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Hezbollah holds media war games, says it’s ready to take on Israel

AARAMTA, Lebanon — Lebanese militant group Hezbollah put on a show of force on Sunday, issuing a rare media invitation to one of its training sites in southern Lebanon, where its forces held a mock military exercise.

Masked fighters jumped through flaming hoops, fired from the back of motorbikes and blew up Israeli flags displayed in the hills above and a wall simulating the one on the Lebanon-Israel border.

The exercise took place ahead of “Liberation Day,” the annual celebration of the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon on May 25, 2000, and following a recent escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza. The militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, has long had ties to Hezbollah.

The recent heightened tensions also come months after Lebanon and Israel signed a landmark US-brokered maritime border deal, which many analysts say would reduce the risk of a future military confrontation between the two countries. .

The Israeli army declined to comment on Hezbollah’s drill.

A senior Hezbollah official, Hashem Safieddine, said in a speech on Sunday that the exercise was aimed at “confirming our full readiness to face any aggression” from Israel.

On the other side of the border, Israeli forces have also occasionally invited journalists to watch exercises simulating a war with Hezbollah. Officials on both sides often hint at their willingness to fight in public statements.

On the ground, however, the conflict has been largely frozen since the two sides fought a brutal and inconclusive month-long war in 2006.

Israel regularly strikes targets linked to Hezbollah and its backer Iran in neighboring Syria.

In Lebanon, while Israel and Hezbollah, as well as Palestinian armed groups, have traded periodic strikes in the years since 2006, they have largely avoided casualties on either side.

More recently, Israel launched rare strikes on southern Lebanon last month after militants fired nearly three dozen rockets from there, injuring two people in Israel and causing property damage. The Israeli army said it was targeting Hamas installations, which it blamed for the rocket fire, in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah derided the claim, saying the Israeli strikes only hit “banana plantations” and an irrigation canal.

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 military affairs researcher, said Hezbollah’s “symbolic show of force” on Sunday appeared to be a response to the recent escalation in Gaza. He said it could also be a response to a Thursday demonstration in Jerusalem by thousands of Jewish nationalists, some of whom chanted “Death to Arabs” and other racist slogans, to celebrate “Jerusalem Day”. This day marks the capture of the Old City by Israel 56 years ago.

Mohanad Hage Ali, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center who studies Hezbollah, said that in the past when there was an escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Lebanese armed group sometimes fired rockets or allowed a Palestinian faction in Liban. do this. But he said Sunday’s drill was a less risky way to show strength.

Given that Friday marked the return of Syria – an ally of Hezbollah and Iran – to the Arab League, Hage Ali said, Hezbollah might not have wanted a border clash with Israel. diverts attention from Arab reconciliation.

While the drill “shows how strong they are and sends a message to the Israelis, it also demonstrates that this time around they don’t want to escalate,” he said.


Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed.

ABC News

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