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Infiltrated by up to a dozen CIA spies, Hezbollah, the official party of God, is taking hits to its prestige—and revealing its weakness

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Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah on June 24, 2011. (Al-Manar Television/YouTube)

In June, Hezbollah announced that it had captured two, perhaps three, CIA spies who had infiltrated its organization. Last week, the story finally made headlines in the U.S. press. According to some former U.S. officials, Hezbollah may have identified as many as a dozen CIA informants within its organization.

This is only the agency’s latest setback at the hands of a terrorist organization. In December 2009, an al-Qaida suicide bomber killed seven CIA officers at an American compound in Afghanistan. In April 1983, a Hezbollah car bomb destroyed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 60 people, including 17 Americans, eight of whom were CIA employees. Given the agency’s track record, very few intelligence and Middle East experts were surprised by last week’s revelation that the CIA had been handed another loss in the region.

But the analysts have gotten it wrong on the bottom line. Though most experts and commentators are making this out to be bad for the CIA—and many current and former U.S. officials believe it is—it’s actually Hezbollah that comes out the big loser.

Hezbollah’s entire prestige is built on the idea that it is a highly disciplined organization that is nearly impossible to infiltrate. Indeed, Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah’s June speech announcing that Hezbollah had rolled up CIA assets was the party’s first public admission that it’d been compromised by hostile services. Hezbollah, said Nasrallah, had the “courage to confront the truth.”

The truth is that no matter how many American spies Hezbollah ultimately captured, being infiltrated by a hostile clandestine service is evidence of weakness. Moreover, as the Cold War showed, uncovering moles may result in tighter security measures, but the fact that they went unnoticed in the first place almost invariably demoralizes any organization built on loyalty and secrecy. In the 1960s and ’70s, paranoia crippled the CIA’s head of counterintelligence, James Jesus Angleton, after he became convinced that the agency had been penetrated by Soviet agents. In Hezbollah’s case, the damage will likely be worse, because this incident exposes the utter falsehood of the party of God’s divinely fashioned self-mythology.

Nonetheless, Hezbollah officials are putting up a good front. “The resistance blinded American intelligence eyes,” one Hezbollah member of Lebanese parliament said last week. Perhaps he’s right—even as there are plenty of good reasons for the American intelligence community to encourage Hezbollah to think it bested the CIA. But contrary to its reputation, Hezbollah may be more vulnerable to hostile clandestine services than any organization in the history of espionage. Hassan Nasrallah certainly thinks so. Unique among world leaders, Nasrallah lives in hiding. He has spent the last five years since the end of the party’s 2006 war with Israel bunkered underground because he fears his organization is so porous that the Israelis have a good shot at assassinating him.

Other recent intelligence triumphs against Hezbollah include Israel destroying most of the party’s long- and medium-range missiles within the first few hours of the 2006 war. Perhaps most spectacularly, Hezbollah’s legendary commander, Imad Mugniyeh, was assassinated in February 2008 in the middle of Damascus. Then there was an Israeli spy ring that penetrated Hezbollah. And even though more than 100 people have been detained by Hezbollah and arrested by Lebanese security forces for espionage since April 2009, things keep blowing up—literally—in Hezbollah strongholds. Maybe the blast last week at a Hezbollah arms depot in Tyre was just an accident. Or perhaps it was a timely reminder that there are plenty of hostile assets still operating successfully in some of Hezbollah’s most sensitive areas.

It is best, then, to treat Hezbollah’s Spartan reputation with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, many Western experts legitimize the party’s propaganda. For instance, Hezbollah leadership denied for many years that Mughniyeh had any official relationship to the organization. It was bad enough that researchers and journalists swallowed the party’s line. But even after Hezbollah buried Mughniyeh with full honors—not merely as a Hezbollah martyr, but as a pillar of the party’s revered leadership—regional experts never stopped to wonder: If Hezbollah lied about that, maybe they were lying about other things as well.

Obviously Hezbollah, like all security and intelligence institutions, dissimulates. What’s different about Hezbollah is that its fictions are the foundation of a self-image that touches not only on earthly matters, but on heavenly ones as well. The CIA is the intelligence service of a regular state; it is designed and ruled by human beings and therefore imperfect in its very nature. Hezbollah, however, is not a regular political organization, but the party of God. The arms of the resistance are sacred, entrusted with the duty of liberating Jerusalem, and its victories, like the 2006 war, are divine. But as it turns out, Hezbollah is not divine. It’s in fact quite flawed. And so the CIA story comes as another blow in a series of shocks to the Islamic resistance’s prestige.

Only credulous Western media sources believe that Hezbollah won a “divine victory” over Israel in 2006. The Shiite community in southern Lebanon knows better, which is why tens of thousands of them tried to flee when a rocket was fired from their area during the middle of Cast Lead in 2008-09. Even Hezbollah knows it is deterred, which is why the border with Israel has been relatively quiet since then.

On the domestic front, Hezbollah isn’t faring much better. In 2009, a financier close to the party and nicknamed the Lebanese Madoff was found to have stolen more than half a billion dollars from the Shiite community. Hezbollah’s May 2008 attack on Sunni neighborhoods in Beirut and on Druze regions in the mountains sullied the resistance—through the use of weapons that, according to Hezbollah mythology, are only to be used against the Zionist invaders, not fellow Lebanese.

Even more significantly, Hezbollah has been named in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In August, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted four Hezbollah operatives, including two of Mughniyeh’s brothers-in-law, for their role in the killing. In other words, the party of God stands accused of murdering one of the Middle East’s major Sunni leaders, which puts Hezbollah in a dangerous position with its Sunni neighbors inside Lebanon and around the region. It certainly doesn’t help the party’s reputation that its Syrian patron, President Bashar al-Assad, has been slaughtering members of the Sunni-majority uprising in neighboring Syria.

Without Assad, Hezbollah will lose its supply lines. Even with Assad fighting to survive, circumstances are trying for Hezbollah. In the eyes of the regional Sunni majority, the regime in Damascus and Hezbollah are no longer Arabs at war with Israel—they are minorities, killing fellow Arabs on behalf of the Iranians.

It’s true the CIA has made plenty of mistakes in Beirut over the last several decades, and the U.S. intelligence community may have blundered badly in this instance, too. And yet no one knows exactly the parameters of the game now under way in Lebanon, where a number of regional and international actors—including, among others, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, France, Israel, and the United States—all have a stake in the outcome. All we know for certain is that the timing is bad for Hezbollah, divine no more.

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Not so long ago, Syria was voicing its support for Hezbollah. Now Hezbollah is voicing his support for Syria. Soon enough, Hezbollah will be looking for support in trying to mitigate its implosion. It will NOT find any, not even within its own community. An inherently flawed (and now failed) ideology (against Satans of various sizes) coupled with ill-practiced operational methods (especially recently, corruption in HB and resentment amongst Shias are through the roof) are not exactly the drives Hezbollah needs to self-sustain itself. Thanks for your input Lee>>> sharing. :)

Barry Meislin says:

One ought never forget that Hezbullah is extremely pragmatic.

Not to mention resourceful.

They should never, ever be underestimated. Even if their adored leader has been living like a royal hedgehog for the past five years.

(We all know what Isaiah Berlin felt about hedgehogs….)

US Marine says:

I can’t wait for these hizbollah unevolved monkeys to get their asses handed to them most probably their own Lebanese countrymen who are sick of their backwards mini-state within Lebanon and all the shit it brings with it. Let these unevolved monkeys keep acting like apes and pigs. The rest of the world just keeps on developing while they throw stones.

Lynne T says:

“Hezbollah, said Nasrallah, had the ‘courage to confront the truth.'”

yes, like the truth about Hezbollah’s prescience vis a vis Israel’s planned attack on Lebanon in 2006, that only launched after Hezbollah entered Israel and to capture and murder members of the IDF?

or like the truth of Hezbollah’s victory against the IDF?

philip mann says:

It would be very interesting if Nasrallah turned out to be a Mossad agent himself.

I think the authors and the comments are very Delusional. The facts are

1. Israel withdrew from lebanon in 2000 with OUT signing an accord with Lebanon.

2. The war with Lebanon in 2006 was a standstill and Israel did not achieve any of its stated objectives

3. Nasrallah is walking around in south beirut like he did in the 80’s, this nonsense that he’s in hiding in a hole is the best joke in history.

4. as for the sunni’s and their special interest in the Jewish state, just remember this, they still idolise Saladin, and guess what saladin did when he was in control of Jordan and Syria. (for the numb skulls among you he re-entered Jerusalem)

In the quran it says “the Jews and the Christains hate the most the true believers” and from all the commentary on Jewish web sites and Christain the shias are hated the most.

philip mann says:

Jim,not true. Nasarallah himself said that he badly underestimated the Israeli response to the rockets,and that had he known,he would never have attacked. nOw, both Hamas and Hizbollah have to worry about just how much their (captive ) people will support a new war.

So,to that extent,the war did accomplish something.

philip mann says:

Jim,not true. Nasarallah himself said that he badly underestimated the Israeli response to the rockets,and that had he known,he would never have attacked. nOw, both Hamas and Hizbollah have to worry about just how much their (captive ) people will support a new war.

Indeed US Marine. Marines still have a huge unsettled score with hezbullah.

Monkeys US Marine? And you distinguish yourself and your service with such racist language?

It’s people like you that make me proud not to be like people like you.

ben Dish says:

US Marine,
your spirit and our beloved Corps will teach all Islamofascists the lessons they skipped since Adolf Hitler. There are many beaches in Lebanon where freedom can land and spread its wings and tanks. Semper Fi.
Nuke ’em till they glow.

Im Kurdish from Kurdistan Syria living in uk and as friend of Jewish people we will have power in future Syria yes isreal will have friends inside the coming regime in Syria because we believe that we both are suffering from the same countries regims in that part of the word …
God bless Kurdistan and Isreal . Kurdish Israeli friendship forever

David B. says:

The Iranian Islamofascists will fall, sooner or later. That will not only damage Hezbollah monetarily but will also take away much needed psychological support. Assad is as good as over, then what? Shiites don’t have many friends these days in the Sunni world out there. It’s gonna get mighty lonely out there, especially since Santa Nassrala has backed Assad and his killer troops. game ova Tova. The days when Arabs were lead by nationalists and fundamentalists are surely numbered. Generation twitter is looking for a bit more wiggle room. Ladies wearing bin bags are passe.


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Infiltrated by up to a dozen CIA spies, Hezbollah, the official party of God, is taking hits to its prestige—and revealing its weakness

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