Tel Aviv, Asharq Al-Awsat- After several days of investigation into the manner in which Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah traveled to Damascus, and following questions in the media and the Israeli political arena with regards to Israeli intelligence failures, a senior security source in Tel Aviv revealed in a statement that Nasrallah had traveled from Beirut to Damascus in an old modest-looking car in order not to attract unwanted attention.
The source said that Nasrallah arrived in Damascus on Tuesday and returned to Beirut on Thursday, during the joint press conference that was held by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Syrians were very careful to ensure that no pictures of Nasrallah in Damascus were published until after he had left the city. No information is available in Beirut on this issue as Hezbollah refuses to comment on any security issues and in particular the movements of its Secretary-General. However other information indicates that Nasrallah remained in Damascus following the end of Ahmadinejad’s visit where he met with the Syrian President again.
Nasrallah’s appearance in Damascus angered many Israeli security experts and mocked the capabilities of Mossad, as the Hezbollah leader was able to travel to and from Damascus in safety at a time that Israel claims to have largely restricted Nasrallah’s movements. Some people have connected this intelligence oversight to the failures in the assassination of senior Hamas military figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh which took place in Dubai in mid-January. This is not to mention several statements by senior Hezbollah figures proclaiming that Hezbollah was able to mislead and surprise Israel with Nasrallah’s visit to Damascus.
In response to these statements, a senior Israeli security source responded to this with statements published in the Israeli Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper yesterday in which the source said that Hassan Nasrallah has disappeared from view since the second Lebanese war, moving from one Beirut safe house to another in constant fear of assassination. The source said that a select few number of individuals are aware of the Hezbollah chief’s movements however Israeli is monitoring him, and is aware that Nasrallah visits Damascus approximately three times a year. The source said that Israel receives information about Nasrallah’s visits to Damascus, and how he meets there, in a timely manner, however in some cases this information is a little late. The source also told the Israeli newspaper that “we created several opportunities that we could have exploited [in order to assassinate Nasrallah] but we preferred to refrain from doing so for our own reasons.”
According to the Israeli source, Nasrallah declined to travel to Damascus by private jet for fear that the Israeli Air Force might shoot him down, he also declined to travel on a civilian plane as he would be instantly recognized even if he was in disguise. As a result of this, according to the source, Nasrallah chose to travel to Damascus by car. According to the source, since Nasrallah was in need of a convoy of cars in order to transfer his bodyguards to Damascus, but at the same time did not wish to draw attention to himself Hezbollah leaked news that deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem would be traveling to Damascus in order to participate in the summit with al-Assad and Ahmadinejad.
At the same time, Nasrallah traveled to Damascus in a modest car, along with his personal aide Hassan Khalil, and senior Hezbollah figures Mohamed Yazbak and Ibrahim al-Amin. Yazbak and al-Amin attended the meeting with Ahmadinejad [and Nasrallah] which was also attended by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Iranian ambassador to Damascus, Hojatoleslam Sayyed Ahmad Mousavi.
The source continued narrating details surrounding Nasrallah’s journey to Damascus, and he claimed to Yedioth Ahronoth that Syrian intelligence was waiting for Nasrallah at the Syrian border, and they transferred him to the Syrian Presidential Palace where he remained for the duration of his visit.
As for the connection between the Israeli intelligence failure to discover that Nasrallah was travelling to Damascus and the Dubai assassination, Israeli Minister of Trade and Labor, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, told the Israeli army radio that “the Mabhouh assassination was not a failure…I am addressing the results.” Asked whether he was admitting that Mossad was responsible for this assassination, he answered “I don’t know if it was us or not us” but added “the organization [Hamas] knows one thing – there is no one who can’t be caught up with or that can’t be reached. For me, this is deterrence.” Ben-Eliezer added that since Nasrallah had traveled to Israel in disguise he understands “that he is being watched, and this is what matters.”
As for the Tehran conference, a number of organizations in the Middle East are set to attend this, including Hamas leader Khalid Mishal and Hezbollah deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem. Sources claim that Hassan Nasrallah was set to attend this conference himself, but that he changed his itinerary after it was revealed that three of those implicated in the al-Mabhouh assassination had traveled to Bandar Abbas, Iran, following the operation, from where they had traveled to Tehran and then Europe.