Jerusalem — When George W. Bush said that the world would eventually come to realize that Hezbollah lost its month-long war with Israel, he probably had no idea that this realization would come so quickly—or that it would come directly from the mouth of Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah.
Nasrallah told a Lebanese TV audience last night that had he had known that the operation to take two Israeli soldiers would end as it did, then he not have taken that course of action. “If there was a one percent possibility,” he said. “We would not have done that. We would not have done any capturing.”
By admitting to a miscalculation that has cost Lebanon billions of dollars and many hundred civilian lives, Nasrallah is perhaps giving some indication of how dearly the blunder has cost Hezbollah in personnel, power, and prestige in the country. It seems now as though the author of The Divine Victory won the hearts and minds of Arabs across the region—except for in Lebanon, where the “Underground Mullah” actually lives.
Owning the “Arab street” doesn’t often translate into real world power, especially in a region where popular opinion trembles before the iron will of authoritarian regimes and their security apparatuses. Consider the careers of other recent pretenders to throne of Salah al-Din:
- Saddam Hussein mocked the United States after surviving the first U.S.-led Gulf War, only to see his regime fall a decade later. He was pulled out of a hole by American troops and is now on trial for crimes against the Iraqi people.
- Osama Bin Laden “restored Arab dignity” when he attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. He is now in hiding; many of his top aides have been captured or killed.
- Gamal abd-el Nasser, the most charismatic Arab leader of the twentieth century and to whom Nasrallah is most often compared, led the Arabs to a disastrous defeat in the 1967 war against Israel.
Yet if Nasrallah’s fame was nothing more than his allotted fifteen minutes, his war did constitute small, but nonetheless real, victories for his two benefactors, Syria and Iran.
By hitching his wagon to the Islamic resistance, Bashar al-Assad finally managed to ingratiate his regime with the Syrian public. It turns out that the Syrian public who had ostensibly looked to Bashar as a reform-minded Westernizer prefers the man who is willing to gamble their own lives and security by transporting weapons for the sake of the Party of God’s fight with Israel.
And in driving a wedge between the masses and their rulers, Tehran pressured the Arab establishment that it is fighting for control of the Middle East. Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia endured tremendous pressure this month as a Persian Shiite regime out Sunni’d the Sunnis in its efforts to liberate Jerusalem.
But even these small victories aren’t final. While one Lebanese station was interviewing Nasrallah last night, another was talking to former Syrian Vice-President Abd-el Halim Khaddam. In December, the London exile spoke out against the current Syrian leadership—until Saudi Arabia pulled the plug on Khaddam by forbidding Saudi-owned media from interviewing him.
The Saudi kingdom owns most major Middle Eastern press outlets and, as one manager of a well-known Saudi-owned media concern told me at the time, Riyadh is not in the business of bringing down other Arab regimes. Perhaps that sentiment has changed—Khaddam appeared on a station that represents Saudi interests in Lebanon.
Khaddam spent much of his TV time talking about the ongoing U.N. investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Premier Rafiq al-Hariri. Whether Khaddam’s report is accurate or not, the leader of what is effectively the Damascus government-in-exile says that the top regime people are all implicated, including the president.
The Hezbollah-Iran-Syria axis has had a much tougher month than most people have been willing to let on.