x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Lebanese PM calls for secrecy over spy arrests

Parliament urged to keep quiet over man accused of Israeli espionage to investigate the possibility of a spy ring.

BEIRUT // The Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, addressed the second arrest of a top telecommunications official on allegations of spying for Israel by warning parliament yesterday to avoid leaks on such matters that could benefit Israel by alerting them that spies have been apprehended. Tareq al Rabaa was arrested at least four days ago, but it was not announced until late Wednesday to help investigators attempt to unravel a suspected spy network that might include two top executives of the Alfa mobile phone network, Mr Hariri told lawmakers. He then implored the cabinet to remain quiet about the progress of all espionage-related investigations.

"The cabinet is making efforts [on the matter] and will keep doing so," Mr Hariri said. The arrest of Mr Rabaa by security forces came several weeks after Charbel Qazzi, another Alfa executive, was detained and formally charged with spying for Israel. Local media reports have argued that Mr Qazzi might have been first discovered and arrested by Hizbollah before being turned over to Lebanese authorities.

Both men are senior officials in the broadcast and transmission division of Alfa, which would give them complete access to Lebanon's state-owned mobile phone network. Two companies, of which Alfa is one, are licensed to operate on the state-owned network. Local media reports and security officials have said the alleged spy network allowed Israel to easily monitor all mobile phone conversations in Lebanon.

The arrests come after a year-long campaign by the Lebanese authorities to break up multiple cells of alleged Israeli spies scattered throughout the country, which resulted in several convictions by military courts of Lebanese citizens and Palestinian residents. Because the two countries remain technically at war, spying on behalf of Israel can lead to the death penalty in Lebanon, and Hizbollah has recently pushed for additional assurances that all such sentences would be carried out.

@Email:mprothero@thenational.ae