For those who are home, and for those who are on the way. For those who support the historic and just return of the land of Israel to its people, forever loyal to their inheritance, and its restoration.
Amir Kulick INSS Insight No. 129 September 10, 2009
In August 2009, Rawi Sultani, a young Arab resident of Taibe, was arrested on suspicion of having spied for Hizbollah. According to the indictment, Sultani contacted a Hizbollah agent last year while at a summer camp for nationalist Arab youth in Morocco as a member of the delegation of the Balad party. Sultani told his Hizbollah contact that he works out at the same gym as IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. The ensuing contact between Sultani and Hizbollah handlers, which lasted about a year, included a meeting in Poland and frequent communication in which Sultani was instructed to gather precise information about the security arrangements surrounding Askenazi during his routine visits to the Kfar Saba gym. In addition, Sultani was instructed to gather information about other senior personnel and potential targets for attack. On one level the affair may indeed be much ado about nothing, and as claimed by Sultani’s father and attorney, “His entire crime was boasting that he works out with the chief of staff at the same gym.” At the same time, it is one more in a series of incidents where Israeli Arabs have spied for Hizbollah. Thus the question is if there are distinguishing characteristics to this affair, or is it merely another attempt at espionage? The answer to the question may be found both at the personal level, i.e., the motivation for the action, and in the socio-political setting for Sultani's actions. On the personal level, Rawi Sultani was apparently ideologically motivated. As reported in the Israeli media, while at camp in Morocco Sultani contacted the Hizbollah agent who lectured to the campers on Hizbollah’s war against Israel. Sultani initiated contact with the Hizbollah representative to inform him that he had access to the Israeli chief of staff. Any individual who contacts an element hostile to Israel and volunteers information of this sort does so for two possible reasons: to receive money or some other benefit, or for ideological reasons. The immediate context in which the contact was made – after a lecture on Hizbollah’s struggle against Israel – and the fact that Sultani never collected any significant amount of money during the year he was in contact with his Hizbollah handler indicate that his actions were ideologically driven, and that he had a genuine desire to assist the Lebanese organization's campaign against Israel. Is this how the Sultani affair differs from the previous espionage cases? Judging at least from the incidents that have been publicized to date in which Israeli Arabs gathered information for Hizbollah, the answer is yes. In the vast majority of these cases, the accused were motivated by promises of drugs or money or both. The most famous of these incidents involved Omer al-Hib of Zarzir, who served as a lieutenant colonel in the Israeli army and was arrested in October 2002. Al-Hib was in contact with a Lebanese drug dealer named Kamil Nahara, who operated in southern Lebanon at the behest of a senior Hizbollah operative. Al-Hib and his partners, some of whom were family members who had also served in the IDF, were asked to gather information about IDF deployments on the northern border, supply military code maps, identify sites for tank ambushes, supply information about cameras and other intelligence gathering equipment placed along the bother, and so on. In exchange for this information, Hizbollah, which at the time was in control of the border area, approved the transfer of large amounts of drugs to the espionage ring. Al-Hib and his associates then sold the drugs on the local market. A similar incident was exposed a year later and likewise involved an espionage ring that dealt in security information in exchange for drugs. At the ring’s center was Saad Kahamoz, a resident of the village of Rajar, who was also recruited into Hizbollah by the Lebanese drug dealer Nahara and another Hizbollah operative. Kahamoz’s handlers demanded that he supply them with information of all types, starting with security in the north – assessments of IDF forces stationed in the region of Rajar, and photographs of IDF bases and other targets in the northern sector, such as Kiryat Shmona and the cable railway at Manara Cliff. In order to complete these missions and in order to bring the drugs into Israel, Kahamoz recruited a network of operatives that included a number of family members as well as a number of Israelis, including his domestic partner, a resident of Kiryat Shmona. In exchange for the information, the network received and then smuggled drugs into Israel through Rajar and succeeded in bringing over 4 tons of hashish into Israel. Similarly, in July 2006 Riyad Mazarib, a resident of the village of Mazarib in the Jezreel Valley, was arrested. He too had contacted a Hizbollah operative in order to deal in drugs, and provided him with information about developments in Israel during the Second Lebanon War. In February 2008, an IDF NCO, Louis Balut, a resident of the Galileean village of Fasuta, was also arrested and charged with passing on information to Hizbollah as part of a ring that was smuggling drugs into Israel. In this sense, the Sultani affair – assuming, of course, that he is guilty of the charges against him – is unusual and particularly worrisome. Perhaps the affair could be dismissed as a case of a wayward Arab youth with nationalist feelings: a member of Balad, a political party whose leader, Azmi Bashara, has also been accused of spying for Hizbollah. Bashara is suspected of having maintained a longstanding relationship with Hizbollah intelligence agents who were in charge of gathering information about Israel. Bashara allegedly regularly advised Hizbollah and provided various assessments to Hizbollah intelligence before the Second Lebanon War. When the war began, Bashara changed the nature of the information he supplied and started to advise the organization on how to conduct the campaign against Israel: he transmitted information that was meant to intensify the damage to Israel, and supplied information on possible targets for rocket fire. He is also accused of relaying assessments of possible Israeli responses should Hizbollah extend its missile range beyond Haifa. In addition, he advised Hizbollah how to conduct psychological warfare against Israel via media messages directed to both the Jewish and Arab populations of Israel during the war. According to the accusations still pending against him, Bashara received hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange. In the wake of these accusations, Bashara fled Israel. Indeed, as Balad has noted in its response to Sultani’s arrest: the crimes and suspicions attributed to Sultani “are very far from the party's political platform and its mode of activity.” Nevertheless, if we put the two cases – Sultani’s and Bashara’s – together, it may be possible to conclude that Sultani’s actions are not completely isolated from their socio-political context that provided the camp experience in Morocco. In other words, Sultani acted within an environment that may be defined as enabling, even if formally, as noted in Balad’s response, the party’s political platform is binding on all its members and “sets clear boundaries for youth.” Using requisite caution, the public can infer that at least in Sultani’s case, it seems that the written guidelines were one thing and the actions were another. .
I visited Hevron in November 2000 after the outbreak of the Rosh Hashanah War to see what could be done to assist in the face of the growing daily attacks on the community. After returning to work for the community in the summer of 2001, a bond and a love was forged that grows to this day. My wife Melody and I merited to be married at Ma'arat HaMachpela and now host visitors from throughout the world every Shabbat as well as during the week. Our goal, "Time to come Home!"