x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Hizbollah accuses four people of being among 10 CIA spies

Hizbollah's public naming of four people it alleges are American spies in Lebanon is the latest move in its campaign against US covert operations in the region.

BEIRUT // Hizbollah's public naming of four people it alleges are American spies in Lebanon is the latest move in its campaign against US covert operations in the region.

Al Manar, Hizbollah's television station, broadcast a programme on Friday naming individuals that the Lebanese Shiite movement claims are among 10 CIA officers who are posing as US diplomats and actively recruiting Lebanese informants.

Hizbollah alleged they have been working to collect information on the Shiite movement, while coordinating closely with Israel.

The programme was broadcast shortly before Hizbollah's close ally, Iran, issued indictments against 15 people charged with espionage.

Tehran's chief prosecutor said yesterday that the unidentified suspects were spying for the US and Israel, according to the Fars news agency.

The announcement came just days after a US surveillance drone was captured by Iran.

The Al Manar report described the US Embassy in Beirut as the CIA headquarters in Lebanon and included the name of the man identified as the agency's Beirut station chief.

It also alleged that intelligence officers met with Lebanese informants at branches of Starbucks, McDonald's and Pizza Hut.

"The station is tasked with recruiting wide networks of agents from various segments of Lebanese society: political, social, educational, health, security and military fields," the report alleged.

The CIA would neither confirm nor deny the allegations.

"The agency does not, as a rule, address spurious claims from terrorist groups," a spokeswoman, Jennifer Youngblood, told the Associated Press.

"It's worth remembering that Hizbollah is a dangerous organisation, with Al Manar as its propaganda arm," she added. "That fact alone should cast some doubt on the credibility of the group's claims."

Nevertheless, some analysts believe that US covert operations in Lebanon have been impacted.

Elias Hanna, a Lebanese analyst, who teaches at the American University of Beirut and Notre Dame University and retired general said that although Iran and Hizbollah have been in a "covert war" with the US for three decades, the timing of these latest claims is still significant.

"It's a kind of pre-emptive coup. It is testing the ground and like a warning [for informants] to stop working," he said. "It also shows that US intelligence is weak in Lebanon."

Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, believes these latest reports come as part of Iranian and Hizbollah efforts to highlight the extent of US espionage in the region.

"[But] the claims to have shattered US intelligence networks are grossly exaggerated," he said.

These most recent allegations about American intelligence activities in Lebanon come following reports last month that Hizbollah had captured a number of CIA informants.

This followed a televised address in June, when Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah's chief, announced that at least two members of the Shiite movement had confessed to spying for the US intelligence agency.

The CIA considers Hizbollah a terrorist organisation.

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and The Associated Press