A day after the cessation of hostilities in the Middle East, an emboldened Syrian President confidently announces that in the aftermath of this conflict there is no need for Arab 'defeatism' and that Hezbollah's 'victory'has ushered in a 'new Middle East' (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4794363.stm).
It was inevitable that a conflict in which Hezballoh's capacity to wage war surprised many observers would strengthen Anti-Western rhetoric; but behind Assad's deliberately provocative comments, what is the reality of the situation and what challenges lie ahead for Israel, Lebanon and the wider Middle East?
From my perspective the most damaging aspect of this conflict has been the breakdown in relations between the Lebanese people and Israel. This may have been a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, but the real worry has to be the way in which the last month has hardened attitudes towards Israel across the entire Lebanese population. The disproportionate Israeli military response has angered countless thousands of Lebanese civilians. One time moderates who had no affiliation with Hezballoh have been rallying to their cause amidst an ever mounting death toll. The ground in Lebanon is now ripe for recruitment, obviously this is strictly hypothetical but it is quite plausible that Hezbollah will enjoy a net gain of supporters over this conflict, as felled soldiers are replaced by youthful recruits who bear such great resentment towards Israel after witnessing such devastation in their homeland. This cycle must be broken, Israeli aggression may destroy a few rocket installations and tanks, but it will never succeed in destroying the militant ideology that underpins Hezbollah.
The only possible means of controlling the Hezbollah threat is through a sustained period of diplomatic engagement between the Lebanese and Israeli governments’. The legitimate Lebanese government represents everything that George Bush purports to believe in when he calls for the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East; it is moderate, secular and certainly no ally of Hezbollah. In the next few months and even years the chief goal of an Israeli government seeking a lasting peace will be to rebuild relations with the Lebanese government, so that in time they can be persuaded that the Hezbollah militia are more their enemy than the Israeli state. Admittedly this will be a hugely difficult process, one that is dependant upon the success of the United Nations peacekeeping force. The first and immediate priority of UNIFIL must obviously be to maintain this fragile peace and establish this buffer zone on the border. Beyond this initial mission, I believe that UNIFIL can potentially play a pivotal role in ultimately restoring the Lebanese armies control of south Lebanon. This would hypothetically happen amidst a reconciliation between the Lebanese and Israeli governments, whom would agree to allow the UNIFIL force to disarm Hezbollah, as I believe that they are entitled to do under international law, as no nation is permitted to have an armed militia not affiliated with their government.
UNIFIL disarming Hezbollah with the full support of the Lebanese government may seem to be a massively optimistic scenario at this moment in time, but I believe that it is the result that we should all be striving for. For it to be achieved, Olmert needs to begin appealing to the Lebanese government to allow him a seat at a negotiating table as soon as possible.