COMMENTARY
 
In Lebanon, who defeated whom?
Weekly Pulse
August 25-31, 2006
Back in 1999, when NATO aircrafts, bombed the Serbian forces of Yugoslavia out of Muslim Kosovo, Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic celebrated the event as the victory of the Serbs. His Serbian nationalist project thrived on a similar mentality, whereby the Ottoman victory in the Battle of Kosovo against Serbs was celebrated as the victory of the latter. Likewise, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain projected the US-led Coalition’s victory in the 1991 Gulf War as the victory of the Iraqis.

The recent conflict in Lebanon has once again brought to the fore this tendency of seeing victory even in defeat, which is characteristic of emotionally charged groupings of people. Wars are seldom won. In today’s world of information, a victory in the battlefield may be a defeat in the battle of ideas. Seen from this angle, Hezbollah may have won militarily, which itself is questionable, but Israel seems to have lost the battle of ideas.

The conflict in Lebanon is hardly over yet, since Israeli forces are still in south Lebanon and have also conducted a commando raid to prevent the alleged supply of Syrian arms to Hezbollah. This harsh reality alone puts to ashes all of the celebratory voices I have heard from preachers, politicians, and TV reporters in the Muslim world about “Hezbollah’s victory.”

Last week, the Centre for Research Communication and Dialogue, an Islamabad-based NGO, organised a dialogue on the regional and international implications of the conflict in Lebanon. It was sad to hear similar voice at that platform as well, including a self-proclaimed anti-war activist from Lahore who went to the extent of suggesting, quite hypocritically, the use of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as a political leverage in such conflict situations confronting the so-called Muslim Ummah.

Hezbollah’s Misperceived Victory

  Even if we presume for a while that Hezbollah has won, then we must ask ourselves the following question: Can a war outcome that comes at the cost of over 1200 civilian lives, many of them children, be hailed as a victory? Are so many Lebanese lives worth a so-called Hezbollah victory?

The level of destruction in Lebanon as a result of Israel aerial bombardment is such that an estimated cost of $7 billion will be required to rebuild the country, and this can take several years, if not less. Finally, if “war is the continuation of politics by other means,” to borrow Clausewitz’s definition, then this whole notion of Hezbollah attaining victory over Israel becomes questionable.

Since the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah had been acting as another pressure point against Israel from across the Blue Line that separates south Lebanon from northern Israel. The Hamas government in Palestine, especially after last year’s unilateral handing over of Gaza to Hamas by Israel, was another source of trouble for Israel.

Now, under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, with the deployment of 30,000 Lebanese troops and UN peace-keepers, south Lebanon, the Hezbollah stronghold, will become a buffer zone. This simply means the end of Hezbollah’s role as a second pressure point against Israel in addition to Hamas. If we extend the same argument a bit further, then this would imply that Israelis may now be freer than before in settling their scores with Hamas; or that Hamas, which represents a majority of Palestinians, will be more isolated.

Israel: Passing the Buck

In other words, the task of creating a safe and secure environment for the Israelis from across their Lebanese frontier, which the Israelis were trying to accomplish militarily, has now been effectively handed over to the Lebanese government and the international community. As long as both keep Hezbollah in check, Israel will comply with the terms of Resolution 1701, which calls the Jewish entity to respect a ceasefire and not to take any offensive military action in violation of Lebanon’s territorial integrity.

It is true that Israel failed to achieve its military objectives. It miscalculated the Lebanese public response, which, instead of turning against Hezbollah, turned against Israel. The massive Israeli bombardment of the country’s civilian population and assets only helped to consolidate the nationalistic aspirations of the ethnically and religiously divisive population of Lebanon. The international media coverage of the conflict also helped project the fascist nature of the Israeli state.

Despite this, however, the fact on the ground after the ceasefire came into effect, and the events as they have been evolving since then, seem to indicate that the Israelis might achieve politically what they could not achieve militarily. As I said before, under Resolution 1701, the responsibility for providing security to Israel against Hezbollah has now shifted to Lebanon and the UN. Insofar as the questions of the return of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah’s disarmament are concerned, the Security Council resolution is quite clear on both.

Security Council Resolution 1701

Just consider the following sections of this resolution: Its Paragraph 8, among others, calls for “full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state; No sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its government.”

Under Paragraph 11, the UN International Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), numbering 15,000 will “assist the Lebanese armed forces (also numbering 15,000) in taking steps towards the establishment of the area as referred to in paragraph 8…to assist (the government of Lebanon) to exercise its authority throughout the territory.”

The Resolution “authorizes UNIFIL to take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind.” It “calls upon the government of Lebanon to secure its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry in Lebanon without its consent of arms or related materiel and requests UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11 to assist the government of Lebanon at its request.”

Resolution 1701 repeatedly refers to the 2004 Security Council Resolution 1559, which was coauthored by France and the United States and has been quite controversial in Lebanese politics. Echoing the Taif agreement, the resolution “calls upon all remaining foreign forces (meaning Syrian forces) to withdraw from Lebanon” and “for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias (meaning Hezbollah)”

Hezbollah’s Disarmament

While the first leg of the resolution was implemented last year after the withdrawl of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the other leg remained unimplemented. Some writers on the Middle east have suggested that the reason hezbollah triggered the recent conflict by killing and kidnapping Israeli soldiers was to ambolden its deteriorating political position in Lebanon and prevent eventual disarmament. Under the Taif agreement, all of lebanese militias were disarmed except Hezbollah whose armament was perceived to be solely in the context of its military conduct vis-à-vis Israel and within the perview of the unsettled Palestinian question.

The repeated reference to Resolution 1559 in the most recent Security Council Resolution on Lebanon means that the latter’s implementation is essentially linked to the realisation of the former. Now it is a fact of the matter that Security Council resolutions, especially if they pertain to the troubling Middle Eastern region, are seldom implemented in full. Even in the case of the present resolution, the question of the return of Shab’s farms to Lebanon and kidnapped Israeli soldiers to Israel will create problems in realising other fundamental goals, but then we must also remember that, like Resolution 1559, the present resolution is a consensus resolution, backed by the United States and even France.

If the previous resolution could force Syria out of Lebanon, for which there was growing solid Lebanese public support as well, the current one may eventually lead to the disarmament of Hezbollah. Even if that does not take place, whether Hezbollah retains arms or nor is immaterial if in the presence of 30,000 Lebanese and international troops, the Shiite militia is unable to make use of its arms against Israel.

To repeat the argument made above, the creation of a buffer zone in south Lebanon, manned jointly by Lebanon’s armed forces and UN Peacekeepers renders Hezbollah’s military effectiveness and political utility nearly obsolete—unless, of course, Hezbollah is ready to strike again. Anf if it strikes again, Israel will be provoked to undertake another round of madness, causing yet more destruction and suffering on the innocent people caught in the crossfire on both sides.