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.