Hizbullah's fighting force in southern Lebanon can be totally eliminated, say generals in the IDF, but that will take a much more intensive invasion by ground troops, capturing all the territory up to the Litani River. There is a consensus, both at the political and the military levels, that Israel shouldn't be doing that as the cost - in casualties, in economic damage caused by a widespread reservists call-up and in international support - is deemed prohibitive.
But the generals are continuing to promise a victory at the end of this round of fighting; so how do they define victory? A senior IDF source said on Tuesday that the victory wouldn't be measured only in military terms, but also in diplomatic ones.
"For the past two weeks, the military side was given precedent over diplomacy. Now both sides have equal power," said the source. So now the IDF's idea of victory over Hizbullah consists of a multinational force with real powers that will take control of southern Lebanon and ensure that Hizbullah's rockets don't return.
The IDF's realization that Hizbullah can't be totally overcome in a matter of weeks came quickly when it became evident that the terrorist organization was sticking to its overall strategy of preparing concentrations of forces with large quantities of missiles in many different locations, enabling them to continue bombarding Israel for weeks and months on end. Despite the substantial damage that their fighting force has sustained during the current operation, Hizbullah has geared up for a war of survival, and its main objective is to be able to retain sufficient capability to threaten Israel after this round of fighting. That's one of the reasons that Hizbullah has yet to use its longer-range missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv, but prefers keeping them as a veiled threat.
So far the IDF has overrun Hizbullah strongholds in Maroun a-Ras, Bint Jbail and a handful of other villages but the IDF Intelligence branch estimates that Hizbullah controls 170 similar villages and towns throughout southern Lebanon.
After lowering the expectations of military success, the IDF high command still has a list of achievements: a significant downgrading of Hizbullah's capabilities, the feeling that Israel is no longer afraid of confronting the organization head-on, turning Hassan Nasrallah into a fugitive with a price on his head, the deligitimization of Hizbullah even in the Arab world and a blow to Hizbullah's morale when they found out that the IDF knew the location of most of its secret positions. But those are only the side-benefits.
The IDF generals are beginning to talk like ambassadors and extolling the diplomatic achievement that will be coupled with the military results. Since no one really believes that the Lebanese Army is prepared in the near future to take on Hizbullah when it tries to return to its old strongholds after the IDF retreats, the 'dream' solution currently is an upgraded multi-national force - nothing like the bad, old UNIFIL who were more human shields for the Hizbullah than anything else - but a force with powers and security responsibilities similar to those of the NATO battalions that operated in Kosovo and the multi-national force currently fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Israel has already received signals from a number of countries and international organizations that they will be prepared to take part in such a force, including France, Germany, Spain, and for Arab legitimacy also Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The IDF's hope is that the multi-national force will use arms to prevent Hizbullah from resuming its operations in the area south of the Litani. French and Saudi troops firing on Hizbullah members and doing the IDF's job for them. That's the current idea of an Israeli victory.