For a number of years, Nasrallah was considered, according to polls, the most popular of all Arab leaders: a man who says what he means, isn’t corrupt like the tyrants and oil sultans and who can defy Israel and defeat it.
In Israel, opinion was divided over whether he was merely an Iranian proxy on the Israeli northern border or an authentic Lebanese politician acting ultimately in his own best interests and not those of Tehran. This is a relevant question in the debate over how Hezbollah would react the day after an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear project.
The eruption of the war in Syria made things clearer — Nasrallah is, after all, more of an Iranian representative in Lebanon than a Lebanese statesman. Nasrallah would certainly be happy if the past two years in his career could be erased, a period in which he either came to the rescue of his ally in Damascus or was dragged into the conflict. If, initially, Nasrallah believed it was possible to save Assad’s regime, he hasn’t been convinced of this for a while, according to intelligence sources. Nevertheless, he followed Iran’s orders in full and sent thousands of his best fighters to assist Syria’s Alawite regime.
Israel couldn’t have hoped for a greater miracle. The fighting has not only weakened the Syrian army, the strongest that Israel faces, and significantly eroded Hezbollah’s operational power. It has also completely shattered Nasrallah’s image. He used to justify the Hezbollah militia’s existence, alongside the legitimate Lebanese army, by saying its role was to battle Israel. Now he is sending it to assist in the massacre of Sunnis by a bloodthirsty regime.
Nasrallah’s embarrassment at the death of his fighters in Syria is so great that he has ordered that they be buried at night, without customary ceremonies. From here the road is short to entanglement in lies, coverups, political murders, corruption of senior members and all the other familiar characteristics of the region’s old politics.
Nasrallah had his own Arab Spring dream — taking control of Lebanon without resorting to arms and turning it into an Islamic state that leaned on a Shiite majority but also guaranteed the welfare of all its citizens. It was to serve as a beacon of Islamic success in the Middle East. Instead, he will end up as a deceitful Iranian puppet who cares for the narrow interests of a small group and helps a dictator butcher his own people.
Ronen Bergman is a senior correspondent for military and intelligence affairs at Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli daily, and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.