Is Hezbollah’s gun diplomacy working?
Hezbollah literally rolled out the red carpet to welcome home five prisoners released by Israel in a U.N.-mediated exchange deal. Securing the release of the last five Lebanese held by Israel was a major triumph for the group, which in turn handed over the bodies of two Israeli soldiers captured in a 2006 raid into Israel.
Having achieved a long-held goal, Hezbollah is holding up the exchange as further evidence that its uncompromising, armed approach to dealing with Israel brings results, directly challenging the policies of Arab leaders who have engaged in negotiations or signed peace treaties with the Jewish state. The New York Times called the prisoners’ homecoming a triumph.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, visibly delighted by the prisoner release, addressed the issue during a rare public appearance. He saluted “the true identity of the peoples of our region … the identity of resistance”.
Broadcast into homes across the Arab world by satellite stations, Nasrallah’s rhetoric resonates with viewers who have seen few results from years of talks over the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Spoken by a man widely recognised as the Arab world’s most effective orator, the rhetoric is a challenge to states such as Jordan and Egypt. Both are ruled by U.S.-allied governments that have made peace with Israel and are concerned by the rising
influence of Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor.
But while Hezbollah’s charismatic leader still wins admiration across the Arab world, his Shi’ite group no longer enjoys the broad respect it once did in fractious Lebanon.
Nearly two years of political conflict with other Lebanese, including the country’s main Sunni leader, have opened deep sectarian wounds. Hezbollah’s brief takeover of Beirut in May increased the concerns of Lebanese critics who were already suspicious of the group’s vast arsenal.
Hezbollah is riding high in its conflict with Israel. It is now seeking reconciliation with Lebanese adversaries to avoid more conflict at home.