by Ari Lieberman
Flush with cash, Iran’s terror proxy shows off its wares but the group should be careful what it wishes for.
Last week the Shia terrorist organization and Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, held a military parade in the city of Al-Qusayr, located in western Syria. The venue was likely chosen for its symbolism. In 2013, it was the site of fierce battles between the Free Syrian Army and Hezbollah. Though it suffered heavy casualties, the Shia terror group eventually gained the upper hand over the rebels and succeeded in ejecting them from the city and surrounding region.
The parade featured a wide assortment of Russian weapons including laser guided AT-14 Kornet anti-tank missiles, T-72 tanks equipped with reactive armor and R-330P electronic warfare vehicles. But among the weapons displayed, one stood out as a curiosity – the American made M-113 armored personnel carrier. The Hezbollah configuration mounts a twin 23mm anti-aircraft cannon that could also be used in an infantry support role.
The M-113 is essentially a battle taxi whose primary purpose is to ferry troop into battle while offering a measure of armored protection. It was introduced into the U.S. military during the early 1960s and is a versatile platform that has since been configured to take on a variety of roles including mortar and anti-tank missile carrier. One highly effective variant, known as the M163 Vulcan Air Defense System, mounts a six-barreled 20mm cannon.
Since its introduction, the M-113 has seen extensive service with the U.S. military and militaries throughout the world. The vehicle has been widely exported and is known to be in service with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). Lebanon is the fifth largest recipient of U.S. military assistance and U.S. military aid to Lebanon in 2016 totaled $216 million. The Pentagon and the State Department maintain oversight over all shipments to the LAF to ensure that the weapons are utilized for the purposes intended.
Hezbollah is lavishly supplied by Iran but there has been growing speculation that Hezbollah has been pilfering weapons from LAF stocks. The revelation of M-113s in Hezbollah’s arsenal has lent credence to this notion. It is also possible that Hezbollah captured the weapons from the now defunct South Lebanon Army (SLA). During the 1980s Israel transferred a small number of M-113s to the SLA. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, the SLA collapsed and its weapons, including M-113s, fell into the hands of Hezbollah.
The LAF has denied claims that it either supplied Hezbollah with U.S. equipment or turned a blind eye toward misappropriation but irrespective of how Hezbollah acquired the M-113s, it is clear that the aid given to the LAF by the United States is not being utilized for its intended purpose. As noted by the Weekly Standard’s Lee Smith;
“The 2016 appropriations bill to Lebanon stipulated that military aid must be used ‘to professionalize the LAF and to strengthen border security and combat terrorism, including training and equipping the LAF to secure Lebanon’s borders, interdicting arms shipments, preventing the use of Lebanon as a safe haven for terrorist groups.’ The military assistance was also intended to help Lebanon ‘implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701’—namely, disarming Hezbollah and helping the government of Lebanon take full control of all its territory.”
The LAF has failed to meet either criterion. By allowing Hezbollah to freely operate in Syria, the LAF has failed to secure the sovereign borders of Lebanon and is thus complicit in the misery being inflicted upon Syria’s civilian population by the Shia terror group. Moreover, not only has the LAF has failed to implement UNSCR 1701, it has taken a subordinate role to Hezbollah. In fact, in many instances, the LAF has acted as an auxiliary force to Hezbollah, coordinating military activities with the terror group.
The sad fact is that Lebanon is no longer a sovereign nation but has been transformed into a vassal state of the Islamic Republic. In Lebanon, Hezbollah, and by extension Iran pulls the strings. Anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional. The Saudis came to that morbid conclusion this year and consequently canceled a $3 billion aid package for the LAF to purchase French weapons. But the Obama administration, either because of wishful thinking or abject blindness, has failed to come to terms with this obvious fact.
Like the country in purports to serve, the LAF is a dysfunctional force divided along sectarian lines. There are certainly elements within the LAF who would want nothing more than to rid their country of the Hezbollah menace but they are too weak and ineffectual to mount any form of cohesive opposition. By contrast, Hezbollah, flush with cash facilitated by Obama’s agreements with the Islamic Republic, is a monolithic organization unfettered by divided loyalties. They obey their paymasters to the east without hesitation or equivocation.
As for the weak Lebanese opposition, Hezbollah has the capability of either killing or buying off those who don’t tow the party line. Sunni leader Rafik Hariri, one of the few personalities capable of mounting an effective political opposition to Hezbollah was assassinated by Hezbollah agents in 2005. By contrast, Michel Aoun, the current Christian and pro-Hezbollah president of Lebanon is almost certainly on Iran’s payroll. Following his “election,” which was orchestrated by Hezbollah, Aoun spewed anti-Israel vitriol but the comments were almost certainly for Hezbollah consumption.
But Hezbollah’s bombast comes with a cost. Its Al-Qusayr display demonstrates that the group is morphing into a conventional force. While that makes for good propaganda for the Shia folks at home, it also makes it easier for Israel to unleash the full brunt of its military might against the terrorist group.
In 2006, Israel utilizing a mere fraction of its military might, turned entire Shia sections of South Lebanon into wasteland and transformed the Hezbollah stronghold of Dahieh in South Beirut into a parking lot. The Second Lebanon War, as the 2006 conflict came to be called, claimed the lives of as many as 600 to 1,000 Hezbollah guerillas. Following the war, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, recognizing the extent of the devastation and loss, implicitly acknowledged defeat by expressing regret for having provoked Israel.
Hezbollah’s cynical exploitation of the civilian population however, prevented Israel from employing all resources at its disposal and limited Israeli freedom of action thus preventing further destruction. That will certainly not be the case in the third Lebanon war. Hezbollah should be careful what it wishes for.
Ari Lieberman is an attorney and former prosecutor who has authored numerous articles and publications on matters concerning the Middle East and is considered an authority on geo-political and military developments affecting the region.
Follow Middle East and Terrorism on Twitter
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.