Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Peace negotiations, Syria

Nasrallah’s Rhetoric Directed East or West?

Update: Joshua Landis responds to this piece; I’ve posted his comments below the article.


I’ve got an article over at Joshua Landis’s Syria Comment. I reproduce the text below.

nasrallah-elephantspeechIn a speech Friday evening commemorating the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, Hizbullah secretary-general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah rejected the recent American offer of dialogue along with its pre-conditions (recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence).

This, in and of itself, was unsurprising. More noteworthy, however, was Nasrallah’s language concerning the Syrian-Saudi reconciliation and the strategic choices that face a more united Middle East, particularly vis-à-vis Israel. In the context of Syria’s peace negotiations, and coming on the heels of President Bashar al-Assad’s recent statement concerning his allies in Lebanon and Palestine (“I will work to involve Hizbullah and Hamas in the negotiations to achieve peace in the region”), one wonders whether Nasrallah’s words were not at least partially intended for Syria. Indeed, as he directed his comments “to those who delight in American delegations coming to Lebanon,” one could hardly help wondering what he made of the American delegations coming to Syria.

Here is the relevant paragraph, with translation below:

اليوم وغدأ وبعد سنة وبعد مئة وبعد ألف سنة، إلى قيام الساعة ، نحن وأولادنا وأحفادنا وأجيالنا ، طالما نحن حزب الله لا يمكن أن نعترف بإسرائيل. ماذا يعني إسرائيل، إسرائيل كيان غاصب ودولة غير قانونية وغير شرعية، دولة عنصرية ودولة معتدية ودولة إرهابية، بأي معيار يمكن لإنسان مسلم أو عربي أنّ يعترف بكيان من هذا النوع وأن يأتي ببساطة ويقول نعم هذه هي إسرائيل وثلاثة أرباعها أو أكثر أعطوه لشذاذ آفاق جيء بهم من كل أنحاء الدنيا، أمّا أصحاب الحق الشرعيون وأهل الأرض وأهل الديار وأهل المقدسات من الشعب الفلسطيني مسلمين ومسيحيين هؤلاء يجب أن يتركوا وأن يخرجوا وأن يستسلموا وأن يخضعوا! دلوني ما المعيار، في الدين ما المعيار، في الأخلاق ما المعيار، في الإنسانية ما المعيار، في الوطنية ما المعيار، في القومية ما المعيار، على أي معيار، نعم هناك معيار واحد هو معيار القبائل والعشائر العربية التي انهزمت أمام جيش أبرهة، أي ماذا نقدر أن نعمل فهذه إسرائيل وفي ظهرها أمريكا، كما قال أولئك هذا جيش الحبشة ولا نستطيع مواجهة الفيل، فلنهرب ونحيد ونترك أقدس مقدساتنا لأبرهة، يوجد فقط هذا المنطق منطق عام الفيل الذي يقول نحن لا نقدر على إسرائيل وإسرائيل بظهرها أمريكا وليس لدينا خيار فالواقعية والواقع والمنطق والتعايش والكذا والكذا ويفتشون عن تعابير ما أنزل الله بها من سلطان ليفرضوا  علينا القبول بهذا الأمر

“Today, and tomorrow, and after one year, and one hundred years, and one thousand years, until the Hour of Judgment, we and our children and our grandchildren and our people… as long as we are Hizbullah, we will not recognize Israel. What is Israel? Israel is a plundering entity, an illegal and illegitimate state, a racist, belligerent, terrorist state. By what standard can a human being, Muslim or Arab, recognize an entity of this kind, and come and say, simply: “Yes, this is Israel,” while three quarters of it or more has been given to foreigners brought from all corners of the world, and while the people who are in the right, who are the legitimate ones, the people of the land and the holy places, the Palestinians – Muslims and Christians – have to let go, and leave, and surrender, and submit! Show me that standard! What is the religious standard? What is the moral standard? What is the humanitarian standard? What is the nationalist standard? What standard is it?!

“Yes, there is one standard, which is the standard of the Arab tribes and clans that were defeated before the army of Abraha, [the standard which says]: “What can we do? This is Israel, supported by America,” just like those who said: “This is the army of the Ethiopians, and we are unable to confront the elephant, so let’s flee and give up and abandon the holiest of our holy places to Abraha…” There is only this logic, the logic of the Year of the Elephant, which says: “We cannot overcome Israel, for Israel has America behind it, and we have no other choice, and we must be realistic, and common sense, and coexistence, blah blah blah… They search for baseless explanations so as to force us to accept this issue…”

Who was Nasrallah’s audience here? Was it merely the usual suspects (the ‘moderate Arabs’ and March 14th), or was he also firing a shot across Syria’s bow, sending the signal that this was all a little too much, too soon?  After a week in which Britian announced a dialogue with Hizbullah’s political wing, the Americans made a similar offer with strings attached, and the Syrians stated publicly for the first time that they would work to bring Hizbullah to the negotiating table, it is not so hard to imagine that Nasrallah sought to lower expectations.

Hizbullah and its allies are in a good position to become the majority after the June 7 elections. While a victory for either side is unlikely to be a resounding one and will almost certainly result in a consensual government (i.e. one in which the opposition has a cabinet veto), the elections nevertheless promise to be hard fought. The last thing that Hizbullah needs right now is the public impression (created by offers of dialogue from Britain and the U.S., the American engagement of Iran and Syria, and Bashar al-Assad’s suggestion that Hizbullah will agree to negotiations) that the resistance movement is softening its stance vis-à-vis Israel.


Joshua Landis (author of Syria Comment) responds:

Dear Qifa – Excellent and provocative post.

I think we are seeing a lot of hot air being blown by all sides in the region. Anyone willing to listen to Syria knows it is not going to flip. Those who pretend that it is are simply going through an exercise so they can feign shock… shock… that Syria isn’t being forthcoming and flipping. Then they will be able to turn on Obama and declare him naive and a dupe for possibly believing the Syrians could change their nasty ways — but of course no one in the West is offering Syria any real incentive to change or think differently about the Wests motives or capabilities to do anything but whisper sweet nothings to the Palestinians as they are dispossessed of their land.

Syria knows that Netanyahu is not going to cooperate with any US sponsored peace thing to get the Golan back. The US knows that Israel is not giving up land. Netanyahu knows that the notion of economic development for Palestinians in the West Bank is a charade, as does everyone else who has any clue about the economic realities of the West Bank which has been chopped into economically nonviable mince meat.

So what does it cost Nasrallah to make some political hay by restating his “principled” rejectionist stand that Israel

We could read Nasrallah’s statement to be intended as a shot across Syria’s bow if for a minute we thought that anyone in Syria actually believed that peace was in the offing. But it is not and Syrians know this.

So what are they doing? They are seeing what is on offer by the US, which is very little. The US is seeing what Syria has on offer without the Golan being on the table, which will not be much but tinkering in Lebanon and Palestine. Iraq cooperation is a no brainer for Syria. It is the easy file to work with the Americans on because Syria is happy with the Iraqi government and wants trade from Baghdad and little else, save not to threaten Damascus, which is doesn’t so long as it resists US plans to allow Special Forces to operate against Syria from Iraq.

Without the Golan on the table, Syria cannot possibly be expected to even hint at flipping or pressuring Hizbullah or Hamas to disarm. Hizbullah knows this, Syria knows it. Hizbullah is reminding the Americans and all those in Israel or the West that nothing has changed in the regional calculus.

The Israelis lack a leader such as Sadat. They have no interest or imagination to change the dynamics of the region.

Hizbullah is underlining this.

I have no reason to believe that Nasrallah needs to send Syria a message or that Bashar al-Assad is contemplating making any important changes to his regional strategy.

There will be a modicum of US – Syrian cooperation on a number of issues because it is in the interests of both countries to cooperate where they can, but do not expect fundamental change in relations in the region.

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22 thoughts on “Nasrallah’s Rhetoric Directed East or West?

  1. Hezbollah defines itself as a resistance movement and, therefore, cannot stop resisting. The day it recognizes Israel is the day it lays down its arms, and becomes “merely” a political party. That would be suicide for Hezbollah, and I cannot imagine it ever happening (even if the Sayyed himself says it could). The only legitimacy HA has for keeping its army (and for holding Lebanon by its, forgive me, balls) is Israel. Nasrallah will soften his stance vis-a-vis Israel the day Israel takes a long, permanent holiday, out of this region.

    The real question is – will Nasrallah accept Syria’s continued courting of the West and vice-versa, and if he won’t, what can he do about it?

    My guess is that somewhere down the line, perhaps a few years, Bashar will have no choice and, like Sadat, will have to choose the West over the East. The Mullahs might be able to produce nukes, but as long as they can’t make iPods, and download country music from iTunes, Bashar’s heart will always belong in the West. Like the saying goes: “Once you go Mac, you never go back!” 🙂

    Posted by Shai | March 15, 2009, 10:41 am
  2. Shai:

    The real question is- will Iran accept Syria’s courting of the west, with out straining their relationship?

    I think Bashar wants to down load Billy Ray Cyrus’s Achie breakie heart on his ipod! I just cant see the Mullahs doing the line dances behind Barshar while listening to the tune.

    But lets see where Bashar’s dance skills take him? My hunch is The Syrian population are more tolerant and secular than the Mad Mullahs, and the Syrian economy needs reform, investments, expertise and more importantly- Peace.

    I just think that Nasrallahs words are a shot against the Syrian leadership, just don’t take this peace thing to seriously!

    I dont think that the Iranian nuclear question will be dealt with in a diplomatic manner unfortunately, and Nasrallah knows this.


    slip me a quick email get my email addy of Qifa or Alex.

    Posted by Enlightened | March 15, 2009, 2:59 pm
  3. QN,

    Who is going to determine the victor in the June elections? It is the swing Christian vote that will have to decide between Aoun and March 14. The Shia are not swing voters. So, Nasrallah by putting forward his position so forcefully is in fact hurting his block’s chances. The swing Christian voter is pulled on one side by his hate for Hariri, corruption, Solidere and acceptance of the Palestinians but on the other side really wants a state of no war with Israel in order to advance economic development. Nasrallah is pushing these voters towards March 14.

    I think the simple explanation is that he is doing Iran’s bidding. Just like the case that Syria will not let Lebanon make peace by itself with Israel, the Iranians will not let the Syrians make peace unless they get what they want. At the very least, the Iranians will not let the Syrians make peace at their expense. I find this quite ironic and amusing.

    Posted by AIG | March 15, 2009, 6:27 pm
  4. It just goes to show the inherent inconsistencies and double-speak both in Syria’s stance and in Hizballah.

    For Hizballah its OK if Lebanese blood is spilled in pursuit of its patrons’ agenda, even while those patrons themselves pursue negotiations with Israel.

    For Syria, it underlines the regime’s inability and lack of sincerity in pursuing any quid pro quo.

    Nothing new here … at all, and anyone who thinks there is, is in deep deep denial.

    Posted by Blacksmith Jade | March 15, 2009, 6:29 pm
  5. AIG

    It sounds like you’ve got the swing Christians all figured out. 🙂

    Read this thread on the FPM forum.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 15, 2009, 6:53 pm
  6. QN,
    It does look like I got it right, doesn’t it?

    Posted by AIG | March 15, 2009, 8:04 pm
  7. AIG

    I was kidding around with you. Actually, the FPM thread shows that Nasrallah’s speech was very popular with the Aounists.

    Of course, this is all anecdotal, and I have the suspicion that only the die-hard partisans bother posting on that forum. Also, people tend to take very partisan positions, so even if the majority of FPMers are against this kind of rhetoric, they probably wouldn’t voice any criticism publicly, on a blog.

    But who knows? At the very least, we should conclude that it is not so cut and dry as you make it seem.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 15, 2009, 8:07 pm
  8. QN,

    Well, which positions do you think the swing voters in Lebanon are weighing?

    Nothing is simple or cut and dry. But if we want even a chance of understanding, then we must simplify and make some generalizations. Unless of course you claim that this is a waste of time with the swing voters in Lebanon.

    Posted by AIG | March 15, 2009, 9:51 pm
  9. QN,

    You really shouldn’t take the FPM chat forums as an indicator of anything other than partisan chatter. More often than not dissenting posts there, possibly reflecting a broader Christian attitude towards issues, are deleted and a relatively strict policy line is implemented.

    The June 7th elections will obviously give the most accurate indication of mainstream Christian political thought/direction. Until then the clearest underlying thread of mainstream Christian thought is the Maronite Patriarchy’s position on those issues (my 2 cents).

    Posted by Blacksmith Jade | March 15, 2009, 9:51 pm
  10. Jade

    It’s great to hear your point of view on these matters, so thanks for weighing in. (You are not, by any chance, the same “Jade” who participates in discussions on the FPM, blog, are you?) 🙂


    You know, to be perfectly honest, I really doubt whether swing voters are weighing any positions, because there aren’t that many positions to weigh. The vast majority of people are going to vote either with their local strong man, or whom their strong man tells them to vote for…

    As for those who are really sickened by confessional politics, most will probably just stay home. I wish it were different, but there is a great deal of voter apathy.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 15, 2009, 10:28 pm
  11. Qifa,

    If the majority of Labor (all 7 of them, out of 13) won’t let our Barak join Netanyahu’s coalition, he may want to try out Lebanon’s government. Do you guys need a new Defense Minister? And Barak’s been to Beirut before… (as a Brunette) 🙂

    Posted by Shai | March 15, 2009, 10:39 pm
  12. Shai

    In fact, we probably will need a new Defense Minister, although Elias al-Murr is fairly cozy these days with both coalitions. Here’s the classified ad, just in case you know someone who is interested:

    (1) Must be on extremely good terms with the Resistance.

    (2) Must be able to keep a stiff upper lip while flattening refugee camps in search of ragtag salafist wackos.

    (3) Must be willing to procure expensive and useless military equipment like Russian jet fighters, just cuz…

    Know anyone who fits the description?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 15, 2009, 10:46 pm
  13. Umm, Ehud Barak? (For a nice Volvo and some body guards, he’ll play Hopscotch with Nasrallah’s grandkids every afternoon).

    Posted by Shai | March 15, 2009, 10:53 pm
  14. lol

    A Volvo and some bodyguards? You guys are easy to please. In Lebanon, the bodyguards drive Volvos. The ministers have more lavish rides.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 15, 2009, 10:59 pm
  15. QN,

    Looking at the title of this article again, I’m not sure we can exclude the possibility that Nasrallah’s rhetoric was actually aimed neither East or West, but rather South! In essence, isn’t Nasrallah doing a very good job explaining (let’s assume to Israel) why he cannot and won’t recognize it? Isn’t he basically saying “If (you) want to be accepted here in this region, (you) need to first understand a few things…”?

    I’m not sure there isn’t some virtual psychologist here, and that both Hezbollah and Israel aren’t showing up for joint “therapy” sessions. Spelling out Hezbollah’s rejections to Israel is perhaps meant for Israel’s ears, no less than for anyone else’s. Perhaps?

    Posted by Shai | March 16, 2009, 11:36 pm
  16. Regarding your advertised positions:

    We once had a senior politician very closely fitting with your requirements. Unfortunately, he is asleep.

    Posted by netsp | March 17, 2009, 9:06 am
  17. I didn’t see the speech, but I’m curious, did he actually say “casa casa”?

    Posted by sean | March 17, 2009, 10:58 am
  18. Hi guys… I’ll try to get back to some of these comments tonight. In the meantime, reload the page in order to read Joshua’s response to the article, if you didn’t already see it on Syria Comment.


    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 17, 2009, 4:19 pm
  19. Although Landis’s response is suuuper pessimistic, I think there’s some truth to it. There is, of course, that like Nixon and China, it would take someone like Sharon or Bibi to go to Damascus, I think the sad truth is that the new Israeli government is more likely to be a spoiler than anything else. So with a divided Palestine and a rejectionist Israel, it’s hard to see that there’s any room for change in the regional calculus.

    Posted by sean | March 17, 2009, 6:43 pm
  20. Insert, “the idea” there between “of course” and “that.”

    Posted by sean | March 17, 2009, 6:46 pm
  21. Man, I am an Ethiopian Muslim, it hurted me when I read this article

    Posted by miftah | November 12, 2009, 4:12 am

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