyeh.

Even before the six Israeli naval craft approached the coast with their cargo of dinghies and the 16-man raiding party, the Hizbollah had told local Lebanese army units to prepare for action and that their forthcoming operation was to be named "Abbas Ambush" after Abbas Moussawi, the Hizbollah chairman assassinated in an Israeli helicopter attack in 1992. Unaware that they were walking into the most carefully laid ambush in Lebanese guerrilla history, the soldiers landed on the beach north of Saqsaqieh and set off towards Ansouriyeh, their radio operator in the lead, their commander in the middle, another soldier carrying explosives on his back. The map showed a path running parallel with the village laneway, curtained by tall conifers which would protect the Israeli soldiers - and conceal the mines that were waiting for them. The first man to step on a mine was the soldier carrying explosives. He was torn to pieces with at least six of his colleagues.

When the Hizbollah opened fire, their battlefield was lit by the Lebanese army's Verey lights - an act that was to cost the army six dead in an Israeli revenge attack last week. What the Hizbollah did not know was that down the laneway would drive a 43-year old Palestinian - whose husband was in Saudi Arabia - and her very drunk, 35-year-old Lebanese lover. The five surviving Israelis, four of whom were already wounded, poured bullets towards the headlights, killing the woman instantly and hitting her lover six times. When Israeli rescue helicopters arrived 45 minutes later - summoned by the unwounded radio operator - an army doctor was killed when he leapt from one of the machines.

Only the Lebanese double-agent was not there to see his handiwork. He had already been moved to a safe house along with his family, now under the Hizbollah's protection. His was the one uncredited name on the banners now hanging from the burned branches of the trees where the mines once hung. "The trees are talking to each other," one of these sinister messages reads. "The trees said: `There are Israelis among us - kill them'."

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