Hezbollah: Playing a Winning Hand? Or Overplaying its Hand?

Dan Drezner observes, “You know a crisis is still in a fluid state when major U.S. newspapers take opposing positions on in their new analysis of the situation.”

He cites competing takes on the Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah situation in today’s papers.

Anthony Shadid, fronting today’s WaPo:

The radical Shiite movement Hezbollah and its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, hold an effective veto in Lebanese politics, and the group’s military prowess has heartened its supporters at home and abroad in the Arab world. But that same force of arms has begun to endanger Hezbollah’s long-term standing in a country where critics accuse it of dragging Lebanon into an unwinnable conflict the government neither chose nor wants to fight.


Lebanese critics as well as allies of Hezbollah insist that the Israeli response was disproportionate. But at the same time, in meetings Thursday, Lebanese officials began to lay the groundwork for an extension of government control to southern Lebanon. Hezbollah largely controls southern Lebanon, where it has built up a network of schools, hospitals and charities.

“To declare war and to make military action must be a decision made by the state and not by a party,” said Nabil de Freige, a parliament member. He belongs to the bloc headed by Saad Hariri, whose father, Rafiq, a former prime minister and wealthy businessman, was assassinated in 2005, setting off a sequence of events that forced the Syrian withdrawal. “It’s a very simple equation: You have to be a state.” After a cabinet meeting Thursday, the government said it had a right and duty to extend its control over all Lebanese territory. Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat said the statement marked a step toward the government reasserting itself.

NYT analyst Michael Slackman (also in the IHT)

A few months ago, representatives of every Lebanese political faction gathered in downtown Beirut to discuss the issues that divided them — including how and when to disarm the Hezbollah militia. Intent on keeping its weapons, however, Hezbollah has stymied that discussion by crossing into Israel, killing and capturing Israeli soldiers and prompting a fierce Israeli counterattack that has all of Lebanon in a defensive posture. “It is strange that one man representing a faction of the Shia, Hassan Nasrallah, is holding the whole Lebanese population hostage,” said Elie Fawaz, a Lebanese political analyst and critic of Hezbollah, speaking of the Hezbollah leader.

With three Israeli soldiers kidnapped — one now in Gaza and two in Lebanon — and Israel carrying out military reprisals, there is for now less room in the Middle East for moderate voices, voices of peace, according to political analysts, government officials and security officials in Syria, Jordan and Egypt. The region’s agenda, as often in the past, is largely being set by militants — with the masses swept along in emotion, anger and vengeance. “They are happy, very happy,” said Marwan Shahadeh, an Islamist and researcher in Amman, Jordan, speaking about the groups that want to focus on war with Israel.

The same dynamics are true of governments. The leaders of Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries with peace treaties with Israel, are facing increasing hostility in the news media and on their own streets, while Iran and Syria, strong opponents of peace with Israel, have seen their credibility on the street increase. Sensing the tension among their people, Egyptian and Jordanian officials have stepped up domestic security efforts. In Egypt officials have moved to rein in the news media and stop street demonstrations. In Jordan, officials have pressed older members of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, to rein in its more militant young members. “They are in great embarrassment,” Taher al-Masry, a former prime minister of Jordan, said of Jordan and Egypt. “These two countries have signed peace treaties, but having and observing peace with Israel is not the same as letting Israel do what it likes because we have peace with them. I think there is a major burden on both countries to do something. I don’t know what, but something.”

Regional momentum is supporting hard-liners. Newspapers and television commentators have assailed Egypt and Jordan for trying to negotiate a peaceful solution between Hamas and Israel. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who planned to call a referendum on whether to support a two-state solution, has been increasingly silenced. Even the Hamas leadership in Gaza, which had sought to forge a consensus with other Palestinian factions, found itself trumped by its more militant members.

While Shadid and Slackman both point to factual happenings, I fear the latter has found a trend while the former is grasping at anomalies. There’s little doubt that the moderates are tired of having events dictated by ignorant savages. Still, that is often the way.

A majority that wants peace, even a vast majority, can be overwhelmed by hearty few who want war. The latter tend to have the courage of their convictions and are willing to use any means and take any risks necessary to achieve them, while the former tend to be silent and passive. Edmund Burk informed us that, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Most of the time, though, that’s exactly what good men do.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Nobody in his right mind wants war. However, for years we have expended energy on duiplomacy, land for peace, withdrawal, walls, UN Intervention, etc. We are no closer today to a solution than we were when we started. Face it, Palestinians and Arabs believe there is no solution that includes the existence of Israel in that place. And the Arabs don’t respect anyone who uses tactics of weakness. No the solution is the same one we used with the Japanese to end that war:
    CRUSH the opposition in the most brutal manner possible. This is war! Wipe out all thoughts in the enemy’s mind that they can compete on the battlefield.
    It happens in the arena. You hear players say we need to jump on them early and hard. We need to drive any thought from their minds that they can win.
    I will follow any General into battle who has that attitude, because I know the suffering will be over soon.

  2. My comments about crushing the enemy were not received well, but see what Ralph Peters writes today in the NY POST:
    A U.S. government official put it to me this way: “Israel’s got the clock, but Hezbollah’s got the time.” The sands of the hourglass favor the terrorists – every day they hold out and drop more rockets on Israel, Hezbollah scores a propaganda win.

    All Hezbollah has to do to achieve victory is not to lose completely. But for Israel to emerge the acknowledged winner, it has to shatter Hezbollah. Yet Israeli miscalculations have left Hezbollah alive and kicking.