Operation Change of Direction was launched last month with the declared goal of weakening Hizbullah to the point where it would be possible to create a new political reality in south Lebanon. On Monday, almost four weeks into the fighting, a high-ranking Military Intelligence officer said the IDF was still far from reaching its goal.
While Israel waited for a United Nations Security Council resolution on a cease-fire, not now expected to come up for a vote until at least Thursday, the next stage will be a second resolution - one that calls for the deployment of a multinational force to replace the IDF in southern Lebanon and to prevent Hizbullah from reestablishing itself there.
Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, have spoken with enthusiasm about a multinational force, but the high-ranking officer said Monday that Hizbullah had not been damaged enough and still retained enough "diplomatic power" to thwart the deployment of such a force.
"Hizbullah has not been sufficiently weakened," the officer said. "And there may be no choice but to expand the ground operation in the direction of the Litani River to achieve that goal."
According to intelligence information, the Hizbullah command-and-control array is still functioning even after nearly four weeks of fighting. So are the logistical command centers - still operating and succeeding in directing the smuggling of weapons into Lebanon from Syria.
The officer said that Hizbullah still had the ability to fire short-range rockets, of which the guerrilla group has already fired 2,500 since the beginning of the war.
The only way to stop the short-range rockets, he said, was for the IDF to deepen its incursion north to the Litani and to sweep through cities like Tyre, estimated to be the hiding place for most of the short-range 122mm Katyusha rockets.
But despite the concern that the Hizbullah could succeed in thwarting a diplomatic effort to deploy an international force in Lebanon, the IDF can still pat itself on the back. Over 400 guerrillas have been killed in IDF operations, most of the long-range rocket arrays have been destroyed and the organization's stronghold in Beirut - Dahiya - has been almost completely demolished in IAF air strikes.
Senior IDF officers said Monday that they needed more time to continue striking at the guerrilla group to really weaken Hizbullah. The big question now is whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will give the green light for an IDF incursion up to the Litani, a move that could save Israel face and provide it with the the victory it has been seeking since the outset of a conflict that has proven to be far more difficult than initially expected.
At the moment, the IDF is holding onto positions in a security zone eight kilometers deep into Lebanon and is waiting to see if it will be ordered to push northwards to the Litani. Senior officials in the Northern Command said Monday that the chances the the IDF would reach that far in the coming days were slim, since with fighting still going on in villages like Bint Jbail - where three soldiers were killed Monday - within the IDF-created security zone, the military could not move on.
"We need to first finish clearing out the security zone and only then can we move north," a high-ranking officer in the Northern Command explained.