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Moshe Elad
Nasrallah's last card
Hizbullah chief working on deal: Abducted soldiers in exchange for immunity

Experts on Middle Eastern and Arab affairs cannot believe something like this can happen: A Middle Eastern leader admitting to a grave mistake and expressing regret over a failure he's responsible for. 


Indeed, that's what happened. The leader of Hizbullah, the tough Shiite fundamentalist organization, spoke in his last speech as if he was a liberal-democratic Western leader, admitted his mistakes, expressed his regret, and even apologized.


"What will be the next step?" Arab media outlets ask cynically. "Will he apologize to Israel or beg for a meeting with Prime Minister Olmert?"


The speech of regret shouldn’t surprise anyone. With this speech, also directed at Western leaders, Sheikh Hassan launched his next campaign, which is focused on securing the freedom of fugitive Nasrallah in exchange for kidnapped IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.


Israeli society's raw nerves

From the bottom of his underground bunker somewhere in Beirut, Nasrallah and his aides monitor one major issue that occupies Israeli public opinion – the kidnapped troops.


The master of taking advantage of Israeli society's raw nerves again launched a well planned and organized campaign where each act is timed on the basis of assessments of the Israeli mood.


The Shiite leader's close associates are examining every nuance and measure the power of any response related to the two kidnapped soldiers. One of the questions certainly being discussed at the Hizbullah bunker is the price Israeli society would be willing to pay in order to return the two soldiers home.


Hizbullah is certain to demand the release of terrorist Samir Kuntar, who murdered an Israeli family, as well as other Lebanese and Palestinian detainees. Yet before anything else, Hizbullah will condition any agreement on an Israeli pledge not to target Nasrallah, Israel's cruelest and most bitter enemy in years.


Abductees Hizbullah's only 'doomsday weapon'

Nasrallah became a wanted man on July 12, 2006, immediately following reports of the abduction of the two soldiers. Until that day, he felt secure enough not to fear a targeted assassination. The balance of terror boasted by his group included the firing of rockets at northern communities.


Now of all times, when he's beaten and injured, Hizbullah no longer holds an effective "doomsday weapon" aside from the abductees. Nasrallah intends to utilize those bargaining chips to the fullest extent possible.


The intensive contacts with Europe, the series of stories currently aired on Lebanese television, and additional "public relations" acts on behalf of Hizbullah are aimed at the eyes and ears of Israeli citizens. They attest to Nasrallah's desire to first create a convenient basis for Israeli willingness to pay almost any price for Goldwasser and Regev.


Secondly, he's interested in a quick agreement he can use to again boast a "divine victory" to the Lebanese people and Arab states. The new campaign includes the involvement of European states such as Germany and Italy, which Nasrallah intends to designate as guarantors that Israel will refrain from killing him.


Even though he won't admit this publicly, and although he will continue to stress his aspiration to first and foremost see prisoners released, first and foremost he cares about himself.


Borrowed time

He's well aware that he's in Israel's sights and will continue to be there as long as there's no deal, and therefore he believes that only an agreement under European patronage will prevent him from living out his life hiding in bunkers and crawling through tunnels.


The implication of a failure to reach an agreement is clear to him: No more public speeches in Beirut, no more free movement to his village of birth in southern Lebanon, and no more first-class flights to Damascus and Teheran.


Indeed, he will continue to live on borrowed time en route to the day where he joins the list of "senior martyrs" such as the PLO's Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), Hamas' Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Islamic Jihad's Fathi Shqaqi, and former Hizbullah leader Abbas Musawi, succeeded by Nasrallah himself.


If the State of Israel indeed plans to kill Nasrallah, the window of opportunity to achieve that goal is gradually shutting down.


This will apparently be the only "direct contact" between Israel and Hizbullah, as the moment the difficult deal that involves Nasrallah's life in exchange for the abductees hits the negotiations table, the talks will be held through intermediaries. And we already learned that when intermediaries are involved, the price is much steeper.


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