Hizballah: Public Celebration, Private Concern
As troops from the Lebanese Army finally make their way to the Israeli border in keeping with UNSC Resolution 1701, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah held a massive Beirut rally Friday in celebration of what Hizballah calls its “divine victory” over Israel in the 34-day conflict spanning July and August. In Nasrallah’s speech to a crowd estimated at over 800,000 people, he declared that “No army in the world will be able to make us drop the weapons from our hands.”
Thumbing his nose at Resolution 1701, which calls for Hizballah to be disarmed, he proclaimed that Hizballah still has over 20,000 rockets. “I say to all those who want to close the seas, skies and the deserts and the border and the enemy, the resistance today possesses more — I underline that — more than 20,000 rockets,” he said.
But Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev offered that this supposed number is even greater than the number Hizballah claimed before the conflict began. Regardless, Regev deadpanned, under the UN Security Council resolution Hizballah “shouldn’t have any rockets.”
The following day in Harissa 17 miles north of Beirut, the leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces held a rally against Hizballah with tens of thousands of supporters on hand. Leader Samir Geagea told supporters in response to Hizballah’s victory rally, “I don’t feel victory because the majority of the Lebanese people do not feel victory. Rather, they feel that a major catastrophe had befallen them and made their present and future uncertain.” Geagea was pardoned by the Lebanese parliament and released from prison in July 2005 after serving 11 years of 3 life sentences for murder convictions, including the murder of pro-Syrian Prime Minister Rashid Karami.
Geagea went on to demand Hizballah’s disarmament for sake of Lebanon’s sovereignty, saying, “When we find a solution to (the issue of Hizballah’s) weapons, then it will be possible to establish the state as it should be.” He criticized Hizballah’s creation of a “state within a state” and the Lebanese government for allowing it. Yet, while Nasrallah called for the disbanding of the Lebanese government and the formation of a new one, Geagea defended the Saniora government on the grounds that at least it was finally a Lebanese government and not a Syrian sideshow.
While publicly Hizballah and Nasrallah are holding rallies and declaring victory, a much less celebratory picture emerges in one-on-one interviews with Hizballah’s leaders. Hizballah’s political leader, Nasrallah, is said to be privately very depressed about the state of affairs after the Israeli war. As Ehud Yaari describes for the Washington Institute, “Hassan Nasrallah is showing clear signs of “dejection, melancholy and depression,” according to the editors of the Lebanese daily al-Safir, who are counted among the most steadfast supporters of the leader of Hizballah.”
Hizballah deputy-secretary, Sheikh Naim Qassem, said that after the war, Hizballah needs time to reconsider the nature and state of their activities. No longer does the terrorist organization have unfettered access to hardened positions along the Israeli border and they must also now keep their weapons concealed, a negotiated alternative to being disarmed in the south of Lebanon. But much of Hizballah’s firepower is being moved north into a consolidated Bekaa Valley position occupying the region along the Syrian border.
Adding to Lebanon’s internal challenges, al-Qaeda seeks a foothold in Lebanon, as noted by US Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. Al-Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri called for the establishment of a foothold in Lebanon in his latest statements, saying “I call on every sincere Muslim who is able to reach south Lebanon to rush to defeat the Zionist forces invading Lebanon … to strive with everything at our disposal to set up a jihad base on the borders of Palestine.” While Negroponte expressed uncertainty over al-Qaeda’s success thus far, he noted the intent as well as evidence of al-Qaeda activity inside Lebanon.