So far more than 70 Palestinians, a slight majority of them gunmen, and one Israeli soldier have died in the Gaza campaign. The Israeli operation that began here Wednesday has yet to assume its full shape. But judging by the angry promises of Israel's political leadership, dismayed and embarrassed by the recent guerrilla strikes, the emerging response could be equally forceful.
Along streets patrolled by border police jeeps, fire engines and a local security force, there was anger and some fear in the calls for an unbridled Israeli retaliation to the ambush and rocket strikes, which lit up eucalyptus groves and sage patches covering the steep borderland
"Israel has to respond -- maybe with an atom bomb to teach them a lesson," said Avichai Hatan, 14, who watched through binoculars a column of gray smoke rising from a fire set by a Hezbollah rocket strike. The rocket had landed a quarter-mile from the town's entrance.
Yeah, he's 14, but I doubt he's the only one who feels that way. And I can't say I blame the Israelis for their anger and frustration, but at the same time these operations have no hope of rescuing any of the kidnapped Israeli solders. Rather, they're designed to punish the Palestinians and the militants in Lebanon until they finally feel compelled to give up their hostages. But is there any guarantee that they'll reach that point? Or that they'll surrender their hostages alive? How much further is Israeli willing to take this, and what will the consequences be? I don't think anyone knows yet.
And if you're waiting for the Bush administration to do anything about this situation, don't hold your breath. This situation can be added to the growing list of crisis we can't do anything about:
The Bush administration suddenly faces three rapidly expanding crises in the Middle East, but it has limited options to defuse tensions in any of them anytime soon, U.S. officials and Middle East experts say.
The Bush administration has few ways of directly pressuring Iran on any of the three fronts. "They have sanctioned themselves out of leverage on Iran," Malley said. "They have cornered themselves out of a lack of influence on any of the parties that are driving this -- Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran. Counseling restraint or condemning actions is pretty meager when you think of the influence the United States should be wielding."
The bitter irony of our engagement in Iraq is that it was supposed to give us a "stake" in the Middle East (so the neoconservatives have practically admitted), put us right in the middle of everything so we could throw our weight around more easily. But instead it's done the exact opposite. Because we lack excess military capability and political credibility, we cannot credibly threaten Syria or Iran with military force until the stakes are much higher than this. Not only that, but because we have soldiers in Iraq vulnerable to attack, both Syria and Iran have a leverage against us that did not exist before we invaded Iraq, as the Syrians can aid the insurgents in attacking our troops and the Iranians can stir up the Shiite militias they are allied with. So wit all the military an industrial might that we have, we now find ourselves in the position of hoping we can get the Hizbollah, Hamas and the Israelies to listen to us.