Some See Hezbollah Leader Gaining in Esteem

ByABC News
July 30, 2006, 2:12 PM

July 30, 2006 — -- The longer the conflict between Israel and the Shiite militia group Hezbollah goes on, the greater becomes the legend of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's 46-year-old leader.

Nasrallah may be enemy number one in Israel, but he is the man of the moment in parts of the Arab world.

"Hezbollah delivers the goods," said Fawaz Gerges a Middle East expert and an ABC News consultant. "Hezbollah has stood up to Israel. Hezbollah has proven its muscles."

It is quite a transformation. Just a couple of weeks ago, moderate Arab allies of the United States were highly critical of Hezbollah and Nasrallah, its leader of 14 years, for picking this fight with the Jewish state.

Saudi Arabia called it "unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible," something that will pull the whole region back years.

But two things have happened since.

First, Hezbollah fighters on the ground have shocked the Israelis with their tenacity. Into the third week of fighting, Hezbollah rockets still are falling routinely on northern Israel.

Second, Israel's offensive, which has killed more Lebanese civilians than Hezbollah fighters, has inflamed the Arab world.

Arab television has provided a steady diet of displaced refugees, and wounded and dying Lebanese victims.

Now, America's friends in places like Cairo, Egypt and Amman, Jordan, are more than worried.

"They are terrified, and they are anxious that the Israeli war in Lebanon de-legitimizes the pro-American regimes," Gerges said.

So the moderates have dropped the complaints about Hezbollah in favor of criticizing Israel -- a much safer tactic.

"The huge popularity of Hezbollah and his leader within the Arab public," said Ghassan Khatib of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, "has made it difficult for anybody to criticize them or them or their acts."

This story originally aired July 29, 2006 on "World News."