Since everybody and his brother is claiming victory in the Lebanese war, I thought we might try to establish some rational criteria for judging the outcome.
At first, Israel announced that its objective was to destroy Hezbollah. This was later modified to weaken Hezbollah enough to protect Northern Israel from Hezbollah rockets. The latest Israeli position is that it intended for the military to weaken Hezbollah and then use diplomacy to protect Northern Israel.
Well, obviously the Israelis missed out on the first two goals. Israeli intelligence really misjudged Hezbollah's fighting ability. After 34 days of nearly round-the-clock shelling by artillery and tanks, airstrikes, naval gunfire, commando raids and finally a ground invasion, Hezbollah dumped 250 rockets on Northern Israel on the last day of fighting.
In the meantime, Hezbollah killed about 120 Israeli soldiers, shot down four Apache helicopters (the Israelis claim two collided), badly damaged a naval gunboat and knocked out or damaged about 100 Merkava tanks. (Keep in mind that these statistics are suspect, since both sides lie like fishermen.) Since Hezbollah's fighters have been estimated to range from 1,000 to 5,000, one has to credit them with the victory – but only a psychological victory. They "won" by merely surviving, but they did not defeat the Israeli military forces, not by a long shot.
Hezbollah also kept its television station on the air despite numerous attempts by the Israelis to silence it. Hezbollah's top leaders also escaped all of Israel's attempts to assassinate or capture them.
President Bush, in addition to insisting that the Israelis won (he gave them 34 days by blocking calls for an immediate cease-fire), foolishly believes that the damaged infrastructure will turn the Lebanese people against Hezbollah. Perhaps he didn't see the large banner on the rubble in southern Beirut. It said in English and Arabic, "Made in the U.S.A."
The people of Lebanon are not stupid. They recognize an Israeli overreaction when they see one. They have, after all, experienced plenty of such overreactions. Hezbollah clearly snatched the Israeli soldiers for the purpose of a prisoner exchange and did not expect Israel to attack Lebanon as a whole. This was a failure of Hezbollah's intelligence.
But the Lebanese people know who bombed their homes and businesses. They know that we supply the bombs and other military equipment. They know that we held up a cease-fire. They know as well, despite the constant crowing about Lebanese sovereignty, that the U.S. was silent while Israel occupied southern Lebanon for 18 years, in defiance of U.N. resolutions, and has violated Lebanese sovereignty numerous times since Hezbollah chased the Israelis out in 2000, without a peep from us.
If the president honestly believes the U.S. has gained by this debacle, then he is even dumber than I thought. If you listen closely, quite often the president makes no sense at all when he talks.
There are a lot of Lebanese factions, and naturally the rich Lebanese elites don't like Hezbollah or anything that interferes with their making money. At the present, though, they are scared to criticize Hezbollah in public.
I think there are two things as close to certain as anything ever is in the Middle East: One, our reputation and credibility are in the subbasement of the region; and two, the myth of Israeli invincibility has been broken – or, more accurately, thought by the Arab street to have been broken. One Arab newspaperman said that if the present trend continues, anybody who advocates peace with Israel will get stoned (with rocks).
To sum up, if you ask me, nobody won, least of all the people in the region on all sides of all borders.
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