The name of Hassan al-Laqqis, the senior Hezbollah commander who was killed outside his home in Beirut by unknown assassins on Tuesday night, was virtually unknown outside the ranks of the organization and intelligence agencies. He was not one of Hezbollah's political leaders who frequently appear on television and are recognizable in Lebanon and abroad.
Nevertheless, Hezbollah's response to the assassination of Laqqis indicates that the group had suffered a painful blow. After all, each day Hezbollah is burying its fighters who are being killed by the dozens, even hundreds, in battles in Syria. But these fighters do not receive the same level of honor that Hezbollah media outlets bestowed upon Laqqis on Wednesday.
For many Lebanese, some of whom had never heard of Laqqis until Wednesday, Hezbollah's reaction sounded similar to its response to the February 2008 assassination of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus.
But the killing of Mughniyeh came just a year and a half after the Second Lebanon War, during which Mughniyeh led Hezbollah's fight against Israel. Hezbollah was at the peak of its fame, holding the admiration of the masses across the Arab and Muslim world. It is no wonder that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and his colleagues pointed the finger of blame at Israel for Mughniyeh's assassination. But to this day, Hezbollah has yet to avenge the blood of its revered commander, due to fear of Israel's response. It has tried several times though, and failed.
Five years later, as Hezbollah buries Laqqis, it is not the same organization it was at the time of Mughniyeh's death. Hezbollah is bogged down in the Syria quagmire and has lost hundreds of fighters there. In the Arab world, Hezbollah has become the target of harsh criticism. And in Lebanon, Hezbollah faces not only criticism, but also bombs, rockets and, recently, even suicide attacks that have caused casualties among its supporters. Sunni radical groups have been responsible for these attacks, seeking to avenge the blood of their brothers and friends killed by Hezbollah fighters in Syria.
But Hezbollah leaders still chose to accuse Israel of killing Laqqis. Yet, they may not, at this stage, do more than that -- neither against Israel, which has increased its deterrence against them, nor their opponents in Lebanon, who, by the way, took responsibility for the assassination.