Sun, Jul 16, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Israeli PM taking an enormous gamble

AP , JERUSALEM

Still, Israel has to tread lightly in this regard, because the recently elected government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora opposes Hezbollah and enjoys the support of the US.

Yet Olmert described the Hezbollah raid on Wednesday as an "act of war" by Lebanon. The statement was echoed on Friday by Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who said his group was ready for "open war" with Israel.

By defining the crisis as a war -- and extending the mission beyond the immediate need to free the Israeli servicemen -- Olmert could be taking the conflict in unknown and dangerous directions. Among the first casualties of the current violence is the recently revitalized tourism industry in northern Israel and a Lebanese economy that had rebounded from decades of strife.

Civilian suffering in both Gaza and Lebanon is increasing hatred for Israel and uniting the people in a common cause, not turning the people against militants as Israel would like.

The militants' No. 1 demand -- the release of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in exchange for the captive Israelis -- is not likely to be met any time soon, given Israel's desire to press ahead with its offensive to pursue larger strategic goals.

However, Ephraim Kam, a former senior military intelligence officer in Israel, predicted a prisoner swap could take place eventually. If and when it does, he said, Israel would demand as part of the deal the removal of Hezbollah from its northern border and Hamas agreement to halt rocket fire from Gaza.

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