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Hezbollah defeated?
Media General News Service


August 18, 2006
Thursday PM

WASHINGTON -- Lebanon is the latest in a string of successes the Bush administration has claimed in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and around the world.

President Bush said Israel "defeated" the Hezbollah force before a United Nations cease-fire was imposed. Not even Israel agrees with that.

The Israelis know this was at best a draw. It is the first round of what could be a long war. Hezbollah may be rearmed and refinanced by a wealthy and ruthless Iran. Its path surely will be expedited and cleared by its neighbor, Syria. And this continuing war is likely to be enabled by a U.N. force that just doesn't get it.

The Israelis fear the U.N will once again look the other way as Hezbollah rearms and strengthens itself with more advanced rockets and longer-range missiles.

These will be used in the next round against Israel, which was surprised at how tough and resilient Hezbollah has become. All these years, it was quietly building its forces into a deadly killing machine despite international laws against it.

Governments in Israel, where survival is at stake, fall because of these sorts of misjudgments. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has acknowledged "deficiencies" in the military attack against Hezbollah.

Polls indicate restiveness about this war. Hardliners in parliament said Olmert should not have agreed to a cease-fire that will allow Hezbollah to regroup.

Others are doubtful whether the timing of the attack was right, at a moment when Iran is looking for an excuse to bolster its regional status. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said there were "failures in identifying the threat, failures in preparing to meet the threat, failures in the management of the war, failures in the management of the home front."

Hezbollah's claim to have won a "strategic and historic victory" before the ceasefire was ludicrous on its face. The pictures of Lebanese villagers returning to shattered homes belie claims of any kind of victory.

All that this organization has done is to bring renewed attention to itself and the vast store of armaments it has been hoarding while pretending to be peaceable members of the Lebanese government. The failure of Lebanon and the United Nations to enforce international rules against this was exposed for all the world to see. That was the biggest accomplishment of this war. But was all the death and destruction necessary to find it out?

Bush questioned how Hezbollah could claim victory now when it no longer has the status of a state within a state, "safe within southern Lebanon."

Now, he said, Hezbollah is about to be "replaced" with a force of up to 15,000 U.N. troops plus the Lebanese army, which, under terms of the cease-fire resolution, will take control of the south from Hezbollah.

However, it may not be as easy as either Bush or the U.N. resolution makes it sound.

The Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said his guerrillas are not yet ready to disarm.

"The Lebanese army and international troops are incapable of protecting Lebanon," he said. Perhaps later, Hezbollah would be willing to talk about disarming, but not now, Nasrallah said.

Israel's Olmert said he believed the war had brought a change in the strategic balance in the region to Hezbollah's disadvantage and its "vast storehouse of weapons was mostly destroyed." But if Hezbollah is disarmed and demoralized, he did not explain why the Israelis reserve the right to pursue them "everywhere and at all times" despite the ceasefire.

Bush saw the outcome in Lebanon as a vindication of his policy of confronting terrorism and totalitarianism with force, and replacing it with freedom and democracy.

Yet, in a way, Hezbollah isn't entirely antidemocratic. It recently became a political party, ran for election and legitimately won a large bloc of seats in the parliament. That was a big show of pro-Syrian force right after international pressure forced Syrian spies and assassins to get out of the Lebanon.

This was one of the few times President Bush has played a hand in stopping armaments through diplomacy, rather than launching them by military order. Flanked by Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Bush took a bow for winning a cease-fire and shaping a U.N. resolution through skillful diplomacy.


John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service.
E-mail jhall(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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