Lebanon’s General Directorate of State Security detained Lebanese actor and comedian Ziad Itani on Thursday and accused him of “collaborating with Israel,” it was revealed over the weekend. Itani’s arrest at his home in Beirut comes amid tensions between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and among Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
State Security said Itani had been under surveillance for “several months,” according to an article in Al Jazeera and other media. He was reportedly interrogated and “confessed” to meeting with Israelis in Turkey, and Lebanon said he provided the Israelis with “extensive” information.
Itani is known in Lebanon for hosting a comedy show and appearing in plays, including Beirut Tariq al-Jedideh. Some of his appearances can be found on YouTube.com. He was previously a reporter and, according to Middle East Eye, worked for Al-Mayadeen television, which is considered pro-Hezbollah and pro-Syrian government.
According to Al-Naher newspaper, he was detained from his home in Ain al-Remmaneh in mostly Christian East Beirut. He was accused of involvement in a plan to monitor Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk and Abdul Rahim Mrad, a former minister.
According to the newspaper, the actor-director-playwright, who was born in 1975, was allegedly “collaborating and communicating with the Israeli enemy. A specialized unit for State Security followed, monitored, tracked and investigated for several months inside and outside Lebanon on direct orders from Maj.-Gen. Tony Saliba.”
Saliba was appointed head of State Security in March 2017.
The report claimed that Itani was accused of “establishing a Lebanese network to support the concept of normalization with Israel, support Zionist ideas among the intelligentsia and provide his operators with reports.” The salacious details in Lebanese media also claimed that Itani was supposed to arrange a stay for a “female Israeli officer” contact at the Al-Bustan Hotel at Beit Meri on Mount Lebanon, east of Beirut.
The supposed targets of Itani’s collaboration include Machnouk, who is a member of Saad Hariri’s Future Party and a former adviser to Hariri’s father. Machnouk has been a powerful advocate of professionalizing the security forces in Lebanon and has encouraged closer cooperation between Lebanon and the international community in the war on terrorism.
On November 15, he responded to the Hariri controversy in Lebanon and the tug-of-war between Iran and Saudi Arabia by saying his countrymen were “not a herd of sheep whose ownership can be handed from one person to another.”
Mrad is a former minister of defense and education who once blamed the 9/11 World Trade Center attack on the Mossad.
The arrest of Itani comes after Lebanon claimed it had detained three “spies” in October, for allegedly giving Israel information on Hezbollah. In August, Lebanon claimed it found an Israeli spying “device,” and in January, it said it had arrested five spies, including a Nepalese worker and an Iraqi. In January 2016, Lebanon returned a vulture to Israel that it had initally said was used for spying.
While Lebanon has been spy-crazed over the years regarding Israel, the issue of “normalization,” for which Itani is also accused, has also been an issue for Lebanese. In October, Ramallah cancelled the screening of The Insult, a Lebanese-French film by Ziad Doueiri, after the director was accused of “normalizing” with Israel. In May, Lebanon banned the movie Wonder Woman because it features Israeli actress Gal Gadot.