Portrait of Hassan Nasrallah
Hassan Nasrallah: Israel’s Enemy No. 1
LE MONDE | 17 July 06 | 15:14
It its latest portrayal of Enemy No. 1 and whom it has vowed to eliminate, the Israeli Army paints Hezbollah Secretary General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah as a boa constrictor prepared to swallow Lebanon and the Lebanese. Printed on hundreds of leaflets dropped by plane over Southern Lebanon, the drawing includes a text in Arabic warning against the man with a forked tongue: “Mild in appearance, poisonous in the flesh”. What makes the story stunningly ironic is that the only Arab spokesman who is taken seriously by Israeli leaders is the same Hassan Nasrallah.
For his partisans, the Hezbollah Secretary-General is first “after God and his prophets”. He is also very respected in the Shi'ite community in general. All Lebanese have a certain amount of deference for him because, they say, “He never lies and never talks to hear the sound of his own voice.” They acknowledge -at least in part- the merit of Hezbollah guerrillas for having forced the Israeli Army out of an area in southern Lebanon which it had occupied for 22 years.
Seyyed Nasrallah is also admired by large swaths of public opinion because he has shown up the “cowardliness” and “capitulation” of Arab governments. He is the condensed incarnation of three icons of the past century: Gamal Abdel Nasser, Yassir Arafat and Imam Khomeiny.
He may not necessarily appreciate the comparison to the former president of Egypt and Palestine. But the comparison to the father of the Iranian revolution must warm his heart. Khomeiny is, in some way, his spiritual inspiration. The claimed resemblance to Khomeiny and the empathy that Hassan Nasrallah commands within Arab public opinion makes him a worrisome troublemaker, who moreover is Shi’a, to governments in the region with an overwhelming Sunni majority.
He is accused not only by the United States and Israel but also by certain political factions in Lebanon of being Iran’s agent and as well as that of its ally, Syria. He vigorously denies this and, while proclaiming friendship and alliance with these two countries, displays patriotism for Lebanon that is beyond all suspicion.
Hassan Nasrallah has, moreover, an almost visceral aversion for the Jihadist movement al-Qaeda, which, in his opinion, is a perversion of Islam. He doesn’t care that Hezbollah is on a list of terrorist organizations in some Western nations: Resistance to the occupier is legitimate, he underscores.
Hassan Nasrallah is driven by unshakeable faith in the righteousness of the cause he pursues: Rejection of the occupation and all it entails. In his vocabulary, Israel is “Occupied Palestine”. But he confines the struggle of Hezbollah to Lebanon, where he hopes to be seen as the herald of liberation of the remaining occupied territories and the defender against any future Israeli aggression.
Seyyed Nasrallah has headed Hezbollah for 14 years. He rose to that position following the assassination of his mentor, Abbas Mussawi, by Israel in February 1992. The honorific, “seyyed” indicates that this 46 year-old cleric with a round face, thick beard and piercing look is a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad. Son of a very modest family in southern Lebanon, he is the father of four children. The eldest, Hadi, died a martyr’s death in southern Lebanon in 1997.
A RAP ON THE SNOUT
Under the leadership of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah, thanks to the raps on the snout delivered to Israel, did, undeniably, lead to Israel’s decision to accelerate its pullout from Southern Lebanon. In 2004, he also obtained the release of 30 Lebanese and 420 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons and the return by the Jewish state of the remains of 60 Lebanese killed in combat. All that was granted by Israel in exchange for a colonel of the reserves captured live and the remains of three Israeli soldiers killed in 2001.
It was to free 3 Lebanese held by the Israelis that Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soliders on July 12. The three should have been included in the first exchange in 2004. But a dispute inside the Israeli government caused them to be excluded.
But did Hassan Nasrallah, who is said to be a first-rate strategist, really appreciate the balance of power of regional and international forces? Did he foresee the brutal reaction of Israel? Has he, like a poker player encouraged by success, gambled too much and now risks losing everything, including his life?