Hezbollah conducting a military exercise
(illustrative pictures broadcast by Al-Manar TV on August 1, 2006 ).
1. At the beginning of November Hezbollah held an extensive military exercise in south Lebanon which was covered by the Hamas-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar . The paper reported that it had been " the largest exercise held in Hezbollah’s history.” It lasted three days and methodically examined Hezbollah’s military capabilities (including rockets and anti-tank missiles) to learn the lessons of the second Lebanon war.
2. In our assessment, the objective of the exercise was to examine Hezbollah’s military preparedness, rehabilitated during the past year following the damage it incurred during the second Lebanon war. In addition, the timing (a few days after a broad combined IDF exercise), the announcement of the exercise and the parameters chosen (including rocket fire), were all meant to send a message of deterrence to Israel . It was supposed to inform Israel that Hezbollah had learned the lessons of last year’s war and was fully prepared and operationally highly capable again . For Lebanon ‘s Hezbollah supporters and opponents, the exercise was meant to send a message of strength and to show that Hezbollah was still " Lebanon ‘s shield” against "Israeli aggression.”
Background, description and objectives
3. Two senior Hezbollah officials, sheikh Naim Qassem (Hassan Nasrallah’s deputy) and Mahmoud Qumati (a member of the political bureau), confirmed that the exercise had been held and mentioned its background and objectives. Sheikh Naim Qassem said that the exercise was held following an Israeli exercise in which 50,000 soldiers had participated 1 (OTV TV, November 5). Mahmoud Qumati said that it was held as a result of Israeli maneuvers and daily Israeli Air Force overflights in Lebanese air space. Its objective, he said, was to demonstrate that Hezbollah had a determined response ready for any aggressive action the "Israeli enemy” carried out against Lebanon (Iranian Al-‘Alam TV, November 5).
4. Sheikh Naim Qassem said that the exercise had not included the transport of weapons in forbidden places. He said that UNIFIL forces had watched the movement of organization operatives, but that those who took part in the exercise were not armed. Therefore, he claimed, it had not been necessary to coordinate with UNIFIL and the Lebanese army, and that Hezbollah’s exercise had not violated UN Security Council resolution 1701 (OTV TV, November 5).
The exercise according to Al-Akhbar
5. The following information appeared in the pro-Hezbollah pro-Syrian Lebanese daily newspaper Al-Akhbar on November 5:
1) The exercise lasted three days . The order to begin was issued a few days before the article in the paper, that is, at the beginning of November.(According to the November 6 article in Al-Hayat , it began on November 2 and ended on November 4.)
2) The exercise took place from Rosh Haniqra to the slopes of Mt. Hermon , from the Israeli-Lebanese border to a depth of dozens of kilometers into south Lebanon . (According to an article in Al-Hayat on November 6, it was also held in two neighborhoods in the Shi’ite southern suburb of Beirut .)
3) Thousands of Hezbollah operatives took part , including military, security and logistic units. The organization’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, personally supervised all the exercises .
4) The exercise simulated " a general defensive action against an overall Israeli war against Lebanon ,” as well as simulating a scenario for "increased danger to Lebanon if Israel carries out an aggressive act against Syria .”
5) The exercise examined the failures and lessons to be learned from the second Lebanon war. It also examined the readiness of anti-tank weapons in Hezbollah’s possession , the capabilities of its engineering corps, air defenses, first aid units, communications and logistics units and even its military information unit.
6) Hezbollah’s missile power was also "the focus of the exercise.” The readiness of many rockets was examined "so that they are operated in coordination, with the result that they will be able to strike all of occupied Palestine .” The exercise simulated a Hezbollah fire support unit attack against "all the Israeli positions up to occupied Palestine .”
7) At the end of the exercise Hassan Nasrallah congratulated the thousands of participants and said he hoped that both "friend and foe” would understand that Hezbollah was fully ready to confront any type of Israeli threat .
The Lebanese government
6. Lebanese prime minister Fuad Siniora claimed that no maneuvers had been held in south Lebanon and that no unusual movement of military or civilians had been observed. "All there was was a simulation [with people working] on paper inside rooms [in a building] …There was absolutely no activity on the ground” (Lebanon Now Website, November 5). His statement was meant to minimize the importance of the exercise which was also clearly conducted in defiance of the Lebanese government.
7. UNIFIL spokeswoman Yasmina Bouziane denied the reports in Al-Akhbar , saying that she relied on the Lebanese government’s denial. She added that Lebanese armed forces had the primary responsibility for ensuring south Lebanon ‘s security, and for ridding the area between the blue line and the Litani River of armed groups or unauthorized weapons ( Al-Sharq al-Awsat , November 6).
8. According to an article in the Syrian newspaper Al-Watan , the Hezbollah ("Lebanese resistance”) exercises sent a "strategic and political message about its readiness to stop Israeli aggression.” The exercises, the paper said, strengthen the faith in the statements made by Hassan Nasrallah that Hezbollah’s human, military and technological capabilities have strengthened since the [second Lebanon] war. Hezbollah "has publicly announced that it has learned all the lessons of the 2006 war and is ready to confront any Israeli or American escapade in the form of aggression against Lebanon ( Al-Watan , November 6).
The exercise was in direct violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701
9. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the second Lebanon war, imposed Lebanese government authority over south Lebanon . According to the resolution, only the Lebanese government supported by UNIFIL was supposed to operate in south Lebanon to enforce the demilitarization of the region and to ensure that Hezbollah and other terrorist groups would not be present. 2 According to the resolution the UN’s Secretary General was suppose to submit suggestion to the Security Council regarding the disarming of armed groups, especially Hezbollah, within 30 days.
10. Hezbollah’s exercise, even if the thousands of operatives who took part in it were not armed, 3was a violation of Security Council resolution 1701, and a resounding slap in the face for UNIFIL and the Lebanese government. However, its primary purpose was to demonstrate the operational preparedness of its rehabilitated military infrastructure, including its rocket arsenal. The message that Hezbollah is still " Lebanon ‘s shield” is also a violation of Security Council resolution 1701, according to which the Lebanese government, supported by UNIFIL, is exclusively responsible for the security of south Lebanon .
1 A broad, combined IDF exercise which ended on October 31. It was conducted in the Galilee following the decision to change the venue from the Golan Heights to avoid tension with the Syrians. It was one of the largest exercises held in recent years and included tens of thousands of soldiers, including reserves (IDF spokesman’s Website, October 31).
2 For further information, see our August 13, 2007 Bulletin entitled "One year since the acceptance of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the second Lebanon war: An interim report” .
3 To avoid frontal confrontations with the Lebanese army and UNIFIL, and to prevent interference with the rehabilitation of its military infrastructure, since the end of the second Lebanon war Hezbollah in south Lebanon has kept a low profile. Its operatives are usually careful not to wear uniforms, not to carry arms in public and to avoid media exposure.