TEL AVIV – Images of Hezbollah’s military parade in Syria featuring U.S.-made armored vehicles have caused a stir in the Arab world, prompting questions as to whether the terror group stole them from the Lebanese military.
The M113 armored personnel carrier has been used by the U.S. in every major conflict since the Vietnam War.
Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem said the show of force proved that the terror group was now a “highly-trained, heavily-armed standing army” that no longer needs to rely on guerrilla tactics.
“This military parade is a clear and visible message to everyone and there is no need for clarification or interpretation of the meaning of that message,” he said.
However, Lebanon’s Gulf news site said Hezbollah issued a formal denial retracting Qassem’s statement on Thursday.
Citing defense analyst Tobias Schneider, The Washington Post reported that Hezbollah likely pilfered the personnel carriers from the Lebanese military.
Lebanon received about $221 million worth of military aid from the U.S. in 2016, with a $50 million summer shipment of artillery, grenade launchers and 1,000 tons of ammunition.
State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau responded to the images by saying the U.S. would be “gravely concerned if equipment ended up in the hands of Hezbollah.”
“Our embassy in Beirut is working with the Lebanese armed forces to investigate the images circulating on social media purporting to show Hezbollah displaying US military equipment in Syria,” Trudeau said.
However, Trudeau noted that the Lebanese military stated that “the M113s depicted online in the Hezbollah military parade were never part of their equipment roster.”
U.S. officials believe that the armored vehicles may have been seized following the disintegration of the South Lebanon Army, the Israeli-allied Christian militia which had 20 M113s supplied by Israel.
After Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the SLA’s equipment was taken by Hezbollah.