The Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah put on a show of force Sunday, extending a rare media invitation to one of its training sites in southern Lebanon, where its forces staged a simulated military exercise that included a scenario in which it takes over an Israeli town and takes an Israeli soldier hostage.

Masked fighters jumped through flaming hoops, fired from the backs of motorcycles, and blew up Israeli flags posted in the hills above and a wall simulating the one at the border between Lebanon and Israel.

The exercise came ahead of “Liberation Day,” the annual celebration of the withdrawal of Israeli forces from south Lebanon on May 25, 2000, and in the wake of a recent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza. Terrorist group Hamas, which rules Gaza, has long had ties with Hezbollah.

The recent heightened tensions also come months after Lebanon and Israel signed a landmark US-brokered maritime border agreement, which many analysts predicted would lower the risk of a future military confrontation between the two countries.

The Israeli military declined to comment on the Hezbollah exercise. Senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine said in a speech Sunday that the exercise was meant to “confirm our complete readiness to confront any aggression” by Israel.

On the other side of the border, Israeli forces have also occasionally invited journalists to watch exercises simulating a war with Hezbollah. Officials from both sides frequently allude to their readiness for conflict in public statements.

On the ground, however, the conflict has been largely frozen since the two sides fought a brutal and inconclusive one-month war in 2006.

Israel regularly strikes targets related to Hezbollah and its backer, Iran, in neighboring Syria. In Lebanon, while Israel and Hezbollah, as well as armed Palestinian groups, have exchanged periodic strikes in the years since 2006, they have largely avoided casualties on either side.

Most recently, Israel launched rare strikes on southern Lebanon last month after terrorists fired nearly three dozen rockets from there, wounding two people in Israel and causing some property damage. The Israeli military said it targeted installations of Hamas, which it blamed for the rocket fire, in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah derided the claim, saying the Israeli strikes had only hit “banana groves” and a water irrigation channel.

Safieddine in his speech Sunday alluded to the group’s possession of precision-guided missiles, which were not on display but which he said Israel would see “later.”

Elias Farhat, a retired Lebanese army general who is currently a researcher in military affairs, said Hezbollah’s “symbolic show of strength” on Sunday appeared to be in response to the recent escalation in Gaza.

While the military exercise “is showing how strong they are and sending a message to the Israelis, it also demonstrates that this time around, they don’t want to escalate,” he said.

Source » israelhayom