It took Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah two days to line up a counter-attack against the damaging revelations of the CBC (Canada) Investigation: Who killed Lebanon's Rafiq Hariri? by Neil Macdonald.
By Tuesday night, November 23, he was ready to call a press conference with all guns blazing and a promise to divulge the biggest secret of his war on Israel four years ago.
Nasrallah mustered weighty back-up: Hizballah lawmaker Hasan Fadlallah and Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Charbel Nahhas.
Yet the event was scarcely mentioned in the Western media.
He kicked off with the charge that, in 2006, Hizballah's military commands at all levels had been so deeply penetrated by Israeli Military Intelligence – IMI – through their cell phone networks that it was impossible for any commander to move an inch or relocate units and weapons without Israel's knowledge.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report that Iranian and Syrian military and intelligence heads were unhappy about this disclosure and tried to persuade (Nasrallah) to hold back. They feared it would sow panic among their troops and civilian populations, and give them the idea that comprehensive as Israeli penetration was in 2006 – and, even more so, in September 2007, when Israeli bombers demolished the Syrian-Iranian plutonium reactor built by North Korea without being spotted by Syrian radar – how much more advanced it must be today.
But Nasrallah was adamant: He claimed he needed big guns to catch big game – the domination of Lebanon. He therefore poured out a cornucopia of secrets, true and false, of the kind which have rarely been laid bare in the annals of hidden wars between rival clandestine agencies.
Nasrallah turns tribunal evidence upside down
Israel's alleged penetration of his networks in 2006 was the lead-in to an elaborate scheme the Hizballah leader had devised to turn the UN international tribunal inquiry into the assassination of five-time Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 on its head. Instead of a gun pointed at the heads of Hizballah high-ups, Nasrallah tried to turn the evidence implicating them into heavy artillery for blasting Israel.
To this end, he accused the tribunal of letting itself be manipulated by the US and Israel into accepting fake evidence manufactured by the same tricks Israeli Military Intelligence pulled in 2006 – control of its commanders' cell phones. Their ulterior motive was to smash Hizballah.
What other evidence do the international investigators have against his movement aside from lists of phone calls? He asked, before twisting round the CBC's disclosure of two Hizballah phone networks uncovered by the tribunal's investigators as grist for his mill instead of evidence against his movement.
Those networks consisted of red phones and blue phones which, according to the Canadian report, the tribunal had established were used by Hizballah's security chiefs near the scene of the February 14, 2005 assassination and at their command center inside Hizballah's Great Prophet Hospital in south Beirut.
The red-phone carriers were described as highly disciplined. They communicated with one another and almost never with an outside phone. And directly after the assassination, the red network went dead forever.
The blue network also exercised great discipline. It, too, remained a "closed" network. Not once did any blue-network member make the sort of slip that telecom sleuths look for.
Thus far the CBC report on the tribunal's findings.
Israel Intelligence accused of commandeering Hizballah's cell phones
But then, Nasrallah, aided by Fadlallah and the Lebanese minister, took the red phone-blue phone revelation apart by adding his own dimension to disprove its worth as evidence.
The red phones and blue phones systems, they maintained, were not in the use of Hizballah's security chiefs at the time of the crime but part of the cell phone networks operated by Israeli intelligence.
In that case, the question begging here was: How could Israeli intelligence have managed this without having the secret phone numbers of top Hizballah's intelligence and security personnel?
The answer is that they couldn't. End of story.
But not for Hizballah's leaders, who "uncovered" another ruse in Israel's bag of tricks. They claimed that Israeli intelligence commissioned Lebanese double agents, some of whom are detained in Beirut while others escaped to Israel, to buy up large quantities of cell phones from every sales outlet in Lebanon and send them to Israel. In this way, Israeli intelligence gained control of hundreds of Lebanese cell phone lines.
Next, according to Hizballah, Israel built a line of electronic observation towers on mountaintops and installed powerful instruments for applying the Lebanese cell phones in its possession to controlling all the cell phone switchboards in Lebanon. Through them, it was said, Israel agents gained access to the secret Hizballah phones in the red and blue networks.
Hizballah had "cracked the case"
As a result, Nasrallah claimed, every cell phone owned by a Hizballah security officer had two numbers – one which he believed to be classified and a second, known only to Israeli intelligence. The second line, of which he was ignorant, was always "open." Through it, Israeli agents could eavesdrop on his conversations and track his movements.
Even more powerfully, those agents could interrupt his phone conversations and also fake calls from Israel which were represented as coming from Hizballah personnel at different command centers.
From those phones, Israel's operators could also send out phony text messages and other misleading information.
This intricate web of alleged Israeli subversion was summed up by Hizballah MP Fadlallah, chairman of the Lebanese parliament's media and telecommunications committee:
"The enemy has succeeded in planting secret lines… in the mobile phones of some members of the Resistance," he complained.
"After a lengthy, complex investigation… it was revealed that Hizballah members were using local mobile phones which had been deliberately sold to them after being implanted with secret Israeli lines" by a Lebanese spying for Israel, he said.
But Hizballah had cracked the case, said Fadlallah, in coordination with military intelligence after police zeroed in on these Hizballah members as possible Israeli agents. It turned out that the suspected agents were in fact the victims of Israeli bugging operations, he said.
An Israeli firm named as mastermind of the telephone war
Nasrallah, who chaired the press conference, then turned back to his starting point:
Israel's special skills in tampering with cell phones first came to light in the 2006 war, he said. It later turned out that Hizballah commanders had believed their orders came through to their personal cell phones from main command headquarters in Beirut, whereas in fact they were planted by the Israelis.
This also explained how it happened that whenever a Hizballah officer picked up a landline or dialed his cell phone, the place where he was standing was bombed within three minutes, either from the air or Israeli warships at sea.
Nasrallah produced this account to prove that Israeli control of the Lebanese phone system was complete and its phone experts were therefore perfectly able to fabricate the evidence incriminating Hizballah's security personnel for complicity in the Hariri assassination.
He and his two colleagues came up with the name of a firm, which they accused of running the telephone war against Hizballah: Check Point, an Israeli company with 2,000 employees, which develops information protection software – VPN and firewalls. Cited were its international headquarters in Redwood, California and development centers in Tel Aviv and Minsk, Belarus.
Israeli strategists warn against equating technological prowess with military supremacy
Coincidentally or not, the Hizballah press conference took place in Beirut Tuesday, Nov. 23, at exactly the same time as an IDF General Staff ceremony in Tel Aviv marking the changeover of commanders of Israeli Military Intelligence.
Outgoing IMI chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin handed the reins to Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.
In his parting address, the Yadlin pointedly referred to Israel's deterrence ability in the past tense. Today, he said, Israel is beset on five hostile fronts.
His message was clear: Brilliant technology of which Israel is possessed is not enough to win wars; it must be a facet of an integrated military array suited to the battlefield.
He was not the first important security personality to voice concern about Israel's waning deterrent force.
Uzi Rubin, one of the heads of Israel's missile industrialist and a father of the Arrow advanced interceptor missile system, has warned in recent appearances in America that Israel's enemies have achieved aerial supremacy without even having aircraft by means of guidance systems attached to their long-range missiles.
Hizballah and Syria have 1,500 warheads that could strike the Tel Aviv region. "This is a revolution," he said.
Both seasoned security figures were warning Israeli leaders not to rest on the laurels of great technological achievements or equate them with military supremacy. The lessons of the 2006 war need to be taken aboard before the next conflagration.