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SHEBAA: Smoke billows from forest fires near the southern Lebanese village of Shebaa, close to the northern border with the Zionist entity, following the shooting down of a drone by the Zionist army on July 4, 2024. — AFP
SHEBAA: Smoke billows from forest fires near the southern Lebanese village of Shebaa, close to the northern border with the Zionist entity, following the shooting down of a drone by the Zionist army on July 4, 2024. — AFP

Pagers and drones: How Hezbollah aims to counter Zionist surveillance

BEIRUT: Coded messages. Landline phones. Pagers. Following the killing of senior commanders in targeted Zionist airstrikes, the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, has been using some low-tech strategies to try to evade its foe’s sophisticated surveillance technology, informed sources told Reuters.

It has also been using its own tech – drones – to study and attack the Zionist entity’s intelligence gathering capabilities in what Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has described as a strategy of “blinding” the entity. The sides have been trading fire since the beginning of the Zionist war in Gaza last year.

Tens of thousands of people have fled both sides of the border. Zionist strikes have killed more than 330 Hezbollah fighters and around 90 civilians in Lebanon, according to Reuters tallies. The Zionist entity says attacks from Lebanon have killed 21 soldiers and 10 civilians.

Many of Hezbollah’s casualties were killed while participating in the near-daily hostilities. Hezbollah has also confirmed the deaths of more than 20 operatives in targeted strikes away from the frontlines. Electronic surveillance technology plays a vital role in these strikes. The IDF has said it has security cameras and remote sensing systems trained on areas where Hezbollah operates, and it regularly sends surveillance drones over the border to spy on its adversary. The entity’s electronic eavesdropping — including hacking into cell phones and computers — is also widely regarded as among the world’s most sophisticated. Hezbollah has learned from its losses and adapted its tactics in response, six sources familiar with the group’s operations told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security matters.

Cell phones, which can be used to track a user’s location, have been banned from the battlefield in favor of more old-fashioned communication means, including pagers and couriers who deliver verbal messages in person, two of the sources said. Hezbollah has also been using a private, fixed-line telecommunications network dating back to the early 2000s, three sources said.

In case conversations are overheard, code words are used for weapons and meeting sites, according to another source familiar with the group’s logistics. These are updated nearly daily and delivered to units via couriers, the source said. “We’re facing a battle in which information and technology are essential parts,” said Qassem Kassir, a Lebanese analyst close to Hezbollah. “But when you face certain technological advances, you need to go back to the old methods — the phones, the in-person communications ... whatever method allows you to circumvent the technology.” Hezbollah’s media office said it had no comment on the sources’ assertions.

Low-tech measures

Security experts say some low-tech countermeasures can be quite effective against high-tech spying. “The simple act of using a VPN (virtual private network), or better yet, not using a cell phone at all, can make it much harder to find and fix a target,” said Emily Harding, a former CIA analyst now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. “But these countermeasures also make Hezbollah’s leadership far less effective at communicating rapidly with their troops.”

Hezbollah and Lebanese security officials believe the Zionist entity has also been tapping local informants as it zeroes in on targets. Lebanon’s economic crisis and rivalries between political factions have created opportunities for Zionist recruiters, but not all informants realize who they are speaking with, three sources said. On November 22, a woman from south Lebanon received a call on her cell phone from a person claiming to be a local official, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the incident. Speaking in flawless Arabic, the caller asked whether the family was home, the sources said. No, the woman replied, explaining they had travelled to eastern Lebanon.

Minutes later, a missile slammed into the woman’s home in the village of Beit Yahoun, killing five Hezbollah fighters including Abbas Raad, the son of a senior Hezbollah lawmaker and a Radwan member, the sources said. Hezbollah believes the Zionist entity had tracked the fighters to the location and placed the call to confirm whether there were civilians present before launching the strike, they told Reuters without disclosing further details. The Zionist military said at the time that it struck several Hezbollah targets that day, including a “terrorist cell”.

Within weeks, Hezbollah was publicly warning supporters via the affiliated Al-Nour radio station not to trust cold callers claiming to be local officials or aid workers, saying Zionists were impersonating them to identify houses being used by Hezbollah. It was the first of a series of strikes targeting key Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon. Hezbollah began suspecting that the entity was targeting its fighters by tracking their cell phones and monitoring video feeds from security cameras installed on buildings in border communities, two sources familiar with the group’s thinking and a Lebanese intelligence official told Reuters.

Security camera breach

On December 28, Hezbollah urged southern residents in a statement distributed via its Telegram channel to disconnect any security cameras they own from the internet. Hezbollah has also taken steps to secure its private telephone network following a suspected breach by the Zionist entity, according to a former Lebanese security official and two other sources familiar with Hezbollah’s operations.

The vast network, allegedly financed by Iran, was set up around two decades ago with fiber optic cables extending from Hezbollah’s strongholds in Beirut’s southern suburbs to towns in south Lebanon and east into the Bekaa Valley, according to government officials at the time. The sources declined to say when or how it had been penetrated. But they said Hezbollah telecommunications specialists were breaking it into smaller networks to limit the damage if it is breached again. “We often change our landline networks and switch them up, so that we can outrun the hacking and infiltration,” the senior source told Reuters.

The group has also been touting its ability to collect its own intelligence on enemy targets and attack the entity’s surveillance installations using its arsenal of small, homemade, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). — Reuters

Hezbollah says it has also shot down or taken control of half a dozen Zionist surveillance drones, including Hermes 450, Hermes 900 and SkyLark UAVs. Hezbollah operatives disassemble the drones to study their components, according to two of the sources. — Reuters

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