Strange phone calls in Syria point to Israeli intelligence services

In late October, 2008, thousands of seemingly random telephone subscribers in Syria received strange calls in which an automated message in Arabic asked them for information about missing Israeli soldiers. The recorded message guaranteed the safety of potential tipsters and offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the soldiers’ whereabouts. It then prompted them to call a telephone number starting with a British country code. The operation seems to point to the Israeli intelligence services. An article in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)-sponsored Middle East Online website, reminds that this incident follows “a similar case in Lebanon” in July, 2008. Back then, “Lebanese telecommunications minister Jibran Bassil accused the Israelis of bombarding people in his country with recorded phone messages, a day after a controversial prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah”. The random phone calls technique would appear to be a creative, though risky, method of fishing for potential Israeli collaborators in Syria, by communicating directly with Syrian citizens while simultaneously evading the nation’s government-controlled media. Predictably, Israeli officials have “declined to comment” on Syrian allegations. It is worth noting that some in Syria believe “the Syrian authorities may have orchestrated the calls in order to […] justify imposing greater restrictions on telecommunications”. The Middle East Online article quotes an anonymous Syrian former political prisoner expressing the fear that “Syrian security structures will take advantage of this opportunity to spy on people more, under the pretext that Israeli infiltration is taking place”. [IA]

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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