Nasrallah’s Regrets: Just How Psychologically Sophisticated is He?

David Bedein has some interesting remarks on Nasrallah’s recent expression of regrets over kidnapping the Israeli soldiers and bombing Israel: “Whodda thunk they’d get so violent?” The apology has had a large impact in Israel primarily boosting the government of Olmert and Peretz in their claim that Israel won the war. (By the way, there’s an amusing piece at Counterpunch about how the Israelis won the ceasefire.) In any case, some specualation has ensued about what Nasrallah was doing in making so exceptional a public apology. And this speculation calls for some application of the rules of honor-shame culture to the calculations in order to avoid cognitive egocentric explanations.

Hezbollah Leader Has Surprised Many With Latest Comments
By: David Bedein , The Evening Bulletin

Jerusalem – Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has surprised almost every pundit in Israel by admitting that “he made a mistake by not estimating Israel’s forceful response to the kidnapping of two soldiers on the northern border”.

Note already that Nasrallah has adopted the general view that he “only” kidnapped two soldiers, not that he started bombing Israel with Katyushas as well.

Danny Rubenstein, an analyst with the newspaper HaAretz, said in a public speech that Nasrallah’s apology obligated him to reconsider his statement that Olmert had lost this word [sic? read: war]. Yet another pundit opined that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should send a huge bouquet of flowers to the Dahiya quarter in Beirut, with a card attached reading: “Thanks, Hassan”.

So apparently, the remarks come to save face for Olmert, and help his claims that Israel, under his leadership, actually did win the war. The sarcasm of the bouquet remark suggests that some people are annoyed at this unanticipated boost to Olmert and Peretz.

The Hezbollah leader, who has his own political problems, helped the Israeli prime minister and his government more than any strategic adviser. From now on, until the next elections, Amir Peretz and Olmert can repeatedly state to the public what they learned about “who won the war” by means of Nasrallah’s resounding remorse.
Prof. Mordecai Kedar, an Arabic Affairs expert at Bar Ilan University, in Ramat Gan, Israel, provided another perspective on Nasrallah’s statements, saying that the Hezbollah leader was pretending as if he was a head of state, sharing remorse with any of the civilians who had suffered in Lebanon. Kedar warned Israeli leaders not to read into Nasrallah’s statements any hint of remorse or regret for his actions.

Kedar is an excellent student of not just the Arab political world, but specifically of the role of honor-shame culture in the media, so this comment surprises me somewhat. I am not aware that “sharing remorse with any of the civilians who had suffered…” as a result of their own recklessness is a characteristic of Arab heads of state. Western heads of state, perhaps, but for Nasrallah to model himself on this peculiarly Western tradition of public self-criticism seems absolutely extraordinary. Are there any precedents for this? Nasser’s resignation?

Meanwhile, Prof. Yehoshua Porat, Prof Emeritus of Middle East Studies at Hebrew University, gave an interview to Israel Government Radio News in which he said that Nasrallah wants to see Olmert remain in power, because he perceives Olmert as a weak character – which is why, according to Porat, that Nasrallah made the statement that he did.

This reasoning may be accurate, but let’s at least recognize that it’s partially based on conspiracist’s classic reasoning: “cui bono?” — who profits? Since Olmert is the (incidental) beneficiary of this, then it must have been said to benefit Olmert. It’s not a full conspiracy (Nasrallah’s comments were staged in order to benefit Olmert), and there’s the rub. In order to work, one must imagine that Nasrallah is a cagey schemer who made these remarks to weaken Israel by saving a weak leader.

But in order to do so, Nasrallah has to made a double calculation of dubious probability.

1) He would have to have been capable of public humiliation purely as a strategy ploy. This would put his psychological evolution very much ahead of the vast (overwhelming) majority of his compatriots, for whom such willing public humiliation is not just unthinkable, it’s the kiss of death. Perhaps he felt as widely loved as Nasser and therefore able to withstand the public avowal. Still, it’s a posture of weakness that calls for immense mastery of one’s own emotions. Maybe he’s capable of it. Who knows?

2) To admit publicly that he misjudged, and that had he known he would not have done it — and mean it — means accepting double damage. On the one hand, he encourages those in Israeli policy circles to react overwhelmingly the next time something like this happens, and on the other, he undermines the psychological game of “who won,” that his colleagues and fighters have been playing ever since the cease-fire.

Neither of these strike me as likely sacrifices for the possible benefit of bolstering Olmert’s reputation in Israel. (It’s not the same, but parallel to the 9-11 conspiracist claim that, to boost sagging polls and make more money for his buddies, Bush was willing to blow up the Pentagon and the Twin Towers.) Why he made the remarks, I don’t know. But these explanations strike me as unlikely.

3 Responses to Nasrallah’s Regrets: Just How Psychologically Sophisticated is He?

  1. quantuum says:

    nice rundown of a perplexing situation. i lean in your direction, Professor.

    Will you be at the Boston anti-jihad conference in October?

  2. Michael B says:

    Who knows, but I tend to agree with your summation. There was in fact a lot of criticism of Nasrallah from within Lebanon, so it’s not at all impossible Nas was simply playing his part to redeem himself, as most any politician would tend to do. Not only was Nasrallah receiving criticisms from within Lebanon, including from within the Shia community if I recall correctly, but likewise criticisms were being directed at Iran and Syria as well; hence Nasrallah’s mea culpa, to the extent it was such, could even have been proded by his sponsors.

    Occam’s razor applied to the political/pragmatic situation.

  3. RL says:

    Mordechai Kedar writes:

    The domestic Lebanese situation is rather complicated:
    1. Everyone knows that Huzballa’s ultimate goal is to take over Leanon and to create a Shi’i Islamic state, just like Iran.
    2. Most Lebanese people see Nasralla as responsible for the destruction and the disaster.
    3. Hizballa still holds large weaponry
    4. Everyone is afraid of Hizballa’s revenge if anyone talks against Hizballa, Iran or Syria. (see Hariri, Tweini, Qasir, Shidyaq, and many, many more).
    5. Nasralla tries to calm them down by talking as someone who really cares about Lebanon, and he sounds like the master of this country, which is true.

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