Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant organization, showed strength on Sunday by inviting the media to one of its training facilities in southern Lebanon, where its troops were engaged in a mock military drill.
Masked fighters detonated Israeli flags placed in the hills above, a wall meant to represent the boundary between Israel and Lebanon, as well as firing from the backs of motorcycles while jumping through blazing hoops.
The exercise occurred after a recent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza and before “Liberation Day,” the yearly commemoration of the withdrawal of Israeli forces from south Lebanon on May 25, 2000.
Hezbollah and the militant group Hamas, which governs Gaza, have a history of cooperation.
The recent escalation of hostilities also comes months after Israel and Lebanon inked a historic maritime border agreement mediated by the United States, which many observers believed would reduce the likelihood of a future military conflict between the two nations.
Regarding the Hezbollah training, the Israeli military refuses to comment.
According to senior Hezbollah leader Hashem Safieddine, the drill was conducted to “confirm our complete readiness to confront any aggression” by Israel, he said in a speech on Sunday.
Israeli troops occasionally invite media to observe training exercises that simulate a war with Hezbollah on the other side of the border.
In public pronouncements, officials from both sides routinely allude to their readiness for conflict.
But since the two sides engaged in a bloody and prolonged battle, the conflict has remained chiefly locked on the ground.
Israel frequently targets Hezbollah and Iran, who support it, in neighboring Syria.
Israel, Hezbollah, and armed Palestinian organizations have occasionally exchanged strikes in Lebanon since 2006, but there haven’t been many casualties.
Israel most recently conducted sporadic attacks on southern Lebanon last month after militants fired almost 30 rockets from the region, injuring two Israelis and causing some property damage.
The Israeli military claimed to have attacked Hamas strongholds in southern Lebanon, attributed to the rocket fire. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, mocked the assertion, claiming that only “banana groves” and a water irrigation line had been struck by Israeli strikes.
In his statement on Sunday, Safieddine referred to the group’s capability to launch precision-guided missiles, which were not on exhibit but which Israel will see “later.”
Hezbollah’s “symbolic show of strength” on Sunday, according to a retired Lebanese army general and current expert on military matters Elias Farhat, appeared to be a reaction to the recent escalation in Gaza.
He suggested that it might also be a reaction to the tens of thousands of Jewish nationalists who gathered in Jerusalem on Thursday to celebrate “Jerusalem Day,” which commemorates Israel’s 56-year conquest of the Old City and some of whom screamed racist chants like “Death to Arabs” and “Jerusalem Day.”
In the past, when the Israel-Palestine conflict erupted, Hezbollah would occasionally launch rockets or permit a Palestinian organization in Lebanon to do so, according to Mohanad Hage Ali, a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center who studies Hezbollah.
But he said Sunday’s military drill was a less dangerous approach to demonstrating force.
Hage Ali claimed that given that Syria, an ally of Hezbollah and Iran, rejoined the Arab League on Friday, Hezbollah might not have desired a border conflict with Israel to detract from the Arab reconciliation.
The military drill “shows how strong they are and sends a message to the Israelis, but it also demonstrates that this time, they’ve got the Israelis this time,” according to the author.
Hezbollah holds broad army drill in southern Lebanon pic.twitter.com/hg9ojlPs0m
— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) May 21, 2023