For a split-second Hezbollah Chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah dared show himself this week, for his first public speech in years – and immediately went back into hiding. Nasrallah's timing was not a coincidence. He too knows that the Shiite's golden era in the Middle East is nearing its end, and he had to do something – in a show of courage, so to speak.
After the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, and especially after the fall of the Sunni regime in Iraq in 2003, it seemed like the Shiites were taking over. In Iran, in southern Iraq, in Syria and Lebanon, and even among the Palestinians, via Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. But historically, this was an artificial phenomenon, following near-millennia of clear Sunni hegemony, and especially considering that the Shiites make up only 15% of Islam, while the Sunnis make up the remaining 85%.
The growing sanctions imposed on Iran have turned it into an isolated, weakened country and the Arab revolt of the last year has all but ended the Alawi hegemony – which Syria and the Arab world consider to be a direct continuance of Shia Islam. True, the Shiites rule Iraq, but they are well aware of the limited power there, after years of internal conflict. Some of the Shiites even actively oppose any Iranian domination.
So what is satellite-Nasrallah to do when his mother ship, Iran, is financially and socially coming apart at the seams, and when the connective link – Assad's Syria – is disappearing? The "Shiite Crescent" that the Shiites so boasted about is falling apart. Without Iran and Syria, Hezbollah will shrink back to its true size – no more generous funding, no more weapons and no more political backing.
Worse: Nasrallah insists on voicing public support for Assad and his bloody regime, for which the Sunni world condemns him. Nasrallah, the "star" who only five years ago fought Israel, is now perceived as part of the old Arab world.
Even Hamas understands that and was quick to flee Assad's patrondom. But Hamas is a Sunni organization, as opposed to Shiite Hezbollah, that has now has no one to turn to other than Iran or Syria. Hezbollah's chief is now hoping that Egypt will stand up to Israel, but he undoubtedly knows what the Sunni clerics in Cairo think of him and his organization. There is no love lost there, to put it mildly.
Hezbollah is transferring its vast arsenal from Syria to Lebanon and the Lebanese know it. The Lebanese debate over the disarmament of Hezbollah has renewed and Hezbollah is concerned. Yes – they can attack Israel, but in doing so they will bring about Lebanon's destruction.
Iran is trying to push its way into Lebanon and it may be finding partial success – such as in with its cooperation with the Lebanese military – but that stems from Syria's dwindling presence in the Lebanese arena. The sects there need an external element to save them from themselves.
And finally, the Lebanese prime minister, billionaire Najib Mikati, did not yield to Nasrallah's pressure and approved the transfer of funds necessary for the International Crimes Court (ICC) in The Hague to try several senior Hezbollah officials for the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
This was another blow to Nasrallah, which reflects his weakness within Lebanese politics – even his old ally Mikati has turned his back on him. Will Nasrallah go for broke in Lebanon? That's highly unlikely.
For two decades Hezbollah built itself on its struggle against IDF forces in Lebanon. Today, when the Arab world is internally conflicted, and the artificially overblown proportions of the Israeli-Arab conflict have been revealed, Hezbollah has nothing else to hang on to. Nasrallah's latest speech was indicative of weakness and concern – not of confidence.
The IDF is ready to face the challenged posed by the northern border but Israel too understands the decrease in the options available to Hassan Nasrallah, whose world has become colder than ever.