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Speech by Hezbollah’s Leader: Behind the Threats, There is Fear of Escalation 

Hezbollah’s leader spoke for the first time since the start of the Israeli offensive against Gaza. Behind his warlike tone addressed to the United States and Israel, his speech seemed to confirm that Hezbollah, an ally of Iran, fears a regional escalation.

Julien Anchaing

November 8, 2023
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The state of Israel began a war against the Gaza Strip that has already left more than 9,000 Palestinians dead. Since October 8, clashes on the southern Lebanese border have not stopped between Hezbollah and Israel, and have already left 56 members of the Lebanese organization dead. Last Friday, November 3, after 28 days of silence, the general secretary of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, finally spoke. 

Never has a speech by the secretary general of this organization kept so many people around the world in suspense. Foreign policy analysts identify the Lebanese organization as one of the main factors that could cause escalation in Gaza and an expansion of the conflict to other countries. Western powers and Israel are trying to avoid such a scenario.

In a long speech broadcast in several cities across the country, Nasrallah did not announce an escalation of the war or moves towards direct confrontation. Instead, he sought to present Hezbollah as an alternative to the Arab bourgeoisies in the region who are known for their collaboration with Israel and silence on the Palestinian struggle.

Between Supporting Hamas and Rehabilitating Iran

Nasrallah claimed that the October 7 attack on Israel was “100 percent Palestinian” and that Hamas’s allies — in particular Iran — were not aware of the planning. In other words, even if Iran currently supports Hamas, it does not wish to get directly involved in the conflict. Iran hopes to avoid a conflagration due to its own contradictory position, all the while celebrating the success of Hamas’s operation. At the same time, the head of Hezbollah presented himself as the leader of an axis against Israel, including Hamas and the Yemeni Houthis, in which Hezbollah would assume leadership without direct intervention from Iran (for the moment).

There were multiple challenges Nasrallah had to account for in his speech. Hezbollah is considered the only force in the Arab world that openly and unconditionally supports Hamas and does not hesitate to denounce the silence of Arab countries on the Palestinian cause. It is also the only organization, other than Palestinian political groups, that maintains a confrontation, even of low intensity, with the IDF.

Many in Lebanese society have accused Hezbollah of putting the security of the entire country at risk in the event of a war with Israel. Nasrallah had to reassure the organization’s detractors that this would not be the case. At the same time, Hezbollah seeks to remain the main opposition to Israel in the country. Hezbollah also has to account for important sectors of its base and the Lebanese youth, who strongly support the Palestinian cause and hope that Hezbollah will enter a tougher confrontation with Israel.

To engage with this base, Nasrallah highlighted the strategic role of the Lebanese front in the Gaza war and stated that Lebanon had already been in a state of war since October 8. He argued that the strategic importance of the current clashes should not be underestimated, even though they remain, in his own words, “insufficient.” The Hezbollah leader further highlighted that the mobilization of Israeli air, sea, and land forces towards Israel’s northern border had helped relieve pressure on Gaza, and that should be considered a war gain for the Palestinians. This statement seems disconnected from reality given that the situation in Gaza remains catastrophic and genocidal.

There remains a risk of military escalation in the region if the contours and political perspectives of the Israeli ground invasion remain unclear. This could result from the particular contradictions in southern Lebanon, with Hezbollah being forced to escalate. There are also deepening internal contradictions within Israel, even as Israel and the United States seek to avoid a larger conflagration in the Middle East. These crucial factors were largely ignored by Nasrallah, who instead emphasized the value of the ongoing clashes on Israel’s northern border as a major component that would relieve pressure on Gaza. The fact that Israel must dedicate part of its attention to its northern border is relative, however, while Gaza has already been transformed into a collective grave, with an Israeli offensive entering its third phase.

In reality, Hezbollah’s current situation is complex. While Nasrallah attempted to learn lessons from the Gaza war based on the experience of 2006, Hezbollah’s current position differs significantly, both at the national and regional level. Certainly, Hezbollah has established itself as the main Lebanese political organization to oppose Israel and the only one to question the silence of the Arab world towards Palestine, the Abraham Accords, and the colonial policies of the imperialist powers.

In his speech, Nasrallah mentioned the Sykes-Picot Agreement to underline Israel’s role as an instrument of the West, and warned that the United States could always use Israel to pursue its colonial objectives. However, this opposition to Western countries and denunciation of American responsibility for Israel’s impunity, as well as Nasrallah’s discourse of support for the Palestinian cause, stands in contrast to the policies that Hezbollah has pursued in Lebanon in recent years.

Hezbollah’s Support for Palestine is Limited

Since joining the Lebanese government in 2008, Hezbollah’s relationship with its base has evolved, and the organization has become a true arbiter of the Lebanese political system. Its image has gone from that of a resistance movement fighting against Israeli colonialism to that of a political party with a theocratic project and a regional strategy aligned with the Iranian agenda. The organization has relegated the Palestinian issue to the back burner. This crisis of legitimacy intensified with Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war as a fundamental pillar of Bashar Al Assad’s counterrevolution.

Within Lebanon itself, Hezbollah betrayed part of its base. Following the vast demonstrations of 2019, the organization played a leading role in nipping in the bud the nascent uprising against the Lebanese regime, in which Hezbollah became a key factor of stability. The popular uprising of 2019 exacerbated the government’s legitimacy crisis and radicalized the Lebanese population in the face of problems created by the oligarchy and covered up by the regime. These contradictions worsened after the explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, while the deterioration of the economic situation continues to plunge the Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian populations living in the country into increasing precarity.

The current situation in Gaza poses a new challenge to the population, which feels powerless in the face of recent events. The conflict also confirms the alignment of Hezbollah with the regional agenda of the Iranian bourgeoisie, which repressed the mass feminist uprising one year ago. Clearly, Hezbollah’s contradictions are numerous, given its alignment with Iranian policy and its internal interests within the Lebanese regime.

The liberation of the Arab working class is closely linked to the end of Israeli colonization, as well as to the fall of bourgeois and dictatorial regimes such as those of Bashar al-Assad in Syria or Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Egypt. The Arab population faces an immense challenge: fighting against its own bourgeoisie as well as against the colonial policies of imperialism and Israel.

Hezbollah’s role in crushing the Syrian revolt and pacifying the Lebanese streets goes completely against the mobilization of the Arab masses and the working classes, who are today the best allies of the Palestinian people against the attacks of Israel. During the Arab Spring, it was the Egyptian masses who secured the reopening of the border that separates the country from the Gaza Strip, before being crushed by the counterrevolution led by El-Sisi and Western countries. At that moment, the mobilizations throughout the region made it possible to denounce the successive normalization policies of the Arab countries that today play a criminal role, either due to their silence or their collaboration with Israel.

First published in French on Révolution Permanente on November 3, 2023.

Translation by Nadia C

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