Thursday, September 14, 2006


At the imposition of the UN Security Council cease-fire resolution, the West almost unanimously considered the war in Lebanon a disaster for Israel. Most analysts insisted that Israel's failure to destroy Hezbollah amounted to a humiliation and worried about the energizing effect Hassan Nasrallah's victory would have on radical Islam's popularity in the region. These analysts would be surprised to learn that Arabs increasingly view Hezbollah's war as a disaster as well -- but a disaster for Arabs:

At the height of the war, as Hizbullah rockets regularly sent hundreds of thousands of Israelis scurrying to the shelters like "rabbits and mice," as some of the Arab media noted with undisguised gratification, the mood tended to be militantly euphoric, buoyed by the widely broadcast images of Israeli suffering and humiliation. But as the war came to its conclusion and life in Israel returned pretty much to normal, opinion in the Arab world has shifted to more sober analysis, as Lebanon, Hizbullah and the Shi'ites face the daunting task of what will probably be years of multi-billion dollar reconstruction.

Even a cursory perusal of the Arab press, will reveal that Hizbullah's status in Lebanon has changed for the worse, as many Lebanese come to the rather shocking realization that the south of their country, unknown to them, had in fact been transformed into an Iranian and Syrian launching pad against Israel posing an existential threat to their own livelihoods and to their entire country. Hizbullah is now on the defensive, trying to protect its political assets against a more assertive Lebanese domestic majority, that seems more determined than ever to contain Hizbullah's "state within a state," so that they are not drawn again into a destructive war with Israel, without as much as a word of consultation.

Many in Lebanon, especially non-Shi'ites, but also some important Shi'ite spokespersons, are calling for an end to the armed phase of Hizbullah's development and its integration into the Lebanese political system, like all other political parties, lest further provocation of Israel will expose Lebanon to even greater devastation in the future. In other words, they are demanding the disarming of Hizbullah.

Muna Fayyad, a Shi'ite professor at the University of Lebanon, and the Mufti of Tyre, Sayyid Ali al-Amin, for example, both questioned the right of Hizbullah to bring disaster on the Shi'ites of Lebanon, by dragging them into an ill considered adventure they never wanted, in the interests of a foreign power like Iran, about whom they were never consulted.

The war stripped more than a few masks from the players in the region. Nasrallah now has to contend with the fallout from his impatient attack on Israel, from the Lebanese and also from the Iranians who had wanted Hezbollah and their rockets as a threat to be feared, not an attack to be weathered and then discounted. His image as the protector of Lebanon has been shattered, and the Lebanese now see him as a threat instead of a savior. After years of Syrian control, they now have to recognize that a large portion of their country is under de facto Iranian occupation, and they're not happy about it.

This has eroded the veneer of victory that Nasrallah placed on the cease-fire. Western commentators and no shortage of Israeli pundits pointed to Nasrallah's claims to have prevailed as a devastating propaganda offensive that would make Israel and the West look weaker than ever. Arabs have taken a more realistic view of the war's results, including the fact that Nasrallah has to make those claims from undisclosed locations to this day. They scoff at his bravado, noting that Nasrallah's vaunted rocket attacks killed more Israeli Arabs than anyone else and proved singularly ineffective as a deterrent to the Israeli incursion.

The Jerusalem Post notes several indicators that the Arabs now discuss that hardly supports the idea that Nasrallah triumphed over Israel:

* Hezbollah lost almost a quarter of its ground forces and had to flee the sub-Litani region; Israel lost 100 men.

* The war left multibillion-dollar damage throughout Lebanon; Hezbollah barely dented Israeli infrastructure.

* Hezbollah lost a number of command-and-control centers that Israel destroyed during its incursion, and will not likely be allowed to rebuild them.

* Almost all of its long- and medium-range rocketry and launch materiel has been destroyed, and the short-range rockets that they have in large numbers proved completely ineffective, both militarily and as a political/terror deterrent. In fact, the failure of the rocketry to force Israel out of the war has severely damaged Hezbollah's main purpose for the Iranians, which wanted Hezbollah and its rockets to serve as a psychological weapon and deterrent against any military action. Now that the Israelis have weathered the worst of Nasrallah's attacks, no one fears them any more.

Instead of manipulating a cowed Lebanon, Nasrallah now must watch as the Lebanese Army marches into what had been Hezbollah's exclusive domain for the past twenty years. Only the Shi'ites still support him, and even that appears tenuous. The rest of Lebanon, looking around the ruins of their nation that came from a war they never wanted, have a much clearer perspective than anyone credited for the calculations of victory and defeat, and Nasrallah's underground boastings have not convinced anyone except Nasrallah.

As I wrote at the time, Nasrallah can claim anything he wants. As the smoke clears, people will understand the real results of his war, and they have begun to do so -- to his detriment.

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