(January 31, 2019 / The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, suddenly reappeared in the media on Jan. 26 after an absence of three months in an exclusive interview with his journalist-follower Ghassan bin Jiddo on the Al Mayadeen channel, which identifies with Hezbollah.
The Hezbollah leader’s media appearance was part of the organization’s psychological warfare in response to the huge defeat it sustained when the Israel Defense Force discovered tunnels infiltrating into Israel during “Operation Northern Shield” at the end of 2018. Hezbollah’s standing was also hurt by rumors circulating in the Arab world that Nasrallah’s health condition is precarious.
During the long TV interview, Nasrallah sought to disprove the rumors about his poor health. He laughed, joked and admitted that he lost weight, but his health situation is excellent, and all of the reports about his illness were false.
“Operation Northern Shield” and reports that Hassan Nasrallah was seriously ill pushed him into a corner, and he was compelled to make a public appearance and provide his supporters with explanations. He also used the broad public platform to transmit messages to Israel and the Arab world.
Nasrallah’s messages in his interview with the Al Mayadeen channel can be summarized as follows:
Hezbollah’s next war against Israel will be very cruel, and Israel will pay a heavy price. All of Israel’s territory will be the next battlefield, and Hezbollah’s missiles and rockets will reach every city in Israel, including Tel Aviv.
Syria is expected to change its policy regarding Israeli raids within its territory at any moment. The policy of restraint by the “resistance axis” has come to an end, and Syria will attack Tel Aviv.
Hezbollah has a sufficient quantity of accurate missiles at its disposal, which can strike quality civilian and military targets in Israel, including airports, power stations, ammonia tanks in Haifa, and the atomic reactor in Dimona.
In the next war, Hezbollah intends to invade the Galilee. This is part of the organization’s strategy, and the discovery of the invasion tunnels by Israel has not changed anything.
President Trump’s “deal of the century” has been frozen because Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was supposed to market the plan, is currently facing a crisis over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.
The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria has led to the Arab states coming towards Syria, and they are trying to return it to the Arab League.
The Hezbollah leader was compelled to return to the media stage due to the vacuum that was created, as no other leader has appeared in his place, and due to important developments on Lebanon’s border with Israel.
The discovery of the tunnels infiltrating into Israel’s territory struck an operational and morale blow to Hezbollah. The tunnels were crucial to a surprise plan that Hezbollah had worked on for years before the IDF exposed it. In the interview, Nasrallah tries to minimize the importance of the discovery of the tunnels by the IDF and to convince his viewers that the plan to conquer the Galilee is still relevant, but it is clear that he has lost the important element of surprise.
Through the interview on the Al Mayadeen channel, the Hezbollah leader is attempting to “construct” a new policy of deterrence toward Israel. Reports on the interview with him appeared several days earlier in the media to create high viewer ratings and media support for his statements.
There were no surprises in Nasrallah’s interview about his state of health or the tunnels. His reactions were what had been expected on both fronts.
Nasrallah does not intend to escalate the security situation with Israel from inside Lebanese territory. He hinted that if Israel attacks his men inside Syrian territory, “Hezbollah will react in accordance with the circumstances.”
Apparently, Hezbollah is preparing a new front, which Iran intends to open against Israel from inside Syria, via the Golan Heights. This is where the danger of a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah lies. Israel does not intend to take any action against the organization inside Lebanon, but it will not sit quietly if Hezbollah dares to attack Israeli targets on the Golan Heights.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.