Israel has announced its short-term objective in the war against Hezbollah, to occupy a portion of Lebanon on the northern border large enough to guarantee security for its northern cities:
JERUSALEM, July 25 ? Almost two weeks into its military assault on Hezbollah, Israel said Tuesday that it would occupy a strip inside southern Lebanon with ground troops until an international force could take its place.
The announcement raised the prospect of a more protracted Israeli involvement in Lebanon than the political and military leadership previously signaled or publicly sought. Officials have talked about limited raids into Lebanon, but now they seem ready to commit ground forces for at least weeks, if not months.
They said the zone would be much smaller than the strip of southern Lebanon roughly 15 miles deep that Israel occupied for nearly two decades before withdrawing in 2000.
Israel’s desire for security is understandable, and, unless the international community can provide a force that can guarantee it, they will clearly do it themselves:
Israel?s defense minister, Amir Peretz, said Israel?s plan for a buffer zone inside Lebanon was being worked out and did not provide details.
?We will have to build a new security strip, a security strip that will be a cover for our forces until international forces arrive,? he said.
?We are shaping it, but you can?t draw a single line that will become a permanent line along the entire zone,? Mr. Peretz said on Israeli radio. ?Unless there is multinational force that will enter and take control, a multinational force with the ability to act, we will continue to fire against anyone who enters the designated strip.?
Israeli officials, mindful of the Israeli public?s reluctance to repeat its long occupation of southern Lebanon, say they do not plan a major ground invasion, and do not intend to hold large parts of Lebanese territory for extended periods. Israeli leaders say they want the Lebanese Army to assume control of the border eventually.
Israeli troops do not yet have control over the border strip. A senior government official said Israeli forces intended to clear out Hezbollah strongholds in border villages as the military is already doing in Bint Jbail and Marun al Ras.
The military plans to move into other villages as well, but ?this will not be the re-establishment of the old security zone,? said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. ?It is not remotely similar.?
?If there is a strong international force, and if the Lebanese government is serious about establishing sovereignty on its border, then we will gladly leave,? the official said.
Two very big ifs.