Despite the rain of deadly Katyusha rockets in the North, OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin told the cabinet Sunday that Hizbullah has suffered a significant blow during the last 26 days of fighting, and that more than a fourth of its fighting force has been eliminated.
He said Israel has the names of 165 Hizbullah men who were killed during IDF operations in southern Lebanon, and that another 200 were believed to be dead underneath the ruins of collapsed buildings. All in all, he said, some 250-400 Hizbullah men, out of a "regular" fighting force of 1,000-1,500, have been killed.
Officers in the Northern Command put the number even higher.
"Hizbullah has never suffered a blow like this before," Yadlin said.
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah badly miscalculated Israel's response to his July 12 provocation that killed eight soldiers and led to the capture of two, Yadlin said. Instead of being perceived as the "defender of Lebanon," he said, Nasrallah is now widely perceived in Lebanon as "the destroyer of Lebanon." Yadlin said that Nasrallah erred badly in his estimation about how Israel would respond, how the country was prepared, how the home front would respond and the length of the confrontation.
"Hizbullah today is a lot less frightening," he said.
Yadlin characterized Nasrallah as a "demon who hides in bunkers," and said that not only has the organization been severely weakened militarily and as a political force, but that Nasrallah's position inside the organization has also been weakened because of his miscalculations.
"Nasrallah is now widely viewed more as a liability than as an asset," he said.
Nevertheless, Yadlin said, Syria and Iran continue to support Hizbullah, with Iran providing intelligence information and operational assistance. It was not clear whether this was a reference to the presence of Iran's Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon.
In addition, Yadlin said, Hizbullah still retained its ability to shoot 122-mm. Katyushas that have a range of about 21 km. He said, however, that this capacity has also been damaged.
He said that the most significant achievement of the operation so far has been that it has motivated the international community to get behind UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the Lebanese army to move its troops south and for the disarming of Hizbullah, in a much more serious way.
Yadlin said that a large number of the Katyushas that have been fired at Israel have fallen in the sea and a number have also fallen on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
As opposed to the short-range Katyushas, the majority of Hizbullah's 240-mm. Iranian-made Fajr-3 missiles, with a range of 45 km., were destroyed during the first 24 hours of the fighting, he said.
Yadlin said that Syria sees Hizbullah as its proxy and has supplied it with both short- and long-range rockets.
Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizencott, head of operations at the General Staff, said the air force has hit 4,400 targets during the fighting, and is continuing its activities throughout Lebanon.
He said that ground forces are clearing a buffer zone 10-15 kilometers from the border, and is also carrying out commando operations in different locales. He said that 19 terrorists were killed in Baalbek last week and 8-10 in Tyre over the weekend.
On the Palestinian front, the deputy head of the Shin Bet, whose name cannot be published, said that attempts to come to an intra-Palestinian agreement on a cease-fire and the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit have gone nowhere. He said that the Hamas leadership in Damascus, and its military wing in Gaza, are opposed to any agreement and are "setting the tone."
The Hamas-Damascus leadership, he said, is pushing for an increase in terrorist attacks inside Israel. He said there are about 65 terror warnings a week. He also said that despite the offensive in Gaza, some 250 Kassam rockets were fired from Gaza in July, a number he characterized as "very large."