In other words, they haven't a clue

March 5, 2011

In News

Special: Ynet offers rare glimpse into Nasrallah’s life in hiding, secret bodyguard unit

Yoaz Hendel

Senior officials who wish to meet him and even representatives of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards do it at a central bunker; Nasrallah arrives for such sessions under heavy security and a veil of secrecy. The views regarding his hideout the rest of the time are inconclusive.

An Israeli intelligence official estimates that Nasrallah leads a life similar to that of a wanted terror suspect in the territories. He sleeps at various sites, meets his family infrequently, and runs his guerilla empire via decoded technology provided by the Iranians.

However, Colonel Shlomo Mofaz, the former deputy head of the army’s research division, says that Nasrallah is unlikely to conduct himself like a Gaza fugitive. “We are talking about a man with great self-respect; a man who is above the masses…a man like him does not dart from one place to another. Nasrallah has an underground system of bunkers where he spends most of his day.”

Is Nasallah hiding in Beirut? (Photo: Reuters)

Intelligence officials do agree about Nasrallah’s general location. “In order to continue to run the organization and be close to the decision-making center, he must be in the Beirut region,” a defense official who made Nasrallah his life’s work says. “The chances that Nasrallah chose the Sunni or Shiite quarters as a hideout are slim. The Dahiya neighborhood, Hezbollah’s former nerve center, is the most reasonable possibility.”

“It’s a crowded neighborhood that takes up several kilometers; Hezbollah’s operations and communication centers are located underneath it to this day. Since the Second Lebanon War, and with Iran’s support, Hezbollah boosted its fortification and infrastructure,” he said. “This complex is also connected in one way or another to the Iranian embassy. Nasrallah stays there and manages the organization’s daily activity from there. When he needs to move somewhere, he does it secretly.”

In his day-to-day life, Nasrallah maintains contact only with one close circle of associates. Most of them are members of his bodyguard unit. “Nasrallah undertakes major screening,” says Colonel Mofaz. “Hence, as is the case with other terror leaders, the close circle around him comprises relatives and people he trusts.”

This is confirmed by Shiite websites maintained by Nasrallah’s fans. The fear that Israel will penetrate his close circle prompted him to disengage from anyone he doesn’t know or doesn’t fully trust. Even in his central bunker, Nasrallah is surrounded by a secret bodyguard unit established by Hezbollah. The unit is so secretive because Nasrallah fears that should the identity of his guards become known, the Israelis would manage to reach them. 

Nasrallah’s bodyguards  

The members of the Shiite bodyguard unit are distinguished Hezbollah men who had proven their loyalties and fighting skill. The unit expanded in the wake of the Second Lebanon War and today comprises 19 men, all tasked with safeguarding the secretary general. Bodyguards are recruited after several years of field service.

A Shiite youngster who wishes to become Nasrallah’s bodyguard must undertake basic and advanced training, which usually takes place in northern Lebanon. After proving his skill in handling guns, explosives, communication equipment and anti-tank weapons, and especially after showing that he is ideologically fit for the job, a candidate is examined in the field. There is no shortage of tests under fire in Lebanon, and those who wish to stand out have an opportunity to do so.

In the next phase, the young men are sent to a Revolutionary Guards training camp near Tehran. Just like Hezbollah men earmarked for other posts, the bodyguards undergo additional basic training. Only after successfully completing this phase, Nasrallah’s guards advance to learning bodyguard techniques.

 The instructors are Iranian bodyguards who belong to the Revolutionary Guards and possess great skill. In a state where assassination attempts are a matter of routine, there is no other way.

The Second Lebanon War and Nasrallah’s move to the bunker forced his bodyguards to develop further skills. A defense official estimates that in recent years the guards have also turned into communication experts. They are responsible for connecting Nasrallah to the outside world by recording his speeches and facilitating coded broadcasts and calls.

Hence, any Nasrallah speech, whether recorder or live, is facilitated by his bodyguards. The fear of Israeli infiltration is so great that even employees of the group’s television station, al-Manar, are not allowed to enter the secret bunker.

Nasrallah speech (Photo: AFP) 

According to Shiite websites, the Hezbollah chief’s bodyguard unit is headed by Abu-Ali, Nasrallah’s son-in-law. He is also regularly escorted by Abu al-Fadel, a loyal sniper who has been trained by the Revolutionary Guards.

The spectrum of potential assassination scenarios faced by the bodyguard unit is wide. A Lebanese news website that is not associated with Hezbollah reports that when Abu-Ali married Nasrallah’s daughter, the groom’s mother wanted to offer sweets to party attendants. Despite the family connection and that fact that the mother was considered a trusted source, she was ordered to leave the sweet outsides – the fear of Israeli poisoning overcame the desire for traditional desserts.  

Nonetheless, is it possible to overcome all the security rings and pinpoint Nasrallah’s location? Israel’s intelligence community is considered a world leader in utilizing agents, but an intelligence official says that in Nasrallah’s case the mission becomes increasingly complex, even compared to radical regimes.

Israel could have targeted Nasrallah when he delivered his public speeches. Despite the potential collateral damage, at the end of the day this is mostly a matter of decision. And here we face the question of the benefit of assassinating the Hezbollah chief.  

Colonel Mofaz believes that killing Nasrallah would be good for Israel. “At this time I do not see a charismatic successor like him; a man who has the political clout, ties with the Iranians, and religious authority.”

  For the time being, Nasrallah continues to take over Lebanon and threaten Israel. Hezbollah in 2011 is no longer a small guerilla group, but rather, an organization that maintains major missile capabilities. In the midst of an unstable, volatile Arab world, Nasrallah is able to produce a steady, problematic threat against Israel. Most Israeli officials admit that killing him may prompt a powerful Hezbollah response. On the other hand, even if he is eliminated, the Iranian interest to maintain Hezbollah as a doomsday weapon may ensure a proportional response. Now, all we need is an opportunity and a decision.