As Israel inches towards creating a new “security regime” in the Gaza Strip by destroying the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and the broader Joint Operation Room of the Palestinian Resistance Factions (JORPRF), the JORPRF’s allies in the Resistance Axis – the regional militant coalition led by Iran – have largely remained on the sidelines. Most surprisingly, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has been conspicuously silent throughout the conflict, even as his organization and its Lebanon-based Palestinian terrorist partners have effectively opened a second, low-intensity, front against Israel. This week, however, Hezbollah – cryptically and theatrically – announced that Nasrallah will finally break his unusual silence on Friday.
The loquacious terror chieftain has rarely foregone the opportunity to frame Hezbollah acolytes’ viewpoint on current events, in real time, through one of his notoriously long-winded speeches. But since Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, his public appearances have been limited. Nasrallah met with visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Oct. 13, and 12 days later with Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ziyad al-Nakhala and Hamas senior official Saleh Al-Arouri. But those reports were sparse on information, failing to recount the content of Nasrallah’s conversations with his interlocutors.
While the Voice of Hezbollah has remained silent so far, senior Iranian officials have taken point on messaging regarding the war in Gaza and the Resistance Axis’ next moves against Israel. This is perhaps a testament to the importance Iran is placing on properly navigating the ongoing conflict – even messaging had to be measured and controlled by Tehran, lest it cause detrimental consequences for Iran and its proxies or cede any initiative to the Israelis. Indeed, two weeks prior to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Fars News reported that Islamic Revolution Guard Corps – Quds Force (IRGC-QF) commander Esmail Qaani was in Syria and Lebanon “on an important mission,” and other reports put him in Lebanon continuously since Oct. 7, with a brief return to Iran between Oct. 16-20, in a likely effort to manage the current war. Now that Nasrallah is going to speak, it is no coincidence that Qaani has returned to Lebanon, according to news reports, “to coordinate on the next phase with Hezbollah,” but, just as likely, Nasrallah’s messaging.
Nasrallah’s speech this Friday will likely differ little in its format and content from his previous addresses. Nasrallah is likely to recount the timeline of events since Oct. 7, 2023 and provide an assessment of the current conflict – naturally spinning recent developments to best weave them into, and reinforce, Hezbollah’s meta-narrative regarding its conflict with Israel and the United States.
Therefore, Nasrallah will likely claim that the Oct. 7 attack conclusively demonstrated Israel’s weakness, the fragility of its society, and the inability of its army to defend its citizens – reemphasizing his old adage that Israel is “weaker than a spider’s web,” and his new one that Israel is a “temporary entity.” In line with this, Nasrallah will also likely claim that Israelis are fleeing their country in droves to safer figurative pastures, which he will allege is proof of the artificial and colonialist nature of Israeli society. Nasrallah can also be expected to exaggerate the significance of the deployment of two U.S. aircraft carriers – he is likely to claim that the United States ordered Israel to go to war and that Washington’s deployment of assets to the region demonstrates that Israel cannot survive without American support or intervention.
In addressing the Palestinian side of the coin, Nasrallah can also be expected to say that the Oct. 7 attack and its successes demonstrate, conversely the strength and durability of the Palestinian “resistance.” He will use the Oct. 7 attack to reemphasize that armed struggle is the only path to restore Palestinian dignity, rights, and land, and that the “liberation of all Palestine from the river to the sea,” is imminent.
Nasrallah can also be expected to issue several threats, largely – but not entirely – of dubious credibility. He is likely to threaten the United States, promising that any American intervention on Israel’s behalf will be met by collective Resistance Axis retaliation and expulsion of U.S. forces from the region. Nasrallah may even tie these threats to his Jan. 2020 promise to avenge fallen IRGC-QF commander Qassem Soleimani.
Naturally, Nasrallah will also threaten Israel. Here, however, his speech becomes harder to predict.
On the one hand, Nasrallah can’t afford to invite a war upon Lebanon amidst its ongoing economic collapse. He knows post-war reconstruction aid won’t be forthcoming and he risks angering the Lebanese street at his group for compounding Lebanon’s economic miseries with a destructive war with Israel. In fact, Lebanese officials have conveyed their opposition to Hezbollah’s entry into the Israel-Gaza war. On Oct. 12, Kuwaiti Al-Jarida reported Qaani told Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that Hezbollah will not enter a total war with Israel because Gaza’s Palestinian factions are prepared enough to handle the conflict.
With these considerations in mind, Nasrallah will most likely confine himself to his usual threats against Israel coupled with warnings against the Israelis preemptively attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon or Syria – a variation on Hezbollah’s typical line that “we do not want war, but we are ready for it.”
The group will then likely content itself with its continued harassment of Israel – directly and through Palestinian proxies – along the Blue Line, increasing the tempo as Israel becomes more committed to the Gaza ground invasion to divide Israeli forces and slow their advance. It’s also possible, though less likely, that Nasrallah will couple his speech, already shrouded in drama, with an attack on Israel intended to have a largely propaganda value.
Here, Nasrallah could be betting on the fact that the United States has ordered Israel not to initiate war with Lebanon to have his cake and eat it too – to demonstrate the Resistance’s strength against Israel without incurring a cost. But here, Hezbollah risks miscalculating, and continued harassment of the Israel Defense Forces or attacks intended largely as an exercise in Hezbollah’s typical theatricality may end up snowballing into an unintended war.
On the other hand, Hamas officials have said they “need more” from Hezbollah. If Iran considers saving its JORPRF proxies and nearly 20-year investment in the Gaza Strip important enough, Hezbollah may have already received the order to enter the war, and Nasrallah’s speech could be a mere announcement. Admittedly, this possibility is unlikely. Hezbollah would prefer to surprise Israel if and when the group opens a war against the Jewish state, to catch the IDF off balance, and by announcing the speech days in advance, Hezbollah would have already telegraphed potential hostile intentions and lost the element of surprise.
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