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(photo credit: AP [file])
When Hizbullah succeeded in killing and abducting Israeli soldiers, many observers were convinced that Hassan Nasrallah had committed his gravest blunder yet. They expected a punishing response by the IDF which would likely end Hizbullah's reign in Lebanon.
Israel's retaliation was indeed swift and hellish for the Lebanese people, but early on in the war Nasrallah defied the IDF and those in the Muslim world who considered his actions an "adventurous undertaking" by sending a strong "message" in the form of a missile that struck an Israeli warship.
Far from being intimidated, Nasrallah said that Hizbullah was fighting a war to determine the fate of the whole Muslim world. Sure enough, his rockets started penetrating deeper into Israel, which made him an overnight hero of the Arab and the Muslim world.
Yet, shockingly, immediately after the war ended, the Hizbullah leader made comments that portrayed him as a man admitting miscalculation and regretting the abduction of the two Israeli soldiers.
"We did not think, even one percent, that the capture (of the two soldiers) would lead to a war at this time and of this level. You ask us, if we had known that the operation would have led to such a war, would we have done it? I say no, absolutely not," he said.
Soon after, Israeli officials and media seized upon Nasrallah's admission to argue that their swift response was the right course of action and had shown Israel's enemies that it is a dangerous game to "violate" the Jewish state.
NASRALLAH'S comments sent shock waves through the Arab world which had hailed him as a hero. People were left wondering: Why show signs of regret after standing up to such an intimidating military machine?
At first glance, these comments, which were made in a more down-to-earth local dialect - unlike his wartime rhetoric, in which he committedly employed a formal Arabic dialect - Nasrallah's speech appeared to be apologetic. The man was essentially saying that he would never mess with Israeli fire-power ever again.
But, remember, this is the same man who was at the height of his composure in the midst of the war itself. Why did he now show regret?
Genius is the answer.
NASRALLAH is a leader who leads with his wits as well as managing the emotions of his people. He knew that Israel had learned a lesson that would make it think hard before going to war in Lebanon again; and at the same time he realized that though the war has been won - by Hizbullah - the time for fighting words was over.
For anyone who might have doubted the wits of Nasrallah, this should, beyond any reasonable doubt, confirm his genius. At the time of his admission he had already achieved victory and his goal was to elevate Hizbullah's political position within Lebanon.
He was effectively communicating to the Lebanese people that although his group would defend them with its blood when necessary, it was not reckless and was aware of the suffering caused by its actions.
In other words, Nasrallah was telling the Lebanese people that despite being ready to stand up to Israel, we don't necessarily like wars, and their devastating effects are very clear to us. In essence, his message to the Lebanese people was that he felt their pain and would not be trigger-happy to ignite another conflict; in the future the group's priority would be peace and the pursuit of peaceful closure of any disagreements. Embrace us politically and be assured that we won't strive for war; and just as we served you during war-time, we can play a critical role for you during peacetime.
TO KILL any doubt of his resoluteness after pronouncing what appeared to be defeatist comments, Nasrallah warned UNIFIL not to attempt to confiscate Hizbullah's weapons or otherwise confront the group. He also reaffirmed victory by mentioning the willingness of Israel to negotiate a prisoner exchange, a condition previously rejected by Israel.
Nasrallah's political life has been strengthened by his ingenuously-timed maneuvers.
Nasrallah remains uncompromising. His admitting a level of regret was a tactical move to secure support among those Lebanese who don't wish for another war anytime soon.
His gamesmanship is a major factor in Hizbullah's political strength, which has been heightened by the war and is likely to grow even more.
The West should think twice about branding Hizbullah a terrorist organization. Today's terrorists might be tomorrow's political partners. It is possible that Israel might one day find itself negotiating with Hizbullah - not just about prisoners - but for a longer-term solution.
The writer is based in the United Arab Emirates.