Lebanon’s civil war has been described as a house of mirrors, “it was easier to find your way in than to find your way out,” (Thomas Friedman). The longer the war dragged on the more disorienting the house became until the most impossible ironies emerged as Lebanon’s very reality. At one point following the 1982 invasion, Israel supplied Iran with US manufactured TOW missiles in a hostage exchange agreement. Iran thereafter transferred the missiles to Hezbollah within Lebanon where they were then fired back at the Israelis occupying the south. I inspected the assortment of rocket launchers in front of me in search of clues to their past. Nearly all of the “enemy” weaponry displayed around me had been supplied to Israel from the United States, then captured by Hezbollah and set up in their museum.
Today, the party holds terrorist status with only a few countries world wide, these include the United States, Israel, and Britain. Definitions aside however, they are without doubt the most capable guerrilla movement anywhere on the planet. This Shia militia has been the only Muslim/Arab force to have ever defeated Israel and it continues to build its military and political capacities. A few months ago, Hezbollah was responsible for bringing down a large CIA spy network inside Lebanon which, according to one former CIA officer, ”caused irreparable damage to the agency’s ability to operate in the country.” Hezbollah’s highly disciplined organizational framework is more than equipped to administer its $4 million dollar museum. Although these grounds are now used as a tourist attraction, they were fundamentally one of Hezbollah’s most important military bases during the years Israeli occupation. We walked through the narrow tunnels that the resistance fighters had painstakingly carved through the mountain top. We crammed into the concrete bunkers that would have rattled with gun and mortar fire. Upon arrival, visitors are first taken to a theatre for a film chronicling Hezbollah’s combat history, although the screening had seemed more like a Sylvester Stallone action flick than a documentary. I remember thinking that war had never looked so tragically…. exciting…
This is the view from the observation deck, the museum is intended to be the centerpiece to a park that will eventually include hotels, paintball fields and even a cable car.
Snowy Peaks in the Background
To some the park is a symbol of fanaticism, but to others its a symbol of triumph and optimism. ”The history of the people of this country is filled up with disasters and sadness, and celebrating and taking hope is something new that we are trying to establish,” said one Hezbollah spokesperson.
On exhibit is a collection of Israeli military equipment, the wall to the right displays a flow chart of IDF ranks and fighting positions.
Volunteer staff are available for tours in English, Arabic, French and even German. Our guide began by leading us into the shrubbery from which Hezbollah jihadists would attack the occupation.
The former secretary general Abbas al-Musawi used to pray here. After his assassination Hassan Nasrallah became the primary military commander for Hezbollah.
Looking down the barrel of the 50 cal. we could see the hill top where entrenched IDF soldiers would dodge the spray from this machine gun. We are told that the bunker was never discovered throughout the occupation.
Mannequins are set up along the paths to simulate different battle field scenarios.
This tunnel system housed Hezbollah fighters as they planned and carried out guerilla attacks. Many similar bases remain fully operational and are hidden throughout the southern border region.
This room is dedicated to praying.
These are Katyusha Rockets. First used in WWII they have continued to function as an effective weapon of warfare. Throughout the occupation and the 2006 war, Hezbollah used its massive stockpiles of Katyusha’s as one of its most primary assets. Launching sites are generally placed on the north face of mountains so as to make the tubes harder to spot from the air. Sometimes these rockets are fired using time delayed triggers. This gives Hezbollah fighters plenty of time to evacuate the area before Israeli troops can determine the missile’s origin and retaliate with counter artillery. In many of the latest launch sites the Katyushas are actually hidden in the ground and then electronically raised for firing.
Destroyed Israeli vehicles on display as Hezbollah trophies…
This area more or less translates as the “cyclone.” The spiraling walkway represents Hezbollah forces which surround and batter the IDF equipment stuck in the eye of the storm.
Below is a nasty device known as a Cluster Bomb. This antipersonelle weapon is designed to release hundreds of little “bomblets” which explode in midair. Unfortunately however, detonation can be highly inconsistent. In 2008 the UN drafted a convention to prohibit the use of cluster munitions on the battle field. So far 111 nations have signed the convention, although neither the US nor Israel are among them. Hundreds of thousands of unstable cluster bomblets still litter the southern Lebanese landscape.
This is the Merkava 4. Its one of the most fearsome and heavily armored battle tanks in the world. In the back is an old Russian tank that was provided to Israel’s SLA allies during the civil war.
Hezbollah’s old Anti Aircraft Artillery
Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah once gave a speech in which he stated that, “Israel is weaker than the spider’s web.” The museum drew on that speech in creating the display below.
A pano from the observation deck
Just outside of Beirut stands another impressive arrangement of decommissioned battle vehicles. However, where the Mleeta Museum had used the wreckage to commemorate the efforts of war, this memorial celebrates the end of war and the value of reconciliation.
This is the towering Tank Monument to Peace