On the face of it, Hezbollah appears to be a big winner following the month of fighting with Israel, because the militant Lebanese group stood up to the region's premier military power and survived.
But once the dust settles, Hezbollah's loss of much of its hard-won presence in southern Lebanon and Israel's destruction of a vast amount of the guerrilla group's most- prized rocketry may begin to alter that assessment.
Who ultimately gained - and whether the cease-fire announced Monday ultimately holds - will depend in large measure on whether the Lebanese army and the combined international force to be sent to the region are capable of holding the territory that has been under Hezbollah's control.
As the fighting wound down with the advent of the cease-fire, both sides quickly claimed victory on Monday. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said his forces had won "a strategic, historic victory" against Israel. Israeli officials said their country's military had weakened Hezbollah and pushed it back.
Hezbollah claims victory, so does Israel. Who to believe? Neither. From a military standpoint, Israel got the better of the two.
Hezbollah did not win because they failed to start the big one that pushed Israel into the sea (which is their ultimate goal). They needed the cover of civilians to do what they could. They did not defeat Israel, they withstood Israel. That is a big difference.
Israel did not win, because they did not disarm Hezbollah, they didn't destroy them either. What they did do? They inflicted more casualties on the Hezbollah side, than was absorbed by the Israelis. And they did not use innocent civilians as shields, either. Israel also gets the edge because they did succeed in pushing Hezbollah back far enough to minimize damage to Northern Israel, at least for now.
Israel's aura of military invincibility has been shattered, because it failed to destroy a relatively small guerrilla force that day-after-day pounded Israel with rockets. Public opinion in the Middle East is clearly on the side of Iran-backed Hezbollah, and a boost in recruitment is likely to result, while Israel and the United States are being roundly condemned for the death and destruction in Lebanon.
Two mistakes Israel made in all of this.
The first was not to purchase bunker busting bombs, when they were presented with the offer. They would have been most helpful.
The second was ill-preparation. The ready reserves were not so ready, this time around. Many of them hadn't had a reasonable amount of training, for years.
I would be willing to bet that there are orders being placed for more sophisticated weaponry, both defensive and offensive. And, I would also not be a bit afraid to wager that Israel gets better prepared, for the next time. Because if past experiences with UN involvement are considered any indication, this will all happen again.
At any rate, I feel I can safely say that once the dust settles a little bit, Olmert will receive a vote of no confidence, throwing Israel into new elections. Afterward, I look for Netanyahu to be PM.