Amir Taheri makes a compelling case that Western journalists and academics who claim that Hezbollah achieved a great victory against are pushing an anti-Israel and anti-American line that has nothing to do with Hezbollah’s very real plummeting popularity in Lebanon. As a contrast, last week Western academic and public diplomacy expert Marc Lynch wrote a short post about the conflict using the phrase “Hezbollah’s victory” or some variant thereof five or so times – although he cited many of the same people that Taheri did. The critical turn comes with this line:
Similarly, Ragheda Dergham argues that the war clearly hasn’t ended yet and all premature declarations of victory should be discounted (she is also one of the few to declare Hezbollah as much a loser as Israel, since – in her view – it weakened its claims to independence from Syria and Iran, while showing Lebanese that it would sacrifice their lives and land to its political goals).
That last part is not exactly accurate:
Hezbollah had to declare victory for a simple reason: It had to pretend that the death and desolation it had provoked had been worth it. A claim of victory was Hezbollah’s shield against criticism of a strategy that had led Lebanon into war without the knowledge of its government and people… The tactic worked for a day or two. However, it did not silence the critics, who have become louder in recent days. The leaders of the March 14 movement, which has a majority in the Lebanese Parliament and government, have demanded an investigation into the circumstances that led to the war, a roundabout way of accusing Hezbollah of having provoked the tragedy. Prime Minister Fuad Siniora has made it clear that he would not allow Hezbollah to continue as a state within the state. Even Michel Aoun, a maverick Christian leader and tactical ally of Hezbollah, has called for the Shiite militia to disband…
The list of names of those who never endorsed Hezbollah, or who broke with it after its Iranian connections became too apparent, reads like a Who’s Who of Lebanese Shiism. It includes, apart from the al-Amins, families such as the al-As’ad, the Osseiran, the al-Khalil, the Hamadah, the Murtadha, the Sharafeddin, the Fadhlallah, the Mussawis, the Hussainis, the Shamsuddin and the Ata’allahs.
The claim of a military victory – being unthinkingly parroted now by ignorant journalists as well as respected academics – is Hezbollah’s primary rhetorical tactic for silencing critics. If survival is victory, then Hezbollah won. But if victory means not having your side on the wrong side of a 10-1 casualty ratio and not having your 5-year-in-development stock of weapons depleted, then no, Hezbollah did not achieve a victory.
Which is not to say that the Israeli government wasn’t negligent to the point of political suicide for not coming at Hezbollah harder and winning sooner. It’s just that claiming Hezbollah objectively won on the battlefield is (a) wrong and (b) Hezbollah propaganda.