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Are there real winners in the Lebanon war?

Lebanonwire.com 9/06/06

When the violence of the Israel-Hezbollah war was tenuously stopped in mid-August by a UN resolution demanding "cessation of hostilities", a stampede of claims of victory promptly ensued. Hezbollah's members and supporters demonstrated in the streets with fireworks, and distributed candy and fruits. And the presidents of Iran and Syria rushed to support the victory claim with speeches and congratulations. On the other hand, the Israeli government also claimed victory and President George W. Bush said that Israel was the winner.

In fact the Israelis failed to achieve their two declared goals: first disarming Hezbollah and pushing its fighters north of the Litani River and second freeing the two soldiers held hostage. Yet they did achieve some benefits. The Lebanese army moved to the Lebanese-Israeli border, a matter that Hezbollah had vehemently opposed and successfully obstructed before the war. Israel also reportedly destroyed most of Hezbollah's long and medium range missiles and established important obstacles to their replacement. Further Resolution 1701 prohibits the deployment of any Hezbollah rockets or missiles south of the Litani and brings in significant UN forces to monitor and enforce that. Thus Hezbollah from here on will encounter major obstacles to positioning offensive arms in that area, let alone attempt to fire any.

As to Hezbollah, nobody denies its moral victory in demonstrating a better ability to fight and resist the Israeli military than any of the large Arab armies that fought previous battles. At the end of the day Hezbollah was neither abolished, nor disarmed and still had the two Israeli soldiers to try to negotiate prisoner exchanges, despite the fact that UNSC Resolution 1701 requested their unconditional release. Nevertheless, a leading Lebanese columnist is quoted as saying "If Hezbollah won a victory, it was a pyrrhic one and many leaders and analysts in the Diaspora are wondering: "If this is a victory, how would defeat be?" Amir Taheri wrote recently "Hezbollah didn't win" in the Wall Street Journal and listed many reasons, some probably legitimate and some may be inspired by his hatred for the current Iranian regime. Among the many negative results for Hezbollah cited by Taheri, none is more important than the fact that, apparently, there are leaders in the Shiite community who are now daringly criticizing Hezbollah and many are distancing themselves from it. Iran may not be able to send enough cash to buy back the trust that was shaken or lost in the heart of God only knows how many. Further, although probably unfair, it may still hurt Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's ego that the Taheri commentary refers to "him and his masters in Tehran". Yes, Mr. Taheri may be a westernized Iranian writing for readers in the US, but in our globalized world, whether the Wall Street Journal is read or not in Lebanon, the article is circulating widely on the internet and that is how it came to our attention. It will certainly be read by many Shiites and other Lebanese inside Lebanon.

In fact, despite all the claims of victory from all sides, in the Israeli-Hezbollah war, there were only losers and some lost a lot more than others. The biggest loser unfortunately was Lebanon: About 1,000 dead, mostly civilians, nearly one-fourth to one-third of the population displaced, large exodus of youth and intelligentsia, massive destruction of infrastructure with damages amounting to multi-billion US dollars, loss of the tourist season that was expected to bring in between one and two billion US dollars, and most importantly loss of hope and credibility affecting many Lebanese and their friends. All this is making a previously difficult economic situation, more and more critical. Israel also had dead and displaced citizens but much fewer, than Lebanon. It did not liberate the prisoners whose abduction sparked the war, and was clearly blamed by most of the international community for an excessive and unwarranted response. But most importantly and dangerously for its future, Israel lost at least for now its aura of invincibility. The Olmert government will sooner or later have to account and pay a price for a mismanaged war and its results. The Bush administration, which is widely believed to have given the green light to Israel, also suffered significant damage to its policies in the Middle East and will have to deal with an emboldened Iranian regime which may show stronger resistance to halt its drive towards developing nuclear capabilities.

Further Hezbollah and Iran sustained more significant losses than what ever is truly or falsely mentioned in the Taheri commentary. We hear now amongst the Lebanese Diaspora significant questions about the democratic Hezbollah winnings in the latest free elections. People are talking louder of the foreign (Iranian) money used to purchase votes and the fake alliances that gained votes based on Nasrallah's statement of commitment to the Lebanese 10,452 square kilometer principle. More importantly there is a new focus on the intimidation factor resulting from their possessing illegal arms that are an antidote for true democracy.The war also exposed the unrealistic expectation of deterrence based on the "balance of terror" concept. Published statistics about the losses and destruction in Lebanon report 10 to 100 times bigger Lebanese losses than those sustained by Israel. Further, Hezbollah and Iran lost the possible deterrent factor against an Israeli or American military strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities. Israel was supposedly worried about a Hezbollah reaction to such strike that would shower Northern Israel with rockets and missiles. With Hezbollah now north of the Litani and no significant rocket launching potential south of the Litani, in the presence of the Lebanese army and the United Nations forces, Israel is now protected to a significant extent from such threat. Therefore, Iran is now more vulnerable to a possible military option and Hezbollah is of significantly lesser value for deterrence.

A thorough and honest analysis of the Israel Hezbollah war up to the cease fire produced by UNSCR 1701 obviously supports the principle that "In wars most of the times there are no real winners".

In this one there were only losers and bigger losers.

The only possible potential for winning is for all sides to be realistic and learn lessons to avoid the mistakes that brought damages and disasters to all involved. On the Lebanese side we are gratified by the efforts displayed by all concerned to preserve national unity. We are impressed by the Lebanese government tactful efforts to extend its authority over all the national territory. And most importantly, we are comforted and reassured by Nasrallah's recent interview, whereby he implicitly acknowledged the key mistake and admitted that had he known that the two soldiers' abduction would result in this extensive war, he would not have approved the abduction. We are also encouraged that he does not foresee a resumption of hostilities anytime soon. We certainly hope he is well informed and correct on such foresight.

The expatriate community wishes that the lessons learned from a thorough and sincere analysis of the results of this war will divert the attention of all concerned, away from violent initiatives, towards peaceful and diplomatic means, to secure Lebanon's rights and interests. We certainly stand ready to do our utmost to help in such efforts.

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