Lebanon Ceasefire: Who Won, Who Lost? After more than a month, fighting in the Middle East stopped Monday. Still, questions remain about whether the ceasefire can hold until an international force arrives.
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Lebanon Ceasefire: Who Won, Who Lost?

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Lebanon Ceasefire: Who Won, Who Lost?

Lebanon Ceasefire: Who Won, Who Lost?

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Despite a few incidents in south Lebanon today, the cease-fire appears to be holding. An hour ago, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared an historic and strategic victory over Israel. He said that his forces would abide by the terms, but reserve the right to resistance as long as Israeli troops are on Lebanese territory. In a speech to the Knesset - the Israeli parliament - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acknowledged that there had been what he called deficiencies in the conduct of the month-long conflict, but argued that the war was a victory that had eliminated Hezbollah as a state within a state and restored Lebanese sovereignty over the south of that country.

Under the U.N. resolution, Israeli troops are to remain in place until the Lebanese army and a French-led international force arrives in South Lebanon. But questions remain about whether the cease-fire can hold until it gets there and what the force will be authorized to do once it does deploy. But for now, at least, the fighting has stopped.

Later in the program, former State Department official Richard Haass - now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations - joins us on the Opinion Page to argue for policies to contain rather than eliminate terrorism, and to begin by dropping the metaphor about the war on terrorism.

But first, the war between Israel and Hezbollah. After 34 days, who won? Who lost? We'll hear four views. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

We begin with Lebanese journalist Raghida Dergham. She's a senior diplomatic correspondent and columnist for Al-Hayat, a pan-Arab, Arabic language newspaper. And she joins us on the phone from Long Island in New York.

Nice to have you back on the program today.

Ms. RAGHIDA DERGHAM (Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, Columnist, Al-Hayat Newspaper): Thank you very much for having me on.

CONAN: So who were the winners in this conflict?

Ms. DERGHAM: Well, this is a war with two losers: Israel and Hezbollah. And both of them needed to be bailed out. Just the fact that they both needed to be bailed out makes them really losers. And no matter how much they want to spin it, either Hassan Nasrallah or Ehud Olmert - they can spin it as they wish, but this is a war that is without a clear victory or defeat.

CONAN: Yet Hassan Nasrallah emerges - a lot of people said if he could just emerge whole after this conflict with Israel, in affect, he won.

Ms. DERGHAM: Well, you can say that. As I said, anybody could spin it one way or another. But in the final analysis, if this resolution is implemented, Hassan Nasrallah would have to give up his weapons and he would have to be no more a state within a state. So that - in that sense, he had lost a very logic of his existence, if you will. It's an existentialist decision that has to be made now. And it had to take a war. A war later that destroyed Lebanon.

So I'm not so sure I would call that a victory, a clear victory. Even when we hear that the Arab public has been very much into Hezbollah, I feel that when it's all done, people are going to look at the losses - at the destruction of the country - and they going to say, well, now what? What did you bring?

CONAN: Mm hmm. Nasrallah - in the speech that was broadcast just an hour ago or so - said that this is not the time to discuss disarming Hezbollah. Even if it is time to discuss arming Hezbollah, who's going to do it?

Ms. DERGHAM: I believe part of this war was exactly about that. Hezbollah did not want to be disarmed, nor did Iran and Syria want Hezbollah disarmed. In a way, they are also the secondary losers as well as American foreign policy. We'll get back to that if you wish later.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Ms. DERGHAM: But I believe that Hezbollah will have to disarm. Otherwise, I believe that there will be a resumption of this war one way or another. It cannot end fully and with the full cease-fire -sustainable cease-fire with Hezbollah keeping its weapons.

If there is one winner, if one wants to call on one winner in this war, it is probably the sovereignty of the state of Lebanon. Hopefully, at least, it is a place now where only the state of Lebanon has the right of sovereignty throughout Lebanon. In that sense, that is hopefully - that will be sustainable. And in that case, Lebanon, the country, will be the winner despite this very dear cost to its people and its infrastructure.

CONAN: And if that is sustainable, if that does happen, that was indeed one of Israel's goals in this conflict. How could Israel then be called a loser?

Ms. DERGHAM: Well, I'm not so sure that this was the main reason behind this war. I think also - I don't think it was only Israel's decision to go into this war. I think it's a war that was wanted by Syria and Iran as well. So I'm not - I wouldn't be comfortable saying Israel went into this war in order to rid Hezbollah of its weapons, and therefore it can claim victory. I would argue that this is not really the case.

But I think Israel has been a loser because it's been exposed as almost a paper tiger, when everyone in the world thought Israeli military power was so powerful that it would have taken a week - everybody thought - to finish up this war. Well, a month later, and Israel needed to be bailed out. I would not call that victory. I don't know who will.

CONAN: Then what do we thing about the more distant backers of both sides - Syria and Iran, who backed Hezbollah? And, of course, the United States, which backed Israel?

Ms. DERGHAM: Exactly. That's why I call them the secondary losers. Iran and Syria would have very much liked a longer defeat of Israel - from their point of view - in Lebanon, as this war was their proxy war and it was not being launched on their own land. So, therefore, it was not costly to them. So they would have liked it to go longer. In a way, they were disappointed that there is this cessation of hostilities, resolution. And they may not want to a ceasefire - sustainable cease-fire resolution to take place.

And, as you know, there's a lot required between the cessation of hostilities….

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Ms. DERGHAM: …and the cease-fire, including, for example, Israel having to do something about the Shebaa Farms, give them up. These are the disputed lands that Syria says are Lebanese and the United Nations says is Syrian. But anyway, it's occupied by Israel. So - and there is lots of other things that need to be done before we could call this a cease-fire. And Iran and Syria would rather that Hezbollah remains Hezbollah in the country. And it's a matter of, as I said, an existentialist question…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. DERGHAM: …for them. And as long as Hezbollah is there, they can do whatever they want in that part of the world without having to pay the price. But Hezbollah would have now, really, to choose whether it is going to remain and sort of proxy warrior for Iran and Syria, or it's going to be really a Lebanese party. In which case, it will have to accept that it is part of this country and not in competition with the state.

And, as far as the United States is concerned, unless the United States and this administration does something important on the issue of the Palestinians in terms of making sure that Israel delivers Shaaba, I think it would be a very major loser because of this war and had to have tarnished the image of the United States - having sort of allowed a war to go on without a cease-fire in place in order for Israel to finish a job.

CONAN: Mm hmm. Now, let's get a caller involved in the conversation. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255, or zap us an e-mail -talk@npr.org.

Al is calling from Raleigh, North Carolina.

AL (Caller): Yeah, good morning. Very nice to be able to speak with you folks today. I pretty much agree with your guest's comments. I think her comments are pretty well placed, having been to the Middle East. I think that everybody is essentially a loser in this situation, some more so than others. I think Israel is a bigger loser than Hezbollah. I think that the Zionists pretty much - or the Israelis, excuse me - pretty much showed themselves to be pretty brutal. You know, they used the cluster bombs and the massive killing of civilians. That's pretty horrible. I think most civilized people watching that situation were pretty much disgusted with the actions of Israel. I personally don't like the idea of my tax dollars going to support the Israeli army and its brutality.

I think Hezbollah also showed significant brutality and stupidity. But by and large, I think they'll be stronger for it, and that's the way that's going to go. I also…

CONAN: Stronger, Al, as a military force or stronger as a political force?

AL: I think eventually both. I don't know what the big deal was about the press and the American government pointing out they were being supported and armed by Iran or Syria. I mean, they've got to get their weapons from somebody. America supplies weapons to Israel.

CONAN: Yeah, but they're one faction. They're a militia. They're not the Lebanese army.

AL: No, but they're part of the Lebanese government, and they're highly supported, by the way, by Lebanese people.

I had the pleasure of seeing Beirut, by the way, twice in my life -before it was destroyed the first time in ‘82 by Israel, and very recently last year when I was heading out of Iraq. And it was a very beautiful city with very sophisticated and intelligent people. I mean, what happened there is a complete and absolute crime.

But to finish my comment…

CONAN: And very quickly if you would, please.

AL: Yeah, okay. I think America turns out to be a huge loser for not having the moral courage to put an end or call for an end to the slaughter of innocents. Civilized people don't drop bombs on defenseless people. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Al.

What about his comments about Mr. Nasrallah, you know, sustaining his place as a political force in Lebanon, Raghida?

Ms. DERGHAM: Yeah. I agree, by the way, with what the caller said about the Israel part of his comment. But I disagree with him on the Hezbollah part of his comment, because I believe that one would have to eliminate the other. Either Hezbollah would have to eliminate the State of Lebanon, or the State of Lebanon would have to eliminate Hezbollah in terms of who has sovereignty in the country.

I do not believe Hezbollah can go on having its weapons independent of the Lebanese army. It is definitely a political force in the country. It is - Hezbollah has got lots of followers, but just like others, had been militias and delivered their weapons to the State of Lebanon. I think Hezbollah will have to do that. There is no way that they can continue back - you know, that will be going back to the status quo ante. And this is not allowed, not by the United Nations, not by the resolution, not by the United States, not by Israel - not even by Lebanon, really. Lebanon needs to get on its own feet, and nobody elected Hezbollah to take this country to war when it wishes to.

CONAN: One last question before we run out of time in this segment. And that is at this point - given the destruction that was visited upon the State of Lebanon and the economic destruction in the long term - if it stops here, is Lebanon going to be able to recover in fairly short order?

Ms. DERGHAM: If it stops here, yes. The resilience of the Lebanese is well known, and I think also people are feeling bad for this country that has paid the price over and over again. I think the international community - if there is a strong Lebanese central government and army and a new face for Lebanon - not only the international community but also the Arab world - and I think the Lebanese at large will come back and say hey, listen, this is a country now on a different road, and it's enough suffering. But again, we have to wait to see of this resolution is implemented, if there is in fact a cease-fire or whether it is going to be a temporary cessation of hostilities, where things are going to go back to this horrible war that came up on this country so unfortunately.

CONAN: Raghida Dergham, thank you very much for being with us.

Ms. DERGHAM: I appreciate it. Thank you.

CONAN: She's a senior diplomatic correspondent and columnist for Al-Hayat. She spoke to us today on the phone from Long Island in New York. More when we come back from a short break. And if you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255 - e-mail, talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

It's now evening in the Middle East. So far, the cease-fire that took effect very early this morning continues to hold. Today, both sides in the conflict begin to look at what they gained and what they lost.

We're discussing those very questions. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. We go now to Jerusalem, where Gerald Steinberg joins us. He's a professor of political science and director of the program on conflict management at Bar-Ilan University. Nice to have you on the program today.

Professor GERALD STEINBERG (Professor of Political Science and Director of the Program on Conflict Management at Bar Ilan University in Israel): Thank you.

CONAN: So who won and who lost in your view?

Prof. STEINBERG: Well, I think it's obviously more complicated. And it was interesting to hear the previous discussion, because I think that a lot of this has to do with internal Lebanese issues. And Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, has been defending himself in the Lebanese area for the last two or three days. The very shrill, hysterical threats to destroy Israel, to bomb Israel, surprises -none of those seem to really pan out, so that they keep backtracking a little bit.

There's no euphoria in Israel. There's a relatively solemn attitude. Certainly, Israel doesn't feel like its forces were defeated, but it should have been better. It should have been quicker. And it's interesting that the prime minister, Ehud Olmert - who's in quite a bit of trouble now for questions about the hesitation. Why did it take four weeks to begin a ground campaign? Why when it began was it stopped immediately with a cease-fire? Couldn't the missiles that were being shot by Hezbollah on a daily basis and seemed to increase towards the end? Could the Israeli army be sent out to deal with those earlier?

But it's interesting that Olmert in his speech today before the country said that there will be another round. I think Israelis are very aware of the fact that this conflict is far from over, and it's really mainly about Iran. The previous discussion talked a little bit about Iran and Syria, and the - sort of - the rant that we heard from the caller about weapons…

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Prof. STEINBERG: Hezbollah is a creature largely of Iran. Not entirely. They have their own internal issues, but it is definitely a Shiite radical - Shiite Iranian outpost in Lebanon. And from an Israeli perspective, it was very important. The goal was to destroy or prevent Iran from using Hezbollah to attack Israel as sort of a proxy or a branch of the Iranian capability. We're entering a period of confrontation with Iran over its nuclear weapons program.

We've got a U.N. deadline at the end of this month. Perhaps after that sanction, the tension's going to increase. Not having Hezbollah capable of attacking Israel as a branch of Iran is very much a large part of the environment here. And there I think - at least for the short term - Hezbollah's been dealt a major blow. It will have to rebuild its weapons stockpiles. It will have to rebuild its concrete fortresses under the houses, the mosques, the schools of Southern Lebanon. We've seen the pictures of what's left of that. They're not going to be able to move back in and mount a major military campaign against Israel on behalf Iran or threaten to do that. So it's very much a mix, and that element is something Israelis are very aware of.

CONAN: Are you as confident as Raghida Dergham seemed to be that Hezbollah will now, in terms of Lebanese politics, have to disarm?

Prof. STEINBERG: Well, I'm not as confident she is. Perhaps she's got a better understanding of Lebanese politics. But Lebanon is going through some changes at such a critical period, and I think in addition to the Iranian element, the Lebanese element is critical.

We have to remember Lebanon has been a failed state. It's been easily used and exploited by terrorists in the 1970s by the PLO and then after that the Hezbollah, because the Lebanese State lacked the coherence to be able to have its own sovereignty, its own army. What are we talking about now? Bringing down what's left of the Lebanese army to disarm Hezbollah - probably not going to happen easily, but there is a political debate going on in Lebanon.

We hear it, the dispensiveness(ph) of Nasrallah and Hezbollah. And perhaps they are - the Lebanese are finally tired of being exploited and abused this way and they will say no, we will not allow Hezbollah to have a state within a state. The question will be what will happen to the Shiites' power that exists? Will they be more absorbed into the Lebanese polity? Will the become the mainstream of the Lebanese army and how will that transform?

What's going to be the role of Syria also in this process? Because Syria was the umbrella group for Hezbollah. So there are many, many questions. Syria's been basically forced to retreat over the last few years from Lebanon. Maybe we'll also see now a more optimistic scenario or retreat of Hezbollah because of all these factors. There's certainly a lot of questions and not many answers yet.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is Justin. Justin with us from San Francisco.

JUSTIN (Caller): Yes, hello.


JUSTIN: You know, I know that it's a very complicated issue over there. But it just seems to me that sometimes - you know, the Israelis, you know, take the brunt of a lot of what is going on, too. And I'm not Jewish, but you have to feel a little bit when you have a major country like Iran, and they have their top political leader that says they want to wipe them off the face of the earth. That kind of puts them in a little bit of defensive mode if you ask me.

CONAN: Mm hmm. So you think…

JUSTIN: And the United Nations - I mean, when we talk about winners and losers, I'm not sure if the either one of them is such a loser as much as the United Nations. You know, a lot of this situation in Southern Lebanon was worked out years ago - was my understanding -and it's never enforced. And so you have the Hezbollah putting rockets across the Israeli border. What are they supposed to do? As much as there is pain - and I'm not sure if it's justified or not, I'm not qualified to really state that - but it just seems to me that it took this much to get the United Nations to act, and you wonder if they really were going to act, anyway. It's almost out of desperation that they acted.

So I think my thoughts are that if with all the different elements that goes on in the Middle East - that if the United Nations is going to take the strong role trying to keep some sort of order there then they need to either do it, because if they don't do it this is what you get.

CONAN: Justin, thanks very much.

Prof. STEINBERG: Conan.


Prof. STEINBERG: On Justin's point, I think the question of the U.N. and the other actors is very important here. Israelis are really questioning - you ask the Israeli man on the street what he thinks or she thinks of the outcome of these last 34 days of tremendous violence of 160 people being killed in Israel - 1,000 in Lebanon - all of the terrible scenes we saw. And then the Israeli - the average Israeli says, well wait a minute now. We agreed to a cease-fire. We didn't pursue this to the end. And who's coming in to preserve the peace? The United Nations, an international force? It doesn't make sense.

We've had a U.N. force UNIFIL sitting in Lebanon since the late 1970s. They haven't done anything except occasionally cooperated with Hezbollah. They've been, if anything, part of the problem -certainly not part of the solution. And unfortunately, when we had the incident with some of the U.N. forces were killed, they had reported in e-mails before that that Hezbollah was using their territory and there was a lot of fraternization. So what's changed here? Israelis need to see a better explanation. I think there's going to be a lot of emphasis and demand of the government - of the prime minister, the defense minister - to explain why this risk was taken.

Unless the U.N. all of a sudden - and the U.N. is really a collection of its members - Europe has a major role here. The United States is stretched beyond its capabilities in Iraq. And Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, brokered the cease-fire agreement, but the actual troops that are going to provide the backbone that are supposed to be sitting in Southern Lebanon preventing more of these incidents of attacks from Hezbollah - kidnappings and killings - those are supposed to be provided by the French, by the Italians, largely by European forces.

And there's very little faith in Israel that Europe has any capability of dealing with security in general or Israeli security in particular, and the United Nations is seen as very much a one-sided organization. We had this vote of the U.S. Human Rights Council just a couple of days ago condemning Israel for defending itself. We have the role of the groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty promoting these attacks - these political attacks - through the U.N. against Israel. So Israelis don't really understand why all of a sudden the U.N. looks good or what's happened here. Perhaps there's an effort. Perhaps there's a sense that there is a change going on - greater seriousness - particularly about extremist Islamic organizations and that something different will happen, but I can't say there's a lot of confidence there.

CONAN: Gerald Steinberg, thanks very much.

Prof. STEINBERG: Thank you.

CONAN: Gerald Steinberg, Professor Of Political Science and Director of the Program on Conflict Management at Bar Ilan University. He was on the line with us from Jerusalem.

Joining us now is Robert Malley, Director of the Middle East program at the International Crisis Group, formerly a special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs in the Clinton administration. He's speaking to us today from Bern in Switzerland. And it's good to have you on the program again.

Mr. ROBERT MALLEY: Good to be on.

CONAN: What are the repercussions of this conflict for - well, let's talk about the direct combatants first.

Mr. MALLEY: For the direct combatants - well, I mean, I'm not, you know - what we have now is a situation that is still extremely fragile to see whether in fact the cease-fire's going to hold. You have a very complicated synchronization between the withdrawal of troops and the introduction - withdrawal of the Israeli troops, introduction of both Lebanese and international troops, and what will happen to Hezbollah. So I think it's a bit too soon to try to see - to try to make a real - try to decide what the outcome was. But…

CONAN: We had both Prime Minister Olmert and Hassan Nasrallah declaring victory today. Do you think either is justified?

Mr. MALLEY: Well, I think it's very hard for Prime Minister Olmert to declare victory. The question is go back and see what both sides had said were their goals at the outset. Prime Minister Olmert set out very grandiose goals of wiping out Hezbollah and not allowing it to remain in the south and disarming it.

Well, at this point, those don't seem to be achievable goals, even though the resolution, the UN resolution, mentioned a number of them. I don't think anyone should hold his breath to wait to see those things to happen.

On the other side, Hussein Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, declared early on that he defined victory as simply staying put and resisting the Israeli onslaught. And certainly from the point of view of the Lebanese people and the Arab and Muslim people throughout the world, he succeeded. And he succeeded beyond their expectations and beyond what any Arab military force has done in the past.

So comparing the outcome and the outlook for both, the Israeli prime minister and the head of Hezbollah, I think it's pretty clear who emerges at this point in time - and it's still a fluid picture - but at this point in time, I think it's pretty hard not to recognize that Hezbollah comes out ahead.

CONAN: What about the larger picture within Lebanon?

Mr. MALLEY: That's where the Hezbollah is going to have more of a problem. In fact, I think it prevailed in its struggle against Israel simply because it didn't lose, and that's always the definition of success for a guerilla militant organization.

It's going to have a harder time prevailing on the Lebanese scene, and that's where I think the coming weeks and months are going to be critical. How does he manage? How does Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, manage to both maintain his weapons, maintain the aura of a militant group, and yet not run afoul of the other Lebanese forces - many of which are going to start asking for the movement's disarmament and for its re-conversion as a political - truly political, organization.

So the Lebanese scene is going to be the most difficult now to manage in some ways, and the risk of confrontation between the various sectarian groups is still very high. We hear from Lebanese people on all sides. Recrimination is beginning, the Shiites feel that they were betrayed by some of the others, some of the Sunnis and Christians who let them down during the war. And some of the Sunnis and Christians believe that Hezbollah dragged them into war for no purpose.

So that's where I think the next rebel is going to move.

CONAN: The majority of the Lebanese army is Shia. The majority of the Lebanese people are Shia. The members of the Lebanese army who are Shia are going to have cousins and brothers who are members of Hezbollah. Who's going to disarm Hezbollah?

Mr. MALLEY: Well, I think, you know, one of your speakers said that there was now resolution and so Hezbollah is going to have to disarm. Well, there was another resolution. It's called UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which also ordered Hezbollah to be disarmed. It's not going to happen through military means, neither the Lebanese army nor the UN force, nor anyone else is going to disarm Hezbollah.

If it's going to happen, it's going to happen gradually through a political process whereby, number one: the arguments are pretext justifications that Hezbollah invokes to maintain its military weapons will have to be dealt with one by one. And second: the regional picture is going to have to change, and that's going to involve the much more robust diplomatic effort by the United States to try to involve Syrians; to try to get the peace process between Syria and Israel re-launched; to try again to take away from Hezbollah, both its justifications and its regional supporters, in terms of it keeping its military identity. It's going to take time, and no one I know in Lebanon has the appetite now to go after Hezbollah and risk a civil confrontation.

CONAN: We're speaking with Robert Malley, a director of the Middle East program at the International Crisis Group, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another caller on the line. This is Sam. Sam's with us from Las Vegas.

SAM (Caller): Yes. My comment is, I believe that we in the United States have lost tremendously in terms of prestige and in terms of one of the fundamental points that we had to fight terrorism. Which his the terrorists initiate actions which cause tremendous damage and death among civilian populations, and then they sit back and sort of justify it that, you know, civilians have to be killed in order for us to do whatever it is that they want to do.

And I believe that, in a tremendous way, our country has suffered because in the face of tremendous civilian death and destruction, our government stood by and justified itself by saying, well, this is just a means to an end. And so then if you think about, we have made ourselves the equal in a philosophical sense, of those who have done damage to us and killed our people.

And now how are we going to say to them that we are a just society when we stood by, our taxpayer, our government just stood by and allowed this destruction, and we know we could have stopped it, and we justified it saying, well, it was just a means to an end. So how does that help us? And I'll take my…

CONAN: Alright. Sam, thanks very much for the call. Robert Malley, I'm not sure I followed Sam's logic entirely, but the United States certainly did look like it was giving the Israelis the green light to go ahead and pursue their aims.

Mr. MALLEY: I think the point is absolutely well taken. You know, you've asked your other guests who are the winners and losers. I think it's very hard to identify winners at this point. But the losers are clear: the Lebanese people, I think Israel has lost, I think U.S. diplomacy, the U.S. image in the region has suffered beyond what anyone could have imagined possible at this point.

The mere fact of having the president or the secretary of state say in the same breath, we have compassion for the Lebanese people, we want them to stop dying, we're thinking of them, we're praying for them. And then in the next successive sentence is to say, but the time for cease-fire is not now. I don't know if U.S. diplomats measured what kind of damage that did to our reputation in a region where we have such enormous stakes.

I think it's going to be very hard to recover from this. I hope we do, and I hope we do it for the kind of diplomacy that's going to aim to reach finally, peace between Israelis and Arabs. But at this point in time, the notion that the U.S. has a kind of credibility to promote any of its policies in a region after what just happened, when virtually we stood alone the world in opposing a cease-fire. And for what end? I mean it's very hard to justify 30 days of fighting, and for an outcome that probably could've been achieved much earlier at far less cost to these Lebanese people, and, of course, to the Israeli people themselves.

CONAN: Um-hmm. And finally, we just have a minute with you, but do you believe this is sustainable in the long run? Or is this just a time out?

Mr. MALLEY: I think it may be sustainable for some time, because I don't think either Israel or Hezbollah at this point wants to resume hostilities. Neither one thinks it can gain much more from it, and both, I think, feel that they've reached sort of the end of this current stage.

I don't think - to quote Condoleezza Rice - that we have reached the root causes of this conflict. The root causes are much broader than the ones that the administration has defined. We need really to get to the root causes in terms of the conflict between the Arab world and Israel. That's going to take the kind of diplomacy that we haven't seen, but hopefully we will after this catastrophe.

CONAN: Robert Malley, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Mr. MALLEY: Thank you.

CONAN: Robert Malley, director of the Middle East program for the International Crisis Group, formerly special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs under President Clinton. He was with us today from Bern in Switzerland.

When we come back from a short break, one more view on winners and losers in the conflict in the Middle East, plus our regular weekly Opinion Page feature. Richard Haass will join us to explain why we should stop using the metaphor about the war on terrorism. Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News.

Britain downgraded its terror threat level today from critical to severe. This reflects an intelligence assessment that a terrorist attack remains highly likely but is no longer imminent.

And the International AIDS Conference is underway in Toronto. This meeting will focus on the successes and failures of scaling of treatment in the developing world. New studies shows that advanced AIDS therapies can be delivered successfully in even the poorest settings.

You can hear details on those stories and, of course, much more later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Tomorrow at this time on TALK OF THE NATION, we'll talk with Cuban-Americans about their future in the event of political change in their homeland. Join us tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Now let's continue our discussion of Israel and Hezbollah, what was lost and what was gained after more than a month of war. We're joined by Aaron David Miller, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a nonpartisan institute here in Washington. He served as Middle East advisor to six secretaries of state, and joins us now from Oxford, Maine. Good of you to be with us today.

Mr. AARON DAVID MILLER (Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center): It's a pleasure.

CONAN: Who wins? Who loses?

Mr. MILLER: Well, you know, Neal, it's not the World Series, and I tend to believe that in life, the world's most compelling ideologies is not Islam, communism, democracy or even capitalism - it's success. Because success generates constituents and success generates power.

And the fact is it's going to take a period of time to judge and to determine with an degree of precision or authority whether or not this operation, and the diplomatic and military implications, have succeeded or failed.

Will the LAF emerge as a credible, competent force? Will a beefed up UNIFIL have a mandate that will not only ensure border security, but deal with a very contentious area south of Litani River. Will that same force in the Lebanese government be able to impose an arms embargo to cut the supply of Iranian - re-supply of Iranian rockets to Hezbollah?

You know, I'm sure, that supply has already begun. And will the Lebanese government ultimately be able to take measures, probably - Mr. Malley is right - through a political process to disarm Hezbollah.

So I think in fairness, and not to get locked into winners and losers too early, time ultimately will be the great judge.

CONAN: LAF you referred to, the Lebanese armed forces?

Mr. MILLER: Yes. That's right.

CONAN: Yeah. Within the situation, do you agree that this fighting -after 34 days - that we could've reached the same situation we are in now, much, much earlier?

Mr. MILLER: Probably, but then you'd have to convince the Israelis and the Hezbollahi that it wasn't in their respective interest to try to achieve their objectives and goals on the battlefield. And here I think the U.S. role is extremely critical and very important.

We, I think, responded to this crisis out of a kind of 9/11 paradigm. That is to say, there's a line in the sand - on one side there are those who support terror and practice it, and on the other side, there are those who do not. And it is out view, it seems to me, that at this stage, there was a military solution, and the Israelis knew how to find it. And therefore, we should give them time, which we did, to achieve their objectives.

The problem is that they couldn't find it. And three or four weeks later you've created a situation in which, from the perspective of the region, Hezbollah seems to have emerged politically and psychologically, it seems to me, with the upper hand. That will pay dividends.

Perception of who won and who lost, who succeeded, who failed, will pay dividends, it seems to me, to our adversaries. And I think the Israelis who went in to this operation in an effort to enhance their strategic deterrence have emerged with that deterrence, it seems to me, weakened.

Two other issues with respect to winners and losers, with respect to the United States. And as an American, I think that's where my interest lies. This whole operation has become, I think, a fatal distraction. And I think a fatal distraction from a broader political process that needs to be joined in order to address the core Israeli/Palestinian issue.

Not that the prospects were high, great opportunity - you had Hamas, you had Olmert, you had unilateralism, you had Sharon. But the fact is no Israeli prime minister - particularly one that is weakened as a consequence of missteps in the early phases of this operation -will be able to proceed unilaterally, that is to withdraw Israeli forces from the West Bank and Gaza or probably through a negotiation. And this is a very serious problem for the United States.

It's more than likely, over the next two years, Israel's occupation of the West Bank will continue. The Gaza problem will not be addressed. And anti-Israeli and also anti-American sentiment will grow throughout this region. That's very costly. So I see Lebanon as a fatal distraction.

Finally, the issue of U.S. credibility. The image that we held Israel's coat while the Israelis had their way in Lebanon - true, not true, right, wrong - isn't, in essence, the perception that most Arabs and Muslims came away with with respect to this conflict. And that will not enhance American credibility or put us in a position where people will want to trust and follow our lead.

CONAN: What about - it sounds as if you see this as Hezbollah emerging with substantial gains. That has to be seen as a success for its backers in Syria and in Iran as well.

Mr. MILLER: I think so, although the Syrians are in a curious position. I'm sure they watched with glee as the Israelis destroyed Lebanon. This was, in essence, the junior Assad's way of saying to the Lebanese I'm repaying you. I said to your former prime minister I would break Lebanon. I couldn't do it. You used the international community to push the Syrians out, and now we're out. We wouldn't restrain Hezbollah. We were not in a position to deal with the Israelis, and you suffered as a consequence.

So I think the Syrians may well - given the fact that their support will be needed in order to make this arrangement work 0 may find themselves in a fairly good position.

CONAN: You mentioned the junior Assad, Bashar al-Assad, who took over after his father Hafiz al-Assad died.

Mr. MILLER: Yes, and the last point with respect to the Iranians -think about this. Iran - at low cost, with a minimal expenditure of resources to equip the Hezbollahi with a capacity it's never had before, the capacity to shell and bring life in northern Israel to a stand-still - kept the world on the edge of its chair for four weeks.

And this shows, it seems to me, how smaller powers - smaller regional powers - can in fact, with very little effort, create distractions, crises, and exercise influence and leverage. We're going to see more of it from the Iranians. We're going to see it in Iraq, and we're even going to see it in Gaza.

So Iran, it seems to me, also has succeeded in demonstrating a certain measure of success.

CONAN: Aaron David Miller, I appreciate your time.

Mr. MILLER: You're welcome.

CONAN: Aaron Miller is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He served at Middle East advisor to six secretaries of state, and he spoke to us today on the phone from Oxford, Maine. When we come back, the opinion page.

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