Hizbullah has won a stunning victory over the Israelis in southern Lebanon. That is a reality recognised by virtually everyone around the world, despite the efforts of the Israelis and their supporters in the West to pretend otherwise. The US may praise the Israelis for agreeing a ceasefire and choosing to pursue their “legitimate demands” through political and diplomatic means instead of military ones -- hardly an approach that the US itself has traditionally favoured -- but everyone knows that the only reason that the Israelis have opted for this path is that their military forces were being humiliated on the ground by Hizbullah’s lightly-armed but highly committed mujahideen, and their civilians were becoming restless as the number of soldiers being killed, as well as the number of rockets that Hizbullah was still able to fire into Israel everyday, grew. Having been defeated militarily, and having lost massive face internationally, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is now fighting for his political future.
It is also clear to everyone that Hizbullah, far from being destroyed, has gained as much from this conflict as Israel has lost, even though it was not Hizbullah’s choice to fight this war at this time, as Hizbullah leader Shaikh Hassan Nasrallah admitted frankly on August 28, when he said that Hizbullah had not expected such a vicious response from the Israelis when they captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12. Nonetheless, the fact is that Hizbullah has proven its military power, and confirmed its leading position in Lebanese political and social affairs, supported by members of all confessional communities. Since the ceasefire, it has led reconstruction efforts in the areas worst affected by the Israeli bombing, proving refugees with funds to rebuild their homes and to rent alternative accommodation until new homes are built. It has also enhanced its position in the global Islamic movement; despite the sectarian poison against Shi’as spread by the Saudis and some Sunni groups within the Islamic movement for more than 20 years, and the efforts of the Americans to promote marginal figures such as Usama bin Ladin and Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi as the faces of the Islamic movement, all Muslims around the world now recognise Sayyid Nasrallah, a Shi’a ‘alim and leader following the example of Imam Khomeini and the Islamic State of Iran, as the leading figure in the revolutionary Islamic movement today. At a time when Sunnis and Shi’is are at each others’ throats inIraq, in a sectarian war that is primarily the result of Iraqi Muslims’ own historic fears and prejudices, despite the undeniable roles of both Western encouragement and foreign mujahideen, this is a remarkable development.
However, as we celebrate Hizbullah’s victory, we cannot afford to be complacent. It is amply clear that Israel was not acting alone when it invaded Lebanon. The American political journalist Seymour Hersh has confirmed in the New Yorker magazine what most Muslims realised much earlier: that Israel’s invasion plans were drawn up in cooperation with Washington and intended both to secure Israel’s hegemony over Lebanon, and to be the first stage of an operation against Iran, Hizbullah’s closest state ally. By supplying Israel with the bombs and missiles it used against Beirut and other Lebanese towns and cities, even as the war was underway (resulting in protests in Britain when it was discovered that US aircraft carrying the weapons were refueling in Scotland en route to Israel), and protecting Israel from international calls for it to stop bombing civilian targets, the US had already demonstrated in action what it continues to deny in words: that it is a full party in this war.
The war must, therefore, be understood in terms of the US’s wider vision of what Condoleezza Rice famously called the “new Middle East”, a region under US hegemony in which Israel will act as regional policeman, enforcing regime-change in recalcitrant states, as the US is trying to do in Iraq and Israel tried to do in Lebanon. Hizbullah may have dented this vision by defeating the policeman on its first patrol, but that does not mean that the vision is dead. A significant battle has been won; but the US will not give up its war, so Muslims cannot afford to think that they will.
One result of the war is a massive increase in the number of UN troops in southern Lebanon. This is not a new development; there has been a UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in place for nearly 20 years, although it has done little to protect the country from Israeli attacks. However, under the terms of UN Resolution 1701, the number of troops will be increased almost tenfold, to about 15,000. Israel has made the deployment of these troops a precondition to its withdrawal from Lebanon, in the expectation that the UN will take over the task that it failed to achieve: the disbandment of Hizbullah. Although this is partly a fig-leaf that Israel is using to disguise its defeat, it is also true that the UN and the powers that control it broadly accept the Israeli position that Hizbullah is an illegitimate force whose presence is the cause of the problems in the region. Kofi Annan, during a visit to both Lebanon and Israel at the end of August, said that he expected Hizbullah to disarm but that the UN troops would not disarm Hizbullah fighters directly. The troops making up the UN force will come from France, Italyand other European and Asian countries, and are unlikely to want to engage Hizbullah in combat, having seen what happened to the Israelis. However, the UN is undoubtedly taking the Israeli side. This is why the troops are on Lebanese territory, facing north, replacing Israeli troops, rather than facing south to protect the Lebanese from Israeli aggression.
The presence of UN troops gives the “international community” a far greater presence in Lebanon, and the potential to get even more involved in Lebanese affairs on the Israeli side in the future; for example, if there were an apparent Hizbullah attack on UN troops, who were then assisted against Hizbullah by Israeli troops. They also have local allies in Lebanon, in the traditonal political leaders of the Christian community.
Hizbullah has won a military victory, but faces a long political battle ahead, domestically and internationally. Its record suggests it is well-placed for this battle; which is just as well, because the record of the global Ummah suggests that Muslims elsewhere are ill-prepared and ill-equipped to support it in its time of need.