Israeli spies exposed by defector

Middle East: Lebanese security forces arrest 19 agents as rush- hour explosion rocks Tel Aviv

Robert Fisk
Thursday 27 August 1998 23:02

LOVE, IT seems, has cracked the latest Israeli intelligence operation in Lebanon. And if the young Beirut woman involved in the affair is not exactly Mata Hari - she is the daughter of supporters of the small leftist Syrian National Socialist Party in Beirut - her Lebanese boyfriend's defection from Israel's South Lebanon Army (SLA) militia has provided another body- blow to the Israeli intelligence services.

Lebanese military security men claim they have identified by name 52 of Israel's agents in Lebanon, arresting 19 of them. The break-up of the ring is the most serious blow to Israeli forces inside Lebanon since a Lebanese double-agent lured 10 Israeli commandoes to their deaths in a minefield in September last year.

Identified here only by two initials - RW - the love-stricken Israeli- paid militia officer was joint head of security for the SLA in the Druze town of Hasbaya, inside Israel's occupation zone in southern Lebanon. According to military sources here, he fell in love with the Beirut girl, only to find that her parents - disapproving of his work for the Israeli occupiers - banned him from their home. In desperation, he sought to keep her love by deserting his post and fleeing to Beirut - with a notebook containing the names of every Lebanese working for the Israeli Shin Beth intelligence organisation in Lebanon.

According to criminal charges against all 52, four of whom are young women, they worked for an Israeli intelligence-gathering organisation known as Shabbak Section 501 - Shabbak is the acronym for the Hebrew words for "security service" - which specialised in gathering military information in Syria as well as Lebanon. Individual charges state that the accused were asked by Section 501 operatives to draw up lists of Syrian and Lebanese military positions in Lebanon, the location of gun batteries, and offices in Beirut's southern suburbs occupied by officials of the pro-Iranian Hizbollah guerrilla movement, which is fighting Israeli occupation troops in southern Lebanon.

Intriguingly, the 52 come from both Muslim and Christian communities. Several decided to work for Section 501 after making secret visits to northern Israel - where they were asked not only to gather military information but to recruit agents within the Syrian army which keeps 22,000 troops in Lebanon. Hani Khattar, for example, was allegedly told to persuade a Syrian officer - identified as Haytham Zeinedin - to work for Shin Beth (the Syrian refused). Naji Abu Tourabi, and Housam and Ghalem Massoud were ordered to map all major Syrian army concentrations in Syria and Lebanon.

Another of the arrested men had been trained in explosives by the Israelis while three of the accused are shepherds, presumably taken on by the Israelis for their knowledge of guerrilla infiltration trails. Two Lebanese communist guerrillas were betrayed to the Israelis by a shepherd earlier this month.

One of the women prisoners has apparently told Lebanese security officers that she three times visited Israel where she was asked to draw maps of Hizbollah positions. The first air assault of Israel's 1996 bombardment of Lebanon was against Hizbollah's headquarters in Beirut; the Israelis bombed the wrong building, killing an old man.

The 34 named Lebanese who are still on the run have been offered a chance to give themselves up before a court hearing on 7 October - in the hope, no doubt, that they will divulge more information by surrendering voluntarily, hoping for a lighter sentence. Most would probably face between three years and life imprisonment although several could be executed if judged guilty.

After the Lebanese last year arrested and put on trial a man who admitted trying to assassinate Imad Mugnieh, one of the principle Lebanese kidnappers of the 1980s, he was hanged. At his trial, it was stated that he had been recruited by an Israeli intelligence unit in occupied south Lebanon - almost certainly Section 501, which was formed in 1995.

Israeli undercover operations have been steadily collapsing in southern Lebanon for more than two years. A Lebanese working for the Shia Muslim Amal militia in the southern Lebanese village of Haris was discovered by Hizbollah to have an Israeli cellular telephone and a two-way radio installed in his television, along with hair spray canisters containing maps of routes through the wadis used by Hizbollah guerrillas in their attacks on Israeli military positions in Lebanon. In recent attacks on the Israeli occupiers, the Hizbollah have been using new night-vision equipment to identify their targets - and, so the Israelis suspect, have received tip-offs by mobile phone from other, supposedly loyal SLA men.

All in all, then, a bad day for Shin Beth, a good day for love - although we don't know the present status of RW's affair with the young Beirut lady - and another sign that the Middle East intelligence war flourishes as never before in Lebanon.

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