In September 2020 Israel revealed more details of an Iranian espionage network that had been seeking and successfully recruiting Israeli Arabs and other Arabs living in Israel. This network existed to collect and transmit information on potential targets for a Hezbollah rocket and guided missile attack on Israel. The spy network was also looking for opportunities to carry out terror attacks inside Israel, something that had become very difficult and Iran now realized that. It concentrated on less risky tasks, like collecting information on potential targets as well as details of Israeli military locations and operations. This information was passed back to Iran via Lebanon using coded message sent via social media (Facebook and related sites). The code simply used common words given two meanings in a code list the agents obtained when they made visits to Lebanon or Turkey. The Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon handled many of the details while the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) Quds Force handled the more technical aspects and use of the information collected. The Quds Force is particularly desperate to carry out some form of revenge for the death of their popular commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020. The cause of death was American Hellfire missiles as Soleimani and several key Iraqi associates left the Baghdad airport. Soleimani had been very effective and his replacement was not nearly as talented. Revenge has been elusive and in the meantime the Israelis continue kill IRGC and Quds Force personnel in Syria and foil every effort to carry out attacks from there against Israel. Now another Hezbollah spy network in Israel had been broken up.
Iran and Quds need a win and it was hoped this espionage network in Israel, which is several years old, would help with that. It might, but now Israel is releasing details of what they know and who they have arrested. This angers Quds because such revelations imply that Israel knows much more. That was implied when Israel also revealed the presence of a major Hezbollah rocket storage site in a residential neighborhood next to the Beirut airport. The depot is right next to a Lebanese natural gas facility, where numerous canisters full of natural gas are stored, along with trucks that carry bulk fuel to customers. This means that if Hezbollah launches another major rocket attack on Israel, rocket stockpiles would be attacked before those rockets were fired at Israeli cities and towns. When that rocket storage facility explodes so does the natural gas facility and many of the residential buildings adjacent to all this. Israel also mentioned the August Beirut explosion of 2,700 tons of mining explosives. This explosion destroyed the port, killed 200 people and wounded another 6,000. Thousands of nearby apartments were destroyed or damaged. Hezbollah was quick to deny that the explosives were theirs but the implication was clear. It is no secret that Hezbollah regularly constructs rocket storage and rocket sites in residential neighborhoods in order to use Lebanese civilians as involuntary human shields to protect these sites from Israeli attacks, at least when Israel is not itself under rocket attack.
Popular support for Hezbollah has been falling since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. That killed or wounded thousands of Hezbollah fighters Iran ordered to protect the Assad government, and sent over a million Syrian refugees into Lebanon. The Assads were never very popular in Lebanon, especially since the Assads claim the Lebanon is part of “Greater Syria” and that someday Syria would reclaim its lost lands in Lebanon. The August explosion once more reminded Lebanese that tolerating Hezbollah and Iranian influence in Lebanon has never done anything good for the majority of Lebanese. Now Israel was rubbing it in. This was psychological warfare and Quds Force didn’t like it.
Naturally Israel won’t reveal all it knows about this network and the investigation apparently only began earlier in 2020. This was revealed in June when Israeli police arrested two Israeli Arabs and charged them with spying for Hezbollah. The two had been recruited while on a trip to Turkey in December 2019. The recruiters were two Israeli Arabs who had been suspected of espionage but who fled to Lebanon before they could be arrested. From Lebanon the married couple continue to seek out Arab Israelis who might be recruited. This can be done via the Internet, which is regularly monitored by Israeli intelligence for such activity. The recruiters offer money for obtaining low-level information about Israeli military operations in northern Israel where most Arab Israelis live.
Israel first became aware of how extensive this Hezbollah recruiting operation was in when they captured many Hezbollah facilities during the 2006 war in Lebanon. Also captured were many Hezbollah operatives who were interrogated. Israel learned a lot about Hezbollah intelligence gathering activities. Hezbollah intel operations were more widespread and energetic than the Israelis believed. In addition to information collected electronically, like cell phone numbers of Israeli soldiers, there was apparently a network of spies within Israel. Most Arab-Israelis live in northern Israel, and some appear to have been on Hezbollah’s payroll.
Israel suspected that these Hezbollah espionage efforts might be part of a larger Iranian operation and now that appears to be the case. Since these 2006 revelations Hezbollah has openly boasted of its spy network along the Israeli border and inside Israel. Hezbollah agents are constantly photographing Israeli border guard activity, and sometimes sneaking across the border to do so. Then there is the growing number of Israeli Arabs are also spying for Hezbollah. Mainly Hezbollah wants better target information for its 50,000 Iranian supplied rockets and missiles.
Since 2006 there has been a growing problem with the loyalty of Israeli Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the population. A 2007 opinion survey of the Israeli Arabs revealed some scary attitudes. For example, 48 percent believed the Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel in 2006 were justified, even though Israeli Arabs suffered a disproportionate number of the Israeli casualties simply because most Israeli Arabs live in the north. Moreover, half saw the Hezbollah kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, which triggered the 2006 war, as justified, and 89 percent considered the Israeli attack on Lebanon a war crime. Only 44 percent believed the Hezbollah rocket attack was a war crime. A third of Arab high school and college graduates don't believe that six million Jews were killed during World War II compared to 28 percent of all Israeli Arabs. Israeli Arabs also have fears like the possibility of mass expulsions from Israel (60 percent), or transfer of their communities to a new Palestinian state (62 percent). In fact, 68 percent would prefer to live in Israel even if there were a peace deal that created a Palestinian state. Meanwhile, 63 percent of Israel Jews avoid entering Arab towns or neighborhoods, and 68 percent fear civil unrest among Israeli Arabs. Since 2007 these anti-Israel attitudes among Arab Israelis have gotten worse and Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) try to take advantage of it.
ISIL has been the most successful, mainly because it is the most radical Islamic terrorist group and that appeals to the young (especially teenage) Moslem males who are big fans of Islamic terrorism. At least fifty Israeli Arabs are known to have joined ISIL and most appear to have died there or otherwise disappeared from view, or at least contact with their families back in Israel. At least seven Israeli-Arabs were confirmed dying while fighting for ISIL.
In many instances Israeli-Arab activities that help Hezbollah have nothing to do with actually spying. In 2010 Israeli police arrested an army NCO and charged him with treason for supplying information on border security along the Lebanese frontier to a local drug smuggling gang. When interrogated the NCO, who worked on vehicle maintenance in a northern Israel army base, also provided the names of seven local civilians who were also working for the drug gang. Five of these were arrested. What was most troublesome about this was that the drug gang was known to work with Hezbollah, which controls most of southern Lebanon.
The NCO provided information on which border posts were having problems with their surveillance equipment or other gear, and what the patrol schedules were. The drug gangs bring their stuff in from Lebanon, where Hezbollah has to be paid off. Information on the Israeli military is very valuable, and it's believed that Hezbollah was getting what the Israeli sergeant was passing on to the drug gang. The Israeli NCO said he did it for the money offered by the drug smugglers.
Israel believes that Iran is trying to increase current Hezbollah espionage operations to make possible attacks inside Israel. Some Hezbollah intel professionals believe Iran is risking long-term Hezbollah efforts for the sake of a quick win and a proclaiming it revenge for the death of Soleimani and the ongoing Iranian losses in Syria. More and more Hezbollah members and supporters have been losing faith in Iran and its growing list of failures. For example, in 2019 Iran cut its financial support for Hezbollah in half and that led to thousands of Hezbollah members losing their jobs or suffering a large pay cut. Now Lebanese are witnessing the Gulf Arab states making peace with Israel and abandoning the corrupt and inept Palestinian rulers in the West Bank and Gaza. For Iran there seems to be no end of calamities in Lebanon and no obvious way to turn it all around.