By Dr. Nayyer Ali

Who Won the Lebanon War?

September 08 , 2006

Now that a ceasefire in Lebanon looks to be in place, it is certainly a sensible question to ask, who won? A war in which over a million people fled their homes, over a thousand died, and several billion dollars of economic damage was inflicted is no small thing.
The government of Israel declared that it had won the conflict, while the Economist this week stated on its cover that “Nasrallah wins the war” in no uncertain terms. On the other hand, the mood in Israel has been very downcast after this conflict, and there are strong calls for a commission of inquiry to look into the failures of the war. Prime Minister Olmert’s political standing has certainly suffered.
To answer the question correctly, we have to clearly define what we are asking. On the simplest level, we can look at what actually happened on the battlefield. Secondly, we ask what were the actual war aims of the combatants and judge if they achieved them. Finally, we can look in the broader context of the real political end results of the conflict.
On a military level, Israel won this war hands down. It killed far more Hezbollah fighters than it lost, and the war was almost entirely fought within Lebanon, with the Israelis attacking and Hezbollah defending its positions. The only offensive actions Hezbollah took was the daily launching of about 100-200 short range Katyusha rockets that have only the crudest guidance systems. These rocket attacks were essentially random bombardments of Israel, with most rockets landing in empty fields and brush land. Only the occasional rocket would actually strike a town or hit a building. The end result was mostly civilian casualties, and many of them were in fact Palestinian Israelis, as northern Israel has a rather large number of Palestinian citizens.
Israel on the other hand was able to pound away at the entire nation of Lebanon, with little danger to its air force. It did suffer a bit of a bloody nose when it committed tanks on the ground, as Hezbollah fighters made effective use of Iranian anti-tank missiles to destroy a number of Israeli tanks. It is an odd paradox of this war that Hezbollah, which made no claim to be trying to avoid killing civilians, mostly killed Israeli soldiers, while Israel, which loudly claimed it was doing all it could to avoid killing Lebanese civilians, mostly killed civilians. This paradox is not so odd when one realizes that Israel’s claims were false, and they in fact often intentionally targeted civilians, as many international observers noted (not to mention that they also killed international observers, despite hours of pleas to stop shelling them in the case of four UN soldiers).
But the war aims were different than simply trying to kill each other. Hezbollah was trying to obtain a bargaining chip to trade prisoners with Israel when it captured two Israeli soldiers. Israel on the other hand declared that not only was its war aim to recover the two soldiers, but to also destroy Hezbollah as an organization. On that basis, the Israelis clearly failed, and in fact had no chance of success. They mistakenly set the bar way too high, and were doomed to fall short. Hezbollah has on the other hand kept the prisoners, but it did take a pounding, and its long-term position in Lebanon is less certain now.
This brings us to a broader political landscape. In addition to Israel and Hezbollah, there were other players in the game. These include the Lebanese government, Syria, Iran, and the United States. Hezbollah has now agreed to the deployment of the Lebanese Army to the south of Lebanon for the first time in over 25 years. In addition, a much larger UN force is also deploying into the south. These two events will now significantly reduce Hezbollah’s capacity for independent action. It has effectively been locked into a long-term ceasefire with Israel, which actually partially accomplishes an Israeli war aim, but indirectly.
Syria has not been able to capitalize on events and remains in a weakened position in Lebanon. For America and Iran, the outcome has a different significance. Bush and Cheney looked at Israel’s air campaign as a possible model of what an American air war on Iran might accomplish. There were two theories that warmongers have put forth. The first is that air power is so effective that Hezbollah, and by corollary Iran’s military and nuclear assets, could be gutted reliably in a short campaign. The second theory was that if an air campaign inflicted enough damage on civilians and urban assets, the people would rise up in revolt and turn on Hezbollah or the Iranian government. Both theories were total failures. It turns out that Israeli airpower could not take out Hezbollah, and that despite tremendous pounding, the Lebanese people’s fury was directed at the Israelis for bombing them rather than at Hezbollah. This hopefully will give pause to the Bush/Cheney plans of an air war against Iran that will solve all our problems. Because of this very powerful fact, it could be truly said that the main winner of the Lebanon war was Iran. Comments can reach me at


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