Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Middle East: Israeli-run espionage network threatens peace

By Mel Frykberg - IPS Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS )copyright Inter Press Service (IPS) and

RAMALLAH, Jul 14 (IPS) - The UN Security Council has warned that the existence of a large Israeli-run espionage network in Lebanon could threaten a fragile peace established between the two countries following the end of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war.

Lebanon's citizens and its security establishment have been rocked by the arrest of over 30 Lebanese military and police officials, some of them top- ranking officers, who are allegedly part of an Israeli spy ring which has been operating in the country since the early 1990s.

Twenty people have so far been charged, some in absentia, while another ten are under investigation.

Despite the ceasefire between Lebanon and its southern neighbour, the former considers itself still technically at war with Israel. Treason in Lebanon is punishable by death.

A growing list of double agents has been exposed over the last few years as part of a continuing operation, code-named Surprise at Dawn, which began in June 2006 before the outbreak of the war.

On Wednesday last week the UN Security Council released a report after convening behind closed doors to discuss the precarious truce, which was established after UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was passed in August 2006. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asserted in the report that peace between Israel and Lebanon was threatened not only by the Israeli spy cells but also by Hizbullah operating outside of state control.

Since the August 2006 resolution, tensions along the volatile Blue Line, which separates Lebanese forces in southern Lebanon from Israeli soldiers in northern Israel, have been stoked by a series of assassinations, bombings, Israeli flights over Lebanese territory, and allegations of Hizbullah weapons smuggling.

Ban further called for Lebanon to secure its border with Syria to prevent arms smuggling between the two countries, and for Israel to withdraw its forces from areas north of the Blue Line.

The UN Secretary-General acknowledged, however, that Israel had eventually complied with repeated requests to hand over data on cluster bombs which the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) planted in southern Lebanon during the 2006 war.

"Almost three years after Resolution 1701 was adopted, it remains the best available blueprint for the parties to move from the current state of cessation of hostilities towards a permanent cease-fire and a long-term solution," wrote Ban.

The same day the UN's Special Coordinator for the Secretary-General for Lebanon, Michael Williams, added that progress between the two new governments in Israel and Lebanon was still possible, but warned that Israeli over-flights were problematic.

Israel's deputy permanent representative to the UN, Danny Carmon, said that full implementation of Resolution 1701 remained problematic as Hizbullah has refused to disarm, and continues to exercise a presence in the south, contrary to the resolution. Israel has also accused the Lebanese resistance group of smuggling in weapons from Syria through its porous border with Lebanon. The UN has acknowledged that weapons smuggling is still a problem.

However, the continued presence of Israel's spy network remains the major point of friction and a possible destabilising factor for both a permanent peace between Lebanon and Israel as well as Lebanon's fragile government. "If these (spy) allegations are confirmed in court, this would constitute a very serious violation of Lebanese sovereignty and undermine security," said Williams.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the son of former premier Rafik Hariri who was assassinated in a car bombing in 2005, heads a tenuous government, led by his pro-Western March 14 coalition, and the opposition pro-Iranian Hizbullah and its allies.

Operation Surprise at Dawn was launched following the assassination of the Islamic Jihad secretary general in Lebanon Mahmoud Al-Majdoub and his brother Nidal in a car bombing.

Ali Jarrah, a member of the Palestinian Fatah Intifadah movement, a group patronised by Syria which split form the mainstream Fatah movement during the 1980s, was one of the first operatives to be captured for spying for Israel.

Following a surveillance operation Jarrah was arrested by Hizbullah before he was handed over to the Lebanese authorities. Jarrah is reported to have worked for Israel's Mossad intelligence movement since the 1980s.

As the network unravels further, two Lebanese colonels are amongst those who are reported to have been arrested. Another high-ranking Lebanese official has allegedly fled to Israel, according to his family.

Israel has refused to comment on the spy allegations. But it has been reported in the Israeli media that without the intelligence provided by the Lebanese network, the Israeli Air Force would not have been able to knock out Hizbullah's medium-range missile launchers with such a high degree of accuracy during the 2006 war.

Many of Hizbullah's men were also assassinated on the basis of information provided by the spies.

The campaign of assassinations culminated in the killing, supposedly by Mossad agents, of top Hizbullah official Imad Mughniyeh who was killed in a car bombing in Damascus last year.

The operatives were allegedly given orders to spy on a number of Palestinian resistance organisations as well as Hizbullah.

The success of Lebanese intelligence officials in uncovering the network is attributed in part to advanced surveillance equipment provided by the U.S., which supports the March 14 coalition.

Since the 2006 war the U.S. has provided Lebanon with about 1 billion dollars in training and technology assistance, including 410 million dollars to strengthen its police and intelligence services.

In a further twist, General Jose Maria Prieto Martinez, the head of Spain's United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) contingent, stated that his UN peacekeepers also helped uncover the spy network, a claim quickly denied by Spain's Defence Ministry.

Lebanese lieutenant Daher Jarjoui, who has reportedly fled to Israel following Lebanese intelligence closing in on him, was the Lebanese Armed Forces' liaison officer with the Spanish UNIFIL contingent.