- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

BEIRUT (AP) - A retired Lebanese general was arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel, a senior Lebanese security official said Tuesday, in the latest episode in the two countries’ long-running espionage war.

The detention of the ex-general from the General Security Department of the Interior Ministry is among several arrests in recent months that appear to be part of a stepped up campaign against those suspected of gathering information on Hezbollah militants for Israel.

The security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said the retired general told interrogators he had worked for Israel for more than 10 years and regularly met with his Israeli contacts at European destinations.

He also allegedly used the business he owned, which managed foreign domestic workers, as a cover for intelligence work, the official said.

Israeli government officials would not comment on the allegations. The man’s identity was not immediately clear.

The Lebanese security official said the ex-general had been under surveillance for three months and was arrested on Saturday. His wife also was questioned, he said.

It was also not clear what kind of information the general was privy to as an officer who left active service 11 years ago. But the newspaper al-Akhbar quoted another senior Lebanese police official as describing him as a “precious catch” and that the interrogation could reveal “a lot of important and sensitive information.”

Lebanon considers itself at war with Israel and bans its citizens from having any contact with the Jewish state. Israel and Hezbollah fought a brutal 34-day war in Lebanon in 2006. More than 1,200 people in Lebanon _ most of them civilians _ and 159 in Israel died in the conflict.

Since the end of the fighting, Lebanese officials say Israel continues to recruit and operate spies. Several arrests were announced in November and February.

Israel does not generally comment on Lebanese allegations of its spying activities.

The latest arrest comes after Hezbollah uncovered earlier this year what was believed to be a major breach of security within the secretive Shiite militant group, with the arrest of a car dealer in southern market town of Nabatiyeh on suspicion of working for Israel.

The dealer was picked up by Hezbollah in January and handed over to Lebanese authorities in February, Lebanese security officials have confirmed, without providing details.

But according to accounts of Lebanese observers familiar with Hezbollah’s activities and corroborated by security officials, the dealer had gained the trust of Hezbollah, providing credit facilities to its members and officials to purchase used imported cars from his dealership in the Shiite market town of Nabatiyeh.

A suspicious electronic device was discovered during a repair of one of the vehicles, raising the alarm of Hezbollah security. A search of other vehicles led to similar finds of hidden devices.

Those familiar with Hezbollah’s activities, who spoke on strict condition of anonymity because of the nature of the information, said the group immediately made major changes in its security measures and relocated officials whose movements may have been compromised.

In another case, Lebanese authorities in November announced that military intelligence had arrested two members of a spying network allegedly working for Israel who confessed to gathering information on the movements of local politicians.

The two were captured in the eastern Bekaa Valley bordering Syria and where Hezbollah is active. They had advanced communication equipment and cameras, according to official statements at the time.

All the suspects are still under investigation. Security-related cases often take months before formal charges are laid and sometimes years before going to trial. Hezbollah rarely comments on security matters.

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