Lebanon 4: the Players and the Ceasefire

After two days, the ceasefire in southern Lebanon appears to be holding. Here is my break down of how the various players fared.

Hezbollah has claimed a strategic victory over Israel in this latest conflict. This victory claim is partly true. Unlike all the previous Arab opponent of Israel, Hezbollah did not fold and this in itself is a feat, at least in Middle Eastern Arab context. But I suspect this strategic victory will be hollow. Firstly, they did not get widespread Arab state support that they had hoped for beyond their backers in Syria and Iran. As most Arab states are Sunni oriented, they and their Iranian handlers will now be seen as a greater threat to the region rather than an asset. How much of a threat will determine how much the Arab governments will take to counter them regionally. Secondly, their ability to manipulate western media has been degraded to some degree. An organization like Hezbollah requires sympathy from Western "progressive" to limit and minimize actions from Western "neocons." Losing both widespread Arab support and Western sympathy would be catastrophic. Thirdly, if the ceasefire does hold, Southern Lebanon remains devastated. If Hezbollah cannot deliver on its public service arena with humanitarian relief, they will be held accountable for the failure to rebuild as well as at fault for starting the war. Fourthly, surviving a military invasion that was limited in scale is not true military victory, and it could lead to hubris overconfidence. Already Hezbollah supporters and their family are streaming back into Southern Lebanon. I suspect this is partly to clog the roads south and delay deployment of the Lebanese army and UN "peace keepers" until they have replenished personnel losses in the south and partly to present a tougher resistance to any attempts at disarmament. However, if the ceasefire does not hold, this will only place more Hezbollah in vulnerable positions for elimination by Israel. Finally, there is no doubt Hezbollah as a military power has been significantly degraded. And unlike Israel, their military re-armament will be even tougher than before. Their claim to victory thus rest solely on survival, a survival that remain significantly threatened in peace ever more than before.

How Israel fared depends on what its true intention was in going into Lebanon and this remains unclear. I believe it is unlikely that Israel entered Lebanon in order to destroy Hezbollah, as this was simply not possible without an invasion of all of Lebanon and likely Syria as well. By the limited expressed goals and limited commitment of military resources, Israel was intentionally limiting its response to minimize the chances of a regional war. I believe Israel's true intent was to surprise Hezbollah with a disproportionate military response to degrade Hezbollah military capability, goad Hezbollah into revealing its missile capability and subsequently destroy them, and uncover international and Middle Eastern governments involvement and response. Certainly Hezbollah was caught off guard by the extent of Israel's response and though they survived it, they will certainly have to consider whether the capture of 2 IDF soldiers and claims of victory based on survival will be worth the price paid. Though thousands of missiles were launched into northern Israel, actual damage was minimal and thus their launch was essentially useless. The longer ranged missiles capable of greater damage were also exposed and likely more were destroyed than launch. Their destruction was likely, as they require a larger launch platform, and thus easier to spot for destruction. Unclear is how much Hezbollah was goaded into using their longer range missile rather than hiding them, but the surprise of Israel's disproportionate response would certainly lead Hezbollah to do as much as they can to strike back. In addition, two useful bits of information was also obtained by Israel, that Hezbollah did possess guided ordnances in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles but not possess weapons of mass destruction. On the international front, I believe Israel had to feel pleasantly surprised by the tepid support from regional Arab governments at the outset of the war. This support waned only when Israel failed to deliver a decisive blow quick enough. But Israel's limited military commitment was a calculated act as evidenced by gradual escalation and commitment of forces, especially the intentional call up of reservists as a ceasefire was being negotiated. Certainly Israel must feel some confidence that should Hezbollah violate the ceasefire, they have room to act decisively against Hezbollah. Over all, Israel did not lose with the current ceasefire. In essence, Israel's incursion into Lebanon was essentially a reconnaissance in force. Victory remains within Israel's reach should the Hezbollah violate the ceasefire.

The Lebanese government continues to be paralyzed. While the ceasefire affords them the opportunity to retake southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has not been sufficiently degraded to be disarmed by the Lebanese army. The paralysis comes from both the lack of capability and ability to confront and disarm Hezbollah, as well as continued lack of political will to do so. Hezbollah continues to hold too much political influence within the Lebanese government. Despite what claims of victory Hezbollah claim, now that the ceasefire has taken effect, the general Lebanese ill will toward Hezbollah for reckless adventurism will once again reasserts itself as the devastation will be compared to no gain whatsoever beyond boasting. In addition, any violation of the ceasefire by Hezbollah will be widely perceived even more so as HezbollahĂ‚’s problem with adventurism. It is also interesting to note that Hezbollah may realize this and thus have proclaimed victory for Lebanon instead of victory for Hezbollah alone. Objectively Lebanon lost, its southern infrastructures devastated, Hezbollah remains armed, and the ceasefire will end sooner or later.

The clear winner thus far is Syria. Firstly, it retains considerable influence in Lebanese politics and continues to perpetuatepoliticall division in Lebanon. This influence for division is the surest way to crush the Cedar revolution and keep Lebanon dependent on Syria. Secondly, as Hezbollah will need to be re-armed by Iran, Syria will continue to profit economically in the transfer ofmaterialss to Hezbollah, paid by Iran, as well as entrench its role as facilitator for Iran. Likely, we can expect greater muscle flexing by Syria in Iraq as well. Thirdly, even with the UN forces in Lebanon, Syria can be certain that in any direct conflict with Israel that a fair amount of Israel's military resources will be pinned toward Lebanon.

There is mixed result for Iran. In the short term, Iran has demonstrated that it can wield military power beyond its border in the form of Hezbollah. In addition, it can take some credit in Hezbollah's performance against Israel. However, substantial resources in arming Hezbollah has been squandered by Israel's disproportionate response. Years went into supplying Hezbollah and Iran certainly would have preferred to deploy them at a time of its own choosing. In addition, Iran's hand has been revealed to all and this will have consequences. At the United Nations, a tougher response can be expected to Iran's nuclear ambition. In addition, of the powers at work in the Middle East -- Arabs, Persian, Turks, Western, and Islamofascists -- to the Arabs, Iran has just declared itself as the biggest threat. The Turks have been dormant and will likely remain so in the next decade or two, the Western powers have been engaged as partners while kept at arms length, and the Islamofascists are already being hunted down andexterminatedd throughout Arab states. Iran has little to gain from being in such a position.

Another winner from this conflict is France. France has demonstrated its international power and influence by authoring the ceasefire resolution. Her stature has been elevated from her low of not being able to prevent the invasion of Iraq. France will also have direct influence in Lebanon when her troops are deployed as part of the UN force. The last time France was in Lebanon, her paratroopers were killed en masse by Hezbollah's suicide bombing along with the US marine barracks. While the risk of a repeat incidence exists, France's likely reaction wouldn't be withdrawal as before. Whether France can stomach military action in Lebanon against Hezbollah, or Israel, will depends on whether France thinks she can wrestle control of Lebanon from Syria.

I suspect the main reason why the United States supported the ceasefire was because of Iran, the perceived greatest threat to US interests in the region. By endorsing the ceasefire resolution in Lebanon, the US can maintain public and diplomatic scrutiny on Iran. Certainly the US can appease its ally Israel by resuppling Israel forces, assist with some reconstruction, and still be reassured that Israel will survive and be in a better state for the next (or re-newed) actions in Lebanon. For the US, the ceasefire was a regional delay action, as well as provide basis for more aggressive action, possibly including direct military action or via Israel, against Iran. Whether the US come out as the winner or the loser will depend on what happens with Iran. Only then can the ceasefire be deemed worthwhile for the US. However, I believe Iran is beyond negotiating with and the Western allies will lack the resolve to act.

Like France, the United Nations appears to have won. Diplomacy has worked again to keep the peace. But there can be no peace until one side is defeated. There were no defeats in the latest Lebanon war. Hezbollah's declaration of victory is not the same as Israel's declaration of defeat, and there was no such belief in Israel. In fact, Israel's grumbling is that more was not done in the war. This is a recipe for re-newed violence.

Also worth reading:
Counterterrorism blog's analysis of winners and losers.
Willisms' comment on victory and defeat.
Debka for current behind the scene machinations.

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