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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Senior IDF officers: Hezbollah hostilities liable to restart soon

Members of the Israel Defense Forces General Staff say that "round two" between Israel and Hezbollah could begin within months or even weeks, probably over the renewal of arms deliveries to the organization from Iran and Syria.

One senior officer told Haaretz on Sunday that throughout the month-long war with Hezbollah, Iran and Syria attempted to smuggle large quantities of weapons to Lebanon. He said that the efforts were stepped up over the past week, following the cease-fire and the end of Israel Air Force sorties deep in Lebanese territory.

The officer noted that while UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calls for an embargo on arms shipments to Hezbollah, no mechanism has been put in place to enforce this embargo, and said that Israel will have to intervene if the deliveries continue unchecked.

Specifically, the military source said, Israel will be forced to carry out aerial assaults on trucks traveling from Syria to Lebanon if they can be determined to contain arms shipments. Otherwise, he said, Hezbollah would renew long-range rocket attacks on Israel within a matter of months.

"If we know that a truck is carrying arms, we'll strike," he said. "There is simply no alternative."

He confirmed that the IDF was aware that such action could lead to new Katyusha attacks on communities in northern Israel.

"We presented this assessment to the government, too," he said.

The army hopes that an enforcement mechanism can be activated within a few weeks to reduce the likelihood of weapons making their way into southern Lebanon.

Despite Hezbollah's refusal to give up its arms, IDF officers believe that Resolution 1701 can be implemented, at least partially. In some parts of south Lebanon, the organization has instructed its militants not to appear in public with weapons.

IDF officers pointed with satisfaction to the fact that the new resolution places responsibility for events in southern Lebanon squarely at the feet of the Beirut government, and also creates international obligations toward Israel.

Thousands of Israeli soldiers remain in southern Lebanon. Five brigades of the regular army are deployed on the ground, though at somewhat below their full strength.

The eastern sector has been evacuated, with the exception of the Hamamis hill, near Metula. A Lebanese Army brigade has already set up headquarters near Marjayoun, in an area that was used by the Lebanese gendarmerie before the war. The IDF's Nahal Brigade controls the Taibeh area, Armored Corps Brigade 188 has the area south of Nahal, Armored Corps Brigade 7 has claimed the Maroun al-Ras area, the Golani Brigade is deployed north of Bint Jbail and the Paratroops is in control of the western sector.

If the deployment of the Lebanese Army goes according to schedule, IDF officers believe that the Israeli forces can be withdrawn to within a kilometer or two of the northern border in ten days or so.

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