Lebanon held the attention of the world for weeks after a successful Hizballah kidnapping operation on July 12, 2006, led Israel to pummel the country in a sustained air campaign and a limited ground offensive. Almost all observers agreed the clash had enormous implications-former House Speaker Newt Gingrich even claimed the conflict was "World War III." But unlike other wars, the winners and losers were not clear when the dust settled.
Pundits were quick to proclaim Hizballah the winner, but Hizballah's leader Hassan Nasrallah openly admitted that the raid was a strategic mistake. Other analysts point to Israel's degradation of Hizballah's long-range missile capabilities, but Israelis take small comfort in this, knowing their own performance was flawed both militarily and politically. Lebanon itself suffered horribly, and though its fledgling democratic government survived and became a major player in the diplomacy that led to the ending of the conflict, militarily it was forced to stand by helplessly during the crisis.
Nor do other parties come off looking good. The United States emerged looking both cruel and ineffective in Muslim eyes. European states engaged in typical hand-waving during the war and in even more typical bickering over who would do what in a post-clash peacekeeping operation, even though this at best looks like a fig leaf. Iran and Syria, Hizballah's patrons, did better, but even they may eventually find the results a mixed blessing.
Before we can assess the results of the war, it is important to be clear on several points. Reports that Iran prodded Hizballah to attack to divert attention from the Iranian nuclear program seem to be false: The dispute over the Iranian program has been going on for years with no end in sight, and Hizballah had tried other operations in the past as well.