Israeli Agents: Cloak and Dagger in Lebanon
Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- The arrest of retired Lebanese army Brigadier General Fayez Karam, a leading figure in the Free Patriotic Movement party that is led by General Michel Aoun, was not so much a surprise in a technical sense, as much as it was in a political sense. It was not surprising that Israel successfully recruited someone of retired Brigadier General Fayez Karam’s stature. He had served as a representative for the Northern region, and was an associate of Aoun, at very critical junctures. Furthermore, if the accusations against him are proved to be true, then Israel nearly gained a spy who was about to become a Lebanese member of parliament. It is common knowledge that Israel has sought to infiltrate any political party or force in Lebanon that it can, in order to replenish the knowledge and information [about Lebanon] that it exhausted during the July 2006 War.
From figures speculating on the actual number of Israeli spies in Lebanon, whose number exceeded 150 within one year, it has become apparent that the Israeli intelligence services are acting at an unprecedented rate.
A prominent security source informed Asharq al-Awsat that the rate of current Israeli espionage activity “is unprecedented in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict”. He described the Israeli actions as being “feverish” adding that “we could almost hear the agents that were activated by Israel after 2006 to gather new information, and at a greater capacity, in the secret war that it [Israel] is conducting against Lebanon, and other countries like Iran and Syria”.
The pattern that Israel has adopted for selecting agents reveals another issue. Those agents chosen by Israel cover an entire spectrum of sects, doctrines, regions and political interests present in Lebanese society. It does not matter a great deal if these agents are connected with Israel’s main target, Hezbollah, or distant from it. As indicated by the recent arrests, Israel has managed to infiltrate the majority of Lebanese security institutions including the army, the security forces, and civil security apparatus, by creating a network of agents. Moreover, Israel has also succeeded in infiltrating the majority of political parties that are active in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, where several of its associates were placed under arrest for espionage.
Prominent Lebanese sources concerned with the security file in Lebanon informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Lebanese security apparatus in charge of counter-espionage is working at maximum capacity. Furthermore, a system has been put in place between the different security bodies to exchange information and analyse data, in a bid to uncover more Israeli spy networks.
The Lebanese security source said that after the July 2006 War, Israel “activated” all of its sleeper cells and urged them to collect information about the armament of Hezbollah and the whereabouts of its Secretary General, and Israel’s top target, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah. While Wiam Wahhab, head of the Tawhid Movement and a close Hezbollah ally, stated that his party had arrested somebody close to him after discovering that he was working with Israel. Wahhab said that this Israeli agent’s objective was to locate the whereabouts of Nasrallah, by trailing Wahhab.
It seems that activating these sleeper cells has had a negative impact on these clandestine networks. This has facilitated the Lebanese security apparatus uncovering their presence, and Lebanon has arrested an unprecedented number of Israeli informants in record time.
Confessions made by arrested agents and informants indicate that Israel is approaching this issue with a policy of exploiting all opportunities to recruit the largest possible number of agents and informants. There have even been jokes that the Lebanese Ministry of Defense should print posters warning against “The Harmful Effects of being an Agent for Israel” in reference to the anti-smoking posters issued by the Lebanese Ministry of Health. Others have spoken about the possibility of Lebanon entering the Guinness Book of World Records for the country with the record number of [foreign] agents. However on a more serious note, there have been calls for an in-depth investigation into this phenomenon and the reasons behind it.
Israeli intelligence has been working for many years inside Lebanon, and this has contributed to their agents’ accumulation of experience. It has been revealed that some recently exposed agents and informants have been working with Israel since the eighties, at the very least. Others inherited the job from their fathers, as in the case of Marwan Faqih, who is the Israeli spy that was revealed to have the closest links to Hezbollah amongst the recent batch of Lebanese informants.
Confessions obtained by the Lebanese authorities made by those charged with espionage and currently standing trial – viewed by Asharq Al-Awsat – revealed that the manner in which they had been recruited by Israel. Recruitment occurred either through agents who had defected to Israel following its withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and who had kept in touch with their relatives and friends [in Lebanon], or through an Israeli intelligence cover organization called “Humanitarian Endeavours” that directly contacted Lebanese citizens under the pretext of obtaining information about missing Israeli soldiers in Lebanon. Other informants and agents were recruited during physical meetings in Lebanon, or through contacts with girls outside the country. In addition to this, some agents and informants were tempted with money or business proposals, or promises of employment in Asia and Europe. Some informants or agents were also recruited by older agents, such as retired Brigadier General Adeeb al-Alam. Al-Alam opened an employment office whose operations extended to Syria, in order to supply Israeli intelligence with potential agents and informants.
In other cases, methods of recruitment were quite innovative. Such was the case with Marwan Faqih who was reportedly lured to a European country by Israeli intelligence and invited to a meeting room in which a picture of his late father, himself a former agent for Israel, was placed on a table and surrounded by candles, in a gesture of respect and appreciation, to gain Faqih’s sympathy.
New recruits would be trained either in Lebanon or Israel. They would first be transferred to European countries, then to Israel, by means of forged passports. In some cases, the Israelis falsified official Lebanese documents for their agents. For example, agent Adeeb al-Alam, a 58-year old Christian and retired Brigadier General from the border town of Ramish was recruited by the Israelis in 1994 through his cousin Nuqola Habeeb, who had fled to Israel. Meetings between al-Alam and Israeli intelligence officers occurred in different places. Some took place in the occupied border zone during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, while others occurred on the Lebanese coast where Israeli intelligence officers would make land in certain locations, taking advantage of the weak Lebanese surveillance.
As for Israeli agent Zeyad Ahmed Homsy, he is a Sunni and deputy head of the Saadnayel Municipality in Bekaa Valley; he was recruited in 2006 after being lured by prospects of business and trade. He was met in Thailand by someone who assigned him the task of searching for missing Israeli pilot Ron Arad. That same man introduced him to an Israeli intelligence officer, who started meeting Homsy in Bangkok on a regular basis. After returning to Lebanon, Homsy installed technical [surveillance] equipment in Bekaa Valley, and sought to meet Hezbollah chief Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, in order to inform the Israelis of the time and location of this meeting.
Another agent for Israel, Said al-Alam, a Maronite, was recruited in 1990 through two other agents, Ahmed Shibli Saleh and George Assaf, who were both fleeing to Israel. After this, al-Alam took it upon himself to recruit a number of Lebanese citizens himself. Ali Hussein Mantash, a Shiite, was recruited in 2005. He owned a butcher’s shop in Zibdeen and worked as a guide during the pilgrimage season, his brother worked as a bodyguard for one of the leaders of the Amal Movement. Similarly, agent Nasser Mahmoud Nadir, also a Shiite, was recruited in 2001 by an agent from the Abu Azzam family. The same thing happened to agent Ellie Yaqoub al-Alam was recruited in 2006, by Nimr al-Alam, who later fled to Israel.
This was different to the manner in which Colonel Shahid Tournieh was recruited to work for Israel in 1996. Tournieh was a resident of a Christian town whose population was originally from northern Lebanon. His five brothers are also officers in the Lebanese army, security apparatus and customs department. Tournieh belongs to the same group of Israeli agents that includes Colonel Mansour Habib Diab who was arrested and charged with espionage after he was recruited by his brother-in-law in 1996, and Lieutenant Colonel Daher Jarjoui who managed to flee to Israel before being arrested.
Haitham Rajeh Jameel Sahmarani is a Sunni who was recruited in 2004 by his sister Sahira Sahmarani, an agent who together with her husband Mohammed Amin, worked for the secretive Unit 504 that is affiliated to Israeli military intelligence. Haitham Sahmarani was a member of the Lebanese security force during the July 2006 war, and allegedly provided the Israeli military with intelligence on specific targets.
Regarding agent Ali Hassan Ghussain, a Shiite, he was residing in Germany when his Uncle – agent Nasser Nadir – introduced him to a German girl through the internet, who in turn recruited him to work for Israeli intelligence in 2007.
There is also the case of Israeli agent Robert Edmond Kfouri. Kfouri worked for the Lebanese militia that cooperated with the Israeli occupation for a number of months between 1984 and 1986. After this, he returned to his original job as a bulldozer driver. During the early nineties, Kfouri he submitted a petition to the militia to grant him a permit to allow him to leave for the liberated territories and work there. Ramon Abu Daher, a security official in charge of the issuance of such permits, offered Kfouri the permit he required in return for working with the Israeli intelligence and recruiting a certain Palestinian in the Ain al-Helwa refugee camp to work for Israel. Kfouri agreed to this, and he later confessed to his interrogators that he had acted in order to obtain “material benefit and facilitate his transfer to the liberated territory.” Kfouri was told to recruit Palestinian Mohammed Ibrahim Awad, and obtain handwritten consent from Awad stating his explicit agreement to work for Israel. Awad agreed to Kfouri’s offer due to his “hatred for the Palestinian organizations.” Awad would deliver information to Kfouri for between $200 and $300 per report. Awad later moved to Israel and provided the Israelis with detailed information about the lay-out of the Palestinian camp, including identifying the precise location of the residences of certain Palestinian officials. The Israelis rewarded him with $800 for this information. Kfouri and Awad were charged with “providing Israel with information as well as facilitating its aggression and terrorist acts on Lebanon.”
Adeeb al-Alam, received between $4,000 and $5,000 for each journey he made. While under interrogation, Marwan Faqih confessed that during the period of his collaboration with Israel, up until his arrest in 2009, he received a total of $27,000 from Israel. However he later detracted from this statement, saying that he was financially comfortable and that there was therefore no motive whatsoever for him to collaborate with Israel.
The Israelis adopted a “dead drop” system in order to communicate with their agents, with the goal of reducing direct communication between their agents and their intelligence officers in Lebanon. For example, the Israeli intelligence service would specify a location, most probably in the open where there agents would find messages or payment. An Israeli officer once asked Robert Kfouri to head to the northern region towards the district of Haddadin and take a screwdriver or hammer with him. When Kfouri arrived in the area, he phoned his Israeli handler who informed him to head towards a tree with two trunks and to dig underneath it where he would find a small box.