BEIRUT – An agent of Israel’s Mossad spy agency infiltrated the upper echelons of Hezbollah’s security apparatus and leaked information about the Lebanese-Shiite group for several years before being discovered and arrested recently, according to security officials and people in Lebanon familiar with the incident.
The espionage activities of the man, identified as Mohammed Shawraba, would represent one of the most significant security breaches of the highly secretive organization, which is a mortal enemy of Israel and classified as a terrorist organization by the United States.
The incident, which could not be independently verified, has been widely reported in the Lebanese and Arabic media as having helped Israel thwart numerous Hezbollah operations.
Hezbollah refuses to deny or confirm the reports that say Mr. Shawraba had fed the Mossad with intelligence on the Lebanese group’s foreign-operations unit, which he headed since 2008.
“Hezbollah uncovered and arrested Mohammed Shawraba, and they consider his arrest a significant achievement despite the blows that his activities dealt to their operations,” said one official familiar with the incident.
Mr. Shawraba was apprehended with assistance from Iranian intelligence, said the official, who added Hezbollah had become increasingly suspicious of a mole within its highest ranks. Iran, also an enemy of Israel, is the Shiite group’s foremost ally.
Hezbollah and Israel fought a devastating 34-day war in 2006, and they also have spent years countering each other through acts of espionage. That has involved activities such as Israel planting listening devices on Hezbollah’s telecommunication networks, including one that exploded and killed a member of the group in September who was attempting to dismantle it, the group said.
Israel is also believed to have been involved in the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, a senior Hezbollah operative who was killed by a car bomb in Damascus in 2008.
AFP/Getty ImagesA wrecked car sits at the site of a car bomb attack in Damascus late Feb.12, 2008 that killed one of Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah’s top commanders, Imad Mughnieh.
The Bulgarian government formally accused Hezbollah of bombing a bus carrying Israeli tourists two years ago in the resort city of Burgas. Hezbollah denies involvement in the attack, which killed six people.
Citing an unnamed security source, the Lebanese English-language Daily Star reported Mr. Shawraba was being tried in a Hezbollah court. He was arrested with four other people who worked for him in the foreign-operations unit, which works against Israeli interests in foreign countries.
Hezbollah had become suspicious of him after five attempted retaliations against Israel over the Mughniyeh killing had failed, the newspaper said.
Lebanon’s Elnashranews website also reported Mr. Shawraba, who is believed to come from a village in southern Lebanon, once even headed the security detail for Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah.
Hezbollah’s response is basically an admission that this happened
Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, said Hezbollah appears to have been caught off-guard by the flurry of news reports about Mr. Shawraba. Its response indicates it wants to reassure supporters the problem has been resolved, he said.
“Hezbollah’s response to this is very deliberate, and it’s a response that was certainly decided on by the senior leaders, even Hassan Nasrallah himself,” he said.
“The public is now entirely aware of this, and Hezbollah’s response is basically an admission that this happened.”
Mark Heller, a research associate at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, expressed doubt Hezbollah would retaliate over the issue of an Israeli agent in its organization. The group is too focused on its military operations in Syria, which involve fighting the armed opposition to the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.
“I doubt that at this point they’re interested in an escalation with Israel,” he said.
Hezbollah has previously said publicly it has been infiltrated by foreign intelligence agencies. In 2011, Mr. Nasrallah announced that two Hezbollah members had confessed to working as agents for the Central Intelligence Agency.