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In southern Lebanon, strange calls precede Israeli strikes

Photo: Jalaa Marey Agence France-Presse Israeli bombing of the Lebanese town of Adaissé on January 18

Layal Abou Rahal – Agence France-Presse in Beirut

January 19, 2024

  • Middle East

“Hello ma’am, this is the bank, you are at home ?” Since the start of violence between Israel and the Lebanese movement Hezbollah, residents of southern Lebanon have received strange calls , just before targeted Israeli strikes.

The interlocutors claim to be carrying out a census, distributing aid or working for public institutions, but the calls are attributed by Lebanese and Hezbollah security officials to Israel.

Oum Hussein, a septuagenarian from the village of Khiam, received a call from a bank last week, asking her to come and withdraw a sum of money even though she has no bank account, her husband tells AFP. grandson, Hassan Choukeir.

“She was asked if she was in Khiam and the call ended when she replied that she was in Beirut,” he adds. Shortly after, an Israeli strike targeted the house next to his in the village, according to his grandson.

Similar incidents have been repeated in recent weeks in southern Lebanon, from where Hezbollah has launched daily attacks against Israel since the start of the Gaza war on October 7, in support of Palestinian Hamas .

Israel responds by bombing border villages, and the violence has left more than 190 dead in Lebanon, including at least 141 fighters from Hezbollah, which has a strong presence in the south of the country.

On the Israeli side, 15 people died, including nine soldiers and six civilians, according to the Israeli army.

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“Blind the enemy”

In a press release, Hezbollah asked the few inhabitants of border villages, most of them deserted due to the violence, not to answer questions from unknown Lebanese numbers.

“The enemy is exploiting this information to ensure the presence of our fighting brothers in houses that it intends to target,” warned the party.

According to a security source, the intelligence services of the Lebanese army and the police attribute these calls to Israel which would have succeeded in penetrating the Lebanese telecommunications network.

According to the source, Israel used this tactic several times before targeting Hezbollah fighters holed up in homes.

On November 22, a strike targeted a house in the village of Beit Yahoun, killing five Hezbollah fighters, including the son of the head of the party's parliamentary bloc, Mohamed Raad.

The owner of the house had received a call shortly before the strike, the caller ensuring that the family was not at home, indicates the security source.

Asked whether these calls were made by Israel, a spokesperson for the Israeli army told AFP that they “could not answer”.

Israel has also hacked private surveillance cameras in front of homes or businesses in border villages, according to Hezbollah.

The party asked residents to turn them off to “blind the enemy”.

A southern resident told AFP on condition of anonymity that he had disconnected the cameras installed around his house from the Internet at the request of Hezbollah.

Lack of protection

According to the security source, three Lebanese suspected of espionage were recently arrested. One of them is said to have scanned the wifi networks of homes in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a stronghold of Hezbollah.

Fighters from the powerful Shiite movement said they targeted dozens of spy devices and cameras installed on towers and in Israeli military centers on the border with Lebanon after the start of the conflict.

Since then, Israel has resorted more to calls and hacking of surveillance cameras according to the pro-Iranian formation.

Abed Qataya, director of digital content at SMEX, a digital rights organization, told AFP that piracy is due to the fact that Internet communication and phone calls are rarely encrypted .

According to him, private surveillance cameras are connected to a mobile application downloaded by the user and the Internet connection is often “unencrypted, which makes it easier to hack”.

“Israel has a long history of espionage techniques,” he recalls, adding that communications infrastructure in Lebanon, in the midst of an economic collapse, is poorly protected.

On January 7, terminal screens at Beirut airport suffered a cyberattack, with hackers displaying messages hostile to Hezbollah. The authors have not been identified.

“The Lebanese State has no expertise in cybersecurity,” admitted the Minister of Public Works and Transport, Ali Hamié.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116