Nasrallah Is the State

How far can Hassan Nasrallah stretch the rift between himself and the Lebanese government, and does that schism threaten his position? Judging by his speech last night, it seems that the Hezbollah leader has decided to bypass the weak point - the fragile ethnic fabric - and to speak directly to the publics of Israel, Lebanon and the Arab world, completely ignoring Lebanon's prime minister and its entire leadership.

Already in his previous speech, he emphasized the Shi'ite, or at least Muslim, nature of the war he is waging, thus consciously waiving Christian and to some extent Druze support.

Yesterday Nasrallah took another important step in delineating the rupture between himself and the government, mocking Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's agitated declarations Saturday, calling Lebanon a disaster zone and begging the world to help create a cease-fire and rebuild Lebanon.

"We aren't asking you for any help on any level," Nasrallah said in comments directed at the leadership of the Arab world.

An emergency summit of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo over the weekend actually did Nasrallah's work for him, by essentially announcing the bankruptcy of the Arab League and deciding to dump the Lebanon crisis on the UN Security Council, thus for the first time washing their hands of a crisis in an Arab country.

This was also a clear signal to Siniora that that the League cannot provide moral support to him, and a hint that the solution to the present hostilities can only come through the international community - in other words, following a great deal of destruction and slaughter, the situation might begin to change.

In light of this, both Syria and Iran could chalk up temporary victories, warding off a split with the rest of the Arab world, as no Arab anti-Syria or anti-Iran coalition has yet formed, like the Arabs' anti-Saddam coalition that was created during the first Gulf War. This situation plays into the hands of Nasrallah, who endeavored yesterday to create legitimacy for Lebanon's waging of the war, by defining it in terms of Israeli military goals, not as a war against civilians. Nasrallah has used this line since the clash began - not only to create legitimacy for his organization vis-a-vis Israel, but to deprive the Lebanese government of any claim that this is his personal whim or that of some organization wagging the tail of a country.

His words seemed to try to neutralize the situation that he believes Israel is trying to create, of bringing civilian pressure to bear on the Lebanese government so the state will rein in his organization.

Apparently this effort relies on two possible scenarios. If Israel attacks infrastructure targets that damage daily life in Lebanon, particularly that of the wealthy, the Lebanese will prefer to blame Israel and not Hezbollah, so there is no reason to consider various groups' calls for a cease-fire. And if Israel continues to hit only Hezbollah targets, Nasrallah will conduct a drawn-out war of attrition, paralyzing the Lebanese government and ensuring his military status.

The Hezbollah leader can rely in such scenarios on the fact that most of the Shi'ite population - yesterday his organization and Amal set up a joint war room - will continue to support his struggle, and that the Lebanese government will have trouble creating a resolute and united front against him. Furthermore, the government is suffering from internal disputes and even if its members could coalesce, it would have trouble controlling the army, which is comprised of Shi'ite elements and a pro-Syria command.