“Thanks to Hariri’s killing, Israel was able to launch more than one project in Lebanon.”
– Major-General Amos Yadlin, former head of Israeli Military Intelligence, 27 October 2010
“I call on all Lebanese, citizens and politicians alike, to boycott [the Special Tribunal for Lebanon] and end all cooperation with its investigators … Everything they obtain reaches the Israelis. It’s enough.”
– Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, 28 October 2010
You cannot blame Israeli intelligence officials like Amos Yadlin for being unable to contain their glee. After pulling off an operation whose blame will fall at the feet of a hated enemy, it is hard not to.
Imagine their delight too when a U.N.-sanctioned body has been so successfully co-opted as a result that it could lead to the collapse of Lebanon’s government.
Such is the case with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)—the U.N-backed court established to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of the Feb. 14, 2005 assassination of the late Lebanese premier and billionaire Rafiq al-Hariri.
Reports indicate that the tribunal’s upcoming report will indict high-ranking Hezbollah figures in the murder. The STL’s investigation and the question of its financial support—Lebanon funds nearly half its budget—has dramatically increased tension between the country’s two major political coalitions: the Hezbollah-led, opposition March 8 alliance and the United States and Saudi-backed ruling March 14 alliance headed by the late prime minster’s son, Saad al-Hariri.
Hassan Nasrallah’s recent call for Lebanon to boycott the STL came on the heels of a visit by two (male) STL investigators and their translator to a private obstetrics/gynecology clinic in the Shia-dominated, southern Beirut suburb known as the Dahiyeh. They were apparently seeking the mobile telephone numbers of a dozen patients known to be the wives and daughters of Hezbollah officials.
The investigators did not get far. Once their presence was known, they were quickly surrounded by a torrent of angry neighborhood and driven out under a barrage of insults. The phone records they so coveted were not to be had.
Over the past two years, Lebanese authorities have uncovered multiple Israeli espionage rings operating in the country, leading to the arrest of more than 100 agents working on behalf of the Mossad. A number of them were employed in the telecommunications sector, specifically Alfa, one of country’s two mobile service providers.
As news outlets have reported, the STL is expected to rely heavily on telecom data in issuing their indictments. Despite clear signs they have been compromised by Israeli intelligence, the STL persists in collecting the tainted data, just as they tried to do at the Dahiyeh clinic.
According to the Lebanese daily As-Safir, Alfa was successfully penetrated in the July 2006 war, allowing Israel to target individuals and infrastructure in a conflict which killed 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians.
Yadlin: “We reformulated a large number of Israeli Mossad cells in Lebanon and created tens of new cells to serve Israel … The most important thing for us was to control the telecoms network in Lebanon, something which benefited us even more than we expected” (Al-Manar).
In an August 2010 press conference, Nasrallah made public video footage intercepted from Israeli reconnaissance planes. The aerial clips were of West Beirut’s coastline, the Feb. 14 route of Hariri’s motorcade, and the assassination site.
“We have definite information on the aerial movements of the Israeli enemy the day Hariri was murdered. Hours before he was murdered, an Israeli drone was surveying the Sidon-Beirut-Jounieh coastline as warplanes were flying over Beirut” Nasrallah said.
Statements made by Ahmad Nasrallah (no relation to Hassan), a known Israeli agent arrested in 1996, were also disclosed. At the direction of his Israeli handlers, he admitted to falsely telling Hariri that Hezbollah was planning an assassination attempt. Doing so allowed Ahmad Nasrallah to influence the path Hariri’s motorcade would take.
Israeli collaborators in Lebanon also confessed to having surveilled March 14 leaders, including (vehemently anti-Hezbollah) Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea. Why? “This is the answer for the people asking why March 14 members were the ones who were assassinated. The answer is that Israel wants the blame to fall on Syria and Hezbollah” Nasrallah replied.
The evidence presented at the press conference was compelling but admittedly circumstantial. However, when assessed in light of Israel’s espionage networks in Lebanon—especially those operating in the sphere of telecommunications—and the matter of false witnesses (“witnesses” who initially fingered Syria for Hariri’s killing but whose testimony was later recanted once determined to have been fabricated), there is little doubt the STL investigators’ time would be better spent exploring Israeli complicity in the crime than rummaging around a women’s health clinic in the Dahiyeh.
Yadlin: “These [spies] succeeded in many assassination operations against our enemies in Lebanon. They also made great achievements in besieging Hezbollah and obliging the Syrian army to withdraw from Lebanon.”
Because it has ignored both Israel’s political and military incentives to incriminate Hezbollah (and corroborative spy testimony and video evidence), the STL and its chief prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, are doing a great injustice to Lebanese who want to see Hariri’s killers brought to justice. Instead, they appear intent on sandbagging the truth and the stability of Lebanon … just as Israel intended.
You cannot blame Israeli intelligence officials for being unable to contain their glee.
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator.