Iran, Hezbollah to launch ground assault on Syria rebels, says Reuters

Syrian troopsHundreds of ground troops from Iran and Lebanon have been entering Syria in the past two weeks and are about to launch a large-scale ground attack against rebel groups, according to Reuters. The news agency quoted Lebanese sources “familiar with political and military developments in the conflict”. One source said that the Russian airstrikes in Syria, which began earlier this week, are the first phase of a large-scale military offensive against the Islamic State and other anti-government forces operating on the ground.

The Lebanese official told the news agency that hundreds of Iranian “soldiers and officers” had arrived in Syria in September. These forces “are not advisors”, said the source; rather, they have entered Syria “with equipment and weapons, specifically to participate in this battle. And they will be followed by more”, said the source, adding that some “Iraqis would also take part in the operation”, without specifying whether these would be regular troops or Iraqi Shiite militias. According to Reuters, the operation will be supported by Russian airstrikes and aims to recapture territory that is currently in the hands of various rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Islamic State.

Last week it was reported that the governments of Russia, Iraq and Iran had entered a formal intelligence-sharing agreement with Syria, in an effort to defeat the forces fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. According to the Baghdad-based Iraqi Joint Forces Command, the agreement entails the establishment of a new intelligence-sharing center in the Iraqi capital. It will be staffed with intelligence analysts from all four participating countries, who will be passing on shared information to their respective countries’ militaries. The announcement of the agreement came as Russia continued to reinforce its military presence in Syria by deploying troops in Latakia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 2 October 2015 | Permalink

Israel charges Swedish citizen with spying for Hezbollah

HezbollahIsraeli authorities have charged a Swedish citizen with working as an intelligence officer for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. It is believed that Hassan Khalil Hizran, 55, was born to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, from where he emigrated to Sweden many years ago. But he was arrested in Tel Aviv on July 21 while disembarking a flight at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport and was taken into custody by the Shin Bet, Israel’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence agency. A spokesman for the agency said Hizran had confessed during interrogation to being an intelligence operative for Hezbollah, a primarily Shiite organization that controls much of Lebanon’s territory. He is said to have told his interrogators that he was recruited by the group in the summer of 2009 while visiting Lebanon from Sweden with his wife and children.

Shin Bet said that Hizran had been asked by his Hezbollah handlers to gather intelligence relating to Israeli military installations and that he visited Israel several times in order to fulfil his missions. He would then return to Lebanon after visiting a third country in order to provide his Hezbollah handlers with the information he had collected while in Israel. Sources in Tel Aviv said Hizran visited Lebanon at least twice since his 2009 recruitment, specifically in 2011 and 2013. He returned to Sweden with monetary sums given to him by Hezbollah as payment for his services, which amounted to several thousand dollars, according to Shin Bet. The Israeli security agency said the Swede was helping Hezbollah identify military targets for a future war, which it interpreted as “proof that Hezbollah is preparing for the net war with Israel by compiling a target bank”.

According to the Israelis, Hizran had also been tasked by Hezbollah with recruiting Arabs with ties to Israeli Jews, but that he was either unable or unwilling to do so. However, on Sunday he was charged with three criminal counts including contacting an agent of a foreign government and communicating sensitive information. The Swedish man’s Israeli lawyer, Leah Tsemel, denied that her client was guilty of espionage and claimed that he had “refused repeated requests to inflict harm on the national security of Israel”. The Swedish and Lebanese governments have not commented on Hizran’s arrest.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 10 August 2015 | Permalink

Mossad allegedly behind arrest of ‘Hezbollah bomber’ in Cyprus

Larnaca police stationA team of officers from Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency were heading to Cyprus late yesterday to be briefed on the arrest of a dual Lebanese-Canadian citizen, who was found to be in possession of 67 thousand packages of ammonium nitrate. It is not yet clear whether the passports held by the 26-year-old man are genuine. Cypriot police said he used his Canadian passport to enter the Mediterranean island about a week ago. But he was arrested on Wednesday, after police found 420 boxes of ammonium nitrate in the house where he was staying. The boxes amount to nearly 2 tons of the highly flammable fertilizer. They were discovered in the basement of a house in a residential neighborhood of the city of Larnaca, on the southern coast of Cyprus.

On Monday, Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida said the Lebanese-Canadian man was arrested after Cypriot police were tipped off by the Mossad. The Kuwaiti newspaper, cited “exclusive sources from Israel” in saying that the 26-year-old is thought to be an operative of the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Al-Jarida added that the man is thought to have contacted several Hezbollah operatives in recent months, and that he has even met Hezbollah’s reclusive leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Cypriot police are working on the assumption that the ammonium nitrate was going to be used to blow up the Israeli embassy on the island, or to attack Israeli tourists holidaying there. But he was stopped because the Israelis were able to monitor his phone calls to other Hezbollah operatives, said Al-Jarida.

The Kuwaiti newspaper’s claims appeared to be confirmed on Monday morning, as the alleged Hezbollah operative was brought under heavy police protection to the Larnaka District Court. The authorities then promptly admitted a request by the prosecutor to conduct the proceedings behind closed doors, due to “concerns pertaining to the national security of the state”. Meanwhile, a local Cypriot newspaper, the Famagusta Gazette, said a team of Mossad officers were on their way to the island to be briefed by the police and possibly speak to the detainee. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Israel’s Minister of Defense, Moshe Yaalon, said the house in Larnaka was a “Hezbollah hideout” that served as a safe house for the Shiite group’s “international terrorism network”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 June 2015 | Permalink:

Hezbollah likely behind malware that attacked Israeli servers

Malware program codeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
A report by a major Israeli computer security firm claims that “a Lebanese entity”, possibly Hezbollah, was behind a cyberespionage operation that targeted companies connected to the Israeli military. In late March, Israeli computer security experts announced they had uncovered an extensive cyberespionage operation that targeted computers in Israel, and to a lesser extent in the United States, Britain, Turkey and Canada. The cyberespionage operation, dubbed VOLATILE CEDAR by Israeli computer security experts, was allegedly launched in 2012. It employed a sophisticated malicious software, also known as malware, codenamed EXPLOSIVE. One Israeli security expert, Yaniv Balmas, said the malware was not particularly sophisticated, but it was advanced enough to perform its mission undetected for over three years.

It is worth noting that, during the period of operation, the EXPLOSIVE malware kept surreptitiously updating itself with at least four different versions, which periodically supplemented the original malware code. Additionally, once the discovery of the malware was publicized in the media, security experts recorded several incoming messages sent to the installed malware asking it to self-destruct. These clues point to a level of programming and operational sophistication that exceeds those usually found in criminal cyberattacks.

According to Israeli computer security firm CheckPoint, there is little doubt that the source of the malware was in Lebanon, while a number of programming clues point to Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah as “a major player” in the operation. In a report published this week, CheckPoint reveals that most of the Israeli targets infected with the malware belong to data-storage and communications firms that provide services to the Israel Defense Forces. According to one expert in the firm, the malware designers took great care to avoid “a frontal attack on the IDF network”, preferring instead to target private entities that are connected to the Israeli military. More specifically, the web shells used to control compromised servers after successful penetration attempts were of Iranian origin. Additionally, the initial command and control servers that handled EXPLOSIVE appear to belong to a Lebanese company.

The head of CheckPoint’s security and vulnerability research unit, Shahar Tal, told Ha’aretz newspaper: “We are not experts on international relations and do not pretend to analyze the geopolitical situation in Lebanon”. But these attacks originated from there, and were specifically designed to infiltrate “systems that are connected to the IDF”, he added.

Israelis dispute CIA was behind Hezbollah strongman’s killing

Sources in Israel are disputing reports from January that the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency was behind the assassination of one of Hezbollah’s most senior officials. On January 31 of this year, two US-based publications, The Washington Post and Newsweek, claimed that it was the CIA, not Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency as previously thought, who led the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyah. Mughniyah, who was among the founders of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that today controls large parts of Lebanon, was killed when a car laden with explosives blew up at a central parking lot in Syrian capital Damascus, where he had been living in secret.

According to the reports, the Mossad alerted the CIA after uncovering Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007, and suggested a joint operation to kill the Hezbollah strongman. The American covert-action agency proceeded to have a bomb designed by technicians from its Science & Technology Directorate, who carried out dozens of tests at a CIA facility in North Carolina. It was, according to the Post and Newsweek reports, the very bomb that killed Mughniyah on the evening of February 12 near his home in the Syrian capital.

But Dan Raviv, the Washington-based national correspondent for CBS News, said on Sunday that Israeli intelligence insiders are disputing claims that the CIA was the leading force in the operation. In a report published on Sunday, Raviv cited “Israelis close to their country’s services” as saying that the operation against Mughniyah was “almost all blue-and-white, and just a little bit red-white-and-blue” —a direct reference to the colors in the Israeli and American flags. The CBS correspondent said Israelis had been “miffed that the Americans were taking too much credit” for the strike against Mughniyah, and were actively “speaking with Western officials and diplomats to offer corrections”.

According to Raviv, it was the Mossad and Aman (Israel’s primary military-intelligence agency) that discovered Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007, and proceeded to design a bomb after the US declined Israel’s invitation to help organize a joint strike. Eventually, claims Raviv, Israel’s then-Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, convinced then-US President George W. Bush to approve a strike against Mughniyah, by showing him videos of the custom-made car bomb being tested in Israel. An impressed President Bush then authorized the CIA to participate in the operation. But by that time, says Raviv, the Israelis were firmly in command of the project and remained so until its final execution. Neither the CIA nor the Mossad have commented on the allegations regarding Mughniyah’s assassination.

CIA had central role in Hezbollah official’s killing, say sources

The United States, not Israel, as previously thought, led an assassination operation that targeted a senior member of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in 2008, according to two separate reports that came out last week. Imad Mughniyah was among the founders of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that today controls large parts of Lebanon. At the time of his assassination, Mughniyah headed the Hezbollah’s security apparatus and some claim he was the organization’s second-in-command. He was killed on the evening of February 12, 2008, when a car laden with explosives blew up at a central parking lot in Syrian capital Damascus, where he had been living in secret. The Shiite group blamed Israel for his killing. But two reports that aired this week, one in The Washington Post and the other in Newsweek, cited unnamed former government officials in the US in claiming that the operation was in fact led by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Washington Post’s Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima said the CIA was assisted in the operation by its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad, while Newsweek’s Jeff Stein wrote that the effort was personally approved by then-US President George Bush and was closely supervised by then-CIA Director Michael Hayden.

According to the reports, the Mossad uncovered Mughniyah’s whereabouts in 2007 and alerted the CIA, suggesting a joint operation to kill the Hezbollah strongman. Soon after President Bush approved the strike, officers in the CIA’s Near East Division planned the logistics of the operation, which involved building a complex bomb, smuggling it into Syria and placing it inside the spare tire of a locally-purchased vehicle. The bomb was allegedly designed by technicians from the CIA’s Directorate of Science & Technology, who carried out dozens of tests at a CIA facility in Harvey Point, North Carolina.

The operation was allegedly coordinated from a CIA safe house located near Mughniyah’s apartment in the Syrian capital. On the evening February 12, a team of Mossad and CIA operatives employed facial-recognition technology to identify their target as he was walking out of a local restaurant. When Mughniyah approached the explosives-laden SUV, the bomb was remotely detonated, decapitating him and blasting his torso through a nearby window (note: Goldman and Nakashima claim that the bomb was remotely detonated by Mossad officers located in Tel Aviv; Stein suggests the blast was triggered by a CIA officer who had been placed in charge of the remote-control mechanism).

The reports describe the operation as “one of the most high-risk covert actions” undertaken by the CIA in recent years, because it targeted a high-profile individual in a country with which the US was not officially at war. Additionally, the method used —a car bomb— is particularly controversial, as it is typically a method of operation preferred by organized criminals and terrorist organizations.

The US has not acknowledged participation in Mughniyah’s assassination, and the CIA declined to comment when contacted by The Washington Post on Friday. Mark Regev, spokesman for the office of the Israeli prime minister, said simply that Tel Aviv had “nothing to add at this time”.

Western intelligence points to new Syrian nuclear plant: report

Western intelligence indicates that the government of Syria is in the process of constructing a new secret nuclear plant aimed at producing nuclear weapons. In the early hours of September 7, 2007, an air attack believed to have been carried out by Israel destroyed a mysterious facility deep in the Syro-Arabian Desert. The site, named al-Kibar, located 20 miles from Deir el-Zor in eastern Syria, is widely thought to have been a nuclear reactor under construction by Damascus. The Syrian government has never commented or protested about the incident. But in late 2008, the Israeli government told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Syria was once again “actively involved in plutonium production” and that Damascus had renewed its nuclear collaboration with North Korea, which was actively supplying Syria “with nuclear materials and research”. Now a report in leading German newsmagazine Der Spiegel claims that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had transported 8,000 fuel rods that had been destined for al-Kibar to a new location in the southwest of the country. The report, published on Saturday, cited information from “Western intelligence sources”, which it did not identify. The newsmagazine said it had seen intelligence reports containing satellite photographs and transcriptions of intercepted radio traffic, which left little doubt that the Syrian government was in the process of constructing a new nuclear reactor. The German-language publication said the plant is being constructed deep underground in a remote mountainous region near the small town of Al-Qusayr, located less than two miles from the northern Lebanese border. According to the report, construction on the al-Qusayr plant, which the Syrians appear to have codenamed “Zamzam”, began in 2009 under the watchful eye of Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah, which currently guards the plant with “elite units”. The site appears ideal, said Der Spiegel, as it is adjacent to significant supplies of water, and is connected to the energy grid through special access nodes. The newsmagazine said radio traffic intercepts include conversations between senior Syrian military officials and Ibrahim Othman, head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission. The discussions seem to indicate that the construction project is being assisted by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The article points out that Western monitors are certain the technical aspects of the project are being led by North Korean experts, and that some of them are currently in Damascus. According to the IAEA, the Syrian government is in possession of approximately 50 tons of natural uranium, which, if enriched, could provide material for up to three nuclear bombs.


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