Beirut, London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Since the assassination of leading Hamas figure Mahmud al-Mabhuh in Dubai, Hezbollah has been in a state of maximum alert. Al-Mabhuh’s assassination has increased Hezbollah’s suspicions regarding foreign passport holders, since it is easy for the Israeli Mossad to forge these passports, and the Israelis who hold dual nationality and operate with the Mossad can easily use them.
Even though Hezbollah is traditionally suspicious of foreigners, the Al-Mabhuh operation served as an opportunity for Hezbollah to officially ask the Lebanese authorities to step up the measures to watch foreigners who come from the countries whose passports were used in the assassination of Al-Mabhuh. This was confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat by informed Lebanese sources, and the Lebanese Public Security departments already began to step up such measures.
Hezbollah’s fears are based on experience. The Israeli Mossad prefers to carry out assassination tasks directly while people who deal with it take care of logistical measures and observation. The Mossad men arrive at the target area to carry out the task and then leave fast for European states from where they came.
Major General Wafiq Jizzini, director general of the Lebanese Public Security, said that, in its border centers, the public security agency depends on lists of names of Jewish families.
He added: “When someone comes to Lebanon on a foreign passport and the name of his family indicates that he is of Jewish origin, the border center sends the information to the central information office at the General Directorate of the Public Security. Afterward, the directorate observes this person who would have already registered his address in Lebanon. Both the visiting person and the one who receives him at the airport are observed.”
He continued: “There is another way, which we always use. We investigate or verify the place of birth of the person who comes to Lebanon.”
According to the information available to Asharq Al-Awsat, no complaints have been made to date by British or Irish citizens that they were harassed when they visited Beirut. Some 12 forged British passports and at least four forged Irish passports were used in the assassination of Al-Mabhuh.
However, the British Foreign Office told Asharq Al-Awsat that it “will look into the matter.” It said that it will convey any complaint it receives from its citizens directly to the Lebanese Government.
For its part, Ireland expressed “extreme concern” over the new measures. A spokesman for the Irish Foreign Ministry told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Of course, the move of stepping up security measures regarding our citizens causes extreme concern for us.”
He added: “We do not want to see steps taken in this respect, as the passports that were used (in the assassination of Al-Mabhuh) were forged and the persons who used them are not Irish.”
He continued: “Naturally, we do not want to reach a stage where the condition of printing visas on Irish passports to enter Lebanon would be applied because of an incident that happened without the approval or knowledge of the Irish authorities.”
He noted that Beirut and the Middle East in general are the main destinations for Irish citizens.
In reply to a question as to whether the Irish Government would convey its concern to the Lebanese Government, the official spokesman said the issue is now in the hands of the EU.
He referred to a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council that was held on Monday to discuss ways to protect European passports. He said that the EU will decide “step by step” what to do in this respect. But he remarked: “It is impossible to predict the next step.”
The EU refused to comment on its measures and did not say whether or not it conveyed the issue to the Lebanese authorities.
However, lack of coordination seemed clear in the EU corridors. An official spokesman for the office of the new EU foreign minister, Lady Catherine Ashton, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the issue is beyond the jurisdiction of Ashton’s responsibility.
But another official spokesman said to Asharq al-Awsat: “The office of Ashton has nothing to add, other than the statement that was issued by the meeting of the foreign affairs council.”
At its meeting, the council denounced the use of forged European passports in the assassination of Al-Mabhuh. The council said that the incident was “extremely worrying” and called for cooperation between all the states that are mentioned in the investigation that the Dubai police has launched.
Earlier, Hasan Fadlallah, member of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, officially raised the issue of the passports at the latest meeting of the chamber of deputies. He asked the government a question on the measures that it will take to ensure that the Israeli intelligence will not infiltrate Lebanese security, “especially because many of the assassinations and bombings that took place in Lebanon may have been carried out in the same way that was used in Dubai.”
Fadlallah told Asharq Al-Awsat that Interior Minister Ziyad Barud answered him through a written paper in which he asserted that his ministry will take the appropriate measures.
Fadlallah said: “Lebanon was and continues to be a target for Israeli security infiltration. Many of the operations that were carried out in the past years bore the hallmarks of Israel. Therefore, the government must take measures to protect security and stability against possible Israeli targeting.”
He noted that Israelis entered Lebanon with European and non-European passports in the past.
Fadlallah explained that his bloc called on the government to “be stricter toward travelers who enter Lebanese territories with passports belonging to the states that were mentioned in the investigations into the assassination of Al-Mabhuh.”
He said: “If the security agencies achieved successes in uncovering spy networks and arrested Lebanese agents who worked for the enemy, this fact requires stepped up security efforts to prevent the Israeli intelligence from infiltrating by way of foreign passports.”
He added: “Hezbollah expects the government to take action after we called on it to do so at the chamber of deputies. We expect it to inform us of such action through the ministry concerned.”
Minister Barud described MP Fadlallah’s question as valid. He said: “This situation is not new. Perhaps, we took notice of this from the media. However, this issue is being followed by the specialized agencies, such as the public security directorate or other security agencies.”
He added: “The other part deals with forgery. Someone belonging to a certain agency may forge a passport. This issue is under control at Beirut Airport through advanced German-funded equipments that have been brought to Lebanon. These equipments can detect forged passports.”
In the past, Lebanon declared the area south of Al-Litani out-of-bounds for foreigners who do not hold a special permit from the army’s directorate of intelligence. It takes this directorate about 15 days to process requests in this regard before approving them.
On the other hand, Hezbollah laid down strict criteria for receiving foreign journalists following several incidents where Israeli journalists made infiltrations and bragged that they transmitted reports from Lebanon, as was the case with Lisa Goldman, correspondent for the Israeli television’s Channel 10. She corresponded with her television station directly from the Lebanese capital in June 2007.
A while later, the Yedi’ot Aharonot Newspaper’s correspondent, (Renat Makhlis), toured villages in south Lebanon and wrote her reports from there.
In 2002, Israeli journalist (Gideon Kots) entered the official venue of the Francophone summit in Lebanon before he was discovered and deported. This is the same way that Israeli Industry Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer used to enter Lebanon in 1975.