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Despite earlier declarations that the IDF would complete its withdrawal from Lebanon by the end of the week, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz announced Wednesday that Israeli soldiers would remain inside Lebanon until after Rosh Hashana and would only withdraw once multinational forces complete their deployment in the territory.
"We hoped that the withdrawal would happen by Friday," Halutz told reporters during a toast for Rosh Hashana at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv. "But there are discussions that need to continue with the Lebanese army and UNIFIL about their deployment, and once those are completed we will be able to withdraw."
He said the issues holding up the withdrawal were related to the naval force patrolling off Lebanon and control of Lebanese airspace.
Halutz on Tuesday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that IDF troops would not remain in Lebanon after Friday, depending on an agreement that Lebanon, the IDF and the United Nations were likely to reach.
On Wednesday, the number of multinational troops deployed in Lebanon reached 5,500, alongside four brigades of the Lebanese army, a senior IDF officer said. All of the forces were deployed south of the Litani River in and around villages, some of which had been occupied by the IDF during the recent war in Lebanon, the officer said.
According to the officer, Iran and Syria were working to rehabilitate Hizbullah by transferring weaponry to it and providing assistance to Lebanese civilians whose homes were destroyed by the IDF. Military Intelligence estimated that the IDF killed 650 Hizbullah fighters during the war, the officer said.
Syria was still on high alert along the border with Israel, and if it would attack, the IDF would respond far harsher than it did to Hizbullah's kidnapping of two soldiers on July 12, the officer said.
"Syria is not a guerrilla group but is a sovereign state, and if the need arises, the IDF will not operate there like it did against Hizbullah in Lebanon," the officer said.
Halutz said Iran would cross the nuclear technological threshold in the coming months but would not obtain a nuclear bomb until the end of the decade.
"If Iran continues to progress at its current pace then estimations are that it will have nuclear power by the end of the decade," he said. "The timetable is the way it has always been and they will soon cross the technological threshold."
Asked if he planned to retain a lawyer to represent him ahead of his expected testimony before the Winograd Commission, Halutz said: "I am not hiring a lawyer and I don't think that anyone else [in the military] needs to hire a lawyer."
Halutz said he planned to continue leading the IDF despite the harsh criticism voiced against him by former generals.
"If I thought I couldn't lead the IDF, I wouldn't sit across from people and talk about the military," he said. "I see myself leading the military during difficult times, and I have a good team that will work to fix what needs to be fixed."
Halutz also responded to criticism from former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon, who claimed in an interview last week that the widespread ground operation launched in the last days of the war was "media spin."
"I won't use the same expressions as my predecessor," he said. "I never used the blood of soldiers to push any agenda in my life, and I will never do this. Maybe that's all the difference."
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