Victory or not?

The Lebanese and Israeli media commemorated the ill-fated 2006 war, its introductions, context and results, and focused on the path to be taken in the future. The most potent question to summarize this debate remains: are we heading towards a final settlement, or towards the Third Lebanon War?
Lebanon July war
A Lebanese man holds up a photograph of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, against the backdrop of bombed-out ruins in Beirut's southern suburbs

BEIRUT, July 15, 2009 (MENASSAT) -- The commemoration of the ill-fated 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon returned this summer, while the internal political divisions concerning it, the way it was dealt with, as well as its current results, persist.

However, some of the war’s results should be dealt with as given facts, even if certain parties disapprove or choose to ignore them. Denying that Israel was defeated in the war doesn’t change the fact that the US, which provided cover for the war, changed its approach now, and seeks dialogue and common concessions from all the parties, in which Israel must take part, whether it approves or not. The Lebanese and Israeli media remembered the war, its introductions, context and results, and focused on the path to be taken in the future. The most potent question to summarize this debate remains: are we heading towards a final settlement, or towards the Third Lebanon War?

In his editorial, As-Safir publisher Talal Salman, meticulously summarized the connection between the Lebanese political divisions concerning the war and its continued implications for the Lebanese situation.  He wrote, “For the first time, the ‘victory’ is almost an orphan, while its assumed parents are alive, and its direct creators, with their will, their belief and the martyrs’ blood, pride themselves by starting a new phase in the Arab-Israeli conflict… In fact, what came after the July war is different from what preceded it, no matter the attempts to bury the truth which Israel doesn’t deny, but rather accepts, publicly holding those who are directly responsible accountable, while ––in contrast–– the Arab regimes hold accountable “the perpetrators of victory” in Lebanon through sedition.”

The connection between sedition in Lebanon and the conflict with Israel is not new. What is new is its adoption by the “parents of the Arab regimes.” Why does the victory of an Arab resistance movement constitute a sufficient concern to punish the “perpetrators of victory” in Lebanon by targeting them with a sedition Lebanon became an expert in during 15 years of civil war?

Looking for an answer leads yet to another editorial, this time in al-Akhbar newspaper by Ibrahim al-Amin, where the writer explains that, before the war, the Arab public viewed Hezbollah as a “respectful and perseverant force capable of confusing and annoying the enemy, preventing it from holding its ground. It was an example any Arab citizen could follow, an example to make the occupant, any occupant feel that the cost of occupying ground is higher than its ability to maintain it.”

Al-Amin continues that the situation changed radically after the war. He insists that Israel is now dealing with Hezbollah as “a major regional power,” citing the following reasons: “The growth of Hezbollah’s man power, in specific its military resistance, turned the resistance groups into a comprehensive army. Its expertise grew on all the security, military and logistical levels. The weaponry it possesses grew in quantity and efficiency. The weapons that were banned from Hezbollah became available in abundance. The plans Hezbollah set as potential programs became a reality, and it is now possible to think of big things, not to say of some things unimaginable to those who see Hezbollah as a mere local resistance.”

Media selectiveness for political purposes

 In An-Nahar, Ahmad Ayash wrote that the persistent result of this war is Resolution 1701, “which ended the war thanks to the Lebanese government presided over by Fuad Siniora.” Although the writer admits this decision has some negative aspects, he sees the “light at the end of the tunnel,” where “the good news in Resolution 1701 is that it brought peace to the South [of Lebanon] after decades of war, which Hezbollah concluded by crossing the international Blue Line.”

This rhetoric is an immediate transposition attempting to diminish the Arab-Israeli conflict as a whole by depicting it as a border dispute, for which the party that “crossed the international border” is to be held responsible.

As for An Nahar’s deputy general manager and rising parliamentary starlet, Nayla Tueni, she was adamant in stating that the priority now has shifted to an entirely new place. “The tourist season demands a full high alert on behalf of governmental administrations, and exceptional preparations to welcome an estimated 2 million expatriates and tourists. All this and Lebanon is still not prepared to face these monumental challenges, [which] constitute a top priority.”

This is not surprising, for the official and “moderate” Arab regimes do not want Lebanon to be a force with achievements in the struggle, but rather crave “an exceptional readiness to welcome two million tourists,” who would not come if Israel fired it summer bullets into the tourist season.

In An-Nahar, the only translated article from the Hebrew press was entitled “Israel didn’t lose the war in Lebanon.”  Even the article’s title was printed without the traditional quotes to distinguish the paper from its original Israeli publisher. The newspaper chooses its translations with obvious amateurness to serve the political direction of its young assistant general manager. The selectiveness in reading the enemy’s press is directly dictated by the position towards Hezbollah and its arms. The case here reveals some commonality between an-Nahar and al-Mustaqbal, although the latter seems less amateurish sometimes.

 Al-Mustaqbal, the mouthpiece of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, didn’t run any special reports on the occasion of the war’s anniversary, but instead covered a speech by the Lebanese Speaker of the Parliament, Nabih Berry, along with a commemoration by Defense Minister Elias al-Murr to honor the soldiers who fell during the July war.

The other face of the conflict

In the Hebrew press section, Al-Mustaqbal newspaper translated an article by Eti Lindsburg, a reserve general in the Israeli army, entitled “Lebanon which we long to forget” from Yedioth Ahronoth. Lindsburg wrote that “the commemoration day of the Lebanon war this week turned into a day [of forgetting]: Ehud Olmert forgot to show up, former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz forgot to show up, and the Defense Minister who promised that Nasrallah will not forget his name, didn’t bother showing up as well. This is Lebanon’s day. As [was the case] last month, no-one mentioned the commemoration of the first war in Lebanon; hence, the second war follows the first war.”

The other newspapers that published translations of the Hebrew press revealed two important aspects: the change in the language used to speak of the war’s results resembled a reconsideration of the conclusions drawn immediately after the war. For example, it was now said that the deterrence power was recovered with Operation Cast Lead and the intensive, newly developed training programs the Israeli Army underwent after the circumstances that arose during the war, such as sending armored brigade commanders who hadn’t received training in more than three years. In this context, some Israeli commentators concluded that the army won a strategic victory that leveled a harsh blow to the resistance and its arms infrastructure.

The second facet notable in Arabic translations from the Israeli press was the readiness of both Hezbollah and Israel for a third round of hostilities. No one disagrees on the implications, despite the conviction of many observers that victory resided with one party or the other.

As-Safir published a translation of an article by Amir Bohbot in Maariv from July 10th, entitled “Three years and the IDF remembers the war’s mistakes and prepares for the Third Lebanon War.” The writer says in his article “the Third Lebanon War seems nearer than ever.”

 “The observers of the nature of this commemoration on the Israeli side, clearly notice the mass of research and studies that have been and will be performed, in an attempt to detect the mistakes of the war, the failures of the army and the mishaps by politicians, in preparation ––as they say–– for a Third Lebanon War that is definitely coming.”

The newspaper quoted Giora Eiland, former head of the Israeli National Security Council, who warned that “if the war on Lebanon starts tomorrow, its results would be no different than those of the second war. In fact, both parties learned the lesson.”

Resistance media or propaganda?

In general, al-Akhbar newspaper, whose cover page featured a picture from the war of an Israeli rabbi behind a shattered window, reminded readers that the resistance is preparing itself as well.

The newspaper explained at length, easing the minds of resistance supporters, that preparations for the “third war”, as the Israelis say, will surprise everyone as much as with the second war–– if not more.

This is a clear refutation of the Israeli arguments saying lessons were learned and plans were made to fill the gaps in the military’s performance, which would guarantee their victory in any war Israel launches.

 Al-Akhbar plays a better propaganda role for Hezbollah, or for the resistance to be more correct, than the actual media apparatus of the party–– perhaps because it doesn’t belong to the party. In fact, the newspaper was the only paper to extensively cover the commemoration with a wide selection of articles, analysis and translations, adopting a scientific approach to understanding the confrontation. While Al-Akhbar in most instances supports the resistance, it is ––unlike Hezbollah’ media tools –– not confined to ideology, putting it a better position to argue the case for a wider audience.

As-Safir saw the lasting strategic consequences regarding “the regional conflict, where the rules and the balance of power are gradually changing, which was clear in the international and regional changes and western rapprochement towards Syria and Hezbollah after the attempt to isolate them, in parallel with a more local reality reflected in shelving the discussions about disarming Hezbollah.”

Israel-affairs reporter in As-Safir, Hilmi Moussa (whose disappearance for days in Syria last week remains a mystery) said, “It is hard to say today that anyone in Israel, especially after the war on Lebanon, and perhaps because of the poor political results of the war on Gaza, believes that there [can be] a war with guaranteed results.” Between the certainty of a third war or avoiding war by any means possible (even if the price is the sovereignty of this country and its strategic interests in return for “two million tourists”), Sateh Noureddine stood alone in saying, “There is no third war, only because the mutual political deterrence hindering it is much stronger than the theoretical military deterrence.”

He added “Israel will not have the green light from the US, and the Lebanese resistance will not have a complete cover from Iran or Syria.”

 The political Lebanese division will remain the same even with the guaranteed American green light.