One of the ways the IDF arrives at the conclusion that Hizbullah is more cautious today than it was several years ago is by analyzing the Lebanese Shi'ite group's behavior during Operation Cast Lead, which the IDF waged against Hamas in the Gaza Strip earlier this year.
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a meeting in Teheran.
Photo: AP [file]
During Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 - when the IDF took up positions in all major cities in the West Bank - Hizbullah fired 600 rockets and mortar shells, and 300 anti-tank missiles, into Israel. Fourteen Israelis were wounded.
During Cast Lead - when IDF troops swept into the Gaza Strip - Hizbullah did not fire a single rocket.
This has led to an understanding in the IDF's Northern Command that while Hizbullah is rebuilding its military capabilities and may have more rockets today than it did before the Second Lebanon War in 2006, it is extremely wary, possibly more than ever.
Another demonstration of this restraint was seen in the handling of Igor Kagan, reportedly a mentally unstable man from Rishon Lezion who crossed into Lebanon on August 25. Kagan was captured by UNIFIL and handed over to the Lebanese Armed Forces for interrogation. Israel succeeded in identifying him two days after he crossed the border, after UNIFIL provided a picture that was then published widely in the press.
Eight hours after he was identified, Kagan was returned to Israel.
"This is not something that would have happened a few years ago," explained a senior officer in the Northern Command.
There were in fact fears that Hizbullah might try to get its hands on Kagan, prompting UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano to personally intervene and contact the most senior political leaders in Beirut to ensure that Kagan would be granted safe passage back to Israel.
In addition to the general fear of an Israeli retaliation - which could explain the afore-mentioned restraint - Hizbullah is also being held back by its main patron - Iran.
In a process that began following the Second Lebanon War and continues today, Teheran is solidifying its control over the guerrilla group by placing Iranian military officers as commanders of Hizbullah units in Lebanon and appointing Iranian officials to fill the void left by the assassination last year of Hizbullah military commander Imad Mughniyeh.
Iran views Hizbullah as a forward base of operations for the day that it will need to light up Israel's northern border. It has invested billions of dollars in Hizbullah and does not want to see it thrown away in a war sparked by the kidnapping of IDF reservists. It needs Hizbullah in the event that its nuclear facilities are attacked.
Most of Hizbullah's rockets and weaponry have been deployed inside the 160 Lebanese Shi'ite villages south of the Litani River.
This poses an operational problem for Israel in the event of a new conflict, since the IDF will have to ensure the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of civilians from the area before sending in ground troops. While the army waits for this to happen, there is no doubt that the Israeli home front will come under heavy fire from the short-range Katyusha rockets stored in these villages.
For Hizbullah, this also poses a problem.
On the one hand, the Shi'ite villages are where Hizbullah's supporters and fighters come from. On the other hand, if and when a war breaks out with Israel, since most of the weaponry is in the villages, there will likely be a lot of destruction there, similar to Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009.