Wednesday night, July 19, 45 minutes before midnight, 12 Israeli warplanes dropped 23 tonnes of bombs, including bunker busters, on a subterranean site reported by intelligence to have been peopled by Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah and his inner command.
But Nasrallah and his band were not there.
Western intelligence sources following these events believe that Israel fell for an old trick. The man who was sighted going in and out of the targeted bunker at the edge of the Palestinian Burj al Barajne camp was in fact a Nasrallah double.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that the Israelis have now learned that the Hizballah chief has in fact several doubles, at least six. They are perfect duplicates and have been taught to dress, talk and use the same gestures as the original. Those sources add that one of the six is not just his double but has also been pegged as his successor should the long arm of the Israeli Mossad catch up with him.
He is in fact Nasrallah’s 36-year old cousin whose name is Hashem Sefi a-Din.
The few Westerners who have set eyes on him say that the resemblance is remarkable. “Even when you meet him face to face and know he is not the real thing, you find it hard to believe you are not talking to Hassan Nasrallah,” said one to DEBKA-Net-Weekly
The Hizballah chief crowned his successor earlier this year and presented him to Hizballah religious and military leaders in the presence of an Iranian official, thus winning Tehran’s endorsement.
It is not known if the Israeli air strike which missed Nasrallah hit Hashem Seif a-Din. Probably not. But if Nasrallah is safe, so too are the three companions who never leave his side: Hizballah’s “chief of staff” Ibrahim Akil, its head of intelligence, commander of special operations Halil Harab, who is in charge of Hizballah’s clandestine cells scattered around many countries, and Imad Mughniyeh, who is equally the confidante of Iran’s Ali Khamenei and al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden.
Mughniyeh owns his own special intelligence and security outfit whose personnel obey no one but their commander, not even Nasrallah.
The man in charge of the transfers of Hizballah’s command and institutions from hideout to hideout complete with staff and equipment is not a Shiite Muslim or even a member of the Shiite organization. He is a Greek Orthodox by the name of Asad Hardun, head of the arcane SSNP, the Syrian Socialist Revolutionary Party, it is known only to well-informed Western intelligence circles, who believe it is a fascist nationalist group which acts under deep cover as a secret operations arm of Syrian military intelligence.
Nasrallah’s two Christian helpmeets
In 1982 and 1983, the SSNP laid on the logistical groundwork for Mughniyeh’s most spectacular operations: the bombing of the US embassy in Beirut, which took with it the entire top level of the CIA’s Near East network; the assassination of Lebanese President Bashir Jumayel and the blowing up of American Marine and French headquarters in the Lebanese capital in which 400 people died.
During the nineties and up until recently, Asad Harun provided Hizballah with a supply of suicide killers for its terrorist attacks, many of them women. His latest project has been to plant some of Hizballah’s secret command posts in the hamlet of Bolonia, among his adherents in the Greek Orthodox community in the mountains of central Lebanon. Surrounded by dense vegetation, its three narrow roads with room for only one line of cars, are easily cut off by joint SSNP-Hizballah roadblocks.
The command personnel operate out of well-built bunkers which also house Hizballah’s al Manar television studio and radio and Radio Nour.
Israel’s inability to knock out al Manar by air strikes or jamming is a psychological plus for Hizballah. The station is also an important asset for transmitting the orders of Hassan Nasrallah and his commanders. Their directives, buried in coded messages in the subtitles of television broadcasts can be picked up by officers and men in the field wherever they are.
Even by Lebanon’s way-out standards, Hizballah and its bedfellows make a weird combination. At the center, is the head of the Lebanese fundamentalist Shiite arm of the Iranian revolution, who has been in league for many years with the Greek Orthodox SSNP leader. But Nasrallah has also formed an alliance with another Lebanese Christian, the former president General Michel Aoun, whom the Americans and French repatriated from exile in Paris before the last election. That alliance is still in force. It enables Nasrallah to keep his weapons stores hidden in Christian villages around Beirut.
Because the Israeli air force refrains from bombing Christian populations, Hizballah units can stroll through their regions and pick the weapons up.
In addition to its eclectic alliances, Hizballah’s rank and file are distinguished by iron discipline. Private initiatives are unknown and no unit will venture to retreat without receiving an order from a superior rank. Therefore, notwithstanding the rough treatment the IDF meted out to the Hizballah in the first eight days of combat, it is not surprising that the Lebanese Shiite militia is not broken and its fighting spirit is intact.