Top Hezbollah official admits spy infiltrated group

Amid trial against alleged Mossad agent Mohammad Shorbah, group’s deputy leader acknowledges ‘mistakes’ were made

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Hezbollah deputy secretary general Naim Qassem (photo credit: AP/Grace Kassab)
Hezbollah deputy secretary general Naim Qassem (photo credit: AP/Grace Kassab)

A senior Hezbollah official acknowledged Sunday for the first time that the Lebanese group’s upper echelons had been infiltrated by a spy, two-and-a-half weeks after a man identified as Mohammad Shorbah reportedly admitted he had been in contact with Israel.

Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem said certain “mistakes” had been made among the ranks of the Shiite organization, but emphasized that only several isolated cases of espionage had been uncovered by the group.

“There is no party in the world as big and sophisticated as Hezbollah that is able to stand with the same steadfastness despite some major infiltrations,” Naim Qassem told the Hezbollah-affiliated An-Nour radio station.

“Hezbollah has worked intensely on battling espionage among its ranks and in its entourage. Some cases [of espionage] surfaced, and they are very limited cases,” he said, adding that the group was determined to keep its ranks “pure.”

Qassem did not specifically mention Shorbah by name.

Last month, Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper reported that Hezbollah had begun trying Shorbah, a senior official in the group’s external operations unit, for treason over accusations that he was an agent for Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

Hezbollah was first alerted to the possibility of a foreign agent in its ranks in the aftermath of a bus bombing in the Bulgarian resort town of Burgas in 2012 that killed five Israeli tourists and a local bus driver, the report said, citing an anonymous security source.

The group’s suspicion was reportedly aroused when the Bulgarian interior minister accused it of being behind the attack. Shorbah had informed Israel that Hezbollah was behind the attack, and Jerusalem, in turn, relayed the information to the Bulgarian authorities, the report said.

Hezbollah's Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in 2008. (photo credit: CC BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons)
Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in 2008. (photo credit: CC BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons)

Shorbah, who also allegedly played a key role in the 2008 assassination of top Hezbollah official Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus, thwarted five attempts by the group to avenge his death, piquing Hezbollah’s suspicions in the process, the report said.

Mughniyeh’s assassination was considered a major blow to the group, and while Israel never claimed responsibility, Hezbollah has blamed Jerusalem for the attack.

A report in the Lebanese news outlet El-Nashra said that in addition to his alleged part in Mughniyeh’s assassination in Damascus, Shorbah was also involved in the killing of Hezbollah official Hassan al-Laqis in December 2013.

According to Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai, the alleged Mossad agent was in the past responsible for the personal security of Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah. Since Hezbollah exposed him, it has also dismissed several other officials from its ranks, the Kuwaiti report said.

The Daily Star report said that Shorbah and four others were arrested after six or seven months of surveillance.

Unnamed sources told el-Nashra that the “collaborator,” exposed a few weeks ago, was an official in unit 910, responsible for “external operations against specific Israeli targets.”

The spy worked as a traveling businessman and was recruited by the Mossad in a “western Asian country,” el-Nashra reported.

Lebanon’s security agencies periodically report the exposure of Israeli-recruited agents in the country, as well as of listening devices planted in the south of the country.

According to the original report, Shorbah also exposed other Hezbollah agents, including Mohammed Amadar, arrested in Peru in late October with TNT and detonators following a Mossad tip-off; Hossam Yaacoub, convicted in Cyprus for planning attacks against Israeli tourists in March 2013; and Daoud Farhat and Youssef Ayad, arrested in April 2014 in Bangkok for planning terror attacks against Israeli tourists in Thailand.

There has been no reaction from Israel on the reports.

Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.

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