For 25 years, Ali al-Jarrah managed to live on both sides of the bitterest divide running through this region. To friends and neighbors, he was an earnest supporter of the Palestinian cause, an affable, white-haired family man who worked as an administrator at a nearby school.
To Israel, he appears to have been a valued spy, sending reports and taking clandestine photographs of Palestinian groups and Hezbollah since 1983.
Now he sits in a Lebanese prison cell, accused by the authorities of betraying his country to an enemy state. Months after his arrest, his friends and former colleagues are still in shock over the extent of his deceptions: the carefully disguised trips abroad, the unexplained cash, the secret second wife.
Lebanese investigators say he has confessed to a career of espionage spectacular in its scope and longevity, a real-life John le Carré novel. Many intelligence agents are said to operate in the civil chaos of Lebanon, but Mr. Jarrah’s arrest has shed a rare light onto a world of spying and subversion that usually persists in secret. Mr. Jarrah’s first wife maintains that he was tortured, and is innocent; requests to interview him were denied.
How was he found out?
He was finally arrested last July by Hezbollah, which now has perhaps the most powerful intelligence apparatus in this country. It handed him to the Lebanese military — along with his brother Yusuf, who is accused of helping him spy — and he awaits trial by a military court.
Hezbollah is a significant force in the country.
It is not the family’s first brush with notoriety. One of Mr. Jarrah’s cousins, Ziad al-Jarrah, was among the 19 hijackers who carried out the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, though the men were 20 years apart in age and do not appear to have known each other well.
It all came to an end last summer. He went on a trip to Syria in July, and when he returned he said he had been briefly detained by the Syrian police, his first wife said. He seemed very uneasy, not his usual self, she said.
He left the house that night, saying he was going to Beirut, and never returned, Mrs. Jarrah said. Only three months later did she get a call from the Lebanese Army saying it had taken custody of him.
A few weeks ago, Mrs. Jarrah said, she was allowed to see him. He looked terrible, exhausted, she said.
Lebanese security forces released a photograph of Mr. Jarrah, taken before his arrest. In it, he appears against a blue and white backdrop, dressed in a formal dark shirt, wearing an enigmatic smile.