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The Nasrallah myth is no more

Is this the beginning of the end for Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah? It’s impossible to say, but it’s certainly the end of the myth of the “defender of Lebanon.”

The aftermath of the massive Aug. 4, 2020 explosion at the Port of Beirut, as seen one day later. Photo by Zaatari Lebanon/Flash90.
The aftermath of the massive Aug. 4, 2020 explosion at the Port of Beirut, as seen one day later. Photo by Zaatari Lebanon/Flash90.
Eyal Zisser
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

The city of Beirut has known its share of protests. Beginning with Hezbollah supporters hailing their leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who calls for the destruction of Israel, to the throngs of Lebanese citizens decrying the murder of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in the spring of 2005, to the protests last winter, upon the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, when Lebanese youth took to the streets to voice their economic distress and demand profound governmental reform.

However, it’s likely that Beirut has never seen a more justified and necessary protest than the one that erupted on Saturday, targeting corrupt politicians and demanding punishment for those responsible for the blast at Beirut port last week.

According to reports out of Beirut, the government was quick to arrest the port’s manager and several of his deputies, but the protesters are unwilling to suffice with that and want the country’s leaders, the same corrupt and rotten elites who have ruled over Lebanon from its inception, to face the music as well.

Hezbollah is counted among this ruling class, chiefly the group’s leader, Nasrallah. Hezbollah’s representatives have been part of various governments for around two decades, presiding over key ministries, and now Nasrallah is brazenly claiming he didn’t know, see or hear a thing. In his speech on Friday, Nasrallah even tried to divert the conversation from the Beirut port to the Haifa port. But for the people of Lebanon, and even his fellow Shi’ites, Israel isn’t remotely part of this conversation. Far more important to them is their lives and futures, which have been ruined and imperiled thanks to Nasrallah and his cohort.

It’s not surprising that Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television network has completely ignored the protests; further displaying the “credibility” that Israelis seem to love attributing to the terrorist organization and its leader. Meanwhile,  Al-Mayadeen, another network under Hezbollah’s thumb, reported that the Zionist lobby in Washington is behind the protests in Beirut. It’s no wonder that Hezbollah members tried forcibly dispersing the demonstrators, even opening fire on them.

With that, this spontaneous revolt is bereft of leaders or a large organizing force behind it, and doesn’t have a concrete goal beyond the desire to oust the corrupt politicians and change the system. It’s difficult, therefore, to assume they will now succeed where they’ve failed before.

The politicians are playing their customary joker card against the protesters: dispersing the government and calling for elections. They know that after elections, they will return strengthened to their positions of power. After all, Lebanon is an ethnic and clan-based country, divided and splintered. Although the current protest appears sectorial in nature, Hezbollah’s traditional Shi’ite and even Druze support base are extremely unhappy with Nasrallah. Yet on election day, with no better choice and lacking any true alternative, they will continue to back him.

Regardless, one should not downplay the sight of Nasrallah’s effigy being “hanged” in Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square on Saturday. Is this the beginning of the end for him? It’s impossible to say, but it’s certainly the end of the myth of the “defender of Lebanon” and of the beguiling, unbeatable politician. In any case, this makes Nasrallah a wounded animal, and his weakness could impair his judgment.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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