Tuesday, August 29, 2006

More on the characterization of the Hezbollah war 

I will confess that I am more than a little bit bemused at the war going on within the ranks of the friends of Israel over which side "won" the recent round of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. Regular readers know that the various authors of this blog generally agree that Israel improved its position at Hezbollah's expense, but we seem to be in the minority. Yes, we have the esteemed Edward Luttwak on our side, but that is cold comfort when you are arguing against Power Line, which leads a pack of conservative bloggers and other commentators who argue that Israel is in worse shape.

This is not the time to reprise all the arguments, but I did want to pass along Michael Young's interesting essay in Lebanon's The Daily Star, "The dilemmas of being an Iranian bullet." It was published five days ago -- an eternity in the blogosphere -- but as of this morning Technorati had tracked exactly no links to it, so it may be new to you. Young:

Hizbullah's efficient ward heelers are handing out cash, reportedly much of it Iranian, to persuade the party's Shiite supporters that the destruction of their homes and livelihood was worth it. However, a more pressing question is: At what point will Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah's secretary general, be forced into making an impossible choice where he must either reimburse his expanding debt to Iran or, by doing so, risk losing the backing of his own community? In other words, when will Hizbullah have to truly decide whether it is Iranian or Lebanese?

The question is ever more relevant in light of the ongoing tension between the international community and Iran over the latter's nuclear program. Iran had wagered on Hizbullah's missiles being a deterrent in the event of a conflict with the United States and Israel. That effect has been mostly lost thanks to the month-long Lebanon war. Hizbullah still has many rockets, and its infrastructure in the South is probably intact. But what it no longer has is a blank check from the Shiite population to pursue a new war of "honor" that will surely put most of them back in the streets again.

Amid the sanguine assertions of a Hizbullah victory, a colder assessment is needed to gauge just what the party achieved, or, rather, lost after July 12 - specifically what it lost Iran. Aside from Hizbullah's spent deterrence capability (only revivable at a high price) is the element of surprise when it comes to the party's training, tactics, and defenses. In the next war, the Israelis will come better prepared. The Lebanese Army is in the South, and a broader international force will probably soon deploy in the border area. That hardly makes a new war impossible, but were Hizbullah to take its weapons out of their containers to resume the fight, it would have to first confront the Lebanese state and the international community, meaning bearing a heavy responsibility for the aftermath.

Then there is the matter of Iranian calculations. If you were a Revolutionary Guards chief in Tehran, how would you view the latest conflict with Israel? You would doubtless marvel at Hizbullah's training (Iranian of course), but the ovation would end there. If it's true that hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on arming and preparing the party, and that hundreds of millions, if not billions, more will be needed to rehabilitate Lebanon's Shiite community, then the Iranians got little for their outlays. The Lebanon war was useless to them, only making their nuclear program more vulnerable. That's one reason why Tehran organized military exercises before its formal answer on Tuesday to an international offer on ending uranium enrichment. The Iranians would have preferred to use Lebanon as a cushion to keep the conflict away from their borders; but Hizbullah torpedoed that by miscalculating the Israeli and American response to the July 12 abductions of two Israeli soldiers.

So now Nasrallah has a mounting debt owed the Iranians and little room to tell them that he cannot implement a request to heat Israel's northern border if the nuclear issue demands it....

What can Nasrallah do if Iran asks Hizbullah to resume military operations against Israel while Shiites are slowly rebuilding their lives? By refusing, Nasrallah could lose his sponsor and financier; by agreeing, he could lose his supporters.

Read it all.

Now, I agree that the result of the recent war was disappointing if measured against the expectation that Israel would pound Hezbollah into ash from which even a phoenix could not revive. Measured against a more realistic standard -- geopolitical progress against the last potent enemy on its border -- Israel may well have improved its position. At the least, we cannot know one way or another until the next step in the broader confrontation.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Aug 29, 09:40:00 AM:


This is a rich subject, and I don't have time to address it adequately, but I think what we're seeing is a world---and a commentariat---more interested in the moral disarmament of Israel than in the actual disarmament of Hezbollah. That is a source of a lot of the confusion. Also: the information war about who won and who lost is perhaps even more important than the actual war---so don't stop thinking and posting about this. It's a big part of the fight.

The left and the right both have their own reasons for painting this war as a defeat for Israel---the left because of its self-love and its antipathy to Israel, the right because of its disappointment in the results of the war (i.e., Nasrallah is still alive, and he's gloating).

I may be an unknown voice in the blogosphere---I like flying under the radar---but I have been questioning the "victory" of Hezbollah since the beginning of the claims.

No time to link to specific posts, but if you visit my blog, you'll see many posts on this and related subjects, and links to many voices in the Muslim/Arab world that agree with us about this being a defeat for Hezbollah---or, more precisely, a Pyrrhic victory.

infotainment rules  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Tue Aug 29, 10:40:00 AM:

"Bemused" would describe my response to the early suggestion that the U.S. should pay to rebuild Lebanon, as if the destruction wrought by Nasrallah was somehow our fault and not his.

After thinking it over a bit it seems he and his paymasters have reconsidered. Likely they realized they could not afford to pass up the propaganda value of being seen as benefactors to those Lebanese who were touched by this war.

But it is fitting, isn't it? Hezbollah thinks it is showing the world how much it cares, and yet Nasrallah of all people must realize that what they are doing amounts to an admission of responsibility, if not guilt.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Aug 29, 02:06:00 PM:

As he tours southern Lebanon, Sayyad Nasrallah might (or might not) feel sorrow for the devastation he sees. He might also receive an occasional earful from some newly homeless residents, although we doubt that.

Nasrallah's regretful comments are political posturing aimed at the non-Shi'ite portion of Lebanon that could in theory organize against him.

As long as Hezbollah retains it Iranian sponsorship, its well-trained militia, and its strong organization, Nasrallah will feel little reason for future self-restraint as a result of his recent experience with Israel.

Israel still needs a long-term strategy for dealing with Hezbollah. Based on its experiences with Hamas in Gaza, a long-term active siege may be the answer, as we describe in

Israel has learned from Gaza.


By Blogger K. Pablo, at Tue Aug 29, 05:11:00 PM:

Steven denBeste weighs in.  

By Blogger Papa Ray, at Tue Aug 29, 08:08:00 PM:

Don't know if you have seen this."Interesting" is my only comment.

Israeli video journalist Itai Anghel went into Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon with the Nahal Brigade and shot 25 minutes of riveting house-to-house combat footage with a night vision lens.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Aug 29, 08:44:00 PM:

The Israelis could well create their own pr coup by showing the world that the Arabs also said they won every other war with the Israelis. Old film of Jordanian, Syrian and Egyptian leaders together with footage of Nasrullah and the other Arab leaders would go a long way to embarrasing the Arabs/Persians.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Aug 29, 08:57:00 PM:

I remain impressed by your ability to uncover writing that looks beyond the obvious for longer-term consequences.  

By Blogger luc, at Tue Aug 29, 09:48:00 PM:

When looking at the outcome of the war in Lebanon, opinions are split as to the winner or looser of this engagement. In my opinion this is so because both sides won something but more importantly both sides lost more than they gained. Only time will tell the impact of the loses in question will have on each side.

The principal loss for Israel is that of perceived invincibility of the IDF. This loss is likely to have a major impact on the decisions of other Arab states on how to deal in the future with Israel and obviously it will not be to Israel’s advantage. As serious as this loss is to Israel in a future conventional war, it may become irrelevant in the case of a commonly predicted nuclear exchange with Iran.

Hezbollah lost ground position, fortifications, unrestricted access to the border with Israel, a significant part of their fighting men and equipment and a lot of good will. As Hezbollah survived the confrontation with Israel, it can claim victory but the claim is rather hollow. But, just as Israel lost its aura of invincibility so did Hezbollah lose its near-term potential of significantly damaging Israel in a conflict.  

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