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LEBANON: Israel alarmed over reports of new U.S. weapons

November 25, 2008 |  7:23 am

Gulfwar_tank200 The United States is planning to boost its military support to Lebanon’s army with high-tech tanks, Lebanese media reports said late last week.

Israeli officials expressed their concern over the alleged news stating that the new weapons might fall in the hands of the Muslim Shiite militant group, Hezbollah.

The Lebanese daily An-Nahar reported last Friday that the United States was going to provide Lebanon with dozens of M60 battle tanks to be shipped in batches starting early 2009.

The assault tanks in question are U.S.-made all-purpose vehicles with advanced firepower and mobility at night and under conditions of limited visibility.

While superseded by the M1 Abrams, the M60 series remains in service throughout the world. Egypt has the most, with 1,700, Turkey is second with more than 900 and Israel is third with more than 700.

U.S. officials did not comment on the news. It coincides with the visit of U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence James Robert Clapper.

Clapper, who arrived in Beirut on Sunday evening and is staying until Wednesday, met with Lebanese defense minister Elias al-Murr.

He is responsible for overseeing and providing policy and budgetary guidance to defense intelligence agencies, especially the National Security Agency (NSA) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

In past years, the U.S. has significantly boosted its military aid to Lebanon, providing the army with ammunition, communication devices and Humvees. But Lebanese military experts say that this kind of military assistance is not enough to lift the capacity of an army with ailing equipment.

Israeli military officials reportedly frowned upon the alleged U.S. offer to provide Lebanon's army with more advanced weapons, according to Israel’s national news.

"There is a possibility these tanks will fall into Hezbollah's hands," one official told the Jerusalem Post. "At the moment, Hezbollah does not yet have heavy armor in its arsenal."

But some military officials toned down the impact these weapons would have on the Jewish State.

"Hezbollah's strength is that it is a guerrilla force that does not operate in a conventional manner," another official told the Israeli daily. "Tanks are easy targets from the air and from the ground."

Meanwhile, the ongoing bickering between Israel and Hezbollah continued. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that the militant group had greatly improved its capabilities since the 2006 war, Israeli media reported on Monday.

"Hezbollah has three times the ability it had before the Second Lebanon War and now has 42,000 missiles in its possession, as opposed to the 14,000 it had before the war," Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

He warned that in view of Hezbollah’s integration into the Lebanese government, Israel would bomb Lebanon’s infrastructure in case of a military confrontation between the two countries.

Hezbollah ruled out this possibility anytime soon.

The group's international relations officer Nawaf Moussawi told the daily al-Akhbar in an article published Tuesday:

"The Israelis, unlike what is being said, are not ready for any field battle. ... The resistance in Lebanon is more ready than the Israeli army to engage in a military battle.”

Last week, the Arab satellite TV, Al-Arabiya, reported that Hezbollah was conducting military drills in southern Lebanon, south of the Litani River.

Hezbollah had agreed to stop any activity in that zone under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought to a halt the summer 2006 war.

According to Al-Arabiya’s report, live weapons were not used during the maneuvers, which were aimed at simulating a secret deployment of operatives in the mountains in the south of the country, near Israel.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: An M60 battle tank. Credit: npr.org

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