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Hezbollah Terror-Israeli Terror: Mirror Images

Hossam Yaccoub, Hezbollah’s Ben Zygier (Pavlos Vrionides/AP)

NPR interviewed (audio) NYT reporter Nicholas Kulish, who’s been in Cyprus covering the trial of a low-level Hezbollah operative, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, who allegedly scouted Israeli tourist destinations on the island for a possible terror attack.  What Israel hopes will happen is that a guilty verdict in this case will enable the EU to label Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, an objective that has eluded Israel for many years.

Unfortunately, a good deal of Kulish’s report supported the Israeli perspective (he even used a WINEP/Aipac analyst to buttress his reporting) and didn’t suggest any divergences from that narrative.  So let me add my own viewpoint.  Whether or not Yaccoub is convicted, he clearly was not any sort of senior operative.  Though he received weapons training in Lebanon, he never used any of that training in the field.  He was purely a scout.  He wrote down license plate numbers, surveilled parking lots and hotels, etc.  The thought that EU nations will designate Hezbollah as a terror group solely on the basis of the conviction of a lowly operative seems preposterous.

But there’s an even more distinctive point to be made.  Kulish notes that Yaccoub was a dual national (Swedish-Lebanese) holding two passports.  The reporter correctly notes that such individuals are highly prized because the EU passport would allow a Hezbollah operative to travel throughout Europe at will and without arousing suspicion.  Kulish further notes that Hezbollah, because many EU countries consider it a political, rather than terrorist group, has a well-developed network of operatives throughout the continent.  They can be activated for various missions that aid the organization’s goals.  Though he doesn’t say this, Kulish is implying that Hezbollah furthers its terror objectives under cover of its ostensible political program in Europe.

Whatever the truth of falsity of that claim, we must consider another country and the way it pursues its own security objectives outside its borders.  Of course, that country is Israel.  The Ben Zygier case stands out clearly as almost a mirror of the Yaccoub trial on Cyprus.  Why did the Mossad recruit Zygier?  For his Australian passport.  With it, Zygier could (and did) travel throughout the Arab world where he pursued the intelligence agency’s objectives in exporting spy gear and faulty or infected computer equipment into Syria, Iran, and Lebanon which allowed the Israelis to either sabotage or monitor (as they chose) their enemy’s scientific research.

What especially strikes me (and of course Kulish missed this nuance of the story) is that the Mossad and Hezbollah are almost mirror images of each other.  They both further their national objectives through terror.  In Israel’s case, through assassinations of Hezbollah and Hamas leaders and Iranian scientists. Is anyone naïve enough to believe Israel doesn’t use precisely the same sorts of agents and networks to spy on its victims before murdering them?

In Hezbollah’s case, it too pursues its interests through bombings (if news reports and Israeli claims are accurate).  But there is a difference between the two.  Israel is a nation-state and Hezbollah is a political-military entity within Lebanon with allegiances to outside powers (Iran).

As such, Israel’s status as a nation (the same holds true of U.S. counter-terror tactics, which allow the assassination of figures like Osama bin Laden) allows it to get away with far worse crimes than Hezbollah.  While I defend neither’s acts, I do note the hypocrisy of focusing solely on Hezbollah as Kulish does, while ignoring the fact that Israel behaves in precisely the same way.  The only thing to be said for Israel is that its superior resources allow it to target high-value targets like Imad Mugniyeh, Khaled Meshal and Mahmoud al-Mabouh.  While Hezbollah’s considerably lower level of expertise and resources forces it to target civilians as it may have done in the Burgas bombing (again, if Israel’s claims are borne out).

I have no doubt that if the shoe was on the other foot and the IDF was an insurgent guerrilla group and Hassan Nasrallah was spy chief of an agency with the personnel and weaponry of the Mossad that the behavior would be precisely the same.  Indeed, we can this is true from the fact that the Irgun (playing a role not dissimilar to the one played by Hezbollah today) targeted civilians in the infamous King David Hotel bombing.

I have no problem if EU countries want to consider labeling Hezbollah a terror group as long as they do the same for the Mossad.  If you want to keep terror out of your countries rid yourself of the spies and skullduggery of those from Hezbollah and Israel.

For anyone who might think Israel doesn’t do what Hezbollah is alleged to have done in exploiting Europe as a place to play out its spy game–remember that Ben Zygier and two of his fellow Australian-Jewish Mossad agents worked out of a Milan trading company.  Do you really believe that Italian intelligence didn’t know what was going on?  Either they didn’t and they’re incompetent, or they did and turned a blind eye (remember the Berlusconi government was highly supportive of Israel).

So again, if you want to criminalize Hezbollah’s activities in Europe don’t be a hypocrite–include those of the Mossad as well.  They are no less lethal, no less dangerous to regional stability.

Kulish reveals in the NPR interview that it’s widely believed that Yaccoub was exposed by the Mossad, who told Cypriot authorities about the putative terror operation there.  No doubt this is true.  But it also means that there was a Bulgarian terror operation which the Mossad did not break and which resulted in the attack on Burgas only a few days after Yaccoub was arrested.  In fact, I would guess that if this was a Hezbollah job, once they saw the Cypriot cell was broken, they would’ve hurried an attack into operation lest the Burgas network be compromised as well.

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{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Elad R February 28, 2013, 10:27 PM

    Richard
    How do you think CIA operatives are traveling around the world ? You think they use their own passports ? You think they always get a blank Canadian passport as Ben Aflac did in Argo ?

    in my the usage of forged passports and the use of multi-national operatives is a very common practice by the entire intelligence community, not only Israel and Hezbollah.

    one minor point, you mentioned that Israel targets their enemy’s scientific research. I think that the recent activation of the Heavy-Water plant( as reported by the guardian two days ago) which is part of the Arak reactor and produces plutonium, clears the doubts (if anyone had any) and proves that the Iranian are developing nuclear weapons. Iran may decide to be a threshold state, but keeping in mind the price they pay in sanctions and world isolation i think it’s unlikely that Iran will chose that.

    • Richard Silverstein March 1, 2013, 12:22 AM

      @Elad: I’ve written here before and agree with Prof. Muhammad Sahimi in this–that Iran will become (or wants to become) a threshhold state like the Japanese. I think they’re more than willing to pay the price in sanctions & isolation. In fact, all these only make the regime stronger. That’s why I think the western-Israeli approach is wrong & won’t work.

      But it’s important to remember that a threshhold state doesn’t have a nuclear weapon. It only has the ability to make one if it feels threatened. IN that sense, Israel is much more a nuclear threat to other Arab states than Iran would be.

      • Yaniv S March 1, 2013, 7:00 AM

        Richard, A country doesn’t become a threat because it has weapons of mass destruction. It is a threat because of its radical leadership, an implied intent to use these weapons against its enemies and because it holds a different ideological view on the sanctity of life. Israel is no saint – but it has never threatened its neighbors with ‘wiping them off the map’. The difference between owning a nuclear weapon and being able to produce one in 4 weeks is negligible and so your entire argument that Israel is a larger threat is quite absurd.

        • Richard Silverstein March 1, 2013, 9:41 PM

          It is a threat because of its radical leadership, an implied intent to use these weapons against its enemies and because it holds a different ideological view on the sanctity of life.

          That’s very interesting because while you substitute the word “Iran” for “it” in the above sentence & I substitute the word “Israel.” If you want to argue that Israel places any value or sanctity on Arab or Persian life you’ll be laughed out of the box. So don’t even try.

          You’re only the 20th person here to make the patently false claim that any Iranian leader ever threatened “wiping Israel off the map.” We don’t deal with that canard here since it’s been refuted already here & elsewhere. Read the comment rules.

          Japan is a nuclear threshhold power & I doubt it could put together a nuclear weapon in four weeks. Iran can’t put together one at all whether in four weeks or four years.

      • Elad R March 1, 2013, 11:02 AM

        I have two issues with your argument.
        1. without crossing the threshold there is no gain for the Iranian regime to show it’s citizens, only the suffering implemented by sanctions.
        2. The North Korean precedent. The world is afraid to deal with Pyongyang, crossing the threshold strengthen their negotiation and regional posture. Iran will do the same.

        • Richard Silverstein March 1, 2013, 9:49 PM

          If Israel attacks Iran I have no doubt that you are right & Iran will pursue nukes explicitly & publicly. If Israel & the U.S. do not attack, then there’s a chance Iran will satisfy itself with being a threshold state.

          The difference bet Iran & N. Korea is China. China is N Korea’s ally (albeit reluctantly so at times). Iran has no such Sugar Daddy.

  • Kevin Herbert February 28, 2013, 11:30 PM

    Well argued again Richard.

    Thanks for the heads up.

  • Howie March 1, 2013, 4:48 AM

    You equate Israel’s killing (we think) Hizbullah terrorists with Hizbullah’s killing (we know) Jewish women and children.

    • Richard Silverstein March 1, 2013, 9:52 PM

      Israel has killed thousands of Lebanese & Palestinian civilians, far more than Israeli civilians killed by Hezbollah or Hamas. So I equate Israel killing their civilians with them killing Israeli civilians. They both commit murder in the name of their respective causes or nations.

  • Eden March 1, 2013, 6:33 AM

    “I do note the hypocrisy of focusing solely on Hezbollah as Kulish does, while ignoring the fact that Israel behaves in precisely the same way”

    Do you know of any website critical of Hezbollah’s use of dual citizenship to conduct operations? I guess Kulish does not have a monopoly aver hypocrisy. Would it be funny if a Muslim had a website dedicated to disclosing the “secrets” of Hezbollah and “embarrassing” that organization?

    Also since you are at it, both Al Qaida and the US use airplanes to target buildings. One sends the plane into it, the other use the planes to send missiles. Would you then say that the 2 are mirror images?

    • Oui March 1, 2013, 9:58 AM

      Hizbollah and Mossad are adversaries. The US and Israel are allies and more like twins: Guatanamo and Facility 1391 – Fallujah and Jenin. Both nations act contrary to International law in pursuit of short term goals.

    • Richard Silverstein March 1, 2013, 9:36 PM

      Thanks for showing us yet another example of the non sequitur argument. That is, when you don’t like someone’s argument you don’t address or refute it. You wander off in an irrelevant tangent. Since you’ve found an empty niche I suggest you either fill it yourself by becoming a professional anti-Hezbollah activist or recruiting a Lebanese to do so for you. BTW, if you think there are not such people who would do so if you paid them enough shekels or dollars, you are mistaken.

      You are entirely ignorant if you believe there are not vociferous opponents of Hezbollah inside Lebanon.

      As for Al Qaeda, off topic (for the 8th time).

      • Eden March 2, 2013, 7:51 AM

        [comment deleted for comment rule violation]

        • Richard Silverstein March 2, 2013, 5:28 PM

          You’ve been moderated for repeated comment rule violations. Your next violation may result in losing your privileges entirely.

  • Joel March 1, 2013, 7:22 AM

    Richard.
    The Hezbollah bombing of an Israeli tourist bus in Burgas, Bulgaria merits no mention in your article. That terror attack will surely bear on the EU’s decision on whether or not to brand Hezbollah a terror organization.

    • Richard Silverstein March 1, 2013, 9:44 PM

      That’s quite false. Did you even bother to read the post??

      While Hezbollah’s considerably lower level of expertise and resources forces it to target civilians as it may have done in the Burgas bombing (again, if Israel’s claims are borne out).

      I simply can’t have any respect for someone who publishes comments without reading my post. And it’s only the 4th or 5th time you’ve done the same thing. If you want to comment here read the post–in full. If you do this again, my patience will be at an end.

    • A false premise March 4, 2013, 3:58 PM

      “The Hezbollah bombing of an Israeli tourist bus in Burgas,”…..

      The Bulgarians have not said that Hezbollah committed that bombing.

      The most they have said is that based on the evidence they have received that Hezbollah Involvement Is A Reasonable Supposition To Make.

      But, no, the Bulgarians refused to come out and say that It Wuz’ Hezbollah Wot’ Done It! and when you consider the enormous pressure they were under from the USA and Israel then their refusal speaks volumes.

      Go back and look through those statements by the Bulgarians, Joel: they make great pains to say that
      1) *while* a claim of Hezbollah involvement is a reasonable supposition based on the evidence
      2) *nonetheless* they will not conclude that Hezbollah was responsible for that bombing.

      They simply don’t know that, and so they refuse to say that.

  • Dr. Ibrahim Soudy March 1, 2013, 9:39 AM

    Thanks Richard for pointing out that Israel is a terrorist state by the same measure it uses to call Hezboallah a terror organization. In fact that applies equally to the US. The governments of the US and the Apartheid Jewish state are the two biggest terrorist organizations in the history of humanity……They also have LUNATIC MULLAHS who happen to be wearing suits and ties…It is amazing how some people have not only selective memory, but selective eyesight, selective understanding, selective almost every thing when it comes to measuring others…..

    • Richard Silverstein March 1, 2013, 9:46 PM

      The governments of the US and the Apartheid Jewish state are the two biggest terrorist organizations in the history of humanity

      That’s not only a ludicrous statement, it’s so full of hot air it explodes into smithereens. Have you forgotten Nazi Germany? Pol Pot’s Cambodia?

      You completely discredit yr own argument and cause when you chew the scenery in such a way.

      • Dr.Ibrahim Soudy March 2, 2013, 5:10 PM

        [comment deleted for comment rule violation--equating Israel to Nazi Germany not permitted. Read the comment rules carefully.]

  • Eden March 1, 2013, 10:29 AM

    “The governments of the US and the Apartheid Jewish state are the two biggest terrorist organizations in the history of humanity”
    What else could be added to this moderate well-documented sentence? It is just perfect. It leaves nothing to be guessed as to the position of the person who wrote it. I do note though that it is the govts of the US you have issues with, as for the Jewish state, its existence seems to be the beef.

  • Danny O'Brien March 1, 2013, 11:26 AM

    I happened to be listening to Mr Kulish ‘report’ on NPR on the car radio and spontaneously experienced many of the exact thoughts that you so astutely point out in your post. It always amazes me how so called terrorism is not terrorism anymore when your the one dishing out the terror. The report by Mr. Kulish, and the lack of any challenge by the NPR interviewer, showed prejudice by both towards the facts and anyone who would ever think of questioning what apparently in their minds is Israeli hegemony. Of course this is a problem that we often experience when it comes to the NYT, NPR and most of America’s mainstream media sources when it comes to their reporting on Middle East politics.

  • Howie March 1, 2013, 1:09 PM

    Since you have not posted my reply from this morning, I must have done something wrong.

    What was it?

    • Richard Silverstein March 1, 2013, 9:52 PM

      @Howie: Yes, you did something wrong. You didn’t read the comment rules. Read them.

  • Daniel March 2, 2013, 6:30 AM

    Mr Silverstein,

    Thank you for your good work. Regarding the Burgas attack, what do you make of this story by Gareth Porter? Excerpt:

    “European ministers who demand hard evidence of Hezbollah involvement are not likely to find it in the Bulgarian report on the investigation, which has produced no more than an ‘assumption’ or ‘hypothesis’ of Hezbollah complicity.

    Major revelations about the investigation by the former head of the probe and by a top Bulgarian journalist have further damaged the credibility of the Bulgarian claim to have found links between the suspects and Hezbollah.”

    — “Inside the Hezbollah Bombing ‘Hypothesis’ of an Israeli Tour Bus” by Gareth Porter, published on CounterPunch.

    Link: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/18/inside-the-hezbollah-bombing-hypothesis/

    • Richard Silverstein March 2, 2013, 5:32 PM

      I have great esteem for Gareth Porter. I’m not sure I totally buy his argument in this particular article. It doesn’t seem as strong as past investigative work of his I’ve read. But neither do I buy the Israeli narrative fully either. I don’t think Israel has by any means proven its claims about Burgas.

      • An understatement March 4, 2013, 4:05 PM

        Richard: “I don’t think Israel has by any means proven its claims about Burgas.”

        More importantly, neither do the Bulgarians.

        Gareth Porter is quite correct i.e. once you get past the screaming headlines the thing that is most striking is that the Bulgarian authorities WILL NOT come out and say that Hezbollah was responsible for that outrage.

        They would earn mega Brownie Points from the Americans if they did, yet they are steadfast in refusing to lay down that marker.

        That tells you something, and what it tells you is this: deep down the Bulgarians DON’T think that Hezbollah did this.

  • mordi March 3, 2013, 2:09 PM

    But how can we believe you when you have been proven wrong on so many occasions? Prisoner X and Fordo explosion? it seems that your sourcing is very poor.

    • Richard Silverstein March 4, 2013, 9:14 PM

      @Mordi: I’ve written 5,000 posts & you’ve managed to find 2 in which I was wrong. I’m impressed. That makes my percentage well over 99% even if you add in some errors you didn’t manage to discover. But do keep looking. We’ll be waiting to hear from you.

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