Mulham Assir: Nasrallah, Leadership and Restraint

By Mulham Assir

A lot of ink has been used in attempts to draw a portrait of the leader of the Lebanese resistance against the Israeli aggression, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and to pinpoint those leadership qualities that explain his incredible achievement, namely, leading the Lebanese resistance forces to push the Israeli war machine out of Lebanon and thwarting this phase of the larger plans of the colonialist superpowers for “a new Middle East.”

As his speeches and interviews indicate, Nasrallah refuses to ascribe this incredible feat to his personal leadership qualities. Although he patiently and persistently discourages what is a spontaneous personality cult growing around his name in the Arab world, it is not only modesty that seems to move him to redirect everyone’s attention to the many anonymous heroes who defeated the enemy invaders, the martyrs and the aggressed survivors, but rather a lucid understanding of the importance of a strong unified front in war as well as in peace.

Yet the truth validates the old truism by emerging squarely in the middle: it was undoubtedly the epic heroism of the resistance fighters that dealt the humiliating defeat to the Anglo-American-backed Zionist forces, but such heroism would not have been possible without the larger-than-life leader to inspire, direct and focus it.

Nasrallah’s leadership in war and later has made him into an emblematic figure of long-cherished hope not only to a majority of the Lebanese people but also to the Arab nation as a whole and indeed to the Muslim world.

His unbroken record of empathy and brotherhood (in word and in deed) to the Palestinian people (irrespective of their religious denomination) struggling under the Zionist oppression and aggression and his call for Arab unity have made it increasingly harder for his enemies to scare the Lebanese and the world with the bugaboo of the “sectarian” label.

The valour, selflessness and determination that made it possible for the resistance he led to push back the Zionist military giant cannot be denied but maybe, just maybe, the propaganda machines can make them into objects of fear. “Will he run us over? Is he unstoppable? Will he show… restraint?”

So now a new criterion by which to measure him has cropped up in the media: “restraint.”

Since its appearance it has been applied to Nasrallah quite often, either to praise him for displaying it or to criticize him for not exhibiting enough of it.

In itself a vague and subjective term, “restraint” is typically used to signify a politician’s abstaining from doing or saying something inconvenient to his opponent.

During Israel’s war of aggression on Lebanon, Nasrallah did not speak out against the March 14 Forces, strange bed fellows supported by foreign interests, even while they were publicly accusing him of being responsible for Israel’s aggression, and even though he believed they were colluding with the enemy in their attempts to liquidate the political and military structures of the Lebanese resistance.

That’s restraint, many said. Maybe it is a true leader’s sense of priorities, focusing on unity as the most important asset for victory.

During Tony Blair’s recent visit to Lebanon, Nasrallah did not organize, call for or incite mass demonstrations against Blair’s setting foot on the Lebanese soil, still scarred by the deep wounds inflicted by the British-aided Israeli attacks.

That’s restraint, some said. Maybe he felt that Tony Blair had as little responsibility for having been invited as Rice had had earlier for being disinvited by the Lebanese government.

Unwelcome “guests” come on tanks or in air raids but in diplomacy there are still little rituals to be observed: they don’t come if you don’t invite them.

Nasrallah did speak out against the invitation extended by PM Siniora to Tony Blair, describing it as a “national disaster” given the British complicity in Israel’s war crimes against Lebanon. Some journalists called this lack of restraint. Maybe he just felt it was his responsibility to point to the dirty laundry that needed serious attention at home.

If restraint is measured by how much the speaker refrains from saying, then it is worth noting what he did not say.

He did not say that the UK to the has been equipping Israel since the Oslo accord with submarines, helicopters, attack planes, bombs, rockets, missiles, tanks, torpedoes, mines, electronic equipment and spare parts for Apaches, F15 and F16 jets. In one year alone (2004-2005) this military endowment amount to more than £22 million, despite the British laws prohibiting the export of weapons to any country using them in aggression against another country. Perhaps that was the loophole: the law says “aggression against another country”; it does not specifically prohibit their use against Palestinian refugee camps, nor does it specify that in the case of Israel, aggression is considered defence.

Nasrallah did not say any of this.

That’s restraint.

He did not say that the UK, along with the US, vigorously opposed any ceasefire, blocking all international calls for it repeatedly: at the UN Security Council on July 14, at the G8 Meeting on July 16, at the EU foreign ministers’ meeting on July 17, at the crisis summit meeting in Rome on July 26 and at the August 1st meeting of EU foreign ministers. That was considerable support for Israel’s war crimes in Lebanon, but Nasrallah did not mention it in that speech.
That’s restraint.

Aside from military equipment and diplomatic cover, the UK provided Israel direct strategic support by welcoming US flights carrying weapons to Israel to refuel at British airports. Nasrallah did mention this but did not say that, by contrast, the government of Ireland categorically refused the same request from the US. The comparison might have been embarrassing to Siniora’s guest, so that too showed restraint.

Perhaps Nasrallah felt it was not necessary to mention any of these facts, knowing that his audience—the Lebanese people – knew them well.

In all fairness Blair also exercised a kind of restraint when he came to Lebanon as Siniora’s guest. He did not talk about the strings attached to the gift-wrapping of the pledge of £40 million for the reconstruction of Lebanon.

He did not say that some of this little gift will be paid to the British firms for whom he was securing contracts, on commissions, and on, well, yes, some shopping in Paris.
Perhaps he, too, felt it was not necessary to mention any of these facts, knowing that his audience—the March 14 crowd – knew them well. It is the very same audience that Israeli army Col. Gal Luft addressed when he gave them the ultimatum to “shut down” Hezbollah if “you want your air conditioning to work… and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping.”

There is nothing wrong with adding “restraint” to the list of qualities to measure in a leader. The choice of examples, however, is tricky because, as they say, “the devil is in the details.”
-Mulham Assir is a Lebanese writer based in Beirut and Madrid. He is a regular contributor to

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1 Comment

  1. thank you for sharing an honest view of the region. Typical americans are not privy to this info in main stream media

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