At the same time, analysts said, moderate Arab governments reacted with equal unease to Israel's conflict with the Sunni Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip -- perhaps reflecting concern not as much with Shiite power as with the rising influence of militant Islamic movements, the main source of opposition to established Arab regimes from Cairo to the Persian Gulf.
There is new talk in the Arab world, Rabbani said, "about a clash of cultures, one between the culture of resistance and the culture of servitude. The official regimes don't like to be upstaged by upstart resistance movements who demonstrate they're able to indeed successfully confront Israel. They don't like to be confronted in a context that raises question marks about their own inertia."
Mohammed Ali Abtahi, an Iranian Shiite cleric and frequent visitor to Lebanon, said that Hezbollah will probably be brought harshly to heel if the conflict widens, but that it stands to gain substantial strength and credibility if a more or less equal cease-fire is declared.
"Israeli pressures have humiliated the Arab world, and when a political movement like Hezbollah confronts Israel, it quickly becomes popular," he said. "This is a reason why, I dare say, Hezbollah is more popular than Lebanon itself."
Arab governments "are in a kind of Catch-22 now," said Labib Kamhawi, a political scientist in Amman, the Jordanian capital.
"If we uphold democracy, the opposition will bring to power the fundamentalist forces. And if we don't, this will play into the hands of underground extremism," he said.
"And the military arrogance of Israel, the fact that Israel is bombarding a helpless country like Lebanon, destroying its infrastructure, dismantling the state, is making people more and more angry."
Public support for Hezbollah has now reached far beyond the Shiite community or even the wider Islamic opposition. This week, thousands of Sunnis and secular Arabs flocked to the streets protesting the airstrikes.
Here in Damascus, the predominantly Sunni Syrian capital, posters of Nasrallah are affixed to car and shop windows.
"I feel a sense of pride because of this small group of people who are capable of fighting the state of Israel and all its military power," said Fayez Smet, a criminal defense lawyer. "Whether they win or not, they are heroes."
"I'm a democrat. I'm not anti-American. I like the American nation," said Mouaffaq Farhat, who until recently managed the Mercedes dealership in downtown Damascus. "But the Americans who are supporting the Israelis now have to understand that Hezbollah is fighting for what they believe are their rights. And people nowadays unfortunately know only the language of force."
Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in Baghdad and special correspondents Kasra Naji in Tehran and Qaisar Ahmed in Cairo contributed to this report.