Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters during a funeral ceremony for Qasem Soleimani, Beirut, Lebanon, January 2020
Aziz Taher / Reuters

“What is just retribution?” So asked Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a speech on January 5, two days after the United States killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone strike in Baghdad. With no American official “on par with Soleimani or Muhandis,” in Nasrallah’s estimation, the answer was to retaliate against “the American military presence in our region.” American civilians shouldn’t be harmed, he said, but “the U.S. bases, the U.S. warships, every American soldier and officer” in the Middle East would all be fair game.

Hezbollah is unlikely to pick a fight with the United States by itself. The group has its own tensions with Israel to worry about, and huge domestic protests jeopardize its political grip on Lebanon. It also suffered heavy losses in Syria, where it fought hand-in-glove with Iran to

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  • BRIAN KATZ is a Fellow in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He served previously as a military and terrorism Analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency and a Middle East Policy Director in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
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