The explosion that was heard yesterday in one of Damascus’ lesser known neighborhoods did not give any hint of the drama to come. It was barely mentioned in the news. One channel noted that the explosion looked weird as “the remains of the vehicle are not charred, so it doesn’t seem to be a car bomb.”
However, on Wednesday, a little past 11 am, everything changed at once. Hizbullah stopped its regular programming, and a teary-eyed newscaster read the news, which was immediately followed by Koran verses – a format that is reserved for times of emergency and war with Israel.
This assassination comes on top of the growing headache suffered by Hizbullah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. For more than a year and a half this man has been in hiding, determined to go on and firmly manage the struggle against Israel, despite suffering from great limitations to his freedom of movement. But this is not the only thing that makes it difficult for Nasrallah.
For the time being, the political moves he attempted to lead hit constant snags. A recent reminder: Two weeks ago Nasrallah attempted to vilify the Lebanese Army and provoke discontent against it, after six Hizbullah men were shot to death during riots in southern Beirut over power outages. Yet this move as well, like the others that came before it, didn’t quite succeed.
Moreover, Lebanon’s Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, who is considered the best political litmus test in the country, lashed out at Nasrallah and his organization this week. “If you think that we shall stand still with our hands tied – you’re delusional,” Jumblatt said. “You want anarchy? We welcome it. You want war? We welcome it,” he added as his supporters cheered on. “There is no problem with weapons,” he added.
As testament to the relative isolation faced by Nasrallah’s camp, only minor organizations and various pariahs were quick to condemn the assassination immediately after it was reported. Only a few hours later did Saad al-Hariri, the leader of the anti-Syrian camp in Lebanon, send his condolences to the family and condemned the act. The prime minister working on his behalf, Fouad Siniora, followed with his own condolences, but it is hard to believe that this was done as a result of great sadness on the part of the two figures.
‘Hizbullah will certainly respond’
Nasrallah himself sustained another blow. His “body parts” spin didn’t work in Israel and even outraged several Arab journalists. The Winograd Commission did not provide the effect he wanted, another shakeup in Israel that would seemingly prove his victory.
Secondly, he will try to act. Lebanese observers estimate this will very likely happen. “There is no doubt that the Mugniyah assassination is very painful for the organization in terms of morale, yet it is doubtful whether it changes anything in operational terms,” a Lebanese source told Ynet. “Past experience shows that Hizbullah will certainly respond. The question is not if, but rather, how, when, and in what way. Logic dictates that the response will not necessarily take place abroad, and that all options are open.”
So what’s in store? Starting today, Nasrallah will begin to provide the answers.