by Hugh Fitzgerald
The abandoned Hizballah leader and his forlorn hope.
The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has just gotten a few things off his chest. He’s been having, you see, a bad time of it recently. His sole supporter is Iran, an economic basket case that has seen its currency lose 90% of its value in the last two years. That has meant less money is being transferred from Iran to Nasrallah’s coffers, and he, in turn, has had to cut the salaries of his flag-waving fighters goose-stepping along the streets of Beirut. He’s also facing a political challenge: the incorruptible Tarek Bitar insists on pursuing his investigation into the Beirut blast of August 4, 2020, and so far Hezbollah’s attempts to intimidate him so that he calls off his inquiry have failed. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is universally understood to be the party responsible for that explosion, by having carelessly stored 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrates in Hangar 12 at the Port of Beirut; Nasrallah continues nonetheless to deny that responsibility, and is desperate to keep Bitar from bringing the incontrovertible evidence before the Lebanese authorities, and before an enraged public as well. Despite Hezbollah’s threats, Tarek Bitar soldiers on.
Nasrallah has just been delivered another body-blow: his erstwhile Christian allies in the Free Patriotic Movement, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, have given unmistakable signs of abandoning that political alliance with Hezbollah they first forged in 2006; they have been appalled by Hezbollah’s attempts to derail Bitar’s investigation. Furthermore, Aoun and Bassil worry that if Israel were to attack Iran, Teheran might order Hezbollah to attack Israel, and thereby drag Lebanon into a war that the Lebanese do not want.
A report on Nasrallah’s most recent rant is here: “Nasrallah rails against US, Saudi Arabia and Israel on Soleimani anniversary,” by Tzvi Joffre, Jerusalem Post, January 3, 2022
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah railed against the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel during a speech on Monday evening, marking the second anniversary of the US assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
On January 3, 2020, Soleimani and al-Muhandis were killed in a US drone strike near Baghdad International Airport.
The assassination incident established a new stage of awareness, insight and conflict,” Nasrallah said, adding that the people who ordered and carried out the assassination “will receive their reward in this world before the hereafter.”
Nasrallah blamed the US for creating ISIS and claimed America looted and tyrannized Iraq, adding that Iran “was the first to stand by the Iraqi people in the face of ISIS.”
The U.S. did not “create ISIS,” but did all it could to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, both with its own military and in concert with local allies, like the Kurdish peshmerga. Nasrallah knows this perfectly well. The charge that the “US created ISIS” is a way for Muslims to remove responsibility from where it truly belongs. It is the texts and teachings of Islam, the contents of the Qur’an and the Hadith, are what molded the minds of the fanatical Believers who joined the ranks of ISIS.
Nor did the U.S. “loot” Iraq, as Nasrallah claims. Our misadventure in Iraq cost American taxpayers two trillion dollars, not only to rout Saddam Hussein but to attempt to transform Iraq into a prosperous and democratic state, an attempt which ultimately proved, like the equally quixotic American effort in Afghanistan, to be a failure. American soldiers have described how they would distribute pallets of American cash to eager Iraqis, buying – or rather renting – their loyalty. The Americans spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq, building tens of thousands of hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity substations, schools and bridges and roads. The only “looting” that went on in Iraq was the looting of the pockets of American taxpayers to pay for all this.
“The martyr Qassem Soleimani resisted the American occupation and contributed to the establishment of the Iraqi resistance factions and provided them with money, weapons, strength, vigor, hope, confidence and enthusiasm until the great victory and the expulsion of the American forces from Iraq,” he said. “Is there a sane equation between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which supported and protected Iraq?”
Qassem Soleimani did not drive the Americans out of Iraq. It was the realization that the grand scheme of turning Iraq into “a light unto the Muslim nations” had failed, and that keeping large numbers of troops in-country was too costly, that finally led the Americans to the decision they ought to have made at least fifteen years before which was to pull out. And far from “supporting and saving” Iraq, Soleimani contributed to widening the sectarian divide by providing weapons and money to those Shi’a militias that were willing to do Iran’s bidding, such as Kata’ib Hezbollah, a policy rejected even by some Shi’a leaders, like the Iraqi nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr. Soleimani was no friend of Iraq, despite Nasrallah’s claim; he wanted to transform that country, bedeviled by sectarianism, into a satellite of Iran. Just as Nasrallah would, if he could, turn Lebanon into a similar satellie.
“Tolerating or obscuring the presence of US forces in Iraq is a new killing of the martyrs Soleimani and al-Muhandis,” Nasrallah said, expressing outrage at the intention of the US military to leave advisers in the country after it withdrew combat forces.
The US’s “fate” was to leave the region, he said.
Here we can disagree with Nasrallah – we are, after all, not oriental fatalists — that the U.S. is “fated” to leave the region. Last I looked, there were American forces in bases in Bahrain, in Qatar, in Saudi Arabia, and in the U.A.E., and they intend to stay. But as for Iraq itself, the Americans would do well, after so much heartache and waste, to pull out the 2,500 last remaining troops from the country that Winston Churchill, then Colonial Secretary, famously described in a 1922 letter to Prime Minister Lloyd George: “At present we are paying eight millions [in] pounds Sterling a year [the equivalent of half a billion dollars today] for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having.” What did we get out of Iraq that was “worth having”? Iraq was not transformed into the advanced democracy we had expected; it has not become an ally of the West; the Shi’a militias in the south answer to Teheran. That is what we got for our two trillion dollars.
Regarding Israel, Nasrallah said the US “is responsible for all of Israel’s crimes in Palestine and in the region because it is the one that funds, supports, arms, protects and forces the world to normalize with Israel.”
Nasrallah may not realize it, but during the 1948 war, and what he regards as the original sin of Israel’s founding, there was no American military aid to Israel. Instead, the Israelis fought and defeated five Arab armies while under an arms embargo. Some weapons were smuggled in by individual supporters, but the only nation that sold weapons to Israel was Czechoslovakia. American military assistance to Israel — as opposed to weapons Israel bought — began only after the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Nor can it be said that the U.S. “funds, supports, arms, protects and forces the world to normalize [ties] with Israel.” American aid to Israel has been generous, but even at its height, it constitutes less than 15% of Israel’s defense budget. Nor does that aid go only one way. Israel provides assistance to the U.S. military, in the form of technological advances, such as the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, and it shares with the U.S. the intelligence on Iran and the wider Middle East that its extensive network of agents gather, including information about terror groups that are a threat to American interests. The aid, though of different kinds, goes in both directions.
The U.S. does not “protect” Israel. The IDF manages quite well on its own, having defeated its enemies in three wars (1948, 1967, 1973) for the state’s survival, and repeatedly defeated, too, in numerous conflicts, the terror groups that seek to make Israeli lives miserable – Hamas, Hezbollah, PIJ, the PFLP.
The U.S. has not “forced” the world to “normalize [ties]” with Israel. The U.A.E., the most important Arab member of the Abraham Accords, had its own good and sufficient reasons to normalize those ties: it wanted to enter into mutually beneficial agreements on trade, tourism, agriculture, and technology, with Israel, and it has succeeded spectacularly. Israel and the U.A.E. have already signed $675 milllon dollars worth of business deals.
He [Nasrallah] spoke about Hisham Abu Hawash, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member being held in administrative detention, who has been on a hunger strike for 140 days.
It’s most thoughtful of Nasrallah to express an interest in a PIJ fighter, but he needn’t worry. Unlike those who go on hunger strikes in Iran, and are left to die, the Jewish state sees to it that all hunger strikers are provided with appropriate medical treatment and care which meet Israeli and international standards, and upon consent, they receive intravenous (IV) fluids, supplements, and vitamins. Even in cases where consent may not be given, Israel makes sure they are given what is necessary to stay alive. No Palestinian hunger striker in Israeli detention has ever died.
Nasrallah questioned how the Lebanese people saw the US as a friend, considering it stands behind Israel.
The U.S. has stood behind Lebanon on several occasions. Eisenhower sent troops in 1958 to support the government of the Maronite Camille Chamoun, who was worried that the country might be taken over by pan-Arabist supporters of Egypt’s Nasser. When the PLO held Beirut hostage, the Americans backed the IDF campaign to push Arafat and the PLO out of Lebanon altogether. And an enormous Lebanese-American population, 90% Christian, constitutes a human link between the U.S. and Lebanon. Most Lebanese who are not part of Hezbollah see the U.S. as having the same enemies as they do – that is, Hezbollah and Iran.
Referring to Saudi Arabia and the civil war in Yemen, he said Saudi Arabia was a “tool” being used by the US in Yemen. He accused Saudi Arabia of supporting ISIS in Syria and holding “thousands of Lebanese” hostage in the Gulf.
Saudi Arabia is in Yemen not as a “tool” of the U.S., but for reasons of national security. The Saudis do not want the Shi’a Houthis, who rose in open revolt against the central government in 2014 by seizing the capita Sana’a, to win the long-running civil war, and take over Yemen. For Riyadh realizes that that would mean that Saudi Arabia’s mortal enemy, Iran, the indispensable backer of the Houthis, supplying them with money and weapons, would control Yemen, and threaten the Saudis all along their southern border.
Nasrallah rejected statements by Saudi officials calling his movement “terrorist,” saying Saudi Arabia was terrorist for its action in the war in Yemen, while Hezbollah is defending its homeland.
Both Hezbollah and the Saudi forces in Yemen have engaged in attacks against civilians that can properly be described as “acts of terror.” But there is a difference: the Saudi military is not always and everywhere involved in terrorism; Hezbollah, on the other hand, is only a terror group, the largest, best-armed, and best-financed terror group now existing. It has more weaponry than 95% of the world’s conventional armies, and billions of dollars in its coffers, with most of its money now coming from the drug trade carried on by Hezbollah operatives world-wide.
In response to recent critical statements from a Hezbollah ally, the Free Patriot Movement (FPM), against the party, he said Hezbollah was keen to reach an understanding with the FPM and is still committed to the understandings already reached with the movement.
Nasrallah said he would address internal issues on another occasion.
Nasrallah must have been deeply disturbed by the open signs of disaffection from the two most important members of the Free Patriotic Movement, the Maronite President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, who in recent remarks have expressed their displeasure with Hezbollah. Their main complaint has to do with Nasrallah’s attempts to keep Tarek Bitar from continuing his investigation into who was responsible for the Beirut blast on August 4, 2020. But there is also the disquieting realization that Hezbollah’s subservience to Iran might lead it, under Tehran’s command, to drag Lebanon into another disastrous war with Israel.
Nasrallah won’t be able to do the two things that would be required of him in order for the Free Patriotic Movement to continue its former alliance with Hezbollah. He can’t allow the investigation into the Beirut blast to continue, whether by Tarek Bitar or another investigator, and he cannot become independent from Iran, his sole source of weapons. No wonder he’s said he’ll leave discussion of “internal matters” – that is, relations with the FPM – for a later occasion. At the moment, all he has is a forlorn hope.
For Hassan Nasrallah, 2022 promises to be an annus horribilis. He had it coming.