Everyone loves a parade. I'm no exception. As a kid, I remember first watching parades and then, as a band member, marching in them. I used to play trumpet. 76 trombones was my mantra. And to this day, I still enjoy watching amid the crowds and the bustle, especially the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
But honestly, most of the parades I watch today are very different than the ones I used to march in proudly playing the trumpet or the ones I go to early Thanksgiving morning. Today, I watch military parades.
I never miss a military parade in the Middle East. I watch the tapes of them over and over. In the Middle East, the marchers are not dressed in school band uniforms, their uniforms are military. Regimes parade their military ranks alongside their hardware for all to gaze upon. The stars of these parades are not the marchers, the stars are the hardware. Parades are a show of military might and strength, and a great show they certainly are. Seen here.
In the Middle East, military parades are a means through which leaders show off their new weapons, display their old one weapons and sometimes display doctored old weapons to make them look like the new. Fake rockets are commonplace in these parades.Seen here.
Sometimes, countries fake their weaponry as a way of asserting that they have a particular weapon when, what they really have, is a similar but downgraded version of that weapon. Fake weapons become a tool of intimidation, a way to trick foreign powers into believing that one country's military might is stronger than it really is. I am not alone, there are a lot of people monitoring these public military spectacles.
But that is part of the game.
Military parades have a long and illustrious history. By most accounts, they began in ancient Mesopotamia. Rulers designed their cities with friezes (sculptures on buildings) atop citadels, buildings and gates depicting their great victories. They then triumphantly marched their armies through the gates, under the arches and alongside those buildings. In Babylon, when kings returned home from battle, they entered through the famous gate of Ishtar and then marched through the city and under the approving stares of 60 enormous statues of lions
Rome took their military parades to new levels. The word "parade" did not sufficiently convey the importance of their conquests and return. Parades were now called "triumphs" and in a display of their great victories, captives and plunder were paraded in front of roaring crowds. In the late 19th century the Prussians, who saw themselves as the new Romans, revived the practice of staging spectacular military parades.
Middle East displays are not the only vestige of ancient and long ago parades. The Russians and Chinese are other examples of countries still hosting these parades and showing off their military wares. Of all the parades still taking place today, I watch the Iranians with a keener eye than any other parades in the region and in the world. Iranian parades are far removed from being a fun, family event -- Iranian parades are a military and public relations tool.
The parade I most recently monitored was held in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis used the parade as an excuse to display their slew of Dongfeng 3 missiles, recently acquired from China. According to scuttlebutt in the intelligence communities, the Saudis already have a few of the newer and more sophisticated Dongfeng (which translates to mean East wind) 21, but the Dongfeng 3 are still intimidating. The Dongfeng 3 has a range of 3,000 miles and can carry a nuclear warhead. Even if older, they are still certainly very potent and worth watching.
Front and center in the viewing stand watching the parade was Pakistan's army chief of staff. Israel, too watched that parade, but from a different vantage point. Using satellite imagery and YouTube videos Israel watched with great interest. As it turns out, they are only slightly concerned about the acquisition of the missiles. Israel knows that they share an enemy with the Saudis and, in all likelihood, these missile were purchased with a specific target in mind -- and that target would be Iran. Israel's military leaders sleep a little more easily knowing that these newly acquired Dongfeng missiles will be aimed in the right direction -- at a common foe.
Follow Micah D. Halpern on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@micahhalpern