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(photo credit: AP [file])
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah appeared to have lost some of his rhetorical flourish but little of his self-assurance in his taped TV appearance on Sunday evening - claiming the moral high ground, deriding Israel for underestimating Hizbullah's strength, and predicting further surprises and eventual victory.
But there's nothing like a poor quality, pre-recorded video tape for reducing one's stature. And reduced Nasrallah certainly was, by the simple fact of his having been forced, for the sake of his own safety, to deliver his rallying cry via the same format as that used in the recent past by the likes of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
After five days of conflict, Nasrallah would like nothing more than for the fighting to stop now. He could come back into the open justifiably claiming to have surprised Israel in the initial murderous cross-border attack last Wednesday that saw two soldiers kidnapped and eight killed. He surprised Israel again by hitting a naval vessel with a missile he wasn't supposed to have, forcing a wholesale reassessment in the intelligence community of what more he may have up his sleeve.
He has forced northern Israel into bomb shelters by firing perhaps 10 percent of the Katyusha rockets he is known to have and few of his more potent missiles.
Israel, by contrast, has scored undetermined success in its declared aim of destroying Hizbullah's missile capability. It has to date achieved nothing - militarily or diplomatically - to guarantee that any damage sustained by Hizbullah cannot quickly be corrected through a renewal of the Iran-Syria supply line. And by targeting national Lebanese infrastructure, however justifiably or logically, Israel has also doubtless alienated another proportion of the Lebanese populace.
But it seems unlikely that the fighting will stop now - unlikely given the ongoing Israeli military activity and preparations, and the fierce rhetoric of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz. And it is unlikely given the "window of opportunity" that the international community, led by the United States, is leaving open for Israel.
As of Sunday, as Nasrallah himself acknowledged, Hizbullah is waging war on Israel alone. Israel has sought to limit the conflict, not to involve Syria or Iran. And the Arab world has not come to Nasrallah's aid. Cornered and isolated, Nasrallah is dangerous nonetheless - still with a potent missile capacity, still with the potential to inflict more surprises, still doubtless plotting to find a means to drag other players into the conflict.
The "successful" rocket attack on Haifa on Sunday morning - involving devastating rockets carrying dozens of kilos of explosives, rather than the 5-7 kg. of a "routine" Katyusha - underlined afresh that Israelis are not battling Hizbullah primarily to prevent Nasrallah from chortling about victory. They, quite literally in the Hebrew phrase, nilhamin al habayit - are fighting for their homes - in the knowledge that, if not disabled drastically now, Hizbullah will be back, stronger and more ruthless, before long.
According to Israel's top political and military echelons, that requires, when the cease-fire comes, not only that Hizbullah be kept far back from the border, with its missile capacity gone, but also that there be no possibility for its resupply, via the well-greased Iran-Syria axis.
This in turn, of course, will require heavy international involvement - and will be at the heart of Israel's demands in the cease-fire negotiations, when they begin in earnest.
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