Two top Hezbollah operatives declared as wanted by the US. .
(photo credit: US STATE DEPARTMENT)
WASHINGTON- The United States offered multimillion-dollar rewards for two Hezbollah officials on Tuesday as it stepped up a pressure campaign against the Iranian-backed Lebanese group that it has long designated an international terrorist organization.
The US State Department said the government was offering up to $7 million for information leading to the arrest of Talal Hamiyah, head of Hezbollah's external security organization, and up to $5 million for Fuad Shukr, a top Hezbollah military operative.
US counterterrorism officials told a State Department briefing they believe Hezbollah wants to develop the capacity to strike inside the United States and they continue to see activity on behalf of the group in America.
Earlier on Tuesday Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman Lebanon said that the Lebanese army has become an integral part of Hezbollah’s network, warning that the next war on Israel’s northern border will not be confined to one front but will see conflict with both Syria and Lebanon.
Israeli officials, Liberman included, have repeatedly voiced concerns about the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and the growing Iranian presence on its borders, stressing that both are red-lines for the Jewish State.
Both France and the United States have provided Lebanon with advanced weaponry, and this past summer, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) received 50 armored vehicles, 40 artillery pieces and 50 grenade launchers from the United States as part of an aid package to bolster the Middle Eastern country against the threats posed by militant groups.
Saudi Arabia in March halted its military aid program to Beirut after Lebanese President Michel Aoun defended Hezbollah’s arsenal in an interview with an Egyptian TV channel, calling it “an essential component” of the means to defend Lebanon.
“Hezbollah weapons are not contradictory to the state, but are an essential part in defending the country,” Aoun told the Egyptian TV network CBC satellite channel. “As long as a part of the territory is occupied by Israel, and as long as the army is not powerful enough to fight Israel, we feel the need to maintain the weapons of the resistance to complement the army.”
Israel and Hezbollah fought a deadly 33-day war in 2006, which came to an end under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Lebanon, the deployment of the Lebanese army and an enlarged UN force in the south.
According to IDF assessments, Hezbollah has increased its military capabilities due to its fighting in Syria, and has spread its troops across the entire Middle East. In addition to a massive arsenal of rockets and missiles, Hezbollah is able to mobilize close to 30,000 fighters and has flouted its tunnel system, complete with ventilation, electricity and rocket launchers.
JPost.com Staff contributed to this report.