JERUSALEM — Middle East experts suggested that a pair of rockets fired at the leader of Hezbollah have pierced his image of invulnerability.
The Katyushas fired Sunday at Dahiya signaled that Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's strategic position had suddenly become vulnerable. It is presumed that the rockets were fired by members of the Free Syrian Army, which had warned Nasrallah it would retaliate if Hezbollah continued to send fighters across the border into Syria to assist President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against them.
"It doesn’t really matter who fired," wrote Alex Fishman, military correspondent of Yediot Achronot, Sunday. "If the neighborhood bully is punched in the nose, he’s a lot less frightening. The psychological barrier has been breached."
Until recently, Nasrallah was acclaimed throughout the Muslim world as the one Arab leader who had successfully stood up to Israel when he fought it to a standstill in a month-long campaign in 2006.
He frequently boasted since then that all of Israel lay within range of his rockets. Indeed, Iran saw this formidable arsenal, estimated at 60,000 rockets, as the principal deterrent against an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities. In Lebanon itself, there was no force that could challenge Hezbollah, including the Lebanese army.
Nasrallah began sending Hezbollah fighters into the Syrian fight a few months ago, generally confining them to border areas and to safeguarding the weapons supply route into Lebanon. However, in recent weeks the number of fighters has substantially increased and Hezbollah contingents have played a major part in the bloody battle for Qusair, a key Syrian town near the Lebanese border. Dozens of Hezbollah fighters have reportedly been killed in this fight alone.
Analysts noted that Hezbollah, which was created as a bulwark against Israel, is risking its legitimacy even among its own followers by involving itself in a war outside Lebanon’s borders against fellow Arabs.
"Hezbollah is not protecting Lebanese citizens and the enemy is neither external nor an occupying force on Lebanese territory; Hezbollah is not protecting holy Shi'ite sites," Ha’aretz’s Zvi Bar’el wrote Sunday. "It is fixing Lebanon into a war that could end in its own political and economic demise."
Furthermore, by becoming party as a Shiite force in a sectarian war against the Sunni forces opposing Assad, Hezbollah has brought that war onto Lebanese territory as Lebanese Shiites and Sunnis fight each other in the northern city of Tripoli where some 30 persons have been killed in recent days and hundreds wounded.
Attempting to justify Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, Nasrallah said in a television address Saturday that Syria was the backbone of the resistance against Israel and the West. "If Syria falls," he said, "so will Palestine, the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. We will enter a very dark phase."