Hezbollah invites reporters to watch group simulate war with Israel in south Lebanon
Masked fighters jump through flaming hoops, blow up Israeli flags as terror group asserts it is ready for conflict with Jewish state ahead of 23rd anniversary of IDF pullout
Lebanese terror group Hezbollah put on a show of force Sunday, extending a rare media invitation to one of its training sites in southern Lebanon, where its forces staged a simulated military exercise.
Masked fighters jumped through flaming hoops, fired from the backs of motorcycles, and blew up Israeli flags posted in the hills above a barrier simulating the one at the border between Lebanon and Israel.
The exercise came ahead of “Liberation Day,” the annual celebration of the withdrawal of Israeli forces from south Lebanon on May 25, 2000, and in the wake of a recent escalation between Israel and Gaza. Gaza’s terrorist Hamas rulers and Hezbollah have longstanding ties.
The recent heightened tensions also come months after Lebanon and Israel signed a landmark US-brokered maritime border agreement, which many analysts predicted would lower the risk of a future military confrontation between the two countries.
The Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on the Hezbollah exercise.
Senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine said in a speech Sunday that the exercise was meant to “confirm our complete readiness to confront any aggression” by Israel.
???? Videos from the Hezbollah military show pic.twitter.com/04ieIyPCw3
— Middle East Observer (@MEO_Analysis) May 21, 2023
On the other side of the border, Israeli forces have also occasionally invited journalists to watch exercises simulating a war with Hezbollah. Officials from both sides frequently allude to their readiness for conflict in public statements.
On the ground, however, the conflict has been largely frozen since the two sides fought a brutal and inconclusive one-month war in 2006.
Israel regularly strikes targets related to Hezbollah and its backer, Iran, in neighboring Syria.
In Lebanon, while Israel and Hezbollah, as well as Palestinian terror groups, have exchanged periodic strikes in the years since 2006, they have largely avoided casualties on either side.
Most recently, Israel launched rare strikes on southern Lebanon last month after terrorists fired nearly three dozen rockets from the region at Israel, wounding two people and causing some property damage. The military said it targeted installations of Hamas, which it blamed for the rocket fire, in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah derided the claim, saying the Israeli strikes had only hit “banana groves” and a water irrigation channel.
Safieddine in his speech on Sunday alluded to the group’s possession of precision-guided missiles, which were not on display but which he said Israel would see “later.”
Elias Farhat, a retired Lebanese army general who is currently a researcher in military affairs, said Hezbollah’s “symbolic show of strength” on Sunday appeared to be in response to the recent escalation in Gaza. He said it could also be a response to Thursday’s annual Flag March in Jerusalem by thousands of Israelis, in which some of the more extreme participants chanted “Death to Arabs” and other racist slogans, in celebration of Jerusalem Day. The day marks Israel’s capture of the Old City and reunification of the capital during the 1967 Six Day War.
Mohanad Hage Ali, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center who researches Hezbollah, said that in the past when there was an escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Lebanese terror group would sometimes fire off rockets or allow a Palestinian faction in Lebanon to do so. But he said Sunday’s military exercise was a lower-risk way to show force.
Given that Friday marked the return of Syria — an ally of Hezbollah and Iran — to the Arab League, Hage Ali said, Hezbollah may not have wanted a clash on the border with Israel to distract from the Arab reconciliation.
While the military exercise “is showing how strong they are and sending a message to the Israelis, it also demonstrates that this time around, they don’t want to escalate,” he said.