Nasrallah threatens US, protesters amid economic turmoil - Explainer

Nasrallah fears sectarianism or a return to civil strife.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah delivers a speech (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah delivers a speech
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech on Tuesday threatening to kill anyone who tries to take away Hezbollah’s weapons. “To anyone who gives us the option of dying with our weapons or of starvation, I say that the weapons will remain in our hands and we will not go hungry, we will kill you. We will kill you.” The harsh rhetoric exceeded the usual boasting by Hezbollah and was a direct threat to the US and internal Lebanese protesters that any pressure on Hezbollah will be met with violence. Hezbollah is angry that US sanctions on Syria are harming the economy in Lebanon and that there are voices who think Hezbollah should stop maintaining itself as an armed force within Lebanon.
The long speech was reprinted at Iran’s Fars News and was tweeted online in translation by expert David Daoud. The speech was wide ranging and touched on several key topics. He began by memorializing a Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader named Ramadan Shallah who died on June 7. Islamic Jihad is supported by Iran and Hezbollah. It has been the source of attacks on Israel over the past years and Israel has targeted its members. Nasrallah said Palestinians are under threat of Israeli annexation and must unify. He spoke about unifying the Islamic “ummah” in the face of Israel and that Shi’ites and Sunnis should work together. Iran and Turkish leaders have also said this in recent weeks.
Hezbollah wants to try to unite Shi’ites and Sunnis under its banner to fight the US and others. This was clear from the speech. Nasrallah fears sectarianism or a return to civil strife. Hezbollah, it must be remembered, emerged during the civil war in Lebanon and emerged stronger after it. Hezbollah took credit for Israel’s withdrawal in 2005 and then murdered the Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafic Hariri in 2005. In 2008 it clashed with protesters in Beirut and took over Beirut in a show of force. Since then it has held the presidency hostage, maneuvered its people into the presidency and Prime Minister’s office and sent forces to fight in Syria and to Iraq. Hezbollah now wants to be the arbiter of Lebanon’s future and it knows that sectarian strife can undermine that.
Nasrallah then moved on to complaining about protests in Lebanon. Hezbollah has only a handful of seats in parliament but flexes its military muscle in Lebanon to have a stranglehold over the government and the Health Ministry. Nasrallah wants its Prime Minister choice Hassan Diab to stay in office. He has been there since January.
Hezbollah appears fearful over recent US pressure and even talk of trying to enforce UN Resolutions and taking away Hezbollah’s massive arsenal. Hezbollah has more weapons than many small countries, including 150,000 rockets. It has armored vehicles, bunkers, tunnels, small arms, missiles, anti-tank missiles, anti-ship missiles, drones, mines, rifles, RPGs and basically everything an army needs to fight a modern war. Thousands of its cadres got training by fighting in Syria since 2012. Hezbollah claims it needs this arsenal to “defend” against Israel, when in fact it threatens to conquer Jerusalem.
Nasrallah said that his “resistance” movement in Lebanon and his allies in “Palestine” and throughout the region “had come up with a plan, an idea and a strategy to counter the enemy.” He did not reveal the secret plan. Nasrallah believes the US launched a conspiracy in June against Hezbollah and that he is actively countering the conspiracy. In this assertion he portrays protesters and others as spreading “sedition” in the country and that Hezbollah will stand against this. He urged Lebanon to try to reach out during the financial crisis and to work with other countries. He noted that the US had sanctioned Hezbollah and said “we have no problem being punished, but why punish the people.” This was an argument against sanctions on Syria and those that affect Lebanon.
Nasrallah urged pragmatism and not rumors or just “talk.” For instance he said there are proposals to bring support from Venezeula for the economy. Iran recently sent several tankers with gasoline to Caracas but Nasrallah said trade with Lebanon was not likely. His main concern was the Americans.
“I do not intend to reveal it at the moment, but we have an important and dangerous equation that I will no talk about, and if the Americans continue their efforts to keep the Lebanese people hungry we will do so.” This cryptic threat ended with vows to “kill” whoever tries to take Hezbollah’s weapons. “We will kill you.”
Nasrallah appears to want to shift Lebanon to working not only with its Iranian allies, but also potentially China. He said if the Chinese are ready to help, why is Lebanon waiting for the US. He said the US doesn’t care about Lebanon “or whether we live or die.” He said the US is abandoning allies and leaving the region, noting the US drawdown of forces in Germany. “Look at how the Americnas treat their allies around the world, they humiliate and insult them.” He then drew a comparison to the US leaving Vietnam and abandoning South Vietnam. He may have been thinking of how the US had abandoned Kurdish fighters in Syria in October 2019. Nasrallah’s point was that the US was not reliable, it would not stand by Lebanon during the financial crisis and that it was time to shift Lebanon entirely to a post-American world order. This is a world order it has been wanting to create for a long time, but Nasrallah’s speech appeared intended not for his supporters, who already dislike America, but potential new supporters. He was saying in essence: We have been right all along, see?
Hezbollah is focused on keeping the Syrian regime afloat and keeping the Iranian-backed “axis of resistance” strong. He said that if anything thinks they will starve Lebanon they will be surprised. “We won’t submit to them or the Israelis.”
Hezbollah’s Iranian ally meanwhile on Wednesday was busy bashing the UN and Saudi Arabia. It appears that Nasrallah is today the main beacon of hope for Iran, a gateway to the sea and a potential bridge to the Palestinians and other Sunni groups. Iran hopes that Hezbollah might be able to turn the tide of the financial crises in Lebanon and Syria. Iran already tried to rely on Hezbollah in Iraq, using a key Hezbollah conduit to help shore up work with Shi’ite militias there. Nasrallah’s speech was clear: A crisis is emerging and an equation has developed, if the US pushed too much more, things could escalate.