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Hezbollah is staying out of the Gaza war — for now

Hezbollah supporters watch Nasrallah's speech today. Credit: Getty

November 3, 2023 - 4:30pm

After a week of tense anticipation, in which the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah had trailed short promo clips of their leader Syed Hassan Nasrallah like a Marvel supervillain, his long-awaited speech today came as an unexpected piece of good fortune for Israel. PR stunts such as the mutual pledging of eternal solidarity between Hezbollah and Palestinian fighters — as well as the escalation of cross-border shelling deeper into both Israel and Lebanon — had hinted that Nasrallah might be ready to announce Hezbollah’s entry into the conflict. Such a statement would have practically ensured a regional war.

But when the Hezbollah leader finally reached the meat of his long and rambling speech, his tone was, if anything, de-escalatory. For all his furious denunciation of what he called Israeli war crimes in Gaza, and jibes at “the Great Satan” itself, Nasrallah repeatedly took pains to emphasise that the 7 October attack was a Palestinian decision carried out without the knowledge or support of either Hezbollah or Iran. Further, he remarked, “this conflict is completely Palestinian and has nothing to do with any regional or other issue”.

Nasrallah continuously mocked Israel, declaring that the Jewish state is as “weak as a spider’s web” and stating that “for a whole month Israel wasn’t able to have one military achievement.” Yet he shied away from any concrete threats of widening the war, instead emphasising that Hezbollah’s border clashes with Israel were a vital part of the same conflict, and are successfully dividing Israeli forces, drawing away IDF troops and materiel that would otherwise be deployed to Gaza.

If this was an attempt to assuage Hamas criticism of Hezbollah’s modest involvement so far, it’s unlikely to work. Hamas officials have already complained in Arabic media that the level of support offered by Hezbollah has fallen far below their expectations; with Israel successfully cutting the narrow Gaza Strip in two and preparing to besiege Gaza City, the group’s immediate prospects look grim. 

The tone of Nasrallah’s speech was defensive if anything, urging the US to impose a ceasefire, warning both America and Israel away from any attempt to widen the conflict to Lebanon, and threatening that it is only if the group is attacked that “all options are on the table”.

While a bitter pill for Hamas, the reaction from both the US, keen to dampen any prospect of a regional conflagration, and from Israel, whose capacity to intercept Hezbollah’s fearsome arsenal of missiles is doubtful, will be one of relief. Lebanon’s people will feel similarly: with their political system essentially held hostage by Hezbollah, many feared that the group would drag their country into a war that Israeli officials have already publicly warned would destroy it.

But this isn’t the end of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Gaza war. The border clashes with Israel, which have already claimed the lives of 57 Hezbollah fighters and 7 Israeli soldiers, are still escalating as the scene of fighting extends deeper into both countries. Hezbollah’s attacks so far have been focused on degrading Israel’s surveillance and anti-missile early warning systems, establishing the conditions for later entry into the war should circumstances demand. 

US officials have briefed that Hezbollah is attempting to acquire Russian anti-aircraft capabilities delivered via Syria, and Israel — already piqued by the welcoming of a Hamas delegation to Moscow — is reportedly no longer providing Russia with advance warning of its strikes on Syrian airports. 

Like a brawler performatively demanding others hold him back from a fight he does not really wish to have, Hezbollah today backed away from full involvement in the Gaza war, yet it is hurriedly preparing to fight it on the best terms later on. A regional catastrophe has only been delayed, not defused. In the current dire circumstances, though, even that looks like a win for the wider Middle East.


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago

We may have already reached peak “progressive” in the West; their power is collapsing, people are rubbing their eyes in horror and realising “we have gone along with something very very bad”.
Putin is old and scared of EVERYONE.
The Libyans are tired after the explosion in their port and destruction of their economy and savings.They don’t want another long destructive war. Not again.
Chinese people don’t want to be the world’s enemy (and really aren’t).
Saudi Arabia has not cancelled talks with Israel.
Iran is dealing with internal issues which could threaten their theocracy if they join this war.
Hezbollah have blinked.
It doesn’t seem as bleak as the press like to paint.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

Spot on sir, my congratulations.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
8 months ago

Really, Charles? That excitable fellow can’t even distinguish Lebs from Libs (or are they all Phoenicians to you?).
Have the augures provided you evidence of “their” power collapsing?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Yes! I regard the whole thing as no more than “a storm in a tea cup”.

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

So what, it was an autocorrect error; sue me.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

Putting aside the ‘Progressives’ bit as the usual vague, unspecific assignation it always is, there is certainly something in the point that these reactions by the Autocrats and Theocrats result from the West stirring itself and pushing back. The one exception I think is Libya which has different dynamics and lessons. The rest though and I think my point holds.

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Progressives are a cancer.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

Errrr, the port that exploded was Beirut, quite far from Libya.

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Gosh thanks.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
8 months ago

Hamas officials have already complained in Arabic media that the level of support offered by Hezbollah has fallen far below their expectations
Well, maybe you should have firmed that up before you launched an unprovoked attack on your neighbor.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
8 months ago

Unprovoked? Just like the ‘unprovoked’ invasion of Ukraine?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

The metaphor Aris employs of the fighter hoping to being held back in case he’s required to take on a losing fight is one of the best i’ve read on Unherd, and that’s saying something.

Dominic A
Dominic A
8 months ago

Isn’t the abandonment of Palestine by it’s allies/facilitators, when things get too hot, a key part of the traditional war dance?

D Walsh
D Walsh
8 months ago

Cool

Its nice of Hezbollah to tell us exactly what they plan to do

El Uro
El Uro
8 months ago

A regional catastrophe has only been delayed, not defused…
—————————————————————————————
…Are you scared?
…Not, really no
…Aaaaa… And now?
…Not, really no
© Meet Achmed the Dead Terrorist

Last edited 8 months ago by El Uro