Podcast: Who are Hizballah and what is the resistance axis?


Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza is fast threatening to spill out into a major regional war.

This war, led by Israel and its US and European backers, could stretch from occupied Palestine to Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and even Iraq and Iran.

All these countries have, in fact, been the targets of attacks since 7 October, carried out either by Israel, the US or their local proxies.

But the regional alliance that calls itself the axis of resistance has been striking back.

On Monday, Iran hit what it said was an Israeli Mossad spy base in northern Iraq, along with part of the US consulate (the Iraqi parliament has for years demanded that US troops leave the country, but they have refused to do so).

Since Israel began its genocidal war on Gaza, the Yemeni government based in the capital Sana’a (which since 2014 has controlled territory in which 80 percent of Yemenis live has been imposing naval sanctions to prevent Israeli-linked ships from the entering the Red Sea.

This government (led by the Ansarullah movement, but rejected by the US and Saudi Arabia, who run a competing government-in-exile out of a hotel in Riyadh) says the blockade will only end once Israel’s genocide in Gaza ends. The US and UK have defended Israel by bombing targets in Yemen.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Hizballah – perhaps the resistance axis’s leading faction – joined the battle against Israel on 8 October. Since that day they have been trading fire on the northern borders of occupied Palestine.

In this episode of The Electronic Intifada Podcast, Tamara Nassar and I interview Amal Saad, a leading scholar of Hizballah and the resistance axis. The episode was recorded last week, before Iran hit targets in northern Iraq.

Saad is a politics lecturer at Cardiff University in South Wales and was previously at Lebanese University in Beirut. She is the author of the book Hizbullah: Politics and Religion.

We looked back at an article that Saad wrote for The Electronic Intifada 15 years ago and reflected on its current relevance.

Saad said the idea that Israel could defeat Hizballah is “absurd” and “impossible.”

She said that even against Palestinian resistance movement Hamas, which relies on weapons made in Gaza, Israel “hasn’t been able to score a single military victory of any significance” and that Israel “still hasn’t achieved anything in military terms beyond ethnic cleansing and genocide.”

Saad said that in the event of a full-scale Israeli war on Lebanon, Hizballah’s military capabilities “would prevent Israel from reoccupying Lebanon. It would be able to repel, as it did in 2006, an invasion and it would thwart all of Israel’s aims.”

She also emphasized that Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah “has threatened that in the next war, Hizballah won’t be alone,” and that there could be hundreds of thousands from across the resistance axis who would want to defend Lebanon.

Saad also debunked common Western misconceptions about Hizballah being a “proxy” of Iran.

She said that, “this view that Iran and the resistance axis have sort of been weaponizing the Palestinian cause, using Palestinians as pawns,” common even among some on the Western academic left, was “disturbing,” “ahistorical” and “a form of historical revisionism.”

An objective reading of history, Saad says, shows that – far from benefiting from the Palestinian cause – “Iran has been penalized repeatedly, from the Islamic Revolution onwards, for its support of Palestine. And in fact, every US administration has offered Iran different sorts of carrots in exchange for giving up the Palestinian cause.”

Saad’s analysis of Iran and the resistance axis was broadly shared by Nizar Banat, a Palestinian activist and politician.

He was also a critic of the Palestinian Authority for its collaboration with the occupation.

Banat’s Facebook videos were wildly popular among Palestinians – until he was killed by Palestinian Authority forces in 2021, leading to weeks of protests in the West Bank.

We also asked Saad to explain some basic facts about Hizballah and the context of its support in the region.

Some key points explored in this interview include:

  • Israel’s assassination of Hamas’s deputy leader in Beirut
  • Why Hizballah has such popular support in the region
  • How this is now more than a “low-intensity” war
  • How Hizballah’s actions are, in many ways, unprecedented
  • An overview of the resistance axis
  • Analyzing the nature of Iran’s support for Hizballah
  • Why it is inaccurate to regard Hizballah as merely a “proxy” or “pawn” of Iran

You can watch the entire interview in the video at the top of this article or listen to the audio-only version via your favorite podcast platform or the links below. There is now also a full transcript, which you can read below.

Follow Amal Saad on X here: @amalsaad_lb.

Articles we discussed

Video production by Tamara Nassar.

Theme music by Sharif Zakout.

Subscribe to The Electronic Intifada Podcast on Apple Podcasts (search for The Electronic Intifada) and on Spotify. Support our podcast by rating us, sharing and leaving a review. You can also donate to fund our work.

Full transcript

Lightly edited for clarity.

Asa Winstanley: Welcome to The Electronic Intifada Podcast. [I’m Asa Winstanley, here with Tamara Nassar].

Now, since the Palestinian resistance in Gaza began what it calls Operation Al Aqsa Flood on the 7th of October, Israel has been carrying out a devastating genocidal war against the civilian population. And this has killed at least 23,000 people and counting [as of 11 January 2024].

But Israel and its US and European backers have also been threatening to expand this war into a regional war, one which could stretch from occupied Palestine to Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and even possibly Iraq and Iran. And indeed, all these countries have been the target of US or Israeli bombing attacks since the 8th of October. But regional military powers have not been sitting on their hands. On the 8th of October, Hizballah, the Lebanese resistance faction, joined the battle against Israel. And since then, they have been trading fire on the northern border of occupied Palestine with the Israeli forces.

We’re very happy today to be joined by Amal Saad, a world-leading scholar of Hizballah and the resistance axis, and she is a politics lecturer at Cardiff University in South Wales, and was previously at Lebanese University in Beirut. She’s the author of many things, but notably the book Hizballah: Politics and Religion. Amal, thank you very much for joining us today. We know you’re extremely busy, so we’re grateful that you’ve found the time for this discussion.

Amal Saad: Thanks so much for having me.

Asa Winstanley: Great. So we’re going to talk later on in the podcast about the resistance axis and about the Western left, or we could say, misconceptions among the Western left of Iran and its relations with Hizballah. But first of all, let’s start at the beginning for any viewers and listeners who might not know: Who are Hizballah, and why have they joined the Palestinian resistance’s war against the Israeli military since the 8th of October?

Amal Saad: Well Hizballah are a military resistance movement on the one hand, and on the other hand, they’re also a political party in Lebanon.

Now, they started off as a military movement in 1982, that was born as a result of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon then. And they very successfully resisted Israel over that time. And by 2000, Israel unilaterally withdrew from South Lebanon as a result of Hizballah’s military activity. And in 1992, they participated in parliamentary elections, the first of its kind after the Civil War. And they’ve been participating since.

And in 2005, they also joined the cabinet, the government, for the first time. So they’ve become also very active players in the political system. They’re an entrenched part of the state. And they’re the only group in Lebanon which has been allowed to retain its arms after the end of the Civil War in order to continue to fight Israel and to act as a deterrent to Israel.

Asa Winstanley: Could you give us a bit of an overview of what the armed wing of Hizballah has been doing since the 8th of October against Israeli targets?

Amal Saad: Right, so Hizballah, for the first time in its history, has opened up the northern front, fully on behalf of the Palestinians.

In the past, whenever that front was open it was because of Lebanon. So this was the first time in their history they took the initiative and launched cross-border strikes against Israel. And they started off by targeting surveillance equipment, watch towers, etc. And they blinded Israel in that sense, so it did serve a strategic purpose. They also targeted military bases and barracks. And so progressively, their targeting became more frequent and it increased in quantity and quality. They even fired at the Iron Dome [missile defense system] several times. They actually targeted the Iron Dome. They’ve taken down Israeli drones and they’ve hit Israeli settlements in response to Israel’s targeting of Lebanese civilians.

So the number of attacks or operations, I think, is around 700 now, from October 8. They’ve used quite sophisticated weaponry. Just a very small sample of their weapons arsenal has been used: the Burkan missile which has a heavy warhead. They’ve used precision guided anti-tank missiles. So they have increased also qualitatively in terms of the types of weapons they’ve been using and the targets.

Asa Winstanley: I’ve got a few bullet points here from one of Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches. Hassan Nasrallah is, of course, the leader of Hizballah. And he said in his 5th of January speech that there’s been an average of six to seven military operations every day. Forty-eight Israeli frontline posts have been hit, 50 targets behind the front line, 17 settlements have been hit. And he said the targets were tanks and armored vehicles, as well as technological centers and monitoring centers, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And there’s been a kind of, would you say, low-intensity war in the north?

Amal Saad: I would say it’s more than that. I think it’s a misnomer when people say low-intensity war. Because low-intensity warfare usually involves guerrilla groups fighting against state actors. And they also involve much more basic weapons like IEDs. They don’t involve missiles and things like that. So the sorts of targeting and weapons that Hizballah has used, and the very fact that Hizballah is not a regular guerrilla group – it’s a hybrid force that I would say, has become even closer to a conventional armed force now than it was in 2006. And even then, it was a hybrid force. So looking at these different indicators, I think it’s more apt to say it’s a moderate-intensity war. It’s not a high-intensity war yet, no. It’s not like the war that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are fighting with Israel in Gaza. So it’s a moderate-intensity war. Yes.

Asa Winstanley: And could you give us an indication of the kinds of weaponry Hizballah has, because it’s more well armed than the Palestinian resistance, right?

Amal Saad: Oh yes. I mean, it’s obviously much more sophisticated in terms of weapons in terms of training, in terms of size, on all these different levels. Hizballah is a much more powerful military force than Hamas is. In fact, it’s been called by many military experts, as the most powerful non-state actor in the world. And there is a reason for that. Well, part of it is, as you said, the weapons. So Hizballah possesses weapons – obviously, no one really has facts at their disposal, it’s quite hard. But just looking at different sorts of reports, intelligence reports, and others: Hizballah does seem to have a vast arsenal. It’s reported to have 150,000 rockets and missiles. And of those a large number are precision guided. It’s got ballistic missiles. It has anti-tank guided missiles that are sophisticated. It also has a vast array of drones. And drones have become the weapon of the future and we’re seeing that now. So they have very sophisticated drones, long-range drones, medium range, short range, kamikaze drones and other types. They’ve had these for a while now and they’ve been using them effectively.

They do have reportedly some air defense systems, I don’t think they’re very sophisticated, but they do seem to have some type of air defense, some say the SA-8 others say the SA-22. This is what I’ve read so far. It’s something very difficult to ascertain, because obviously Hizballah doesn’t disclose any information about their weapons. They have anti-ship missiles that they used in the July War [of 2006 against Israel], but they have more sophisticated ones now. And so that’s just looking at weapons.

But what’s more important I think, is the military experience Hizballah has acquired over the years. And I’m not just talking about South Lebanon, and how Hizballah fared in 2006. That if we want to be conservative we can say that it denied Israel a victory. And if you want to be more optimistic, you can say it defeated Israel. But at the very, very minimum, it denied Israel a victory. And in fact Israel itself in the Winograd Commission, the report that was issued there, called it a failure on Israel’s part. So we know also that Hizballah has a lot of experience since then, including in Syria. It’s fought in many different terrains, it’s fought conventional armies, it’s fought non-state actors like jihadi groups that it fought there. It’s fought in different terrains and different weather conditions.

Asa Winstanley: Okay, so that’s great. That’s a good overview of what’s been happening. So as a little bit of context on the July 2006 war, I was actually living in the West Bank while that was happening. And it was a real eye opener for me as someone coming from the West to see the level of support among all sectors [of society]. I was living in Ramallah, in what’s called the Old City of Ramallah. It’s not really that old. But basically there were a lot of Christians living there. There’s a lot of Christians because Ramallah was originally a small Christian village, which kind of blossomed out, boomed out during the Palestinian Authority years. But this is to say that there were a lot of Christians living in that area. And yet everyone was still supporting Hizballah during that that period.

And I remember – I’ve probably got a photo of it somewhere – there was a Christian bakery, which always had an icon of Mary outside it. And they put up a poster of Hassan Nasrallah [next to Mary], during the Israeli war against Lebanon in 2006. And that to me – that’s something I always remember because it was emblematic to me of how really everyone was supporting Hizballah. Whereas to me, as someone coming from the West, Hizballah was always misportrayed as this terrorist group in the Western media. But could you talk a little bit about – people can read your book to get the full history – but could you talk a little bit about the reason for the emergence of Hizballah in terms of the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon in the 80s?

Amal Saad: Hizballah has – I’m not going to exaggerate and say it enjoys full popular legitimacy. It doesn’t. No group does in Lebanon. Not even the Lebanese state enjoys that legitimacy, unfortunately. And Nasrallah has repeatedly said that Hizballah, its armed status, does not enjoy a national consensus. And Lebanon is a deeply polarized society: different sects and parties have different foreign allegiances that are in complete contradiction with one another. They’ve got US-backed groups, Saudi-backed groups, groups that are supported by Iran. Some, in the past, by Syria. Syria is much less powerful now, of course. So there are these sort of competing foreign allegiances.

So it’s very hard for Hizballah to enjoy full popular legitimacy in terms of its armed presence. But what happened particularly after 2005, after the [Rafiq] Hariri assassination, [the former prime minister], when Lebanon became divided between [anti-Hizballah] March 14 forces and [pro-Hizballah] March 8 forces, was that it was able to rally all the Shia of Lebanon behind it – who make up about a third of the population. Virtually all, according to opinion polls, according to election results – I think around 95 percent of Lebanese Shia support Hizballah.

[But] they’ve also been able to rally some Sunnis behind them. And this was a bit difficult in 2005, right before the July [2006] War, because there were so many sectarian tensions in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination and in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq. So over the years it managed to rally other groups behind it and especially the Christians.

So the Christians under the leadership of the former president Michel Aoun, who headed the Free Patriotic Movement at the time – they were much bigger than they are now. And so we could say Hizballah enjoyed the support of a very large segment of the Christian population as well. And you would see in a lot of the Hizballah rallies, you would find many Christians who attended those rallies. So it did have some cross-sectarian support.

Now that support, obviously, during the July War it peaked, because at war time usually when any group resists Israel – this is the case for Hamas today – you can look at the figures before the invasion, then during the invasion they skyrocket. So most Lebanese, even more right-wing Christian groups, a lot of them also rallied behind Hizballah. The majority of Sunnis rallied behind Hizballah as well. This was 2006, when sectarian tensions were at their peak.

Now since then there has been, thankfully, a de-sectarianization in Lebanon. We’ve got much less sectarian tensions than we did in the past. I’m talking about the last two-three years this has been the case. And today, looking at public opinion in Lebanon, it’s clear that the overwhelming majority of Sunnis support Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they support the Palestinian cause, obviously the overwhelming majority. And over 95 percent of Shia do as well. The Druze do as well, the Muslim sect, they support the Palestinian cause.

So I think it would be logical to expect these other sects to transfer that support to Hizballah if Israel attacked Lebanon. And obviously many Christians support it as well. I left out the Christian community. So it’s still hard to gauge exactly in terms of percentages and figures. But I think the overwhelming majority of Lebanese would support Hizballah in any war with Israel. So I don’t think one can count on – many Western observers or Israelis say that Hizballah is constrained by internal considerations that it wouldn’t win public support. Well even if it doesn’t have that now – which is also questionable, I think they do have a majority support currently for their activities along the border – they would definitely have over 75 percent support [in the case of an Israeli invasion]. And I say that figure because it was around that figure in 2006. So it’s a much less hostile environment for Hizballah. The government itself is not an anti-Hizballah government, as was the 2006 government, which was led by the Prime Minister Fouad Siniora who, according to WikiLeaks, was actually conspiring with Israel against Hizballah, as were many March 14 politicians, calling on the US to push Israel to destroy Hizballah, destroy South Lebanon. So we do not have such a government in place today.

Asa Winstanley: Let’s bring it a bit more up to date and talk about the the killing of Saleh Arouri. Saleh Arouri was Hamas’ deputy political leader, and he said in a phone interview with Al Jazeera on the 12th of October that the 7th of October assault was a preemptive strike against an upcoming Israeli attack. And that it caused chaos amongst Israeli occupation forces.

But Arouri was also involved in Hamas’ indirect negotiations with Israel over the prisoner swaps that Hamas is proposing between the Palestinian resistance and Israel. Now, Arouri and several others were killed in what was an apparent Israeli drone strike targeting a southern Beirut suburb on the 2nd of January. So last week, as we’re filming this, Israel’s former UN Ambassador Danny Danon posted on X, formerly Twitter, saying that the bombing was carried out by the Israeli military, the Shin Bet, the Mossad and the security forces. In this tweet, he thanked them for that.
Now, there was no official confirmation of this claim. The Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev even claimed that it wasn’t an attack on Lebanon as a state. He said something along the lines of whoever did it, they had beef with Hamas. Do you think this sort of coyness to claim responsibility for this attack directly by the official Israeli representatives – do you think that was a sign that Israel is worried about a serious response from Hizballah? Is the deterrence equation still in place?

Amal Saad: I’m not sure to be honest. They didn’t really make much of an effort to hide. There’s very little plausible deniability in that. And Mark Regev made a mistake on TV where he said Israel, if you recall. So I don’t think they made much of an effort to conceal that. But nonetheless, yes, their policy has historically been to not claim responsibility immediately. We only find out years later in memoirs and so on, of their role in these targeted assassinations. But I do think Israel was concerned about Hizballah’s response. I mean, that’s if we want to be sanguine about this and say Israel didn’t try and provoke Hizballah into a wider war.

So if we look at it in terms of it really was just to target Arouri – and I think it was, mainly because if they did want to provoke Hizballah into a war, they would have picked a different target, because it wasn’t a Hizballah target, it was a Hamas target. And yes, of course, it violated the rules of engagement, Nasrallah’s red line. He had warned back in August that if Israel does try and assassinate any leader from any group in Lebanon on Lebanese soil that Hizballah would not tolerate it. So there clearly was an expectation of a retaliation. But again here, I’m not really sure. I don’t think anyone knows whether Israel did want to drag Hizballah into a war with this or whether it was banking on Hizballah remaining cautious. And I tend to believe the latter in this specific case, that Israel kind of knew that Hizballah doesn’t want war, and wouldn’t escalate to the point that it would bring the conflict to the brink of war.

Asa Winstanley: You posted on X, formerly Twitter, after the assassination writing that Hizballah: “Will likely retaliate in a manner that is at once an escalation that matches the scope of the Israeli assassination and restores the balance of deterrence. But also one which remains at a sub-threshold level, i.e., short of all out war.”

It seems that you were proven right on Saturday the 6th [of January] when Hizballah launched dozens of rockets at the Miron air base in northern occupied Palestine. And this video that we’re showing is an official video of the armed wing of Hizballah that they put out showing this 3D map of the airbase along with actual footage of the attack. And they caused significant damage. Then soon after that there was an explosive drone strike on another Israeli military base in Safad, which is deep into northern occupied Palestine. I believe these two targets were both further than they had previously hit.

Amal Saad: Yeah they were. The first I think was 8 kilometers and the second was 12 or 13 kilometers.

Asa Winstanley: So the question for you then is: Did these targets represent a significant escalation along the lines that you predicted in that tweet?

Amal Saad: Oh I believe so. Because Israel responded by assassinating Hizballah officials right after that, whom they connected to both these strikes. So Israel responded to the Miron strike by assassinating senior commander [Wissam Tawil], reportedly number two in the Radwan, Hizballah’s Radwan unit, its elite force. And then Hizballah retaliated for both his assassination and for Arouri. So it was a double kind of response for both, with the attack on the Safad base. And then Israel the same day responded by assassinating someone they claimed – and I don’t think that’s accurate, because Hizballah actually denied that he was the head of the drone unit – but Israel claimed he was the head of the drone unit, which was responsible for striking Safad.

And when it retaliated by assassinating Wissam Tawil, Israel claimed that he was responsible for the Miron attack. So that does show us that Israel did understand this to be a retaliation, as it should, because it was qualitatively different in terms of depth of incursion, but in terms of the very strategic type of target that Hizballah was able to strike, and it had not done that before. They had hit military bases and barracks but obviously nothing of this scope. Now, that doesn’t tell us exactly how much damage they did, especially in the second instance, we don’t really know and Israel is very tight lipped about casualties, about the extent of damage and so on.

So it’s going to be quite difficult to tell how effective those strikes were. But what we can look at is have they deterred Israel? We don’t know yet. Will it continue with its strategy of assassinations? It very well might do. It obviously hasn’t stopped because it’s been [continuing]. But these two military figures that it did target, I think it is important to distinguish them from the Arouri strike, which was much more provocative because it happened in Beirut, because it was outside the combat zone.

So that was really an abandonment of the rules of engagement. These other two, I’m not saying that they weren’t important targets or that it wasn’t provocative, but nonetheless, they happened on the southern front, close to the border area. They were combatants. So it’s not the same. I don’t think we can say they’re anywhere near as provocative or a sharp hit to deterrence as the Arouri strike was.

Tamara Nassar: So let’s go back a little bit to the beginning. When Sayed Hassan Nasrallah made his debut speech since the beginning of Israel’s genocide in Gaza, in November. In the following days you wrote that: “Many people seem to have viewed Nasrallah’s speech as a sign of de-escalation. I disagree.”

And then you said that the speech was addressed to the US first and Israel second, and that Hizballah is in fact ready to go to war with both. Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has made a series of speeches since then, where he talked a great deal about Israel’s attacks in the Gaza Strip, where he talked about the Palestinian resistance. He gave a lot of ownership to Hamas’ military operation on October 7th to the Palestinian resistance. There was a clear – some may have interpreted as kind of a distance. I’d like you to address that and I want you to talk about the most significant points he made. What’s your reading of that interpretation? And perhaps even address that, in the aftermath of that speech, there were some people who viewed it as a de-escalation, as falling short of an announcement of an all-out war against Israel in defense of Palestinians. Others have maybe correctly interpreted it as a sign of the level-headedness and the cool-headedness that we’ve always seen from the Lebanese resistance. So can you explain why he didn’t announce an all-out war? Perhaps in reference to Hizballah’s doctrine of what some have referred to as the escalation ladder.

Amal Saad: I’m going to sort of conflate here the first and second speeches that he made, because one built on the other and so I’m just going to treat them both as sort of the same speech. In that speech I recall that a lot of supporters of the Palestinian cause were very disappointed, because they wanted Nasrallah to declare all-out war on Israel. And as someone who has been observing Hizballah for decades now, I thought the very fact that Hizballah was engaged in moderate intensity war was huge in itself. And I did not expect Hizballah to launch all-out war. And if they were going to, they were not going to declare it because generally speaking – it’s not just Hizballah that doesn’t do that, no army in the world does that. No army in the world that actually has a real plan to initiate a war is going to declare its aims and take away the element of surprise.

So I would have been shocked if Nasrallah did that. And especially someone like him, who’s not given to bombast or bluster or anything like that. And that’s why Israel takes him very seriously. In fact, his speeches are eagerly awaited all over the world, and particularly in Israel, because they tend to believe what he says, unlike many other Arab leaders. So I think that speech was not a de-escalation. As you noted, as I wrote on Twitter, it was just a very kind of carefully worded, I would say, threat or warning that Hizballah could escalate. If Israel continues. And he said there were two developments it would observe: one would be how it responds to Lebanon, how it deals with the Lebanese front. And that’s in terms of Lebanon’s national security. And the other was with regard to Palestine, with regard to the Palestinian people in terms of genocide and ethnic cleansing. He didn’t go into detail but that’s what I understood.

And in terms of the fate of Hamas. If Hamas was going to be significantly weakened, like decapitating its leadership, weakening it militarily, etc. And those are the conditions under which Hizballah would then be forced to go and launch an all-out war. So it’s not as if he didn’t say there was a scenario under which we wouldn’t go to war. He was saying, right now we’re going to be doing this sort of level of warfare, it’s this. And I think he did describe it as kind of a moderate intensity [war] because he recounted the different attacks they’ve been staging so far, and what [level] they’ve been at and how they’ve been able to divert so much of the [Israeli] air force, naval forces and ground forces away from Gaza by opening up the northern front.

So he explained in terms of military strategy how important that was. And that although Israel has basically destroyed all of Gaza, the insinuation there was that they may have been more successful [against Hamas militarily] had Hizballah not diverted them. In terms of targeting Hamas I mean. Also in the first speech, I think, it was really important that he highlighted the role of the US. And that’s why I understood from this that Hizballah is aware that if there is an all-out war, if there is a full-blown conflict, that the US would be an active co-belligerent in it. And that Hizballah was fully ready to take on not just Israel, but the US as well. And that the US was, in fact, kind of the main architect of this war in the sense that although the Israeli government wanted a war, but that they wouldn’t be able to get one without US support.

And so the fact that Nasrallah was threatening the US, he was actually threatening the US and saying we are more than ready for this, as are our allies across the region. So I think those were the main points of that speech. And since then he’s had other speeches, and it’s all built on this, and it’s been a continuation. He’s also going to speak on Sunday. So that’s something we also have to look out for, yeah.

Asa Winstanley: You wrote an article for The Electronic Intifada 15 years ago, 15 years ago to the day, actually, that we’re filming this. And I want to look back on that and see if you were right or wrong.

A few quotes from it: “While Israel fervently attempts to terrorize the Palestinians into submission in Gaza, many observers have started to wonder why Hizballah has refrained from stepping in militarily to assist its brothers-in-arms, Hamas. Such musings failed to take account of the constraints on Hizballah’s room for action, as well as the circumstances under which Hizballah would ignore such constraints. The question that should be posed is not so much if Hizballah will act but when.”

Now you were writing this, Amal, during the 2008-2009 Israeli war against the Gaza Strip, but that quote in particular, you could have been writing today really. Fortunately and unfortunately.

Amal Saad: Yes, it’s sad when one is right about something like this, isn’t it?

Asa Winstanley: Yeah. It’s a sign of how little has changed in some ways. But of course things have changed in other ways. To read another quote from this article: “More than simply receiving military training, Hamas’ military strategy appears to conform to the new school of fighting, founded by Hizballah’s assassinated military leader Imad Mughniyeh himself, rumored to have personally trained and equipped several Palestinian groups over the years, which combines conventional and non-conventional guerrilla warfare that functions not only to liberate occupied territory, but to defend itself from aggression.”

Amal, I’m sure you’ve seen the videos that have been coming out from the Palestinian resistance in Gaza. Do you think the Palestinian resistance, the way that it’s fighting in Gaza to defend itself against the invading Israeli soldiers, do you think the guerrilla tactics that they’ve been using bear the signs of this kind of training?

Amal Saad: Oh definitely. And this was evident way back. I think anyone who’s been observing Hamas’ military skills over the years will see that a lot of their military tactics, weapons and so on were very similar to Hizballah’s in the 2000s. And so, for example: the bunker network. It’s, I think, over 400 kilometers [of tunnels] that Hamas has. Hizballah did not fight a bunker [war] mind you in 2006, like Hamas did. It used bunkers but not in the same way that Hamas has been forced to use them. It’s a very different terrain. And in Lebanon, Hizballah had what they called nature reserves, what Israel called nature reserves. Hizballah was able to conceal weapons and so on in mountainous areas. So they didn’t really need to rely as extensively on bunkers as Hamas does. But nonetheless, the bunker, the way these bunkers are built, from what I know – Hizballah played a very important role in this, and specifically, Imad Mughniyeh had a hand in this.

And we saw the first signs of these bunkers in the 2008-2009 war. And we know that Hamas has been trained, as has Islamic Jihad, by Hizballah directly. And in terms of also weapons manufacturing and so on. I mean, Hamas has to rely a lot more on manufacturing their own weapons than Hizballah does because of supply route difficulties that Hamas faces that Hizballah doesn’t face. So they definitely played a very active role in strengthening Hamas’ military capabilities as has, of course, Iran and Syria in the past. Yes.

Asa Winstanley: So just to clarify for our viewers and listeners on the supply route difficulties that you mentioned. Lebanon of course borders Syria, which in turn [eventually leads to] Iran. And Iran is a supporter of the Lebanese resistance. And so weapons can be transferred that way, because Syria is also, of course, a member of this axis of resistance, which we’re going to talk more about in a bit. But that’s a form of support that the Palestinian resistance doesn’t have in the same way [as it] doesn’t have a border with Syria, Lebanon or Iran in that way and it is isolated. It only has a border with Egypt.

Amal Saad: Hizballah tried in the past, to smuggle weapons into Gaza from Egypt. But Egypt arrested its operative who was doing the smuggling. So it’s really difficult because the Rafah crossing was the only place or border through which Palestinian groups could receive weapons. So it’s just to give you an idea about how difficult it is. It’s much more difficult than it has been for Hizballah, which relies on Syria as a supply route.

Asa Winstanley: Yeah that’s fascinating. The Palestinian resistance in Gaza obviously faces these sorts of geographical limitations, structural limitations in the same way that the Lebanese resistance doesn’t. And it seems that – again, we don’t have any inside information here – but going from what we can see in terms of videos and publicly available information, it seems that Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the other Palestinian resistance factions rely on domestically manufactured weapons.

Amal Saad: Which is why it’s so absurd that Israel would even think of taking on Hizballah. Because if it hasn’t been able to score a single military victory of any significance against Hamas, which has been making its own drones using commercial drones and homemade weapons, and it still hasn’t achieved anything in military terms beyond ethnic cleansing and genocide, it’s very puzzling as to how they think – that even the US, frankly, not just Israel, even if the US participated in the war – I don’t see how they would assume that Hizballah could, be not even just defeated, [even] weakened, to be frank. I think it’s impossible.

Asa Winstanley: Yeah. Fascinating. Okay, there’s a couple more quotes here from your article: “The reason then for Hizballah’s constructive ambiguity whereby it neither confirms nor denies its attempt to join the conflict is clear. Although the resistance has so far remained on the sidelines of the conflict, it’s highly improbable that it would continue to do so if Hamas were on the verge of collapse.” Again, interesting parallels, because you’re making the same analysis today as that. It’s unlikely that Hizballah would continue to keep the same level of its involvement and that it won’t escalate its involvement if Hamas’ military wing were on the verge of collapse. And as you just stated there’s been no real military achievements by the Israeli military against Hamas. We’ve seen they’ve just said not long ago that they have made this ridiculous claim that they’ve dismantled Hamas and its military infrastructure in the north of Gaza. And then immediately after Hamas puts out more videos showing that’s just completely untrue.

Tamara Nassar: I’m also curious about this idea of constructive ambiguity. If you could talk about that, because it seems to be that the mystery of the ambiguity of the Lebanese resistance’s, not intentions, but the extent that they’re willing to go, creates a lot of anxiety in Israel. And I’m very curious about this interpretation, which you can see both in their discourse and in their actions.

Amal Saad: Did I use the word constructive ambiguity? Nasrallah used it in his speech. I think it was the first or the second speech. And I’m wondering, did I put it in quotations [in my article]?

Tamara Nassar: I don’t think you did.

Asa Winstanley: There’s no quotes, it’s your term.

Amal Saad: Okay. Well he’s only used it recently for the first time in regard to the strategy.

Tamara Nassar: Oh wow.

Amal Saad: I just thought I was quoting him when you read it.

Asa Winstanley: Well, you may have been quoting him, but if so then there’s no indication you were.

Amal Saad: I think it’s interesting because, as you say, it does function as a form of psychological warfare. And what’s interesting about Hizballah’s psychological warfare: so you know in propaganda you’ve got white propaganda and gray and black. And they all have different elements of lies or untruths. And so with white propaganda, it’s just objective facts. And I think Israel does view Nasrallah’s psychological warfare as constituting white propaganda because he doesn’t lie actually. He just withholds a lot of truth, he withholds a lot of information, but he doesn’t actually state lies. So he prefers to say very little. And that’s been very effective. And I found it the most effective myself because in his speech, that the one in which he was supposed to threaten, right after Arouri the assassination, he just left it till the very end what was quite tantalizing. We were all waiting for him to say something and he didn’t until the very end of the speech. And he just said one sentence like, this is not going to go unpunished. And he just smiled. And I believe that even the smile was by design, it was designed to cause that kind of anxiety and uncertainty in Israel. So there was this fear.

After his speech, the Israelis were saying that they were preparing the northern front for all contingencies, and even Tel Aviv and so on. I think he’s quite adept at this form of warfare and this constructive ambiguity. Hizballah, as I said, most armies in the world, most leaders will not disclose their military plans in advance. So I don’t think this is unique to Hizballah. But I think what is unique is the way Hizballah conducts its psychological warfare does seem to be effective, because Israel always responds to that quite immediately. And we can see the effects of that. And the fact that Hizballah doesn’t actually lie when it does make these threats. So yeah, I think that’s something to look out for in all of his speeches. It’s what makes up for the lack of lying.

Asa Winstanley: Tamara is going to move us on to the axis of resistance. But before we do that I just want to point out that what Hizballah has done since the 8th of October is really significant. Some people maybe posted online saying they were maybe a bit disappointed, some pro-resistance people maybe wanted to see Hizballah doing more. But if we look objectively at what has been achieved – you mentioned the sort of propaganda war being carried out by Nasrallah, there have been these regular attacks on the north of occupied Palestine. There’s been certainly tens of thousands, and possibly as many as 200 or so thousand Israeli settlers who have been displaced from the north of occupied Palestine. Nasrallah said in one of his speeches – I’ve got the quote here: “Previously, any one of our operations that we’ve done recently would have resulted in Israel bombing Beirut and destroying neighborhoods.”

Amal Saad: That’s true. He also mentioned in that speech something that a lot of people hadn’t taken note of which was this was unprecedented. Hizballah has never taken the military initiative. Yes, in 2006, it did abduct Israeli soldiers. But that wasn’t the same sort of opening up a front. And Hizballah was involved in low-intensity warfare over the years with Israel, but this is very different, because the front had been relatively very quiet, I would say, with the exception of Israeli violations here and there. And they have happened over the years but it was relatively calm. And Hizballah just opened this front. And that was something that was actually – this was offensive warfare, effectively. This was an offensive tactic. The strategy is defensive: offensive-defense, but it is actually initiating a war, much like Hamas’ October 7 attack was offensive as well, in the sense that they initiated an attack.

So I think that is something one has to factor in that is qualitatively different from Hizballah, like the 2009 invasion, we talked about when Hizballah did no such thing. So that there is a huge shift, I think, in terms of strategy. And I do think, you pointed out Tamara earlier, that Nasrallah sort of emphasized Palestinian ownership of this attack. And I think that’s an important point. And that is something that Hizballah has always been very careful [about], because Palestine is not just an Arab and an Islamic cause, but also a national cause for Palestinians, and that they are at the spearhead of their cause, and that no one can come and condescend to them, and take center stage. So Hizballah has always been very wary of that and has always left it to the Palestinian groups to lead their own struggle, and if they need support that would come and of course it did. But I do think that all these groups in the resistance axis, all these actors, do strategize in terms of long-term military strategy. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both Hamas and Hizballah initiated attacks on Israel, I do think it is part of a wider, what Iran calls, forward defense strategy. And we might be seeing more of that over the years, especially given that Hizballah and others in the resistance axis have been talking about a great war for some time, which they consider inevitable. And so what we’re basically looking at today isn’t a case of “if,” it’s “when.”

Again, like I wrote in 2009, it’s when will this great war happen? That will be a high-intensity warfare, it will be the same actors we’re seeing now. Even more, I presume Iran would join the fray then as well. It will be high-intensity warfare then. So it’d be full-out regional war. And it would be fought very differently. And the expectation is, on the other side, the US would be a co-belligerent in such a war. So the only thing that no one is certain of is: Will this happen today or will it happen in five or 10 years? Only time will tell. So I do think that war is inevitable. I don’t see how that can ever be avoided so long as Israel continues to exist in its current state. So long as we’re seeing whether it’s a right-wing government or a left-wing government, it’s always aggressing against its neighbors. And it’s continuously involved in ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

And I think that’s something that is existential to Hizballah. I don’t think it’s just existential for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, it’s existential, because the expectation is that if Israel succeeds in this, it’s going to affect the whole future of Palestine, the whole future of the region, and that if the Palestinian cause falls, if it collapses, then Lebanon is definitely next. So I do see this as something that is unavoidable. At least this is how Hizballah views it.

Asa Winstanley: People in the West too often don’t understand this. That it is not just a Palestinian issue in that respect. Because it’s highly likely that if Hizballah never existed there would probably be Israeli settlers in South Lebanon now.

Amal Saad: That’s very true. That’s something that has been spoken about in the past, because Israel when it invaded Lebanon 1982, it reached Beirut. And it took a few years, it was 1985, it took three years for them to withdraw their forces to the security zone, which was a security belt, and they occupied that area along with the South Lebanon Army, a militia of collaborators. And they held onto that until the year 2000. But the fear was that if Hizballah didn’t try and repel them, that they would keep expanding and forming settlements. And Israel’s plan was to annex it. It still remains [the case] – they still talk about Eretz Israel [Greater Israel in Hebrew], [they want] to expand. So this is what I mean: If Israel continues to behave as an expansionist state, then I do think war, the great war is inevitable. Yeah.

Tamara Nassar: This may be like a half-baked question, but it’s been on my mind. What we’ve seen in the Gaza Strip, now that we’ve entered the fourth month, has been just a complete mask-off moment for Israel. At first, when they were beginning their calculated and systematic attack on hospitals in Gaza, they were making a lot of excuses for it. They were talking about tunnels under the hospitals, they were talking about Hamas operating. Now they attack hospitals and don’t even try to justify it. So this Israeli – it’s not even a mode of fighting, this just complete genocide that they’ve launched in Gaza, do you think that has any effect on the equation of deterrence for Hizballah? Do you think that they interpret Israel’s mode of warfare differently? Because Israel is fighting Hizballah very differently in the north than it is attacking Hamas. Is this a misguided reading? What do you make of that?

Amal Saad: That’s a good question. Under this current regime the gloves are off. And it’s not just for Israel, but also the gloves are off of the US, of Western powers. And genocide has become normalized and so has ethnic cleansing. And now they have euphemisms for these things: “collateral damage” and “voluntary transfer” and all the rest of it. So it’s seen as extremely sinister and worrying, I would say, by Hizballah, that Israel has now been given the full political cover, to continue with the strategy of genociding Palestine. Mind you in Lebanon I don’t think the word genocide is the proper term, because there were no genocidal aims, they were just war crimes. It’s different. I don’t think it’s a term one should use loosely and I’m very careful with that. But in Palestine, it’s definitely genocide, which is different. Yeah.

Tamara Nassar: The difference that I’m trying to get at is that there’s a different kind of mode of engagement.

Amal Saad: The gloves are off: This is who we are, we’re just going to declare genocidal intent whenever we want. And we don’t even care about hiding it anymore. We have seen really quite a qualitative shift in discourse. I think it was quite unexpected. And the South African case now [in the International Court of Justice], there are pages and pages of these declarations. So there clearly is a shift. And I don’t think Hizballah ever had any kind of reservations about would Israel be ready or willing to do that, because we saw with the Dahiya Doctrine, what Israel calls the Dahiya Doctrine, which is a doctrine that had applied in the 2006 war against the Dahiya, which is a southern suburb of Beirut, where the majority of the Shia community live, they targeted that area along with South Lebanon. And when I say they targeted it, I mean, they just targeted civilian targets there, so it’s a disproportionate use of force in civilian areas. And that’s a very openly declared and articulated Israeli strategy that they’re very proud of, in fact. So this isn’t an analysis or anything. And they threatened Palestinians with this.

So before the Gaza war they were threatening Hamas and saying, we’re going to use the Dahiya Doctrine in Gaza. And now what’s interesting and absurd is they’re now threatening Hizballah to use the Gaza Doctrine in Lebanon. So not only are we going to be committing war crimes, we might be genocidal in Lebanon. So it’s just another kind of level of depravity we’re talking about here and aggression. So there definitely is a fear that Israel is just completely unhinged, its leadership in terms of its aims. It’s unfettered as well, unhinged and unfettered, nobody is trying to restrain it. And there is a sense that if it did launch a war on Lebanon, it would be even more destructive than in the past. For sure. I do see that.

However, Hizballah is also, I think, very confident that it can inflict equal damage on Israel. And with any war, even though this would be an asymmetrical war, there is no doubt that Israel is militarily much more powerful than Hizballah. And it’s one of the strongest armies in the region, supposedly, in terms of military weapons and hard power indicators. Not in terms of actual fighting or military prowess or anything like that, just in terms of weapons and US backing. It is a formidable force with very sophisticated weapons and so on. But nonetheless, I think Hizballah believes that in relative terms it would prevent Israel from reoccupying Lebanon, it would be able to repel, as it did in 2006, an invasion, and it would thwart all of Israel’s aims. And that’s even without other groups joining the fray. Nasrallah has threatened that in the next war, Hizballah won’t be alone, that there will be tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands, even, he said, of fighters from across the resistance axis, who would want to defend Lebanon. Yes.

Tamara Nassar: Yeah and it’s interesting. You bring up the Dahiya Doctrine. The Dahiya Doctrine, this intentional and large-scale devastation of civilian neighborhoods is driven by the aim of devastating the civilian population so much that they turn against the resistance. Of course, this has never worked, it has only empowered the resistance and increased the support of the resistance among the civilian population. And the architect of the Dahiya Doctrine, the Israeli army’s [former] Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot, his son and nephew were both killed during their participation in the Israeli army’s genocide on the Gaza Strip.

Kind of shifting gears, I’d like us to talk about Iran and the axis of resistance briefly. There is a clear emergence now of a unified ideological, political and military confrontation with Israel. But also a much more cohesive understanding that the confrontation with Israel is also a confrontation with US empire in the region. And I think that’s a central understanding of Ansarullah, Hizballah and Hamas, of who they’re really confronting in the region. So there’s a lot [of people] on the Western left and in the academic Western left that tries to draw some kind of equivalence between Iran and the Israeli occupation, laughably. They make the claim sometimes that Iran uses Palestinians, or the Palestinian question, as pawns. Not only is this a radical misunderstanding of empire and regional relations at best, it’s also a cynical endorsement of US empire. Either way, it produces the same result. First of all, can you explain to our viewers and listeners what the axis of resistance is, what the nature of Hizballah’s relations with Iran are, and what your take is on such claims by the academic left?

Amal Saad: I think this view that Iran and the resistance axis have sort of been weaponizing the Palestinian cause, using Palestinians as pawns and so on, in a larger sort of strategic battle – first of all, that sort of view rests on the proxy theory, which is a view of the different actors in the resistance axis, which is essentially a US view, a Western sort of policy view. And it’s quite a disturbing one, because it suggests that people in the region don’t have legitimate grievances, that they don’t have agency as well, that these different actors don’t have their own agency, their own objectives and strategies and so on. So it’s a very problematic view to begin with. And the very term proxy is one that has been used as a signifier for terrorist and which justifies US and other Western attacks on the different groups that are called proxies. So it’s deeply problematic.

And so this view that the resistance axis is instrumentalizing the Palestinian cause is quite an ahistorical one, in fact, and it’s a form of historical revisionism if anything, because what history has shown us – and this can be just very objectively I’m saying here, you don’t have to support Iran at all, or Hizballah’s role in Syria. And you can even consider Hizballah and these other groups as terrorist groups, this has nothing to do with value judgments. This is an objective reading of history: Iran has been penalized repeatedly, from the Islamic Revolution onwards, for its support of Palestine. And in fact every US administration has offered Iran different carrots in exchange for giving up the Palestinian cause. And there was one leaked document in 2003 called the Grand Bargain. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it. It was supposedly attributed to Iran. And I’m not sure about that. I investigated this once. And the Iranians kind of said we had nothing to do with this. But nonetheless it’s important because that view was dominant. In that document Iran supposedly said, you know what, we’ll give up Hizballah and Palestinian groups, and we’ll accept 1967 territories if you just back off and let us, you know, don’t bomb us, and allow us to survive as an Islamic system or regime or whatever. And so that clearly reflects, whether it’s true or not, whether that actually did take place and was in fact authored by Jawad Zarif, as was claimed at the time by The New York Times and others, that the US was in fact pushing Iran to abandon the Palestinian cause and abandon its support for Palestinian groups. And in fact in almost every US discourse about Iran we always hear about its support for terror, right? This is a common refrain. So what does that mean? That means the US acknowledges that Iran supports these groups – forget Hizballah for a minute – that Iran supports and arms these [Palestinian] groups, that’s what Israel has been saying. And Israel has always threatened to bomb Iran because of this.

Why is Iran considered the number one enemy of the US and Israel? It’s because it arms and supports groups like Hamas, like Islamic Jihad, like Hizballah, that fight Israel.

So to ignore that is really, it’s a bit absurd honestly, because these are historical facts. And the truth is that if Iran went back to the Iran of the Shah’s era where it was the US’ policemen of the region where the Mossad was active in Iran at the time, where it served imperial interests, where it served Zionist interests, it was considered an ally of the US. So if Iran would just shift to being a so-called moderate actor which is just sort of a neutral, let’s say, and doesn’t – I don’t think that exists in international relations – but if it just sort of withdrew support from these groups, I’m sure it wouldn’t be facing any more threats.

So I think that’s the most important thing to look at. And that’s not to talk about even Hizballah’s relations with Hamas and with even Fatah before them in terms of the historic relations that go back decades in terms of training and equipping and so forth. The very fact that it’s opened the front now, the very fact these different groups that are supported by Iran, from Ansarullah in Yemen, to the PMU [Popular Mobilization Units] in Iraq, to Hizballah in Lebanon – is that weaponizing the Palestinian cause? I don’t understand how that could be still construed as anything but confirming that this resistance axis, whatever you think of it, even if you’re a US policy maker, you would have to admit it is actively supporting and risking the security of these countries. Yemen is under risk now from US attack. Lebanon is under risk from Israeli-US attack because it’s sponsored by the US. Same with the Iraqis. They’re being assassinated. The assassinations have started not just in Lebanon and Palestine but also in Iraq and in Syria. So we’re talking here about a Hamas official was assassinated in Syria, I think last week, that’s what I’m referring to.

So we are talking here about a risk to these different actors when they have intervened to support the Palestinians. So I think that’s something that is extremely cynical for anyone to ignore history and ignore objective reality and say, oh they’re just weaponizing the cause.

Asa Winstanley: What are the real relations then? Explain especially for our viewers who might not necessarily know: What is the resistance axis? And what are the real relations between Iran and Hizballah?

Amal Saad: The resistance axis is an alliance; this term actually emerged around 2008. And it was used more and more frequently by the actors themselves over the years but it was quite recently being used a lot more than in the past. In 2008 – after the July War, Hizballah and Iran have always been very tight allies, and so have Hizballah, Iran and Palestinian groups. Those relations were strengthened after the war in Syria, Iran, Syria, Hizballah. Hamas: there was a falling out with Hamas in that period during the civil war in Syria, but then there was a rapprochement and ties have been restored with all the different actors.

So I think today we can talk about a resistance axis much more than we could back then. And back then, mind you, in the 2000s, Ansarullah wasn’t part of the axis. And there was no Iraqi PMU until after 2014. So this axis has grown in size, initially it was quite small. And it expanded in size to incorporate these different actors from Lebanon to Yemen. So we’re talking here about an axis: many people used to call it a Shia crescent, because although the Syrian government is Alawite, it’s considered Shia. And even though the population in Syria is overwhelmingly Sunni, they still counted Syria as Shiite actor and Iran and Hizballah. So it was called the Shiite alliance.

Asa Winstanley: And Hamas, which is a Sunni Muslim group.

Amal Saad: Well Hamas is Sunni, exactly. And Ansarullah, they’re not Shia. They’re not actually properly Shia, they’re closer to Sunni. I know the Zaydi sect is considered a Shia sect, but they’re closer to Sunni Islam in fact, so it depends how you define Shia really. But nonetheless, I think what’s important is that they did try and sort of label it a Shia crescent to delegitimize it, to make it lose popular support.

Asa Winstanley: Divide and rule.

Amal Saad: Yeah exactly. And that was quite successful, especially during the war in Syria, to be fair. Hizballah and Iran lost a lot of support according to opinion polls, because of their intervention in Syria. But I think what we’re seeing today has completely changed that. And anyway we are experiencing a period of de-sectarianization. So I think that’s also been very helpful to this axis in terms of popular support.

But to go back and look at the relations between them. So, many outside observers have called them proxy relations that Iran leads this axis. In fact, they used to talk about Syria like that, they used to say that Hizballah was a proxy of Syria’s. And no one says that anymore, because Syria has been weakened significantly in the strategic sense. And, in fact, now it’s quite ironic, because Hizballah played a role in saving Syria. In fact, Hizballah looks even more powerful by many metrics. I’m not saying that’s true, but by many metrics it does look even more powerful as a regional power than Syria is, and Syria was in a much stronger position in the past. So we’re talking here about relations that are ideological. You’ve got historic ties, cultural ties: These are actors that share a strategic vision. They share an ideology. It doesn’t have to be religious, because even if we’re talking about Shia actors, the Assad regime is not religious, it’s a secular regime. It’s not like Iran and Ansarullah [in that sense]. [They have a] completely different religious ideology. The same with Hamas: It’s a different sect as well. So these different actors have different religious ideologies, but they do share in common an anti-imperialist vision and an anti-Zionist one. And so I think the idea that they are just proxies of Iran is just ridiculous. Especially Hizballah. As you know, Hizballah today has become a very influential regional power. And Nasrallah himself is widely considered to be the coordinator between the different actors in the resistance axis and there’s a joint operations room between them that are coordinating the war with Israel today. And this was the case for Syria as well mind you, so this joint operations room existed in Syria, it existed in Iraq and today it exists for Palestine. I’m not sure where the location is.

So we do see that Hizballah is the main coordinator between these different groups, and has emerged as what I call a regional sub-power in its own right, because it’s a non-state actor. So it’s not a full-blown regional power, but it’s a regional sub-power. And it’s very, very difficult to conceive of the relationship between Iran and these different actors, particularly Hizballah, as one between a sponsor and a proxy. It enjoys a lot of autonomy. And I think the biggest problem is, because there was so much convergence in terms of their strategic objectives, people tend to believe that those objectives wouldn’t be held by these actors if it wasn’t for Iran. That doesn’t make any sense, because none of these groups are acting against what they perceive as their own self interest, or their national interests.

Now other people might say, oh that shouldn’t be your interest, or that’s not the national interest. But that’s how they conceive their interests. So just because they’re in alignment with one another, that doesn’t mean Iran is calling the shots and telling them, you know, go fight on this front – or Hamas. Even more ridiculous are people who claim that Hamas was acting on Iran’s orders now. Can you imagine? After 75 years of Israel’s Nakba – it’s an ongoing Nakba against Palestinians. That people would think that Hamas is taking orders from Iran and acting against its self interest is absurd. No matter what you think of Hamas: talking about your regular sort of US policymaker. That’s an absurd view to have because it’s ahistorical. So what we’re talking about here is a long-standing history of shared historical experiences and traumas, even collective trauma in the region. This is what these different actors share. So they’re going to act in concert and they might have some minor differences here or there in terms of tactics and so on, but that’s going to be the extent of it. So it’s very over-simplistic, to put it mildly, to call them proxies of Iran.

Tamara Nassar: It’s part of the same aim of also painting them as just akin to ISIS and these thoughtless, no-strategy, terrorist, Islamist groups. It’s all part of the same effort of just completely stripping them of any kind of political motivations, clear political motivations.

Amal Saad: Or agency. Like they don’t have any agency. The US, I think, are now starting to realize it’s not in their interests for Israel to be this unhinged settler colony. They’d like it to be an imperial outpost but not a settler colony to this extent. It’s a little bit of settler-colonialism [is okay] but not too much, kind of thing. So they do differ.

Tamara Nassar: Israel can only be useful to the United States if it’s not a loose bull in a china shop, they need to have some kind of control. Otherwise, they’re just a clear liability, a liability to internal domestic politics, a liability on the world stage as they pass the United States continuously as a pariah. I completely agree with you that Israel without the United States would collapse in a week. We’ve seen a very clear example of that through the resistance assault that they led on Israel’s southern military outposts, but there’s a fine line between being a useful outpost, a useful – what did you call it?

Amal Saad: A useful strategic outpost.

Tamara Nassar: An outpost and being just an outright rogue, Smotrich, Ben-Gvir, bull in a china shop.

Asa Winstanley: I agree with that. And I think that Israel and the US is interesting. People forget this, but Israel and the US interest do clash sometimes. It does happen. You just have to look at the case of Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy who stole US secrets [for Israel]. And there’s a lot to be said about that. But we don’t have the time to get into that.

Amal Saad: The other day, Israel – I forget which Israeli official, but even Netanyahu himself has come out openly at odds with the US, and has been furious at the way they’re being treated by the Biden administration and said, we can do our own thing. You don’t tell us what to do. Don’t infantilize us. I’ve heard many such statements coming out of Israel. And that is something you would never see among the different actors in the resistance axis because it’s a completely different type of relationship, which is much more organic. It’s not that it’s more discipline, it’s more organic and natural, whereas this is a different type of relationship, clearly. It’s called the special relationship but only because of certain commonalities. It’s by no means organic or natural.

Tamara Nassar: Yeah and the US is largely fighting its own war in the region through Israel. So once Israel gets out of line – what you’re referring to was Smotrich, who spelled out very clearly Israel’s intentions of ethnically cleansing Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and Blinken and all the other psychopaths are saying, Okay, well, this is not really in line with our full intentions. So the break is not one of ideology. It’s one of strategy. And as long as Israel stays within the Yair Lapid respectability politics – the wolf in sheep’s clothing – I think the US would very much stay behind them. It’s not like the Biden administration has walked back in any meaningful way from a single Trump policy.

Amal Saad: Yeah. I think they’re just embarrassed because this isn’t just a respectable right wing. This is a very unhinged marginal fringe right wing, or at least, not all of them, but some of them like Smotrich and others. So I wouldn’t say it’s embarrassing to the US because they haven’t embarrassed them at all unfortunately. But their interests don’t converge, I would say, on many of these issues, like ethnic cleansing, like wanting to take over Gaza. Things like that – the US wants a different type of ethnic cleansing, not the same kind. So there are definitely strategic differences.

Asa Winstanley: Well, Amal Saad, thank you very much for joining us today on The Electronic Intifada. It’s been a brilliant discussion and we really appreciate your time.

Amal Saad: Thanks so much for having me.


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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).