Analysis: Lebanon -- heroes and villains

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI International Editor  |  Aug. 14, 2006 at 9:55 AM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted in favor of Resolution 1701 calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah but left a cluster of unanswered questions. Javier Solana, the European Union's envoy to the Middle East, summed up the situation at a news conference in Beirut Saturday when he said, "All United Nations resolutions are not perfect."

Solana then called upon both parties to implement the resolution "in good faith."

Indeed, good faith and a few prayers is what will be needed in order to get Israel and Hezbollah to implement and respect this new resolution. May it prosper better than the slew of previous U.N. resolutions that remain largely ignored. To cite just a few: 242, 338, and more recently, 1559.

Resolution 1701 was unanimously approved by the Lebanese cabinet -- including two Hezbollah ministers. It received a 24-0 vote of confidence from the Israeli government (plus one abstention), and got the green light from Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary-general. Still, it contains gaping holes, some as wide as those left in the side of some buildings in Beirut's southern suburbs.

To begin with, much of the language included in 1701 is ambiguous, leaving both sides dissatisfied. For example, despite it calling for hostilities to stop, the resolution grants Israel the right to take "defensive action." Of course nothing in the text describes just what constitutes "defensive action."

And while the resolution does not grant Hezbollah the same rights, in a televised speech Saturday night Nasrallah reserved the right to resist the occupation, saying it was "the legitimate right of the resistance to fight for its land."

The resolution does not address the issue of the prisoners, neither the case of Israeli soldiers being held by Hezbollah nor the fate of Lebanese prisoners detained by Israel. It was, after all, the abduction of two Israeli soldiers a month ago that unleashed the demons of war over Lebanon.

It does not address the logistics of deploying the Lebanese army to the south, nor does it give details of how and when the international force that is to support the Lebanese army -- a beefed up UNIFIL -- will be deployed. Nor does it detail the withdrawal to the other side of the Blue Line of Israeli troops, as demanded by the resolution.

Still, in spite of its shortcomings, Resolution 1701 is very likely to be accepted because both Israel and Hezbollah find themselves at a point in the conflict where each can -- to some degree -- claim victory of sorts, yet risk clearly losing if they continue fighting.

In truth, neither side came out of this conflict really victorious, but then again, neither are they defeated.

Of the two protagonists, Hezbollah comes out of the fight looking better, having resisted the might of the Israeli army for an entire month. In June 1967 it took Israel six days to defeat the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. And it took Israel 18 days to turn the tables on Egypt and Syria after the two Arab countries launched a surprise attack on the Jewish state on Yom Kippur in October 1973.

Hezbollah accepted the cease-fire because despite resisting the Israeli invasion and putting up a stiff fight for 31 days in a string of villages along the border -- Khiam, Bint Jbeil, Maroun el Ras and others -- and having fired close to 4,000 rockets into Israel, it is questionable just how much longer the Shiite militia, considered a terrorist group by Israel and the United States, could resist. Hezbollah has undoubtedly suffered heavy casualties among its fighters, though the group has not revealed exact numbers

Hezbollah can be blamed for the savage retaliation by Israel that caused much of the tatters in which Lebanon's infrastructure lies today. The country's bridges, roads, power plants have been destroyed, its economy set back some 20 years; a promising tourist season -- one of Lebanon's primary sources of income -- lost.

Hezbollah undoubtedly must have felt the pressure from its own constituents, the Shiite community in Lebanon. They were the most affected by the war and the large percentage of the nearly one million refugees forced to leave their homes in the southern Lebanese villages and in Beirut's southern suburbs are Shiites.

On the positive side for Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did manage to distance Hezbollah from Israel's northern frontier, creating a buffer zone in which the Shiite militia should be absent, and in which 15,000 Lebanese army troops and 15,000 UNIFIL troops should act as a deterrent, preventing Hezbollah from returning to the proximity of Israel's northern border. But at what price?

While Israel can also claim victory, overall, it's a shallow one. Israel had intended to break Hezbollah's back and humiliate the Shiite militia for having largely been responsible in bringing about Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, something Israeli politicians and particularly its military were not about to quickly forget, or forgive.

Overall, Israel came short of achieving its intended goal, that of crushing Hezbollah. A war that was meant to last a few days dragged into more than four weeks with the military suffering a high rate of casualties and heavy loss of equipment. Not to mention that nearly 1 million Israelis had to be evacuated from the north of the country to escape Hezbollah's daily deluge of rockets, incurring a huge economic drain on the country.

Finally, for Israel, it sets a dangerous precedent. The country that was once seen as the unbeatable Goliath in the Middle East has suddenly become mortal.

Of the two men who led their forces into this war -- Ehud Olmert and Hassan Nasrallah -- the one who comes out looking better is Nasrallah. His popularity has skyrocketed in the Arab world, and although he will be taken to task by his fellow Lebanese at a later date, for the moment, even the Christians in Lebanon look at him with greater respect. Whereas Olmert's Lebanese adventure that claimed the lives of more than 100 Israeli soldiers and about 50 civilians may well end up costing him his job.

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(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)

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