In May 2000, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah delivered a dramatic speech from the village of Bint Jbail declaring victory in forcing the IDF out of southern Lebanon following its 18 year presence there. The speech served as the last humiliating blow to IDF soldiers who served in Lebanon in outposts in the village and its surrounding areas. It was etched in their minds forever.
But on Monday, Israel returned to the town, which it said had in the six years since the withdrawal turned into Hizbullah's "terror capital" in southern Lebanon. The battle there, high-ranking officers involved in the fighting said Monday, was not just about weeding out the 100 Hizbullah fighters believed to be holed up inside but had more to do with destroying symbols. If the town, the scene of Nasrallah's victory speech, was taken by the IDF, the tables in this war could be turned and Hizbullah will be dealt a harsh and even critical blow.
"This is a war of symbols," one high-ranking IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post from his command post along the Lebanese border. "This is not just about killing Hizbullah fighters but is about destroying the organization's symbols of pride."
Since the IDF launched Operation Change of Direction on July 12, senior officers have declared that their ultimate goal was not to eradicate Hizbullah - an impossible task they admitted - but to significantly weaken the group to allow for better diplomatic maneuvering in Israel's attempts to create a new order, one without Hizbullah, in southern Lebanon.
Hizbullah, one senior officer said, was saving up its missile caches and soldiers for the next round with Israel, a round it hopes will take place and one Israel is looking to avoid. But the IDF knows it cannot avoid Lebanon. On Sunday, senior officers discussed the possibility of laying mines along the northern border in the security zone the military is carving out. One military intelligence officer said that the investment in the mines wasn't worth the money.
"Anyhow we'll have to go back in," he said half-seriously, half-jokingly.
For the IDF, the return to Lebanon is almost like going home. Golani Brigade Commander Col. Tamir Yidai and Brigade 7 Commander Col. Amnon Eshel, whose soldiers fought fiercely in Bint Jbail on Monday, came of age in Lebanon. They served in the former IDF outposts that used to stand there prior to the withdrawal and lost some of their finest soldiers and best of friends.
But with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in Israel, the IDF has now begun to feel the diplomatic pressure to begin wrapping up the operation. Military intelligence is now speaking about the IDF having only 10 days left to maneuver.
So with little time left, the IDF is looking to deal the critical blow to Hizbullah, a blow it won't forget and which will deter it from even thinking about trying to kidnap Israeli soldiers in the future. That is why they are going after Bint Jbail.