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Ana Maria Luca

Hezbollah’s global intelligence war with the Mossad

Statements of a Lebanese man arrested in Peru show a possible pattern of Hezbollah’s intelligence operations

Lebanese Mohammad Hamdar during the hearing at the Second Penal Court in Lima, Peru. (courtesy of puntodevistaypropuesta.co)

It was five in the morning on 28 October when the Peruvian police raided an apartment in Lima and arresteda 28-year-old Lebanese man with a passport from Sierra Leone. He used the name Muamad Amadar, had some driver’s licenses in this name, and a Lebanese ID in Arabic which the officers couldn’t really read on the spot. It turned out that his Lebanese ID contained his original identity: Mohammad Ghaleb Hamdar, born in 1986 in Haret Hreik, the southern suburbs of Beirut, son of Ghaleb and Raghida.

 

It was the Mossad who had alerted Peruvian intelligence to the fact that the man might have been a Hezbollah agent sent to do some reconnaissance in Lima. The word “terrorist” is all over Hamdan’s file and had many people worried in Lima, especially because he had explosive devices and traces of nitroglycerine in his apartment. Hamdar’s left hand tested positive for traces of nitroglycerine, as well. The police had had him under surveillance since 28 July, when he arrived in Peru from Brazil.

 

On his personal computer they found over 200 photos of strategic objectives in Lima: the airport, metal detectors, banks, police stations, the Peruvian Ministry of Finance, police vehicles and officers on the streets, as well as private security at some public institutions, tourist attractions and hotels that had the Israeli flag hoisted out front.

 

But the surprise came at the interrogation: Hamdar gave the police details they weren’t even hoping for. He said he was a Hezbollah member; that he was hired in Beirut, given a fake identity and “advised” to marry his Peruvian sweetheart in order to obtain residency documents in Peru. The whole interrogation was taped by the police.

 

On 14 November, after a long hearing in one of the two penal courts in Lima, a panel of judges decided to keep Hamdar in prison during the investigation, which will take a year-and-a-half. Preventative detention is quite common in Peru.

 

But it is not the case itself that has raised concern in many intelligence offices; rather, it’s the context in which it has unfolded. A month-and-a-half after Hamdan’s capture in Lima, Hezbollah reportedly uncovered a top Mossad agent in its elite external operations branch. The double agent helped foil a number of attempts by the Shiite party to avenge the death of Imad Mughniyeh.

 

“After a series of failed security operations outside Lebanon, Hezbollah managed to uncover a Mossad cell within its ranks… [it is] the most serious [intelligence] breach in Hezbollah’s history,” Beirut-based Al-Janoubia reported on Tuesday. The news outlet quoted “sources close to Hezbollah” as saying the cell included four Hezbollah members operating under the command of a Mossad infiltrator, who was the deputy chief of the party’s foreign operations apparatus (Unit 910). It was that double agent who apparently tipped off the Mossad about the plans Hezbollah allegedly had in several locations in the world, including Peru, Bangkok, Azerbaijan and, possibly, Cyprus.

 

 

A modus operandi?

 

Hamdar’s story resembles Houssam Taleb Yaacoub’s, a  young Swedish-Lebanese who was arrested in Larnaca in 2012 and also confessed to the police that he was a scout and a courier for Hezbollah. The two confessions are very similar. Yaacoub told the police in Cyprus that he was hired by a Hezbollah liaison who called himself “Ayman” but never disclosed his real name. The young Lebanese was being paid $800 per month to use his Swedish passport, travel across Europe, deliver mysterious packages without checking their content and canvas security locations and Israeli tourist hang-outs in Cyprus and Turkey.

 

Hamdar’s story is not much different. His interrogation was in broken English, as Hamdar did not speak Spanish. “They used to train me for some actions and sports and to shoot with a gun,” he was recorded telling the police during the interrogation.

 

“What is your real name?”

 

“My first name, which they gave me when I was born in Lebanon, my real name, is Mohammad Hamdar.”

 

“Are you part of Hezbollah?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Since when are you a member of this organization?”

 

“2009.”

 

“What is the name of the person who gave you this [fake] passport?”

 

“He called himself…I don’t know his name exactly because he called himself Mazen.”

 

He also said that he was chosen especially because of his relationship with a Peruvian woman. “I knew Carmen before Hezbollah came to me. They wanted me to use Carmen, to stay with Carmen but to use Carmen to have the documents from Peru. Because with the Peruvian passport you can go to many places without visa,” he said.

 

Just like Yaacoub, Hamdar denied that he had any knowledge of any attack Hezbollah might have planned in Lima. He insisted that he only provided information about locations and security.

 

“Every time I travel, they ask me how things are in any airport I go.”

 

“Hezbollah?”

 

“Yes.”

 

During a two-hour hearing on 14 November, Hamdar actually explained why he agreed to this arrangement: “Most of the people in my country agree with what Hezbollah are doing because they are defense,” he said in court. Yaacoub used the same defense during the hearing in the court in Limassol, Cyprus.   

 

But their testimonies lead to a pattern in Hezbollah’s alleged intelligence operations abroad: every scout has a handler who assigns missions but keeps his own identity secret; scouts are Lebanese Shiites with dual citizenship or have a false identity that allows them to travel without visas.

 

The question is: what is Hezbollah doing with all this information? Many analysts point to the 2012 Bulgarian Burgas bombing. Bulgarian investigators indicted two Hezbollah members with the plot, tracked them to Lebanon and asked the Lebanese state to extradite them.

 

 

Whose conspiracy is it?

 

Hezbollah dismissed any link to the Burgas bombing. Officially, Hezbollah hasn’t commented on Hamdar’s case, nor has it said anything official on the capture of the double agent who sold secrets to the Mossad.

 

The Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar website ran a news story about Hamdar on its Spanish edition, calling the case “another Mossad manoeuver against Hezbollah.” The story quotes Hamdar’s statement in court on 14 November, when he said he was coerced and threatened into signing the statement where he admitted he was working with Hezbollah.

 

“The pressure during the interrogation, the presence of the Mossad agents, the absurd evidence like the pictures of the Lima airport, using a Lebanese citizen who denied any link to Hezbollah have all the ingredients of a new Mossad attempt to involve the Lebanese party in a false conspiracy and damage its reputation in Latin America and at the international level,” Al-Manar’s report reads.

 

But is it a Mossad conspiracy to propagate the idea that Hezbollah is still trying to bomb Israeli civilians abroad, or is Hezbollah, or at least some of its members, hunting for Israeli targets in order to avenge the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah military commander killed by a car bomb in Syria in 2008?

 

In a recording provided by the Peruvian police and aired by TV Latina in Peru, Hamdar does not sound remotely coerced and in fact seemed willing to cooperate. Yaacoub did not look coerced at all in the court house in Limassol, where NOW was present.

 

Few people in Beirut agree to speak about Hezbollah’s affairs, especially its military operations, to media outlets that are not affiliated to the party. Those who agreed to speak to NOW requested anonymity for obvious reasons.

 

One source told NOW that it would look bad if Hezbollah didn’t try to avenge Mughniyeh and did not punish Israel for the assassination. “Of course Hezbollah is still trying to avenge Imad Mughnieh, no doubt about it,” another source told NOW.

 

“It’s not because of Mughniyeh per se, but rather because Hezbollah wants to protect its leaders. Just like Israel; whenever whenever it is attacked, it fires back so as not to give its enemies a reason to go on attacking them. Hezbollah is doing the same, and this is very normal for a party like Hezbollah.”

 

An analyst who follows Hezbollah in Beirut also refused to disclose his name, but said he held out no hope for any official information on any of the cases NOW was investigating.

 

“But I am not surprised about [Hezbollah uncovering a Mossad agent in its midst], even if he spied at that high level and all this time,” he said. “There are a lot of stories that happened in the past that confirm the possibility that this story might be true. In the past, Hezbollah had better immunity, it guarded itself well. But a lot of US spies were uncovered recently — it shows Hezbollah has lost some of this impenetrability.”

 

Ana Maria Luca tweets @aml1609.

Lebanese Mohammad Hamdar during the hearing at the Second Penal Court in Lima, Peru. (courtesy of puntodevistaypropuesta.co)

Of course Hezbollah is still trying to avenge Imad Mughnieh, no doubt about it. It’s not because of Mughniyeh himself, but because Hezbollah wants to protect its leaders. Just like Israel; whenever it is attacked, it fires back so as not to give its enemies a reason to go on attacking them. Hezbollah is doing the same, and this is very normal for a party like Hezbollah.”