Fleeing the Wrath of Hezbollah
By Iason Athanasiadis from the Lebanon/Israeli border – Asia Times September 1, 2006
The wheelchair-bound Lebanese man had already been stuck just inside the Israeli side of the border for four hours and the Hezbollah intelligence men were ready to take matters into their own hands.
With only a half-full bottle of water with him and Israeli authorities apparently not willing to accept him inside Israel, time was fast running out for the would-be defector.
"There are negotiations going on between our higher-ups in Naqqoura [the southernmost Lebanese city on the Mediterranean coast before Israel and a major UN base] and Israel, but until the Israelis tell us they don't want him and allow us to bring him back, there's nothing we can do," said an Indian United Nations peacekeeper.
Next to a UN jeep, the Hezbollah intelligence men had parked their aging white Mercedes. One of them had flattened himself behind the chassis and was watching the Israeli side through binoculars.
"If you come with me, we'll go in and get that m*********r back," another Hezbollah man told a member of the international press. "They won't shoot at a journalist," he whispered in an aside in Arabic to his colleague.
With Hezbollah and the UN men having overheard the Lebanese man conversing with the Israelis in Hebrew, they were almost certain that he was an agent of the Jewish state trying to escape the wrath of a victorious Shi'ite political party that claims to have routed Israel over 34 days of conflict.
It is believed that the spate of attempted defections has been prompted by Hezbollah's strong showing in its recent conflict with Israel. Analysts say Israel used Lebanese collaborators who remained in the south after its forces' withdrawal in 2000 as human intelligence to identify Hezbollah cadres in each village.
A Shi'ite source with good connections to Hezbollah and local knowledge said that only the houses of Hezbollah members were destroyed in his southeastern village of Blaat. The Hezbollah center of Khiam - formerly a base for Israel's proxy South Lebanon Army - was also largely wrecked from shelling, air strikes and pitched battles between Hezbollah and Israeli soldiers.
About 16 people have crossed the Lebanese-Israeli border to the settlement of Metulla since the ceasefire came into effect two weeks ago, the Lebanese press reported, quoting local security sources.
Residents of Kfar Kila, a southern village, told the Beirut Daily Star newspaper that some of the fugitives had been employed by Israel's proxy South Liberation Army and fled to Israel in 2000 when the south was liberated. After Hezbollah assurances that no revenge attacks would be made, they returned to their properties in Lebanon.
But since the latest war, Hezbollah has been particularly anxious to dismantle Mossad networks inside Lebanon that have used everyone from a Druze villager in the southern village of Hasbaya to Sudanese doormen in Beirut's Shi'ite al-Daahiah suburbs to pinpoint buildings affiliated with Hezbollah or that house its cadres. A Lebanese source said the reward was US$1,000 per verified target.
Israeli intelligence has reportedly equipped collaborators inside Lebanon with radios and sophisticated satellite equipment to stay in contact and receive sensitive information on Hezbollah's movements. In one case, it was discovered that Israeli spies in south Beirut were marking buildings with crosses that were invisible to the naked eye but could be detected by sensors inside Israeli fighter jets.
Hezbollah members have launched several raids in the past few months and especially in the aftermath of the war in a bid to counter this phenomenon. In one case, they discovered equipment, according to the source from southern Lebanon, that allowed informants to pinpoint the exact geographic coordinates of a target.
In addition, an Israeli website specializing on intelligence affairs (www.debka.com) revealed that Hezbollah's security service has begun, in the northern Bekaa Valley, Baalbek and southern Lebanon, rounding up people suspected of tipping off Israeli intelligence on the location of the storehouse holding long-range, Iranian-supplied Zelzal missiles. These missiles, the website notes, were held in reserve as Hezbollah's most devastating weapon but were destroyed in the first 34 minutes of the Lebanon war on July 12, according to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
After the Israeli army's withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000 and until Hezbollah's dogged fighters earned their party a strategic victory during the recent war, there was spreading dissatisfaction reported in the formerly occupied areas among Lebanese who had desisted from collaborating with Israel. The common perception was that members of Israel's South Lebanon Army proxy earned $2,000 a month for little more than guard duty and could afford to build themselves opulent villas, with little more punishment than four months' imprisonment and a pardon after 2000.
But the current spate of defection is unlikely to continue, given Israel's track record of sending such cases back to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
"I have my doubts that this will continue, as the other side [Israel] usually calls us within a day and hands them back to us, and we hand them over to the Lebanese authorities," a UNIFIL source said.
Iason Athanasiadis is an Iran-based correspondent
Last updated 03/09/2006