In an interview with Hezbollah’s Noor Radio on Tuesday, on the anniversary of the liberation of southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke about the liberation and thoroughly listed all the “resistance’s achievements” since that moment in history. However, as he reminded the Lebanese of Hezbollah’s sacrifices and triumphs, Nasrallah overlooked a few facts, indicating a number of shifts.
The most significant Syria-related shift that Nasrallah indicated is the way he differentiated between Hezbollah’s strategies in Lebanon and in Syria. Usually, Hezbollah’s go-to rhetoric is threats and intimidations, although always accompanied by the famous “we will retaliate at the right time and place.” However, Nasrallah took a different tone when asked about Syria. He said: “So why aren't we retaliating against Israel's strikes in Syria? Why don't we create the same equation in Syria as in Lebanon? Because our mission in Syria is not over – we are still trying to defeat armed groups. This is our priority.” He added that Hezbollah is employing “strategic patience.”
The reality is that Hezbollah prefers to avoid a war with Israel that may not be contained to Syria and would possibly see infrastructure in Iraq and Lebanon targeted as well. Hezbollah is also suffering from a financial crisis – due to US sanctions on Iran – that hinders them from funding and preparing for another war with Israel.
It is, however, an indication that Hezbollah has no immediate plans to retaliate against Israel in Syria – a significant shift from Hezbollah’s longtime noncompromising rhetoric against Israel. In a sense, Nasrallah said that fighting armed groups in Syria is more of a priority for Hezbollah than resisting Israel. This is a major shift for Hezbollah and it indicates weakness and readiness to compromise.
Another shift and indication of compromise is Nasrallah’s discussion on the IMF-Lebanon negotiations. Although he said that there are better alternatives to the IMF such as “Syria, Iraq, and China,” he also said that Hezbollah is “opening the door for Lebanese to discuss IMF conditions, whether they're humiliating or not… if they impose realistic conditions on us, great. If not, we'll go to alternatives.” For Hezbollah to accept IMF conditions on Lebanon – realistic or not – means that the party and its Iranian sponsors cannot really offer an alternative to save Lebanon.
Behind the Rhetoric Shifts
This shift in rhetoric that primarily focuses on the resistance’s priorities shows Hezbollah’s fears, rather than confidence, and that fear is rooted in the party’s view on regional trends and a further deterioration of their presence and control in Lebanon and in the region.
Since the liberation day in year 2000, Hezbollah has focused on ideological and sectarian translation of its “divine victories” rather than translate them into an economic and social vision to serve Lebanon and the Lebanese people. To gain allies, Hezbollah backed corrupt politicians, and allowed dictatorships such as Iran and Assad’s regime to benefit from and destroy the Lebanese economy.
Now that the economy has collapsed, and people have finally realized that Hezbollah was behind their losses and frustration, the party of God – instead of offering a viable socio-economic plan to pave a way forward – has continued to back the same system that led to the collapse.
Hezbollah can’t play the blame-game forever, and they know that the next wave of protests will be more violent and outspoken – and they are worried. Nasrallah’s new rhetoric does not mean that Hezbollah – and by default Iran – will change its plan for Lebanon or alter its regional strategy. The new rhetoric is merely an attempt to buy time until something again shifts in the region and Hezbollah feels more confident in their ability to retaliate against regional players and Lebanese protesters.
Twenty years after the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from south Lebanon, Lebanon in going through its worst crisis since gaining its independence. Instead of defeating Israel, Hezbollah defeated Lebanon and the Lebanese people. They have offered Lebanon to the Iranian regime, and 2000 was a year that marked a turning point as it exposed Hezbollah’s real plan for Lebanon.
Hanin Ghaddar is the inaugural Friedmann Fellow at The Washington Institute's Geduld Program on Arab Politics, where she focuses on Shia politics throughout the Levant. She tweets @haningdr.