A United Nations Security Council truce finally forced Israel and Hezbollah to cease fire (BBC), but a final weekend of rockets, artillery, ground combat, and air strikes left few believing the larger Arab-Israeli conflict is anything but worse. The text of the resolution (Ynet) calls on Israeli forces to withdraw "in parallel" with the deployment of 15,000 Lebanese forces, which will be bolstered by an international force of the same strength operating under liberal rules of engagement.
The resolution came after thirty-three days of fighting which left well over 1,000 civilians dead in Lebanon, and another 155 civilian victims in Israel, according to initial accounting. Hezbollah took severe casualties, too, with Israel claiming to have killed at least 500 of the terrorist group's guerrillas. Raghida Dergham, diplomatic corresponent of Dar Al-Hayat, notes the group now stands at a crossroads—whether to cede the Lebanese state its sovereignty and continue its evolution into a political party, or to conclude "this war is a battle for the survival of the party and the movement, even if the result is the complete destruction of Lebanon and its people." Michael Young, opinion editor of the Daily Star of Lebanon, suggests Hezbollah will never lay down its weapons (NYT). Still, the group was able to lay claim to a victory of sorts merely by surviving (AP). This dynamic became evident soon after the fighting began and may have led the United States to shift its emphasis (NYT) from military support for Israel toward a negotiated solution as the war wore on. The ceasefire has to be viewed as fragile, notes CFR senior fellow Lee Feinstein, particularly since neither Syria nor Iran were involved in the process of concluding it.
Further afield, though, the reputation of the United States, which supported Israel's war aim of "degrading" Hezbollah but also was accused of deliberately delaying UN diplomacy as a result, may be at an all-time low in the region. In the new issue of the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh alleges Washington involved itself in intimate aspects of the war in south Lebanon, providing broad support politically and satellite and other intelligence for targeting purposes. However, among those quoted is Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state until 2004, who contents this U.S.-Israeli strategy backfired: "The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis." Qatar's foreign minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, tells Newsweek in an interview the war did inestimable damage to America's already battered regional reputation. Dennis Ross, former U.S. Middle East envoy, says Washington's ability to restrain Israel may have been overestimated. Since Israel felt it alone could disarm Hezbollah, he argues, Olmert may have felt compelled to try. Nonetheless, says Peter Bouckaert, in Lebanon for Human Rights Watch, both sides have committed "war crimes." CFR President Richard Haass echoes many others in arguing no long-term solution is possible if the United States continues to refuse to talk with Hezbollah's backers, Syria and Iran. Syria's U.S. ambassador says his country is ready to play a constructive role if engaged by Washington.
Hezbollah, meanwhile, emerges militarily mauled but with its reputation bolstered in several ways—as a powerful force in terms of guerrilla tactics (WashPost) and as champion of those in the world who believe violence is the only way to deal with Israel (al-Jazeera). Khaled Abu Toameh, a Palestinian contributor to the Jerusalem Post, notes over fifty newborns were named Nasrallah in the West Bank over the past three weeks. As analyst Yaakov Katz puts it in the same paper, "while the fighting in Lebanon might be coming to an end, the infighting in Israel is just beginning" over the war's outcome and conduct. A Haaretz analyst noted that, even on the thirty-third and final day of the fighting, 250 Hezbollah rockets struck Israel.
For deeper reading, the Congressional Research Service offers this backgrounder on the conflict. CFR.org provides Backgrounders on the history of international intervention forces in the Mideast, as well as the many failed efforts to legislate a solution to the conflict at the United Nations. MSNBC.com's side-by-side satellite photos demonstrate the damage sustained in one Beirut neighborhood. The BBC rounds up the positions and interests of the different parties with a stake in the conflict.