The war's fallout

August 18, 2006

To watch Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, assume the mantle of protector of and provider for the thousands of south Lebanese left homeless by the Israeli bombing campaign is infuriating - and instructive. Infuriating because his militia provoked Israel's air and ground war with its cross-border attack and kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, who remain captives. Instructive because his promise of housing and furniture for the war victims (financed in part by Iran) illustrates Hezbollah's standing as a state within a state and its increased political power as a result of the 34-day war. Don't expect the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah anytime soon, as called for in the United Nations-sanctioned cease-fire agreement.

Hezbollah survived the war with many of its fighters, withstood Israel's airstrikes and enhanced its reputation among Arabs. But more significant, its show of force undermined the deterrent effect of Israel's military in the region - and by association, that of the United States. President Bush's claim that Hezbollah had lost was an embarrassing assessment of the facts that reinforces America's poor image in the Muslim world.

The war was a draw in many ways, and, as a result, it gave Iran and Syria every incentive to continue to ply Hezbollah with millions in cash and stockpiles of arms. It also united traditional Arab enemies, Sunnis and Shiites, against Israel and the United States.

In Jerusalem, the war's fallout has bolstered the political opponents of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Many Israelis have conceded that the war did little to secure their future, increased their vulnerability and heightened anti-Israeli sentiment abroad.

Yesterday, the Lebanese army began moving into South Lebanon as Israeli troops exchanged positions with the initial U.N. peacekeepers. More international troops are to arrive, but signatories to the U.N. resolution must define their roles and ensure that the more complex aspects of the agreement are carried out. As for the Lebanese government, it must assert its authority if the U.N. pact is to provide the long-term security and stability envisioned.

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