Olmert's Secret Weapon: Prime Minister Deployed a Boomerang

Olmert's weapon certainly did cause massive destruction in Lebanon, and with noted precision, wreaked havoc upon its return to sender.

In his bid to wipe out Hizballah in northern Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert unsheathed his secret weapon: a precision-guided boomerang. This weapon certainly did cause massive destruction in Lebanon and then, with noted precision, wreaked damage upon its return to sender. Indeed, Olmert's foray into Lebanon may well cost him his job.

And Israel itself, as conventional wisdom has correctly had it, has also been damaged, in that an illusion of invincibility has been shattered. Of course, the Islamist victory in Lebanon builds on a succession of such triumphs, from Algeria to Somalia, and potentially in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the chorus on the Lebanon conflict has failed to recognize the decent prospects for a successful multilateral peacekeeping operation in Lebanon. This is because, despite the reversals for Israel, each side has a modicum of victories to highlight--and defeats.

Javier Solana, the European Union's special envoy to the Middle East, summed up Resolution 1701 calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizballah by saying: "All United Nations resolutions are not perfect."

Solana said both parties would need to show "good faith." Indeed, good faith, a few prayers and 30,000 well-armed soldiers: 15,000 from the Lebanese army and 15,000 United Nations troops could possibly do the trick.

Despite its many shortcomings, one critical aspect remains: Resolution 1701 will likely be respected because both Israel and Hizballah find themselves at a point in the conflict where each can--to some degree--claim victory of sorts and have sufficient motivation to see the fighting end.

Hizballah resisted the full brunt of the Israeli army for an entire month. By comparison, it took Israel six days to defeat the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in 1967. And six years later, it took Israel 18 days to turn the tides of initial advances by Egypt and Syria after the two Arab countries launched a surprise attack on Yom Kippur in October 1973.

Hizballah settled for the cease-fire because--despite countering the Israeli invasion and putting up a stiff fight for 31 days in a number of villages in south Lebanon, and despite having fired close to 4,000 rockets into Israel--it is questionable how much longer the Shi'a militia could have kept up its resistance. Hizballah has undoubtedly suffered heavy casualties among its fighters. Although the group has not revealed exact numbers, Israel claims to have killed close to 600.

Hizballah faces the prospect that some Lebanese may come to blame it for Israel's massive retaliation that destroyed much of the country's infrastructure--bridges, roads, power plants--as the headiness of defiance wears off and the daily inconvenience of the wreckage settles in. The economy has been set back some 20 years and a promising tourist season, one of Lebanon's primary sources of income, is lost. More than 1,000 civilians were killed, 3,600 wounded and one million internal refugees have been created.

Hizballah must have clearly felt the pressure from its own constituents, the Shi'a community in Lebanon. They were the ones most affected by the war and the vast majority of the nearly one million refugees forced to leave their homes in southern Lebanese villages and Beirut's southern Shi'a suburbs.

On the positive side for Israel, Olmert did manage to distance Hizballah from Israel's northern frontier, creating a buffer zone in which the Shi'a militia should--in principle--be absent and in which the 15,000 Lebanese army troops and the 15,000 UNIFIL troops should act as a deterrent, preventing Hizballah from returning to the proximity of Israel's northern border. But at what price?

Indeed, Israel is left with a nominal, shallow victory. Israel had intended to destroy Hizballah and humiliate the Shi'a militia for having largely been responsible in bringing about Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000. This has been a point of contention with Israeli politicians and particularly with its military.

But Israel came short of achieving its intended goals: crushing Hizballah and of obtaining the release of its two prisoners, kidnapped by Hizballah in mid-July. A war that was meant to last a few days dragged into more than four weeks with the military suffering a high rate of casualties and heavy loss of equipment--not to mention that nearly one million Israelis had to be evacuated from the north of the country to escape Hizballah's daily deluge of rockets, incurring a huge economic drain on the country.

And of the two men who led their forces into this war--Ehud Olmert and Hassan Nasrallah--it is Nasrallah who comes out looking better. His popularity has skyrocketed in the Arab and Islamic world, and although he will be taken to task by his fellow Lebanese at a later date, for the moment, even the Christians in Lebanon look at him with greater respect.

On the other side of the border, many Israelis are criticizing Olmert's (mis)adventure that claimed the lives of more than one hundred Israeli soldiers and about fifty civilians.

As dissonant as it may sound amid the death and destruction, the peacekeepers who will descend on Lebanon may provide the only bonafide victory--for the people of Lebanon, that is.

 

Claude Salhani is international editor and a political analyst with United Press International in Washington, DC and editor of The Middle East Times