29 July 2009

* Israeli spy cells aimed to destroy Hizbullah

The guiding objectives behind Israel’s spy network in Lebanon were to “destroy” the Hizbullah-led resistance and kill its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, As-Safir newspaper quoted well-informed sources as saying on Tuesday.

Though Israeli spy operations first emerged shortly after Tel Aviv declared independence in May 1948, Israel’s failure to obliterate Hizbullah when the two engaged in a 34-day war in July-August 2006 apparently prompted Tel Aviv to step up its covert operations in Lebanon.

Israel considered “the only way to make up for the 2006 defeat and to avoid a third war with Lebanon was to get rid of [Hizbullah chief Sayyed] Hassan Nasrallah” and to destroy “everything related to” Hizbullah, sources studying the spy networks told As-Safir. Those recruited not only reported on Hizbullah operations but also delivered information about the group’s ties with Syria and Iran and Lebanese national security measures, a Lebanese security source said. Collaborators were also expected to renew relations with former spies and reactivate dormant networks.

Lebanon has arrested more than 70 people since January on suspicion of spying for Israel’s intelligence service, Mossad, in a high-profile campaign to dismantle spy cells operating in the country. Around 40 of those individuals – 37 Lebanese, two Palestinians and one Egyptian – are now in custody, according to AFP, including a number of Lebanese government officials.

Poor coordination between Lebanon’s military and security services have allowed a number of spies to flee, the security source told the paper. Lebanese authorities admit that a handful of suspected collaborators have crossed into Israel.

According to the unidentified sources, Israel recruited spies by placing job adverts in local news­papers, through Lebanese collaborators who sought refuge in Israel in 2000, or by luring them in with money and wo­men. Once initiated, collaborators would meet with their Is­raeli liaison officers in Lebanese towns or further afield such as in Cyprus, Hong Kong or Belgium. Spies mostly communicated with cell phones and emails.

In May, Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces displayed what appeared to be sophisticated espionage equipment, including a water cooler equipped with a mapping device, a stereo concealing USB storage capabilities and hi-tech cameras and detection gadgets. Lebanon’s civil and political sectors should “immunize themselves to the highest degree because the spies recruited came from various backgrounds: military officers, housewives, farmers, immigrants, taxi drivers,” and so on, one security source urged.

“Social burdens weigh upon everyone, but the fate of these spies will serve as a lesson to those thinking about working for Israel. Everyone should be on the lookout,” the source warned, citing national unity as the best way to combat covert Israeli operations in Lebanon.

Beirut considers itself in a state of war with Israel, and Lebanese citizens are prohibited from having contact with Israelis or from visiting Israel. Those convicted of spying or high treason in Lebanon can be sentenced to death or life imprisonment with hard labor. 


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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.