Did anyone ever think that Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah would spend large parts of a prime-time speech analyzing social friction in Israel between haredim and other sectors?
Many foreign countries may not even know about Israel’s ultra-Orthodox sector unless they have tuned in to some Hollywood movies or happened to have a rare interaction with a haredi minister on some kind of global issue.
Yet Nasrallah told his followers that the Jewish state will come apart over the issue of a proposed Knesset bill that would exempt haredim from serving in the IDF.
We are used to Nasrallah threatening Israel with rockets and talking a bit about the different security fronts where Israel and Lebanon have conflicts. But the bizarre juxtaposition of the Lebanese Shi’ite elder terror leader focusing on a domestic Israeli religion and state issue was jarring.
Incidentally, many Israeli commentators would say that he is correct, so maybe he is just parroting the media, which Israeli intelligence says that he reads feverishly and constantly.
Politically, it probably does not help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have Nasrallah be on the side of the haredi exemption bill, so ironically, the Hezbollah chief’s speech may make that bill’s passage less likely.
However, putting politics aside, what was Nasrallah’s purpose in raising the issue, knowing that his speech might even harm his cause in Israel?
Why is Hezbollah's leader speaking about domestic Israeli issues?
The lesson is that while Nasrallah does like to put Israel on notice, most of his message is for domestic Lebanese or pan-Shi’ite-Sunni consumption.
Lebanon is a disaster right now politically and economically and there was recently an altercation between Christian and Hezbollah forces.
There are ongoing maneuvers about what the UNIFIL peacekeepers’ mission is and how much it will confront or avoid confronting Hezbollah’s violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 in terms of armaments and border violations.
While Nasrallah received credit in Lebanon for obtaining a maritime deal with Israel in which he helped get Beirut access to maritime natural gas fields, his deal with Israel could also have appeared to some as a kind of normalization, anathema to his image.
Moreover, aside from some symbolic small amounts of rocket fire, he has carefully stayed out of every conflict Israel has had with the West Bank or with Gaza since 2006.
So his go-to plan is to make it sound like Lebanon and Hezbollah are rising as Israel is falling, with dark messianic predictions of overtaking Jerusalem.
This is where the second takeaway comes in about Israel’s home front and the IDF not being ready for war.
True, many state comptroller reports, which he has read and commented on in the past, have said Israel has not done enough to outfit all relevant areas with bomb shelters and safe rooms.
It’s also true that the IDF has said in recent weeks that the reservists’ protest against the judicial overhaul are harming its readiness for war and will cause more severe harm in the coming month or so.
But not only has the IDF made significant progress in building bomb shelters and safe rooms in the North, but even in the worst case a few years ago, the IDF already had a multi-tier missile defense.
The nightmare scenarios discussed by the comptroller were never that Israel would be wiped out, as Nasrallah predicted. It was a question of whether casualties on the Israeli home front from Hezbollah rockets would be in the hundreds or the thousands in the event of a full-scale war.
Not to downplay the horrors of all the scenarios, but Nasrallah probably knows once again that his cherry-picking of Israeli statistics is to try to fool his domestic Lebanese audience so as to artificially rebuild or at least stabilize his brand.
The third takeaway, regarding the maritime gas issue, is also crucial. Nasrallah wants to both have the advantages of having resolved the maritime dispute with Israel, a form of limited normalization, as well as to sound like he is still fully at war.
So he presented himself as bringing Lebanon economic benefits to try to help rebuild the economy, while somehow covering up that he basically signed a deal with the Jewish state.
By the way, some certainly say Nasrallah’s latest troublemaking on the Israeli-Lebanese border relates to his view that Jerusalem has hit a point of weakness in war readiness and resilience.
Yet, others have said the low degree of his provocations on the border has shown he is deterred from a general war, both because he dreads the harsh Israeli Air Force bombs and artillery-shelling response, as well as because he worries that he could lose the economic benefits of the maritime deal.
In any event, one of Nasrallah’s strangest speeches to date shows how obsessed he is with following Israeli media and how hard he works to manipulate information to strengthen his destabilized position domestically.