The Lebanese party/militia Hezbollah, the main bogeyman of Israel and American politicians and media, is in the news again this week. There are rumors and reports in some Arab media, mainly pro-Hezbollah media, that Israel has plans to assassinate Hassan Nasrallah, its leader. No doubt there are contingency plans of all kinds, which is normal, but there are claims that Israel has been leaking this report deliberately.
Israel has a long failed history of counterproductive assassinations of its Arab opponents. Don’t get me wrong: the assassinations often succeed, but they ended up having the opposite effect of what the Israeli Mossad expected.
Take the case of Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah. He became leader of Hezbollah after the Mossad assassinated his predecessor Abbas al-Musawi with a bomb in 1992 (so, assassination by remote bombs is one thing the Israelis and Lebanese have in common). Israel thought that the beheading of Hezbollah would weaken it. They got the biggest surprise in their history, the biggest surprise since the time when their ragtag under-estimated Jewish forces in Palestine defeated all the combined Arab armies in the 1948 war.
Israel had been occupying Southern Lebanon, a Shi’a bastion, since 1982, and Hezbollah was partly formed (with Iranian help and money) to kick them out. The Israelis had forced the Palestinian forces out of Lebanon around 1982, which also opened the way for Hezbollah (and its older rival/ally Amal). Instead of beheading Hezbollah with the assassination of Musawi in 1992, the Israelis got a tougher more wily more determined opponent in the new Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
Under Nasrallah, the Lebanese militia forced the Israelis to end their occupation and free Southern Lebanon in the year 2000. Hezbollah is now the strongest military and political force in Lebanon. It is also very likely the strongest Arab military force, having defeated IDF once and forced a stalemate in the 2006 war, and having helped Bashar Al Assad defeat the Jihadists in Syria. Moreover, with Iranian-supplied missiles and improvised local technology, Hezbollah now has achieved a what I called a few years ago a balance of terror with the mighty IDF. Both sides holding each other’s population centers hostage to guarantee good behavior. Korean Peninsula style. Hezbollah also won, along with its Christian and Sunni allies, the Lebanese parliamentary elections earlier this year.
Another example? In 2004 Israel assassinated the elderly Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the founder of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas (initially an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood). Two years after that Hamas won a majority in the first Palestinian free elections. It won in both Gaza and the Occupied West Bank (a reflection of the bankruptcy and corruption of the PLO/PA under Abu Mazen and his old guard). Friction with the PLO (Fatah) increased and led to a military confrontation over Gaza. Hamas easily defeated the PLO forces lead by Mohammed Dahlan, another corrupt PLO functionary. There has been no Palestinian elections since then, perhaps the continued and incurable corruption and kleptocracy of the PA leaders in Ramallah insures that the fundamentalist Hamas will win again. Hence no elections. Meanwhile Dahlan is biding his time in Abu Dhabi (UAE) waiting to become the next Palestinian puppet of the Persian Gulf potentates if he ever succeeds in replacing Abu Mazen as Mayor of Ramallah.
The moral for the Israelis? Beware the enemy you don’t know, cherish the devil you know. Stay the hell out of Lebanon, just give up this moth-like attraction you have to the fires of Beirut.
(P.S.: FYI, rhetoric aside, in the end Hezbollah is highly unlikely to represent an existential or serious threat to Israel. No doubt its leaders realize that, as do the Israeli leaders. For decades Arabs have been threatening to destroy Israel in its current form, and they have failed. The final seal on that was done in June 1967. That was when the Arab World woke up to the reality of defeat. The 1973 war only confirmed that. But then there are the unpredictable results of the current Likud policies and their demographic impact on the future of Israel-Palestine, apparently a topic and a dilemma for another day).
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum