Monday, August 14, 2006

Was It Worth It?

With the cease-fire in Lebanon in effect, and the conflict thus entering a new and less violent stage, different actors must ask themselves what the war achieved.

It was Hezbollah that started by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers at a small cross-border raid. Why? Well, the declared purpose was to bring about a prisoner's exchange with Israel, but the more political one was in all probability to give indirect support to the Hamas militants in Gaza who had kidnapped another soldier and entered into a conflict over that.

It was then that Israel decided on a very major escalation. The decision was taken to bomb and isolate all of Lebanon. The first attack was against Beirut airport to stop Lebanon's airlinks with the outside world. The IDF Chief of Staff said that they should bomb Lebanon 20 years back in time.

This unleashed the rockets of Hezbollah in retaliation. Indeed, since 1996 there has been an informal understanding that Hezbollah would not fire rockets if Israel did not bomb Lebanon.

But now that understanding was gone. And the carnage started.

Israel has as the immediate aim to get its two soldiers back unconditionally and as the more general aim to break the back of Hezbollah. When Washington gave its support, it was with the more ambitious goal of destroying Hezbollah and sending a strong signal to Iran.

The goal of achieving a release of the two soldiers has not been reached so far, and is not in the operative part of the UN resolution. In all probability, we will see a UN- or Red Cross-negotiated mutual prisoner release within the not too distant future.

That's what was the initial and stated Hezbollah objective.

Whether Hezbollah has been broken remains to be seen. It has undertaken to disarm itself, and has declared that it is ready to do so when Israel totally leaves what they consider Lebanon's territory.

In itself, this is not a new position. Hezbollah has kept its weapons with the Sheba Farm issue as the pretext.

How fast this can happen might well be decided by how fast the IDF leaves Lebanon. It seems as if it was uncertainty over this that prevented the Lebanese government from reaching a decision at its meeting yesterday.

And it should be said that the UN resolution is not crystal clear on the sequencing of these different steps. There is an ambiguity that might have been seen as diplomatic in New York but could well turn out to be dangereous on the ground.

But the overall position of Hezbollah in Lebanon remains to be seen. That it's overall prestige in the Arab and the Muslim world has increased is beyond doubt.

Overall, there is little doubt first that the confidence of Israeli's in their armed forces have taken a heavy beating, and second that the standing of Israel in the world has been negatively affected by what has been seen as a grossly disproportionate use of force, also against civilians.

A million refugees is indeed a lot.

Washington has hardly covered itself in glory during the war.

But that's a separate story.