Now that the ceasefire in Lebanon seems to be holding, attention is turning to the question of who won. Victory is being claimed by both Israel and Hezbollah; naturally, the United States backs Israel's view, while Iran and Syria back Hezbollah's. But did either side actually win?
When Israel originally began its military operations a month ago, their stated objective was to recover the two soldiers captured by Hezbollah. The soldiers are still in Hezbollah's custody, no closer to return than ever. Judging by whether they have achieved their objectives, Israel can hardly be said to have won.
Two weeks ago, Hezbollah said they wouldn't stop fighting as long as there was even one Israeli soldier even one meter into Lebanon. At the time, Israel was only making small commando raids in the immediate vicinity of the border. Now, Israel has thousands of troops many miles into Lebanon. Judging by how well they met their goals, it looks like Hezbollah lost rather badly.
So was there a victor? I would suggest that the ceasefire does represent a victory of sorts: a victory for the diplomatic process. The U.N. Security Council were able to forge a ceasefire agreement that was ultimately ratified with no dissents by the cabinet of Israel, and also by the cabinet of Lebanon, in a unanimous vote that included representatives of Hezbollah.
It took a lot of work to get to an agreement that everyone could sign off on, and the story isn't over yet. It is, however, a hopeful sign that violence may not be the only way to get things done in the Middle East.
On August 16th, 2006 12:24 am (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
Hezbollah was not annihilated, and if you believe StratFor or CNN, that is important. Sure, Hezbollah got hurt badly, but everyone was expecting Israel to do another "rip their beating heart out of their ribcage" deal, but they didn't. Suddenly, Arab militaries can contemplate not being beat by Israel. Of course, they couldn't use traditional tactics, but it still changes the dynamics.
Hezbollah has also regained stature and will be a bigger force in the near future that it had been in the recent past.
-- Tom N.
I agree that outside of Israel's immediate neighbors, the popular perception of Hezbollah has likely been enhanced. Within Lebanon, however, it's to be remembered that Hezbollah was largely responsible for Israel's previous withdrawal from southern Lebanon, so expectations were rather higher. Compared to that, the current result is likely to be viewed as rather less than a success. They'll still be popular for their civilian activities that benefit the population, but I think popular support for their military activities will continue to dwindle.
I should reemphasize, however, that I don't think Israel can claim a victory. Both sides lost, as is common in wars, and I don't think it's that important which side lost worse.
I disagree that Hezbollah lost badly. I think they actually won. Having stood the IDF off for so long, a cease fire has been in their best interests since the earlier attempt. I can only assume the Israelis decided their best hope was spin, since they clearly weren't going to be able to run over Hezbollah the way they've run over every other Arab military force they've faced.
I think the Lebanese are big losers in the long run though, having finally gotten free of Syria, they've suffered huge amounts of damage fro the bombing, and now have to face a much more powerful Hezbollah politcal force (with their Iranian backers). In the near term, obviously, a cease fire is better than no cease fire for Lebanon.
I guess I have a rather different perspective than the popular press in a couple of important respects.
First, I don't see the Israeli military as anywhere near invincible. Sure, they have little problem with Arab resistance groups in areas where they control all the borders and hold all the cards, but they were pretty much forced to withdraw from Lebanon last time they went in. The most recent time they faced Arab standing armies, in 1973, Egypt took the Bar Lev line and held most of the Suez canal until the cease fire, at best a draw for the Israelis. Israel was rather more successful on the Syrian front, but that may say as much about the weakness of the Syrian army as about the strength of the Israelis.
Second, while Hezbollah is evidently not averse to terrorist tactics, I don't see them as a resistance group living hand to mouth in an occupied territory, the way the IRA and PLO arguably were. Hezbollah was really the de facto government in southern Lebanon, and while they can certainly claim to have won a victory in the 1980s and 1990s by helping to free that area of occupation, the last month simply proved their almost complete inability to protect the area against air attack - or against ground assault once the Israelis finally decided to move in force.
The Lebanese are indeed the big losers - but the losses are not distributed evenly across all Lebanese. The biggest losers are the Lebanese who lived in the largely Shiite areas where Hezbollah operated, and who are now returning to homes that have likely been reduced to rubble. In contrast, the villages and suburbs of the Christians, Sunnis, and Druze who do not tend to be friendly to Hezbollah are largely untouched. I suspect many Lebanese are smart enough to notice that.