by Gilbert Achcar
(Gilbert Achcar grew up in Lebanon and teaches political science at the University of Paris-VIII. His best-selling book The Clash of Barbarisms just came out in a second expanded edition and a book of his dialogues with Noam Chomsky on the Middle East, Perilous Power, is forthcoming)
"Measured against the central goal and the three means described above, the Israeli offensive was a total and blatant failure. Most obviously, Hezbollah was not destroyed -- far from it. It has retained the bulk of both its political structure and its military force, indulging in the luxury of shelling northern Israel up to the very last moment before the ceasefire on the morning of August 14. It has not been cut off from its mass base; if anything, this mass base has been considerably extended, not only among Lebanese Shiites, but among all other Lebanese religious communities as well, not to mention the huge prestige that this war brought to Hezbollah, especially in the Arab region and the rest of the Muslim world. Last but not least, all this has led to a shift in the overall balance of forces in Lebanon in a direction that is the exact opposite of what Washington and Israel expected: Hezbollah emerged much stronger and more feared by its declared or undeclared opponents, the friends of the U.S. and the Saudi kingdom. The Lebanese government essentially sided with Hezbollah, making the protest against the Israeli aggression its priority. 
Arens speaks the truth: as Israel proved increasingly unable to score any of the goals that it had set for itself at the onset of its new war, it started looking for an exit. While it compensated for its failure by an escalation in the destructive and revengeful fury that it unleashed over Lebanon, its U.S. sponsors switched their attitude at the UN. After having bought time for Israel for more than three weeks by blocking any attempt at discussing a Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire -- one of the most dramatic cases of paralysis in the history of the 61-year old intergovernmental institution -- Washington decided to take over and continue Israel's war by diplomatic means.
Washington and Paris's main concession was to abandon the project of creating an ad-hoc multinational force under Chapter VII. Instead, the resolution authorizes "an increase in the force strength of UNIFIL to a maximum of 15,000 troops," thus revamping and considerably swelling the existing UN force. The main trick, however, was to redefine the mandate of this force so that it could now "assist the Lebanese armed forces in taking steps" towards "the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL." UNIFIL can now as well "take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind."
Nasrallah's position was the most correct possible given the circumstances. Hezbollah had to make concessions to facilitate the ending of the war. As the whole population of Lebanon was held hostage by Israel, any intransigent attitude would have had terrible humanitarian consequences over and above the already appalling results of Israel's destructive and murderous fury. Hezbollah knows perfectly well that the real issue is less the wording of a UN Security Council resolution than its actual interpretation and implementation, and in that respect what is determinant is the situation and balance of forces on the ground.
The second issue, also on the domestic Lebanese level, is the reconstruction effort. Hariri and his Saudi backers had built up their political influence in Lebanon by dominating the reconstruction efforts after Lebanon's 15-year war ended in 1990. This time they will be faced by an intensive competition from Hezbollah, with Iran standing behind it and with the advantage of its intimate link with the Lebanese Shiite population that was the principal target of the Israeli war of revenge.
The fourth issue, of course, is the composition and intent of the new UNIFIL contingents. The original plan of Washington and Paris was to repeat in Lebanon what is taking place in Afghanistan where a NATO auxiliary force with a UN fig leaf is waging Washington's war. Hezbollah's resilience on the military as well as on the political level thwarted this plan. Washington and Paris believed they could implement it nevertheless under a disguised form and gradually, until political conditions were met in Lebanon for a showdown pitting NATO and its local allies against Hezbollah. Indeed, the countries expected to send the principal contingents are all NATO members: along with France, Italy and Turkey are on standby, while Germany and Spain are being urged to follow suit. Hezbollah is no fool however. It is already engaged in dissuading France from executing its plan of sending elite combat troops backed by the stationing of the single French air-carrier close to Lebanon's shores in the Mediterranean."