Punish - not avenge
Hassan Nasrallah's speeches, especially those aimed at Israeli ears, have long been a source for warnings of terror attacks, and yesterday's speech was no exception. The Hezbollah leader told Israelis that the punishment - not revenge - for Imad Mughniyah's assassination would surely come. In his view, such "punishment" is necessary, to deter Israel from assassinating other key Hezbollah figures.
In practice, Nasrallah added nothing to the warnings that senior Israeli officials have been issuing for 40 days now. But coming from the mouth of the person responsible for ordering the anticipated attack, his warnings have additional credibility.
Unlike Hamas and Islamic Jihad, whose anti-Israel violence has few broader regional implications, Nasrallah has the ability to set off a regional chain reaction: For instance, his actions could implicate Syria or draw Israel into another war in Lebanon. Not for nothing did his speech include several statements about his organization's growing power and capabilities.
Admittedly, he said these were meant to serve Lebanon, and that Hezbollah fights alongside the Lebanese Army, not instead of it. But since he also stressed that he retains full control over decisions on revenge attacks, these statements were a reminder to Lebanon's government, with which he is embroiled in a political struggle, as to just whose finger is on the trigger that could send Lebanon back to war.
Nevertheless, Nasrallah is not entirely independent: When choosing the time and place for his vengeance, he will have to consider its implications for both Syria and Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Nasrallah is still holding indirect negotiations with Israel on a prisoner exchange, and yesterday, he reiterated his promise that all Lebanese held by Israel will be released. That would seem to contradict his threats of vengeance. But in fact, in almost all conflicts worldwide, prisoner exchanges are viewed as independent of the fighting. Therefore, even if a deal should be struck, it would eliminate neither Hezbollah's threats of vengeance against Israel nor Israel's threats against Hezbollah.