The Nasrallah speech was full of the usual bluster about how great Hezbollah’s “martyrs and fighters” are and how Israel’s withdrawal was Lebanon’s greatest success. If this was its great success, then there isn’t much to show for it because Lebanon is struggling financially and the country’s voters are no longer backing Hezbollah. Nasrallah, however, needs to stay relevant. He knows that young people no longer identify with him or his aging movement.
How can Nasrallah stay relevant?
In his relatively short speech, Nasrallah claimed that Israel’s withdrawal in 2000 ended its dream of “greater Israel” and that Palestinians now have “hope again for liberation of their land.”
Israel does not now have, and never has harbored, a dream of a “Greater Israel.” So Nasrallah will be happy to claim credit for having ended what never was. This charge about Israelis wanting to create an enlarged nation “from the Nile to the Euphrates” is a figment of the Muslim Arabs who project onto Israel their own dreams of a vast Islamic empire. It’s the product of vivid oriental imaginations.
He then warned Israel not to tamper with al-Aqsa mosque. Shouting about the “danger” to al-Aqsa is one of the key grifts [sic] of Nasrallah and his friends: using imaginary religious threats to encourage extremism and populism.
Israel will not “tamper with Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Again Nasrallah warns Israel not to do what it never had any intention of doing. And Nasrallah will again claim credit for having stopped Israel from carrying out its non-existent nefarious plan to seize Al-Aqsa and turn it into a synagogue.
How did Iranian media cover the speech?
Iranian media didn’t seem to take the speech seriously, but a bit of it was published.
Hassan Nasrallah can’t “get no respect,” not even from the media in Iran, that paid so little attention to his speech, publishing only bits of it. It is likely that the government instructed the media not to give much coverage to their Lebanese proxy at a time of widespread protests across Iran about the economic situation. The government doesn’t want to remind people of Hezbollah, that most expensive proxy of Iran, that has been the recipient of billions of dollars that the impoverished Iranian people increasingly demand be kept at home. In some of the protests they now shout against further Iranian aid to proxies abroad, and demand that money be spent “only on Iran.”
Any action against al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in the region will lead to a big explosion in the region and will have unpleasant results,” the Hezbollah leader said.
This is a quite unnecessary threat, which is why Nasrallah made it. He knows that the Israelis have no intention of “taking action” against Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock. By threatening the Jewish state in this manner, he can then take credit for stopping what was never going to happen in the first place.
Overall, the speech was to be expected as part of the usual cycle of speeches that Nasrallah gives several times a year.
Why this is different ?
The brevity of the speech and the fact Hezbollah and its allies performed badly in the recent elections, illustrates how the terrorist group will have to struggle to stay relevant in the coming years.
The recent parliamentary election was a debacle for Hezbollah, and for its closest ally, the Shi’a Amal Party. The Free Patriotic Movement of President Michel Aoun, a Maronite who has been Hezbollah’s loyal supporter, lost several seats, while the Lebanese Forces Party of Samir Geagea, the new head of Lebanese Christians, won more seats than Aoun’s party lost. Overall, Hezbollah’s allies lost ten seats, which has ended its dominance in Parliament. Geagea, seen as the new head of the Lebanese Christians, is a relentless enemy of Hezbollah, determined to decrease its power; he is intent on seeing Hassan Nasrallah spent as a political force.
Hezbollah is at the nadir of its popularity. It is blamed, quite correctly, for the “Beirut blast” of Aug 4, 2020, when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrates that the terror group had stored carelessly in Hangar #12 at the Port of Beirut exploded. The blast left 220 dead, 6,500 wounded, and caused $15 billion in damages. Since then Hezbollah has tried to scare off Lebanese officials from investigating the blast. But they have now run up against an investigative magistrate, Tarek Bitar, who apparently can’t be frightened by Hezbollah, and is determinedly completing his investigation, which will undoubtedly identify Hezbollah as responsible for the Beirut catastrophe.
Hezbollah is also blamed for its part in causing the economic catastrophe in Lebanon, the worst economic collapse of the last 150 years. In the last two years, the Lebanese currency has lost 95% of its value. More than 80% of the Lebanese now live in poverty. Much of this is blamed on the “permanent elite” of politicians who rotate among various cabinet posts. Hezbollah makes sure its allies remain in office, no matter how corrupt or incompetent they may be. Thus President Michel Aoun, widely known for his corruption – he has amassed a fortune of $80 million – and for his mismanagement, stays in power because Hezbollah supports him, and he, in turn, does Hassan Nasrallah’s bidding.
Hezbollah is not only responsible for the $15 billion in property damage caused by the Beirut blast, but also for the billions of dollars in damages to Lebanese infrastructure caused by the war with Israel that Hezbollah dragged Lebanon into in 2006 – a war the Lebanese did not want. And they worry about Hezbollah starting another war with Israel, this time using much of its gigantic arsenal of 150,000 rockets and missiles, which in turn would lead to Israel inflicting devastating damage on Lebanon, in its effort to find and destroy Hezbollah’s vast stockpiles of weapons.
Hezbollah has seen its annual support from Iran reduced from a high of $800 million to this year’s estimated $550 million. Iran’s economic woes are immediately felt by Hezbollah that sees its aid steadily diminished. And of course, just as the general Lebanese population is mired in poverty, so, too, are many Hezbollah operatives, whose salaries have been cut, and who suffer from the same extraordinary devaluation of the Lebanese currency as do other Lebanese. Some members of Hezbollah are known to have quit the terror group because of their low salaries. There is nothing Nasrallah can do to rectify this financially intolerable situation.
Nasrallah can keep up his bluster as the miles gloriosus, or braggart warrior, boasting of his supposed role in ending the “Greater Israel” dream (a non-existent threat), and of preventing Israel from interfering with Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock (another baseless worry). No one outside Hezbollah believes him. While Nasrallah threatens Israel with these hollow displays of bravado, he knows that a repeat of the 2006 war with the IDF would be devastating to Lebanon, and likely lead to a popular revolt against the group that keeps dragging Lebanon into wars that the Lebanese do not want.