Who Really Won the Mideast War? In the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, both sides proclaim victory. But Israel achieved none of its war goals, and its military intelligence and tactics have been faulted. And while Hezbollah's stature in the Middle East has been raised, it suffered significant losses and may be criticized by Lebanese for bringing such destruction upon their country. The war's ultimate result may be a more unstable Middle East.

Who Really Won the Mideast War?

Who Really Won the Mideast War?

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Claiming Victory

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: 'The Israeli army has hurt this murderous organization.' (Translated from the Hebrew)

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Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah: 'A victory for all of Lebanon.' (Translated from the Arabic.)

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President Bush: 'Hezbollah suffered a defeat.'

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Lebanese Army soldiers look out of the back of a truck in Tibnin, southern Lebanon. hide caption

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Lebanese Army soldiers look out of the back of a truck in Tibnin, southern Lebanon.

Once a U.N. Security Council ceasefire resolution went into effect Monday morning, it seemed that both Israel and Hezbollah were eager to stop the fighting, suggesting both sides had suffered considerably in this war.

Augustus Richard Norton, a former West Point professor of international relations, now at Boston University, says this war left all parties wounded and hurt.

"Frankly speaking, I think this is a war without any winners. I think the ground is littered with losers in this war, actually."

But that hasn't stopped leaders all around from making claims of victory. Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, speaking to the Israeli parliament Monday, said that "Israel has hit [Hezbollah's] long-range missiles, its huge weapons stores, and the self-confidence of its leaders and members."

President Bush also proclaimed the outcome in favor of Israel, in a speech on Monday.

"Hezbollah attacked Israel. Hezbollah started the crisis. And Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis."

But Israel achieved none of its war goals. Initially, Olmert said Israel would wipe out Hezbollah and destroy its ability to hit Israel with rockets. Midway through the war, Israeli leaders adjusted, claiming they intended to lessen Hezbollah's rocket threat.

On Sunday, the last day of the war, Hezbollah struck Israel with more rockets than on any previous day. Israel set its goals too high, says Sam Lewis, U.S. ambassador to Israel during its earlier invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

"To say you were going to eradicate them or drive them back to the far reaches of north Lebanon was an unattainable goal I think from the beginning," he said. "Unless you are prepared to occupy the whole country, which certainly the Israelis were not."

It was a failure of military tactics and intelligence on Israel's part, say many experts. Israel relied on air strikes initially, which didn't work.

Then Israel initiated ground operations, relying on tank brigades. Hezbollah was ready for them, with wire- and laser-guided anti-tank missiles. Israeli tanks could not maneuver easily in the rugged hills and forests of southern Lebanon.

Most of Israel's losses occurred inside tanks and in buildings that Israeli troops seized.

Israel's intelligence has also been faulted. Its strengths lie in technical means such as overhead photos and communications intercepts. But it seems to have a weakness in "human intelligence."

That's especially evident in its analysis of Hezbollah's relationship to Lebanese society, says professor Norton.

"They have been god-awful at really understanding Hezbollah, and this has been a consistent problem…. They have continually thought that if they inflict punishment and pain on the Lebanese, the Lebanese would turn against the Syrians and Hezbollah. But instead, what happens is that people end up getting mad and angry at Israel."

Israeli leaders also declared that their offensive in Lebanon would restore the notion of Israeli deterrence, which they feared had eroded in recent years throughout the Middle East.

Former ambassador Sam Lewis says the outcome is quite the opposite.

"These events now will demonstrate that it has eroded. I don't know that it had eroded so much before these events. But certainly the failure to achieve more than very limited goals in Lebanon, and the way that Hezbollah fought, the kind of resistance they put up, it seems to me is stirring a lot of unfortunate hopes and desires in other parts of the region."

Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, was also quick to claim victory, in a television appearance earlier this week.

We are facing a strategic and historic victory, Nasrallah declared. This is no exaggeration, a victory for all of Lebanon, for the resistance, and for the entire Islamic nation, he said. The leaders of Syria and Iran said much the same thing.

There is no doubt that the stature of Hezbollah has been raised throughout the Middle East -- but it did sustain significant losses.

And there are many in Lebanon who will criticize Hezbollah for bringing so much destruction on the country, says Aaron Miller, a Middle East scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

"There will be a debate in Lebanon in the wake of this as to why we are in this crisis. And there may be fingers pointed at Hezbollah for provoking this, there's no question. But in the end, the thousand or so Lebanese who have died, the devastated and demolished infrastructure will not be laid at Hezbollah's doorstep. It will be laid at the doorstep of the Israelis and the United States."

Miller and other experts believe that this war may have left the wider Middle East more unstable, with Israel's potential enemies perhaps now more eager to devise ways to hurt it than at any time since Israel's victory in the 1967 Six Day War.

"I don't believe the Israelis emerge either in the eyes of the Americans or in the eyes of the region -- Israel's friends or Israel's adversaries -- as a coherent and an effective response to this crisis," Miller said. "And that, I think, is a problem -- because it's one thing to make the region angry and succeed. It's another to make the region angry and fail."