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August 14, 2006

After the Ceasefire: Winners and Losers
Posted by Shadi Hamid

So we have a ceasefire. As the ashes settle, we do, indeed, have a “new Middle East.” Some quick, initial observations:

  1. I had thought that Hezbollah would come out of this conflict the biggest loser. If the US and Israel had approached things in a different way, then that might have happened. But it didn’t. Hezbollah comes out as a winner, not because it won, but because it wasn’t defeated. The Arab bar for military victory is, as Michael Totten notes, so “pathetically low” that almost anything is a victory. Perception is more important than reality and the perception among 300 million Arabs was that Hezbollah heroically resisted Israel’s advances.
  2. Despite Hezbollah’s PR victory, its military capabilities and strategic reach are undoubtedly diminished. It will take years for it to rebuild its arsenal, if it ever does.
  3. Southern Lebanon has been reduced to rubble. Someone is going to have to fill the vacuum and, most likely, it will be Hezbollah. 
  4. One of things fueling Hezbollah’s growing popularity both inside and outside of Lebanon was a feeling of Arab solidarity in the face of the Israeli offensive. Without pictures of innocent civilians dying flashing on their TV screens and as emotions hopefully cool down, Arab support for Hezbollah will diminish (but likely remain quite high). 
  5. Ehud Olmert finds himself in the unenviable position of selling and explaining a war that almost no one in Israel - either on right or left - considers a rousing success. Olmert's conduct over the course of the conflict provides innumerable lessons on "how not to prosecute a war against a non-state actor."
  6. The US, as is almost always the case with the current administration, comes out of this conflict a loser, but, then again, this should not be a surprise to anyone.
  1. Iran comes out with more leverage on the nuclear question. It has demonstrated its ability to wreak havoc on US and Israeli interests in the region. Hezbollah is not – like almost all Arab armies – a paper tiger and this at least partly due to Iranian logistical and military assistance. The bigger win is that before this conflict started, the Bush administration was still considering a military solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. This option is now is off the table (read Seymour Hersh’s revealing article for more on this).
  2. Arab dictators come out on the losing end. There was a time when they welcomed the anti-Israel anger of their populations as a welcome distraction from domestic problems. Now, the Arab opposition is increasingly tying the autocratic nature of Arab regimes to those regimes' unwillingness to stand up against the US and Israel.


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» Assessing the Effects of the Israel/Hezollah Conflict from Opinio Juris
Shadi Ahmid at Democracy Arsenal has a nuanced take on the "winners and losers" of the fighting in Lebanon and Israel. Well worth the read. [Read More]


You forgot the biggest loser of them all..

The poor lebanese civilians who will need to wipe the blood and dirt off their faces with idol promises and broken hearts..

Wo to you O Lebanon.. thus is you destiny on this earth to suffer at the whims of all your greedy neighbours...

Despite Hezbollah’s PR victory, its military capabilities and strategic reach are undoubtedly diminished. It will take years for it to rebuild its arsenal, if it ever does.

I don't know how we can say this with any confidence. Our intelligence was proven so wrong during the conflict that it's safe to say that we have no idea how big their arsenal is.

According to Israeli intelligence, Hezbullah only fired off about 1/6 of its rocket supply. Assuming they stockpiled their 12,000 rockets in the past 6 years, that means it will take a year for them to completely re-stock their offensive rocket capability.

So yes, their arsenal is diminished, but it wasn't worth 30 days of war.

"Despite Hezbollah’s PR victory, its military capabilities and strategic reach are undoubtedly diminished. It will take years for it to rebuild its arsenal, if it ever does."

Really? The strong suit for Hezbollah has always been that its real warmaking capabilities are found not in its materiel, but its manpower.

Hezbollah is uniquely smart. They learn quickly to mitigate the superior tactics and kit of the IDF and IAF.

Since 1982 -- and especially after the centralization of their network six years later -- Hezbollah has not only borrowed heavily from Iranian arms purchases and knowledge, but improved it.

The Iranians and Syrians, for example, instructed Hezbollah to use TOW missiles in the open. Hezbollah innovated, and found ways to use the weapons in villages, especially in houses or defensive positions carved out of the earth.

Hezbollah's IED and mine technology is the equal of any other terrorist organization in the world, and it shouldn't be considered odd to surmise that much of this knowledge (both ways) has been shared with cells in Iraq.

This knowledge base hasn't been diminished. The IDF leadership knows this. It would have been far better for the world had Israel been given another few weeks, but it's doubtful that the institutionalized capacity for warmaking that Hezbollah built woudl have been destroyed.

Weakened, yes. But not gone for good. Hezbollah will wait out the ceasefire. Then Hezbollah will strike again. Next time, let's hope that the IDF is prepared, and allowed, to conduct more extensive ops.

I've pasted here the comments I made at Opinio Juris to Chris Borgen's link to your post: With all due respect to Shadi Hamid, I was more than a bit puzzled by all the references to 'Arab' this or that. I've never imagined the Iranians to be 'Arabs,' and surely they count in any tentative tally of the 'winners and losers.' Indeed, it's rather surprising nothing whatsoever was said about the ramifications/implications for Islamist politics. Pan-Arab politics (Arab nationalism) is, and for some time now has been, comparatively weak and evanescent. The posters being plastered throughout the Middle East and beyond (from 'Morocco to Indonesia' in the words of one writer) are of Hassan Nasrallah. That is what speaks volumes, not the quaint references made by Shadi to 'Arab opposition' or 'Arab solidarity,' such as it is.

Seamus, I'm a bit confused over your comments. #7 is about Iran and I said that Iran comes out a winner. Arab public opinion matters. After all, it's called the "Arab-Israeli conflict" for a reason. Arabs and Israelis are going to have to figure out a way to live together in peace eventually. As for what Indonesians think about Israel or Nasrallah, that is less important. I tend to focus more on the Middle East (i.e. Arab countries plus Iran and Turkey) b/c it's the most strategically vital region of the world for the US.

Dear Shadi,

I saw #7, but as it was in reference to the state/country/regime rather than the Iranians themselves, it struck me as a bit odd (the Arab references, on the other hand, are to Arab dictators, Arab public opinion, Arab solidarity, and the like). In any case, the heart of my comment remains unaddressed: the impact on Islamist politics/parties in the Middle East. For instance, Iranians and Arabs alike have come out in support of the Palestinians, and, in particular, the Hamas-led government. Certainly Muslim identity comes to the forefront here. Indeed, if only for a moment, Shi'ites and Sunnis in Iraq were united in their support for Hizbullah and Lebanon.... And I would be interested in evidence that Arab identity in general has proven more salient of late than Islamic identity. And while we're at it, perhaps some comments on the influence (or lack thereof) of the League of Arab States in comparison with the Organization of the Islamic Conference. I don't mean to demean or trivialize Arab identity, culture, etc. (indeed, one of my favorite publications is Al Jadid: A Review & Record of Arab Culture and Arts, to which I've subscribed for some time now and press upon all who will listen), I just think there's sometimes a secular bias at work here that tends to play up such identification at the expense of Islamic religiosity (and of course in many lives there's absolutely no contradiction between being at once an Arab and a Muslim).

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