LEBANON: Latest alleged Israeli spy a prominent pro-Hariri politician
This time, the accused, Ziad Homsi, is the former mayor and current deputy mayor of Saadnayel in the Bekaa Valley and a prominent member of parliamentary leader Saad Hariri's U.S.-backed Future movement. Shortly after his arrest Saturday morning, local supporters protested by blocking the main town road until high-level Future movement figures intervened, appealing for calm.
The daily An-Nahar painted a particularly colorful picture (Arabic) in Sunday's paper, describing how the town mosque broadcast orders for the faithful to remain on the streets and residents of the town used a loudspeaker to share testimonies, describing Homsi as a proud Arab and a pillar of the community.
Hezbollah's Al Manar TV initially reported that Homsi was the regional head of Hariri's electoral machine ahead of June 7 parliamentary elections, but the Future movement folks later issued a statement distancing themselves from Homsi and denying he had any major organizational role in the party.
“The truth is [Homsi] is the publisher of one of the local magazines, and he contacts all the electoral campaign offices in his region,” the statement read.
It went on to request full support for the security forces and asked that judgments against Homsi be withheld until he is brought to trial.
Eyewitnesses told An-Nahar that security forces searched Homsi’s home in Saadnayel as well as the offices of his magazine, Al Irada, located in the Bekaa Valley town of Chatoura.
Homsi’s arrest is merely the latest in a widening crackdown on alleged espionage rings in the run-up to the elections next month. Since the beginning of 2009, more than a dozen people have been accused and even more detained, including a retired brigadier general, an active member of the security forces and a policeman.
Although security forces have credited their recent successes to improved technology and cooperation among the security branches, there's little doubt that Hezbollah has played a supportive role in the investigations.
On Friday, As-Safir, the Lebanese daily closest to Hezbollah, published a detailed report on the investigation as well as information on the specific roles of the accused.
According to the paper, Israel reactivated several longstanding "sleeper cells" in 2007, reestablishing relations with former agents Ali Jarrah and Brig. Gen. Adib Alam, who were tasked with recruiting more spies by placing employment ads. The agents also were asked to gather information on Hezbollah and Syria.
Jarrah, Alam and others were eventually caught, but rather than strengthening the country’s sense of security, the arrests and subsequent media hoopla have only helped fan the partisan flames.
Supporters of the U.S.-backed March 14 coalition, which includes Hariri's Future movement, accuse Hezbollah of timing the arrests to distract from the Sinai scandal, in which Egypt accused the Shiite militant group of running clandestine operations on its soil.
The Hezbollah-backed opposition press stresses Homsi’s connection to the Future movement and possible role in recent deadly clashes that broke out in the Bekaa.
Al Manar pointed out the large banner in Saadnayel, Homsi's hometown, depicting his face and reading “the most honest of all.”
Although Israel does not comment on specific cases, the Mossad’s former Beirut station chief, Eliezer Tsafrir, recently told pan-Arab Daily Al Hayat that agents were "fully aware that the Mossad did not buy them a life insurance policy."
"They are aware of the possibility of being caught," he said, adding that all Israel "can do at this point is recruit more agents."
-- Meris Lutz in Beirut
Photo: A masked Lebanese secret service officer shows the media an electronic transmitter allegedly hidden by Lebanese nationals accused of spying for Israel. Credit: Wael Hamza / European Pressphoto Agency