Analysis: To the Litani... and back?

Almost everyone, including Olmert, has lined up behind Peretz and his conquering-the-Litani plan.

idf forces mass 88 (photo credit: )
idf forces mass 88
(photo credit: )
According to the IDF, the only real way to stop the deadly Katyusha rockets is to sweep through the entire area south of the Litani River, as well as additional areas north of the line, particularly Ramat Nabatia, where Hizbullah hides and launches most of the 122mm Katyusha rockets it fires at northern Israel. While the air force succeeded in destroying most of Hizbullah's long- and medium-range rocket arrays in the first days of the war, the terror-guerrilla group still has an estimated 10,000 short-range rockets, the type that killed 15 Israelis, including 12 IDF reservists, in the North on Sunday. But while some senior defense officials said Tuesday that the occupation of land up to the Litani was necessary to stop the rockets, deep down they admitted to be praying for some sort of diplomatic initiative that would stall and save them from the massive ground invasion. At the beginning of the week, the timetable was simple: On Saturday the IDF finished recreating the pre-2000 Lebanese security zone and began working on clearing out the villages within the zone of Hizbullah infrastructure while waiting to see what would happen on the diplomatic front. On Sunday, senior officials claimed that plans to reach the Litani had been shelved. With the United Nations Security Council scheduled to meet on a US and France-backed cease-fire draft on Tuesday, the officers said that nothing would happen beforehand. Then came the announcement that the UN was delaying action on the resolution, which opened the door for a continuation of the IDF ground operation, which is now expected to begin on Wednesday afternoon. But even while the timetable might have made sense diplomatically, on the ground senior officers criticized the delay in the decision-making process, which they said was responsible for the deaths of IDF soldiers. A military force, they argued, needed to constantly be on the move and could not remain in place and turn static for too long. If a force stays put for too long, they warned, it turns to a defensive stance, rather than the offensive stance that should characterize a military force at war - pushing the enemy, rather than being pushed by it. Still, "history is history" as one officer pointed out on Tuesday, putting aside the criticisms. He said that the thing to do now was to prepare for Wednesday, the day that could tip the scales in Israel's favor, possibly for the first time in Operation Change of Direction. On Tuesday, convoys of thousands of reservists made their way north to prepare for Wednesday's planned deep incursion. OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam and Galilee Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsch visited war rooms set up along the border and approved operational plans, including which village each brigade would attack once the cabinet gave the green light for the operation. So the IDF appears to be finally getting what officers admit they should have asked for from early in this operation - when it became clear that Hizbullah could not be defeated by non-stop airstrikes. The man to thank for the shift, it is said, is Defense Minister Amir Peretz who, for the first time since this war began, seems to be setting the national agenda. It was Peretz who last Thursday ordered the IDF to begin preparing for a push to the Litani, sparking harsh criticism from some politicians across the spectrum. Today, however, that has changed. Almost everyone, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, has lined up behind the defense minister and his conquering-the-Litani plan. But once the UN succeeds in getting Israel and Lebanon to accept a cease-fire, the question will then be how to get the tens of thousands of troops back to Israel from the Litani. The IDF officers repeated Tuesday they will not agree to pull out troops until a multinational force or the Lebanese army deploys in its place. That, however, could take months and the IDF might need to find other solutions. At the moment, there are two alternatives: controlling the area through massive amounts of fire power from the air and ground, an option that could quickly be ended if there were a repeat of the Kfar Kana tragedy; or a withdrawal of the troops while using smaller forces to carry out raids throughout Lebanon.