Both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah have always assumed they were targeted for assassination – especially by Israel – and tirelessly concocted the most ingenious and convoluted methods for baffling their enemies.
The extreme measures Assad takes to stay alive are the stuff of legend in the Middle East, especially since Israeli Air Force jets were undetected by Russian Pantsir-S1 (Nato-named SA-22 Greyhound) interceptors and Syrian radar three years ago when they struck the North Korean-built plutonium reactor in northern Syria and Israeli Special Forces were dropped by helicopter to blow up other Syrian nuclear facilities.
Ever since then, the Syrian president never leaves Point A for Point B without first laying down an elaborate net of diversionary measures, including decoy road convoys and flights heading in multiple directions.
The Hizballah chief moved into his top-secret bunker four years ago after his war with Israel ended in a ceasefire and has lived there ever since. His underground lair was custom-built for him by Iranian Revolutionary Guards as his home and place of business.
All his public appearances are video-taped, their theatricality in sharp contrast to his furtive underground existence. One of his rare public appearances in the flesh pccurred on May 25 this year when he was summoned to a summit meeting in front of cameras in Damascus by his bosses, the presidents of Iran and Syria.
Obsession with personal security
Nasrallah no doubt steals out of his burrow from time to time, passing through one of the secret tunnels going in different directions to openings inside buildings. He too practices diversionary tactics and swears to secrecy any persons he plans to meet. Sometimes, he stands up VIPs with whom he has appointments – politicians or military officers of his own Hizballah. They may be kept waiting for hours without a word until they realize he is not coming.
So jealous is the Hizballah chief of his security that, three months ago, he declined an invitation by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to pay a historic visit to Ankara as a guest of state. He decided to forego this signal honor after judging the various options for his security to be less than foolproof.
The Hizballah leader's obsession with security has always attributed to his conviction that the Israelis were after his head and if they got the chance they would finish him off – by means of an assassin, a bomb or a missile fired from an unmanned aircraft.
In early August, Assad and Nasrallah were shocked to learn that all their precautions against an Israeli attack were wasted effort because Israel's undercover agencies had been receiving running accounts of those measures and could have hit either leader at any time.
The inordinate and bewildering security with which both surround themselves would have delayed word of their deaths reaching their aides for many hours.
Security executive betrays secrets to Israel
Those running accounts were delivered to Israeli intelligence by no less an insider than Fayez Karam, 62, the person closest to Nasrallah's ally, the pro-Syrian, anti-West Michel Aoun, head of the Lebanese Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM).
Since his arrest by the Lebanese authorities on August 19, Karam, a former director of the Lebanese army's anti-terror and counter-espionage unit, has made a clean breast of exactly how he relayed all this information and more to his Israeli handlers. Currently the owner of a dry-cleaning business in France, Karam sat quietly in a Beirut court and showed no signs of nervousness.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report that the volume of secret knowledge in Karam's head is formidable. For the last six months, he coordinated and participated in the five secret meetings his boss, Michel Aoun, and Hassan Nasrallah held in the latter's underground lair. He performed the same task for Aoun and Nasrallah when they twice met President Assad secretly in Damascus.
If anyone was privy to the elaborate security practices of Nasrallah and Assad, it was Fayez Karam.
His arrest on suspicion of spying for Israel was therefore a shocker for Lebanon, leaving many at sea over how far Israel had reached into the top of the ruling pyramids of the Syrian regime and Hizballah.
Interestingly, Aoun is a recent convert to a pro-Syrian pro-Hizballah orientation.
In fact, he spent decades in France as an exile from Syrian-occupied Lebanon, forced to leave the country at the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war when Syria overpowered its tiny neighbor. The Christian leader only returned home in 2005, a month after Syria was forced to pull its army out of Lebanon and end its 29-year domination.
Too many cell phone calls gave Fayez Karam away
Yet, three years later, in 2008, this erstwhile enemy of the Assad regime jumped sides, entering into a controversial alliance with Hizballah and its Iranian and Syrian sponsors. His visits to Damascus and Tehran have stirred outrage in Beirut.
As for the arrested spy Fayez Karam, he never left Aoun's side through every change of allegiance.
In 1990, he was arrested by Syrian troops occupying Lebanon and spent five months in the notorious Syrian Mazzeh jail. After his release, he crossed into Israel through South Lebanon which Israeli troops held at the time as a buffer against attack. From there, he went to France and started a dry-cleaning business there.
It is not known exactly when karam first began spying for Israel. He may have started a decade ago to get back at Damascus for his harsh treatment at Mazzeh prison.
Lebanese intelligence sources which took part in his interrogation say that his modus operandi was very simple. Under cover of his business, he traveled to Paris every three months, joined up with his Israel handlers and handed over the latest crop of information he collected.
When data needed to be passed urgently, he would call his controllers through at least three cell phones with European numbers and set up a rendezvous in France.
It was this large number of European phone numbers called by Karam which alerted Lebanese military intelligence, say Lebanese sources, and led them to put him under surveillance.
Syrian intelligence and Hizballah security have appointed special teams for a joint effort to pin down all the information Karam passed to Israel, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report. Their probes focus on the meetings President Assad and Hassan Nasrallah held in recent years with Michel Aoun and the people close to him.
This week, Iranian intelligence officers stationed in Damascus and Beirut joined the investigation.