Avraham Sinai’s story is difficult to understand. Born 42 years ago in a Shi’ite village in eastern Lebanon, today he is an ultra-Orthodox Jew who studies in a yeshiva and is raising his seven children in Safed. On his walls are pictures of rabbis. His oldest son, Haim, served in the Givati brigade. His second daughter will be drafted soon. The younger children play Hizbullah terrorist and “shoot” each other.
Only the pita bread and the labeneh hint at the past of this ultra-Orthodox family from Safed, at its former life in Lebanon in the shadow of the Israel-Hizbullah war. Sinai has published a book about his road from Lebanon to Judaism, A Martyr from Lebanon: Life in the Shadow of Danger.
Today he is an integral part of the city’s ultra-Orthodox community, and his previous life seems very far away. His family was with the South Lebanese Army (SLA), a Lebanese militia closely allied with Israel. Sinai, however, says that his connection to Israel preceded the SLA-IDF alliance.
“In the early 1980s the Palestinian terrorist organizations controlled large areas of Lebanon. They were harassing the Shi'ites, and it was natural for us to help the Jews against them. My family had good relations with IDF intelligence. Since I was a child I remember IDF officers hanging around our house.”
Sinai says that at the age of 17 he began actively assisting Israeli intelligence, passing on information on the activities of the PLO and other Palestinian organizations in Lebanon. But then, he says, came the important chapter of his life, the one he is most proud of.
“After the power of the Palestinians declined, my handlers tried to convince me to join Hizbullah. At first I didn’t want to. It was frightening. But my handlers pressured me.”
How was the first contact with Hizbullah made?
“It was the period in Lebanon when everyone was fighting everyone else. The Shi'ite Amal organization was Hizbollah’s big adversary in the battle for control of the Shi'ites. I began passing information to Hizbullah about Amal. It was my first job with Hizbullah. They saw that they could depend on me, and that’s how I began to rise through the ranks.”
He has no pictures or documents to back up his story that he served for 10 years in Hizbullah, but Sinai insists he was a senior Hizbullah intelligence officer. He even claims that he met Abbas Musawi, who was then Hizbullah’s leader.
“He would come to our village to give a sermon. His speeches were cruel, and preached hatred and war against Israel. At the end of every sermon I shook his hand and we spoke. We became friendly. He knew me personally, and we would talk about operational matters as well. I haven’t met Nasrallah face to face.”
In 1992 Masawi was killed by the IDF. Israel had received information that allowed its helicopters to identify the car in which he was traveling. To this day the people who passed the information on Masawi’s movements have not been caught.
“They always suspected me of being in touch with Israel,” says Sinai. “I was interrogated after Masawi’s murder, but they concluded that I was clean.”
According to Sinai, his double life was hard. Nevertheless, in all his years in Hizbullah he never stopped passing sensitive and secret information to Israel on Hizbullah’s operational plans.
Are there specific activities that you can reveal?
“Once I knew about a car bomb that was on its way to the Israeli border to carry out a suicide bombing. I called my handler directly and reported to him about the car. Israel sent a helicopter into the air which shot the car and blew it up. I reported to my handlers on the movements of Hizbullah officers. Many officers were killed because of explosive devices that Israel hid as a result of information I conveyed. But a large part of what I did will only be able to be told after I’m dead.”
Fulfilling His Dream
Throughout those years he knew his time was limited, that his connection with his Israeli handlers would be exposed. One day, he relates, a relative of his came and told him that the Syrians had identified his conversations and meeting places with the Israelis.
“I knew that they were on to me,” he says. “I took myself and ran away to southern Lebanon. I circumvented the Syrian and Hizbullah checkpoints. They explained to me that my name and picture were being shown at the checkpoints, and if I went through there they’d catch me and kill me.”
According to Sinai, after being exposed he went to live in southern Lebanon and brought his family there. “There were SLA people in the south, and the IDF controlled the area. But then people from the Mossad came to me and said that it was too dangerous and that I had to go live in Israel.”
In 1997 he left southern Lebanon and moved to Safed. “I insisted that I wanted to live in a Jewish city. Even in Lebanon I dreamed of living in Israel. I would sit on Jebel Baruch, look at northern Israel, and dream that I was moving there.”
After fulfilling his dream and moving to Safed, Sinai decided that the time had come to convert to Judaism. “I told my wife that after all these things I'd gone through in Lebanon, I'd reached the conclusion that the truth is in Judaism.” A senior officer introduced him to Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who began the conversion process with him.
“One day an officer who had studied with me in the yeshiva came to me and told me that this man wanted to convert,” Rabbi Eliyahu relates. “The officer told me what had happened to Sinai, and after I confirmed the story we began the conversion process.” The rabbi is still accompanying Sinai on his Jewish journey, and the two have become good friends.
In the recent war in Lebanon Sinai personally experienced the Katyushas that were fired at Israel. Hizbullah’s professional ability did not surprise him. “Hizbullah is a very compartmentalized organization; its field security is very good. The terrorists in Bint J'beil didn’t know anything about the armaments of the terrorists in Ita a-Sha’ab, and vice versa.”
Sinai’s family doesn’t know much about the life he describes in his book. The family home looks like a typical ultra-Orthodox home. The young children don’t know a word of Arabic. The only hint of the family’s previous life is the food they eat.
Sinai is not especially concerned about whether his book will become a bestseller. After all, he is convinced he will have at least one reader: “I’m sure that Nasrallah will be the first to buy the book. I have no doubt that it will reach Hizbullah quickly.”