De autokratiske sunni-statene som Egypt og Jordan må være nervøse: Nå sprer den populistiske shia-aktivismen seg fra Irak til Libanon.
Other Sunni Arab governments fear an attempt by Iran to burnish its credentials in the region, reaching beyond its Shiite base to forge common ties with Sunnis. They see common goals binding Iran, radical Shiite parties in Iraq, the Assad government in Syria and Hezbollah and Hamas, who all oppose the West and its allies in the Middle East.
«This axis is trying to establish predominance over Arab public opinion and eventually expand its influence into other Arab countries,» said one Lebanese official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he said it was impossible to publicly criticize Hezbollah when the country is under attack from Israel. «They have already reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.»
After Hezbollah pushed the Israelis out of southern Lebanon in 2000, it adopted a more public stance in support of the Palestinians as a way of keeping its militant credentials polished. That has helped to provide Shiites and Sunnis with a common goal, although deep suspicions remain.
One sector seemingly horrified by the attempt to exhibit a more assertive Islamic and Shiite presence in the region is in traditional Sunni states and Western allies like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Jamal Dajani, who creates English translations of Arabic news shows for a program called Mosaic on Link TV, spends every day monitoring bulletins from around the Arab world.
While the satellite channels were providing around-the-clock coverage of the crisis on Friday, he said, it was business as usual on the state-run channels, with soap operas and game shows running uninterrupted by any news bulletins from Lebanon or Gaza. The Saudi government also put out an unusual statement condemning Hezbollah’s actions as «uncalculated adventures.»
Sheik Nasrallah responded, showing just how Hezbollah, with its activist stance against Israel, manages to capture the imagination of an Arab public longing for anybody who will confront Israel and in the process claim a religious mantle that none of the other governments can come close to matching.
«And for the Arab governments, I will not ask you for your history,» Sheik Nasrallah said, mockingly. «We in Hezbollah are adventurers, yes, and we have been adventurers since 1982. We did not bring to our country but victory, freedom, liberation, honor and dignity, with our heads held high.»
But some analysts expect Hezbollah to pay a heavy price on the ground once the dust settles. «There is a huge split in the Lebanese street that is hurting Hezbollah’s interests,» said Hazim Amin, a Shiite columnist with the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat. «More than half the street is not happy with what Hezbollah did and that is only going to increase, and they will have to answer to that.»