by Patrick Seale
Who won and who lost? It would appear that the Tehran-Damascus-Hizballah axis has emerged more confident from the Lebanon War, while the United States and Israel look politically weaker, morally tarnished, and acutely vulnerable to guerrilla warfare.
Israel's war on Lebanon was not a 'just war.' The capture of two Israeli soldiers on 12 July -- which Hizballah hoped to exchange for Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails for nearly 30 years - cannot serve to justify the destruction of Lebanon.
Brutal, wanton and hugely disproportionate, the war was pre-planned with Washington. It was waged to destroy Hizballah and install in Beirut a government submissive to Israel and the United States. But it was also waged to weaken Hizballah's sponsors, Iran and Syria, and perhaps expose them to attack in turn. It has achieved the exact opposite.
An immediate consequence of the war has been to increase the stature of Hizballah and its charismatic leader, Hasan Nasrallah. Although its fighters must soon withdraw from the border areas -- as Israel moves out and the Lebanese army and a beefed up UNIFIL gradually move in -- it is highly unlikely that Hizballah, as an armed political movement, will be dismantled, or even disarmed - at least not in the near future. Israel has failed to do the job, and neither the Lebanese government nor any one else is willing or able to attempt it.
Hizballah's domestic opponents will seek to blame it for having provoked the massive damage to Lebanon's infrastructure and the killing of over one thousand civilians. A million refugees are now streaming home in deplorable conditions to their shattered towns and villages.
As the main representative of a community of some 1.4 million people, Hizballah is bound to play a major role in rebuilding southern Lebanon, the Biqaa valley and the southern suburbs of Beirut, devastated by Israeli bombardment.
Far from reining in Hizballah - as Israel and the United States demand -- the Shi'a community may now demand a greater say in the country's affairs. Lebanon's institutions may have to be adjusted to take account of the new realities of power.
Another consequence of the war is that it has sharply reduced the likelihood of an attack on Iran or Syria. Washington's neocons, like Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, William Kristol of the Weekly Standard and other such fanatics, continue to call stridently for the violent overthrow of the regimes in Damascus and Tehran, but neither Israel nor the United States would seem to have the stomach for it.
Before the Lebanon war, Iran may have hesitated about the wisdom of building a nuclear weapon. Today, it must surely be racing to acquire the deterrent capability which nuclear weapons can provide. In the aftermath of the Lebanon war, it is hard to see how, or by whom, Iran's nuclear programme could be interrupted, let alone ended.
The American press continues to speculate about an American strike to destroy Iran's facilities, but most experts rule out any such dangerous adventure. President George W Bush may be ignorant and stubborn, but he is not insane.
Yet another result of the war has been to bring Syria in from the cold. Politicians and commentators in the United States and Europe -- and even Israel's Defence Minister Amir Peretz - have remarked on the need to involve Syria in any permanent settlement of the region's conflicts.
The war has brought to international attention the two preconditions for a lasting peace in Lebanon. They are the return of the Golan to Syria and the recognition that Syria has a legitimate interest in preventing a hostile foreign power establishing its influence over Lebanon, as this would constitute an intolerable threat to Syria's national security.
President Bush and President Jacques Chirac of France have, for their different reasons, attempted to exclude Syria altogether from Lebanese affairs. Israel's foreign minister, Tsipi Livni, has followed suit, saying this week that 'Syria must understand that Lebanon is taking off…in a different direction without them.' These are vain hopes, contradicted by the situation on the ground. It is Israel that must keep out of Lebanese affairs, and stay out.
In Israel, the political class is absorbed by the search for a scapegoat for a war which has severely dented its reputation for military invincibility, as well as its deterrent capability. Israel has had a taste of what the U.S. is experiencing in Iraq.
There are other far reaching consequences, which may not yet be fully grasped by the Israeli public. What is the point of Israel's hugely expensive Separation Wall, which has been pronounced illegal by the International Court of Justice and is making Palestinians' lives a misery, if missiles can fly over it?
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's 'unilateralism' - inherited from Ariel Sharon but which he hoped to extend - is another victim of the conflict. The unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, while maintaining Israel's cruel siege, has led to missile attacks on Israeli towns in the Negev. The attempt to destroy the democratically-elected Hamas government has led to something like war. Although some 200 Palestinians have been killed in the last six weeks, there is no sign that Hamas is ready to surrender. Meanwhile Olmert's so-called 'convergence plan' - a land grab on the West Bank without reference to, or negotiations with, the Palestinians - seems moribund.
Will the Olmert government fall? Will the debacle benefit the Right or the Left? Will the chief of staff, Air Force General Dan Halutz, be forced to go, as several Israeli commentators are demanding? In 34 days of war, his forces failed to stop Hizballah's rockets, while his vaunted air force was guilty of war crimes.
There is as yet no sign that Israel is ready to confront the real questions raised by the Lebanon war. Will it press on with its West Bank expansion and refuse to withdraw from the Golan, or will it be persuaded to negotiate with the Palestinians and Syria on the basis of the land-for-peace formula of Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967?
Will it seek to restore its absolute military superiority over the entire Arab region or will it accept some form of a balance of power -- or at least a balance of deterrence?
The answer to these questions will determine whether Israel can live in peace and security in the region or whether it will have to face a more or less permanent insurrection by its hapless neighbours.
The Western powers have made a dismal showing in the crisis. The United States is more hated and despised than ever before. By delaying a ceasefire for more than a month to allow Israel to 'finish the job', the U.S. has dealt a lethal blow to the UN Security Council, to the considerable anguish of Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Rarely has a world leader attracted such widespread ridicule as President George W Bush for asserting that the many crises from Afghanistan to Iraq and from Lebanon to Gaza are a contest between 'terror and freedom.' His notion of 'freedom' has brought nothing but death. Bush's repeated use of the term 'Islamo-fascism' - borrowed from Washington's Likudniks - has aroused outrage across the Muslim world. In Egypt, 50 independent parliamentarians are demanding an apology!
This, unfortunately, is not a leader able to conceive or to implement the bold and wide-ranging peace plan the region so desperately needs.
As for Britain, by tagging along behind the United States and Israel, Prime Minister Tony Blair has covered himself and his country with shame. At home, his policies appear to have put the country at risk from an enraged section of the Muslim population.
France has done a good deal better. Although it started by aligning itself on the United States, it soon corrected its aim to take account of Lebanese and Arab objections. This allowed it to negotiate the final compromise with the United States, which resulted in Resolution 1701.
How long will the present truce last? A lot will depend on whether opinion in Washington and Israel is ready to accept and digest the geopolitical lessons of the war. Link