Hezbollah fighters reportedly used Iranian-supplied technology to tap Israeli radio comms during last month’s war in southern Lebanon. The intelligence gleaned from these intercepts helped frustrate Israeli tank attacks, according to Hezbollah and Lebanese officials.
Military radio transmissions typically use frequency-hopping – switching between dozens of transmission frequencies per second as a means to frustrate jamming and interception – and encryption.
But troops in combat might sometimes make mistakes in following secure radio procedures, creating a possible means for Hezbollah eavesdropping teams to snatch valuable snippets of intelligence using kit capable of monitoring changing radio frequencies (if not capable of breaking scrambling codes).
Claims that Hezbollah fighters were able to use this intelligence to get some intelligence on troop movement and supply routes are plausible, at least to the layman, but ought to be treated with an appropriate degree of caution as they are substantially corroborated by anonymous sources.
“We were able to monitor Israeli communications, and we used this information to adjust our planning,” a Hezbollah commander told Newsday.
Although Hezbollah was unable to intercept Israeli communications at will, it did gain intelligence that allowed it to co-ordinate counter-offensives against Israeli attacks.
The Israeli military cited security concerns in declining to address the question of whether its radio communications were compromised. However, a former Israeli general told Newsday that Hezbollah’s signal intelligence capabilities seriously blunt the Israeli offensive. “Israel’s military leaders clearly underestimated the enemy and this is just one example,” he said.
The month long conflict ended with a UN brokered cease fire on 14 August. Hezbollah surprised its opponents by using new weaponry and battlefield tactics during the conflict, according to Newsday.
“The Israelis did not realise that they were facing a guerrilla force with the capabilities of a regular army,” a senior Lebanese security official told the magazine. “Hezbollah invested a lot of resources into eavesdropping and signals interception.”
Hezbollah (whose ranks include a number of individuals fluent in Hebrew) also monitored cell phone transmissions during the conflict, a far less technically onerous task, though still far from trivial, according to the Lebanese government source. Troops are trained not to divulge sensitive information during mobile phone calls.
These particular claims are substantiated by reports of a raid by Israeli special forces on a Hezbollah office during the conflict which uncovered a cache of jamming and eavesdropping equipment, along with maps of Northern Israel and the mobile phone numbers of Israeli commanders.