Eyeballing different Lebanese at the kidnapping site

Four months after the war, it is still difficult for us to answer whether we achieved our goals.

burned regev goldwasser  (photo credit: Channel 10)
burned regev goldwasser
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Border mark 105 looks like any other point along Israel's border with Lebanon these days. Construction workers are busy fixing the electrical security fence as IDF humvees pass by on routine patrols along the rocky and green pastoral hills separating Israel from its neighbor to the north. The remains of the two humvees attacked by Hizbullah on July 12 have been cleared away and all that is left are the burn marks in the asphalt where the first humvee, struck in the meticulous Hizbullah ambush, went up in flames, killing its three occupants. A little further down the road is where the second Humvee was hit by two RPG missiles and from which reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were kidnapped, setting off Israel's month-long war this past summer against the guerrilla group. In the distance, the naked eye can clearly make out Ayta A-Shayeb, the southern Lebanese village where the Hizbullah kidnappers immediately fled to with the two soldiers. The village has not yet recovered from the war and many homes still lay in ruins from IDF artillery shells and IAF missile strikes. A little further up the road and along the Lebanese side of the rebuilt security fence are the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). The soldiers, wearing short-sleeved T-shirts and camouflaged pants, have set up outposts right along the border with Israel, some in the exact location where Hizbullah guerrillas used to stand provocatively in the six years from Israel's 2000 withdrawal until the war this past summer. The soldiers look amused as a group of Israeli reporters gathers along the fence. They begin to get serious and put on their vests and rifles that until then had been collecting dust next to one of their makeshift tents. This is the reality along the Israeli-Lebanese border, four months after a UN-brokered cease-fire ended this summer's war. Hizbullah, which used to have dozens of outposts right along the fence, is nowhere to be seen. In its place are the LAF and UNIFIL, the latter of which, a high-ranking member of the General Staff said Sunday, was doing exemplary work in preventing Hizbullah from returning to the border. The orders are also different. Nowadays, according to the officer, the IDF will open fire immediately at any armed Hizbullah guerrilla approaching the border. No longer will armed terrorists be allowed along the border, the officer declared. There is no doubt that the reality along the border has changed. Before the war this past summer, Israelis could not just walk up to the fence and wave at Lebanese soldiers; workers could not rebuild the fence in the middle of the day without tight IDF protection; and Israeli farmers could not go out to plow their fields without checking first with local security officers. Today, Hizbullah is gone, not from Lebanon, but just from the border. In its place are four LAF brigades alongside 10,000 multi-national troops. Hizbullah is, in fact, far from destroyed or even disappearing, the officer warned, claiming that since the end of the war, the guerrilla group has received loads of weapons from Syria, mostly short-range Katyusha rockets. While the guerrillas might not venture out armed in the open, they are still there in villages like Ayta A-Shayeb, Maroun A-Ras and Bint Jbail, a stones-throw away from the border, rearming and training for the next round. According to the officer, it will take Hizbullah at least a year to return to its size and strength before the war. The group, he said, sustained heavy losses during the war. At least 500 guerrillas were killed and over a thousand were wounded. The IDF is, in a sense, doing the same - preparing for the next round. Goaded by the flaws and failures of the war, the newly-installed OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot has set one of his primary goals as preparing the IDF for a new round, possibly this summer, or maybe even earlier. But even with the new reality, the IDF is far from declaring victory in the aftermath of the war. As the high-ranking officer said: "Four months after the war, it is still difficult for us to answer whether we achieved our goals or didn't."