Winner and Losers

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(HOST) The Americans, the Israelis and the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah are all saying they were the winners of the latest Lebanese War. This morning’s commentator Barrie Dunsmore examines those claims.

(DUNSMORE) The very fact that three of the major parties to the latest conflict in Lebanon are claiming victory, makes this one significantly different than previous Middle East wars. In all of the wars in the past four decades, Israel emerged as the clear cut victor. After a pre-emptive strike, it routed all the Arab armies in just six days in 1967. It drove the Egyptians and the Syrians back in two weeks after being attacked in 1973. And in the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israeli troops took just two days to reach the outskirts of Beirut.

As the smoke begins to clear following last Monday’s cease fire, this time there is no uncontested victor. Israel did some serious damage to Hezbollah’s military capabilities. The U.S., belatedly, achieved a U.N. resolution that might result in stabilizing the Lebanon-Israel border. And Hezbollah absorbed the heavy blows of the highly regarded Israeli Defense Forces for more than a month, something that no previous Arab military force had ever been able to do.

On the down side the Israelis lost some of the luster on their image of invincibility. The U.S. undermined its previous status as Mid-East mediator by blocking early cease fire efforts in order to give Israel enough time to score a military victory. And by bringing on such major death and destruction upon the whole country, Hezbollah probably stirred some resentment against it among Lebanon’s non-Shiite population.

If the cease fire holds: if a 15,000 strong U.N. force is actually formed and joins a force of similar size of Lebanese Army regulars along the Israeli border; and if as a result, Hezbollah is somewhat curtailed militarily: then it could be argued that the American and Israeli goal to stop Hezbollah cross border attacks – might conceivably be achieved. But those are still very big ifs.

However, if the ultimate American and Israeli goal was to stem the tide of international terrorism, the likely outcome is not encouraging.

Just consider how Americans would feel if the U.S. had always lost its major wars to the same opponent. That is the sense of humiliation most Arabs can’t escape when they look at their past history of wars with Israel. And that is why when Hezbollah’s guerrillas were able to fight the Israelis to a stalemate, they were widely cheered throughout the Arab world- even by those many who are not fanatics.

Then consider the impact of Israeli war planes, backed by American material and diplomatic support, pounding a small Arab country for more than a month accompanied by the graphic, televised scenes of carnage that such bombings produce. Inevitably, this will have further incited strong anti Israeli and anti American feeling not just with Arabs but among many of the world’s Muslims. So in the context of the War on Terror, it’s very hard to view what has just happened in Lebanon as a victory against terrorism. Actually it looks a lot more like a defeat.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.

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