There’s no untoward development in the Mideast that cannot be blamed on Israel
and there’s almost none that eventually isn’t.
From Tahrir Square in
Cairo to the alleys of Sanaa in Yemen, from the Libyan deserts to Syria’s
townships, embattled autocrats and/or inflamed mobs point fingers at their
preferred ubiquitous culprit. Israel has been cast as the permanent villain of
the piece and all the evil of the region – factual or fabricated – is
conveniently ascribed the Jewish state.
In that sense it was far from
surprising that Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah knew exactly whom to accuse of
the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s ex-premier Rafik Hariri and 22 collateral
Quite predictably, Nasrallah contended that Israel was guilty of
the entire plot as well as of the subsequent UN probe that issued indictments
against four alleged perpetrators – Mustafa Badreddine, Hassan Oneisa, Salim
Ayyah and Assad Sabra – all operatives of the Shi’ite
Badreddine – brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s
tactical mastermind who was killed in Syria in 2008 – is a member of Hezbollah’s
Two further lists of indictments are due later this
summer and are expected to include the assassination’s planners and organizers.
Such findings by a special tribunal set up by the UN Security Council, should in
theory be highly discomfiting for Nasrallah.
But at least by his public
pronouncements Nasrallah appears unfazed. According to him, Israel targeted
Hariri (never mind that this contradicted Israeli interests), then set up the UN
tribunal (never mind that Israel is hardly the UN’s favorite) and then dictated
its conclusions (never mind that Israel wields no clout in international
However, things aren’t quite what they were. Indeed the shriller
Nasrallah’s invective, the more it attests to unprecedented Hezbollah
Hezbollah’s Syrian lifeline was never this compromised and may
soon be severed. Nasrallah is taking a fateful gamble by his active assistance
to Damascus dictator Bashar Assad. Should Syria’s Sunni majority take over,
Nasrallah can expect bitter vengeance at their hands. To them Nasrallah is an
outright enemy who dispatched henchmen to massacre Assad’s opponents in Lebanon.
This is direct intervention and this cannot be swept under the
Assad’s regime thus far has been the conduit for Iranian sustenance
for Hezbollah and constituted a strategic backer that insured Hezbollah against
extreme punishment by Israel. Nasrallah could safely count on Assad to
intimidate Israel on his behalf and this was a crucial factor that emboldened
As Assad teeters so does Nasrallah’s sense of security.
It’s worth recalling that ever since the Second Lebanon War of 2006 Nasrallah
has anyway spent most of his time hiding in his bunker.
directly on the balance of forces inside Lebanon. As Syria’s Sunnis appear on
the rise, so Lebanon’s own Sunnis are encouraged to shirk their trepidations and
reassert themselves. They likely pose the greatest latent challenge for
Nasrallah. Should Sunni-Shi’ite tensions return to grip Lebanon, Hezbollah might
suffer heavy political, military and even economic consequences.
Assad’s power wanes so does Nasrallah’s popularity in the Muslim realm. Such
fans of his as Muammar Gaddafi are fighting for survival. Others, like Recep
Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, entertain second thoughts. Just as Ankara dropped its
charm offensive vis-à-vis Assad, so it’s reportedly growing disenchanted with
his sidekick, Nasrallah.
As the Arab world is embroiled in its own inner
strife, Nasrallah’s antics and pompous rhetoric grow increasing irrelevant if
not altogether farcical. There is less patience for his pre-recorded harangues
and stage-managed ovations.
It’s not that the region’s masses have seen
the light and no longer instantly identify Israel as the bogeyman. It’s just
that Nasrallah and his Hezbollah steadily lose influence along with their patron
This directly affects Nasrallah’s ability to make trouble for
Israel. Hypothetically, his debilitated status might inspire him to launch
attacks by way of diverting attention and crystallizing support that might
Yet, with Assad existentially threatened, this could
Israel shouldn’t belittle Nasrallah’s bluster, but
we also mustn’t be overawed. Things aren’t what they were. The more bombastic
Nasrallah’s bravado the more it betokens his desperation.