With Monday morning’s jaw-dropping sharing of a wealth of intelligence by the IDF about the Iranian drone crew it struck in Lebanon on Sunday, the power of Israeli intelligence became ever clearer.
The key to the IDF thwarting the planned attack by Iran on Israel was not merely that it identified the Lebanese operatives working with the Iranians who were en route to carry out their attack, but that it traced the presence of particular operatives involved in using drones on their way to the area before they got there.
Let’s analyze the information put out by the IDF. First, there were three casualties from the strike, two of whom were Hezbollah operatives being trained by Iran’s external intelligence Quds Force: Hassem Yussuf Zabib from Nabatieh in southern Lebanon, born in 1996, and Yasser Ahmed Tzahr from Beleide village, born in 1997.
According to the IDF, the two visited Iran several times this year and went through training targeted at operation of unmanned aerial vehicles and explosive drones at the Quds force base.
Stunningly, the IDF even published pictures of the two onboard a flight and near an airplane to Iran to take part in some of the training sessions.
According to IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis, the IDF was ordered specifically to strike Aqraba early Sunday morning after they received intelligence that the attack would happen on Sunday.
He said that the drones were like the kind used by the Houthis in Yemen against Saudi Arabia. Each of the drones could carry several kilograms of explosives and was supposed to be operated in conjunction with a group of Iranian pilots who arrived in Syria several days before, especially for this mission.
The IDF has not identified the name of an additional Iranian it said was killed in the strike.
From the above released intelligence, which is likely still only part of the full picture, part of the key is that the IDF has been watching these two individuals.
Even nearly 20 years ago, when Israeli intelligence pulled off one of its best coups of all time, tracking and capturing the Palestinian terror Karine A massive weapons boat through the Indian Ocean and deep into the Red Sea, a huge key was tracking the movements of four or five individuals who it knew were part of the Palestinians’ smuggling network.
Tracing those individuals, and likely tracing these two Hezbollah operatives, invariably includes old-school intelligence like HUMINT, or human spying provided by the Mossad.
Israel has confirmed through various leaks that dozens of Mossad agents penetrated Iran in order to pull off its appropriation of Tehran’s secret nuclear file in January 2018.
So, even as the CIA’s network in Iran was purged at least once in the 2010 to 2013 period due to security breaches, and the Iranians recently claimed to have purged a newer CIA network trying to track its illicit oil shipments, the Mossad likely still has found a way to have physical agents deep in the Islamic republic.
These agents could be responsible for the footage of the Hezbollah agents traveling on the airplane to Iran, but more likely is that one of Israel’s many cyber arms hacked a phone or video camera on or near the various airplanes. The photos appear like they were taken by the Hezbollah operatives to show off.
Other tracing of these operatives, including video footage of some Quds Force operatives taking what appears to be an Iranian drone out to prepare it for a strike, could have been accomplished by Israeli drones, the IDF’s F-35, Mossad or IDF special forces in the field or again by hacking some kind of Hezbollah video feed nearby.
The intelligence also makes it clear that Israel’s network for tracking these Hezbollah agents was spread out over multiple countries.
All of this highlights that often a key to preventing disastrous attacks on Israel is not merely having an answer once the attack is in motion, but having unmatched intelligence prior to the attack so that the rug can be pulled out from beneath the feet of the attackers before they have been able to “hit the on button” for their attack.
There are some good questions to ask about what information security Israel may have compromised by sharing this information with the public and what the motivations for sharing it really was, which could be anything from psychologically beating Iran in public to politics.
But Monday morning’s information showed unmistakably once again that in the arena of Middle East intelligence, Israel is second to none.