The July-August 2006 conflagration between Israel and the Lebanese Shiite Islamist Hezbollah movement defies the common presumption that the Arab-Israeli conflict is inherently zero sum - that Israel's loss is always a commensurate gain for its adversaries, and vice versa.
As UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown remarked during the fourth week of fighting, this was an "odd war" in which "both sides think they're winning".
In fact, both sides achieved significant gains that may ultimately outweigh their losses and shift the dynamics of the conflict into a stable equilibrium.
Following the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, the Israeli Government declined to respond forcefully to Hezbollah provocations for nearly six years. Fierce Israeli reprisals for cross-border attacks risked provoking Hezbollah into raining rockets on northern Israel, which would push any Israeli Government ineluctably into a full-scale war in Lebanon.
In view of Israel's preoccupation with the second Palestinian intifada, American desire for stability in Syrian-occupied Lebanon, and continued hopes that Syrian President Bashar Assad would come to the peace table, the day of reckoning was continually put off.
This tepid reprisal policy not only encouraged Hezbollah to continue the raids, but also bolstered the ability of its Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to win the acquiescence of the Lebanese political establishment after the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.
Public outrage in Israel following Hezbollah's July 12 abduction of two Israeli soldiers gave Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert a blank cheque to wage a full-scale war in Lebanon.
Although the declared goals of the Israeli campaign evolved during the fighting, it was geared toward the pursuit of distinct military, strategic, diplomatic, and political objectives.
The military outcome
Israel's primary military objective was to degrade Hezbollah's ability to launch cross-border air and ground attacks within whatever window of opportunity allowed for by Olmert's diplomatic campaign.
This relegation of military objectives behind diplomatic and political goals was based on the recognition that no military outcome would be decisive unless Hezbollah faced an effective arms embargo or domestic constraints in refitting its paramilitary apparatus after the war.
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