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Lebanon Conflict Leaves Winners and Losers

The fighting in southern Lebanon between Israeli troops and Hezbollah is over for now. A ceasefire deal calls for the deployment of international peacekeepers and Lebanese troops to the area. But the repercussions of the month-long conflict continue to be felt in the Middle East. Assessments are being made over who emerged in a stronger position as a result of the fighting.

The fighting lasted just over a month, leaving numerous casualties. Most of them civilian, and most of them Lebanese.

Now assessments are being made over what the conflict means for the future of Lebanon and the wider Middle East. For President Bush, the militant group Hezbollah is the clear loser.

"Hezbollah, of course, has got a fantastic propaganda machine and they're claiming victories. But how can you claim victory when at one time you were a state-within-a-state, safe within southern Lebanon, and now you're going to be replaced by a Lebanese army and an international force?” asked the president. “And that's what we're now working on, is to get the international force in southern Lebanon."

Yet Hezbollah's surprisingly strong resistance against Israel won it the support of many Arabs who took the streets in pro-Hezbollah demonstrations. Even if the militant group pulls back from its positions in southern Lebanon, its standing in the Arab world has been enhanced, according to former U.S. diplomat David Newton.

"They are seen as the heroes now among great numbers of Arabs. Arabs have always felt humiliated by their own weakness in the face of Israel and here is what seems to be just a small militia organization without heavy weapons, without aircraft yet it is fighting the most dominant military power in the Middle East to a standstill," said Mr. Newton.

This has implications for Israel, where some are questioning whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert handled the crisis well.

Ellen Laipson heads the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington think-tank. She says, "Clearly, what's happened with Hezbollah reminds Israel that they have neighbors that can interfere with their desire to live alone. But nothing that comes out of this struggle changes, I think, the mindset in Israel that peaceful coexistence and positive interaction with the Arab neighbors is really quite difficult to achieve."

The just-concluded conflict also has implications for the United States in the Middle East. Washington was criticized for not intervening earlier to press for a ceasefire. President Bush dismisses the criticism. "First of all, we from the beginning, urged caution on both sides so that innocent life would be protected. And secondly, I think most leaders around the world would give Condoleezza Rice and her team great credit for finally getting a U.N. resolution passed."

That U.N. resolution calls for the deployment of 15,000 international peacekeepers to patrol a special demilitarized zone in southern Lebanon along with some Lebanese troops. But even if this takes place, Ellen Laipson believes the conflict has undermined U.S. interests in the region.

"In hindsight, I believe people will be critical of the Bush administration's belief that hitting Hezbollah overall was convergent with American interests and American goals, says Ms. Laipson. “What we now see is that the United States is so preoccupied with Iraq, and Iraq is not going well from a U.S. perspective, that it really didn't have the resources, the time, the attention to devote to some of these long-standing smaller conflicts."

However, some observers think Lebanon and its prime minister, Fuad Siniora, ultimately may come out ahead in the aftermath of this conflict. Lebanon will have gained more control over its territory, while Hezbollah's power as a state-within-a-state may be diminished.