On February 26, Syrian president Bashar al-Asad hosted Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah for a dinner in
Unfulfilled Promise of Retaliation
Two years after Hizballah military commander Imad Mughniyah was assassinated in
During his February 16, 2010 speech marking the martyrdom of Mughniyah and other Hizballah heroes, Nasrallah rationalized the conspicuous lack of significant retaliation: "Our options are open and we have all the time in the world....[W]e are the ones to choose the time and place and target." He also suggested that Hizballah had not yet found a target that "rises to the level" of Mughniyah.
Meanwhile, the group has been preparing for a conventional fight against
These discoveries represent only a fraction of the weapons Hizballah has procured during its most recent massive military buildup. Since the 2006 war with
New Strategy against
To complement its upgraded arsenal, Hizballah recently spelled out a new, more aggressive military posture toward
Repairing Hizballah's Image in
Despite considerable success in rebuilding an impressive military infrastructure under the nose of UN observers, Hizballah's image has suffered at home. In May 2008, the group invaded and occupied
Even more detrimental to Hizballah's domestic standing is evidence implicating the group in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, as reported by Der Spiegel in May 2009 and underscored by Le Monde last month. Nasrallah has repeatedly denied these stories, but the public perception that the Shiite militia was involved in the killing of the Lebanese Sunni leader persists. Worse, in September 2009, one of Hizballah's chief local financiers went bankrupt in a Ponzi scheme -- a particularly damaging scandal given that it involved the same kind of corruption that the group routinely accuses the Sunni government in
Nasrallah has attempted to mitigate the impact of these accusations and soften public attitudes toward the group. In his February 16 speech, for example, he offered condolences to the Hariris on the anniversary of Rafiq's martyrdom. And in December 2009, he delivered a surreal speech promoting the novel idea that his constituents should adhere to Lebanese laws, such as respecting traffic signals, paying for (as opposed to stealing) government water and electricity, abiding by building laws and civil codes, and putting an end to smuggling that undercuts Lebanese businesses. In addition, he emphasized the importance of civil servants showing up for their jobs and actually performing their duties.
Hizballah's efforts to improve its image also included the publication of a new "manifesto" in November 2009, updating its 1985 charter. Although the new document reiterated the group's longstanding enmity toward the
If Hizballah succeeds in avenging Mughniyah by striking an Israeli target -- whether on the border or abroad -- it could set off another round of fighting similar to that of 2006. This time, however, other actors could well enter the fray. If one takes
David Schenker is the Aufzien fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Matthew Levitt is a senior fellow and director of the Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.
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