[OVERSEAS VIEW]Who won the war in Lebanon? No one.

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[OVERSEAS VIEW]Who won the war in Lebanon? No one.

In the Middle East, which is one gigantic hall of mirrors and smoke screens, make-believe is usually more important than the facts. What are the facts? On the Israeli side: The IDF, Israel’s armed forces, evidently was not well prepared for what degenerated into a four-week war.
First, there was a serious intelligence failure. The Israelis did not know how well-equipped Hezbollah was ― for instance with Iranian anti-ship missiles, which almost sank an Israeli warship off the coast of Lebanon.
Second, the reserve units, the backbone of the IDF, had to go into battle without proper supplies. When they arrived at their depots, ammunition and equipment were missing― even water bottles, a critical “weapon” in such a hot climate.
Third, the leadership was not up to the usual standards of what is often billed as the world’s best army. Plans changed by the day, even by the hour; soldiers went into Lebanon, then out again, and then back again. Today the IDF knows better. Instead of small, hesitant piecemeal operations, it should have struck deep and decisively.
Fourth, there was far too much reliance on the air force. Anybody who knows South Lebanon, and this author has been there a few times, knows there are few visible targets among the trees and the small villages. The targets ― Hezbollah’s rockets ― were hidden either deep underground or in civilian buildings. This would have been a job for the infantry, not for fighter planes, with their million-dollar missiles.
As a result, the war dragged on and on, and ended without a decisive Israeli victory. But what about Hezbollah and its sponsors in Syria and Iran?
During the war, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, appeared almost daily on Al-Manar, the TV station of the group, to crow about yet another victory against Israel. Hezbollah also played the media game with consummate skill, carefully controlling the movement of journalists and staging fake scenes of death and destruction.
But now listen to Mr. Nasrallah on Aug. 27. First, he referred to the abduction of two Israeli soldiers from Israeli soil, which had triggered the war: “We did not think, even one percent, that the capture would lead to war at this time and of this magnitude.” Had he totally miscalculated? Yes.
“If you ask me if I had known on July 11 that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not.”
The military balance sheet does not look good for Hezbollah. It lost hundreds of fighters. Its underground infrastructure in South Lebanon was decimated. It was pushed back from the Israeli border.
Politically, the outlook is even worse. On the global front, Mr. Nasrallah was hit by United Nations Resolution 1701 which demands
· the unconditional release of the Israeli hostages
· the disarmament of Hezbollah
· an arms embargo against Hezbollah
· the return of the Lebanese army to South Lebanon
· the insertion of a “robust” peace force in the area.
On the domestic front, Hezbollah’s losses are no less harsh. Lebanese of all stripes and colors are furious with Nasrallah. How could a party with only 20 percent of the votes and two ministers in the cabinet drag an entire country into such a devastating war?
Even its Christian ally, Michel Aoun, is calling for Hezbollah’s disarmament. Hence, Nasrallah’s Aug. 27 confession must be seen as a kind of apology to the Lebanese people. In so many words, it reads: No, I won’t do this again.
So, will the situation on the Lebanese border be more stable in the future?
It all depends not only on the Lebanese army, which in the past has excelled only on the parade grounds, but above all on the international force that will be deployed in the South.
Theoretically, this is not just another UN observer force like Unifil, whose 2000 men have been sitting unarmed (!) in South Lebanon since 1978. It has a reasonably robust mandate, meaning the right to undertake “all necessary actions” to enforce UN Resolution 1701. If the projected 15,000 men actually arrive in full strength, and if they are flanked by another 15,000 soldiers from the Lebanese army, that would be quite a lot of soldiers on this small strip of land, which roughly measures 25 by 25 kilometers(15,5 by 15.5 miles). By sheer size, these 30,000 men would dwarf whatever Hezbollah could field.
But size isn’t everything in a military arena. There has to be determination and willingness to use force. There is an even more urgent task, which is to cut Hezbollah’s resupply lines that start in Iran and extend through Syria into Lebanon. The Syrian-Lebanese border is not 25 kilometers long, but 300, and so enforcing the arms embargo will not be a cake walk.
So let’s hope that Nasrallah was sincere when he said “no, absolutely not” to an operation that triggered the Four-Week War, and might trigger a second round if Hezbollah miscalculates again.

* The writer, the publisher-editor of Die Zeit in Germany, is now teaching U.S. foreign policy at Stanford University, where he is also a fellow at the Hoover Institution.


by Josef Joffe
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