At the heart of the organization, Hezbollah operatives watch the clock – and the sky. Israeli planes have been flying overhead for more than a month, and in recent weeks the frequency of flights has risen sharply, as has security in the southern suburbs of Beirut, the nerve center of the most powerful militant group in the region.
Leaders and senior officials fear Trump, his outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israel intend to use the weeks leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration to act decisively against Iran and Hezbollah before that the new president does not take a softer position widely expected.
“They have their window and they want to finish what they started,” a middle-ranking Hezbollah group said. “But don’t worry, the Sayyid [the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah] is secure. ”
Interviews with two middle-ranking Hezbollah operatives and an intermediary familiar with the thinking of the group’s top leaders revealed a picture of an organization determined not to be drawn into a confrontation with Israel or to be seen as explicitly acting for the defense of Iran. All three sources said they believe the new US administration will attempt to negotiate the nuclear deal with Tehran, which was signed by Barack Obama and revoked by Trump and could now be renewed in another incarnation.
“This means a relief from the sanctions, and it means that the pressure will eventually be out of us,” said one of the Hezbollah operatives. “They are trying to hurt Iran in order to hurt us. It won’t work because everyone has seen this shot since the summer. And we all have the means to survive their pressure.
Israeli attacks on Iranian targets inside Syria have been almost weekly since the start of 2017, and operatives of Hezbollah, who have been heavily involved in supporting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, have sometimes been killed. in air strikes, although his upper limbs have not been recently targeted. The assassination of Iran’s chief nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh outside Tehran on November 27, almost certainly by Israel, has raised alarm bells in Beirut that the distinction so far drawn between Iran and Hezbollah could change over the next month and a half.
One senior official described the coming weeks as “the most dangerous time in 30 years.” Everyone is worried, and for good reason. ”
So far, Israel has indicated that the ranks of its nemesis are not its primary target in Syria, and has occasionally fired warning shots at targets it knows to include Hezbollah operatives, to avoid killing them. One of those attacks, in April, involved a missile landing near a Jeep at the border post between Syria and Lebanon. When four Hezbollah operatives fled the vehicle, a second missile destroyed it.
Israeli leaders have strongly supported the US policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran and Trump’s revocation of the nuclear deal, and viewed both as prime opportunities to downplay Hezbollah, which he sees as a powerful and growing threat, emboldened by the chaos in Iraq and Syria. .
The alignment of Israeli interests with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf’s worldview on Iran has been championed by Trump officials as a primary reason for the normalization agreements reached with the UAE and Bahrain and for the warming of relations with Riyadh.
Israeli leaders believe their Gulf counterparts are as hostile to Hezbollah and Iran as they are, and do not want to bail Lebanon out of its catastrophic economic collapse as long as the group maintains a grip on the country’s politics .
“It doesn’t matter what the Saudis say,” said a second Hezbollah member. “The party can take care of its own. They must understand that if the country falls, who will come out stronger? These are not the parties they support.
“But will they try something big in Beirut in the coming weeks? It is possible and it is true that there are security alerts in Dahiyeh and in the south. It’s about protecting our leaders. We have nothing specific. But there is something in the atmosphere.
Hezbollah’s security zone at the heart of its fortress is surrounded by steel barriers that were lifted last week, allowing cars to pass. Security members stood by the side of the roads to observe the flow of traffic under the surveillance of large cameras that maintain an interconnected view of Dahiyeh.
Banners of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, who was assassinated in Baghdad on January 3 in a US drone strike, have been placed near intersections and hung in store windows throughout Dahiyeh, and photographs of Nasrallah are also visible. . Long-haired posters of minor figures killed in Syria and Iraq and in previous clashes with Israel are also common.
“We are not afraid of death, as you know,” said the second member of Hezbollah. “But we have to protect our leaders and we know we would be politically wronged if anything happened to them. These are dangerous times. Trump is crazy, but he won’t get what he wants. He has no patience and he has no time. The Israelis think they are coming for us. We are the ones who come for them.