The situation in Lebanon is getting worse: the Iranian-backed Shiite organization Hezbollah is being accused of eavesdropping on the communications of Christians. The political party that represents Christians in the Lebanese parliament is charging that Hezbollah has taken over the telecommunications network in several Christian towns in Western Lebanon.
Hezbollah members were seen installing telecommunications equipment near a church on the outskirts of the town of Zahle on September 15, The Daily Star newspaper reported. Zahle is a mostly Christian town whose residents were not very happy about the work.
“Installing this network is part of Hezbollah’s efforts to control the security of Lebanese society through eavesdropping on phone calls, and have its network illegally overlap with that of the date,” Zahle Member of Parliament Tony Abu Khater said. The American website The Blaze went even further, accusing Hezbollah of sending information from the intercepted communications to Iran.
Hezbollah’s action has inflamed tensions in the region; Christian politicians have asked Lebanon’s president and prime minister to intervene in the situation. A unit of the Lebanese army has been sent to Zahle to see what it can do. It isn’t clear what the army can do, because Hezbollah’s paramilitary forces are widely believed to be more powerful than Lebanon’s military.
Is Iran behind the Spying?
There’s a possibility that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (Iran’s equivalent of the Nazi SS) is behind the eavesdropping. Hezbollah was allegedly organized by the Revolutionary Guard in the 1980s, and it receives strong support from Iran.
The governments of the United States, Israel, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, the European Union, and a number of Arab states have designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Hezbollah is widely believed to be responsible for many terrorist acts, including the 1983 bombings of the U.S. embassy and a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Two hundred forty-one Marines died in that attack, which prompted the U.S. to pull out of Lebanon.
Hezbollah is also a strong supporter of Syrian dictator Bashir Al-Assad. Hezbollah troops are now fighting alongside Assad’s forces in the Syrian civil war. The war has taken on religious overtones because most of Assad’s opponents are Sunni Muslims, with Hezbollah being Shiite.
Danger to Lebanese Christians
This situation shows the perilous position that Lebanese Christians are in — a minority caught between Sunni and Shiite organizations. Many Muslims in Lebanon are suspicious of the Christians and consider them aligned with Israel and the United States.
Christians in Zahle have vowed to dismantle any new communications infrastructure that Hezbollah tries to install. They also threatened to rip out the cables Hezbollah installed if the Shite organization doesn’t do so. So far Hezbollah doesn’t seem to have commented on this incident.
The Daily Star reported that residents of Zahle said “a minibus with Hezbollah members arrived near St. Charbel Church on the eastern outskirts of Zahle at 5 a.m. Sunday to install the party’s own ‘telecoms grid.’” The residents said “other Hezbollah members were seen guarding the vehicle.”
“We first figured out that they were members of Hezbollah from their black cars with tinted windows. … We tried to tell them to stop working, but they ignored it,” one resident said.