Seven years after 'humbling enemies', Hizballah itself is humbled

Seven years after 'humbling enemies', Hizballah itself is humbled
Analysis: Once supremely confident, Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has been humiliated by his party's involvement in the Syrian conflict.
4 min read
07 May, 2015
Nasrallah: We lost a battle, not the war [Hussein Beidoun]
Seven years ago, on May 7, 2008, Hizballah went to war against its rivals in Lebanon.

In response to a ministerial decision to dismantle the group's telecommunications network, Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah ordered his forces to overrun areas of West Beirut held by the opposition.

Hizballah fighters engaged the fighters of the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party, and forced the government to back down.

It was a superlative display of power, confidence and arrogance.

Seven years later, Nasrallah's tone has changed a great deal. Instead of threatening to overrun Beirut, now he is threatening to raid areas in Syria and back his allies in Yemen and Iraq.

Hizballah's role and size have grown, but Nasrallah has lost his self-confidence. He no longer promises absolute victory as he once did.

A tarnished halo
Hizballah's role and size have grown, but Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has lost his self-confidence.

The man who faced down Israel has lost the lustre of his halo perceived here because of his involvement in the Syrian conflict.

The new Nasrallah is not the same as the old Nasrallah. This was all too clear in his tone and discourse on his most recent speech on Tuesday night, as he said the battles in which Hizballah is taking part were "defensive wars".

Nasrallah left the most important military developments taking place in the western Qalamoun region straddling the eastern border between Lebanon and Syria to the end of his speech. He reiterated what he had previously said about the battle that would take place "after the snow melts", and advanced a number of arguments justifying Hizballah's leadership of such a battle.

Nasrallah claimed armed Syrian groups intended to attack Lebanon and occupy Lebanese territory, stressing that the Lebanese government was unable to deal with the problem alone.

Nasrallah's statement came on the back of preparations announced by armed Syrian groups for the "liberation of Qalamoun" - the Syrian villages near Lebanon's borders. However, these groups stressed that Lebanon, its territory, its army and its people were not their target.

Nasrallah said Hizballah had not chosen the time and place of the "inevitable" battle, indicating that everything else related to the battle also remained undecided, from its scope to its limits and goals.

Nasrallah did not want to declare goals that Hizballah would then have to deliver.

"The party will not issue an official statement declaring the start of the battle," said Nasrallah.

In other words, everything will be left open-ended and vague. While Hizballah's discourse has been markedly different in the past few weeks, both officially and in the pro-Hizballah media, the ostensible goals being touted were "purging Qalamoun" and "crushing the militants".

Although Hizballah is itself engaging in psychological warfare, Nasrallah criticised what he called "black rooms" running operations to "benefit from any opportunity or gap to launch psychological attacks on people".

Nasrallah tried to downplay battlefield losses at Idlib and Jisr al-Shughur, saying they should be analysed before jumping to conclusions. Setbacks in northern Syria, he said, meant "some battles had been lost - but not the war".

'Psychological warfare'

Nasrallah said the Syrian army had stood its ground, fought back and won many battles over the past four years.

"We were with you, and we will remain with you no matter what developments are coming," he told supporters of the Syrian regime. "Recently, we went to places we had no presence in over the past few years."

Is there any bigger proof than this of the regime's army's inability to fight its battles by itself?

Is there any clearer evidence of the extent of the dilemma Hizballah finds itself in, and into which it has dragged its supporters, community and cadres?

Nasrallah placed these sacrifices in the context of defending Lebanon, Syria - and the region. "We are paying a tax in blood so people can live in security, stability, and dignity," he said.

We are paying a tax in blood so people can live in security, stability, and dignity.
- Hassan Nasrallah

However, Syrians today in refugee camps live in conditions of little stability, security or dignity, and have to desperately queue outside embassies in search for asylum or visas.

Decisive Storm

Nasrallah spoke at length about the situation in Yemen and the political and military developments there.

As expected, he said the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm there had "failed to achieve its objectives".

Nasrallah mocked the coalition's lack of clarity regarding its objectives, which he said were being changed constantly. However, he himself did not specify any objectives or scope for the Hizballah-led battle in Qalamoun.

Another contradiction in his rhetoric is implicit in his reference to the civilians who died in Yemen. Nasrallah failed to mention the Syrian civilians who die each day from regime's barrel bombs, for example.

Nasrallah uses closes his speeches with a flourish of rhetorical confidence: "As I have always promised you victory, so I promise you victory again."

But this time round, perhaps in a sign that this fight is harder than those he has faced before, he instead invoked divine intervention and support, saying simply: "Victory comes from God."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.