The idea purports that Israel failed to break Hizbullah’s operational capabilities, or destroy its weapons arsenals, or eliminate it from the political scene. And, consequently, this all implies Israel lost politically and militarily in 2006. Reality demonstrates, especially after the loss by Hizbullah’s political coalition in the June 7th elections, these ideas are categorically wrong. Hizbullah can now be called the statistical loser of that war. While both governments that fought that war were defeated in parliamentary elections this year, Hizbullah’s loss is much starker. Hizbullah predicated its “victory” on its actual survival and political capital. Israel never calculated any sort of loss in regards to the political fortunes of the Kadima government, but in military and strategic outcomes. Hizbullh lost the Second Lebanon War.
As incompetent a decision Ehud Olmert’s government made to fight the war the way it did, there was little credit or acknowledgment ever given to Israel for its successes during the war or that Israel had held back the bulk of its force from invading Lebanon. 1982 was an instance of a calculated, full-scale invasion that saw Israel with totally different objectives. The Israeli army was in Beirut within days. In 2006, Ehud Olmert started his war in immediate response to provocation, and was meant to both demonstrate the strength of Israel’s capabilities plus hurt Hizbullah politically for recklessness.
Comparing 1982 to 2006
In 1982, the Israeli government had made a controversial decision to not only throw the PLO out of Lebanon, but fill the power vacuum left open by the Lebanese Civil War and establish a government friendly to Israel. It was seen as a once-in-a-generation chance to stabilize one of Israel’s neighbors and establish peaceful relations with an Arab state. As this objective became clear, Israelis saw the political goals as dangerous and prone to new problems Israel had never experienced before. But at the time of the invasion, public support was immense and the country was unaware the motives were more than just destroying the PLO.
In 2006, Hizbullah was not thrown out of Lebanon, nor was there ever a chance they would be totally destroyed militarily. It was a total response with the objective of inflicting as much visible damage to Hizbullah as possible in the shortest possible amount of time. Dozens of raids across the Israeli-Lebanese border were not launched in invasion formations, nor were they intended to cpature large swaths of Lebanese territory like in 1982. There was no mission on the table to capture southern Beirut, the stronghold of Hizbullah’s political power and administration.
Hizbullah’s Political War
The response was in fact predicted by Hizbullah’s leadership. Hassan Nasrallah himself has denied this implicitly. He said in August 27, 2006, “Had we known that the capture of the soldiers would have led to this, we would definitely not have done it.” The statement though is controversial, considering Hizbullah’s raid on Israeli soldiers was made at the height of Operation Summer Rains, the first Israel-Gaza war, lunched that June in response to the capture of Gilad Shalit.
Nasrallah launched his raid to capture soldiers, banking on an Israeli response similar to the massive onslaught in the Gaza Strip that was already going on. His motives were not based on capturing soldiers for a prisoner exchange like he has claimed, but because of the intense pressure the Lebanese government was imposing on Hizbullah to disarm. The Lebanese government had been trying to negotiate an Israeli withdrawal from the disputed Shebaa Farms, hoping to take away Hizbullah’s last reason to hold on to its weapons. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora had been sending messages to Israel, via the US and British governments, for months.
In September 2004, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1559, which advised the disarmament of Hizbullah and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. In 2005, Lebanese went into massive protests demanding the Syrians leave after the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Hizbullah was under intense pressure.
Now, almost three years after the huge “victory rally” in September 2006, Hizbullah’s political alliance has not come out with the results it foresaw. It may have to fight for veto power in the new government. Lebanese have responded they do not overwhelmingly support a “resistance” that uses its firepower to take over half of Beirut and coerce the government into giving the militia more power. Lebanese know full well the assassination of major politicians, including ministers, has made Hizbullah’s ascent in the government easier.
Requiem for a Victory
Today, UNIFIL in southern Lebanon patrols the border with 15,000 soldiers. Hizbullah was hesitant to launch another war this January when Israel went to war with Gaza for the second time in three years. Iran is increasingly unpopular as an instigator, while the United States’ new president gains traction among Arabs. The US will now become a stronger patron of the Lebanese army, ratheting up pressure on Hizbullah to disarm. In the picture I see, I would say confidently Israel won the Second Lebanon War.
(June 8, 2009) Note: I published this stating both “governments” involved in the 2006 war lost elections this year. This is a misnomer, Hizbullah was a minority member of the cabinet and that Lebanese cabinet never authorized the operation. Ehud Olmert’s government at the beginning of the war declared the Lebanese government as a whole responsible for Hizbullah’s actions because of that minority, but several days later publicly declared it considered Hizbullah the beliigerent with whom Israel was at war.