Both Israel and Hezbollah declared victory following the war in July-August 2006. It is too early to assess the full impact of the war, however, as the outcome will depend on what happens in the coming months as we see whether, for example, UN Security Council Resolution 1701 is fully implemented, whether Hezbollah is able to rearm, and whether the Lebanese people ultimately embrace Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah as a hero or a villain.
The conventional first impression was that Hezbollah won the war by surviving and demonstrating that it had the will and the capability to fight Israel to a standoff. But the emerging “big picture” suggests Hezbollah was seriously damaged both physically and politically and that while Israel did not achieve the decisive victory many expected, it did improve its strategic position.
While initially making bold claims about Hezbollah’s achievements, the postwar reality forced Nasrallah to publicly admit that kidnapping the Israeli soldiers and provoking a war was an error in judgment. He said that he would not have authorized the operation if he had known the extent of the catastrophe that it would cause.
Although Israel could not prevent the launching of missiles, it did severely degrade Hezbollah capabilities. The majority of the long-range missiles and a partial stock of Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets were destroyed. In fact, after the war it was disclosed that the Israeli Air Force destroyed 59 intermediate and long-range missile launchers during a 34-minute raid on the second day of the war. The July 13 strike on Iranian-made Zelzal and Fajr missiles prevented Hezbollah from carrying out its threats to attack central Israel.
Hezbollah no longer controls southern Lebanon and it is the Lebanese army that now patrols the frontier. Though obligated to do this under UN Security Council Resolution 1559, the Lebanese government had shown neither the will nor the ability to deploy its forces prior to the war.
The new international military force being deployed to assist the Lebanese army represents a dramatic upgrade of UNIFIL forces, which previously had neither the capability nor the mandate to monitor the border and enforce UN resolutions. Though it remains to be seen if the international force will use its authority to prevent Hezbollah from rearming or resuming attacks, the participating countries have indicated a willingness to do so.
Now that Israel no longer faces a hostile terrorist army on its border, its citizens in the north are safer.
Another positive outcome of the war was to further weaken Syrian influence in the country, which was partly exercised through Hezbollah. It also reduced Syria’s ability to threaten Israel indirectly through its Lebanese proxy.
Many in the Lebanese Parliament and government are requesting an investigation into the circumstances that led to the war, which they are pursuing because of their anger over Hezbollah’s actions and the widespread perception the war was a disaster for Lebanon .
Hezbollah has also suffered a serious setback in its principal goal of establishing an Iranian-style radical Islamic theocracy in Lebanon. Opposition to the radical Shiites has strengthened the commitment of other communities to support democracy.
Though unlikely in the short-term, the reduction of Syrian and radical Islamic influence in Lebanon creates a possibility that otherwise did not exist for peace between the governments of Israel and Lebanon .
Hezbollah’s actions were openly criticized by several Arab states and were supported only by the Palestinians, Syrians and Iranians. Hezbollah also received unprecedented criticism from the Arab press. For example, Saudi columnist Muhammad Al-Seif wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Iqtisadiyya: “The war currently being waged in Lebanon has shown that many of our Arab intellectuals have a serious problem [in defining] the criteria for victory and defeat. Some of them are still convinced that Hezbollah, despite its losses, has brought a humiliating defeat upon Israel and has shattered the myth of Israel as an invincible state. The problem repeats itself, in the exact same form, in every war fought by the Arabs. The criterion for victory is [as follows]: As long as the emblem, or the heroic commander, still lives, [the outcome is pronounced to be] a victory – regardless of the consequences of the war for the peoples [in terms of damage to] property and loss of lives and capabilities....I do not think that Hezbollah gained any victory at all.”