Operation Waffle Iron: Ceasefires and Rolling Tanks
On a day that appeared a microcosm of Israeli inconsistency displayed since the beginning of the current campaign against Hizballah in Lebanon, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert waffled his way to accepting UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for an end to Hizballah attacks and Israeli offensive operations.
Following weeks of troops massing at the border and limited ground operations a few kilometers into – and back out of – southern Lebanon, a decisive ground incursion seemed to have finally been launched as Olmert rejected the UNSC draft resolution as too weak and approved (once again) the expansion of the ground offensive to clear Hizballah and its rockets from southern Lebanon. Reports of massive numbers of tanks rolling on the ground began to saturate news coverage.
Before long, news began to surface that Olmert had indeed decided to accept the UNSC resolution and present it to his cabinet for expected passage Sunday morning. But even still, Israel remains wary that any force, Lebanese, international or otherwise, will possess the will to disarm Hizballah.
To this end, a major ground offensive appears to indeed be underway in southern Lebanon as reports emerge of approximately 30,000 IDF troops on the ground in southern Lebanon Saturday. While Israel has agreed to the text of the UNSC resolution, it remains clear that Israel will not create a vacuum in southern Lebanon for Hizballah to flow freely into with fresh men and a re-supply of arms while the ‘international community’ debates the constitution of any such international force.
Yesterday, in what appears the first stage of the offensive, the IDF converged on the city of Marjayoun and the surrounding areas. Marjayoun is situated between the eastern elbow of the Litani River and the border of Israel. With bridges across the Litani River destroyed, this land gap at its elbow serves as the remaining ground conduit between the southern Lebanon ‘Katyusha Brigades’ and launch sites and Hizballah’s Bekaa Valley strongholds from which they would be re-supplied. The taking of the Marjayoun corridor is key to slamming shut the door and sealing off the southern Lebanon AO.
From the south, the IDF has crossed into Lebanon in force, reportedly tripling their presence in what looks to be the long-awaited push northward to the Litani River. But many question whether this is too little too late for any effectiveness, considering the unanimously (15-0) ratified UN resolution that has been initially agreed to by Israel and Lebanon.
For Hizballah’s part, addressed in the resolution as if it were a state and Israel’s equal, Hassan Nasrallah has set conditions for their participation in any ceasefire. Key is the demand that Israel vacate southern Lebanon before they will cease any fighting. This clearly is not going to occur, as Israel refuses – agreement or no agreement – to allow them free reign to reconstitute and re-arm in southern Lebanon along Israel’s northern border.
As Israel continues to target re-supply routes from the Bekaa Valley to Syria, cuts the Marjayoun corridor remaining into the south and sends tanks rolling toward the Litani River, Israel looks to apparently cover as much ground as possible before the cabinet approves the cease-fire measure and commits them to cease offensive operations.
But for Olmert to have left his military commanders merely 48 hours to do so in the face of fierce resistance illustrates why he is in deep political trouble among Israelis, with calls for the centrist Kadima leader’s removal coming from both the political left and right within Israel. Perhaps the Israeli people indeed have a stronger will to engage and defeat Hizballah, even at high cost, than those tasked with such decisions.