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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 August 2006, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
Ceasefire, but conflict not resolved
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

It is too early to say who "won" the war over southern Lebanon because, despite a ceasefire, the fighting might not be over.

An Israeli soldiers covers his ears as shells are fired into south Lebanon, 14 August
Despite the ceasefire, fighting might yet continue
And beyond that, the political and military structures that might prevent a future conflict have yet to be put in place.

If these structures (removal of Hezbollah from south of the Litani River and removal of Israeli forces altogether, extension of Lebanese government authority and army in the south, insertion of major international force), are successful, then Israel might claim a victory of sorts. Hezbollah would not have been crushed but it might have been contained.

But the potential for a prolonged and messy guerrilla war is huge and if that happens, Israel would have lost.

In the Middle East it is unwise to judge events too quickly. In the long struggle between the Israelis and Palestinians for possession of the land, many so-called landmarks and signposts hinting at a final destination have been passed yet the road never seems to end.

We do not yet know how this round of fighting and the subsequent set-up in southern Lebanon will evolve.

So whether this will turn out to be a turning point towards peace on Israel's border with Lebanon (adding to the peace it enjoys with Egypt and Jordan) remains to be seen.

These are some of the effects on the major players:

Israel

Already recriminations are beginning about the conduct of the campaign.

So on the military level, while there has been overwhelming Israeli support for the war, there have been doubts about the way it was carried out.

One loser in the conflict has been the reputation of the Israel Defence Forces.

This is not just a question of whether international law was broken by the intensive bombing of civilian areas, but of operational efficiency.

What mystified many military observers was the mismatch between the extensive air campaign and the limited ground campaign.

The Israeli military commentator Zeev Schiff of the Haaretz newspaper said at one stage that the management of the war had been "incompetent".

Yet there must have been second thoughts. The general in charge of Northern Command was sent an 'adviser' from headquarters after it was apparently concluded that he had not been aggressive enough on the ground.

There was a late movement of helicopter-born troops to the Litani, some 20km (12 miles) to the north, but these troops suffered quite heavily.

The political leadership, too, seemed to be in two minds. The new(ish) Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke in Churchillian tones but did not appear to want a massive invasion.

Yet without one Hezbollah could fire its rockets more easily as indeed they did, some 200 on the day before the ceasefire alone.

Israelis might feel that, as one minister feared, this ended in a "draw". But they will probably judge Mr Olmert according to the success of whatever arrangements are put in place in southern Lebanon.

He will have a lot of arguing to do.

Hezbollah

Hezbollah has not been beaten. However, its belief in the deterrent effect of its missiles was not fulfilled. Instead, these served as a casus belli for Israel.

Israeli soldier carries 155mm shells towards a mobile artillery unit, 14 August
Some quarters in Israel have questioned its military strategy
It might have miscalculated when it captured the two Israeli soldiers, the event that triggered the Israeli attack. Wanting simply to use them as bargaining chips in a prisoner exchange, it found itself under major assault.

Perhaps the real test for Hezbollah is yet to come. How will it regroup in its strongholds of southern Lebanon, whose villages have been destroyed? Will it see in the presence of thousands of Israeli troops in southern Lebanon an opportunity to continue the war?

Or will it accept that its free hand in the south must end? In which case, the days of Hezbollah as a military force might be numbered.

Again, these events cannot be looked at over the short period Hezbollah has been around since the early Eighties and this could simply be one more round in a long contest.

Lebanon

The biggest losers were obviously the civilians. This war was another agony in a long list as Lebanon struggles to find stability and order.

Lebanese civil defence personnel and civilians search for victims, 14 August
Almost 1,000 Lebanese civilians and 157 Israelis died in the conflict
That the government survived is a plus for those who want reform to continue in Lebanon.

The Prime Minister Faoud Siniora made a significant intervention when he offered to send 15,000 Lebanese army soldiers into southern Lebanon.

This enabled Israel and the United States to accept a ceasefire earlier than they might otherwise have done. If Siniora can make his plan work, he could emerge the stronger.

But Lebanon will still have to resolve the issue of Hezbollah and how far it can form its own state within the state.

The United States

The US sided openly with Israel in the early stages but went through something of a change of tactics as the fighting went on.

Instead of waiting until there was an agreement for post-war structures, it agreed that there could be a stop to the fighting first.

It got round this contradiction by semantics.

The first stage would simply be a "cessation of hostilities" and the second stage would form the "permanent ceasefire".

Diplomatic language has never been so flexible.

The US strategic aim has been to weaken Hezbollah and through that to weaken Iran, which is Hezbollah's main supporter.

Again the jury is still out as to whether this will be achieved.

Others

Using its traditional links to Lebanon and its philosophical differences with the Bush administration, France is one of the few clear winners from this war.

It held its position against the US and forced the Americans to negotiate a Security Council resolution.

(Update 22 August: However, Farnce failed to follow through with its offer to lead the international force, sending only 200 soldiers in the initial phase. So it has not capitalised on its advantage.)

With Britain supporting the US and Germany somewhere in the middle, the European Union was nowhere. The prospects for an EU "common foreign policy" have never been so distant.

The UN came through in the end with a Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire. But the delay showed how dependent the UN is on its major members, in this case the US.

Iran and Syria must have watched with mixed emotions the attack on Hezbollah, which they both support. Both claim that Hezbollah has won but both must also wonder how powerful Hezbollah will be in future.

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk


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The moment when the ceasefire began



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