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(photo credit: AP [file])
Eighty-two days after invading Lebanon and 119 dead soldiers later, the IDF finally received orders over the weekend to withdraw its remaining troops.
While the sound of IDF cannon and missile strikes on Hizbullah strongholds in southern Lebanon have long ended, the Lebanese saga is far from being behind us.
The second Lebanon war: JPost.com special report
Israel completed its second Lebanon war with what is no doubt a diplomatic victory. For the first time in decades, Israel got Lebanon to deploy its army in the south. In addition, the 2,000-strong UNIFIL that took up positions in Lebanon in 1978 has been beefed up and now numbers close to 6,000 troops, and in the next month is scheduled to reach 9,000.
But alongside the diplomatic victory, which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz praise and hail at every opportunity, there are still several pressing issues that remain unresolved, starting with kidnapped soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.
Israel launched its offensive against Hizbullah on July 12 in response to the kidnapping and with the declared goal of "retrieving the missing soldiers."
That goal quickly evaporated after it became clear that the large-scale offensive wasn't going to return them and that Olmert had other things in mind - weakening Hizbullah and creating a new diplomatic order in southern Lebanon, one that did not include a Hizbullah presence.
Now, following the withdrawal of the last IDF soldier from Lebanon, Israel is facing the fact that a prisoner-swap will be the only way to return the kidnapped soldiers. Any military pressure on the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and Hizbullah is now completely gone, and Olmert has already appointed former deputy Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Ofer Dekel to coordinate the talks over Regev's and Goldwasser's return.
As sensitive an issue as this might be, it could also turn into the smallest of Israel's problems when it comes to Lebanon.
Senior officers are already predicting that despite the major reinforcement of UNIFIL and the deployment of the Lebanese army, a new round of violence with Hizbullah could be only a year away. Military Intelligence believes Hizbullah is interested in an extended period of clam and quiet to rebuild itself. While the terrorist group might have been severely hurt during the month-long war, it still maintains most of its command-and-control centers and has an arsenal of thousands of Katyusha rockets.
Over the next week, Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot will begin taking up his new post as OC Northern Command in place of Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam, who resigned following the war.
One of his first tasks will be to redeploy his troops along the border and to get them ready for the next round of violence.
Peretz has ordered the IDF to maintain an "aggressive posture" along the border and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz has said that troops would be allowed to open fire at pro-Hizbullah demonstrators throwing rocks at IDF forces.
Only time will tell if that actually happens. But what is sure is that for Israel to prevent a third Lebanon war, it will need to keep up an aggressive presence in the North and not allow Hizbullah to return to its fortifications along the border. Every act of aggression will need to be met with a strong response.
Without a presence in Lebanon, however, Israel will not be able to ensure that, and it is counting on UNIFIL and the Lebanese army to do the job. On this Yom Kippur, we can only pray that they will.