Ever since the 2006 Lebanon War with Israel, Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has been in hiding, never sleeping two nights in the same place. The enemies he fears are legion, starting with the US and Israel, followed by his radical Shiite movement’s foes, its rivals in Lebanese politics and, most recently, Syria.
His former allies in Damascus, not content with Hizballah’s role in disrupting the election of a Lebanese president, recently made two more demands: to heat up the Israeli border and, in addition, to expand Hizballah’s large armed encampment which occupies downtown Beirut and extend it to the rest of the Lebanese capital.
After consulting his sponsors in Tehran, Nasrallah turned the Syrians down on both demands.
The worse provocation for Damascus was his secret meeting with the Grand Mufti of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims, Sheik Mohammed Rashid Kabbani.
Since then, the Hizballah chief is on the run in earnest, certain that Damascus will consider these actions sufficient cause to have him bumped off and install a more amenable leader in his place.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Lebanese sources reveal that, aside from twenty of his closest cronies in the Hizballah leadership, no one has seen him in the flesh for seventeen months.
His only contact with the rank and file is by means of giant video screens, which air his pre-taped harangues to large audiences assembled in Beirut and Shiite locations in the country.
His lack of direct contact with his following badly impairs his leadership functions. The normal mechanisms for handing down orders, messages, clearing up difficulties, arbitrating internal disputes or just answering questions, have all but broken down.
Fears assassination by his own inner circle as well as Damascus
Applications to him must be made in writing and carried to destination by relay couriers, none of whom is privy to the next lap of the route. Replies return by the same tortuous process, one which causes delays of weeks or even months in routine business.
So paranoid has Nasrallah become that he has even pushed aside his most trusted aide, Wafik Saffa, head of Hizballah’s internal security arm, from responsibility for his personal safety.
Until the last week of December, important messages for the leader could be posted through Saffa or his deputies. He was trusted enough to be act as secret intermediary between the movement and Ofer Dekel, the Israeli intelligence officer in charge of negotiations for the release of the kidnapped Israeli reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
Saffa’s face was exposed to Western and Israeli intelligence only once, on Oct. 15, 2007, when he supervised the exchange of the remains of Israeli civilians for a Lebanese inmate and the bodies of two Hizballah fighters at the Rosh Hanikra-Nakura border.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that, while Nasrallah has not broken off all his ties with Saffa, in the last week of December, he suddenly sacked all his bodyguards without notice. Saffa only found out when the dismissed guards informed him they had been replaced by unknown men.
Clearly, the Hizballah leader now lives in fear not only of his known enemies, but even of his own tight security circle and its chief. According to our sources, he has set up a new self-made security detail consisting of two circles of personally handpicked security men.
The innermost circle, which never leaves his side day or night, is composed of three brothers, Sunni Muslims who hail from Beirut’s Wadi Khaled and who converted to Shia. Nasrallah was born and grew up in Wadi Khaled and the brothers were his childhood playmates.
The outer ring, which secures his moves between locations, is made up of followers of the resigned electricity and water minister, Mohammad Fneish, who represented Hizballah in the Lebanese government. Like all Lebanese politicians, he has a private militia, the whole of which he has converted as Nasrallah’s protectors.
Piqued by being thrust aside, Saffa claims Nasrallah's new bodyguards are not capable of keeping him safe and he can no longer be responsible for his security.
Some Lebanese sources say the Hizballah leader was afraid of becoming over-reliant on Saffa and became frustrated by his increasing isolation. Now he jumps at his own shadow.