Nasrallah’s bluster

The more bombastic the Hezbollah leader's bravado the more it betokens his desperation.

Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
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 victims.
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 Hezbollah.
Badreddine – brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s tactical mastermind who was killed in Syria in 2008 – is a member of Hezbollah’s advisory council.
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 forums).
However, things aren’t quite what they were. Indeed the shriller Nasrallah’s invective, the more it attests to unprecedented Hezbollah weakness.
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 rug.
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 him throughout.
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.
This reverberates 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.
As 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 Assad.
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 otherwise diminish.
Yet, with Assad existentially threatened, this could backfire disastrously.
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.