Hanin Ghaddar/What did Hezbollah accomplish by attacking Israel?


What did Hezbollah accomplish by attacking Israel?
Hanin Ghaddar/Lebanon Now/28/01/15

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