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Hanin Ghaddar

What did Hezbollah accomplish by attacking Israel?

They know that the community cannot afford another war. They just need a symbolic victory.

Israeli military vehicles are seen burning in the Shebaa farms following a Hezbollah missile attack (AFP/Maruf Khatib)

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah was not going to address his public this Friday without having a winning card. It would have been a complete embarrassment. But not speaking at all would have been worse. Today’s attack against the IDF was a risky but necessary retaliation by Hezbollah, serving an internal purpose to maintain its popularity.

 

Since the Israeli strike on their convoy in Quneitra, Hezbollah has been in a deep trouble. They were aware of the risks of retaliation, but it seems the risks of not retaliating were much bigger. Their supporters have been desperately waiting for a victory — either in Syria or in Lebanon — for the past three years; that is, since they got involved in the war in Syria. It hasn’t happened. At the same time, the Resistance rhetoric was fading bit by bit and lately Shiites in Lebanon mention resistance only with nostalgia.

 

Hezbollah’s statements have become increasingly embarrassing with each Israeli strike on either their own or Assad’s positions. Its rhetoric has changed from a heroic expression of dignity and victory to a more realistic one with redundant phrases such as “wisdom” and “the right time.” But Hezbollah cannot survive without heroism or victory, especially among its supporters, and this has been dragging them to dangerously low levels popularity.

 

That’s why Hezbollah’s retaliation against Israel was a difficult but an unescapable choice.

 

It could be that the decision to retaliate was Plan B. Just two days ago, Hezbollah’s media and officials filled our heads with statements and analyses on why it is necessary to wait and examine the situation before any retaliation.

 

Local newspapers reported State Minister Mohammad Fneish as saying during Thursday’s cabinet session that the Resistance has enough wisdom to choose “a response that takes into consideration Lebanon’s interests.” He also told Lebanese Tourism Minister Michel Faraoun that same day that the group was aware of the danger of dragging the country into another war with Israel.

 

Local websites in the South which target local communities and pro-Resistance outlets also praised Resistance leadership for taking time and space to make its decisions away from the pressure of friends and foes.

 

But this did not resonate well with Hezbollah’s supporters, who were too thirsty for an act of “resistance” that would bring back some of the lost dignity of the community and feed its nostalgia for the good old days, back when Shiites could brag about being the heroes of the Arab world. 

 

After Hezbollah buried its martyrs, pressure from the community escalated. Some demanded that Hezbollah retaliate, others just assumed that they would and just couldn’t tone down their anticipation on social media and in public forums. Some simply spoke of disappointment.

 

Hezbollah and its media were saying one thing, while the community was in a different place. The gap between the two pushed Hezbollah to switch to Plan B. They had no other choice to avoid a major disenchantment with the “Resistance,” especially that the war in Syria will not end soon, and there is no victory in the horizon. On the contrary, more bodies in bags will be coming home from Syria.

 

Meanwhile, the economic situation of the Party of God could not be worse, so distractions with services and entertainment are not as abundant as they were before or after the 2006 War. The only thing Hezbollah has to offer the community these days is victory and heroism, and they’ve been difficult to come by in Syria.

 

Therefore, Hezbollah’s retaliation in the South served an internal purpose. Nasrallah can now deliver a wonderfully fiery, heroic speech on Friday, and finally give his supporters a taste of the victory they’re dying for (often literary).

 

But that’s exactly why Hezbollah will not get into a full-fledged war, 2006-style. They know that the community cannot afford another war. They just need a symbolic victory, not a real one. In the end, the outcome of today’s operation was not about tallying. Hezbollah killed two Israeli soldiers, while the Quneitra strike caused Hezbollah major losses in its ranks, in addition to Iranian generals, to say nothing of older unavenged losses such as Imad Mughnieh and Hassan al-Lakkis.

 

Another war with Israel would backfire. Shiites have nowhere to run like they did in 2006. The war in Syria has created many enemies for the Shiites. In addition, Hezbollah is stretched too thin between the South, the North, Syria and Iraq. They do not have the capacity to open more fronts. Last but not least, should a war break out that results in the scale of destruction we saw in 2006, Iran will not be able, this time, to rebuild and send financial aid for compensation.

 

Hezbollah has made a very risky choice; one that could have dragged all Lebanese into another war, and it did so just to regain some popularity among Shiites. For many Lebanese, taking that risk would be nearly unthinkable, but as far as Hezbollah’s leadership is concerned, it was more than worth it.

 

Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW. She tweets @hanin961

Israeli military vehicles are seen burning in the Shebaa farms following a Hezbollah missile attack. (AFP/Maruf Khatib)

Hezbollah and its media were saying one thing, while the community was in a different place. The gap between the two pushed Hezbollah to switch to Plan B."

  • Beiruti

    Who is a Zionist and who is not Fenrir? If Hezbollah is acting in concert with Netanyahu, the uber Zionist, what does that make Hezbollah? Hanin calling Hezbollah's hand does not make her the Zionist, she is just pointing out whose hand is in whose hand.

    February 2, 2015

  • Vlad Tepes

    It should make you angry that Zionist Pigs are just bombing and killing anyone they choose at will, but instead Hanin Ghaddar wants to bash Hezbollah and make them look like bad. Hanin Ghaddar is definitely the one who serves Zionist interests.

    February 1, 2015

  • Beiruti

    Hanibaal, I don't know that your post is a complement or not, but thanks for reading anyway. Whether Iran and Hezbollah are in bed with Israel, and I do believe that they are, is a total other issue from whether they are pro-American. Netanyahu's Israel and Obama's US are not the most cordial of allies. Netanyahu is anti-American and seeks to undermine the US at his every turn to keep his fanatical marginal coalition together. I have read Trita Parsi, which is an excellent analysis of Iran-Israel-the US and the alliance that they make. Up to 1994, Israel lobbied for Iran with its AIPAC operations in Washington. The common enemy then was Saddam Hussein and Israel was necessary as a US Strategic ally to confront the USSR and then when it collapsed in 1991, to confront Saddam and then when he collapsed in 1991, the Israelis pulled up their old ally, Iran and chose to demonize them and use them as justification for the continued strategic alliance with Israel. Israel is all about Israel, it is not about being pro-American unless to be about Israel one must be pro-American. There is nothing intrinsic or symbiotic about Israel and the US as there is between Israel and Iran. Both represent ethnic and religious minorities in the region and so they naturally tend to ally against the majority Arab Sunni, regional milieu.

    January 31, 2015

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    I tend to assume that, regardless of the US president's own preference (such as Obama's timidly tough stance on Israel), that US policy is always dictated by a preeminent concern for Israel's security. Therefore, if, as you say, Iran and Israel are somehow allied against the Sunni environment around them, one can reasonably conclude that there is a tripartite entente between Israel, Iran and the US. This might explain most of the upheavals in the predominantly Sunni and/or Arab countries. Consequently, one wonders why and how do the Sunnis (Saudis primarily, but also all their satellites like the Emirates, the Lebanese Sunnis, the Egyptians, etc...) justify their own alliances with the US. Either the US is simply playing both sides, or the two sides are dumb enough not to realize that. Perhaps everyone understands that, but choose to try and get the most of out of a bad situation.

    February 1, 2015

  • Beiruti

    US policy is generally directed toward security for the State of Israel because there is a strong constituency here in the States, not just among American Jews, of which there are few, but among American Christian Evangelicals, of which there are many, to support Israel. This constituency has been bipartisan and both major parties have sought to bring that constituency to their party, lately, Netanyahu has sided quite strongly with the Republican right against Obama which is causing the Democratic Party to move away from the Likudniks in Israel. Israel is becoming a partisan issue in the States. About the Saudis, US policy in the region has always been driven by Security for Israel and security for the oil production and transport from the region. With regard to the oil resources, the US tilts its policy toward the Saudis, but with regard to Israel, which sees the regional majorities of Arabs and Sunnis as an existential threat, we have tilted to the Israeli regional view. The views have been balanced to now between Israel and oil, but now that the US has rediscovered new oil reserves in the US, the oil issue is not as prominent as once it was, and so the Saudi connection is not what once it was either which makes the Iranian connection seem stronger by comparison.

    February 2, 2015

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Beiruti, Hats off to your analysis. Nasrallah (and behind him Iran, and with him Michel Aoun) are in essence serving the single most important American objective: The security of Israel. Yet, someone convinced the dumb Samir Geagea and his Sunni allies that they are "pro-American". Politics is truly the dirtiest of occupations. Live and learn.

    January 30, 2015

  • Beiruti

    Netanyahu needs Hezbollah and Hezbollah needs Netanyahu. They are like love and marriage. Israel is an ally to Hezbollah in the war against ISIL and Hezbollah provides the shock troops to Israel and the West in fighting ISIL. The whole Western strategy toward the ME is changing from Sunni oriented to Shia oriented. The lesson of 9/11 is that the guys on the planes were Saudi wahabis. These guys want to hurt the US. So Obama has turned to Iran and Iran's Shia allies to provide order over there and by doing so earned the enmity of the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. KSA is now in the middle of a ring of Shia fire to the north (Iraq) the east (Iran/Persian Gulf) and the South (Houthi take over of Yemen). Israel has always been with Iran and the Shiites as minorities in the region. Netanyahu is the champion Brier Rabbit as he has demonized Iran, the US has nevertheless moved progressively toward Iran as the answer to the ME puzzle. Just as Israel's long term strategic vision predicted. Thus, Hezbollah, the Iranian entity, lends aid and assistance to Netanyahu when he is in danger at home, as does Netanyahu when Hezbollah is in danger at home. If Hezbollah genuinely was an enemy of Israel, don't you think that Israel would strike now when Hezbollah is the weakest in Lebanon and in the South?? But they do not and it is because they are not enemies, but allies.

    January 29, 2015

  • Beiruti

    What did Hezbollah accomplish? Let us remember the symbiotic relationship between Hezbollah and Israel, or the Netanyahu government. Each needs the other. Netanyahu is in a tough re-election campaign for the Prime Ministership, he needs some military win. Hezbollah is in a similar desperate situation with its Lebanese constituency. So what happens? Hezbollah discovers a Mossad agent in its chain of command and expels the guy. Action. Reaction, Netanyahu orders the attack on the Hezbollah column in Quneitra. Surprise kill, the Iranian general. Win for Netanyahu. Israeli anticipated reaction - Hezbollah will strike, but its strength is low, as Hanin wrote, Hezbollah is stretched thin so that in the South their numbers are down, so Israel does not anticipate much. Reaction - Hezbollah strikes in Shebaa, not Israel proper. Win for Hezbollah. Reaction - Israel lobs some shells into Southern Lebanon and kills a Spanish UNIFIL soldier. Then they both, Israel and Hezbollah, call the whole thing off. Why? Mission accomplished. Hezbollah got its strike and Netanyahu got his and no war resulted.

    January 29, 2015

  • Petrossou

    You end up saying: "Hezbollah has made a very risky choice; one that could have dragged all Lebanese into another war," Well do not run out this possibility!!!

    January 29, 2015

  • Chriss

    Everyone seems to be forgetting that the illegitimate state of Israel doesn't afford to engage in a war with Hizbullah as well, after all the money and weapons it spent on the aggression on Gaza last summer.

    January 29, 2015

  • bezerker77

    This analysis is based on human rationale ... Hellbouzla is a terror organization that does not care if it kills thoustands of its own people

    January 28, 2015

  • Chriss

    It's called "resistance".

    January 29, 2015