Israel's operation against the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah rather than against Lebanon as a whole has become a key event in the outgoing year - both Israel and the U.S. have lost too much as a result. The war has changed not only the Middle East, but also the entire world, and all of us will feel the consequences of these changes in the next few years.
It is clear that every participant in this war has its own count of victories and defeats, and the lessons derived from it are also different for everyone - the military and politicians, Israeli right- and left-wingers, Lebanese members of Hezbollah and March 14 bloc, Tehran, Damascus, and Washington, Cairo and Riyadh, residents of presidential palaces and ordinary Muslims round the world.
Let's recall the facts. On July 12 2006, Hezbollah commandos opened fire at Israeli military positions on Lebanese-Israeli border. As a result, several Israelis were killed, and two soldiers taken prisoner. A fortnight before, the abduction of one Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants motivated Israel to start a military operation in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reacted to the incident in Lebanon in the same way, and the war broke out.
In 34 days, Israel lost more than 150 people, and about 1,500 were wounded, which compared with more than a thousand dead, and several thousand wounded in Lebanon. Who won and who lost? This question is still a subject of heated debates, just like the definitions of a victory, and defeat.
Let's start with Israel. Having been drawn into this war, Israel drastically changed in its favor the situation in its northern part. The Lebanese military and UN troops replaced Hezbollah commandos on the Lebanese-Israeli border. The threat of fire at Israel's northern areas from Lebanese territory was removed. Moreover, distracted by the war from the Gaza Strip, the world community actually gave the Israelis carte-blanche for a military operation there.
Not a single UN Security Council resolution has blamed Israel for its military operation against Hezbollah - discussion was limited to the question of how adequate the use of force was.
Furthermore, during the war Hezbollah did not receive support from the majority of the Arab regimes. To the contrary, many of the latter actually sided with Israel. To sum up, there are hardly any grounds to say that Israel has sustained a defeat in this war.
However, Hezbollah's ability to offer effective resistance to the strongest army in the Middle East up to the last day of the war, and to deliver strikes at Israeli territory plunged the majority of Israelis into depression, and produced an impression on the world community. No doubt, Hezbollah has won the propaganda war.
The situation is not made any better by the talk about inability of any army in the world to win a guerilla war, by modest Israeli casualties, and economic and political stamina. It is not Israel or its confrontation that matters here. The problem is that as a result of this war, the extremist project of fighting Israel and the West has considerably enhanced its positions in the Middle East.
Needless to say, Washington's inability to deal with chaos in Iraq was a conducive factor, but the war in Lebanon enhanced the Iraqi effect. Moreover, it has again demonstrated Washington's defeat in the fight with Tehran for influence in the Middle East.
During the war, Israeli and American politicians were saying that the weakening of Hezbollah positions in Lebanon should be one of the results of Israel's military campaign. In effect, this was meant to be a blow at the Iranian positions in the Middle East. Similar statements were made concerning Damascus.
But this has not happened. To the contrary, the consequences of the Lebanese war have compelled Washington and London to discuss at different levels today an opportunity of involving Iran and Syria in the efforts to resolve Iraqi problems, and to end a stalemate in the Arab-Israeli peace process. It goes without saying the West is not rushing to forgive the two countries all the sins which it ascribed to them, but it is aware of the need for dialogue. The question is which groups of influence will prevail in Washington - it has not yet finally determined what policy it is going to pursue in the Middle East.
In this context it is quite interesting to look at the actions of Damascus, which is usually much more cautious in world affairs than Tehran. But even Damascus is now talking to Washington from the position of superiority. In an interview with the Italian Repubblica, Syrian President Bashar al-Asad said that a year ago the United States treated Syria as a weak country of second-rate importance, whereas now the Baker report has acknowledged Syria's central role in the region. Moreover, al-Asad is now dictating his own terms - he is ready to help the Americans in Iraq if they respect Syrian interests in the Middle East. The matter concerns the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and the "general situation in the region." In other words, Syria wants Washington to stop accusing Damascus of interfering in Lebanese and Palestinian affairs.
Judging by his statements, al-Asad is not going to withdraw support of HAMAS or Hezbollah, on which the U.S. and Israel insist. He has a number of reasons for this position.
To a certain extent, Damascus stands to gain from chaos on Palestinian territory, because under the circumstances only Syria can promote a settlement in the Middle East in the near future. Damascus should follow simple logic - if the Western countries want to demonstrate any success in their policy in the Middle East, they will encourage Israel to negotiate with Syria. Damascus will not lose anything if this does not happen. Moreover, the latter case is even preferable, because any talks imply a compromise, which is objectionable domestically both for the Syrian and Israeli political establishment. But as distinct from the Israeli leaders, that after the Lebanese campaign cannot even afford to enter the talks without preconditions, not to mention subsequent compromise, al-Asad is ready to start negotiations, which gives Syria much room for maneuver in relations with the West.
As for Hezbollah, it has no particular need for Syrian support for the time being, at least in the political sphere. The situation in Lebanon is developing in its favor as it is.
Hezbollah has not acknowledged its defeat in the summer war. It has simply switched from its direct confrontation with Israel (in which it has announced its victory) to the situation inside Lebanon, where it wants to expand its power. Confrontation between the opposition, where Hezbollah plays a major role, and the ruling coalition in the streets of Beirut in December is also an indirect consequence of the war with Israel. There is no doubt that Hezbollah will try to gain as much as it can. This will again change the alignment of forces in the Middle East - the positions of Damascus and Tehran will grow stronger, while the role of the West will be reduced.
One of the most interesting results and lessons of the Lebanese war is that separate groups rather than states determine the situation in the region. Neither Iran nor Syria is pushing Hezbollah - it is Hezbollah that is paving the way for them, simultaneously involving them and all others in its own play. The situation is similar in Iraq, and to some extent, on Palestinian territory.
Today, the entourage is enthusiastically playing the role of the King. Damascus and Tehran are the King, and all others have to consider their opinion. The King cannot renounce his entourage or else he will stop being the King. The Lebanese military campaign has further exacerbated this trend. It is no accident that many Arab regimes supported Israel - they were simply afraid of their domestic opposition growing stronger, that is, the repetition of the scenario which is now being played in Beirut.
To sum up, Israel and Lebanon do not matter here. The alignment of forces would have changed in the Middle East in any event, but the Arab-Israeli conflict was the most suitable excuse for this, as the Lebanese war has proved once again.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.