Friday, August 25, 2006

The Bitter Taste of Victory

Michael Young of the newspaper Daily Star in Lebanon has a piece in Reason Magazine about the great Hizbollah victory in Lebanon.

Hezbollah beat Israel in the latest war in Lebanon, and if you have any doubts, listen to what a certified expert on defeat, Syria's President Bashar Assad, had to say:

"We tell [Israel] that after tasting humiliation in the latest battles, your weapons are not going to protect you—not your planes, or missiles, or even your nuclear bombs... The future generations in the Arab world will find a way to defeat Israel."
A few more defeats like the Israelis suffered and they will control all of Lebanon. Michael quotes a few more luminaries and pundits and then gets to the heart of the matter.
Well, since it's all settled that Hezbollah has won, let's just open a six-pack of non-alcoholic beer and drink to the health of the party's secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, the Arab world's latest Che Guevara.

But what kind of victory is this that, even by Hezbollah's unexacting standards, must qualify as a major setback? In its public appraisals of the conflict, Hezbollah has ignored what Israel did to those parts of Lebanon the party cannot claim as its own. Its cries of triumph have been focused on the stubborn resistance put up by Hezbollah combatants in south Lebanon. Nothing has been heard from party leaders about the billions of dollars of losses in infrastructure; about the immediate losses to businesses that will be translated into higher unemployment; about the long-term opportunity costs of the fighting; about the impact that political instability will have (indeed has already had) on public confidence and on youth emigration; and about the general collapse in morale that Lebanon faces.
I think Hizballah would count those results as positive if their ultimate ambition was to turn Lebanon into a Hizballah controlled state. The losses to Lebanon are not a serious concern to them if those losses advance their goal.

Then Michael goes into what Hizballah has lost.
Take the rationale for Hezbollah's rockets. For some time it has been obvious that the weapons, estimated to number between 10,000 and 15,000, were mainly there to help deter an American or Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear facilities. Nor did the Iranians distinguish between aggressors. Last May, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Rear Adm. Muhammad-Ebrahim Dehqani stated, "We have announced that wherever America does something evil, the first place that we target will be Israel." He didn't mention Hezbollah or Lebanon, but it didn't take much discernment to see that Iranian retaliation would at least partly come from across Israel's northern border.
Deterance is based on fear. Did the rockets create more fear in Israel causing the Israelis to beg for a cease fire? Just the opposite. They were demanding that the Army take Lebanon up to the Litani and the Bekaa Valley. The strongholds of Hizballah. Michael covers his reasons why the deterance is gone. His reasons focus on Lebanon.
Does that deterrence option still exist? Yes and no. Hezbollah is believed to have many more rockets in storage and its network of bunkers in south Lebanon is probably mostly intact. However, it cannot initiate a conflict without facing the political fallout of imposing new suffering on its already traumatized Shiite community. Almost a million Shiites were thrown into the streets by Israeli bombardments between July and August. Hezbollah has started distributing money to the community, but that won't pay for much of the horrendous suffering—lives lost, profitable businesses closed, self-respect gone for those without homes or livelihoods, and much else that cash handouts cannot remedy.
That I think was the crux of the war for Israel. Making Hizballah financially responsible for the shia of Lebanon. I discussed that more extensively in: Cash Flow Jihad Meets Aftermath. I believe in that piece, I estimated the number of refugees at 100,000 to 200,000. That they number close to a million emphasizes my point. The cash drain will be larger.

Michael then discusses why it will be harder for Hizballah to start the next battle. First, the shia will resent being used as cannon fodder for Iran. Second two armies will be deployed in Southern Lebanon. The Lebanese Army and the UN "Peace Keepers". They would not prevent a war. They would complicate it.

Then Michael discusses what Hizballah/Nasrallah owes Iran
Nasrallah also has accounts to settle with Iran. The regime in Tehran has not only seen its main reason for supporting Hezbollah go up in smoke in a largely futile endeavor, but must now dole out large sums of compensation money to Lebanese Shiites so the party can hold on to its base of support, even as Iran's poor complain their regime has left them by the wayside. Iran will probably pay out the money (though I've heard unconfirmed reports of delays), but of what value is this if Hezbollah cannot fire on Israel in the event of an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities? Or, to the contrary, of what value is the compensation if, by firing on Israel at Tehran's behest, Hezbollah only brings new destruction down on the heads of Shiites, who might then turn against Nasrallah?
Iran is going to lose money or prestige. Either one will be a serious blow.
Some analyses suggest Iranian officials are livid with Nasrallah for having squandered massive Iranian investment in Hezbollah. Missing from this, however, is that the party has also managed to turn the Lebanese consensus squarely against the party. Despite Saad-Ghorayeb's assertion that the balance of power will change in Lebanon, in the past week the opposite seems to have been true, as both the government and the parliamentary majority, made up of the so-called March 14 forces hostile to Syria and critical of Hezbollah, have worked to curtail any effort by Nasrallah to transform his so-called victory into political gains. Indeed, as the costs of the war are tallied, there has been a noticeable lack of enthusiasm in Lebanon to see the war as anything but a calamity. With the party itself deeply occupied with the Shiites' rehabilitation, it has not been able to reverse this mood.
The Hizballah manpower is now almost totally occupied with a task for which it is ill suited. Large scale logistics in a country with a badly broken road net. They have to supply communications, fuel, food, water, shelter, and sanitary facilities to people who are mostly used to city living (the missing areas of Beirut). All this of course costs money. However, as a terrorist organization Hizballah doesn't have access to banks. So they have to carry in cash from Iran (via Syria), which complicates their mission. Moving a lot of cash in a wild country requires a lot of armed guards. This further detracts from their available force.
So perhaps a victory it is, but in that case Hezbollah's victory is no different than most other Arab victories in recent decades: the "victory" of October 1973, where Egypt and Syria managed to cross into Israeli-held land, their land, only to be later saved from a thrashing by timely United Nations intervention; the "victory" of 1982, where Palestinian groups were ultimately expelled from West Beirut, but were proud to have stayed in the fight for three months; the Iraqi "victory" of 1991, where Saddam Hussein brought disaster on his country but still held on to power. Now we have the Hezbollah "victory" of 2006: the Israelis bumbled and blundered, but still managed to create a million refugees, to kill over 1,000 people, and to kick Lebanon's economy back several years. One dreads to imagine what Hezbollah would recognize as a military loss.
A few more Hizballah victories like this one and Hizballah will be out of business. A few more Israeli defeats like the one they suffered in Lebanon and they will control all of Lebanon. Some victory. Some defeat.

Ht tip: Instapundit

Update: 27 Aug '06 0552z

Sand Monkey discusses Michael Young.

Across the Bay discusses Michael Young.

Update: 27 Aug '06 2328z

Captain's Quarters is of the opinion Hizballah lost.

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