Thursday, August 17, 2006

Who won the war?

Now that the fighting has (mostly) stopped in Lebanon, and the ceasefire seems to be holding, we should ask, who won the war?

Well, Israel claim to have invaded Lebanon to force Hezbollah to disarm. Hezbollah aren't disarmed, and managed to fire 250 rockets into Israel in the last day before the ceasefire.

Israel said their aim was to destroy Hezbollah as an effective force. Hezbollah has not fired a single rocket into Israel since the ceasefire, giving unmistakable evidence that they remain under effective command and are not just a bunch of untrained terrorists. They're soldiers who can follow orders. [Update, 18-08-06 11:15am: it seems that the ceasefire hasn't been kept quite so well as I thought. Both sides have claimed provocation and retaliation, including a handful of rockets fired ineffectually into Israel. But still, it is clear that Hezbollah is under effective command.]

Israel said that they were going to occupy southern Lebanon until Hezbollah was no longer a threat. Israel are withdrawing from Lebanon, and Hezbollah are still there, still armed, and still able to fight.

Israeli hardliners hoped to push the Lebanese people out of southern Lebanon, leaving the area depopulated and giving Israel a large buffer zone. Under the mythology of far-right Israel, the Lebanese and Palestinians are not attached to any particular piece of land. (Half a century of conflict over land hasn't taught Israeli wingnuts any different.) As soon as the ceasefire started, Lebonese farmers and shopkeepers began returning to their farms and what little was left of their homes.

Israel said they went to war to rescue the two captured soldiers, and would never negotiate for their return. The soldiers are still prisoners, and Israel have now said they will negotiate.

I have previously suggested that this war between Hezbollah and Israel is like Rocky: no matter what the judges say, the fact that the heavyweight champ Apollo Creed didn't cream the unknown in the first round made Rocky the winner. No matter how badly Rocky was beaten by the champ, he was still standing, bruised but unbowed. But in fact it is worse than that: despite a total lack of air support and heavy armour, Hezbollah was able to inflict significant loses on Israel while suffering surprisingly few loses themselves.

When a first-world army with air support and heavy armour takes on second-world ground troops, you should expect a ratio of 1:10 losses. In this war, the ratio was 1:4 according to Israel and 2:1 according to Hezbollah (as of the time of writing). Of the two, I consider the Israeli figure (barely) more reliable -- I'm assuming the true figure was one Israeli casulty taken for every two inflicted.

As Pat Lang writes:

A basic lesson of history is that one must win on the battlefield to dictate the peace. A proof of winning on the battlefield has always been possession of that battlefield when the shooting stops. Those who remain on the field are just about always believed to have been victorious. Those who leave the field are believed to be the defeated.

It is Israel, not Hezbollah, who is slinking off this battlefield.

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