Friday, August 18, 2006

Who Won ? Israel or Hezbollah

Neither..

Israel invaded Lebanon with an explicit goal to destroy Hezbollah and to retrieve two of its soldiers. After several weeks of fighting, a fragile ceasefire is in place now and Lebanese Army and International Peace Keeping force have started moving in to Southern Lebanon. After a month of death and destruction, are there any real winner?

Both Israel and Hezbollah are claiming victory. Israel, because there is now a buffer zone inspected International Peace Keeping Force and Hezbollah, because it still there. But in the real sense, it is unclear as to who gained what. Consider this, Israel had a buffer zone till year 2000 and it voluntarily withdrew as part of the overall peace initiative. And, Hezbollah may have survived this elimination attempt but at what cost?

One thing is clear though that the weeks of death and destruction is not not going to resolve the real Israeli problem which is the Palestine imbroglio. Unless and until the primary Palestine problem is resolved, these kinds of secondary issues will continue to distract Israel and the world.

The genesis of the recent conflict was the abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah and there is still no sign of them. In fact, there is no sign of the third Israeli soldier abducted by Hamas in Gaza.

Israel mounted a massive land and air attack to drive Hezbollah out of Lebanon and retrieve its 2 abducted soldiers. Even after weeks of bombing and destruction, Hezbollah may have been weakened but its organizational infrastructure seems to be still in tact.

After the ceasefire, Hezbollah is back in action, spearheading relief activities in the war ravaged areas. Even though they are the reason for the war in the first place, Hezbollah seems to be gaining in stature with its relentless relief work and being the first one provide support to Lebanese as they trickle back home.

Hezbollah, with its strong support from Syria and Iran is a state in itself. As Professor Amal Saad-Ghorayeb puts it (to NYTimes) "Hezbollah is not a state within a state, but rather a state within a nonstate. By being there quickly and providing real relief, Hezbollah is filling in the vaccum left by the official state and acting as a quasi state, very much like LeT & LTTE.

And that is the challenge countries like Israel, India & Sri Lanka are facing. They are not in war with a state but with organizations that has multiple faces. How does countries fight militant organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas, LeT and LTTE that operate on several fronts. On one side they have armed wing that is brutal and goes to any extent to silence its opponents. On the other side, they have excellent grass-root level network that runs hospitals, schools and charitable organizations?

In a war where the enemy is 'faceless' and does not adhere to known battle conventions, it is impossible to totally eliminate them. From Jaffna to Kashmir, our recent history is replete with lessons.

The only recourse to these issues dialog and eventual political settlement but then, there are no takers for that at this juncture.