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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Israeli Spies Rush To Cover Lebanon Intel Deficit

Israel’s spy services are scrambling to make up for a lack of intelligence on Lebanon that has hindered an offensive against Hizbollah guerrillas, senior security sources said on July 24.

They said Israel now realizes, after 13 days of shelling that have killed more than 370 people, mostly civilians, but failed to crush Hizbollah or free two snatched soldiers, that its withdrawal from south Lebanon six years ago left it blind.

"From an intelligence standpoint, 2000 was Year Zero for us," a security source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Aerial surveillance has been stepped up in an effort both to find hidden Hizbollah command bunkers and to map the network of guerrilla trenches along the frontier. At least seven commandos have died trying to storm them.

Israeli television showed intelligence analysts using footage of south Lebanese villages thought to conceal Hizbollah gunmen and rocket crews to create three-dimensional computer mock-ups for use in planning ground assaults or air strikes.

Captured army equipment displayed by Hizbollah after one border battle included a video camera, suggesting that Israel’s special operations forces are both fighting and documenting a guerrilla deployment that is the result of a long, hidden buildup.

In Beirut, more than 20 people have been arrested on charges of marking buildings for Israeli bombing runs, Lebanese security sources said. If the detainees are indeed spies, the apparent ease of their detection and arrest could indicate they were rushed into action by their handlers. Israel had no comment.

Another tactic used by the Israelis has been to drop leaflets on Lebanon urging locals to send information about Hizbollah over the Internet.
"We’ve been trying to track Hizbollah for years, but there’s a big difference in terms of effectiveness when this is done at the height of fighting," a security source said.

Israel had been warning for years that Hizbollah, which advocates destroying the Jewish state and is backed by Iran and Syria, could seek a fresh flare-up on the Lebanese frontier to bolster the pan-Arab prestige it garnered for its role in ending Israel’s 22-year occupation of the south of the country.

Yet the massive Israeli border garrison including intelligence spotters failed to prevent the July 12 border raid in which Hizbollah killed eight soldiers and abducted two. At least 29 Israelis have died since in rocket attacks and warfare.

"If there are surprises they are just local surprises, not strategic surprises," Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, a former head of Israel’s domestic intelligence Shin Bet, told reporters when asked about progress in the Lebanon offensive.

During the occupation of south Lebanon, the Shin Bet had a leading role in gathering intelligence -- both by interrogating suspected Hizbollah detainees and by placing undercover case officers who would recruit and regularly debrief informers.

Even then, penetrating the Shiite guerrilla group was no easy matter. "Hizbollah personnel are fiercely loyal and hard to win over," said one Shin Bet veteran.

In May 2000, Israeli forces quit the "security zone" with little notice, taking thousands of Lebanese allies with them. "Since the Israeli Defence Forces left Lebanon, most of the intelligence was collected by Military Intelligence and Mossad," ex-Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon said in a television interview.

According to security sources, the change had a price. Military Intelligence has a small field espionage unit and relies largely on electronic surveillance -- the kind that a tight-knit militia like Hizbollah can often elude.

As for the foreign spy service Mossad, its forte in recent years has been tracking down individuals on Israel’s wanted list or recruiting government-level informers, rather than gathering comprehensive information on guerrilla capabilities.

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