x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Lebanon arrests German suspected of spying for Israel

As Germany is a major contributor of troops, funding and resources in Lebanon, fears that formal charges could hurt bilateral relations have come to the forefront.

BEIRUT // A German citizen was arrested on Monday in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley by Lebanese army investigators on suspicion of spying for Israel, according to security and political sources in Beirut. The arrest of Manfred Peter Mog, 58, by the army's information branch was first announced by the Lebanese Al Nahar newspaper yesterday and later confirmed to The National by security officials with both the military and Hizbollah, the Shiite militant group that frequently conducts its own investigations and arrests of espionage suspects.

If formal charges are brought, one security official said, it would represent the first time in recent memory that a foreign resident of Lebanon - other than Palestinian refugees with semi-permanent resident status - has been charged with spying for Israel. "It is considered highly unusual and highly sensitive," the security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. "Obviously, this is of great concern considering our relationship with Germany."

As Germany is a major contributor of troops, funding and resources for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon and a supporter of the Lebanese government's modernisation and reform efforts, fears that formal charges could hurt relations between the two countries came to the forefront as the news was announced. "We have to be very careful as we proceed," the security official said. "There must be a serious and thorough investigation, one that does not make any mistakes or has leaks to the media [in light of the German connection]."

If a convicted spy's work is proven to have led to the loss of Lebanese lives, military courts can impose the death penalty, as has happened three times since April 2009 when the most recent, massive operation began against multiple spy rings thought to be associated with Israel. None of the three has been put to death, prompting criticism from Hizbollah. It would like to see a more aggressive implementation of such sentences, according to recent statements by its leadership.

Last week, however, a military court convicted and sentenced Ahmed al Hussein, 59, to death for spying on behalf of Israel during the 2006 war. He was convicted of supplying Israel with targeting data used to hit Hizbollah positions on southern Beirut, which faced massive bombardment during that 34-day conflict. The German Embassy refused to comment on the allegation, although several diplomatic staff from other countries did confirm that an investigation was taking place.

Mr Mog was a chief engineer for a dairy factory located in the eastern Bekaa Valley town of Tayla, local media said. They reported that the army raided the facility on Monday after military investigators became suspicious of "transmissions" emitted from either Mr Mog's office or residence. Security officials refused to comment beyond that, except to note that many of the dozens of people accused for spying on behalf of Israel over the past year have been uncovered through signal intelligence collection.

The news of the arrest comes just weeks after at least half a dozen employees of the Alfa mobile service provider were charged with spying for Israel. Several suspects, including two executives for the company, which holds a licence to operate the nationalised mobile phone network, were arrested. At least five suspects managed to escape. One of them, Rasan al Jud, a former senior officer in the Lebanese army, managed to flee to Germany, although security officials do not believe this was connected to the investigation of Mr Mog. @Email:mprothero@thenational.ae