The United States denied an Israeli claim that US-supplied armored vehicles seen being operated by Hezbollah in Syria had been given to the Islamist terrorists by Lebanon’s official army.
Last month, footage emerged of Hezbollah members operating M113 armored personnel carriers in Syria, where the terrorists — blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist organization — is fighting in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
On Wednesday, a senior Israeli military official speaking on condition of anonymity said Israel believes these vehicles were drawn from stocks supplied by Washington to the Lebanese Armed Forces.
But, in Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said US officials have investigated and do not believe that Lebanon has violated its agreement not to transfer on US-supplied equipment.
“When this allegation was raised in November, the Department of Defense did a structural analysis of the armored personnel carriers in question at that time and concluded that these vehicles were not from the Lebanese Armed Forces. Our assessment remains the same now,” Kirby told AFP.
“As we noted when this first came up, the Lebanese Armed Forces stated publicly that the vehicles depicted online were never part of their equipment roster,” he added.
“The LAF fully complies with end use monitoring requirements, continues to have an exemplary track record with US equipment and remains a valued partner in the fight against ISIL and other extremists,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
The United States supplies Lebanon’s official army with arms on condition they are for official use and would be obliged to review military ties if it were proved the APCs ended up in Hezbollah’s hands.
Pentagon spokesman Gordon Trowbridge told AFP that Hezbollah does indeed have a “small number” of M113 armored personnel carriers in its inventory.
“They’ve had them for a number of years,” Trowbridge said. “They could have come from a variety of sources because it’s a relatively common vehicle in the region.”
Neither US spokesman said where Hezbollah’s M113s might have come from if not from the Lebanese army.