Friday, August 25, 2006

A Lebanese View of Hezbollah's 'Victory'

The issue of victory in the recent war in Lebanon has been argued back and forth. Israelis for the most part recognize their failures and are working on learning from the mistakes--including pushing for Olmert's ouster from power.

On the Lebanese side, Michael Young--opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon--is not impressed by Hezbollah's claim to victory:
But what kind of victory is this that, even by Hezbollah's unexacting standards, must qualify as a major setback? In its public appraisals of the conflict, Hezbollah has ignored what Israel did to those parts of Lebanon the party cannot claim as its own. Its cries of triumph have been focused on the stubborn resistance put up by Hezbollah combatants in south Lebanon. Nothing has been heard from party leaders about the billions of dollars of losses in infrastructure; about the immediate losses to businesses that will be translated into higher unemployment; about the long-term opportunity costs of the fighting; about the impact that political instability will have (indeed has already had) on public confidence and on youth emigration; and about the general collapse in morale that Lebanon faces.
Young finds that Hezbollah has even failed according to their own definition of victory.

The reason for Hezbollah's 10,000 to 15,000 rockets was to act as a deterrence, but Hezbollah's use of those rockets will result more suffering and traumatizing of the Shiite community, creating only more political fallout. Even the money that Hezbollah is now distributing can only go so far in compensating for the suffering, lost lives, lost businesses, and lost livliehoods.

Furthermore, Hezbollah's base of support among the Shiites may decrease in the face of being sacrificed for Iran, thousands of miles away.

After refusing to allow the Lebanese army into southern Lebanon, he has now allowed it in. Hezbollah's deterence value to Iran is decreased if it goes against the Lebanese concensus and the international community. [Personally, I would imagine that Nasrallah cares about the Lebanese concensus more than about international opinion, assuming he cares about the welfare of the Lebanese at all]

Meanwhile, for its efforts Iran now is giving out large amounts of money to Lebanese Shiites to hold onto its base of support while at the same time Iran's own poor complain that Iran has abandoned them. In return, a situation has been created where Lebanese sentiment might hinder Hezbollah's ability to deter Israel from attacking Iran's nuclear facilities. Furthermore, new attacks from Israel in reaction to Hezbollah attacks might cause the Shiites to turn against Nasrallah.

Young suggests that both the government and the parliamentary majority in Lebanon--which includes those hostile to both Syria and Hezbollah, are working against Nasrallah's efforts to transform his 'victory' into political gains. As the costs of the war become apparent, the Lebanese unenthusiastically see the war as nothing more than a calamity--and Hezbollah has not been able to reverse this mood.

Young concludes:
So perhaps a victory it is, but in that case Hezbollah's victory is no different than most other Arab victories in recent decades: the "victory" of October 1973, where Egypt and Syria managed to cross into Israeli-held land, their land, only to be later saved from a thrashing by timely United Nations intervention; the "victory" of 1982, where Palestinian groups were ultimately expelled from West Beirut, but were proud to have stayed in the fight for three months; the Iraqi "victory" of 1991, where Saddam Hussein brought disaster on his country but still held on to power. Now we have the Hezbollah "victory" of 2006: the Israelis bumbled and blundered, but still managed to create a million refugees, to kill over 1,000 people, and to kick Lebanon's economy back several years. One dreads to imagine what Hezbollah would recognize as a military loss.
While Israel does not see the war as a victory, it may be that a significant number of Lebanese do not either. That Nasrallah and Hezbollah claim victory may put them in the minority--among the very people upon whom they have brought so much suffering.

If Young's analysis is accurate, Nasrallah may need to ask Iran to hold his room at their Lebanese embassy.

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