As Mideast Smoke Clears, Political Fates May Shift

Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, talks with Condoleezza Rice before a Security Council meeting Friday.
Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, talks with Condoleezza Rice before a Security Council meeting Friday. (By Frank Franklin Ii -- Associated Press)
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 13, 2006

It was a very close call. U.N. diplomats assembled at 3 p.m. in the cavernous Security Council hall to get the U.S.-French proposal to end an excruciating month of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. The United States had Lebanon's approval but still had not received word from Israel. U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton did a "diplomatic tap dance" to stall, U.S. officials said.

Then at 3:53 Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for the third time during a tense day of diplomacy. Despite its decision just hours earlier to launch a ground invasion, Israel agreed to the terms of the resolution. It was a deal.

Before she raised her hand to vote for the proposal, Rice said the time had come "to build a more hopeful future" in the region.

But the future of the Middle East may be markedly different as a result of the bloody drama that erupted July 12 after the seizure of two Israeli soldiers by Lebanon's Shiite militia. So, too, the image of the United States. What many now consider to be the sixth modern Middle East war has some distinct winners and losers, interviews with a range of former U.S. officials and Middle East analysts reveal.

Although the outcome will be long debated, big losers at this stage appear to be Israel's government, the Lebanese people, and the Bush administration's struggle against terrorism and its campaign for democracy, these observers said.

In waging the longest Arab war against Israel, the big winner may be Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah -- for now. One surprise has been the strong leadership of neophyte Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Yet every party has lost something.

"This is a war that has not had a clear logic, but it does have a large number of casualties and losers," said Robert Malley of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "Israel's government is in trouble. Lebanon as a country has lost a lot. U.S. standing is worse. Democracy promotion has been hurt. The credibility of the U.N. Security Council has been eroded. Even the anti-terror agenda has lost. So on almost every count, you see diminished assets and credibility."

Israel lost by failing to achieve its strategic objectives in response to the capture of its soldiers, analysts said. It has already paid a huge political, physical and psychological price -- with perhaps more to come, as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appears imperiled, they added.

"The pressure is rising in Israel to interpret this as a debacle. Israel is nowhere close to having achieved its goal of destroying Hezbollah or its arsenal. It will also have to deal with the moral and humanitarian crisis that it caused," said Ellen Laipson, president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a defense think tank, and formerly of the National Intelligence Council. "It looks like the denouement will create a crisis in Israeli politics that will not be easily fixable."

The conflict has affected Israeli civilians more than in any previous war, with the northernmost quarter of the country fleeing sustained Hezbollah missile attacks, analysts noted. It has proved that Israel cannot force peace through military means, said former U.S. ambassador to Israel Edward P. Djerejian.

The United States does not come out well, either, despite marathon diplomatic efforts.

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