Three of Lebanon's top politicians have spoken out. Sunni leader Said Hariri and Druse leader Walid Jumblatt, who hate Hizbullah and Syria (which murdered both of their fathers) and thinks they are destroying the country, stated that Syria was trying to claim credit for Hizbullah's great victory. Why, they asked, didn't Syria attack Israel in the Golan Heights instead of just watching the fighting? But they also criticized Syria for seeking to take over Lebanon again and sought to curry favor with other Arab regimes by highlighting the Syrian government's vicious rhetorical attacks on Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The Monty Python Prize for Arab politics must go to Emile Lahoud, the well-known Syrian puppet who also happens to be Lebanon's president. Hizbullah, he explains, "is part of the Lebanese army." Rather than disarm Hizbullah, he is saying, Lebanon's army should fight alongside of it. Israel, by his account, should turn over southern Lebanon to the joint Lebanese army-Hizbullah forces. Aside from invalidating the cease-fire, what Lahoud has done is to justify completely Israel's war effort. For if Hizbullah is part of Lebanon's army (it is already a member of the coalition government), then the attack on Israel was an act of war by Lebanon, which was completely responsible for everything that happened next. If this is true, why should the international community rush reconstruction aid to the aggressor? And how can a cease-fire depend on a government which views itself not as Hizbullah's master but as its ally? We may very well be on the verge of an amazing turnaround regarding the cease-fire in Lebanon organized by the UN Security Council. Consider the following points: A. Hizbullah says it will not disarm voluntarily either in southern Lebanon or in the rest of the country. B. Lebanon says it will not disarm Hizbullah unless it wants to be disarmed. C. France, which is leading the national force of 15,000 UNIFIL soldiers that is supposed to be organized, says it will not send any troops if Hizbullah still has arms in southern Lebanon. D. Israel says that if Hizbullah does return to its positions with weapons, the IDF will resume its offensive. In short, the whole basis of the cease-fire is on the verge of collapse, and it is hard to see how it can be saved. The reason for this is that Hizbullah will not even accept the minimum actions needed to activate the cease-fire. Its motives for this are several:
Hizbullah leaders may believe their
Given their ideology and practice, they are not interested in making any compromise but believe they can get everything they want.
They are being prodded toward intransigence by Iran and Syria.
They have contempt for the West, which they see as a paper tiger, unwilling to take action against them.
Yet their concept of the situation is quite wrong. On a military level, they lost the war, despite their public relations successes. What we saw is actually fairly typical of wars historically. One side attacks using new techniques and weapons, at first scoring some successes. After a while, however, the other side adapts to these challenges and goes on to inflict heavy losses and take control of the battlefield.
Remember, for example, both fronts in World War II. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, using aircraft carriers in a new manner, and destroyed the American fleet, as well as taking the Philippines and other territory. But the US came back, with its superior resources and technology, to win the war. The same thing happened in Europe, where early German successes were reversed by Britain, the USSR and the US.
In 1973, the Egyptians inflicted heavy losses on Israel using new anti-tank weapons, and pushed into Sinai. By the end of the war, though, Israel had encircled the Egyptian 3rd Army and crossed the Suez Canal in the opposite direction. The same thing happened on the Golan Heights, where Syria almost broke through the Israeli tank forces before being pushed back almost to Damascus.
If the war restarts, Hizbullah is going to face far greater pressures, especially since the Israeli government's leaders have already been harshly criticized for going too slowly in the ground offensive.
And that is not all. Hizbullah may face a two-front war. Lebanese Christians, Druze and Sunnis, the majority of the population, are largely angry at how Hizbullah dragged their country into a war and is increasingly subjugated it to Iran and Syria.
Even within Hizbullah's own Shi'ite constituency, the rival Amal movement is trying to make a comeback by showing Shi'ites that it provides better services than Hizbullah. How are those just returning to southern Lebanon going to feel about the prospect of fleeing again?
The Saudis are eager to fund anti-Hizbullah forces in Lebanon. There may or may not be another civil war in Lebanon but Hizbullah is definitely not becoming more popular there, whatever cheers it receives from those elsewhere in the Arab world who paid no price for the fighting.
And what about the international community? It is not going to be happy about Hizbullah, with the help of its Iranian and Syrian backers, wrecking the UN peace effort. It is going to be hard to criticize Israel for taking military action under such conditions.
Everything could turn around very quickly. Given what is happening, this prospect seems pretty possible.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary University and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal.