WELL, what do you know: What was presented as a "Great Strategic Divine Victory" only a week ago is now beginning to look more like a costly blunder. And the man who is making the revisionist move is the same who made the original victory claim: Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah.Nasrallah, instead of being the new Arab leader he was proclaimed is turning into the new Baghdad Bob of Arab propaganda. Last week's concern about his passing out cash to rebuild the mess he has made of south Lebanon is being treated as blood money by some. Even more telling is the retreat from the Shaba Farms area and the insistance of Lebanese authorities that there be no more provocation of Israel. This is on top of the strategic defeat of his allies in Tehran who have lost their deterent force they hoped to use against Israeli concern about their nuke program.
In a TV interview in Beirut Sunday, Nasrallah admitted second thoughts about the wisdom of capturing the two Israeli soldiers, an incident that triggered the war: "The party leadership never expected a response on such an unprecedented scale and volume [by Israel]," he said. "Had we known that what we did would lead to this, we would certainly not have embarked upon it."
For a roundabout way of eating humble pie, this was not bad for a man whom Western media have portrayed as the latest Arab folk hero or even (as one U.S. weekly put it) a new Saladin.
Why did Nasrallah decide to change his unqualified claim of victory into an indirect admission of defeat? Two reasons.
The first consists of facts on the ground: Hezbollah lost some 500 of its fighters, almost a quarter of its elite fighting force. Their families are now hounding Nasrallah to provide an explanation for "miscalculations" that led to their death.
Throughout southern Lebanon, once a stronghold of Hezbollah, pictures of the "martyrs" adorn many homes and shops, revealing the fact that many more Hezbollah fighters died than the 110 claimed by Nasrallah. What angers the families of the "martyrs" is that Hezbollah fighters had not been told that the sheik was starting a war to please his masters in Tehran, and that they should prepare for it.
The fighters found out there was a war only after the Israelis started raining fire on southern Lebanon. In fact, no one - apart from the sheik's Iranian contacts and a handful of Hezbollah security officials linked to Tehran and Damascus - knew that Nasrallah was provoking a war. Even the two Hezbollah ministers in the Lebanese government weren't consulted, nor the 12 Hezbollah members of the Lebanese National Assembly. The party's chief policymaking organ, the Shura (consultative assembly), hasn't held a full session since 2001.
The "new Saladin" has also lost most of his medium-range missiles without inflicting any serious damage on Israel. Almost all of Hezbollah's missile launching pads (often placed in mosques, schools and residential buildings) south of the Litani River have been dismantled.
Worse still, the Israelis captured an unknown number of Hezbollah fighters and political officers, including several local leaders in the Bekaa Valley, Khyam and Tyre.
The second reason why Nasrallah has had to backtrack on his victory claims is the failure of his propaganda machine to hoodwink the Lebanese. He is coming under growing criticism from every part of the political spectrum, including the Hezbollah itself.
As the scale of the destruction in the Shiite south becomes more clear, the pro-Hezbollah euphoria (much of it created by Western media and beamed back to Lebanon through satellite TV) is evaporating. Reality is beginning to reassert its rights.
And that could be good news for Lebanon as a nation. It is unlikely that Hezbollah will ever regain the position it has lost. The Lebanese from all sides of the political spectrum are united in their determination not to allow any armed group to continue acting as a state within the state.