Analysis27 years of autocratic rule seem to have gone to his head

With smug tunnels speech, Hezbollah chief tries to bury terror group’s defects

Nasrallah claims Israel was humiliated by underground infrastructure, threatens Israelis with war, in bid to hide Hezbollah’s failures and distort the actual power balance

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Hezbollah terror group leader Hassan Nasrallah is interviewed on the al-Mayadeen Lebanese television channel, January 26, 2019 (Screen capture)
Hezbollah terror group leader Hassan Nasrallah is interviewed on the al-Mayadeen Lebanese television channel, January 26, 2019 (Screen capture)

After weeks, it has finally happened: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has confirmed the existence of cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon into Israel — though he didn’t explicitly take responsibility — despite the terror group’s initial attempts to deny that a subterranean network was being built across the border for military purposes.

But as is his wont, Nasrallah quickly turned an event that is supposed to embarrass Hezbollah into a propaganda and deterrence tool against Israel, by directly addressing, and threatening, the attentive public in the Jewish state.

In his interview Saturday evening with his home TV channel, Al-Mayadeen, Nasrallah explained that the tunnels have existed for a long time, some predating the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Israel suffered an embarrassing failure in having taken so long to uncover them, he insisted.

Nasrallah knew that after his prolonged absence from the public eye and a wave of rumors regarding his health, Israeli news outlets would be closely following his every word. And he made full use of the situation to try to intimidate the average Israeli, saying Hezbollah has precision-guided missiles, more tunnels, the ability to conquer northern Israel, bomb the entire country and disrupt the lives of Tel Aviv residents, and more.

He even jokingly told his interviewers that Hezbollah’s possession of precision-guided missiles was to Israel’s advantage, since it would prevent innocents from being harmed.

Supporters of the Hezbollah terror group raise their fists and cheer as they listen to a speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, via a video link, during a rally marking Hezbollah Martyr’s Day in Beirut, Lebanon, November 10, 2018. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

Had aliens landed in the region and listened to Nasrallah’s interview without prior knowledge of the balance of power between Israel and Hezbollah, they may have believed that in a future war it would be Israel’s existence that would be in danger, not Hezbollah’s.

In fact, Hezbollah remains a dangerous organization capable of inflicting immense damage on Israel, but it does not pose an existential threat to Israel. In the next war, however, Hezbollah’s future and its very existence will probably be in question, along with the entire current state of Lebanon. It sometimes seems that Nasrallah forgets this. Perhaps the civil war in Syria has had its effect, and the group’s achievements there — with generous help from Russia — have caused its secretary-general’s smugness to skyrocket.

Nasrallah was appointed Hezbollah leader almost 27 years ago, when he was just 31 years old. It can be assumed that 27 years of autocratic rule over a terror group that has become the strongest in the world — possessing one of the world’s biggest missile arsenals — have raised his euphoria levels.

PFLP-GC chief Ahmed Jibril (right) pictured with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut in May 2002. (photo credit: AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi)

He feels invincible, has forgotten the outcome of the Second Lebanon War, and the price Lebanon could pay doesn’t seem to be his top priority. Hezbollah is preventing the formation of a government in Lebanon, demanding more and more political strength and power.

In recent years, Nasrallah has been functioning as an Iranian emissary, which is why the welfare of Lebanon’s residents doesn’t really interest him. He has to satisfy his Iranian masters, even if that means risking a new war.

A clear-headed examination of Nasrallah’s “achievements” in recent years shows the magnitude of Hezbollah’s failure, in and outside Lebanon. The Syrian civil war was decided by the Russians, not Hezbollah, and until Moscow intervened, Hezbollah couldn’t stand up to Islamic State.

The terror organization lost almost 2,000 combatants, and thousands were injured in battle in Syria. It may have gained experience in fighting in similar fashion to an army, but fighting as regular forces was never going to get Hezbollah anywhere. On the contrary, if it tries to confront the Israel Defense Forces that way, its failure will be even more pronounced.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah addresses supporters in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, November 3, 2014 (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

Meanwhile, Lebanon itself is financially and politically crumbling.

Hezbollah and Nasrallah, with all their slogans against Israel, seem to be trying to divert attention away from the weaknesses of the terror group while deflecting the Lebanese public’s attention away from a salient fact: That it has taken over Lebanon and turned it into an Iranian hostage.

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