Syria Emerges Front and Center

“War wins nothing, cures nothing, ends nothing … in war there are no winners, but all are losers.” So said Neville Chamberlain on the eve of the war he had sought desperately to avoid, but which his own blunders would bring about.

Chamberlain was mistaken. War ended Nazi Germany, though the cost was high: the Holocaust, the collapse of the British Empire, the Stalinization of 11 nations of Eastern Europe, 50 million dead, and half a century of Cold War.

As this is written, Condi Rice has arrived in the Middle East, and the two-week Israeli-Hezbollah war, an artillery exchange by World War II standards, seems to be winding down. While final returns are a ways off, the first returns find few winners, except perhaps for Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah.

Nasrallah ignited the war in the north with an attack that resulted in eight dead Israeli soldiers and two captured. He evaded a bunker-buster attack in south Beirut; he still holds his two captured Israelis; and Hezbollah has withstood two weeks of bombing and shelling by Israel, and fired back more than a thousand Katyushas into Israel and longer-range rockets into Haifa.

While Iran’s Ahmadinejad talks the talk about wiping Israel off the map, Nasrallah walks the walk. Among Arabs and Muslims for whom Israel is the great hate object, Nasrallah surely stands as tall today as any leader since Egypt’s Nasser. Had the Israelis killed him in that recent air strike, Israel might today claim a victory in the war.

But it is hard to see what Israel has won. The shock-and-awe devastation of Lebanon – smashed runways, power plants, roads, bridges, apartments, oil refineries, gasoline stations, and buses – may have awed Israel’s enemies, but it shocked her friends. It is a puzzle why Israel, provoked by Hezbollah, attacked a democratic Lebanon whose government had not committed the act of aggression but had, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, condemned it.

And the war has exposed a deep wariness on the part of Israel to send her army back into Lebanon to fight Hezbollah, whose cross-border raid was a challenge to the Israelis to “come and get us.”

Lebanon is the great loser. Tens of thousands of Westerners who had helped bring Lebanon back from the ruins of the 1970s and 1980s have fled. The Cedar Revolution that produced a democracy has been destroyed. With the death toll mounting, thousands wounded, and between 600,000 and 750,000 homeless or refugees, Lebanon has been set back 20 years.

There exists a danger that unless aid is gotten into Lebanon and the refugees are permitted to return to their homes, instead of being the showcase of Bush’s democracy project in the Arab world, Lebanon could become another failed state.

Tehran, too, has suffered a loss of prestige. As patrons of Hezbollah, they are today seen in the Middle East as being complicit in an act of stupidity that has brought ruin on an Arab nation. And Iran’s failure to aid her Shia allies in battle with Israel exposes them as something less than heroic Islamic warriors of Tehran’s propaganda.

Indeed, the perceived impotence of Iran to aid Hezbollah, while Bush was giving Israel a free hand in Lebanon, may force Iran to show it yet has power to damage U.S. interests. Public denunciations of Israel by the U.S.-backed, Shia-dominated regime in Baghdad may be an indicator of where Iran intends to exact payback.

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad seems to be the lone beneficiary of the war, if there are any. Though an accused enabler of Hezbollah, Syria is emerging as the only party that can ensure that rockets from Tehran do not reach Hezbollah through the Bekaa Valley.

If at the time of truce Hezbollah’s Katyusha arsenal has been depleted, and the Lebanese army and a NATO force are to be moved into the border region with Israel, Syria’s cooperation in blocking Iran’s resupply of Hezbollah is essential. Realizing this, Condi Rice has indicated a willingness to talk with Damascus. The question will then become: What is Syria’s price for cooperation?

The answer is apparent. Syria has long sought a reopening of negotiations with Israel on the return of the Golan Heights, and a resolution of the Palestinian question by a return to land for peace.

Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, however, abandoned that road in favor of a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and unwanted parts of the West Bank, and annexation of all the rest, including all of Jerusalem and her distant suburbs. If Israel refuses to discuss the Golan with Syria, or to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas, it is hard to see any negotiated end to this Middle East crisis.

With its devastation of Lebanon, its blockade of the West Bank and Gaza, and its determination to destroy the Palestinian Authority, Israel is creating failed states on three borders. How this serves Israel’s or America’s interests is difficult to see.

Author: Patrick J. Buchanan

Patrick Buchanan is the author of Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War."