Hizballah officially declared an open-ended war on the United States last night during a formal pre-recorded speech of its leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who said Israel was little more than a pawn in the hands of America.
Beyond the oratorical flourishes and psychological warfare, Sheikh Nasrallah’s hour-long speech was the clearest sign yet that he was preparing his own people for military setbacks, tactical shifts, and strategic changes, among them:
•--Nasrallah threatened to continue war against America and Israel even if Israeli forces passed the Litani River, even conquering all of southern Lebanon and even if they reached Beirut;
•--Nasrallah specifically offered a cease-fire of rocket attacks in exchange for an Israeli stoppage of its air bombardment in Lebanon;
•--And Nasrallah personally insulted America’s top leaders by name, calling them murderers, and claiming their faces were sullied with the blood of innocent victims.
“I declare that whatever happens in this war, Lebanon will not become American,” emphasized Nasrallah, pointing with the semi-clenched fingers of his right hand.
“What has happened in this war from the first day, and what has happened up till now —the killing, the massacres, the brutality—the responsibility for them must be borne by Bush and by his administration, the American administration,” declared Hizballah’s leader.
“And in our opinion, Olmert and his government are merely tools to be used in this war,” asserted Nasrallah, shifting the black cloak he wore atop his gray tunic. Then, looking straight into the camera, the Shiite cleric’s bespectacled face formed a savage sneer.
“I want to make my meaning clear to say: the blood of the children and women of Kana, and the blood of all the old men, the civilians, and the innocent people shed in Lebanon stain the faces of Bush and Condoleeza Rice and Rumsfeld and Cheney.”
Nasrallah summed up his argument against America with the words: “This is the murderous, criminal and aggressive administration that sheds blood.”
In sarcastic remarks that were clearly aimed at those in Lebanon, such as Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who wants a friendly relationship with the United States, he poked fun at America’s aid programs and its ideas for regional democratization.
“Don’t ever forget. This is the American administration that is the friend of Lebanon, that is the ally of Lebanon, that loves Lebanon, that wants peace for Lebanon, whose heart breaks for Lebanon. And who wants Lebanon to live in security and peace and serve as a model of democracy.”
“This is the American administration that some of you trusted in the past, that some of you still trust, and that some of you may trust in the future. And we must never forget it.
“I want us not to forget this in the coming days, in the coming months and in the coming years,” continued Nasrallah, again emphasizing each word –days, months, years—with the pinched fingers of his right hand.
“I declare that whatever the results of this war, Lebanon will not become American. It will not become Israeli. It will not become a base for the ‘new Middle East,’ desired by Bush and desired by Condoleeza Rice,” said Nasrallah.
Then making a sharp cutting motion across the front of his body, he exclaimed “these are definitive and crucial words.”
In remarks that were dedicated to the Israeli audience, Nasrallah warned that America—and the Bush Administration in particular—were weak and unreliable allies.
“If you decide to put your trust in the American administration, it would be better for you to pay attention to what has happened in Iraq,” said Nasrallah, referring to American casualties since the war against Saddam Hussein turned into a terror-guerrilla conflict.
“I tell you Israelis that your trust in America has been a failed trust,” observed the black-turbaned leader.
It was a theme that was anticipated and foreshadowed for several days in the propaganda films of Hizballah’s station Al-Manar, which early yesterday began attacking America in special film montages that included footage from Vietnam.
These films show American casualties, soldiers fleeing on helicopters and Vietnamese civilian casualties.
Another montage showed John Bolton, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. having a Nazi armband appear on his arm along with his trademark gray mustache morphing into a black Hitler-like model.
Other films show bombs raining down on innocent people with the words “Made in America” stamped on them.
Nasrallah’s speech was the culmination of propaganda by the Iranian-directed terror group that has expanded its already high level of anti-American and anti-Semitic rhetoric for several days, but this was the most blatant demarcation of the United States, not Israel, as the main enemy of Hizballah, and, hence, Iran.
Although Sheikh Nasrallah’s remarks were offered with his customary confident, even cocky style, there was evidence of mounting emotional stress. The Hizballah leader’s voice cracked and creaked several times.
“We are now in the fourth week in fighting, and he chooses not to appear in front of a live audience or in a forum where people ask questions,” observed Lt. Col. (Res.) Moshe Marzook, a former Israeli Army (IDF) intelligence analyst who specializes in Arab affairs.
“Notice that Nasrallah only appears in recorded announcements, and that he appears alone and doesn’t expose himself to journalists questions, to questions from the Lebanese people,” remarked Marzook, an analyst at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.
“He relates only to what is convenient for him,” added Marzook.
Periodically during the speech, Nasrallah had trouble with his prepared text and pulled nervously at the tunic around his neck or rubbed his beard—signs that have appeared in a few of his wartime speeches.
Perhaps more importantly there were changes in content, as he also departed from his usual ritual of never referring to “Israel” or “Israelis” except as “the enemy” [al-’udu in Arabic] or “the Zionists” or “the Zionist entity.”
“If you decide at any time to stop your campaign against our cities, our civilians and our infrastructure, then we shall not shell with our rockets any Israeli colony or city,” said Nasserallah, offering a form of limited truce on his own terms.
After offering Israel a carrot, Nasrallah also threatened Israel, warning that expanded air attacks around Beirut would lead to the bombing of Tel Aviv.
Israel admits Hizballah still has a few long-range Iranian-made Zilzal missiles that can reach Tel Aviv, but Israel responded last night and today by continuing its bombing of Hizballah targets in the south Beirut neighborhoods of Al-Dahiya and Burg Al-Barajneh, near Beirut’s airport.
Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz and other Israeli officers also issued their own counter-threat, saying that any attack on Tel Aviv would prompt a counter-strike against Lebanon’s strategic infrastructure.
Still, Nasrallah has -- and as he has in the past -- tried to goad Israel into fighting a war or accepting diplomatic option on Hizballah’s terms.
“We prefer a war that is soldier against soldier and in the battlefield. We welcome it,” Nasrallah said, referring to Israel trying to uproot Hizballah fighters from deep concrete and metal-lined bunker complexes just north of the Israeli border.
“Remember, Zionists, you have only one choice—to stop the aggression and go for a diplomatic solution. And if you place any conditions, we refuse any conditions,” asserted the Hizballah leader.
But the tough talk from Nasrallah in part of his speech was belied by the increasing calls—in Hizballah’s propaganda broadcasts—for diplomatic or even military intervention on the part of Arab states on Hizballah’s behalf.
There has also been an increasing tendency to “tell tall tales” about Hizballah’s military accomplishments—serial destruction of Israeli tanks, planes, helicopters and war ships.
“He claimed that he had already sunk two Israeli ships, and to this day he has no pictures,” observed Lt. Col. (Res) Marzook, who has closely followed Nasrallah’s utterances.
“He [Nasrallah] has been lying, and he has escalated the lying in order to shore up morale of the fighting,” stated Marzook.
“One of the most important things, is the internal problems in Lebanon such as the one million refugees in Lebanon that he helped create. He does not want to answer questions about that,” Marzook concluded.
During his speech, Nasrallah was obviously aware of increasingly nettlesome questions about his credibility. He spent several minutes trying to explain why he had no proof or pictures of sunk Israeli ships orother battlefield victories, citing logistical difficulties.
But this seemed a weak excuse indeed from the Hizballah organization that has a history of recording all of its attacks and kidnappings and then broadcasting them almost immediately on its satellite television station and its internet web sites.