Left: Lebanese civilians returning home, photo courtesy of AP
With all sides declaring victory in the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah, the question on many minds is simple: who won, and who lost?
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah declared an unequivocal victory for his movement.
"We are before a strategic and historic victory for all Lebanon," he said in an address broadcast over the group's Al-Manar television channel.
Syrian President Bashar Assad denounced US aims in the region while obliquely praising Hezbollah.
“The Middle East they [the American government] aspire to ... has become an illusion,” he said in Damascus. "We tell them [the Israelis] that after tasting humiliation in the latest battles, your weapons are not going to protect you — not your planes, or missiles, or even your nuclear bombs ... The future generations in the Arab world will find a way to defeat Israel."
US President George Bush commented that Hezbollah suffered defeat in its war against Israel, and argued that the war has given a significant boost to the "freedom agenda" he has tried to bring to the Middle East.
"Hezbollah attacked Israel, Hezbollah started the crisis, and Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis," Bush said. "Hezbollah, of course, has got a fantastic propaganda machine and they're claiming victory, 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?"
Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was less ebullient than President Bush, noting certain "deficiencies" in Israel's prosecution of the war, but vowed to continue his nation's efforts to defeat Hezbollah.
"We will continue to pursue the leaders of Hezbollah everywhere and at all times," he said. "This is our moral duty to ourselves, and we have no intention of apologizing or asking anyone's permission."
Olmert initiated the war against Hezbollah with two goals - to eliminate the Islamic group's military capabilities and to free the two captured soldiers.
A month after fighting began, however, Israel has achieved neither goal, while Hezbollah remains armed, though reduced in strength. In the opinion of this pundit, it appears that Hezbollah has gained the upper hand in this round of hostilities.
Missed by many news outlets, however, was Hezbollah's declared intention to pay compensation to those Lebanese civilians harmed by the war. Nasrallah vowed to immediately begin paying money to families living in 15,000 homes completely destroyed in the Israeli bombing campaign.
"From tomorrow, we will pay compensation, a certain amount of money for every family to rent for one year, plus furniture for those whose houses were totally destroyed," he said.
This sort of social welfare is the type of activity that has helped Hezbollah ascend to become something much more than a mere "terrorist" group. This is also why a military campaign is useless against a foe that is well-entrenched in the streets and hearts of many civilians.