First Published: 2006-08-14

 
Who Won the War in Lebanon?
 

There is no victor of the war in Lebanon. The UN resolution passed to halt the war should lead to renewed resolve to settle conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians. It will lead to a heartened Arab will to defend its rights and interests - one of which should be the rebuilding of Lebanon, says Patrick Seale.

 

Middle East Online

Resolution 1701, passed unanimously by the UN Security Council in New York on Friday, August 11, will not end the Lebanon war. But it is an important step in that direction. Compliance, however, is likely to be messy, as is often the case in wars, because each side will seek to secure last minute gains to use as bargaining counters and - most importantly - to demonstrate to its home side that it has won.

Israel is likely to go on bombing and pushing into Lebanon until the very last minute, and beyond it, while Hizbullah will continue to fire rockets to show that it has not been defeated.

In the October war of 1973, Israel, with the approval of then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, continued to attack Egypt in breach of the ceasefire in order to end the war in a strong position and prepare the ground for Egypt's separate peace.

But this time, most observers will conclude that neither side has won the Lebanon war - that in itself is bad news for Israel. In over a month of fighting it has failed to achieve its principal war aim of destroying Hizbullah and stopping rocket attacks against the Israeli heartland.

The war appears to have damaged Israel's position in four distinct ways:

First, it is no longer seen as invincible by Arab and Muslim opinion. This may encourage Arab states, as well as Arab and Islamic non-state actors, to be more assertive in their relations with the Jewish state, and with its American sponsor. Israel's long-standing security doctrine of dominating the region by overwhelming force has been dented, which may in due course force it to accept something like a balance of power - or a balance of deterrence - with its Arab neighbours.

Second, Israel's wanton destruction of Lebanon and its indiscriminate killing of civilians is a black mark on its reputation, which will not easily be forgotten or forgiven. Any ambition it may have had of peaceful integration in the region has received a serious setback. Not for the first time, the IDF's vaunted "purity of arms" has been shown to be a macabre joke.

Third, it is now widely acknowledged that Hizbullah's allies, Syria and Iran, cannot be excluded from the search for a permanent settlement of the region's conflicts. They are major regional actors whose interests must be addressed, if an even more destructive war is not to break out in due course.

Finally, the Lebanon war has brought home to the international community, and to the United States itself, the urgency of a comprehensive settlement of Israel's conflicts with both the Palestinians and Syria, requiring an Israeli withdrawal from territories it seized in 1967, as demanded by UNSCR 242. There is no other way to stop the tide of militant radicalism sweeping the entire Arab and Muslim world.

What about Hizbullah? It must withdraw to the north and allow Lebanese troops, together with a greatly strengthened UNIFIL - in all some 30,000 troops - to patrol the region between the Litani river and the Israeli border and oversee an Israeli withdrawal beyond the blue line. Hizbullah may now face some difficulty in replenishing its arsenal of weapons. But will it be disarmed, as Israel and the United States insist? That remains to be seen. This cannot be done by force and will only be done by agreement between Hizbullah and the Lebanese state.

Israel claims the right to defend itself. But, in view of the terrible experience of the past month, Lebanon also, most definitely, needs to be able to defend itself against future Israeli attacks and incursions. One way of doing so, which has already been the subject of discussion, may be the attachment of Hizbullah's guerrilla force to the Lebanese army, or some form of joint command.

This in turn raises the question of the future of the Shi'a community of Lebanon - easily the largest of the country's 17 different communities - and its representation in the country's institutions and political life. Once peace is restored and the country rebuilt, some adjustment may be necessary in the confessional system of Lebanon's governing power structure.

The war in Lebanon has underlined the key lesson of the war in Iraq: Arabs need to find the means and the will to contain any future aggression by Israel or the United States. Hizbullah has shown the way. Others will now be compelled by public opinion to follow suit. A more robust defence of Arab interests and Arab rights is clearly overdue.

Lebanon is a most precious Arab asset. Its contribution has been immense over the past century to Arab education and culture, to the revival of the Arabic language, to journalism and publishing, to banking and finance, and not least to Arab enjoyment of its climate, its cuisine, and its delightful way of life.

Although it has paid dearly for the quarrels of its neighbours, Lebanon has provided a model for how Arab and Western interests can be reconciled, and also for how different religions and communities can live together in tolerance and mutual harmony.

Lebanon's contribution to the Arab world has been priceless and needs to be revived and preserved. A test of Arab seriousness and maturity will be the speed and generosity with which Arab states, and oil producers in particular, contribute to the rebuilding of Lebanon and the rehabilitation of its shattered population. Saudi Arabia has already made a large contribution. Others must now follow its example.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

 

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