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Tony Badran

Jumping into the fire

Anyone monitoring Hezbollah’s rhetoric over the last several days could not but notice a spike in its apocalyptic pitch. Perhaps it was the religious occasion of Ashura, but more likely, it was the result of the tense regional situation, namely the increased paranoia in Tehran. Convinced that an attack against them is imminent, the Iranians are now preparing for war and publicly declaring that Hezbollah, and thus Lebanon, will be their first line of defense. That is why in his most recent speeches, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has been preparing the Shia community in advance for the ruin that awaits them as a consequence.
 
All talk of Hezbollah’s “Lebanonization” and its supposed definition as a “national resistance” aside, the reality is that the group’s first and foremost task is to be Iran’s long arm. The Iranians are now making this fact known explicitly. Two weeks ago, Yahya Rahim Safavi, former commander of the Revolutionary Guards and military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Guide, Ali Khamenei, declared  that in case of an Israeli attack on Iran, the Iranian retaliation will come from Lebanon, “because all the Zionist cities are within the range of our ally Hezbollah's Katyushas.” In other words, the order has been given and Hezbollah is up to bat.
 
The problem is that, for Hezbollah, this order comes at a rather bad time, as the Party of God is facing serious constraints and uncertainties, especially as its Syrian ally struggles for its life, putting in question the group’s strategic depth in Syria. Moreover, Nasrallah now must mobilize a reluctant Shia community, still reeling from the utter devastation of the 2006 war, to follow the party into the abyss for the sake of its Iranian patron.
 
It is against this backdrop that Nasrallah’s Ashura speeches this past week, including his rare public appearance with the celebrating crowd in Beirut on Tuesday, are best understood.
 
Of all those speeches, perhaps most telling was the one Nasrallah gave on the third night of Ashura, last Monday. The overriding motif of the address was the perseverance of the faithful regardless of the hardships they must face and the sacrifices they must make. Nasrallah made it amply clear that what was expected of the believers was nothing short of self-sacrifice. To drive the point home, he referenced a story from Shia tradition about how the faithful—men, women and children—willingly jumped into a pit of fire rather than renounce their Imam.
 
Nasrallah then tied the ancient lore to the present, revealing the core of what he expected from his followers. “We, the men, women and children who held steadfast in the July [2006] war, are not frightened by their war or their weapons … In these hard times, facing all the challenges, dangers and slander, and facing the excessive strength and cunning of the enemy and the scarcity of supporters and defenders, we say to Hussein, we will not abandon you, or your religion, or your banner, or your Karbala, or your goals, even if we were to be cut, sawed, and our women and children banished,” Nasrallah shouted, rallying his supporters, welding their religious and communal identity with Hezbollah.
 
Similarly, there was little subtlety when Nasrallah made a surprise appearance in Dahiyeh on Tuesday. The purpose behind that was to bind himself, Hezbollah and the Shia community in one fate—which is decided for them in Tehran. “I have chosen to be among you today for a few minutes … so the whole world can hear and we can renew our pledge,” he told the crowd. At the heart of this pledge of allegiance (bay’ah) are Hezbollah’s weapons. “We will hold on to our resistance and to the weapons of the resistance,” he said. 
 
Why is Nasrallah so keen on reaffirming his community’s allegiance to his party at this juncture? The episode of the Katyusha rockets that were recently fired on Israel is instructive. Hezbollah denied responsibility, and blame was thrown at an obscure Sunni Islamist outfit with alleged ties to al Qaeda. Many saw the episode as more of a Syrian attempt to remind the world that Bashar al-Assad could still light up the front with Israel, as well as to warn them that what might come after him would be al Qaeda jihadists. The Syrian regime’s publicists didn’t even bother with nuance in making this point.
 
But the Syrian angle was likely secondary. Furthermore, the accused Sunni group has denied responsibility for the attack. Most probably, Hezbollah launched the attack, much in line with Safavi’s threat that immediately preceded it, in retaliation for the mysterious explosions that have rocked Iranian facilities in the last month. But the subdued manner in which this was done is the most interesting aspect of the episode.
 
Hezbollah’s caution does away with an enduring and destructive myth from the 1990s, which holds that Hezbollah managed to achieve a “balance of terror” with Israel. In reality, Nasrallah knows full well what will befall the Shia community, indeed all of Lebanon, once Hezbollah attacks Israel on behalf of Iran, which is one reason why the party remained mum about the Katyusha attacks. 
 
With the prospect of the decimation of his Shia followers, it becomes easier to understand why Nasrallah is practically beseeching them, preemptively, to persevere in the face of inevitable devastation and, literally, jump with him into a pit of fire. For that is what he and his superiors in Iran will bring raining down on their heads.
 
Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets @AcrossTheBay.

  • Shlomo

    Toni why would the Lebanese need such a strong defense against Israel if hizbala didn't exist to begin with? Think about it!! I would want us to have peace between our nations just like with Jordan and Egypt!!

    December 18, 2011

  • Elenore

    Albert Einstein was asked if nuclear weapons will be used in 3rd World War he answered that on the 4th world war people will be using stones.If there's a war between Israel and Hizbollah there will be no winner and it will send Middle East back to stone age

    December 16, 2011

  • Marco Antonio

    Toni, don't kid yourself, hizballa is a deadly liability to us and to the shiite community. They afford you and I no protection. If they stay armed and disregard the state, hizballa will be handing us two possible scenarios for an end only, First ending is the total destruction of lebanon and the establishing of a wilayat elfaqih. Second ending is its own destruction along with lebanon. Both endings have us pegged for destruction. Religious zealotry has no country or national flag to respect. For them, there is no lebanon as you and I see it. To them, its just a temporary evil. Their end game is the religious domination of all other peoples in lebanon and the middle east. That organization has nothing to do with lebnanon or palestine or syria, Its all about zealotry at its worst, Listen to nasrala's speeches.

    December 11, 2011

  • ali daoud

    mb, you are one more naive dreamer...............HA is our Liberators, our Pride, and our mighty force, HA is our people who live in our land, who will wipe them from their own land?!!!!!!!!!!!!! get real, hate kills.

    December 10, 2011

  • Olig

    We will remember the day when Nasrallah will refuse to fire missile into Israel for Iran as it is not the right time for LEBANON and he will die as a martyr.

    December 10, 2011

  • FALAH

    this article was written based on hate..and by the way when he talk about shia community he is talking about half the lebanese people. if you really think that shia are controlled by iran and sayed hassan dictatorship than he doesnt really knows what shia religion is all about. let democracy rule, majority of the lebanese from hizballah and its allies (christains, druze, sunni) are a majority and they believe in the resistance role

    December 10, 2011

  • ROSENVALD

    Toni: Whay Hezboolla dont protect Lebanon, when syria soldiers cross Lebanon borders to kill inocent lebanese people?? Tony, Israel dont whant fight against Lebanon. The hezboolla power,is not to protec Lebanon against Israel,but is to control Lebanon, to put Jumblat in him hands,to help syria and iran fight against israel inside lebanon. To forbid people to now, who kill Hariri. I now that hezboolla can kill 1.000, or 3.000 israeli people and destroy 10.000 houses in Israel. I now the scuds will kill people in haifa,tel aviv, every place. Will be so hard to Israel. But you now thAt Israel did not fight whit 5% off his power in 2.006. If hezboolla destroy 5.000 houses in ISRAEL, the payback will be 100.000 in lebanon,the same to the number off deth peoples. ...

    December 10, 2011

  • shirin

    ... , ... , ..., this is what he is and his ally assad. they wil ... in ... that they are preparing for, inchallah. they deserve what will fall on their heads... indeed....archaic, ignorant, primitive, tribal, ...

    December 9, 2011

  • MB

    Well maybe that's what it will take to finally eliminate this ... group. If the whole of Lebanon is to pay a final place for whipping out this cancerous malignant then it's a sacrifice worth taking. Imagine the new Lebanon emerging after the shadows of a whipped out HA and a fleeing nasralha, maybe then the Shiite community could break free from tyranny of the Iranian nasralha and the Syrian berri. One could always hope...

    December 9, 2011

  • toni

    Well, dear Rosenvald, Your claim that Israel can destroy Lebanon completely might be true. But lets me realistic. Hisbollah can do the same thing with northern israel, too. So this is symmetric. But there is also a big asymmetry. It is the willingness to sacrify. Israel is not willing to sacrify. Lebanon, and Hisbollah, are willing to sacrify. In former times, these two asymmetries cancelled each other out. Israel was militarily stronger but a coward, not willing to sacrify. Nowadays, Israel has lost its military edge. Hence, Hisbollah is in a much better position. By the way, I am Christian. I hate Hisbollah for many things. However, their military strength and their backing by Iran provides a strong defense shield against Israel.

    December 9, 2011

  • ROSENVALD

    When Hezboolla fight Israel in 2.006, Irãn did not shot one single scud in Israel. Iran and Syria will fight against Israel, just whit lebanese and palestinian blood. If Nashalla start another war, every place in Lebanon will be israeli targuet. Israel will destroy the lebanese army,something that not do in 2.006. Israel dont whant fight,never will start the war. But if Nashhalla will do this, the payback will be 100 more stong. The Lebanese people will prefer hate Israel or Hezbooolla for this???

    December 9, 2011