SIDON, Lebanon: Political activists in Sidon Saturday blew up a replica of the Israeli-made Merkava tank as part of celebrations marking Resistance and Liberation Day.
Plumes of smoke ascended from the southern coastal city of Sidon’s Martyrs Square after activists blew to pieces a replica of the infamous war vehicle they spent 261 hours assembling.
“When we were building the replica we were full of enthusiasm and we were eager to finish building the Merkava so that we can destroy it ,” Ibrahim Jomaa one of the event’s organizers told The Daily Star. “We want to destroy it as a form of revenge from Israel that killed our people in Lebanon and Palestine.”
While the Merkava tank is widely considered a symbol of Israeli military might, its reputation suffered badly during the summer 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon when Hezbollah guerillas, using innovative anti-tank missiles, destroyed several vehicles.
The destruction of Merkava tanks during the 2006 combat has had an important symbolic value for Hezbollah and its supporters and has prompted serious introspection on the part of the Israeli Army.
“We were brainstorming an unconventional means to mark the anniversary of the withdrawal of Israel from south Lebanon and we agreed that we’ll reproduce a generation 4 Merkava tank and destroy it as the occasion draws nearer,” Jomaa added.
Celebrated on May 25, Resistance and Liberation Day marks the withdrawal of Israeli troops from south Lebanon, 14 years ago in 2000.
Jomaa explained that 25 of his comrades at the left-wing Popular Democratic Party spent almost three months building an exact replica of the infamous Merkava Mk 4. “Only the weight differs,” Jomaa said. “The original Mk 4 weighs around 65 tons our replica only weighs 1.5 tons.”
Jomaa confided that Hezbollah members who fought during the 2006 war helped the activists build the model.
“But the event is meant to honor all the factions who fought Israel; the secular factions and the communist, the Arab nationalist and the Islamist.” Jomaa said.
The first generation of Merkavas was built in the 1970s and was soon deployed in Lebanon in 1982.
The improved Merkava Mk 4 has been Israel's main battle-tank since its introduction in 2004, but according to numerous intelligence and military reports Hezbollah fighters succeeded in targeting the tank’s most vulnerable points.
Dubbed the “Defeat Tour” the Mk4 replica toured the southern coastal city of Sidon with stops at locations where anti-Israeli operations were carried out.
Dragged by a donkey the replica Merkava toured the streets of Sidon dragged by a donkey, at its rear end activists attached the flags of Israel and the United States before blowning it up in the city Martyrs’ Square.
On the occasion of May 25, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah will deliver a speech in the southern city of Bint Jbeil on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.