What a difference 10 days make.
Last Sunday, after the Kana bombing, it was a given that a cease-fire was a matter of days. Israel was forced to accept a cessation of bombings on Beirut for two days and it seemed as though reluctance to open a ground offensive would cost Israel most of the objectives the IDF had set out to achieve.
Following Wednesday's cabinet decision to extend the offensive at least as far as the Litani River, the bogging-down of discussions in the UN Security Council and the United States's unflagging support - and that of the indomitable Tony Blair - we're talking about another two weeks of warfare, perhaps more. Very few Israelis, if any, are pleased with the prospect of further fighting and the inevitable loss of human life, but it's become perfectly clear that the only chance of a significant Israeli achievement in this war is in being in for the long run, with all that entails.
The government's decision does more than give Israel another chance, it places on the IDF and the cabinet the heavy responsibility of making sure that the sacrifices already made and those to come are not squandered. It's not only a duty to the fallen, but also to the other parts of Israeli society who are shouldering the load: more than a million Israelis who have been living for over a month in mortal danger within the rocket range; the businesses that have continued operating despite major difficulties, ensuring that our economic progress continues; and, perhaps most of all, the reserve soldiers and their families.
As one battalion commander said this week, "No one should take it for granted that all 350 of my men who got phone calls at midnight, left their families and jobs next morning and came up north, without any idea when it all might end. I certainly don't."
Many thousands of men - and a number of women - wrenched from their regular lives are training, on alert along the Syrian border, replacing regular units in all of Israel's danger zones and, of course, fighting in Lebanon with a growing share of the casualties.
The scenery around the Lebanese border has changed somewhat. Instead of trim youngsters, the tanks, cannons and infantry positions are manned by stocky, balding or long-haired men sporting colored T-shirts beneath their uniforms and constantly phoning home to reassure worried spouses and make arrangements at hastily left workplaces. Morale here is high, turn-up rates have been exceptional and the grumblings about missing or faulty equipment are rapidly receding as emergency supplies are rushed up from bases around the country.
A massive reserve call-up is one of the gravest decisions an Israeli government can make, but now that it's been done, and well-received by the nation, it has to be made full use of. The reservists all realize that they might be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice; if they feel misused, it will create a public backlash no government can or should survive.
The first thing the government and the General Staff should be doing is to finally come up with a master plan. Every step Israel has made over the last five weeks in Lebanon was either a reaction to Hizbullah or a hastily decided-upon contingency operation taken out of one drawer or another in the General Staff's war chest and cobbled together.
Drawing up a comprehensive plan with attainable objectives, an endgame and an exit strategy, taking into consideration a realistic diplomatic timetable, is long overdue. It's worthwhile waiting a day before pushing for the Litani to finalize this plan.
One major part of the plan should be the line Israel intends to reach. The Litani is an important symbol, but what's important is making sure that at least a significant portion of Hizbullah's rockets will be rendered ineffective. Some obviously can be launched from Beirut, but these are also interdicted more easily. The elusive, small, mobile Katyusha launchers must have nowhere to fire from in range of any Israeli town or village.
Another decision that has to be reached is how to deal with the Hizbullah command post. This target still hasn't been located, though it's known to be somewhere around Beirut. The intelligence services are currently going all-out, using all their resources, including those that are usually kept inactive and calling in all the credit Israel has with foreign intelligence services, solely to obtain the "golden detail" of information which will give the coordinates for a missile.
Will Israel fire that missile even after a cease-fire is reached? How valuable is that target, really? Obviously it would have an enormous effect on both sides' morale, and hitting it would enable the government to claim victory, but how many resources and sacrifices have to be used for this?
Which leads to another question, what constitutes victory? Commentators and experts around the world have been talking about this point almost from the moment the war started: Can Israel win? Why isn't it winning yet? Could it be losing?
The government and IDF generals haven't made things easier by continually publicly redefining and downgrading their definition of a victory. There should be an end to all talk of winning, not because we can't win - we have to ultimately - but because this war is only one small part of a much longer confrontation.
Israel will hopefully have improved its security situation by the end of this round. Perhaps it will have been worth the sacrifice, but there is no "war to end all wars," not even on just one front, and any impressions otherwise given by politicians both in government and opposition are dangerous illusions.
Another plan that should have been prepared more than a month ago is that for the home front. The Hizbullah bombardment of the North might continue for weeks or be renewed after a short cease-fire. All proposals put together thus far for evacuating families and for caring for financial, social, educational and other concerns have been insufficient and disjointed. A serious team composed of ministers who are not needed for directing the war effort, headed probably by Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, should be put together immediately for this purpose and work at it full-time.
Israel - with no thanks to its own leaders - has received valuable time to achieve at least some of this war's aims, but there's no guarantee that the time will be put to good use.