Druze leader Walid Jumblatt (radiofarda.com)

TEL AVIV – Hezbollah’s “victory” over the Jewish state will likely bring down Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government and lead to a second round of confrontations between Israel and Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said in a WorldNetDaily interview yesterday.

“I see investigations inside Israel about the Israeli military’s terrible performance. I see Olmert failing and [former Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu coming to power. There will be a second round of confrontations with Hezbollah and with other regional elements,” said Jumblatt, who is head of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party and is largely considered the most prominent anti-Syrian Lebanese politician.

Jumblatt said in his opinion there is “no question” Hezbollah won the month-long military conflict with Israel that started July 12 after the Lebanese militia ambushed an Israeli patrol unit, kidnapping two soldiers and killing eight others.

“Of course Hezbollah won,” said Jumblatt. “We saw after 33 days in spite of the infliction of massive destruction on Lebanon, the Israelis were not able to advance a single inch in the south. Hezbollah still has its capabilities. They have their advanced weaponry and rockets.”

Attempting to fulfill obligations of a cease-fire agreement imposed Monday, a symbolic contingent of about 2,500 troops from the Lebanese army yesterday began deploying in the southern sections of the country while the United Nations worked to assemble an international force to be deployed in the area with the stated goal of ensuring Hezbollah does not rearm.

The Lebanese army consists of some 40,000 soldiers, although some counts place its forces at lower numbers. It has about 300 tanks and armored personnel carriers. The Lebanese government has promised to deploy up to 15,000 troops in the south and along the country’s border with Israel.

Jumblatt said there was “no chance” the Lebanese army or any international force would disarm Hezbollah or keep the militia from regrouping.

“How could the Lebanese army or some international force do what the mightiest army in the Middle East (Israel) did not do? Don’t ask us to disarm by force. It is a fantasy.”

The cease-fire resolution calls for the area south of Lebanon’s Litani River – about 18 miles into Lebanon from the Israeli border – to be free from arms, aside from those held by Lebanese soldiers and United Nations International Forces In Lebanon troops.

But a Lebanese cabinet decision reached yesterday regarding the disarmament issue allows Hezbollah to retain its weapons as long as the group refrains from carrying them in public.

The agreement was finalized following deliberations with Hezbollah representatives that lasted days during which Hezbollah, which is part of the parliament, rejected all demands to disarm south of the Litani.

“Expect new confrontations,” Jumblatt said. “One round of fighting is over. Hezbollah was victorious and is waiting for another round. Hezbollah is an arm of Iran and it will be used to draw Lebanon into more conflicts.”

While Olmert claimed in speeches the past few days that Hezbollah was defeated during Israel’s military campaign, many senior military intelligence officials here say Hezbollah strongholds in the central regions of south Lebanon remain intact.

The officials told WND because the Israeli Defense Forces were not authorized to conduct a large-scale ground assault to the Latani River until two days before this week’s cease-fire was imposed, major nearby cities such as Tyre were not cleaned out of Hezbollah fighters. Tyre and surrounding areas were routinely used by Hezbollah to fire rockets into northern Israeli cities.

Israeli military officials tell WorldNetDaily that from the start of the Jewish state’s campaign in Lebanon last month, the IDF petitioned for the deployment of up to 40,000 ground troops to advance immediately to the Litani River – taking up the swath of territory from which most Hezbollah rockets are fired – and from there work their way back to the Israeli border while surrounding and then cleaning out Hezbollah strongholds under heavy aerial cover.

But Olmert at first only approved aerial assaults. After Hezbollah retaliated by firing large numbers of rockets into Israel, the Olmert government approved a smaller ground offensive of up to 8,000 soldiers who according to military officials were not directed to advance to the Litani. The IDF was charged with cleaning out Hezbollah’s bases within about three miles of the Israeli border.

IDF leaders told WND they suffered in “very specific” ways on the battlefield because of a lack of sufficient ground troops. They cited instances in which they claimed there were not enough soldiers to surround key villages, such as Bint JBail in southern Lebanon, allowing Hezbollah fighters to infiltrate cities after the IDF began combat inside the areas.

After nearly four weeks of fighting, Olmert’s cabinet last week approved the larger assault the IDF had petitioned for, authorizing about 40,000 troops to enter Lebanon and advance to the Latani River. The IDF estimated it would need about three days to reach central Lebanon and another four to six weeks to successfully wipe out the Hezbollah infrastructure in the areas leading back to the Israeli border.

But Monday morning – three days after the Israeli army was given a green light to advance – a cease-fire was imposed and the Jewish state suspended operations.

A day before the cease-fire, Hezbollah shot over 240 rockets into Israel, the largest number the group had fired in one day. One Israeli civilian was killed in the attacks; 26 others were injured.

“The message sent is that Hezbollah absolutely maintains the capability of firing hundreds of rockets per day into Israel. Wasn’t one of the military campaign’s main goals to eliminate the rocket threat?” commented a military official.

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