Israel and Hizbullah are locked in a shadowy technological duel, the Beirut Daily Star reports.
Israel has reportedly made extensive use of reconnaissance flights using unmanned ariel vehicles, or drones, wire taps, GPS devices planted in Hizbullah vehicles, and hidden surveillance devices incorporating long-range cameras which transmit data via short-burst transmissions to gather intelligence on the Lebanon-based Hizbullah terror organization, whose internal security have a formidable reputation for rooting out would-be infiltrators.
Analysts and observers generally focus on Hizbullah’s acquisition of new weapons, such as long-range guided rockets or anti-aircraft systems, but more and more, Hizbullah has been working to up its communications and signals intelligence game vis-a-vis Israel.
The extent of the organization's technological successes remains unclear, but there were hints during second Lebanon War in 2006 when Hizbullah communications personnel allegedly overcame the Israeli army’s frequency-hopping encrypted radios system to intercept and translate communications traffic and pass on the information to their field commanders.
When Israel electronically jammed the airwaves in front line areas during the war, knocking out the mobile and satellite phones of journalists, Hizbullah claims its fighters were still able to communicate with their walkie-talkies because their technicians were able to discover which frequencies Israel blocked and thus instruct cadres to switch to clear channels.
Fighters in Bint Jbeil, Hizbullah claims, even broke the encryption on radios used by Israeli soldiers to send taunts as part of an ad hoc psychological warfare campaign. Israel, maintaining its customary silence on such matters, will not comment on the truth of Hizbullah's frequent assertions of success.
Since the end of the second Lebanon war, both Israel and Hizbullah have been trying to outwit one another, the Star claims. The assertion is not without precedent. A similar competition of one-upmanship was fought in the 1990s over the increasingly complex and deadly design of roadside bombs in what Brigadier General Amos Malka, the head of Israeli military intelligence in 1998, described as a “contest of technology and a contest of brain power.”
In the early 1990s, roadside bombs were typically simple Claymore-style directional devices triggered by a trip wire or remote radio control. By 1999, after Israel had developed various jamming and detection techniques, Hizbullah developed new roadside bombs in the form of explosively formed projectiles detonated by infra-red beams, which were hidden beneath hollow fiberglass rocks painted to match the local geology.
The nature of Israel's countermeasures to Hizbullah's new roadside bombs was never revealed to the public, but UNIFIL peacekeepers would typically only learn of each new bomb-making or counter-bomb-making development when it was exposed on the battlefield.
More recently, Hizbullah says it detected a tap on its fiber-optic network near Houla in October 2009. A team of Hizbullah technicians walked the line, checking the buried cable every few meters while allegedly being tailed by an Israeli UAV. Eventually, Hizbullah claims, it discovered a highly complex Israeli device consisting of an interceptor hooked into the fiber-optic cable, a transmitter and a battery pack.
Israel, who never confirmed the device was theirs, allegedly realized the device had been discovered and attempted to blow it up with booby-trapped explosives, but only the transmitter was destroyed. The explosion alerted UNIFIL and Lebanese troops – both of whom were unaware until then of the drama unfolding along the border.
When the peacekeepers and soldiers arrived to investigate, Israel was allegedly obliged to contact UNIFIL and warn them to stay away. The interceptor and battery pack were successfully destroyed the following day, but only after the equipment had been inspected and photographed by UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army.
Hizbullah claims it made similar discoveries last December, and in March, when Israeli surveillance devices were supposedly uncovered in the Sannine and Barouk mountains and near Naqoura.
Since early 2010, some UNIFIL battalions have reported picking up rocket launch signals on their ground radars. The radars show the source of fire inside Lebanon, track the trajectory and mark the impact point in Israel. Only there were no rocket launches.
UNIFIL says it has been unable to determine whether Hezbollah has found a way to trick radars by transmitting false launch signals or whether the fake readings are a form of Israeli interference.
Despite Hizbullah's frequent claims of technological success against Israel in the media, the Jewish state has maintained its customary, circumspect silence on intelligence related matters.
"Those who know, do not speak. Those who speak, do not know," the old adage goes.