In February, Lebanese journalist Mohammed Shoaib was arrested on suspicion of collusion with Israel’s Mossad spy agency. The writer who worked for Al-Jaras, confessed that the notorious spy agency secretly paid him to author “dozens” of anti-Hezbollah articles, receiving a paltry $30 to $70 per article.
In particular, Shoaib was tasked with writing hit jobs on the “Iranian occupation” of Lebanon, and falsely linking Hezbollah with the August 2020 Beirut port blast, drug trafficking, and murder of political activists.
It is also alleged that Mossad specifically requested his work incite hostility towards Palestinian refugees in the country who number almost 300,000. In all, Lebanon hosts more than 1.7 million refugees and has the largest per capita population of refugees in the world.
Roughly half inhabit camps administered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), where they endure abysmal living conditions, overcrowding, poverty, unemployment, lack of access to justice, and other unspeakable hardships. The 11-year, foreign-backed crisis in neighboring Syria has also prompted Palestinian refugees there – and Syrian citizens – to seek sanctuary in Lebanon.
Given Israel’s track record of multifaceted crimes against the Palestinian people, that they are targeting an already vulnerable refugee population for propaganda purposes is hardly surprising. Nonetheless, Israel is not the only hostile foreign country resorting to these tactics.
Leaked files reviewed by The Cradle reveal the British Foreign Office has for many years secretly meddled in Lebanon’s refugee camps, courtesy of ARK, a shadowy intelligence cutout run by probable MI6 operative Alistair Harris. London’s agenda is rather different than Tel Aviv’s, however – it seeks to subtly stir up revolutionary fervor, and exploit them as unwitting foot soldiers in its ongoing clandestine war against Lebanon’s ruling elite.
The documents indicate ARK has been operating in all 12 camps since 2009, implementing British-funded “programming” of various kinds. This experience has granted the company “granular understanding” of their internal political, economic, ideological, religious and practical dynamics, and led to the establishment of a “diverse delivery team” and array of “local contacts” with “access throughout all camps and gatherings,” meaning community-level discussions and activities of residents can be spied upon and influenced.
This intimate, insidious insight is reinforced by “daily monitoring of neighborhood-level WhatsApp groups,” with “any new information, such as affiliation between a local group and a faction, or conflict between factions” documented by ARK’s in-house “stakeholder tracker.”
Typically, ARK has engaged in small-scale initiatives in the camps, including the restoration of streets and cemeteries, recycling initiatives, assisting in the launch of small businesses, providing income to disadvantaged and disabled residents, creating nurseries and daycare centers, and even launching a community hub, Sawa Coffeeshop. It serves to this day as “a popular place for youth to gather and promote civic engagement in their community and a shared Palestinian identity that bridges factional differences.”
In submissions to the Foreign Office dating to May 2019, ARK proposed ramping up these activities significantly. It pledged to create “Community Leadership Committees” in each camp, composed of hand-picked “stakeholders” – including NGOs, youth activists, women’s organizations, and representatives of neighborhood armed groups – to identify “quick impact projects” that could be implemented therein. These projects aim to “counter threats to social stability in the camps, create or improve livelihood opportunities, and provide better access to services.”
A social media platform created by ARK, Nastopia – which boasted 20,000 “highly invested” followers on Facebook at the time, a figure that has almost doubled since – was forecast to be fundamental to these efforts.
The page, run by a 24-strong team of ARK-trained “youth reporters”, would be used to recruit local participants, increase awareness and demand for “community engagement and improved conditions” among camp residents. Other activities include the promotion of Foreign Office-financed projects and to publicize “success stories” generated by them, while “promoting Palestinian culture and a sense of belonging, and tackling social injustice.”
Nastopia was “already [an] effective voice for connecting Palestinian communities, particularly youth” by that point. ARK cited a recent “Camps Films Festival” organized by the platform, covered by Al-Jazeera, which showcased “films portraying life in the camps and what it means to be Palestinian,” and in the process provided “positive examples of a shared identity.”
All along, the Nastopia page was to be monitored with “community feedback” on the assorted initiatives gauged to identify areas in which these activities “could be adapted to maximize impact.” Specialist training provided to its staff meant the platform could also serve “as a forum for online and offline discussion about social injustices [and] virtual space to talk about topics considered taboo in the camps,” allowing ARK to burrow even deeper inside the heads of refugees.
If the obvious surveillance and manipulation dimensions of ARK’s project weren’t troubling enough, it takes on an acutely sinister character when one considers a key objective of “highlighting successful initiatives” in the camps was to “[enhance] the audience’s confidence in their own ability to contribute to social change.”
A Foreign Office-commissioned Target Audience Analysis conducted by ARK in March 2019 sought to pinpoint a segment of Lebanon’s population that could be mobilized to “affect positive social change,” and methods by which tensions between sectarian communities could be reduced, in order to unify them in opposition to the country’s ruling elite. Reading between the lines, it gives every appearance of a blueprint for the overthrow of the Lebanese government.
An ideal audience was duly identified, representing 12 percent of the population, who disavowed violence but did not reject “other forms of contentious politics,” and could be “influenced” to engage in “behaviors leading to positive social change,” such as protests and community initiatives.
The only questions for ARK were: “What might be done to enable other Lebanese to have similar confidence in their potential to contribute to positive social change?” and “how might this segment of the population … be grown to include a larger fraction of the public?”
The answer, ARK proposed, was to both covertly and overtly promote the message that “change is possible and ordinary citizens have a role to play in achieving change,” by way of propaganda campaigns and civil society initiatives “[highlighting] where change has been achieved or where threats to Lebanon’s stability have been countered.” This would demonstrate to the country’s diverse population that “barriers” to reform can be overcome, by taking matters into their own hands.
Providing evidence of “responsive government at local levels” was crucial for reinforcing “principles of active citizenship” among Lebanon’s population – and the analysis specifically cited Syrians and Palestinians, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, as representing an “important part” of the country’s demography, to be motivated in this manner.
In other words, Foreign Office activities in the refugee camps form just one fragment of a wider, clandestine, multi-channel assault on public perceptions in Lebanon that Britain has been waging against its democratically-elected government.
A mobilized force
One can judge these efforts by their fruits. In October 2019, seven months after ARK’s Target Audience Analysis was supplied to the Foreign Office, large-scale protests engulfed the streets of Beirut, which have ebbed and flowed ever since, and generated enormous amounts of western media coverage along the way.
The extent to which ARK’s Foreign Office-funded meddling in Lebanon influenced this incendiary unrest may never be fully quantifiable, but it may be significant that in July that year, thousands of refugees across several camps began demonstrating in unison, demanding the government immediately reform employment laws barring them as “foreign workers” from numerous professions.
This turmoil was arguably the spark that ignited the entire “October Revolution” – and in one of its Foreign Office submissions, ARK refers to how it “takes pride” in ensuring refugees recruited to its illicit schemes receive “annual leave, sick leave, and health insurance,” despite this not being “legally necessary” due to local legislation “discriminating against Palestinians.”
The influence of ARK on Lebanon’s impending general election in May, the country’s first since the riots began, is even more unambiguous. Several news outlets have hailed the unprecedentedly high profusion of young candidates vying for office – 80 in total, many of them women.
A clandestine Foreign Office project influenced by the aforementioned Target Audience Analysis sought to enlist Lebanese youth as “agents of change”, fostering among them a culture of active political participation, in order that they could better “hold political institutions and individuals accountable,” and increase “electoral participation” in favor of opposition parties.
Under its auspices, ARK convened “boot camps” in “priority areas” of Lebanon, cultivated “a national group capable of pushing for greater change” composed of young women, and created social media assets and youth-focused websites featuring political interviews, question-and-answer sessions, coverage of boot camp meetings, “calls to action,” and “humorous messaging campaigns.” Activity on these assets was scheduled to ramp up ahead of the 2022 elections.
Clearly, irrespective of the outcome of the Lebanon May elections, the ultimate victors won’t be the parties and candidates that secure office, or the average Lebanese citizens who elected them, but Britain – for whatever form the next government takes, one way or another, it will serve London’s financial, ideological, military, and political interests.