BEIRUT — Lebanon’s paramilitary Hezbollah movement staged war games Sunday near the border with Israel. Around 200 fighters showcased Hezbollah's growing capabilities, and a heavy arsenal including a new anti-drone weapon.
The Hezbollah-affiliated al-Manar media outlet posted photos of the exercises, which included simulated drone and sniper attacks. Videos of the drills circulated in the media. In one clip, fighters are seen jumping through flaming hoops. Light and heavy arms were on display including anti-aircraft weapons, rocket launchers and rocket-propelled grenades.
In one photo shared via Twitter, al-Manar said Hezbollah unveiled a new weapon to intercept and destroy drones.
The games simulated an attack using dirt bikes, operations to capture Israeli soldiers and raids into Israeli settlements.
بالصور | #حزب_الله يكشف عن سلاح نوعي جديد مخصص للسيطرة على المسيرات واسقاطها خلال المناورة التي نفذها في أحد مواقعه جنوب #لبنان pic.twitter.com/oJxKfBHm3d
— قناة المنار (@TVManar1) May 21, 2023
Hezbollah’s media office extended a rare invitation to media outlets last week to attend the live exercises at one of its training sites in the village of Aaramta, 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the Israeli border. The drills marked the 23rd so-called Resistance and Liberation Day, commemorating when the last Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon on May 25, 2000, following intense battles with Hezbollah.
Sunday’s drills were seen as the largest show of Hezbollah’s military force in years.
“The weapons will remain in the resistance’s hands until complete victory is achieved,” said Hashem Safieddine, head of Hezbollah's executive council.
The drills aim to show “the resistance's full readiness to confront any aggression,” Safiedine added during his speech during the exercises.
While Lebanon and Israel remain in a state of war since the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, the two countries’ armies have not engaged in direct confrontation. However, Hezbollah fought a brutal war with Israel in 2006 lasting more than a month. Since then, occasional skirmishes have erupted along the border. Hezbollah has also sent drones toward Israeli territory.
Condemnation inside Lebanon
The massive show of force drew widespread condemnation domestically.
“Hezbollah’s maneuvers in the south are first and foremost a message of defiance to the Lebanese people and second to the Arab summit,” the head of the Kataeb Party Sami Gemayel said in a tweet.
“We will not yield to the weapons and we refuse to see our country and youth exploited for foreign agendas,” he added.
For his part, the head of the Lebanese Forces political party, Samir Geagea, categorically rejected the exercises.
“Hezbollah has sent a clear message to all Lebanese, as well as Arab and international communities, that whatever you try to do, we will not allow you to build a true state in Lebanon,” he said in a tweet on Monday.
إنّ المناورة العسكرية التي أجراها "حزب الله"، يوم أمس، في منطقة الجنوب مرفوضة تمامًا، إذ في الوقت الذي يصارع فيه اللبنانيون ليل نهار وفي كلّ لحظة لإعادة بناء دولتهم واستعادة الثقة العربية والدولية بهذه الدولة، وجّه "حزب الله" رسالة واضحة أمام اللبنانيين جميعهم، والمجتمعين العربي…
— Samir Geagea (@DrSamirGeagea) May 22, 2023
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati expressed his government’s rejection of any act along the border that might undermine the country’s security, though he stopped short of condemning Hezbollah.
“The issue of Hezbollah’s arms requires comprehensive national consensus,” he told UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka during a meeting at the government headquarters in Beirut.
Hezbollah, founded in the 1980s under the banner of fighting the Israeli occupation, remained the only Lebanese faction to keep its weapons after the end of the country’s civil war in 1990 and after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000. The party insists that its growing arsenal is necessary for resistance against Israel.
Hezbollah has continued to develop its stockpiles and expanded its military engagement into the Syria and Yemen conflicts. Politically, the movement has also expanded its influence and gained a foothold on the internal political scene.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is expected to deliver a televised speech on the occasion of Liberation Day on Thursday.