Nasrallah Threatens Revenge / Hezbollah Throws Down the Gauntlet

When Hassan Nasrallah quotes David Ben-Gurion to emphasize to Israel that "if it loses one war, it will collapse," or the Winograd report to impress his supporters with the fact that Israel lost the fight against several thousand Hezbollah fighters, we can once more be impressed that he and his advisers follow what is going on in Israeli society far more closely than Israel follows developments in Lebanon. But Nasrallah also knows that sharp rhetoric and expert usage of language are no substitute for a plan of action.

He presented his plan yesterday in his speech by setting the rules for war against Israel: "If you want an open-ended war, it will be an open-ended war," and he also explained what this would entail. Because Hezbollah blames Israel for the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, which it claims occured "outside the natural arena of the war" (in other words Syria and not in Lebanon), the organization considers it legitimate to use the same method and target Israel outside the "natural arena": not directly on Israeli territory but against Israeli targets abroad. Thus, Nasrallah absolved himself of the rules he followed for years, according to which he was conducting a war of Lebanese liberation against Israeli occupation. Henceforth, he is adopting a war on behalf of the organization, not in the name of Lebanon, against Israel's existence.

In this new equation, where Nasrallah opened a new a "personal account" for himself and Hezbollah versus Israel, lies the novelty of his speech.

Nasrallah also diverged from the way he had characterized the Lebanon war to date - as a Lebanese war against Israel, and every Hezbollah victory as a Lebanese one. Yesterday he said that his fighters were ready for the next war, that they had equipped themselves with weapons, and that they have conscripted thousands so in the next war, Israel will face tens of thousands of Hezbollah fighters. Not a word on the Lebanese army, certainly not about the government of Lebanon, which he does not consider to be a legitimate body.

This was a speech that was directed at the Lebanese government and its supporters, no less than it was for Israel's consumption.

Nasrallah did not spare his rivals any ridicule, especially Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who called on him earlier this week "to stop the war against Israel under false slogans, which only serve the ambitions of the Syrian regime and the Iranian empire." Nasrallah described the leaders of the Lebanese majority "dwarfs" who are unable to fight for themselves and therefore call in other countries, like Israel and the United States to fight their battles for them.

If Lebanese analysts expected Wednesday that the assassination of Mughniyah would result in positive gestures of political reconciliation on the part of Nasrallah, especially after Sa'ad Hariri called for "national unity," it would seem that yesterday's competing rallies and speeches have brought Lebanon one step closer to a violent confrontation. It is not the ridicule of his rivals that is now threatening Lebanon, but Nasrallah's ability to determine, at any given moment, whether the country goes to war or keeps the peace.