Last week, the Israeli Air Force struck a cache of long-range missiles belonging to Hezbollah and put the Shia militia on notice. As air force chief Major-General Amir Eshel explained, "Our ability today to attack targets on a large scale and with high precision is about 15 times greater than what we did in the (2006) war" with Hezbollah.
Nonetheless, Hezbollah and its patrons in Iran are confident. Israel, from their perspective, is just an American asset, and they’ve got the Obama administration in hand. The White House is marketing the proposed nuclear deal with Iran as a “win-win” agreement, but that’s not how Iran’s proxy in Lebanon sees it. In the longstanding standoff between America and Iran, there has to be a winner and a loser. Iran won and the United States lost.
Over the last few weeks, Hezbollah media has been celebrating what they understand as a strategic victory. In an editorial, entitled “A New World: The West Capitulates," Ibrahim al-Amin, editor of the pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar, wrote that the preliminary agreement reached in Lausanne was hardly a “win-win” settlement. Rather, as has been the case throughout history, there is “a victor and vanquished.” The end result of the decades-long conflict between Iran and the West, Amin added, was clear: the West has capitulated.
Amin drew on Obama’s April 2nd Rose Garden address, and noted that the president presented two choices: either this deal or war. Clearly, Amin added, war was not a realistic choice for Obama. So, in truth, he had no choice but to yield. For Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons, Obama’s talking point about the lack of alternatives to this deal revealed a fundamental truth. They understood -- quite accurately -- that the White House had no chance of succeeding in the negotiations if it was not willing to strike Iran, if it had to. Either force was on the table or it wasn’t. The Iranians and Hezbollah had concluded that, for Obama, this was never an actual choice.
In fact, it appeared that the White House viewed the possibility of a strike on Iran as far more unattractive than the prospect of a nuclear Iran. As such, Amin argued, there’s but one conclusion: If Washington was advertising that it cannot force Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, then Obama was merely sugar-coating his surrender to Iran’s will.
In this sense, Hezbollah agreed with Obama that this was a historic moment. On the one hand, Hezbollah understood the implication of the Lausanne framework for Iran’s nuclear capabilities. As another article in Al-Akhbar put it, the deal was “a Western recognition of the Islamic Republic as a nuclear state.” But Hezbollah also realized that by conceding this status, the White House was enhancing Iran’s stature in the regional balance of power. Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem explained that while Iran did score “a great victory” by getting “the great powers to acquiesce to its program,” this acquiescence also reflected a “recognition of [Iran’s] stature and role in the region and the world.” It was a victory, added Qassem, for the “resistance project led by Iran.”
In an interview with a pro-Assad network a few days after Obama’s address, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah made the same point. “As Obama said, diplomacy is the only way…Obama is now forced to say it, and the reason is Iran’s strength.” Nasrallah continued: “Both enemies and friends have acknowledged that this deal will enhance Iran’s power, presence and influence in the region.” While President Obama insists that his agreement with Iran will limit its ability to “bully” its neighbors — if not lead to regime “moderation” — Hezbollah believes otherwise.
The White House argues, as Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said last week, that “Iran will be under enormous pressure to use previously blocked resources to improve its domestic economy.” Hassan Nasrallah sketched a different scenario. “If Iran gets back this money, what will it do with it?” Nasrallah asked rhetorically. “A rich and strong Iran,” he answered, “will be able to stand by its allies and friends, and the peoples of the region, especially the resistance in Palestine, more than in any time in the past.”