JERUSALEM—Nearly two weeks into its cease-fire in Lebanon, Israel is bent on thwarting any efforts to resupply Hezbollah with weapons while pressing the international community to create a U.N. force strong enough to weaken its Shiite Muslim foe even more in southern Lebanon.
To accomplish that, Israel has left thousands of troops in Lebanon and shown a willingness to engage in strategic military raids against Hezbollah.
"The main problem is resupply, the prospect that once again you will see the Syrian long-range, the medium-range, rocket launchers . . . the ones that really did the carnage in Haifa," said Eran Lerman, a retired Israeli army military-intelligence colonel who now runs the Jerusalem office of the American Jewish Committee.
Once a U.N. force is assembled, Lerman predicted that Israel will press for international inspections of Syrian cargo bound for Lebanon, something Syrian President Bashar Assad has said he'd resent. On Thursday, the Lebanese Cabinet agreed in Beirut that the Lebanese army will patrol the border, perhaps with technical assistance from Germany.
But Israeli officials, who see Syria as the primary conduit for Hezbollah weapons, think the weak Lebanese army is powerless to police the Syrian-Lebanese border and stop any weapons smuggling.
Even in Lebanon, few expect the Lebanese army to take a tough line with Hezbollah. "I don't see the Lebanese army playing the role of stern and strict policeman," said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a leading Lebanese expert on Hezbollah. She predicted that the border is "going to remain somewhat porous."
"You cannot seal off an entire border. Arms will continue to be funneled through," she said.
To counter Hezbollah, Israel's army announced last week that it will use military force "until proper monitoring bodies are established on Lebanese borders" to help neutralize the militant Islamist group.
Over the weekend, Israel dispatched a 100-strong commando unit 60 miles north of its border into Lebanon's Bekaa Valley in a raid that it said was meant to disrupt arms smuggling. The military landed helicopters and jeeps in the Bekaa, reportedly took two prisoners and lost a senior commando, a lieutenant colonel, in a gun battle.
Mark Heller, an analyst at Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said Israel's postwar Hezbollah strategy was still evolving into "something kind of general and banal like containment." He suggested that the weekend raid also might have been an effort to find two Israeli soldiers whom Hezbollah kidnapped July 12, sparking the conflict.
While Israel struggles with how to make certain that Hezbollah isn't resupplied, the cease-fire also has given the country time to grapple with national anguish over its performance in the campaign.
Reservists and the families of some of the 119 Israeli soldiers who died in the monthlong conflict are demanding that an independent commission examine everything from civil preparedness to war planning to supply shortages that bedeviled the ground combat.
Israel halted its ground offensives after a month without accomplishing what Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had said were its goals: recovering the missing soldiers and disarming Hezbollah.
Friday, an Israeli poll gave Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz miserable report cards. Only 26 percent said Olmert deserved a good rating for his wartime performance, compared with 74 percent who said "not good." Moreover, 63 percent of Israelis surveyed said Olmert should resign.
The poll of 499 adults was carried out for the Yediot Ahronot newspaper by the Mina Zemah/Dahaf polling firm. It had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
The survey was published as protesters marched to the Jerusalem grave of former Prime Minister Golda Meir, who herself had to step down amid a public upheaval over intelligence and preparedness training after the Egyptians' surprise attack of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which cost Israel 2,688 lives.
Friday's poll showed no clear successor emerging for Olmert, 60, a former mayor of Jerusalem who took over when former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had a catastrophic stroke last January.
Leading the pack was former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 55, the opposition leader, with 22 percent support; next was Avigdor Lieberman, 48, a 1979 emigre from the Soviet Union from the right-wing Israel Beitenu party, with 18 percent; and perennial almost-ran Shimon Peres, 83, of the Labor party, who got 12 percent.
(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Leila Fadel contributed to this article from Beirut, Lebanon.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Need to map