print
memri
May 29, 2015 No.
1163

Distress Signals By Hizbullah Leader Nasrallah And Pro-Hizbullah Media Reflect Growing Sense Of Existential Danger, Crisis Of Confidence Between Hizbullah And Its Supporters

Introduction

Recent statements by Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah regarding the existential danger faced by his organization and the resistance axis in the war against ISIS, and regarding the possible need for a general mobilization of Hizbullah members, reflect the deep crisis currently afflicting the organization and the deep distress felt by its leadership. This distress stems from the situation in Syria, namely the heavy losses sustained by Hizbullah in the fighting there and the defeat of the resistance axis in many areas, especially in the north and south of Syria. It also results from a decline in Hizbullah's standing among the Lebanese Shi'ites, who, according to many reports, have begun expressing a lack of confidence in Hizbullah and are reluctant to join its ranks.

In his statements, Nasrallah pointedly tried to persuade the Shi'ites in Lebanon that the war in Syria is an existential campaign that affects them directly, and therefore they must not only stand beside Hizbullah but refrain from expressing any criticism against it. He also clarified that in such a war everybody must do his part and must be willing to make great sacrifices.

In a May 23, 2015 meeting with Hizbullah soldiers who were wounded in action, Nasrallah said: "The danger we are facing is an existential one... the situation requires great sacrifice."[1] In a speech the next day, on the occasion of the 15th anniversary the Israeli army's withdrawal from South Lebanon, he said: "The day may come when we will call for a general mobilization [of Hizbullah members]...  [The present war] is more extensive, more dangerous and crueler than [the 1982 war with Israel], because it is [taking place] right inside our home. Whoever wants to defend [his] existence, survival, honor and homeland must be willing to make the [necessary] sacrifice."[2] 

This distress is also evident in articles in the pro-Hizbullah daily Al-Akhbar. The daily's board chairman Ibrahim Al-Amin wrote in an editorial that many people don't want to face the facts of the war in Syria, and have chosen to ally themselves with Hizbullah's enemies. "These people will pay a heavy price," he threatened. He stressed that "anyone who sees himself as part of the [resistance] axis should understand that the battle concerns him directly" and affects "his environment, family, children, neighbors, job, studies and health." This, he said, means that people must stop dithering, side with Hizbullah and trust its leaders to direct the campaign.[3] Another Al-Akhbar article, by columnist Nahed Hattar, stated: "It can be said that we are in a very difficult predicament not only militarily but also, and more importantly, from a geopolitical perspective."[4]

This report will review Nasrallah's statements and the Al-Akhbar articles that reflect Hizbullah's crisis, as well as the reports on the crisis of confidence between the organization and the Shi'ite public, which clarify the background for the organization's distress.


Nasrallah delivering his May 24, 2015 speech (Source: Aljazeera.net, May 25, 2015)

Nasrallah To Shi'ite Public: We Are Facing An Existential Threat That Requires Many Sacrifices; General Mobilization May Be Necessary

It seems that Nasrallah's distress - caused by the heavy losses to his forces in Syria, his people's reluctance to enlist, and the criticism of the Shi'ite public against him - has prompted him to make pointed statements reflecting the danger faced by his organization. He stated that the resistance axis is facing an existential threat, rebuked its critics, and tried to encourage his followers to enlist and whip up their fighting spirit and willingness to sacrifice. Much of his May 24 speech on the occasion of "Liberation Day" (the anniversary of the withdrawal of the Israeli army from South Lebanon) was devoted to these messages. He said: "The day may come when we will call for a general mobilization [of Hizbullah members]," and proclaimed: "[This is] an existential battle for the life of Iraq and the Iraqi people, for the life of Syria and the Syrian people, and for the life of Lebanon and the Lebanese people. Existential battles supersede struggles over interests, privileges, reforms and democracy. When any country in the world is facing an existential threat, the opposition keeps silent and does not speak out against the government, but rather cooperates with the government and even supports it... Today's existential battle requires many sacrifices. It is more extensive, more dangerous and crueler than [the 1982 war with Israel], because it is [taking place] right inside our home. Whoever wants to defend [his] existence, survival, honor and homeland must be willing to make the [necessary] sacrifice."[5]  

Even If Half Of Us Die In This Battle, It Is Still Better Than Defeat

One day earlier, in a meeting with wounded Hizbullah soldiers on the occasion of "Day of the Wounded", Nasrallah said: "The danger we are facing is an existential one... In this new phase, there is no place for frustration among our ranks. It a stage in which we will use all our force and all our capabilities against the takfiris... Even if every single city [in Syria] falls [to the enemy], this will not weaken our strong resolve... Had we not fought in Aleppo, Homs and Damascus, [today] we would have been fighting in Baalbek, Al-Harmel Al-Ghaziya and other places [in Lebanon]...

"We have three options. The first is to fight even harder than we fought in the last four years. The second is to capitulate to the massacre and let our women and girls be taken hostage. The third is to [flee] and wander from country to country around the world, humiliated and purposeless, going from crisis to crisis... Even if half of us are martyred in this war, and the other half goes on living a dignified, strong and noble life - that is a better option [than the other two]. In fact, even if three out of every four of us are martyred, and the rest go on living a dignified, strong and noble life, it will still be preferable. Allah willing, we will never have such a large number of martyrs, but the situation does require extensive sacrifices... Anyone who hinders us from getting up [and fighting], or speaks in a different vein, is a blind fool and a traitor... This is the time to enlist. Everyone can play a part, even [if only by] speaking in support [of the fighting]. Anyone who has credibility among the people must take part in this mobilization [campaign]. The clerics must support it, and anyone whose son has been martyred should speak up."[6]

About Shi'ites Who Oppose Him: They Are Traitors Serving The U.S., Shame On Them For Counting Our Martyrs

Alongside his persuasion efforts and fear campaign among his Shi'ite supporters, Nasrallah and the pro-Hizbullah media have renewed their threats against their political opponents - especially against the independent Shi'ites, whom Hizbullah calls "the U.S. embassy's Shi'ites," implying that they are collaborators and traitors serving the U.S., the West and even Israel.[7] These threats are presumably a response to the extensive anti-Hizbullah media campaign waged by these Shi'ites, which has gained momentum lately, especially on the Lebanese news website Janoubia.com. The site is directed by Shi'ite Lebanese journalist 'Ali Al-Amin, a well-known Hizbullah opponent and the son of Shi'ite cleric Muhamad Hassan Al-Amin, who is also an opponent of Hizbullah. The site, which posts articles by Al-Amin and other Shi'ite writers, constantly stirs up anti-Hizbullah sentiment by publishing the number of Hizbullah soldiers killed in Syria and various reports aimed at embarrassing the organization and outraging its supporters. One such report claimed that a 15-year-old Shi'ite boy had died while fighting for Hizbullah in Syria, and condemned Hizbullah's recruitment of minors in general.[8]

In his meeting with the wounded soldiers, Nasrallah harshly attacked anti-Hizbullah Shi'ites, saying: "The Shi'ites of the American embassy are traitors, agents and fools... From now on we will no longer keep silent. Anyone who speaks out [against us], we will look him in the eye and say, 'you are a traitor.'"[9] In his speech the next day, Nasrallah again delegitimized these Shi'ites by claiming that they are funded by the U.S. Hinting at Janoubia.com, he said: "I say to some of the Lebanese: It's a disgrace that you count the number of our martyrs in this war of ours. Shame on you... We are facing a psychological war funded by the U.S. embassy and certain countries. These days [certain] countries pay money so people will say 'Hizbullah is in crisis'... 'Hizbullah is experiencing internal problems'... 'Hizbullah is having trouble [recruiting] young men, so it recruits minors instead.' They exploit the issue of a young boy from one of our training groups for boys who was martyred. We do have a program for boys aged 15-16. We take them on a camp and teach them survival skills in nature. Accidents happen. When a boy is killed in an accident we consider him a martyr. [Did you think] that we have no men and therefore we recruit boys? Shame on you!" [10]

Board Chairman Of Pro-Hizbullah Daily 'Al-Akhbar': The Supporters Of The Resistance Must Understand That This Campaign Concerns Them And Stop Talking Nonsense

In a similar vein, Ibrahim Al-Amin, the board chairman of the daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, wrote an aggressive and threatening editorial reflecting the crisis of confidence between Hizbullah and its supporters: "It seems like the army of ditherers in our region has recently grown. Many people don't want to face the facts that the current conflict [presents us with]. Some of them have decided to tie their fate to the decision of the choir of those who collaborate [with Hizbullah's enemies]... These people will pay a heavy price... Since things are so crystal clear, Nasrallah had to take a firm position that is not open to interpretation. This obligates the public [that supports the] resistance [i.e., Hizbullah] not only to be enthusiastic about [Nasrallah's] loud and clear words but to stop regurgitating [the same talk over and over again]. Stop analyzing and spouting adolescent nonsense. Clearly, anyone who sees himself as part of this axis should understand that the battle concerns him directly. Even before it concerns his freedom and honor it concerns his environment, family, children, neighbors, job, studies and health. This means that he must stop searching futilely for unfeasible options... In brief, now is the time for resoluteness; for getting up and joining the direct battle, for choosing between two lines and paths... This stage obliges us to take a resolute stance, no matter how difficult and painful it is... In this time of resoluteness, people must choose the party [Hizbullah] and trust [its] leadership to lead the campaign. At this point there is no room for additional searching and careful inspection... Whoever sees himself as part of this battle, out of either interest or faith, must look towards its final outcome, not at details that may cause him frustration, weakness and retreat. Whoever cannot join... let him at least keep silent."[11]

Al-Amin: We Will Use Every Means Against Our Enemies; 'Al-Akhbar' Columnist Nahed Hattar: Whoever Is Not With Us Is A Traitor; Saudi, Qatari And Turkish Interests Must Be Targeted

In another Al-Akhbar editorial, Al-Amin continued his attack on Hizbullah's political opponents inside and outside Lebanon, clarifying that anyone coming out against Hizbullah is a traitor and a collaborator, and that coexistence and dialogue with other sects and factions in Lebanon are not a priority at the moment. He wrote: "This is the stage of a cruel and ruthless response to anyone who abets this evil axis [i.e., Hizbullah's opponents] in word or deeds or by joining [them]... In fact, we will use every [means we have] against our enemies and force them to shed what the remains of their camouflage and come out into the open. We will not go on playing a quiet game for the sake of national responsibility or coexistence, neighborliness, politeness or nostalgia. We will give [our enemies] the cruel [treatment] they deserve as filthy collaborators..."[12]

Another Al-Akhbar columnist, Nahed Hattar, wrote in a similar vein: "It can be said that we are in a very difficult predicament not only militarily but also, and more importantly, from a geopolitical perspective... This war must be declared a national war... requiring a general mobilization of forces, efforts and resources... In a war for national liberation, there is no opposition, dialogue, reconciliation or clemency, but only a single political yardstick by which everyone is measured. Those inside the country are either patriots or traitors; those outside the country are either allies or enemies. National war requires... the announcement of a state of emergency and a general mobilization... The circle of war must be expanded to target Saudi, Qatari and Turkish interests."[13]

The Background To Hizbullah's Distress: A Crisis Of Confidence Between Hizbullah And Its Support Base

Numerous reports in recent weeks by the media identified with Hizbullah's opponents indicate that Shi'ite disgruntlement over Hizbullah's military involvement in Syria[14] is on the rise again, due to the growing losses sustained by the organization in Syria, especially in recent battles in the Al-Qalamoun area in the west of the country, where Hizbullah has already lost four senior commanders and scores of fighters.[15] The frustration is also due to the military defeat of the Syrian army and Hizbullah's forces in many parts of the country, mainly in the north and the south, with no victory in sight and with increasing talk about the partition of Syria.

Lebanese and Arab anti-Hizbullah media claim that Hizbullah - which is reportedly operating not only in Syria but also in Iraq and Yemen - is feeling a shortage of fighters, which it seeks to overcome by offering recruits tempting wages, by recruiting boys aged 15 and 16, and also by hiring mercenaries, some of them improperly trained.[16] The sources report, however, that the organization's recruitment efforts have met with little response and even open rejection by the Shi'ite public. For example, the Lebanese news website Now Lebanon, identified with Hizbullah's political rivals, the March 14 Forces, cited a Druze woman who is married to a Shi'ite and is a Hizbullah supporter. She said that, in light of Hizbullah's numerous losses in Syria, which do not seem to herald a victory, she would not send her son to fight there for all the money in the world.[17] The website New Lebanon reported in September 2014 that Hizbullah was surprised to discover that only about 150 young men from the Beqaa region in northeast Lebanon had signed up to join its ranks, when it was expecting about 600. The report claimed that this stemmed, inter alia, from the Shi'ite public's opposition to Hizbullah's involvement in various parts of the Middle East, including Syria, and its feeling that Hizbullah senior officials in the Beqaa region were living a life of luxury while more and more soldiers were dying in Syria and Iraq.[18] According to the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, no few Hizbullah reservists expressed reservations regarding the general mobilization Hizbullah may announce. They said that such a mobilization was binding only in the case of a war against Israel, and that they were not willing to die for Bashar Al-Assad.[19]

Another problem straining the relations between Hizbullah and its support base - especially its relations with the families of the fallen - is the financial crisis. About a month ago Hizbullah circulated fliers among its supporters in the south Beirut Dahiya, in South Lebanon and the northern Beqaa soliciting donations to meet the needs of Hizbullah soldiers.[20] The Syrian opposition website Orients New claimed that some 20 families of the organization's fallen had not received compensation from Hizbullah, and in response had kept other Hizbullah soldiers in their family from reporting for duty in Syria.[21]


Hizbullah flier soliciting donations for the organization's soldiers (Source: Al-Mustaqbal, Lebanon, April 24, 2015)

In addition, a series of tweets by a woman called "Umm Al-Hasan," who identified herself as a Shi'ite from the Dahiya, recently sparked an uproar in Lebanon. Umm Al-Hasan said that her son had been killed in Syria, and charged Nasrallah to bring back her other son, along with all other Hizbullah soldiers, since Hizbullah had no stake in the Syrian war.[22] In another tweet she wrote: "Please, Nasrallah, I want my son [to come back] from Al-Qalamoun. It's enough that one [of my sons] died. Take pity on our children..." Though the Twitter account may well be fake, the tweets got a lot of attention in the Lebanese press, which further exacerbated the criticism of Hizbullah and swayed public opinion against it.


One of Umm Al-Hasan's tweets

 

*E. B. Picali is a research fellow at MEMRI; H. Varulkar is director of research at MEMRI.

 

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 23, 2015.

[2] Moqawama.org, May 24, 2015.

[3] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 25, 2015.

[4] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 22, 2015.

[5] Moqawama.org, May 24, 2015.

[6] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 23, 2015.

[7] On the independent Shi'ites in Lebanon and their struggle against Hizbullah in 2012-13, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 938, Independent Shi'ites In Lebanon Challenge Hizbullah,  February 22, 2013.

[8] Janoubia.com, April 28, 2015.

[9] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 23, 2015.

[10] Moqawama.org, May 24, 2015.

[11]  Al-Akhbar  (Lebanon), May 25, 2015.

[12] Al-Akhbar  (Lebanon), May 25, 2015.

[13] Al-Akhbar  (Lebanon), May 22, 2015.

[15] For example, the Lebanese daily Al-Mudun, known for its opposition to Hizbullah and the Syrian regime, claimed recently that the number of Hizbullah casualties was very high, and that the organization was keeping their number a secret and burying some of them in Syria itself. Al-Mudun (Lebanon), April 20, 2015.

[16] Mmedia.net, May 6, 12, 2015.

[17] Mmedia.net, May 12, 2015.

[18] Newlebanon.info, September 16, 2014

[19] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 25, 2014.

[20] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), April 24, 2014.

[21]  Orient-news.net, April 8, 2015.

[22] Twitter.com/umalhasan70.