“If you, the Zionists, are considering attacking Lebanon, I am reserving a surprise for you that will change the fate of the war and the region.”
– Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, in a speech marking the end of last year’s war with Israel.
“We have to take Nasrallah seriously. He has never lied.”
– Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, infrastructure minister and member of Israel’s security cabinet, in reference to his speech.
Arab leaders have historically relied on hyperbole rather than accomplishment in rallying their people or boasting of their success. But even the Israelis now recognize Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah is to be taken at his word. Not only does he refreshingly avoid self-aggrandizement, his achievements speak for themselves.
None more so than what he termed the “Divine Victory” against Israel last summer, also known as the “Second Lebanon War” to the Israelis and the “July War” to the Siniora government. The Israeli onslaught, purportedly waged in response to the kidnapping of two of its soldiers (trespassing on Lebanese territory), was withstood and countered by Hezbollah with salvo after salvo of Katyusha rockets.
It was a lopsided battle no doubt, as was the damage inflicted by the warring parties. Sixteen Israeli soldiers were killed along with 43 civilians, while there were more than 1000 Lebanese civilian causalities and one million – a full quarter of the population – displaced. The south of Lebanon was devastated and littered with cluster bombs up to the very last minutes of the war. Beirut’s dahiyah or southern suburbs, a Shia stronghold, were reduced to rubble.
At one point, after the Israelis failed to assassinate Nasrallah with a strike on his residence and offices there, he appeared live on Al Manar TV saying, “The surprises that I promised you will start now. Now in the middle of the sea, facing Beirut, the Israeli warship that has attacked the infrastructure, people’s homes and civilians will burn and sink in front of you.”
Shortly thereafter, the very same Israeli warship that had been shelling Beirut was in flames, its blazing image widely televised.
“I promise you a new victory, just as I always have,” he said at the war’s beginning.
And it was another promise kept.
At the end of it, the mighty Israeli military machine was forced to accept a ceasefire. Despite savaging the country, they did not achieve their goal of destroying Hezbollah or killing Nasrallah.
The Arabs rejoiced. Sunni Palestinians sang songs praising the Shia group and Nasrallah dubbed the “Hawk of Lebanon” in one of the most popular. He was compared to Gamal Abdul Nasser and hailed throughout the region.
But this was among the ordinary people, not their leaders. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, all dictatorships closely allied with the United States, watched with amazement as an audacious Hezbollah stood their ground and even managed to fight back.
From the Israeli and American perspective, as well as from the same Arab states, there is still a score to settle. As previously mentioned, the next war is more likely to be started from within, at the hands of extremist Sunni groups deliberately brought into Lebanon by the current government. If this plan fails, or even if it does not, Israel is no doubt contemplating another assault, thinking it can learn from previous mistakes and amend its strategy.
So what will be Nasrallah’s “surprise”?
“he [Nasrallah] does what he says. If he says he has 2,000 rockets, I believe him, but I do not know what surprise he is alluding to.”
Could it be more sophisticated weaponry, a new guidance system, or a longer-range missile? Possibly. But Nasrallah in his speech, broadcast to throngs gathered in the dahiyah, said it would “change the fate of the war and the region.”
Should Israel be foolish enough to attack, might Nasrallah again unite Shia and Sunni, this time on an ever wider scale, against intervention and occupation? Or demonstrate how a popular resistance movement can defeat, time and time again, a militarized nation? He has already helped people believe they have the power to reject the authority of corrupt governments which pretend to defend their interests but instead defend those of the United States and Israel. And if these same regimes should again watch passively as Israel ravages Lebanon, the citizens of those countries may even decide to take matters into their own hands. All these events would change the Middle East landscape as we know it.
Regardless what it is, Nasrallah’s surprise will only come as one to those who believe he is bluffing. As history has shown, that is something he does not do.
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.