Nasrallah’s Deepening Dilemma


The Arab & Muslim world, which once hailed Nasrallah as a hero, are now referring to Hezbollah as the “devil’s party”, insomuch as Sunni clerics have even advocated eradicating the Shiites in Lebanon.

By Prof. Eyal Zisser


As the Syrian civil war marks its third anniversary, Hezbollah finds itself at one of its lowest points ever. The strategic distress that now plagues Hezbollah was best described by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, who a few months ago said that the flames of the Syrian revolution were licking at the hem of Hezbollah Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s robe.

Hezbollah supporters gesture as they listen to Nasrallah on October 29, 2013 - Photo: REUTERS

Supporters gesture as they listen to Nasrallah speech delivered from his underground hiding place, on October 29, 2013 – Photo: REUTERS

Not a day goes by without the organization burying operatives who have been killed in the battles in Syria. The fallen now number in the hundreds and while their families pledge their allegiance to the jihad waged by Hezbollah against the Syrian rebels, there is no doubt that as the number of fatalities grows, so will the criticism leveled at Nasrallah, whose logic and rationale are no longer clear, even to his most staunch supporters.



The Shiite neighborhood of Dahiya in Beirut, Hezbollah’s stronghold in the Lebanese capital, has been made into a fortress since Sunni terrorists have begun targeting Shiite civilians as vengeance over Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war. Sandbags line the streets and storefronts, and the checkpoints formed on every street corner are making life even harder for the neighborhood’s residents.

The Arab and Muslim worlds, which once hailed Nasrallah as a hero, have turned their back on the “devil’s party,” as Hezbollah is now referred to by its enemies, and Sunni clerics have openly advocated eradicating the Shiites in Lebanon. And let’s not forget that the clock is running out on The Hague proceedings regarding the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, as the International Crimes Court is poised to convict several senior Hezbollah operatives for his murder.

Hezbollah marched into the quicksand it is now stuck in with its eyes wide open when it decided to side with Syrian President Bashar Assad against the rebels. No good has ever come from taking sides in a bloody conflict such as the one in Syria. But Nasrallah is not Assad, not only because he is more battle-savvy than the Syrian leader, but because while Hezbollah’s plight might give him the proverbial headache, it does not pose an existential threat to the organization as the rebels do to Assad’s regime.

Hezbollah may be sinking deeper into the Syrian quagmire, but it has refrained from turning its full attention to it to begin with — its focus has been and still is Israel and its Lebanese enemies, meaning that despite the Sunni groups’ efforts, Hezbollah’s missile outline and caches have not been affected. If anything, Hezbollah is using the chaos in Syria to increase its inventory.

The blow dealt to Nasrallah’s image across the Arab and Muslim worlds is severe, but at the end of the day, he has never banked on their support, as he derives all the backing he needs from the Lebanese Shiites and from Iran, whose support has proven unwavering.

Israel and the Hezbollah have been embroiled in a clandestine war over the past few years. Israel has been accused of killing several Hezbollah commanders, as well as carrying out several airstrikes against weapon shipments meant for the terror group. Hezbollah, for its part, carried out the 2012 terror attack against Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, even though it has refrained from publicly claiming responsibility for it.

Last week was the first time since the 2006 Second Lebanon War that a strike was mounted against a Hezbollah target on Lebanese soil. Should Nasrallah choose to look the other way, he would effectively be giving Israel the green light for future strikes against Hezbollah targets. He also knows that Israel would find it difficult to contain a serious retaliation by Hezbollah, should he order one, as it would further erode the tense calm along the northern border.

It seems that this is the moment of truth for both parties. Neither Israel nor Hezbollah wish to see a security escalation deteriorate into a full-blown conflict, as one may spiral out of control. It would be best to remember that while Nasrallah’s political position may be at an all-time low, the position of the missiles he has trained on Israel has never been better.


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