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(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel is concerned with reports that the US plans to sell dozens of M60 main battle tanks to the Lebanese army, senior defense officials said over the weekend.
"There is a possibility these tanks will fall into Hizbullah's hands," one official warned. "At the moment, Hizbullah does not yet have heavy armor in its arsenal."
On Friday, the An-Nahar daily reported the US was planning to deliver dozens of M60 tanks to Lebanon in several batches starting early next year. A specific number was not reported.
The M60 tank is an all-purpose tank made in the US with advanced firepower and mobility. Though superseded by the M1 Abrams, the M60 series remains in service throughout the world.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 over 700.
The decision to send tanks to Lebanon is part of a $410 million military aid program the US approved following the 2006 Second Lebanon War, to bolster the Lebanese army against Syria and local militia groups such as Hizbullah.
The US has already provided the Lebanese army with weapons, ammunition, communication devices and vehicles such as Hummer jeeps.
Israel's concern, officials said, was that Hizbullah could gain control of the weaponry. "Already a large percentage of the LAF [the Lebanese Armed Forces] is Shi'ite," one official said. "It is definitely possible that in a future Hizbullah-Israeli conflict these tanks will be used against us."
Another official said that while Israel was concerned with the overall supply of weaponry to hostile regimes in the region, the IDF - and specifically the air force - was capable of destroying tanks within minutes.
"Hizbullah's strength is that it is a guerrilla force that does not operate in a conventional manner," the official noted. "Tanks are easy targets from the air and from the ground."
Meanwhile Saturday, the Al-Arabiya television station reported that Hizbullah was conducting military exercises in southern Lebanon, south of the Litani River, despite UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans Hizbullah activity in the area.
According to the report, the maneuvers were conducted without the use of live weapons, and were meant to mimic a secret deployment of operatives in the mountains in the south of the country, near Israel.
Former head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittee MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said the exercise demonstrated Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's failure as foreign minister during the war.
"Hizbullah's exercises in southern Lebanon show UN Resolution 1701, which was lauded at the time by Tzipi Livni, for what it is," Steinitz said. "Today it is clear that the decisions and failures of [Prime Minister Ehud Olmert] and Livni only led to the strengthening of Hizbullah and the increase of the missile and terror threat to Israel."