Down but Not Out

Hassan Nasrallah, a native of the village of Basuriya in southern Lebanon, holds Lebanese passport No. 042833. This information can be found on a list prepared by the CIA - a catalog of thousands of names of people and organizations involved with terror. This is an essential bit of information for anyone wishing to stamp Nasrallah's passport, particularly at Ben-Gurion International Airport. If the tired immigrations clerk raises her head from her booth and sees a bearded man with a turbaned head, with that passport number, she should stop him and call for reinforcements.

American intelligence also knows Nasrallah's birthday, August 31, but not exactly how many candles his cake should have on it on that day. There are four possibilities for the year of his birth: 1953, 1955, 1958 and 1960. If the CIA cannot figure out when he was born, how will they manage to determine his time of death?

In Western terms, if the cease-fire resolution is accepted in its current formulation, then Nasrallah lost the confrontation with Israel during the past month. In Eastern terms, which are the ones that really count in this part of the world, he only improved his position by taking a step backward in anticipation of the next round. The cease-fire depends on the agreement of the government of Lebanon and, at this point, that depends on Nasrallah. If the world is impatient to close the Lebanese case and move on, Nasrallah is capable of giving it and Israel the runaround - and of racking up further concessions. He exists, therefore he is important.

In order to vanquish Nasrallah once and for all, the campaign must end in a manner similar to the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, not like the previous cease-fire that ended the first war in Iraq, in 1991. The invasion of Kuwait (the Iraqi equivalent to the abduction of the Israel Defense Forces soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser), which to Saddam's surprise raised the ire of the U.S. administration that he had previously scorned for its weakness, provoked a chain of events that weakened Saddam, but left him in place. Notwithstanding UN resolutions and the American power that enforced no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq, he survived another dozen years and carried on mocking the world. Even more than Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, who lost gubernatorial races but came back and won the presidency, Saddam was the comeback-kid of the Middle East.

In a similar role, courtesy of the government of Yitzhak Rabin, was Yasser Arafat, who gambled in favor of Saddam in the war and angered the Americans, but survived and held (according to Rabin) the key to Israeli-Palestinian peace. It is also possible to point to the big loser of the Six-Day War, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who resigned, came back, and dragged Israel into a war of attrition that ended in a draw and led to the Yom Kippur War.

Of course, we should not confuse gain with cost. The establishment of the State of Israel, its defense against those rising to destroy it, and the expansion of the boundaries set by the UN Partition Plan, justify presenting the War of Independence in 1948 as a success - especially if we consider the alternative. The cost, 6,000 dead, was heavy, but is considered to be acceptable. The tally of the Yom Kippur War is still debatable, but even those who insist on presenting that event as being more positive than negative must admit that the cost - 2,600 lives - was quite high for the dubious gains of October, 1973. This time Nasrallah has had to pay a great deal, but he still got to "Pass Go."

Were missiles to fall on Canada from Alaska, the responsibility would have been on the administration in Washington. The links between Iran and Lebanon are similar: Iraq and Syria do separate them, geographically, but as long as Nasrallah is alive and kicking, Lebanon is an Iranian colony. This also impacts on the increasingly complicated situation in Baghdad, including the sharp rebukes of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against Israel and the Shi'ite protests in support of Hezbollah.

On August 31, the who-knows-which birthday of Nasrallah, the UN Security Council will deliberate the Iranian nuclear issue. If he survives until then, even with a shrunken force in Lebanon, he and his patrons in Tehran will not have lost.

Therefore, it is expected that in the coming days the IDF will carry out a frantic effort to locate Nasrallah, alone or with some of his associates, and try to kill them. In one morning recently such a moment had come: a "highly valued" Hezbollah target emerged and all the right ears were perked up, the weapons systems were put on alert, and then the target slipped away - at least until the next time.