Hezbollah will claim victory irrespective of the outcome

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Hezbollah will declare victory no matter what and regardless of the results, consequences and cost.

Hezbollah came into existence after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The occupation of Southern Lebanon for 22 years had created the environment for the incubation and rise of Hezbollah (the Party of God).

It grew and expanded in the slums of South Beirut. Supported financially by Iran and politically by Syria it became a significant player in the Lebanese political scene. The unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli forces from Lebanon in May 2000 had enhanced the reputation and popularity of Hezbollah. Since then, Hezbollah proceeded to build its military arsenal thanks to Syria and Iran, its two main backers.

The Iranian connection has ideological and religious roots. Both Iran and Hezbollah belong to the Shi’ite branch of Islam. Hezbollah’s main constituency is in the south of the country and the impoverished southern suburbs of Beirut. Iran channels assistance to the poor through Hezbollah its main ally and proxy in Lebanon. As for the Syrian connection this has to do with Syria’s desire to maintain a presence in Lebanon. Up and until April 2005 Syria maintained a strong grip on Lebanese affairs. The assassination of former Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafik Hariri ended Syria’s foothold in Lebanon abruptly.

Fearing the same fate as Saddam Hussein, Bashar Al-Assad the Syrian President decided to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1559 by withdrawing its troops from Lebanon for good. This had weakened Hezbollah. Syria was loath to leave Lebanon and would like to continue to have influence in Lebanon’s affairs through Hezbollah and use this connection as a negotiating card with the USA. It is worth remembering that The UN Security Council Resolution 1559 called also for the disarming of all militias including Hezbollah, and the redeployment of Lebanese |Government troops alongside the borders with Israel in the South. These two provisions have not been implemented. The Lebanese Government is too weak to disarm Hezbollah. However the current Israeli onslaught is expected to weaken Hezbollah and strengthen the Lebanese government who might at long last impose its authority on Hezbollah and take control of the southern borders.

Unfortunately the Israeli tactics so far have not yielded the desired results. The use of excessive and disproportionate force against civilian targets and the indiscriminate destruction of civilian infrastructure would ultimately undermine the Lebanese government and by default enhance the reputation of Hezbollah for standing up to Israel.

Hezbollah can claim victory by simply showing the Lebanese and Arab peoples that it is willing to fight and die defending Lebanon and the Arab causes. Neglecting of course to mention that the entire episode was orchestrated in Tehran and Hezbollah is doing Iran’s bidding in its war of words with the US over its clandestine nuclear programme.

Hezbollah’s miscalculation two weeks ago when it abducted the two Israeli soldiers has led to questions about its allegiances. Is it loyal to Iran or Lebanon? There is a school of thought in the Middle East which supports the view that Hezbollah is acting on behalf of Iran and not on behalf of Lebanon.

Whilst the destructive bombardment of Lebanon proceeds at a frantic pace, Hezbollah can claim victory regardless of the final outcome. It can claim it has shattered the myth of the invincible Israeli army. Furthermore if Israel fails to achieve its political objectives quickly, Hezbollah’s position in Lebanon and the wider Islamic world would be given a much needed boost.

The London Financial Times editorial of 21st July summed it up as follows:” Israel is on the way to defeating its aims, Israel’s strategic goal, to destroy its most effective adversary, which drove Israeli forces out of Lebanon in 2000 after a 22 year occupation, does not appear to be working” It is now clear that Hezbollah has survived the initial Israeli onslaught. It has actually survived so far twice the length time the Arab armies did in the 1967 six-day war.

This is frustrating for the Israeli military establishment which was famous for its swift victories. This explains the ferocity of the aerial bombardment which hit mainly civilian infrastructure targets in Lebanon. The Israeli army generals must be wondering what went wrong. The Israeli politicians and their military counterparts seem unable to think clearly and objectively.

The confusion and contradictions can be seen in the following examples:

Israel demands that the Lebanese army deploys in the southern border of Lebanon to ensure security and calm. Yet the Israeli air force targeted Lebanese army barracks killing 12 soldiers who are not even involved in the fighting. The second example is that most of Hezbollah’s installations, fortifications and personnel remained intact and yet the civilian death tolls exceeded three hundred. The Israeli Army is showering the southern villages with leaflets urging them to leave their homes and head north. Fine, but all the roads and bridges have been destroyed and there are no safe escape routes. This kind of behaviour by Israel will not endear it to the population and those sections which are opposed to Hezbollah’s ideology and tactics.

So far, Hezbollah can claim that it is still functioning and is able to pose a threat to Israel.

Hezbollah can claim victory for being able to fire rockets and missiles into Israeli northern towns and cities. This has not happened before. Even Saddam’s scuds were largely useless and symbolic. Yet Hezbollah’s missiles have caused significant damage and loss of life in Haifa and Safed.

Hezbollah can also claim victory if a ceasefire is declared this week or next week, having been able to frustrate Israel’s political ambition of subduing Hezbollah and rescuing the two soldiers who were abducted by Hezbollah some two weeks ago.

Even if Hezbollah was militarily defeated it would still claim victory for fighting the biggest military machine outside NATO and Russia.

On the other hand Hezbollah can claim victory even if forced to implement the provisions of the UN Security Council Resolution 1559 which involves laying its arms and allowing the Lebanese army to deploy along the southern borders with Israel. Hezbollah can claim that it has done so, to save Lebanon and to maintain the unity of Lebanon.

Having said that, I would add that Hezbollah has made a strategic error in igniting the front without calculating fully the consequences of their actions. They underestimated the scale and ferocity of the Israeli response. They have failed to anticipate the immense economic loss to the fragile Lebanese economy and the loss of human life.

Regardless of the outcome, Hezbollah will claim victory. Conversely Israel cannot claim victory until and unless it secures the surrender or the destruction of Hezbollah as a fighting force and to safely rescue the two soldiers from Hezbollah. This is very important as we are told by the Israeli information and PR machines that the entire military campaign is to bring the two soldiers home.

Nehad Ismail is a writer and broadcaster, who writes about issues related to the Middle East from his home in London.