Comment: Is Lebanon Using US Assistance to Capture Israeli Agents?



A minor revolution has been taking place in Lebanon over the past 16 months. Since April of 2009, Lebanese authorities have arrested nearly 100 individuals on charges of spying for Israel, three of whom have been sentenced to death. Judging by numbers alone, this may be one of the most astonishing coups in the annals of counterintelligence. There are several reasons why this is happening.

First and foremost, since the 2006 war with Israel, the Lebanese government has significantly strengthened its counterintelligence apparatus, doubling its counterintelligence force in less than three years. Second, despite their many differences with Syrian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah, which controls large parts of Lebanon, the Lebanese intelligence services have initiated an ambitious –and so far fruitful– program of cautious cooperation with the paramilitary group’s formidable intelligence forces. Thirdly, the amalgamated Lebanese government and Hezbollah counterintelligence forces have taken advantage of intelligence tips from the security services of several friendly nations, including those of Iran, Syria, and possibly Russia.

Most important of all, Lebanon’s strengthened counterintelligence community has likely been using funds, technology and counterespionage training offered by Western nations. This assistance, provided by nations such as France and the United States, is being given to the Lebanese government with the aim of equipping it with the tools that are necessary to monitor and neutralize local militant Islamic groups considered dangerous by Western security services.

But there are rumors that the Lebanese security services may be redirecting some of these tools to combat what many in Lebanon see as the country’s primary enemy, namely Israel. There is no concrete proof that sophisticated electronic interception equipment given recently by Washington to the Lebanese armed forces has been used to monitor and identify some of the 100 Israeli-handled agents in Lebanon. But security observers note with interest that the United States has given Lebanon’s security forces nearly $500 million in aid since 2006, with another $100 million already pledged for 2011. In fact, in per capita terms, Lebanon is currently the largest recipient of US military aid in the world after Israel.

This development worries Israeli intelligence planners. They are concerned that Washington’s attempts to strengthen the Lebanese security and intelligence apparatus may be hampering Israel’s considerable intelligence foothold in southern Lebanon, which has operated there in relative freedom since the early days of the Lebanese civil war. The irony of such a possibility will not be lost on regional intelligence observers, particularly as the debate about worsening US-Israeli security relations continues to intensify.

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

5 Responses to Comment: Is Lebanon Using US Assistance to Capture Israeli Agents?

  1. David says:

    Thanks for your informative articles as usual. But did you mean to give the figure $500,000 million? That would be 500 billion. In which case why not say 500 billion?

  2. intelNews says:

    Thanks for catching this. The actual number is $500 million. Apologies for the error. [JF]

  3. Mark says:

    Nice analysis! But I have the impression that most of the captured spies are not very important for the Israeli intelligence. Do you think that Israel might have given away small fishes to the Lebanese so they can give better cover to their major assets inside the Lebanese gov.?

  4. intelNews says:

    Thanks for your comment, Mark. The spy arrests in Lebanon range from those of small-time informants to really big fish. And most observers agree that there’s more to come. I personally agree with Le Figaro, which last September described the arrests in Lebanon as “one of the most resounding defeats in [Israel’s] history”. Perhaps not so much because of the disruption of Israeli intelligence networks in south Lebanon (which most likely remain substantial), but more in terms of the message they send to Israeli agents and other assets in Lebanon. Israel’s remaining spy networks in the area have for the time being gone completely silent, out of fear of arrest. Strategically, this has got to hurt. [JF]

  5. Having been in the area recently there has been some cleaning of the house but I think many who have been caught have been set up and were not Israeli informants if they were they would be of very little importance, Mossad are the masters at intelligence collection and will always have backups avaliable, Israel will also still have many crucial assets in place, Mossad are probably stronger now in the Lebanon than they ever have been, Israel have not forgot the last war and will be looking at correcting the outcome at some time, along with Gaza, where there have been the same happening hysteria over Israeli spies with many killed, imprisoned and tortured, paranoia is what Mossad wants in the higher ranks of Hezbollah and Hamas keeps them very volitile and ready to accuse even close accomplices, psychological warfare at its best.

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