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August 16, 2006

And the Winner Is . . . Iran


Once upon a time, men engaged in armed conflict with the intent of achieving victory. Wars were fought with the purpose of conquering peoples, seizing natural resources or preserving peace, among other assorted yet somewhat tangible objectives. Pondering this summer’s war between Israel and Hezbollah, however, leaves one puzzled to some degree by what either side’s goals consisted of, and by whether they achieved them.


The conflict began with Hezbollah attacking the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), killing and capturing some of its members. This incident confirmed that Hezbollah is not so much a “resistance” force so much as an ideological organization with ulterior motives. After all, if Lebanon’s sovereignty reigned as Hezbollah’s supreme objective, it would probably not attack Israel, which has, for all intents and purposes, left Lebanon alone since its withdrawal in 2000. If anything, it would “resist” a power such as Syria, which has continuously exploited Lebanon in a clear fashion through 2005, and continued to harm it quite efficiently even after its forced extraction that year.


Such a suggestion, however, would be laughable to any member of the Shiite militia. Hence, though Hezbollah claims that the latest round of fighting with Israel demonstrates and reinforces the need to trust it as a legitimate resistance army, it has unnecessarily drawn the IDF into so much destruction in Lebanon that, if anything, the month of violence has come to show the opposite.


Were the hundreds of corpses, the massive piles of rubble and the wrecked economy worth the capture of two Israeli soldiers? To any reasonable Lebanese citizen, clearly not – and the answer would be the same for an objective Hezbollah fighter, were his goal to truly revolve around the health of Lebanon as a nation.


The fact of the matter is that Hezbollah’s loyalties lie with Iran first and foremost. Viewing the conflict from that angle sheds some light on Hezbollah’s celebrations in recent days and accompanying fireworks in Tehran. Through Hezbollah, Iran distracted the world from its development of nuclear weapons, demonstrated its ability to cause chaos on a mass scale and sent a warning to the world, all without putting itself at risk.


Though Israel’s Ehud Olmert also declared victory, his assertion was insincere and publicly discredited. The only positive outcome for Israel from the month-long conflict is the replacement of Hezbollah’s militia south of the Litani River with the Lebanese military and U.N. forces. It is not an insignificant success, but for the Israelis, it is incomplete.


Through the indiscriminate destruction of Lebanese infrastructure, much of which was put exclusively to civilian use and not utilized for militia activities, Israel turned world opinion against it and so severely weakened the Lebanese economy that it, by default, curtailed the Lebanese government’s standing in the country. This reduction of the government’s power also signifies that it can no longer stand up to Hezbollah the way it had been in previous months, an outcome which seems to conflict with Israel’s ultimate goal of disarming Hezbollah.


Though surely Israel weakened Hezbollah to some degree in the month-long campaign, its achievements were not sustainable. The Israelis destroyed weapons depots and physical headquarters, disrupted weapons transport and killed a small number of militiamen. But they failed to touch the leadership, eliminate significant numbers of fighters or, especially, ensure the permanent discontinuation of weapons imports from Syria and Iran.


Hezbollah is still there, and now it will become significantly stronger as it spends the political capital it gained from the conflict and enlists the loyalties of the hundreds of thousands of homeless and displaced civilians in southern Lebanon. Syria and Iran, emboldened and encouraged by the effectiveness of Hezbollah in fighting off Israeli land incursions into Lebanon, will empower the militia even further. Tehran will invest generously in the reconstruction of Shiite areas as it picks up even more influence in Lebanon. These results are hardly the ones Tel Aviv was hoping for.


So, let’s recap. Hezbollah was temporarily weakened to the point of being forced out of the area south of the Litani River, but on the other hand retains its weapons, draws on sympathy from inside and outside Lebanon, grows as a social and political power in Lebanon and delivers Iran a victory. Israel eliminates Hezbollah as an immediate military threat, but the success seems only temporary as Iran sees the conflict as only a beginning, particularly with the Shiite militia retaining its arms.


It is therefore not too ludicrous that both sides declared victory upon the war’s conclusion, since each can emphasize a separate aspect. The conflict’s principal victor appears to Iran, and its biggest loser the state of Lebanon. Interestingly, neither was supposed to be a main player in the conflict, though the impact seems to be somewhat clear on them early on. As for Israel and Hezbollah, however, only time will tell which, if either, benefited more from the yet unnamed war.


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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