TEL AVIV (Feb. 22)
Israeli officials and military affairs experts have downplayed the importance of large-scale military training exercises reportedly being carried out by Hezbollah forces in northern Lebanon.
According to reports from the area, some 500 Hezbollah guerrillas took part in the largest “war game” maneuvers ever performed by the Iranian-backed extremist organization. The exercise, on Sunday, was carried out with funds and equipment supplied by Teheran under the guidance of Iranian military personnel.
The practice included the use of heavy equipment and sophisticated explosives in a simulated attack on an Israeli village, the reports said.
But Yossi Olmert, an Israeli expert on Lebanon and Syria and former member of an Israeli peace negotiating team, said there was no cause for concern and that reports of the maneuver were inflated.
Olmert said he thought Hezbollah was trying to send a message to U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher during his visit to the region.
The organization, Olmert said, was reminding Christopher that he should be aware of those regional forces opposed to the peace talks and recognize the aims of Hezbollah and its Iranian backers.
“And he should bear this in mind when talking to the Syrians in Damascus, as the Syrians have a major say on what happens in Lebanon, where Hezbollah operates,” Olmert said.
Olmert said he did not think much of reports about “moderation” being shown by Hezbollah. “I am fully tuned in to what the Hezbollah says. But one should pay less attention to what Hezbollah and its leaders say than to what its members do on the ground.
“There may have been a recent change in the tune of Hezbollah, but on the ground they have exacerbated their terrorist attitudes and activities,” Olmert told Israel Radio.