- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2006

TEL AVIV — After weeks of handwringing over the inconclusive result of Israel’s border war with Hezbollah, some Israelis are coming around to the idea that Hezbollah has indeed been weakened and that Israel’s deterrent power is still intact.

When Hezbollah guerrillas succeeded in capturing two Israeli soldiers in northern Israel just three weeks after Hamas took an Israeli corporal captive in the Gaza Strip, Israelis lamented that their country had lost its ability to intimidate enemies.

And when Israel agreed to a cease-fire with Hezbollah in August without having scored a knockout blow in the monthlong war, it was widely predicted that a new round of fighting with the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia was inevitable.

But many analysts have since concluded that Hezbollah — despite its bombastic rhetoric — has suffered serious damage and will not be anxious for a return engagement.

The war destroyed the group’s positions in southern Lebanon, wiped out a good deal of its rocket arsenal, left hundreds of Lebanese civilians dead and wrecked the country’s infrastructure, angering the general public.

“We really must shake ourselves out of this mood of pessimism and negative thinking,” wrote Daniel Gavron on the English language Web site of the Ha’aretz newspaper.

“There is no reason to assume that a new round of hostilities is about to break out. We are planning to rehabilitate the north; Lebanese are reconstructing their country; the international force is being established.

“Neither side wants to renew the conflict that cost us both so much. The latest reports suggest that even [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah, for all his posturing, is behaving himself, and reining in Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.”

After the Sunday pullout of the Israel Defense Forces, both Israeli and Hezbollah officials were quoted warning of a new outbreak.

An anonymous Israeli military officer was quoted on the Web site of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot as saying that the army expects that within two months Hezbollah could begin testing the reaction of Israeli troops along the border with small provocations.

A Hezbollah spokesman reportedly threatened to renew attacks on Israel if its military encroached on Lebanon’s land, sea and airspace.

But analysts counter that the Shi’ite militia has suffered too much damage for a quick renewal of the war. Military historian Michael Oren said that although he is pessimistic that the cease-fire brokered by the United Nations will hold, Israel has succeeded in re-establishing a measure of deterrence against Hezbollah.

“There are levels of deterrence. We destroyed Hezbollah’s ministate, and Nasrallah is still in hiding,” he said. “On the other hand, Hezbollah fired 4,000 missiles into our territory and survived the war. So it’s not black and white.”

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was cautiously upbeat when asked about the pullout.

“We hope that this new force will bring about a new era of stability along the Israel-Lebanese border,” Miri Eisen said, referring to a U.N. force deploying there. “There’s always a difference between what you plan for and what happens in the real world. We’ll see what happens.”

When the Israel-Hezbollah cease-fire first went into effect Aug. 14, analysts and officials described the truce as rickety and delicate. But with the fighting ending, many think Hezbollah is too immersed in rebuilding the south and fending off accusations from rival politicians about the damage of the war.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah for a while,” said Hirsch Goodman, a fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.

“Hezbollah is going to be focused on its relations with the Lebanese government and the international force — that is where the real dynamic has developed. The main interaction right now is a dynamic between Lebanon and Hezbollah, and whether it will remain an independent militia in a democratic country.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide