Friedman is among those who believe that the recent war was a significant defeat for Hezbollah. We have addressed all of Friedman’s arguments in favor of that belief before, and will not do so here. For an assessment that I consider more realistic than Friedman’s, readers are encouraged to check out this editorial from today’s Washington Times.
Some folks, including bloggers who have previously said that for Israel to be deemed the winner the peacekeeping forces will have to disarm Hezbollah, are now claiming that Hezbollah’s defeat is evident from Nasrallah’s statement that his outfit wouldn’t have kidnapped the Israeli soldiers if he had known that Israel would react as it did. Yet this statement, which was first reported weeks ago during the war, shows only that Hezbollah has fences to mend, not that it lost the war.
It is important to recall that Hezbollah is both a terrorist band and a political party. In political terms, it is distinctly minority party, holding only about one-fifth of the seats in the Lebanese parliament (this was before the war; no elections have been held since). However, Hezbollah’s status is enhanced by its military power — that’s what made it far more than a relatively minor political faction even before it stood up to Israel in the recent war. Overall, then, both Hezbollah and its political opponents have major strengths and major weaknesses. To oversimplify, the opponents have the votes but Hezbollah has the guns. This was true before the war started and, in all likelihood, remains true.
It is in this context that we see both sides making conciliatory statements. Publicly, the government blames Israel for the damage to the country. And it disavows any intention of seeking to disarm Hezbollah, asking in defiant language why it should try to do what Israel could not. For its part, Hezbollah says it would not have kidnapped the soldiers if it had known how Israel would respond. In doing so, it sounds conciliatory but also blames Israeli over-reaction for the damage, just as the government publicly does.
But there’s a big difference between the government’s statements and Hezbollah’s. The government is promising not to take action against Hezbollah in the future that would diminish Hezbollah militarily. Hezbollah, while implying that it won’t soon provoke a new war, is making no real commitments.