Iran's response to Second Lebanon War is Israel's gain
Even if the Second Lebanon War wasn't a zero-sum game in which one side's defeat is the other side's victory, if Nasrallah and Iran are dissatisfied with the war's results, Israel's situation has improved.
It has been five years since the Second Lebanon War - the third war, after the Sinai Campaign and the first Lebanon war, that Israel initiated. For any country, and certainly for Israel, war should be the last option, a decision made in the absence of other choices. For that reason, the abduction of two soldiers should not have been enough to justify the hasty decision to go to war in July 2006. Nevertheless, and with all due regret over the 121 soldiers who died and the hundreds more wounded, and the failures as exposed by the Winograd Committee, the war did bring Israel some gains.
Most of the missteps and failures of the Second Lebanon War were on the tactical level: careless deployment of forces, unprepared soldiers, lack of communication between field units and the high command and an overreliance on the air force. And of course, the failure to protect the home front. On the whole, however, Israel came out of the war with significant strategic and political assets.
The northern border has been quiet for five years. Contrary to Hezbollah's wishes, the Lebanese Army deployed in the south and an international force was stationed along the border, creating a barrier against the Shi'ite organization. Its fortification line along the border was destroyed, and its members can no longer carry unconcealed weapons.
All these limitations make it much harder for Hezbollah to operate near the border. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has in effect been in hiding for five years, for fear of being assassinated by Israel if he shows his face in public. The Israel Defense Forces' deterrent power has been restored. True, Hezbollah has tripled its stores of missiles since the war, and upgraded them, but it presumably would have done so in any event.
But the war's most important consequence, arguably, was the disclosure of the extent of the connection between Hezbollah and Iran. It was Jordan's King Abdullah who coined the term "Shi'ite Crescent" to stress Iran's expansion into Lebanon via Iraq and Syria. In the years before the war, Arab leaders expressed their concerns about Iran's expansionist policy. However, they did so behind closed doors, as shown in WikiLeaks cables. They didn't dare talk openly about their fears. But the Second Lebanon War changed their attitude. The Arab Sunnis, represented by their leaders - Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states - wanted Israel to hurt Hezbollah to damage Iranian prestige.
At the height of the war and afterward, most local media commentators argued that the conflict was a resounding failure for Israel. They focused on the tactical flaws and refused to see the strategic picture. In their narrow-minded interpretation, they set the war's narrative: Israeli defeat.
The proof that the Second Lebanon War was not a failure lies in the response of Iran itself. Immediately after the war, senior Revolutionary Guard commanders, in particular the Al-Quds force commanded by Gen. Qassem Suleimani, rebuked Nasrallah for the abduction that provoked Israeli retaliation. That response, according to the Iranians, hurt Iranian interests and assets in Lebanon and the wider Middle East.
But even more important are the public remarks of Nasrallah himself. In a rare moment of candor after the war, he admitted being surprised by the force of Israel's response and said that had he known how events would unfold he would not have chosen his course of action.
Even if this wasn't a zero-sum game in which one side's defeat is the other side's victory, if Nasrallah and Iran are dissatisfied with the war's results, Israel's situation has improved.