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(photo credit: AP [file])
Amid growing discontent with UNIFIL and its commander, Gen. Alain Pellegrini, the defense establishment has been working on creating new operational plans for war with Hizbullah that take into consideration the existence of new players in southern Lebanon - the Lebanese army and the UN multinational force.
"Next time it will be much more complicated," a high-ranking officer in the Northern Command said Sunday.
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The IDF would not be able to simply invade southern Lebanese villages like it did during the past war and would have to take into consideration that conflicts and clashes could evolve with the Lebanese army and troops from the multinational force, the officer said.
A source of IDF concern was the decision by the UN that Pellegrini would remain in his post and become the commander not only of the 2,000-strong UNIFIL force but of the new multinational force in Lebanon. Officers expressed skepticism regarding Pellegrini's ability to aggressively enforce the cease-fire and prevent Hizbullah from rearming itself and launching attacks against Israel.
"In the past, UNIFIL proved that it did not deal well with Hizbullah," one officer said. "If Pellegrini takes the same approach again it could endanger the cease-fire and create a conflict sooner than expected." Military Intelligence recently completed drafting its assessments for 2007 and predicted that Hizbullah, which it believed was currently interested in quiet so it could rebuild itself, would be ready within a year to again wage war against Israel. War with Hizbullah could break out earlier, officers said, if Iran or Syria were attacked by Israel or the United States.
"If that happens, Hizbullah will definitely need to respond," one officer said.
Hizbullah, MI further assumed, was also working on changing its military tactics and plans to abide by the UN resolution that forbids its fighters from carrying weapons openly along the border with Israel. "They will operate in the villages and their bunkers discreetly," the officer said.
Meanwhile on Sunday, the Northern Command received new orders from the General Staff Operations Directorate regarding the final withdrawal date of the remaining IDF troops still operating in Lebanon.
The soldiers, a Northern Command officer said, were currently deployed within two kilometers of the border with Israel and were mostly conducting patrols as well as laying ambushes to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Israel.
The Northern Command said it was prepared to withdraw troops from Lebanon within two days of receiving such orders from the General Staff. Last week, officers said, it appeared that the troops would be brought back to Israel by Rosh Hashana, which falls this weekend. But officers said Sunday, new orders were received over the weekend indicating that the diplomatic echelon was interested in delaying the withdrawal.
UNIFIL has already taken up 80 percent of the territory the IDF was in control of on August 14, the day the UN-brokered cease-fire went into effect, senior officers said. As of last week, some 5,000 multinational troops had arrived in Lebanon. UN Resolution 1701 discusses the deployment of up to 15,000 multinational troops alongside the Lebanese army, which has already fully deployed in southern Lebanon.
"We are waiting to see how the multinational force deploys itself in southern Lebanon," the Northern Command officer said. "It is possible that the IDF will need to remain in Lebanon until after Rosh Hashana and beyond."