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Computer game lets Hezbollah kill Israelis

Zeina Karam
Associated Press
Jun. 1, 2003 12:00 AM

BEIRUT, Lebanon - A 3-D computer game is the militant Hezbollah group's latest weapon in its propaganda war on Israel.

"Fight, resist, destroy your enemy in the game of force and victory," the game's slogan exhorts.

Now on sale in Lebanon, Special Force pits a guerrilla armed with a knife, a pistol, hand grenades and a Kalashnikov assault rifle against Israeli soldiers operating from fortified positions in southern Lebanon protected by land mines, a Merkava tank and an Apache helicopter.

Outcome not assured

Virtual victory is not always assured. The game is challenging enough that the guerrillas often are shot and killed by the Israelis.

The game simulates Hezbollah military operations against Israel's army, which ended an 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000 after a guerrilla war of attrition. Working for two years, Hezbollah's production team relied on maps, films and other material from the group's media archives to make its graphics true-to-life.

In real life, the Israelis and Hezbollah now face off across a tense, generally quiet border, but the movement's propaganda campaign remains intense.

"We don't see them as games but as part of an educational process which is preventing any chance of real peace," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Ron Prosor told the Associated Press in Jerusalem when asked about Special Force.

Karim Arab, a Lebanese 10-year-old, is a fan. "It's great," the boy said as he fired at an Israeli military outpost before his "guerrillas" prepared to storm it. He said that what he likes about the game is being able to shoot at Israelis, "which I cannot do in real life."

Fighting Israel has been a driving force for Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and Syria and is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

Special Force can be played in Arabic, English, French and Farsi, the language of Iran. It includes a training center where a player can practice shooting at posters featuring, among others, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

A good performance in the game earns a certificate presented by Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. The game ends with an exhibit of Hezbollah "martyrs": fighters killed by Israel.

The creators of Special Force say the aim is to counter the "invasion" of Arab markets by foreign games.

"Most games being offered on the market are games in which, unfortunately, the hero is an American, and he is coming to kill the terrorist, who is an Arab," said Mahmoud Rayya, an official of Hezbollah's Central Internet Bureau who helped develop the game.

"We wanted to provide our youths with an alternative," he said. "Resistance is not confined to weapons. You also have to catch up with the ever-growing industries like the Internet and computer games."

Rayya said Hezbollah also maintains more than 20 Internet sites and has developed 15 CDs about Israel's occupation and withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Special Force is its first video game.

Rayya said that the first 8,000 copies of Special Force, each selling for the equivalent of $6.60, were snapped up within a week and that a second batch of the CD-ROM games was selling briskly.

Not the first such game

Special Force is not the first computer game of its kind in the Arab world. In 2000, a Syrian student created The Stone Throwers, celebrating the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation. A similar game, Under the Ashes, allows Palestinians to target Israeli soldiers and settlers.

Jewish groups have dubbed the games racist, but in Lebanon they are seen as no different from Western games like Conflict: Desert Storm, an action-packed game that depicts the 1991 Gulf War.

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