Joshua Frank: So Ramzy, how long is this Lebanon/Israeli ceasefire going to last? Who won, anyway?
Ramzy Baroud: To begin with, one must emphasize that Israel doesn't believe in ceasefires; it's understanding of the concept has little to do with the commitment it makes to the international community and more to do with tactical reasoning. This was true with Israel's earliest ceasefire in 1948 when Zionist gangs agreed to stop their onslaught against Palestinian villages and their fleeing inhabitants, yet resumed killing at will without adhering to dates or the law of war whenever convenient.
The latest ceasefire in Lebanon is no exception. For the first time in its history, Israel suffers a wide scale military setback. I am cautious not to use the word "defeat", although in many aspects it was a defeat. Not only did Israel discover the limitations of its military prowess (similar to the unpleasant discovery of America's military limits in Iraq), but it has provided Hizbollah, and any aspiring Arab resistance groups in the future, with its own David and Goliath anecdote, which will cement the argument that was slowly fading among Arabs, that Israel only understands the language of force, and that a peace treaty without strength to back it up, is simply signing terms of defeat. Ironically, Syria's Bashar Assad reiterated a similar notion in his fiery speech following the war; his self-assured words were paralleled with Ehud Olmert hesitant admission of failure before the Israeli Knesset.
RB: Right. The ceasefire shall last as long as Israel gets set to reengage Hizbollah. The opportune moment to do this would be to take on a weakened Hizbollah at the internal Lebanese front. The US and Israel are already leading this planning campaign, with the help of their loyal friends dotting the Lebanese political landscape. If Hizbollah is weakened enough (not necessarily disarmed), and if the Lebanese army (who has little or no real chance in defending Lebanon's border, no matter how well intended) is deployed in areas that Hizbollah had customized to fit its war tactics, then Israel might be foolish enough to give war another shot. It would then be a war of different objectives, one that is almost solely aimed at renewing Israel's national pride and the people's confidence in their once 'invincible army', for the Israelis understand well that their state had been established, conquered and subdued their foes using tanks and bullets; if such tools are marginalized, then Israel has very little to justify its arrogance, its dominance. In a sense, this was the main achievement of Hizbollah: 1200 lightly armed men defending their country successfully against 30,000 fully geared Israeli soldiers using the best war technology American money can buy.
Israel, no matter how desperate its future military adventures will be, must realize that its military advantage over its neighbors is neither a guarantee of peace nor of security, even if America's unconditional aid and loan guarantees increase by ten fold.
RB: Israel had no other option but to accept the ceasefire. Abiding by it is a different story. Despite its military superiority over Hizbollah, Israel has miserably failed to translate such advantage into yet another military triumph. Militarily, Israel had one out of two options: first, to carry on with the war unhindered, risking more causalities and further tainting the image of its supposedly undefeatable army; second, accepting a cease-fire package with a few provisions that would allow its leaders to claim a political victory over Hizbollah. It opted for the second option, but it was too little too late.
Moreover, Israel has committed three subsequent strategic mistakes. First, launching a major offensive while underestimating Hizbollah's military strength; second, prolonging the offensive into a 34-day war knowing fully that military victory was simply unattainable (cementing the Lebanese resistance sense of victory, and amplifying its army's sense of defeat.) The third mistake is being committed right now: Israel is trying to send a message to Hizbollah and others in the Middle East, which is a mixture of arrogance and desperation, by violating the cease fire in a nonsensical and frankly irrelevant show of strength. These actions are similar to a bully who refuses to accept that the smallest kid in the class beat him senseless, and still, bleeding, battered and all, insists on provoking yet another fight.
Of course, the Israeli bully might end up getting his wish -- provoking Hizbollah into another brawl -- but by doing so, it would, once again further highlight its vulnerability and the limits of its military power. Israeli leaders have for long advocated that "Arabs must be beaten" or "hit hard" in order for them to accept Israel's dominance; now Olmert among others, are having a very difficult time coming to terms with the exact same logic but reversed.
That said, Hizbollah is also vulnerable, despite its claim of victory; the internal Lebanese front is both shaky and largely infiltrated. Another Israeli military onslaught -- if provoked by Hizbollah -- will not go down as well as the first one, and Hassan Nasrallah knows that well. Israel only 'success' in this war of course from its own point of view -- was upping the ante for Hizbollah by destroying Lebanon and killing and wounding thousands in the process, knowing well that Hizbollah and Nasrallah will seriously reconsider future actions against Israel. I discussed this topic in depth in a recent article entitled: "The Logic of Israel's War on Civilians".
JF: What's been the reaction in Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries to Israel's most recent invasion? Has it only emboldened Hizbollah? There have been reports that Hizbollah, most likely with funding from Iran, is rebuilding infrastructure in southern Lebanon. Do you think that these sorts of actions are making Hizbollah a more powerful force in the region? They sure seem to have support across sectarian lines.
RB: The Hizbollah's daring capture of the Israeli soldiers on July 12 took most Arabs, notwithstanding Lebanese by complete surprise. Unfortunately, the dread of military defeat has been so ingrained in Arab psyche that a few expected that Israel would be humbled to this extent by a small resistance group, even if assisted with the exaggerated firepower of the Iranian anti-tank missiles.
The initial indecision and fear of the Arab public gave rise to a defeatist interpretation of the war, offered by religious circles known for its loyalty to corrupt regimes. Some went as far as issuing religious rulings (Fatwas) forbidding the support of Hizbollah on the ground that it's a Shia (as opposed to Sunni) faction.
The tide quickly turned when Hizbollah exhibited steadfastness never displayed by entire Arab armies of well-armed legions with extensive political and material support. Every Arab I know watched in disbelief as events folded in Lebanon. The best they've hoped for is nominal resilience from Hizbollah, enough to thwart Israel's overall objectives. A few went as far as predicting an Israeli defeat. Needless to say, Hizbollah's victory has managed to help most Arabs and Muslims rise above their religious and sectarian divides, and has helped the group re-establish itself as a formidable political power and a military force not to be reckoned with.