Israel Worried as Hezbollah Steps Up Espionage Efforts


Amos Harel and Zvi Harel




Friday, 28 June 2002

   The security establishment is concerned about Hezbollah espionage efforts in Israel and the territories. Over the last few days, two cases of alleged Hezbollah spying efforts have been uncovered - one in Israel and the other in the West Bank - and the security services assume other agents from the Shi'ite organization are also in the country, on both sides of the Green Line. 

In one case, a 25-year-old man who arrived in the country some months ago and later moved into the territories, turned himself in to the Israel Defense Forces troops currently surrounding the Hebron headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. No other details were released about his case. 

The other case was made public yesterday when charges were brought against a 34-year-old man, who immigrated to Israel from Lebanon some 10 years ago. The man is suspected, inter alia, of maintaining telephone ties with a rank-and-file and a senior member of the Lebanese organization. The court, meanwhile, has imposed a gag order on the personal particulars of the man, releasing only that his first name is Nissim, that his mother is Jewish and his late father was Shi'ite, and that some members of his family, with whom he remains in contact via telephone, remain in Lebanon. 

According to the charge sheet, in 2000 and 2001, Nissim made calls to his brother in Lebanon and was told that a member of Hezbollah wanted to speak with him. The accused is alleged to have contacted the Hezbollah man, who asked him to pass on information relating to state security and promised him money in return. 

The indictment charges that from time to time, Nissim, who has a criminal record for theft and is in dire financial straits, would call the Hezbollah man. On occasions when the Hezbollah man urgently needed to contact Nissim, the latter's brother would call and then Nissim would call back. During one of these conversations, the Hezbollah man put a senior Hezbollah official on the line. 

The senior Hezbollah official asked Nissim to undertake a number of missions and then prepare for an overseas trip. According to the charge sheet, which was presented by prosecutor Dvora Chen, the senior Hezbollah official knew about Nissim's financial condition and offered $1,000 to help pay for the overseas trip. 

The charge sheet states that the Hezbollah official asked Nissim to obtain a map of Tel Aviv showing infrastructure sites such as gas and electricity installations. Nissim was also asked to provide the Shi'ite organization with a photograph of a relative who served in the security forces. Nissim told the Hezbollah official that he had some family photographs in which that security officer appeared. 

Shortly after that conversation, Nissim called back to say that he had done all that had been asked of him and that in addition to the map, he had photographed various gas and electricity installations even though he wasn't asked to do so. 

The charge sheet says that before he was arrested, Nissim destroyed the map and photographs, as well as a videotape he made, in an effort to obstruct the criminal investigation against him. The indictment also says that Nissim was asked to contact a senior Israel Defense Forces officer to get information, and he did so, telling Hezbollah that he had learned that Israel did not intend to invade Lebanon. 

About a month before his arrest, Nissim is alleged to have told the Hezbollah officer that it was likely Israel would begin assassinating senior Lebanese officials. The Hezbollah officer is also believed to have asked Nissim to go to the boundary line between Israeli and the Palestinian Authority (in the Ramallah area) and count the number tanks and military jeeps in the area, but Nissim said he was unable to do so. 

In its request yesterday that the court order Nissim to be held until the end of the legal proceedings against him, the prosecution said it had "more than enough evidence" to prove its charges, citing a confession and additional evidence to support the confession. 

Nissim was married in 2000 to a 24-year-old woman who immigrated to Israel from Russia. They have one child and are also raising another child from another relationship Nissim had. Told of Nissim's arrest yesterday, neighbor Dina Suissa said: "They are a lovely couple, I can't believe it." 

Yesterday neither Nissim's wife nor parents and brother opened the door to reporters, and his wife did not show up for work at the Rishon Letzion supermarket where she works as a cashier. 

Several foreigners have entered Israel in the past, working for Hezbollah. In 1996, German citizen Hussein Makadad was seriously wounded while preparing a bomb in an East Jerusalem hotel. British citizen Gerard Shuman was arrested last year as a Hezbollah operative. 

Security sources say Hezbollah seeks foreigners who do not appear Middle Eastern, lest they raise suspicions upon entering the country. They are professionally trained and once caught, said the sources, show determination under questioning. In addition, Hezbollah has managed to recruit some local help, among Israeli Arabs. 

Till now, Hezbollah has focused on smuggling weapons and relaying orders for attacks, in addition to planning its own offensives. There apparently are Hezbollah cells in the territories, mostly staffed by Palestinians, sometimes affiliated with Islamic Jihad or Fatah.

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