Hours after a cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel took hold, leaders both directly and indirectly involved in the Mideast conflict traded views over the final outcome.
The fragility of the truce, and the potential for its violation was clear when Hezbollah guerrillas fired at least 10 Katyusha rockets into southern Lebanon early Tuesday. None of them reached Israel, and no injuries were reported, the Israeli army said.
As Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah claimed that his guerrillas achieved a “strategic, historic victory” against Israel, President Bush said the militant group was defeated, and put the blame for the violence — which left more than 900 dead and massive destruction in southern Lebanon — squarely on the guerrillas.
As Israeli politicians called the war a “failure,” Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert noted there were “deficiencies” in the way the war was conducted.
“We will have to review ourselves in all the battles,” Olmert said, speaking before parliament where three members were ejected for heckling. Other Knesset members called for a commission of inquiry into the offensive.
Fighting broke out 34 days ago after Hezbollah guerrillas kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and Israel targeted the guerrillas group. In a U.N.-brokered cease-fire, both sides stopped fighting at 1 a.m. EDT on Monday.
Nasrallah’s declaration of victory prompted celebratory gunfire across the Lebanese capital.
“We came out victorious in a war in which big Arab armies were defeated (before),” the black-turbaned cleric said in a taped address on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television.
“We are today before a strategic, historic victory, without exaggeration,” Nasrallah said.
He also said now was not the time to debate the disarmament of his guerrilla fighters. “Who will defend Lebanon in case of a new Israeli offensive?” he asked. “The Lebanese army and international troops are incapable of protecting Lebanon,” he said, flanked by Lebanese and Hezbollah flags.
But Nasrallah said he was open to dialogue about Hezbollah’s weapons at the appropriate time. And he credited his group’s weapons with proving to Israel that “war with Lebanon will not be a picnic. It will be very costly.”
“The main goal of Israel in this war has been to remove Hezbollah’s weapons. This will not happen through destroying homes. ... It will come through discussion,” Nasrallah said.
The Shiite leader suggested some Lebanese politicians were rushing to disarm Hezbollah.
“People sit in air conditioning and speak about the resistance’s weapons in a rough way,” he said of his critics. “Lebanon’s infrastructure has been destroyed in all places, but most intensely among the people of the south and southern Beirut. This is the sector of society that is most in support of the resistance, most proud of the resistance, and has given the most sacrifices.”
‘Failure and impotency’
Nasrallah said the “massive devastation and destruction” inflicted upon Lebanon during the monthlong war reflected Israel’s “failure and impotency.”
He promised his organization would help Lebanese rebuild, and pledged to give refugees money to pay rent and buy furniture.
He estimated some 15,000 housing units had been destroyed.
Olmert promises to ‘do better’
Olmert said Israel will learn the lessons of this war and “do better.”
He said the fighting brought a change in the strategic balance in the region, to Hezbollah’s disadvantage. The militia’s vast storehouse of weapons was mostly destroyed, Olmert said, and its self-confidence undermined.
“We will continue to pursue them everywhere and at all times,” he said. “We have no intention of asking anyone’s permission.”
Olmert advised patience for his critics who believe that the war fell short of Israel’s original goal of dismantling Hezbollah. “We don’t plan to apologize,” he said.
The prime minister also promised to do everything he could to win the return of two captive Israeli soldiers.
After Olmert’s speech, Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the opposition Likud Party, said there were serious problems with the war.
“It must be said honestly, there were many failures, failures in identifying the threat, failures in preparing to meet the threat, failures in the management of the war, failures in the management of the home front,” Netanyahu said. “Without doubt we shall need later on to learn the lessons and fix the mistakes.”
‘A state within a state’
After spending the day meeting with military officials, Bush said the conflict was part of a broader struggle between freedom and terror. “We can only imagine how much more dangerous this conflict would be if Iran had the nuclear weapon it seeks,” he said.
The president spoke at the State Department after conferring with his national security team, first at the Pentagon and then at the State Department. He was flanked by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Bush said the U.N. cease-fire resolution adopted Friday was “an important step forward that will help bring an end to the violence.”
“Lebanon can’t be a strong democracy when there is a state within a state, and that’s Hezbollah,” Bush said.
Bush also blamed Iran and Syria, saying they were the primary sponsors of the guerrillas.
“Hezbollah attacked Israel without any knowledge of the (Lebanese) government. Hezbollah attacked Israel. Hezbollah started the crisis, and Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis,” the president said.