Perspectives - April 1, 2021

U.S. Contractor Pleads Guilty to Sharing Classified Info with Hizbullah-Linked Man

Mariam Taha Thompson, a woman who worked as a contract linguist for the U.S. military in Iraq with a top secret security clearance, has pleaded guilty in the U.S. to sharing highly sensitive classified national defense information with a romantic interest linked to Hezbollah. Thompson was arrested last year in an espionage case that investigators said put the lives of American military members and confidential sources at risk and represented a significant breach of classified information.

During her plea hearing, Thompson admitted that beginning in 2017, she started communicating with her unindicted co-conspirator using video chat. Over time, Thompson developed a romantic interest in her co-conspirator, whom she learned had a relative in the Lebanese Ministry of the Interior, and that the unindicted co-conspirator claimed to have received a ring from Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. Following the U.S. airstrikes in Iraq that killed Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, the unindicted co-conspirator asked Thompson to provide Hezbollah with information about the human assets who had helped the United States to target Soleimani. Thompson began accessing dozens of files concerning human intelligence sources, including true names, personal identification data, background information, and photographs. Thompson passed this information on to the unindicted co-conspirator, who told her his Hezbollah contacts were pleased with the information, and a military commander in the group wanted to meet Thompson when she came to Lebanon. The FBI arrested her on February 27, 2020. 

Lebanon Approves Crisis Funding to Avert Power Blackout

On Monday, Lebanon's parliament approved $200 million in emergency funding to stave off a national power cut the energy minister warned would otherwise hit by the end of March. The decision came a day after one of the country's largest power plants, Zahrani in south Lebanon, stopped operating because it ran out of fuel.

U.S. Offers $10M for Hezbollah Operative Ayyash

The U.S. Department of State’s Rewards for Justice program offered a reward of up to $10 million for information on Salim Ayyash, a senior operative in Hezbollah’s Unit 121, the group’s assassination squad. According to the State Department, the “reward is also for information that leads to preventing him from engaging in an act of international terrorism against a U.S. person or U.S. property.”  The State Department claimed that Ayyash has been involved in efforts to harm U.S. military personnel. On December 11, 2020, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon sentenced Ayyash on terrorism-related charges pertaining to the February 2005 suicide truck bombing in Beirut that killed Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The tribunal found that Ayyash led the assassination team that attacked Hariri, and Ayyash was actively involved in the assassination on the day of the attack.

France Says 'Time Has Come' to Increase Pressure on Lebanon

In a continuation of its toughened rhetorical stance, the French government said Monday that the time has come to increase international pressure on Lebanon's political class to form a viable government. "The solution for ending Lebanon's crisis requires the creation of a competent government that is ready to work seriously and for the common good on implementing reforms that everyone acknowledges," France’s foreign ministry said in a statement. "After seven months of blockage, the time has come to increase the pressure for this to happen," it said.

Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker commented on the recent spate of French threats, noting that France is using the prospect of sanctions to pressure Lebanese officials into forming a cabinet but without imposing any. Schenker said: “The French have talked about sanctions since the port explosion, and President Emmanuel Macron mentioned earlier that France will punish those who obstruct the formation of the government within the French initiative, but all we see is obstruction and we haven't seen any sanctions.”

Iranian Delegation Meets Lebanese Maronite Patriarch, Urges Lebanese National Unity

An Iranian delegation led by Shiite cleric Hamid Shahriari met Wednesday with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in Bkirki, the seat of the Patriarchate. Shahriari is the general secretary of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought, established by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ostensibly to bridge the theological and jurisprudential gaps between Islamic sects and schools of thought – but in reality one of many ostensibly ecumenical tools intended to increase Tehran’s influence among Sunni Muslims. Shahriari was named to his post by Khamenei. “Experience has proved that when the sons of the Lebanese people showed national unity, they managed to defeat the aggression that was practiced against them,” Shahriari said after the talks. “National unity…will help Lebanon overcome this difficult, sensitive and critical stage so that it reaches the shore of safety and security,” the cleric added. Before this meeting, many had noted Rahi taking an allegedly tougher stance against Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, for being at the center of many of the country’s problems. Most recently, a leaked video of Rahi showed him criticizing the group for dragging Lebanon into several regional conflicts.

Iraqi Health Minister Arrives in Beirut with Medical Aid

Iraqi Health Minister Hassan Tamimi arrived Wednesday in Lebanon on an official visit, bringing medical aid. He was met at the airport by his Lebanese counterpart, Hezbollah-linked Hamad Hassan. Lebanese President Michel Aoun met with al-Tamimi and his accompanying delegation on Thursday, expressing his gratitude to Baghdad for agreeing to Beirut’s request for oil in exchange for medical services.

Nasrallah Addresses Gov’t Formation Impasse in Latest Speech

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday a serious, collective effort was underway to form a new government that can rescue the country from an unprecedented financial crisis. "Everyone must know the country has run out of time," the Hezbollah leader said in a televised speech. He added that there were "serious, collective efforts" in recent days to ease a political standoff that has obstructed Cabinet talks for months