LEBANON: Israel admits spying on its northern neighbor

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Israel has openly admitted to collecting intelligence in Lebanon, an uncharacteristically frank admission and a slap in the face of its neighbor.

Of course, everyone spies on everyone in the Middle East.

But in the past, for the sake of politesse, Israel has refused to acknowledge mounting espionage operations in Lebanon, although their existence is an open secret.


Lebanon has arrested dozens of alleged spies working for Israel this year alone, and recently found and destroyed a number of eavesdropping devices attached to Hezbollah’s communications network.

At the time, Israel said allegations of spying ‘did not warrant a serious response.’

But during a recent visit to the volatile border separating Israel from Lebanon, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon confirmed Israel’s information-gathering activities in Lebanon, which he said targeted Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia and political organization that maintains de facto control over southern Lebanon.

‘The moment Hezbollah renewed their attacks, we began to collect intelligence. ... We will stop when Hezbollah disarms itself and the border is a border of peace,’ Ya'alon said, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

‘When we are in conflict with an enemy, we gather information about them,’ he added.

Ya'alon’s admission elicited outrage, if not surprise, from Lebanese politicians. Interior Minister Ziad Baroud called it ‘rude’ and a ‘clear violation of international resolutions.’

Israel is unlikely to face serious criticism from the international community over its latest revelation. On Friday, Washington’s special coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, warned against violations of the often ignored 2006 cease-fire deal by both sides. Such violations could ‘destabilize the situation,’ he said.

Williams was reacting to recent flare-ups along the border between Israel and Lebanon, known as the Blue Line. Over the last year, border tensions have increased because of rocket attacks by extremist groups officially unconnected to Hezbollah, and retaliatory Israeli shelling of Lebanese border towns.

There have also been several mysterious explosions that Israel claims were caused by Hezbollah weapons caches; Hezbollah has maintained they were caused by unexploded Israeli ordnance from the 2006 conflict.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Upper photo: A Lebanese intelligence officer shows off confiscated spy equipment hidden in the top of a cooler. Credit: Wael Hamza / EPA

Lower photo: An alleged Israeli eavesdropping device that was destroyed near the Lebanese border village of Houla. Credit: