Within a two-week span last month, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah addressed “his” constituency twice. On January 15, he was the focus of a lengthy and wide-ranging television interview. His next oration followed the Quneitira and Shebaa “episodes,” the first of which pitted Israel against Iran on Syrian territory, and the second on a disputed stretch of Lebanese/Syrian territory occupied by Israel. In both cases, however, Hezbollah served as the “messenger.”
During Nasrallah’s first interview, he answered a theoretical question about Hezbollah’s popularity within the Shia milieu by referencing a poll conducted by Hayya Bina. His second public presentation was far more nuanced, as the unfolding situation forced Hezbollah to juggle calculation with violence. It also convinced him to sell that bloody cocktail to “his” Shia constituency. In general, the Quneitira-Shebaa episodes represented a particularly difficult test for Hezbollah, the domestic policy of which consists largely of maintaining its self-proclaimed “divine” status—which it wields as it pleases to win and retain the hearts and minds of its increasingly exhausted “lapping environment.”
While most of the comments on Nasrallah’s post-retaliation speech focused on his threat that Hezbollah no longer considers itself bound by any “rules of engagement,” this edition of ShiaWatch tackles this newest current event from a different perspective. Here, we take the position of Lebanon’s Shia community and wonder generally if, considering it is already at war in Syria, it is truly keen on engaging in another “divine” military engagement. If not, why did it need Hezbollah to score this symbolic “feat of arms?” Clearly, Hezbollah has turned the affront represented by the Quneitira incident into a zero-sum game.
Clearly, the Hezbollah/Israel standoff is simply one game among others in which Hezbollah is involved. Were this particular contest to end honorably, then those being played out on other battlefields, particularly in Syria, could see different outcomes. The developments that have followed the Quneitira-Shebaa episodes, whether in Damascus or along the Lebanese/Syrian border, certainly deserve as much consideration as the standoff mentioned above. Ultimately, we should all take heed of the warning given by renowned Arab poet al-Mutanabbi who observed, “A man can never gain everything he hopes for: Winds blow contrary to what ships wish.”