The war isn't really over yet. A cease-fire took effect on Monday, Aug. 14, but might not hold. It's possible the war will pick up again. If that happens, some of what I have written below might no longer apply. If that happens, I promise to come to your house and correct your printed copy of this column in pen.*
With that caveat in mind, the winners and losers of this war are still fairly obvious.
The biggest loser is Lebanon. Approximately 1,300 Lebanese -- the overwhelming majority of them civilians -- died before the cease-fire. More than 4,000 people were wounded, and approximately 900,000 were displaced. Tens of thousands of the country's wealthiest, most well-educated citizens fled. Some will likely never return. Hezbo-in-Chief Hassan Nasrallah said in a recent speech that 15,000 homes were destroyed. Keep in mind, Lebanon has fewer than 4 million people.
Lebanon's economy and physical infrastructure were devastated over the past month. Damage to Lebanon's transportation, electrical and public works (including water and sewer) are estimated at $3.5 billion. Unemployment during the conflict was estimated by the Associated Press to be around 75 percent. Lebanon's lucrative tourist industry suffered hundreds of millions in lost revenue, and a large oil spill triggered by an Israeli air strike on a Lebanese power plant has so far damaged more than 85 miles of Lebanon's Mediterranean coastline. It continues to spread, threatening Lebanon's tourism industry for years to come.
Israel is also a big loser. In the war's opening hours, Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, said that Israel "would turn back Lebanon's clock 20 years." Sadly, that was the only war objective Israel seems to have achieved.
The two Israeli soldiers whose kidnapping by Hezbollah triggered the war have not been released.
And though Israel was reportedly able to destroy 80 percent of medium- and long-range Hezbo missile stock, which might have saved Tel Aviv from attack, Hezbo's ability to strike northern Israel with short-range Katyusha rockets appears undiminished. Destroying Hezbo's ability to strike at northern Israel, the most important long-term strategic goal of the war for Israel, was not achieved. The Hezbos launched nearly 4,000 rockets at Israel, killing 39 Israeli civilians, wounding several hundred and displacing 300,000.
The Israeli public's confidence in its military and political leadership has been severely shaken. Though Israelis overwhelmingly supported their government's decision to go to war, the same public largely disapproves of its government's handling of the war. The Israeli government overestimated its ability to damage the Hezbos and underestimated its ability to return fire.
The winner of the war is, of course, Hezbollah. By responding against the whole of Lebanon to a kidnapping committed by Hezbollah, Israel was hoping to drive a wedge between Hezbollah and the rest of Lebanon's population. The opposite happened. Many non-Shi'ite Lebanese rallied around Hezbollah and focused their hostility on Israel for dropping the bombs and the U.S. for enabling them.
Any chance that Lebanon's Christian, Sunni and Druze communities would dare try to rein in or disarm Hezbollah has, for the time-being, vanished. All Lebanon's mixed-religion government can do is sit tight for now and hope Hezbollah doesn't attempt to formally hijack the whole government, a move that would probably start another vicious, sectarian civil war like the one fought from 1975 to 1990 that left 100,000 dead.
According to a recent poll (conducted in Arabic but mentioned in English on angryarab.blogspot.com), Hezbo's Nasrallah is now the most popular political leader in the Arab world. No. 2 is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Hezbollah's chief benefactor, which is stunning because Iranians aren't even Arabs.
If you have any doubt that Hezbollah emerged from this war triumphant, you need only heed the words of President Bush. On Aug. 14, speaking at the State Department, Dubya declared, "Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis."
When the administration that brought you "Mission Accomplished" and "Last Throes" says you've been defeated, you know you've won.
The Lebanon war will profoundly affect the U.S.-Iran nuclear standoff and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I'll address those at a later date.
*Not a sincere promise
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