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Lebanese find alleged Israeli spies in their midst

Cooperation between Lebanese security agencies and Hezbollah leads to a number of arrests.

A Lebanese soldier uses binoculars to monitor the Shebaa Farms area, wedged between Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights July 8, 2009. A Lebanese army colonel suspected of collaborating with Israel fled to the Jewish state last week, a Lebanese security source said on Tuesday. (Ali Hashisho/Reuters)

BEIRUT — Another suspected spy has escaped across the Lebanese border to Israel, Reuters quoted a Lebanese security source as saying Tuesday. If the report is correct, it would be the third time in a month that Lebanese accused of spying for Israel made the dangerous journey across the closed and militarized border.

Around 50 people in Lebanon have been arrested in connection with spying for Israel this spring, and more than 20 charged. The list of suspects includes several high-ranking Lebanese military officers, active and retired, and a former town mayor who championed the Pan-Arab cause.

Lebanon is technically at war with Israel and citizens are prohibited from having any contact with the Jewish state. A conviction on espionage charges can result in execution.

In June, Military Court Investigating Judge Saqr Saqr charged the first suspects in the recent roundup, two Lebanese Army colonels, with spying. They are accused of providing information to the Israelis about security and military installations and helping the Israelis find targets during the summer war of 2006.

“This will tell you a lot about how much, how deep the Israelis have penetrated to the country,” said Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim Mussawi from his office in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The area is a Hezbollah stronghold that was devastated by Israeli bombs during the 2006 war.

Israeli agents in Lebanon are also suspected in assassinations of Hezbollah officials, including the attack last year that killed senior Hezbollah commander Imad Mugneeyah in Damascus. Mugneeyah died when the driver’s seat headrest exploded as he entered his vehicle. In 2004, Ghaleb Awali, a senior Hezbollah official, was killed when a bomb exploded in his car outside his home in the southern suburbs.

“These [Hezbollah] guys are invisible, and they still got them,” Timur Goksel, a security analyst who teaches at the American University of Beirut, said. “I have to give credit to the Israelis that they’ve been able to do this.”

Israel was openly allied with some Lebanese Christian militias during Lebanon’s civil war, especially during their 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Israel also occupied southern Lebanon for 22 years. Paying Lebanese to spy, or using coercion to force people to spy, was not unusual, said Goksel, who was an adviser to the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon at the time.

“The Israelis are experienced in this,” he said. “And they know that in Lebanon your technical intelligence gathering doesn’t work all that well — you need human intelligence.”