From The National.ae
Hizbollah goes public with security worries
Mitchell Prothero, Foreign Correspondent
- Last Updated: November 03. 2009 9:53PM UAE / November 3. 2009 5:53PM GMT
Beirut // A series of mysterious events along Lebanon’s tense border with Israel, as well as growing concern that the Shiite community could be targeted by Sunni militants, had pushed Hizbollah to increase security to previously unseen levels, according to members of the Shiite movement, as well as independent observers.
Hizbollah officials and members say the group faces a series of threats that, when combined, pose some of the greatest security challenges that the group has seen since the end of the Lebanese civil war in the 1980s.
“We have moved to the highest state of alert we have,” said one Hizbollah military commander, who is responsible for security in Beirut’s southern suburbs, where the group’s top officials and infrastructure is based.
“Between the arrest of over 70 Zionist spies in the last year, threats from Sunni groups with al Qa’eda and the incidents in the south, we have moved to our highest state of alert for internal security,” the commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the press. “And we have had to act to prepare for an Israeli attack this winter.”
“In 20 years, I have never seen Hizbollah this paranoid and worried about security incidents,” said a resident of the southern suburbs with close ties to the group, who declined to be named
“We always thought they were paranoid before, but I think they have found a way to be even more so.”
Hizbollah’s armed forces are divided into a security wing, which protects Hizbollah facilities and the communities of its followers, and a military wing whose focus is Israel.
The primary concern for Hizbollah’s security wing at the moment has been a reported influx of Sunni jihadists from across the region who are drawn to Lebanon because of its poor internal security, proximity to Israel and its large population of Shiites, said the military wing official.
“The Qa’eda guys want to target us, you can see their statements on the internet about targeting the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon,” he said. “Now we are seeing new things in many of the Sunni neighbourhoods: Women wearing the niqab, men who dress like Afghans or Pakistanis. We have put many of them under surveillance, but we know that real Qa’eda guys will cut their beards and dress as westerners to avoid us.
“We can’t really stop their first attack, if they decide to do a suicide bombing in the southern suburbs or near our facilities,” he added. “But we can make sure it’s only one attack. Lebanon is very small and doesn’t have many Salafist Sunnis, so we could shut them down and kill them all if we need to.”
The increased security procedures include mandating rigorous background checks for foreign workers employed anywhere near Hizbollah’s key power centres.
The group discovered multiple Israeli spies in the 2006 war among the legion of African labourers who usually work as janitors throughout Lebanon. Several of these workers were executed during the war, according to Hizbollah members, after being found with targeting equipment provided by the Israelis.
In other cases, foreign journalists based in Beirut have been refused permission for even the most basic reporting on the group by the Hizbollah media office and NGOs have noticed a much higher level of scrutiny of their activities in Hizbollah-controlled areas.
“We have been waiting for months to get permission from the resistance to work in Bourj Barajneh Camp,” said one NGO worker who requested anonymity. “They are polite about it but never seem to change their mind.”
A series of security breaches, including two explosions at Hizbollah arms stockpiles in the south, the arrests of dozens of Israeli spies and fears that the new Israeli administration might pursue a pre-emptive war on Lebanon, have added to the strain.
A former United Nations official with decades of experience in dealing with Hizbollah and Israel, however, said the group’s obsession with security is not news, but that its willingness to discuss the matter at all is significant.
“‘High security’ is a label that everyone uses in Lebanon far too freely,” said Timur Goksel, who spent almost 30 years with the UN in southern Lebanon.
“Sure, maybe they are tightening their procedures, but what is extraordinary is their willingness to discuss it publicly,” he said. “It’s clear that by discussing it, Hizbollah wants to bait the Israelis. Maybe they are trying to make other suspected spies nervous, because I can’t think of another time any intelligence service has ever discussed being worried like this.”
With increasingly heated rhetoric between Hizbollah and the Israelis, Hizbollah commanders suspect that the Jewish state is building a case for another round of violence. As a result, the military commander said, the group has reinforced most of its positions in the south, leaving operations in Beirut to its security apparatus, while the military wing prepares for another war.
“Invading in winter would benefit the resistance,” said the military commander. “The ground is soft from rain and will make it hard for their tanks. But you can’t trust the Israelis; they are too smart and well trained. They know you have to be unpredictable to win in a war. So I doubt they would invade before next spring, but we have to prepare like it could happen tomorrow. Because it might.”