Almost every week, families in Lebanon gather in front of their TVs. Some set up their TV dinners, others set the coals for their Argileh. It is time for Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah’s weekly address.
The topics of Nasrallah’s speeches are wide-ranging, flitting from Israeli aggression towards Lebanon to offshore natural gas extraction, his words always eloquent no matter the subject.
For the past three weeks, however, the charismatic political leader has been conspicuously silent.
Despite the most significant clashes between Israel and the Iran-backed militia since the 2006 war that have left 36 Hezbollah fighters dead, mum has been the word for Nasrallah.
His followers have taken notice of his absence, anxiously awaiting a sign from their leader.

“We hope a war will begin, but Sayyed Nasrallah won’t be dragged into war until he assesses when it’s appropriate,” a woman told The New Arab at the funeral for a Hezbollah fighter in the southern Lebanese town of Hanawi.
The next words that Nasrallah speaks could very well be the declaration of war that some of his followers want – or conversely, the sign of a gradual detente that will allow his opposition in Beirut to breathe out a sigh of relief.
Thus far, Hezbollah officials who have spoken have mostly engaged in sabre rattling, with the head of the group’s executive council Hashem Safieddine saying the militia was “thousands of times stronger than before”.
The most definitive public statement put out by the group was on 7 October, when Hezbollah said it was “assessing the situation” in coordination with Palestinian groups before deciding how it would join Hamas’ battle against Israel.

“[Nasrallah]’s appearance will be linked to an important political or military development. He has not appeared yet because the nature of the battle does not require his presence,” Kassem Kassir, a political analyst close to the party, told TNA.
The clashes between Hezbollah and Israel have so far been confined to tit-for-tat exchanges of rockets within a few kilometres on either side of the border. Casualties have been mostly confined to militants, and despite intensifying, fighting has not yet dragged either side into a full-scale war.
The current low-intensity clashes have the potential to drag on for weeks, even months.
So, the question is, when will Nasrallah speak, and what will he say?

Red lines and Israeli designs 
Hezbollah and their Iranian backers have stated clearly that the degree of their involvement in the Israel-Gaza war depends on the severity of Israel’s response in Gaza. Iran’s FM, speaking from Beirut, warned Israel that “all resistance forces” in the region could be used against Israel moving forward.
Since then, rockets have been launched from Lebanon and Syria towards Israel, at the US embassy in Iraq by Iranian-backed militants, and the Houthis in Yemen have also threatened to get involved.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that Israel is “preparing” for a ground invasion of Gaza, but he will not say when it will happen.

Analysts have suggested that in it and of itself, a Gaza ground invasion might not necessarily trigger full-scale involvement from Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah’s red line is the eradication of Hamas and denying it the ability to reconstitute itself in Gaza. It’s not clear if this Israeli objective is achievable,” Randa Slim, the director of the Conflict Resolution and Track II Dialogues Program at the Middle East Institute, told TNA.
Instead, if Hamas has the ability to withstand an Israeli invasion of Gaza, Hezbollah could refrain from fully joining in the fight against Israel.
“As long as Hezbollah assesses that Hamas will be able to survive Israel’s onslaught, they will refrain from opening a second front,” Slim explained.

The full extent of Hamas’s military capabilities is unknown, but a former Israeli army general said on 19 October that he expects an Israeli ground invasion to take 6-8 months to “destroy Hamas”.
The deputy head of the political bureau of Hamas, Saleh al-Arouri, said on Wednesday that “if the enemy invades by land, it will mark … an unprecedented defeat for the occupation”.
At this stage, the bombastic rhetoric of low-level Hezbollah officials combined with the gradually escalating rocket exchanges along the border, seem designed to deter or limit an Israeli ground invasion.
This policy of deterrence fits with a white paper released by the Lebanon-based al-Itihad Center for Research and Development last week, a think tank close to the group which outlined the militia’s strategy going forward.

With the ultimate goal of “preventing the enemy [Israel] from eradicating the resistance of Gaza,” the paper explains, Hezbollah wants to “maintain constructive ambiguity and mislead the enemy” over its willingness to open a second front.
In recent weeks, Israel has raised the possibility that Hezbollah has managed to hack its missile defence warning system, after several false alarms of infiltration events and incoming rockets from Lebanon.
The paper further outlined an operational strategy of targeting Israeli surveillance technology on the border fence and pushing Israel to evacuate cities across the border.
Hezbollah snipers have reportedly disabled numerous cameras among the border fence, as well as used guided missiles to hit Israeli radars and observation points.

Three scenarios moving forward
There are three possible scenarios moving forward for Hezbollah, based on Israel’s intervention in Gaza and Hamas’s capacity to resist the ground invasion.
The first is a scenario in which Israel launches a ground invasion of Gaza, but Hamas is able to put up enough of a fight that they can survive until some sort of ceasefire is hammered out.
In this case, Hezbollah “will sustain the current pattern of limited escalation because they believe it forces Israel to divert some of its military units away from the fight in Gaza,” Slim said.
The second scenario is one in which Israel launches a ground invasion of Gaza and it becomes clear that Hamas will not survive the Israeli assault. Here, Hezbollah might decide to fully intervene in the Gaza-Israel war.
It is unclear what such an intervention could mean, but it likely would involve the deployment of the around 150,000 missiles and rockets the Lebanese militia has stockpiled. Many of them have the capacity to reach central Israel.

In such a scenario, Israeli officials have warned that they would send Lebanon “back to the stone age”.
The third scenario is one in which Israel invades and Hamas seems to be losing the battle, but despite this, Hezbollah does not intervene.
In this case, Iran, Hezbollah’s sponsor, could decide that it does not want to risk losing both Hamas and Hezbollah in a war with Israel.
The lack of a firm commitment by Hassan Nasrallah as to the degree of the group’s involvement in the Israel-Gaza war could let the group off the hook for not completely joining in on the fight.
In any of the above scenarios, the risk of miscalculation is high. Hezbollah and Israel are not directly communicating, and the current fighting between the two parties is escalating, however gradually.
A situation in which an errant rocket causes one casualty too many and sparks a full-scale war is not entirely implausible.

The New Arab Newspaper