Who Won?

Amir Taheri argues in today’s Wall Street Journal that the perception that Hezbollah won the recent war in Lebanon is incorrect:

Having lost more than 500 of its fighters, and with almost all of its medium-range missiles destroyed, Hezbollah may find it hard to sustain its claim of victory. “Hezbollah won the propaganda war because many in the West wanted it to win as a means of settling score with the United States,” says Egyptian columnist Ali al-Ibrahim. “But the Arabs have become wise enough to know TV victory from real victory.”

Maybe. But the Israelis don’t seem to be buying it. Newspaper polls indicate that 60 percent or more of Israelis want Prime Minister Olmert to step down. Politically, the major beneficiary appears to be Benyamin Netanyahu, whose support ranges up to 45% in these polls.

And the Jerusalem Post reports that Israel has given up on its goal of disarming Hezbollah:

Israel has essentially given up hope of Hizbullah being disarmed, and instead is now concentrating on ensuring that an arms embargo called for in UN Security Council resolution 1701 be implemented, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Furthermore, senior Israeli officials have made it clear in recent days during talks with foreign governments that Israel realizes a Hizbullah presence south of the Litani River is unavoidable, if for no other reason than because the organization is so well rooted there that the only way to get rid of Hizbullah would be to evacuate the entire region.

The impression Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has left in recent days on her European counterparts during meetings both in Israel and in Europe is that Israel recognizes it is unrealistic for anyone to take away Hizbullah’s weapons, and that what is most important at this time is to ensure that there is an effective embargo on any new weapons to Hizbullah.

I could accept that Hezbollah fared worse in the fighting than many believe, given the abysmal quality of the reporting from Lebanon. And I hope it’s true that influential Shia leaders in Lebanon have broken with Hezbollah. But the most limited of Israel’s several objectives in the conflict was to recover the two soldiers whose kidnapping (along with the murder of six other soldiers) sparked the violence. Given that Israel agreed to a cease fire that did not provide for the soldiers’ return, and now has no apparent means of recovering them (or, if it comes to that, their remains), I don’t see how anyone can count the result a victory for Israel.

PAUL adds: Another straight-forward way to determine whether Israel won is to ask whether it was able significantly to diminish Hezbollah’s ability to attack Israel with rockets. There’s no objective evidence that Israel accomplished this. In the last phases of the fighting, Hezbollah was sending in as many rockets as it was at the beginning. It’s possible that this was Hezbollah’s last gasp, but if that were the case I doubt that Israel would have been so willing to stop the war.

I must also say that some of Taheri’s arguments seem unpersuasive:

“Prime Minister Fuad Siniora has made it clear that he would not allow Hezbollah to continue as a state within the state.” Yes, but what reason is there to believe he can take that “status” away from Hezbollah?

“Sayyed Ali al-Amin, the grand old man of Lebanese Shiism, has broken years of silence to criticize Hezbollah for provoking the war, and called for its disarmament.” Yes, but he has no militia to back up his call. And Taheri acknowledges that criticism of Hezbollah (and especially its leader Nazrallah) from prominent Lebanese, including Shiites, is nothing new.

“The list of prominent Arab writers, both Shiite and Sunni, who have exposed Hezbollah for what it is–a Khomeinist Trojan horse–would be too long for a single article.” Yes, but none of these writers can claim to have given the Israelis the fight of their lives.

Even so, Taheri’s glimpse of the Arab world’s reaction to the war makes for fascinating reading and is well worth considering.

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