A little over three months after actor Ziad Itani was arrested and accused of "communicating and collaborating with the Israeli enemy", the story turned out to be a total fabrication by an intelligence officer to further her career.
Anyone in Lebanon can fall victim to a police conspiracy. The ingredients are simple: a powerful individual decides to hurt you, a journalist spreads a fake story and the public opinion would be ready as to play judge, especially when the story involves treason and pornography.
According to new updates, Internal Security Forces captain Suzan Hajj Hobeiche made up Itani's crimes by hiring a hacker to create an internet trail between him and an imaginary Israeli woman named Colette, who according to the fake thread wanted to engage him in intelligence work.
It is understood that Hobeiche framed Itani because she was angry at him for taking a screenshot of her like of a Twitter post by director Charbel Khalil, in which he made fun of Saudi Arabia's decision to allow women to drive. This has caused her to be sacked as the head of the security service's Digital Crimes Unit.
However, it turned out that Hobeiche did not target the right person. Itani was not the one who screenshot her Twitter like; it was actually the manager of Ayoub News website a Mr Ashraf Rifi. He is a close friend of his namesake, the ex-general director of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces.
After the case was transferred from the General Directorate of State Security to the information department of the Internal Security Forces -- thanks to politicians' interference -- the new facts were finally unearthed. Hobeiche is now detained on charges of setting up Itani.
Everyone Is Targeted
Apart from the seriousness of the fabricated accusation triggered against Itani, the culprits did not settle for solely framing him, having demonized a myriad of public figures in Lebanon. The real masterminds of Itani's fake story are the ones who have to be held accountable.
The fabricated story could have only been about Itani's collaboration with Israel's intelligence, yet it was extended to claim that Mossad had commissioned the actor to establish a group aiming at "promoting normalization with Israel and Zionist beliefs among intellectuals", as described by a state security statement on 25 November. Certain TV commentators were said to be "targets Itani sought to approach with the intention of gathering information on their political and partisan tendencies", according to another state security statement issued on 28 November.
The fabricated story defamed a large group of intellectuals and politicians who adopt views opposing the Lebanese security mindset. According to a local news report that was based on anonymous sources, Colette told Itani that he "has to pick his targets based on their non-violent tendencies. They have to be liberals and supporters of peace in the Middle East. The purpose was to gather them in one active political and media current, which would promote peace and the Palestinian state solution, and would later normalize [relations] with Israel".
Boom! All liberals and those who renounce violence have become suspects.
It was also reported that Colette would check in a room at Al-Bustan Hotel along with another person who would train Itani.
Boom again! All civil society organizations that conduct training programs are not beyond suspicion. Al-Bustan Hotel was not a random choice; it does regularly host workshops held by these organizations.
Another local report reads: "The culture [scene], as we have been saying for years with no one listening, is a vital strategic field that is as dangerous as a military confrontation. Would we allow creativity and creative minds to be the Trojan Horse that breaks into the castle of patriotic awareness[?]...after the confessions of Ziad Itani...we will be more aggressive and suspicious".
A third Boom! Confronting creative minds is as important as military battles; everything is justified.
Conspiracy Gradually Paying Off
All developments were instigated in cold blood over the past three months. The General Directorate of State Security arrested Itani on 23 November after "investigations over the past months inside and outside Lebanese territories, and in accordance with directives and direct orders from the general manager, Major General Tony Saliba".
The actor's confession to the crimes were videotaped, according to the directorate's statement. However, his lawyer said he had been tortured to admit to crimes he did not commit. Itani stood trial on 28 November, before Military Prosecutor Peter Germanos accused him the next day of collaborating with Israel and possessing drugs. He referred him to Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghaida, before whom Itani retracted his confession.
On 2 March, Hobeiche was arrested, even though a dispute between the General Directorate of State Security and the Internal Security Forces' Digital Crimes Unite is yet to be concluded. "All Lebanese people are apologizing to #Ziad_Itani. Innocence is not enough," said Minister of Interior Nohad Machnouk in a tweet, stressing that the suspect was not guilty.
But hours earlier, the General Directorate of State Security said that casting light on Itani's case at this particular time -- ahead of the parliamentary election -- is a "huge favor for Israel by elements whose patriotism is questioned".
Itani is expected to be released soon. His case will be closed but many others will keep suffering the security apparatus' suspicions and ensuing incessant attempts to blemish their reputation.