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Hezbollah Victory?

3 September 2006

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Since the end of the Hezbollah War, Israelis and Jews around the world are trying to figure out who won. The right wing knee jerk reaction is to declare Israel the big loser, citing civilian damages, loss of life (119 soldiers and civilians) and damage to buildings, infrastructure, forests and nature reserves. Claims are made that Israel’s deterrence is greatly weakened especially since the IDF did not advance very far across the border in south Lebanon. On the other hand the Olmert government is trying to squeeze out a “victory” by showing the blows suffered by the Hezbollah.

In this battle there were two sides. So let’s take a look at the war from the perspective of the Khomeinist Hezbollah operating within the faction ridden Lebanese context. Prior to the war the Hezbollah was deeply entrenched, socially, militarily and physically, in south Lebanon. They were the only armed militia in the country, were stronger than the official army, intimidated all Lebanese factions (Sunni, Maronite Catholic, Druze, etc.) and refused to allow the Lebanese army to deploy along the border with Israel. With tens of miles of tunnels underground in south Lebanese villages, 3000 launchers, between 12,000 – 15,000 katuyshas and other rockets and thousands of Iranian trained fighters, Hezbollah Sec. Gen. Hassan Nasrallah and his patrons in Tehran were convinced they were almost invincible. Syria may have been forced from Lebanon, but Iran held on tenaciously, Cedar Revolution or not. Pro-western moves would be held in check, even if Hezbollah was a minority. After all, Nasrallah held the weapons and the key to war or peace.

On July 12 the Hezbollah killed 8 Israeli soldiers, abducted 2 and wounded several others. Nasrallah was at the height of his power and arrogance. Just last week in an interview he claimed that had he known that Lebanon would have suffered 1% of the damage done mainly by Israeli air and artillery strikes, he would not have engaged in the cross border attack less than two months ago. Something happened.

Hezbollah’s Beirut Dakhiah command center (and Shi’ite neighborhood) was reduced to rubble and Lebanon’s amazing 16 year economic recovery from its civil war (1975 – 90) came screeching to a halt, tourists fled and the country continues to live under an Israeli naval blockade. According to western reports, Hezbollah fighters/terrorists no longer brandish their weapons openly, Nasrallah & Co. are said to be living underground, the average Lebanese has the feeling that Round Two is not far off and many are furious at the Hezbollah for starting a war that has set back Lebanon’s development some 20 years. Nasrallah is a hero in the Arab/Moslem world, but his standing and that of Hezbollah is plummeting in Lebanon.

South Lebanon is a wreck. True, the Hezbollah held out in places like the symbolic Bint J’bel but fled areas not far from Ras Nakura on the southwest coast and elsewhere. Just last week they were seen dismantling positions in the Hermon area as reported with footage by Israel TV (Channels 1 and 2). Whether their villages were captured by Israel or not, south Lebanese Shi’ites mouth pro-Hezbollah statements but prefer not to repeat the summer of 2006. There were over 1 million Lebanese refugees, almost entirely from the militarized and impoverished south and Shi’ite neighborhoods in Beirut and environs.

Hezbollah motivation is still high despite their loss of popularity and responsibility for damages caused. But Nasrallah can no longer intimidate the Lebanese government, army or populous as he did previously. Prior to July 12, Nasrallah believed his rocket arsenal would deter Israel (or anyone else) from ever taking action against his militia infrastructure.

UN Res. 1701 is not to his advantage as it calls for the disarming of all militias in Lebanon. UNIFIL is being reinforced by some 7,000 troops, mainly Europeans. True, they will most likely fail since an attack against them by Hezbollah may well send them packing.

Fear of the Hezbollah and its influence has definitely waned since the outbreak of hostilities. That does not mean the war is over or that Nasrallah cannot bounce back. Let us recall the final objective of the Iran/Hezbollah alliance – the spread of Khomeinist Shi’ism throughout Lebanon and the Middle East. The destruction of Israel is just a station along the way. Within the Lebanese spectrum Tehran and the Dakhiah suffered serious reversals this summer and are certainly further away from their goals than they were two months ago.

To assert an Israeli “victory” in the war is stretching the definition. However, for anyone to claim the Hezbollah secured a victory this past summer is either cynical, ridiculous or both.