Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, thecapo di tutti capi of Hezbollah-choked south Lebanon, has emerged from the hideout he’s been living in since the Israelis chased him out of sight in 2006. He took a stroll this morning — surrounded by a dense crowd of dozens of bodyguards — to attend an Ashura ceremony in south Beirut. (Ashura commemorates the death of Mohammed’s grandson and is a big day for Shiites. In Afghanistan today, at least 58 Shiites were killed by unidentified suicide bombers who detonated themselves in the middle of crowds of worshippers observing Ashura.)
Nasrallah had a few rather predictable words for the cameras — a warning that the Jews want to take over East Jerusalem and destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque, for example, and an accusation that the US is the real culprit behind the detention of Palestinians and the occupying of Palestinian land. “The US is the enemy and Israel acts as their tool,” he said. More importantly, he expressed Hezbollah’s undying affiliation with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
The timing is significant. On Sunday, in a clear message to Israel and the West, the Syrian regime conducted large-scale live-fire military exercises that included the firing of at least one Scud-B missile, which has a range of about 200 miles. Yesterday, in a message directed more toward the domestic front, the pro-Assad militia dumped the bodies of 34 kidnapped and murdered Syrian civilians in the middle of Homs. (The civilian death toll since the Syrian uprising began is estimated to be in the vicinity of 4,600.)
Now, bear in mind that on Friday, Burhan Ghalioun, the leader of the Istanbul-based Syrian opposition, told The Wall Street Journal that a post-Assad Syria will revisit its relationship with both Iran and Hezbollah. The Syrian opposition is gaining international legitimacy, and that’s all Assad and his Iranian friends need right now. From Assad’s perspective, it is critical that he assert his ability to wreak havoc both internally and internationally should any attempt be made to bring him down. It’s equally critical for Iran — where military installations keep exploding — to assert the steadfastness of its relationship with its only national regional ally. It’s an indication of just how anxious Hezbollah’s patrons are feeling at the moment that they have wheeled out Nasrallah to rhapsodize on the enduring love the Hezbollah faithful feel for the Butcher of Damascus.