TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — In any war that Israel plans to wage against Lebanon, Tel Aviv’s key strategic target will be the life of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, according to a senior general in the Israeli military.
“If we manage to kill Nasrallah in the next war, I would see that as reaching a decisive victory,” Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Major General Yaakov Barak told reporters Wednesday, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Similar comments were made last November by IDF chief spokesman Brigadier General Ronen Manelis, who said that the assassination of the Hezbollah leader would play a strong role in any war on the resistance group:
There won’t be a clear victory picture in the next war, though it’s clear that Nasrallah is a target … It is clear that if he dies, it will influence the [military] campaign.”
The IDF spokesman also noted that the Israelis were conducting psychological and media warfare against Hezbollah.
Nasrallah cuts a charismatic figure, and has long been the subject of ire among Israeli top brass for his mocking attitude toward Tel Aviv’s threats and his lively speeches to the Arab and Muslim world. Opponents in Tel Aviv, Washington, and Gulf Arab capitals consider the 57-year-old cleric to be an “expert in psychological warfare.”
For his part, the Hezbollah leader has warned that the Israelis don’t have “a correct assessment of where this war will lead if they ignite it,” and thus don’t have a clear strategic view of the group’s formidable capabilities.
“They do not have a correct picture about what is awaiting them if they go to the idiocy of this war,” Nasrallah warned last year.
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Nasrallah was elected the third secretary-general of the Lebanese Shia Muslim resistance group in 1992 after his predecessor, Sayyed Abbas Musawi, was killed in an ambush by Israeli helicopter gunships. Eight years earlier in 1984, influential Shia resistance leader Sheikh Ragheb Harb was also assassinated by Israeli forces.
In 1985, Hezbollah was formed as an Islamic resistance group representing the dispossessed Shia Muslim minority in Lebanon. It defined itself through its military struggle against Israeli settler-colonialism in Palestine and the 1982 occupation of Lebanon, as well as the fight against Lebanese collaborators and U.S. backers of the occupation.
Following years of protracted guerrilla resistance, the Israelis’ occupation of South Lebanon ultimately ended in their humiliating withdrawal under Hezbollah fire in 2000.
Following the rout, Nasrallah enraged Tel Aviv in a famous victory speech delivered on May 26, 2000. Speaking from the liberated town of Bint Jbeil, Nasrallah said that “Israeli society is as weak as a spider web,” lacking the wherewithal to sustain major casualties against an Arab force capable of delivering strong blows to the occupation.
Watch | Israelis discuss Nasrallah’s 2000 speech
Hezbollah inflicted a second major defeat on the Israelis in 2006, after Tel Aviv launched a campaign to destroy the group through air-based firepower and a haphazard invasion. The war lasted over a month, claiming the lives of more than 1,100 Lebanese civilians and displacing about a million people.
Following weeks of conflict and the Israelis’ United Nations-mediated retreat, Nasrallah declared the war’s outcome to be a “Divine Victory” for the people of Lebanon and the broader Arab region. Hezbollah’s narrative that it emerged from the conflict victorious was buttressed by U.S. military experts and an inquiry by the Israeli government-appointed Winograd Commission.
Watch | McLaughlin Group’s Verdict on the 2006 Lebanon War
The Israelis hope that any future war can be won through a combination of high-tech savvy and overwhelming, blitzkrieg-like attacks on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure.
Hezbollah maintains close ties with the government of Iran and has remained a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad. A few years ago, the group joined the Syrian Army’s fight against local Western-backed insurgents, including extremists such as the Islamic State group and al-Qaida. Since then, the Israelis have grown increasingly nervous about the group’s accumulation of real-world battlefield experience, while its own military is bogged down in the policing of unarmed civilians in the territories of occupied Palestine.
In response to the successes of Hezbollah and the so-called “resistance axis” it represents, the Israelis and Gulf Arab states like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have forged a de facto military alliance.
Top Photo | Israeli soldiers train with paintball guns during a drill at an Army base near Elyakim, Israel. Between myriad concrete buildings with Arabic graffiti that are designed to simulate a typical Lebanese village, dozens of Israeli officers are gearing up for their next battle with Hezbollah. The Arabic is random letters, and the graffiti depicts Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, March 29, 2017. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.