"It was a weak speech," Tel Aviv University vice rector Eyal Zisser, an expert in Middle East studies, tells "Globes" of Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah's speech on Friday afternoon. "It was a speech evading responsibility, and the reason in my opinion is that he is in trouble. Nasrallah's trump card was always the matter of the soldiers - he would tell us it's not worth it, there will be a war, soldiers and civilians will be killed, why do you need that?"
"When he 'expelled' Israel from the security strip in southern Lebanon, the price we had paid every year was painful with around 20 soldiers killed. We could not withstand this as a society, and this is what built Hezbollah's methodology and its understanding of Israeli society. But we are in a different situation today, unfortunately after what happened to us, we are going all the way, which was not the case in the past and Nasrallah understands this.
"Nasrallah knows that he has a lot of power. He has more accurate missiles and he has a slightly bigger force than Hamas, but in the end he has an army of 20,000-30,000 soldiers compared with the IDF's 300,000 soldiers and he knows that he will pay a heavy price if he starts a war with us. Today's Gaza is nothing compared with what will happen in Beirut, if Nasrallah goes to war against the IDF. He has no interest in doing that. And yet, we are talking about people who are a little messianic. With messianic people there is a gap between imagination and reality, so you never know."
Hezbollah's Iranian connection also affects the question of its involvement in the war. "This is a man in whom Iran has invested a lot, and right now it seems that Iran is not so enthusiastic about war, and that's without mentioning the US presence in the region, which is absolutely felt by all parties."
What is Nasrallah's relations with Iran?
"In Iran there is the supreme leader and Nasrallah is his representative in Lebanon. Previously there was Qasem Soleimani who built Hezbollah over many years, but since he was killed there has not been anybody in Iran with the experience and status of Nasrallah. He is already an equal to senior Iranian figures. The Iranians can nevertheless draw different conclusions to Nasrallah, but they are not in a position to tell him what to do as was the case with Soleimani."
If the speech was so weak, why was it so greatly anticipated?
"First of all, Hezbollah has a public relations system, which built up expectations on the interview. Secondly, in the Palestinian arena there was still expectations that Hezbollah would come to help them. That is, there are those who kind of claimed and understood that maybe if they hear the voices coming from Gaza they would give them aid and rescue them, so there was hope that this would happen and there would be a change and Nasrallah would enter the fray. And us? We always tend to make out that Nasrallah is more than he really is. This does not mean that we should underestimate his value, Nasrallah is an important player, but he does not fundamentally change the picture at the moment. If we fight him it will be difficult but it will not fundamentally change the big picture."
What could make Hezbollah join the war?
"There is always the possibility of miscalculation. He could fire a bigger missile, we would react with force and then the situation escalates. But I don't think Nasrallah has an interest in that happening. He is committed to Iran, and I don't see that Iran wants war. But even if Iran comes to the conclusion that it wants him to fight, Nasrallah would have to do something, but ultimately it is his decision. In addition, we must also remember that if he comes to the conclusion that after Gaza we will move on to take care of him, and there are already such voices here, then he may say 'if they attack me anyway, why don't I start', and then the question is just about timing."
How was his speech received in the Arab world?
"The Palestinians expected him to say something significant, that he would come to their aid. They thought he would announce during the speech about joining the war, and instead the mountain gave birth to a mouse. This made them extremely angry with him."
Were his supporters in Lebanon also angry with him?
"The people in Lebanon, whether they are Hezbollah members or not, do not want Lebanon to look like Gaza, so I think that the speech was well received in Lebanon."
"In my eyes, Israel today is in an advantageous position that we do not fully understand," Zisser concludes. "This advantage should be translated into changing the security reality on the northern border. I'm not saying to conquer Beirut, but we can achieve these things without an all-out war. It won't be easy for people to return to Metula, if we don't change the security reality in the north."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 5, 2023.
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.