Like many Lebanese, I spent the morning glued to my screen waiting for Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s first speech since the beginning of the latest Israel-Palestine war. While I haven’t lived in Lebanon for more than a decade, Nasrallah’s speeches remain important events in my life, as both a foreign policy professional and a Lebanese. So I found myself parked on the side of a Washington road in rush hour traffic, watching. After all, he was expected to announce Hezbollah’s intentions toward Israel — and Lebanon’s fate — amid its escalating war with Hamas.
The key question was whether Nasrallah’s Hezbollah (and its Iranian patrons) intended to launch a wider war against Israel as their contribution to the “resistance” agenda, despite the inevitable harm this would bring to Lebanese, including its supporters, and potentially to the wider region. This was important to many of those watching; if you are Lebanese you have an obvious stake in the matter. Some people — Lebanese or others — want Hezbollah to enter the war despite the certain destruction it will bring to Lebanon. Others sympathize with the Palestinian cause but have enough problems living in a failed state. And there are those (including Lebanese) who are enjoying watching Hezbollah squirm in the face of Israeli military deterrence thus far, sporadic operations aside.
A key takeaway from the speech, especially among people who dislike Hezbollah, is that it was empty bluster, doublespeak, an awkward attempt to disguise Hezbollah’s cowardice or weakness in the face of Israel, shown by its failure to escalate the war against the latter from Lebanon. There is some truth to this, of course. Nasrallah is a talented public speaker, but he is also a deceptive and manipulative one. And he did fail to announce any escalation against Israel despite the increasingly horrific war in Gaza. Yet the speech was arguably more than simple posturing to hide weakness and went some way in revealing Nasrallah’s worldview and that of his patrons. [Continue reading…]