Analysis: Too late now for an invasion?

The operation was quickly exhausted once the army realized only so much can be done aerially.

idf tanks on northern bo (photo credit: AP)
idf tanks on northern bo
(photo credit: AP)
Metula looked like a war zone on Sunday. The main road running through the community and north into Lebanon was lined with tanks from Brigade 401 - some coming back from the fighting and others gearing up for the next incursion. On Sunday, one of the town's few remaining residents, Moti, was standing a stone's throw from the Lebanese border checking his field's irrigation system. Mortar shells and Katyusha rockets land one after the other in nearby fields. Moti, however, did not seem perturbed and carried on checking the water pipes to make sure his crop was getting the right amount of water. "This is a joke," said Moti, as another rocket hit nearby, setting a thorn-strewn field ablaze. "This is not really a war since a war is meant to be fought deep inside enemy territory, not here in my backyard," he went on, speaking amid breathtaking views of the Upper Galilee to the south and southern Lebanon to the north. Almost three weeks into this war against Hizbullah and the fighting continued Sunday as if it had just begun. In the morning, a high-ranking source in the Northern Command told The Jerusalem Post that the Golani Brigade's battle in Bint Jbail over the weekend had weakened the terror group. The officer said the organization was firing Katyushas with less accuracy and was engaging IDF troops in southern Lebanon from a distance. That was before Sunday became the day that the most Katyusha rockets - more than 140 - were fired at northern Israel since Operation Change of Direction began on July 12. The officer also spoke before six soldiers were wounded in clashes with Hizbullah guerrillas in close-quarter gunbattles in the southern Lebanese village of Ataybeh. After this day of 140 rockets, a weakened Hizbullah seemed to have been only an illusion. Three weeks into the war and it is still being fought right along the border. IDF troops from the Nahal Brigade swept into the villages of Al-Adisa and Ataybeh just north of Metula on Sunday in search of Hizbullah guerrillas. While the soldiers did have some success and killed a number of terrorists, Hizbullah was able to continue firing rockets and short-range mortars at Metula, Kiryat Shmona and the rest of northern Israel. Then there is what IDF officers called Sunday the "recurring nightmare of Kana." Exactly 10 years ago, the IDF was forced to suspend Operation Grapes of Wrath after it accidentally killed over 100 Lebanese in that same village. On Sunday it apparently happened again, although this time it doesn't seem to be having the same effect. The IDF is determined to continue with its offensive, even under the threat of international condemnation. Acknowledging that the operation's days were numbered, senior officers in the Northern Command said that this Wednesday would be decisive. That is the day when the tens of thousands of reservists called up under the cabinet decision last Thursday will be ready for battle and, if the political echelon permits, the military will recommend sweeping through southern Lebanon in a last-ditch effort to get something out of this campaign. Some officers began asking Sunday whether the IDF had made a mistake in the way it approached this war from the outset. The operation's opening round quickly exhausted itself after the army realized that there was only so much that could be achieved from the air alone. So when the massive air strikes proved to no longer be relevant, the IDF turned to limited ground incursions, short distances from the border. Now in the third week, the IDF has come to the conclusion that the only way to obtain the victory it is desperately seeking is to launch a larger invasion. The question is whether it might just be too late.