It could have been a time bomb, it turned out to be a firecracker. That is, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk. His highly-anticipated televised address, delivered on November 3, 2023, exemplified Hezbollah’s trademark strategy of inflammatory rhetoric in the face of escalating tensions in the Middle East. The Secretary-General of the Lebanese terrorist Shia militia, however, while expressing palpable concerns over the volatile situation, refrained from issuing direct threats or calls to arms, choosing instead a carefully calibrated message. As Paul Nuki quipped on The Telegraph, he appeared “keen to please Iran paymasters [by keeping his] options open with a ‘nothing to do with me’ speech“. In fact, Hamas’ assault was “100 per cent Palestinian,” Nasrallah said, adding “its absolute secrecy ensured its astounding victory”.
In his speech, Nasrallah referred to Hezbollah as a stabilizing force in the region. His oration bore resemblance to Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” where the bark may be loud, but the bite is calculated and restrained. Hezbollah’s reputation as the “barking dog” of the region is not without merit. The terrorist group has been exercising prudence in its approach to direct confrontation with Israel. This strategic calculus stems from a keen understanding of its relative military capabilities compared to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
However, this rhetoric, as noted by Italian newswire service Ansa, is a testament to Hezbollah’s canny approach to geopolitical posturing. From a strategic point of view, Hezbollah has achieved its maximum objective. By keeping the IDF engaged on the northern front alongside the border with Lebanon, it effectively serves as a persistent distraction, diverting Israeli military attention and resources away from ground operations in Gaza. Moreover, Hezbollah has demonstrated a keen understanding of the power of perception. The terrorist militia adeptly manipulates public opinion in the West, using its rhetoric to cast doubt on Israel’s actions and partly blame the US. This calculated messaging, though met with skepticism by some, has proven effective in shaping narratives and garnering international attention.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, Hezbollah’s principal, is apprehensive about dragging it into a direct confrontation with Israel, as it could lead to a broader regional conflict. In an analysis for Bloomberg, Bobby Ghosh argues that “Nasrallah’s restraint suggests its patrons in Tehran, for all their threats of a wider war against Israel, are reluctant to commit their most valuable asset to the conflict,” noting that “[Hezbollah’s] limited role has been not much different from that of other Iranian proxies, such as the Houthi militia in Yemen and the al-Hashd ash-Shaʿbī militia in Iraq. The Houthis have fired off missiles in the direction of Israel, while [al-]Hashd have taken aim at American bases in Iraq.”
Furthermore, one of the paramount factors influencing Hezbollah’s current stance is the precarious economic situation in Lebanon. Joining a war effort, with its inherent economic ramifications, would undoubtedly lead to an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions. The aftershocks of such a conflict could take decades to rectify, potentially alienating the substantial power base Hezbollah holds within the delicate mosaic of Lebanese politics.
Its immediate objectives have largely been accomplished through this strategic posturing. By keeping the IDF occupied on the northern front, influencing the narrative in the West, and diverting resources from Gaza, Hezbollah has caused major harm without resorting to full-scale warfare.
In a sardonic response to Nasrallah’s speech, Eylon Levy, Israeli government’s spokesperson, remarked, “The speech was so boring, we wonder whether his speechwriter was killed in recent IDF strikes on Hezbollah up in the north.” Levy then went on and stated the following: “I would note that despite the large crowds, Mr. Nasrallah himself was not on stage. He was hiding in a bunker like a coward, and if I were giving an hour-long speech defending the pedophile rapists of Hamas I would be afraid to show my face in public as well.”
Nasrallah’s premeditated words offer a window into Hezbollah’s strategic calculus – a delicate dance in the midst of a geopolitical minefield. Hezbollah’s canny and cynical approach starkly contrasts with Hamas’ reckless brutality that does more harm than benefit to all the regional and global stakeholders. For all his hateful and bellicose rhetoric, Nasrallah’s address, as the region teeters on the precipice of a wider conflict, serves as a stark reminder of the nuanced and strategic approach needed to navigate in regional geopolitics.