A friend traveling in Syria last month writes:
It was also good to be in Damascus to see what the mood was among the people. I've noticed both in Damascus and here in Amman that people are even more eager than before to speak to an American, a Westerner, and express with emotion their views on the current political situation in the region. Palestine is like a wound that refuses to heal. Iraq is wearing on people and, for most Jordanians and Syrians, was the latest example of American folly and hubris. Until Lebanon.
In the minds of most people here, of course, the victory of this last war, if you want to call it that, was Hizballah. There are, among some, wild stories of Hizballah destroying hundreds of Israeli tanks and driving the Israeli military back from advancing north. But even those not so quick to believe Hizballah propaganda, generally believe that Hizballah has thus far come out on top in this conflict. I think even that is giving Hizballah too favorable an evaluation.
Hizballah survived and maintained its capability to fire fairly inaccurate rockets into Israel. This certainly is a measure of achievement and a blow to the pride of Israel's military. On the other hand, Lebanon was set back many years and the destruction and suffering has been tremendous. Lebanon has certainly lost. And when Hizballah leader Nasrallah said on national TV that he would not have ordered the
capture of the two Israeli soldiers if he had known the destruction it invited on Lebanon, it became clear that Hizballah's gains in terms of popular support in Lebanon are not as great as some initially supposed.
Who has gained the most from the destruction of Lebanon then? Iran. Who lost the most? The United States.
The visceral tension between the US and Iran had come to a critical point. The case of Iran's nuclear program was soon to come before the UN Security Council, Iran's
power in Iraq continued to grow, negotiations were going nowhere and one or the
other had to make a move eventually. Whether or not Iran had a role in
instigating the capture of the Israeli soldiers, few can say. But one would think that in such a tense situation that Iran would want to exert as precise an influence on its
ally Hizballah as possible. Either way, the US and Israel certainly used the situation to strike Iran via Hizballah, to destroy one of its most important weapons. The US and Israel have a very similar approach to Iran.
But in Lebanon Israel eventually went too far for Washington. The US desired a deadly blow on what it considers a terrorist organization and its state sponsor. Israel, on the other hand, was after the strafing of southern Lebanon, the systematic destruction of the area's villages, a "draining of the swamp" as they say. It also appears they sought to turn the Lebanese population against Hizballah by making Lebanon as a whole suffer terribly for the group's actions.
Israel had limited success. Even their successes shall be short-lived. The US did not even achieve this. It has seen its reputation smeared once again, the powerful military of its ally Israel outmaneuvered by a guerrilla organization, and the power of Iran only increase. Iran has benefited from Hizballah's boost in popularity in the
broader Muslim and Arab worlds without suffering any of the destruction the
people of Lebanon have suffered. Iran has the leverage to continue its stalling and intransigence on its nuclear program and its political maneuvering for power in Iraq and elsewhere.
The US has lost this round. What will the next round bring?