On May 21, 2023, Hezbollah organized a military parade in southern Lebanon between the villages of Melita and Armata, some 20 kilometers north of the Israeli border and the community of Metula. This event, which Hezbollah described as “a military maneuver in which high-quality weapons will be presented,” was held to mark 23 years since the liberation of southern Lebanon from Israel (May 25, 2000) and the “great victory” of the Lebanese resistance over Israel.
It is important to point out that Hezbollah conducts military demonstrations of variable dimensions and in various ways every year on the anniversary of the liberation of southern Lebanon, and the current performance is nothing out of the ordinary.
Hezbollah is a master of propaganda and perception. Hezbollah cannot afford to pass up a chance to raise awareness of public opinion both inside and beyond Lebanon. The region’s current period of high-security tensions aided Hezbollah and strengthened its perception and propaganda machine. Security tensions commenced in March following the Megiddo attack, followed by Hamas rocket fire from Lebanon in April, an altercation with the PIJ in May, and the Israeli Jerusalem Day celebrations a few days ago.
Hezbollah’s perception and propaganda engine has indeed begun to function. In an unusual move, Hezbollah summoned a big gathering of media professionals a few days before the protest. Hezbollah invited not only local media but also Arab and international outlets from various political backgrounds to observe and report the event. This action piqued people’s interest, sparked curiosity, and caused suspense and expectation.
Hezbollah ensured that videos and photos were leaked, portraying them as preparations for the “military maneuver.” Hezbollah’s propaganda activity and the mystery and aura that Hezbollah generated around the incident (on top of the existing security tensions) have fueled speculation that these are warning signals of events to come. As previously stated, the timing close to the end of the fighting in Gaza against the PIJ and the Jerusalem Day celebrations in Israel added to all of this, in which the narrative of “unification of the arenas,” in which Hezbollah is a leading and central partner, did not materialize, despite the fact that all elements in the Shiite axis led by Iran threatened that they were going to respond in a unified manner.
Hashem Safi al-Din, the head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council and the senior figure present at the parade, stated that “today’s resistance is an expanded force and an entire axis that will continue to develop from Gaza, the West Bank, the interior [i.e., Israeli Arabs], starting with Iran,” adding that “the dismantling between the frontiers is imaginary.”
There is little doubt that Safi al-Din took great care to sustain the narrative of the unification of the arenas, even though Hezbollah (and Hamas) did not put it into practice during the most recent test – the campaign in Gaza against the PIJ. Hezbollah is making sure to preserve the narrative of unification of the arenas in which it is a central partner through the current incident, especially via the perception and propaganda actions surrounding it.
It is also probable that Hezbollah bothered to invite representatives from the other “arenas” to the event, including the Houthi representatives, which contributed to preserving the narrative.
Muhammad Yassin, commander of the Palestine Liberation Front and a Palestinian participant at the event, stated that Hezbollah had confirmed “its firm position regarding the continuation of the resistance and the liberation of Palestine,” adding that “Hezbollah stands with the Palestinian people…”
It is not clear to us why the “unification of the arenas” was not implemented in the current Gaza conflict. This could be because of no operational feasibility, but it could also be for a different reason: Just as we say about Iran, we claim in regards to Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah will “fight” till the last drop of Palestinian blood… they are uninterested in the Palestinians. The Palestinians serve only as pawns in their hands, tools to be exploited and then discarded… It is likely that the current event masks and diverts internal and external criticism because the unity of arenas did not materialize operationally and failed in its first major test.
The flying of the Palestinian flag alongside the flags of Hezbollah and Lebanon at the start of the event further supports the narrative of the unification of the arenas and deflects criticism.
The Radwan unit (Unit 125) personnel mostly attended the display of force. The display included marches by activists from various military specialties, live ammunition exercises, and a display and exhibition of some of the equipment and weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles, sniper weapons, anti-drone weapons, light artillery, vehicles, rocket launchers, drones, UAVs, vehicles, and more.
Examining the weapon images reveals no new weapons were on show (see video). Russian, Iranian, and even American weapons were presented. Most of it would not fall under the category of “quality” weapons. Some of the weapons (light artillery and rocket launchers) appear to be very ancient, raising questions regarding their capability. In this regard, Safi al-Din stated that “what was presented today is a simple and modest part of the resistance’s readiness and capability” and that “the enemy will see the use of precision missiles at the heart of its being” if it makes any “stupid move.”
Although the staged exercises presented appeared spectacular to unprofessional eyes, we are not certain that all of them are practically possible. The exercises included a simulation of Hezbollah operatives invading Israeli territory by blowing up the border barrier (wall) and allowing large forces to enter through it to storm a settlement in the Galilee (this is the main goal of the Radwan Force) abducting Israeli soldiers, taking over Israeli territory, and other scenarios.