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Lessons of the Lebanon War

Wars are won not only on battlefields, but also in people’s minds. So, while Hezbollah has not decisively won its current war with Israel, by maintaining its ability to fight in the face of the might of the Israeli army, it has captured the imagination of Arabs, restoring lost pride in the same way as the Egyptian Army’s crossing of the Suez Canal in the war of 1973 did. Restored pride was central to Anwar Sadat’s eventual decision to go to Jerusalem and regain the entire Sinai Peninsula for Egypt.

Although ordinary Lebanese have paid a huge human, economic, and infrastructural price, Hezbollah has made it clear to the Israelis that they can no longer take their military predominance for granted. The limits of military power have been exposed. Moreover, the madness of war has been clearly demonstrated to all, and, once the current fighting is over, both sides are now more likely to be cautious about actions that might push their peoples and countries into war once more.

How this war is concluded will likely change the ways in which both Israel and the international community deal with the fundamental national aspirations of Arab peoples. Holding Arab land and prisoners indefinitely will no longer be an asset but a terrible burden.

Conventional thinking in the Middle East has largely been built on Israel’s overwhelming military strength, together with the disunity and lack of purpose of Arab leaders. But, in less than two months, the almost mythic power of the region’s most powerful army has been dented, and Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, has come across as a steadfast and determined leader, in sharp contrast to the usual behavior of heads of Arab government.