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21 Dec 16. A senior Israeli defense official on Wednesday confirmed what US experts had been questioning for more than a month: that US troop carriers provided by Washington to Beirut are being operated by Hizbollah in Syria in support of the Bashar Assad regime, which experts note as a violation of export controls. In a briefing to reporters here, the official said he did not know for sure if the M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs) “were given voluntarily or if they were overtaken.” However, he said he believed the transfer was the result of “a kind of a deal” between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the designated Shiite terror organization. The official presented a photograph taken in November of parallel columns of US-origin APCs bearing the distinct yellow flags of the Lebanese-based Party of God. When similar photos, taken in the Syrian city of Qusayr, first appeared on social media last month, US experts were unsure whether the APCs came from the LAF or were vestiges from the Israel-allied South Lebanese Army, whose war stocks were seized by Hizbollah following Israel’s 2000 Lebanon withdrawal.
But the senior official here said Israel has no doubt the APCs were transferred to Hizbollah from the LAF.
“We recognize these specific APCs according to some specific parameters. We know these were given to the LAF. It’s not an assumption. These were given to them by the USA.”
And while the official did not specifically mention US export control laws or violations thereof, US experts said his unequivocal confirmation of cross-border transfers of US-origin equipment from the LAF to Hizbollah is clearly illegal.
“If these APCs came from the LAF, it’s a violation of US law. It doesn’t really matter if they were willfully provided or if Hizbollah took these across the border,” said Lee Smith, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.
“What’s important is the sovereign government in Beirut didn’t stop them. It means either they can’t protect their territory and defend their borders or – even worse – they are facilitating Hizbollah’s war in Syria,” Smith said.
He added, “This goes way beyond M113s. The issue here is to what extent the LAF has become an auxiliary force for Hizbollah. And the fact that US taxpayers are effectively supporting Hizbollah’s war in Syria is appalling.”
In his briefing to reporters here, the Israeli official stressed that Israel has no offensive intentions in Lebanon and understands that Beirut needs military forces to assert its sovereignty and counter the capabilities of Hizbollah. Nevertheless, he noted that with this week’s formation of a new government in Lebanon after 30 months of limbo, it appears that Hizbollah is “tightening its grip” on the government and Lebanese institutions.
The Israeli official cited two senior Lebanese security officials – Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, head of the Lebanese General Security Directorate; and Brig. Gen. Camille Daher, head of Lebanese military intelligence – who “are very close to the Hizbollah leadership.” Moreover, he presented photos depicting combined LAF/Hizbollah operations and observation towers “all along the border” which he said “came from Hizbollah.”
“The question for the international community is how independent the new government in Lebanon will be,” the official said. “Our interest is for the new government to make a better Lebanon… as long as it’s not a country run by Hizbollah.”
Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the assessment by the Israeli official should trigger serious questions in Washington. “The US has invested in the myth that its considerable support for the LAF is to serve as a counterweight to Hizbollah and help establish it as the sole provider for security in the count