Rejecting Israeli charges, Lebanese Army asserts it’s independent from Hezbollah
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Rejecting Israeli charges, Lebanese Army asserts it’s independent from Hezbollah

Defense Minister Liberman alleges state military takes its orders from Iran-backed terror group; Lebanese Army source asks if he knows something the US and UK, which fund it, don't

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

A picture taken on August 17, 2017, during a tour guided by the Lebanese army, shows soldiers holding a position in a mountainous area near the eastern town of Ras Baalbek during an operation against jihadist fighters. (AFP PHOTO / STRINGER)
A picture taken on August 17, 2017, during a tour guided by the Lebanese army, shows soldiers holding a position in a mountainous area near the eastern town of Ras Baalbek during an operation against jihadist fighters. (AFP PHOTO / STRINGER)

A Lebanese military source on Tuesday rebuffed claims by Israel’s defense minister that the Lebanese Army is controlled by the Hezbollah terror group, saying such a statement “cannot be taken seriously.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday said the next war in Israel will see the Israel Defense Forces fighting against a coordinated Syrian-Lebanese front as well as on the southern front with Hamas-controlled Gaza. He added that the Lebanese army has been fully integrated with Hezbollah and follows Hezbollah’s orders. “The Lebanese army has become an integral part of the Hezbollah apparatus under its command,” Liberman said.

Speaking to the Lebanese daily Al Joumhouria, the Lebanese military source said Liberman’s statements were “totally contrary to reality” and “hold contradictions up to a degree that they cannot be taken seriously.”

The source asserted that “the Lebanese army has total independence and is subject to the decisions of the political authority, and its leadership is the sole arbiter of its military policy.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 25, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

“The United States and the United Kingdom provide generous military assistance to the Lebanese army and they ensure its continued armament and express their confidence in it. Would London and Washington arm Hezbollah, in accordance with Liberman’s words?” the source asked. “And does [Liberman] have data that these two large countries do not?”

On Tuesday, the United States offered up to $12 million to whoever can help it apprehend two Hezbollah leaders. Washington said it believes the Lebanese terror group is seeking to carry out attacks on US soil.

This wanted poster, put out by the State Department on October 10, 2017, offers $7 million and $5 million rewards, respectively, for help arresting Hezbollah operatives Talal Hamiyeh and Fu’ad Shakr.

Recently, Israeli officials have warned that any attack by Hezbollah, which has seats in the Lebanese parliament, would be seen by Israel as an attack by Lebanon.

The Lebanese source stated Lebanon’s army “has proven its readiness to defend the eastern border from terror and is also prepared to defend the southern border if Israel decides to launch any war against Lebanon… Our basic mission is to protect all of Lebanon and the army has no interest in building the fronts or fighting across the border.”

The source argued Liberman was conflating Hezbollah with the Lebanese army in order to justify attacks on state infrastructure and institutions in the event of a war.

Fighters of the Shiite Hezbollah terror group attend the funeral of a comrade who died in combat in Syria in the southern Lebanese town of Kfar Hatta on March 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmoud Zayyat)

Although Israeli and Syrian forces clashed in Lebanon during the 1982 First Lebanon War, the two countries have not fought across their common border since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Israel last fought a full-scale war with Hezbollah in 2006’s Second Lebanon War, and tensions have remained high even as the northern border has remained relatively quiet in the past decade.

Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 short-, medium- and long-range missiles and a fighting force of some 50,000 soldiers, including reservists.

A Hezbollah commander said last month that the group has more than 10,000 fighters in southern Syria ready to confront Israel. Hezbollah has been fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime as it tries to suppress a six-year-long insurgency.

Israel worries Hezbollah and its backer Iran could launch a war against the Jewish state from southern Syria.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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