What is Nasrallah’s Game?

In The Nation, Adam Shatz looks at what Sheik Sayed Hassan Nasrallah hopes to achieve.

Nasrallah’s objectives most likely lie elsewhere. Since the 2000 Israeli withdrawal (“the first Arab victory in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” as Nasrallah often notes), Hezbollah has faced mounting pressure, from the West but also at home, to lay down its arms and become a purely political organization–a fate the party dreads, since it prides itself on being a vanguard of Islamic resistance to American and Israeli ambitions in the Middle East. This pressure dramatically intensified with UN Security Council resolution 1559 (2004), which called for the disbanding of all Lebanese militias, and with the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon last year. By conducting a raid that was likely to provoke a brutal Israeli reprisal, Nasrallah may have gambled that the fury of the Lebanese would soon turn from Hezbollah to the Jewish state, thereby providing a justification for “the national resistance” as Lebanon’s only deterrent against Israel. So far, Israel (with the full support of the Bush Administration) has played right into his hands, inflicting more than 300 casualties, nearly all of them civilians, and pounding the civilian infrastructure, eliciting sympathy for Hezbollah even among some Lebanese Christians. By striking at Israel’s Army during its most destructive campaign in Palestine since 2002’s “Operation Defensive Shield,” Nasrallah must have known that he would earn praise throughout the Muslim world for coming to the aid of Palestinians abandoned by the region’s authoritarian governments, a number of which have pointedly chastised Nasrallah’s “adventurism.” And by bloodying Israel’s nose, Hezbollah could once again bolster its aura in the wider Arab world as a redoubtable “resistance” force, a model it seeks to promote regionally, especially in Palestine, where Nasrallah is a folk hero, and in Iraq, where Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the radical Shiite Mahdi Army, has proclaimed himself a follower of Hezbollah and has threatened to renew attacks against US forces in solidarity with the Lebanese.

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