ISIS bombing of Beirut is more important than Paris attacks

Bourj al-Barajneh The recent attacks by Islamic State militants in Paris continue to dominate the world’s headlines. But the double suicide blasts that struck Beirut three days earlier are far more significant for the future of the Syrian Civil War. The outpouring of grief that followed the attacks of November 15 in the French capital prompted charges of discrimination against the world’s media. The latter practically ignored the bombing of Lebanese capital Beirut on November 12, which killed 43 and injured over 200 people. The Islamic State, known also as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), claimed responsibility for the deadly blasts, which marked the bloodiest attack in the Lebanese capital since the end of the country’s civil war in 1990.

The contrast between the media’s treatment of the attacks in Paris and Beirut could not have been starker. The news of the double suicide blasts in Beirut hardly penetrated global headlines, with the exception of outlets like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. Even the BBC, which typically pays more attention to non-Western news, relegated the incident to third place, behind a story about corruption in the international football association and the news of the killing of “Jihadi John”. There was no “safety check” app on Facebook, and no Lebanese flags were superimposed on users’ profile photos. Yet the blasts in Beirut are more significant than the attacks in Paris, for two reasons.

First, because attacking “soft targets” in Paris is far easier than attacking Beirut. Paris is a city of 2.2 million people, who are used to a life of relative security and hardly pay attention to their surroundings. The “city of light” features a café in nearly every corner, 13,000 restaurants and over 2,000 hotels; it is easy to enter and exit, and is hardly policed, even by Western standards. Beirut, on the other hand, is a tense Middle Eastern city with heavy police and military presence. The southern Beirut neighborhood of Bourj al-Barajneh, which was targeted by ISIS on November 12, is a Hezbollah stronghold, and probably one of the most tightly policed urban areas in the Eastern Mediterranean. There is little government presence there; but this does not mean that there is no security. On the contrary, Hezbollah militias and volunteers provide protection and conduct careful monitoring of nearly every street. Like its neighboring Dahieh, Bourj al-Barajneh is a world far removed from the fashionable streets of downtown Beirut, where Starbucks cafés and McDonald’s restaurants are frequented by fashionable Lebanese Christians and Western diplomats. Western intelligence has almost no presence Q Quotethere, and even the Mossad, Israel’s feared spy service, rarely ventures in the Hezbollah-controlled neighborhoods.

The fact that ISIS was able to penetrate and bomb Bourj al-Barajneh is a monumental development in the ever-widening Syrian Civil War. It demonstrates the advanced planning and operational sophistication of ISIS and places the ball squarely in Hezbollah’s court. What is more, it was the second time in less than two years that ISIS bombed southern Beirut. The Shiite group has been humiliated, having been shown to lack the resources to protect its heartland from Sunni attacks. Moreover, the Lebanese group, which is almost exclusively funded by Iran, will have to respond to that provocation. For several months, the Middle East has been buzzing with rumors that Iran and Hezbollah are preparing a two-front, large-scale ground assault against ISIS forces. Do last week’s twin suicide attacks bring that possibility closer? The answer to that question may change the entire course of the Syrian Civil War. Read more of this post

Revealed: German neo-Nazi who helped Palestinians was CIA agent

Willi Pohl, a.k.a. Willi VossBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
A German far-right militant, whose animosity against Jews led him to aid Palestinians kill Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich massacre, says he was later recruited by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Willi Pohl, also known as Willi Voss, 68, was arrested by German authorities a few weeks after Palestinian terrorist group Black September stormed the Olympic village in Munich and took hostage 11 Israeli athletes. All of them were eventually killed by their captors during a botched escape attempt at the nearby Fürstenfeldbruck airport. Voss, who was a known neo-Nazi activist at the time, was charged with possession of weapons and providing logistical support to the Black September militants. However, after his sentence was suspended, Voss managed to secretly emigrate to Beirut, Lebanon, where he was recruited as an agent of Jihaz el-Razd, the intelligence service of the Fatah, the main group in the Palestine Liberation Organization. But in 1975, while on a PLO mission in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, he decided to switch sides. He made the decision after discovering that the car he and his girlfriend were transporting on behalf of the PLO from Beirut to Belgrade contained weapons and highly unstable explosives. He says that the PLO had apparently failed to mention the existence of the hidden items when they asked him to transport the car to Europe. According to Voss’ new book, which has just been published in Germany under the title UnterGrund (Underground), the guns and explosives were discovered by customs officers in Romania (then Rumania); but because at that time the communist country was an ally of the PLO, Voss and his girlfriend were allowed to travel to Belgrade, minus the car and the weapons. Read more of this post

Comment: The Significance of the Killing of Lebanon’s Security Chief

The bombing that killed Wissam al-HassanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS*| |
Perhaps the only concrete reality reflected in last week’s assassination of Lebanon’s security chief is the confusion that continues to dominate Western reporting about Lebanese politics. On Friday, Lebanese capital Beirut experienced its most powerful bombing in nearly four years, when a car laden with explosives detonated killing at least eight and injured nearly 100 people. Among the dead was Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, head of the intelligence section of Lebanon’s national police force, known as the Internal Security Forces (ISF).  Hassan, a career intelligence officer, was a Sunni Muslim strongly associated with Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri, who was assassinated in Beirut in 2005, was openly anti-Syrian, as was Hassan. This political identification is extremely telling in a country like Lebanon, which has existed under near-complete Syrian political and military domination for the past three-and-a-half decades. Throughout this period, the position of different actors on the Syrian question has been the core defining parameter in Lebanese politics. The same applies to Lebanese institutions. As one such institution, the ISF is widely perceived as strongly anti-Syrian, and is often considered the main rival of the Security Organ of Hezbollah, the Shiite paramilitary group that controls most of southern Lebanon. Read more of this post

Intelligence wars heat up in Lebanon amid regional instability

Lebanese-Israeli-Syrian borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
As the security situation in Syria and Egypt deteriorates, Lebanon is rapidly emerging as a major intelligence hub in the wider geopolitical power-struggle currently unfolding in the Middle East. On Monday, Lebanon’s leading Arabic-language newspaper, An-Nahar, reported the discovery last month of a foreign espionage network allegedly operating in Lebanese capital Beirut. The paper said that the clandestine network was spying on behalf of “a major Western country”, and was unearthed by forces loyal to Hezbollah, the Shiite group that controls large parts of southern Lebanon. The network allegedly consisted of at least three men, all Lebanese citizens, who lived in close proximity to each other in Beirut’s southern suburbs —a traditional Hezbollah stronghold. The three men were not Hezbollah members, said An-Nahar, but one was stoutly religious and all had good relations with local Hezbollah cells operating in their respective neighborhoods. The alleged head of the spy ring was an unnamed Lebanese citizen who had lived in the Ukraine for several years, where he operated a human smuggling network transporting Arab men into Europe. However, he was eventually arrested by French authorities in Paris and spent two years in prison. According to An-Nahar, the man was able to secure a deal with his captors, under which he would be allowed to return to Lebanon in exchange for informing them about the activities of a senior Hezbollah official wanted by Interpol. His ultimate mission was allegedly to lure the Hezbollah official, with whom he was friends, to Europe, where he could be arrested. Hezbollah has refused to comment on the newspaper’s claims. But the militant Shiite group did confirm on Tuesday the reported explosions of three alleged Israeli spy devices found in Southern Lebanon. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #636



►►Careless codeword may have cost CIA its Lebanon network. Hezbollah have reportedly just rolled up the CIA’s network of spies in Lebanon. If so, it’s because of one of the stupidest, least secure code words in history. According to ABC News, Hezbollah operatives figured out that CIA informants, who had infiltrated the Iranian proxy group, were meeting with their agency handlers at a Beirut Pizza Hut. How could Hezbollah deduce that location? “The CIA used the codeword ‘PIZZA’ when discussing where to meet with the agents,” ABC reports.
►►UK spy chiefs to be publicly questioned for first time. The heads of British intelligence agencies are set to be questioned for the first time in public, under plans to make spies more accountable. The directors of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ will face Parliamentarians on the Intelligence and Security Committee. Although, they have recently begun to make rare public appearances, and deliver speeches, it will be the first time the intelligence agency heads will face public cross-examination over their activities.
►►Documents reveal largest domestic spy operation in Canadian history. Police organizations across Canada co-operated to spy on community organizations and activists in what the Royal Canadian Mounted Police called one of the largest domestic intelligence operations in Canadian history, documents reveal. Information about the extensive police surveillance in advance of last year’s G8 and G20 meetings in southern Ontario comes from evidence presented in the case of 17 people accused of orchestrating street turmoil during the summits.

Mystery ‘spy devices’ found in Lebanon mountains

Surveillance device

Spy device

A statement issued by the Lebanese armed forces last week details the discovery of at least two mysterious spy devices located in mountain ranges around the Lebanese capital Beirut. The discovery, which was apparently made early last week, concerns two allegedly Israeli-made electronic devices hidden under two fake boulders. According to the statement, the two devices were found carefully concealed in the mountain of Sannine, directly north of Beirut, and Barouk, which is adjacent to the city’s southern suburbs. There were also reports last Wednesday of a loud explosion in Sidon, a port in southern Lebanon, which some news media said was an operation by unknown assailants to destroy a third surveillance device before it was discovered by the Lebanese security forces. The two devices captured by the Lebanese forces consist of surveillance cameras, electronic transmitters, as well as satellite signal reception systems. One of them was even connected to a third fake boulder, containing long-lasting batteries, which powered the device. Read more of this post

Lebanon charges PKK Kurds with spying for Israel

PKK banner

PKK banner

Lebanese authorities have detained three alleged members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on charges of spying for Israel. The three arrestees, whose names have not been released to the media, were reportedly arrested last week by Lebanese military intelligence forces in Jounieh, a town located on the Mediterranean coast, about 15 kilometers north of Beirut. The arrests form part of a wider Lebanese counterintelligence offensive that has netted over 100 alleged Israeli agents in Lebanon since April of 2009. But news of the detentions have inflamed an ongoing discussion in Turkey about alleged covert links between Israeli intelligence agencies and Kurdish separatists operating in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Read more of this post


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