Since last year, Hezbollah has been rounding up Lebanese who are believed to be spying for the state of Israel. Just yesterday, a senior official at a Lebanese telecommunications firm was arrested, making it the fourth this year. The arrest is part of broader campaign that has led to some 50 arrests of alleged Israeli agents over the past twelve months.
The Los Angeles Times reported on July 31 that Hezbollah itself has been infiltrated and that two mid-ranking Hezbollah commanders were among those accused of spying for Israel. The penalty for such behavior is unsurprising: death.
Israel has not commented on the latest reports, although last October 2009, Moshe Yaalon, deputy prime minister and a former head of military intelligence, suggested that such espionage efforts were under way.
In thinking about these developments, let us not forget that the black arts of espionage can be double-edged. The CIA has posted on its website a brief item about the OSS’s “morale operations” during World War II, which under the leadership of William J. Donovan, waged psychological warfare against the Nazis.
Operation HEMLOCK was one of many successful operations it conducted. Among other things, anonymous letters were sent to the Gestapo falsely implicating German officials as Allied sympathizers. Later in the war, an OSS German language radio station, its broadcasting source and loyalty left undisclosed, disseminated “black” propaganda, that is, “misinformation that identifies itself with one side of a conflict, but is truly produced by another opposing side.” Along with music and entertainment, the station broadcast the names of Germans it said were involved in the July 20, 1944, coup attempt against Hitler, with the idea of casting suspicion on a wide array of German officers and other officials. According to the CIA account, “the Gestapo took these accusations very seriously and arrested and eventually executed some 2,500 Germans.”
Is the wave of arrests in Lebanon a setback for Israel in its effort to safeguard its northern front from a bitter adversary? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. As they say in the spy trade, in the wilderness of mirrors, he who holds the last mirror wins.