Decoding Nasrallah’s Speech & Blinken’s Frenetic Diplomacy
Nasrallah’s reputation is built on his credibility
The speech last Friday by the Hezbollah Supremo, Hassan Nasrallah, arguably the most popular leader in the Arab street, has evoked mixed responses. The less familiar with the caverns of West Asian affairs expected the speech to be a precursor of greater firepower in support of Hamas to deter more Israeli barbarity being visited on the Palestinians in Gaza.
This view obscures the reality that more firepower will only aggravate the suffering of Gaza without promise of any alteration in the direction of events. It is the new direction that Nasrallah is interested in.
Nasrallah’s reputation is not built on his eloquence and rhetoric alone but on his credibility: he does what he says. He demanded an immediate ceasefire to end the unspeakable suffering of Palestinians. He talked of the “constructive ambiguity” embedded in his statement. What could that be? He was clear that all options, which presumably includes full scale war, were on the table.
Delay in ceasefire augments the ranks of martyrs and lights prairie fires of revulsion against Israeli barbarity encouraged by the United States wherever people watch television. In other words, the publicity war has been lost, and losses will mount unless Israel cuts its losses. What will follow a ceasefire? All denominations involved have their preferred scenarios for the Day of Judgement.
Moves on the regional chessboard by the US have been reactive, not innovative at all. At the September G20 summit in New Delhi, the US launched the idea of a New Delhi, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Europe corridor modelled quite unabashedly on China’s Belt and Road initiative.
The initiative to be credible required a Riyadh-Jerusalem rapprochement. This was problematic because a completely contradictory rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran had already been put in place under Chinese auspices.
Saudi strongman Mohammad bin Salman would have to be unbelievably fickle to unclasp Tehran’s hand and, like a trapeze artist, clasp Tel Aviv’s.
This is not what was happening in any case. MBS, as the Saudi Crown Prince is called, has evolved impressively in statecraft from his earlier brash days.
He was not in the deal at the behest of the US for a blind date with the Israelis. He would have spelt out conditions for normalisation.
In spelling out conditions he would have taken into account Iran’s firm stand on Palestine. The October 7 startling attack by Hamas and Israel’s horrendous retaliation has clearly ensured the closure of America's Saudi-Israel file, for the near future at least.
With the expiry of the initiative, the post October 7 scenario with global public opinion ablaze against the Israeli-US duet, groups other than Hamas who are harvesting wide sympathy are all associated with Iran, Hezbollah, and a web of Popular Mobilization Fronts like Hashd al Shaabi in Iraq and their look-alikes across Syria, Yemen, Lebanon.
These militias had been knit together by the late Iranian Commander Qasim Suleimani. Such a menace had these militias become that western intelligence had to eliminate Suleimani by a drone attack outside Baghdad airport in January 2020.
Suleimani was the author of the kind of military preparedness which Hamas demonstrated in its attack. The secrecy and the professionalism are all derived from Suleimani’s book.
Since the success of the Islamic revolution in 1979, the West has harboured an interest in playing up the Shia-Sunni divide for its own and Israel’s advantage. At one stage even thinkers like Henry Kissinger advanced the thesis that the Arab world was exhausted with the Palestinian issue.
It was much more focused on the Shia-Sunni divide. Without much attention to detail, the media propounded the idea of “a Shia arc” which encircled Israel – Iran, Lebanon (Hezbollah), Syria and, incongruously, Hamas which is anything but Shia.
Hamas is an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood. Mohammad Morsi of the Brothers was removed as Egypt’s Prime Minister by a coup in 2013 and General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi installed instead, after some wrangling between the State Department and the Pentagon.
Morsi was removed for two reasons: Muslim Brotherhood’s continuity from Cairo to Gaza was a “threat to Israel’s Security.” Also, the Saudis were having kittens with the rise of the Brothers in the most powerful Arab country.
Egypt is not exempt from the unprecedented anger in the Arab street, and basement, at the inhuman pounding of Gaza by Israel. Sisi, therefore, must be an extremely anxious man today.
It is understandable that in an atmosphere of mass anger, meeting President Biden would have been the kiss of death for Arab leaders. Normally Secretaries of State paved the way for Presidential meetings.
In a strange reversal of roles, Biden having drawn a blank with his favoured Arabs, Anthony Blinken is hopping from one Muslim capital to another to retrieve an irretrievably lost glory.
What is the theme of Blinken’s frenetic activity? Iran, Hezbollah and, indeed, the Shia arc will be cajoled and threatened not to expand the conflict.
Nasrallah was specific that all scenarios are possible if the pummeling of Gaza does not stop. Expansion of the conflict will also draw in powers from outside the region.
The backdrop to Blinken’s diplomacy is the unannounced reversal in Ukraine. US’s continued role in Ukraine is more an evidence of its deep pockets than its capacity to deliver victory to a demoralised Zelensky.
It is commonly accepted that the US will now onwards be one among equals in a multipolar world with a proviso, it remains militarily the world’s most powerful country.
One consequence of the US's new condition may well be isolationism. This would depend on the turn competition with China takes. Israel’s greatest worry is US isolationism, its attention focused elsewhere. Israel is secure so long as it continues to be Imperialism’s outpost in West Asia.
Clearly, Blinken would like to bring together Sunni Arab states into a responsible role in Gaza. But can these moves be in harmony with the outraged public opinion in the Arab world?
How can the present public mood be kept in alignment with the continuation of, say, Sisi and Mahmoud Abbas, two individuals on whose heads redundancy looms.