A Farewell to Arms – For Now

In Spite of Wide Regional Support, Hezbollah’s Popularity Has Dipped Since the Cease-Fire.

Sept. 8, 2006 saw the official end of the most recent chapter in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the rest of the Middle East. The latest spat in Gaza in June, had by early July seamlessly, though absurdly, segued over into all out war in Lebanon and northern Israel. It is the longest Israeli-Arab war to date – 34 days of armed conflict and another 2 week embargo. More than 1,500 people were killed and approximately 1.5 million people temporarily displaced.

No clear victor has emerged. But there are certainly losers.

Israeli confidence has been deeply shaken by the strategic and political fiasco the war has become.  A full frontal attack to retrieve soldiers taken captive by a militant enemy and interspersed in a civilian population is, as the Gaza incursion in June/July has already proved, not an easily winnable proposition.

Trying to do it from the air was pure folly – which is why the militarily inexperienced Israeli premier, advised by his similarly inexperienced minister of defense and overly eager ‘fly-boy’ chief of staff, was the perfect group of candidates to make such an erroneous choice.

Former Israeli leaders, including perceived hardliners with military experience, such as Ariel Sharon, have entered into negotiations to secure the release of Israeli citizens. And these efforts have been quite successful.  Over the last 30 years, Israel has released about 7,000 prisoners to secure freedom for 19 Israelis and to retrieve the bodies of eight others.

Any military effort to free prisoners has usually taken the form of targeted commando raids.

Indiscriminate bombing of a whole country is a novel, but apparently quite ineffective strategy.

Lebanon is probably the clearest loser of the conflict.  At the mercy of both the irate regional superpower and a semi-political militant organization with only loose affiliations to the elected government, the Lebanese have suffered widespread devastation, displacement and death.

Damage estimates ranging from 7-15 Billion USD in combination with a reported 1187 dead and almost 1 million displaced civilians has left the country in tatters and deepened dormant sectarian tensions.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant political party responsible for igniting this latest round of bloodshed – kidnapping two and murdering eight IDF soldiers on July 12 in a cross border raid –  are widely regarded to have emerged victorious.

But at what price?

In spite of enjoying wide spread regional support for having withstood the Israeli onslaught, Hezbollah’s popularity in Lebanon has dipped in the aftermath of the cease-fire.  This could best be seen from Hassan Nasrallah’s televised apology for causing the outbreak of hostilities, and the admission that had they foreseen the overwhelming response by Israel, they would not have started the war.

Nor has Hezbollah’s unashamed targeting of Israeli civilians throughout conflict done any favors for their popularity in the West.  However, after targeting more than 3970 rockets at overwhelmingly civilian targets in Israel, Hezbollah is now not only considered terrorists, but also candidates for war crimes tribunals.

As for Israel, it flew more than 12,000 combat missions and conducted more than 2,500 naval barrages at civilians and infrastructure, under the pretense of targeting Hezbollah.

Both pot and kettle here are very black.

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