President Bush today declared that Hizbullah suffered a defeat in this war. PM Olmert declared that Hizbullah suffered a "harsh blow". And as would be expected Nasrallah claimed a "strategic, historic victory." So who won and what?
There were 5 main players involved in this war - Israel, Hizbullah, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran - and it's important to see what each has won and lost over the course of the last month. While most pundits see simply an Israeli defeat and a Hizbullah victory, the situation - as is often the case - is a bit more complex. So here's my attempt to sort out the results. ISRAEL
Israel's stated war aims - at least its initial war aims - were the return of the two kidnapped soldiers, the destruction of Hizbullah as a fighting force, and the removal of the rocket threat to its northern cities. Judged by these aims, Israel failed since it was not able to achieve any of them. As I have written before, this failure was due entirely to the tactics of the political echelon and not the IDF. Olmert and Peretz decided that they would talk of military goals, but attempt to achieve those goals diplomatically. It is the first time in Israel's history that it went to war in order for a cease-fire to be imposed. Previously, the IDF would attempt to accomplish as much as possible before the imposition of a ceasefire by the "international community". Had the initial cease-fire agreement between the US and France been approved, instead of the one actually approved, Israel could have claimed that it achieved its ends diplomatically. However, UNSC Resolution 1701 leaves the matter of Hizbullah disarmament and the return of the IDF soldiers very vague.
Israel's main loss is in the area of deterrence. Again, I will quote Stratfor's
The first strategy was the air campaign. The second strategy was a complex warfighting/diplomacy strategy designed to achieve Israel's ends without having to systematically destroy Hezbollah. The end result of this strategy -- if it is carried out to its logical conclusion -- is that Hezbollah will have fought and survived, and that in fighting, it will have shaped Israeli political decisions. In other words, we will have moved from a world in which Israel's military force trumps all other considerations to a world in which Israeli military power is circumscribed by Arab power.
It seems clear that Israel could have crushed Hezbollah if it was willing to spend the lives. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's view seems to have been the rational one -- that the rockets Hezbollah has been firing at Israel were creating fewer casualties by far than a war would. On that cost-benefit analysis, Olmert not only was correct, but followed the reasoning of Ariel Sharon. Sharon's strategy focused on building barriers between Israel and Arabs in order to avoid the costs and casualties involved in counterinsurgency operations. Olmert has extended that logic to southern Lebanon, seeking a low-cost solution to the Hezbollah threat.
In so doing, Olmert, intentionally or not, has shifted the basic architecture of Israel's strategic policy. He has avoided an extravagant cost in lives, but in so doing, has undermined the military certainty that was the foundation of Israeli national security. Hezbollah was able to start a war and has survived it defensively. In due course, an Arab force will be able to start an offensive war and win it. There is no inherent reason that an Arab army cannot defeat an Israeli army. Whether there is a cease-fire or not, the psychological foundation of Israeli power has been breached.
This is a major change in the Middle East, the results of which will have long-lasting repercussions vis-a-vis the entire balance of power. Already Syria is saying
that the chances of peace with Israel are low, and that they will "liberate the Golan", and Hamas will attempt to adopt
Overall, Israel has lost much and gained little. One can only hope that the political establishment and the IDF will learn lessons from this war that they will be able to apply to the next round. They have been very good at doing this in the past.HIZBULLAH
Hizbullah's main achievement has been its survival. In being able to hold off the IDF for a month, they have emerged as the best Arab army, and the only one not to have been fully defeated by Israel. This has added to their prestige in Lebanon and throughout the Arab world. In enhancing their reputation, they have also effected a stealth coup d'etat in Lebanon. They are now the power, and the Lebanese government must go to them for all decisions. While this may have been the case previously, it was behind the scenes. Now it is fully out in the open.
However, Hizbullah has paid a very high price for this "victory". They have lost most of their long-range missiles and launchers - taken out by Israel in the first day of the war - and they have suffered somewhere around 500 dead. For a fighting force of 3000-5000, this is a tremendous loss. Additionally, their network of bunkers and tunnels has been exposed, and their fighting tactics revealed. Armies that win wars - or think they win wars - are less likely to learn lessons, and if fighting resumes, they will be at a significant disadvantage. Hubris has its costs.
Overall, Hizbullah has achieved much in this war but at the same time has suffered serious losses. They have been somewhat degraded as a fighting force, but politically have made major gains.LEBANON
Lebanon is the clear loser in this war. Their infrastructure has been damaged to the tune of $2-$4 billion, and for a country with a total GDP of around $20 billion, it will take quite a while for them to recover. More importantly, their government has been exposed as completely powerless and is now run by Hizbullah. PM Siniora's life is now clearly in danger, and the gains of the Cedar Revolution seem to be no more than memories. Unless the UN force moving in can actually control Hizbullah, and this is highly unlikely, they will have to wait for Israel to fully and completely destroy Hizbullah in the next war if they hope to regain their country.SYRIA
Assad is thrilled that he didn't get dragged into this war. If he had, he would most likely no longer be the ruler of Syria. Syria's gain is that they did not get punished for their support and supply of Hizbullah. This will undoubtedly lead them to the conclusion that they can continue their support not just of Hizbullah, but of Hamas and of insurgents in Iraq. IRAN
Like Syria, Iran was not punished - as of yet - for their support of Hizbullah. Their status, as the backers of the premiere Arab army, has certainly been enhanced. And they have received valuable information on the performance of their weapons systems. But the outcome for them is a lot more mixed. Undoubtedly they are unhappy with Hizbullah losing so much of the hardware that they provided - estimates of the dollar value of the losses are around $2 billion. Much more importantly, they have lost a major deterrent. Hizbullah's rockets and missiles were supposed to be the deterrent threat to Israel and the US in the event of an attack on Iran's nuclear program. This deterrent is now gone for the Iranians, both physically in the destroyed Zelzal missiles, as well as strategically. It will be difficult for Iran to smuggle more of the Zelzals to Hizbullah; they are very large systems requiring a truck to launch, and everyone is now watching what they are doing. Their support for Hizbullah will be another in the long list of US grievances against them.
I think that this war is far from over. Just tonight there was a report
of Hizbullah firing 10 Katyusha rockets. All of them landed inside Lebanon, so Israel is not responding. If Hizbullah is seen to violate the cease-fire, Israel will be able to finish them off. It is what the US, Lebanon, Israel, and most countries of the Middle East are secretly hoping for.