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Will Israel Drop the Hammer?

By Jack Kelly

The great danger in the Israeli-Hezbollah war is not that it might escalate, but that it might not.

At this writing, Israel has done all that is necessary to isolate the battlefield in Lebanon, preventing reinforcement of Hezbollah strongholds, or escape of Hezbollah fighters from them.

But Israel has yet to begin the ground invasion without which the threat posed by Hezbollah can never effectively be ended.

Some fear the government of Ehud Olmert lacks the stones to take advantage of a rare opportunity.

In the past, Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran have counted on "world opinion" to restrain the Israelis from effectively punishing the terror group for its provocations.

The usual suspects have said the usual things about Israel's "disproportionate" response to the kidnapping of its soldiers and the rocket attacks on its cities. But this time, many seem just to be going through the motions.

The Arab League's denunciation of Israel was more tepid than usual, and reports indicate that in the group's private discussions, the representatives of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan had harsher things to say about Hezbollah and Hamas than they did about the Jews.

According to the New York Times, the Saudi foreign minister, speaking of Hezbollah, said: "These acts will pull the whole region back to years ago, and we simply cannot accept them."

As expected, the leaders of the G8 nations meeting in St. Petersburg issued a call for a cease fire. But they also placed blame for the crisis on Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, and called for the disarmament of Hezbollah in compliance with UN Security Council resolution 1559.

Foreign ministers from various wishy washy lands are descending on Beirut to try to work out a premature peace deal which will snatch a partial victory for Hezbollah from the defeat staring it in the face.

But the only foreign leader to whom Israel must pay much attention is President Bush, who so far has been steadfast in his support. However, the longer a ground assault is delayed, the more likely it is that that support will waver.

Ralph Peters worried in the New York Post Monday that it is Israeli fear of casualties that is postponing the ground assault.

If American air power couldn't topple Saddam Hussein's regime, then Israeli jets alone won't be able to defeat Hezbollah, Peters said.

"Stand-off attacks only convince religion-fueled terrorists that we -- Americans or Israelis -- lack the courage to face them," he said.

"Israel's refusal to fight in the spirit of Dayan and Sharon will boost the morale of Hezbollah fighters, unify their supporters, and serve as a recruiting tool."

Ralph -- a retired Army intelligence officer and the smartest military analyst I know -- is right about the consequences if Israel stops short of a knockout punch.

But he could be wrong about Israeli intentions. Abraham Rabinovitch, writing in the Washington Times Monday, said the IDF is less than half way through a four part plan of mounting intensity which will culminate in a ground assault.

Israel's actions so far are "eerily similar" to the U.S. battle plan in the first Gulf War, where the "left hook" that drove Saddam's forces from Kuwait was preceded by a month of bombing, said "John," a former Air Force officer who blogs at OPFOR.

So is Israel getting ready to drop the hammer? Or has Israel decided not to swing it at all?

This signals are mixed. In an address to the nation Monday, Prime Minister Olmert promised to continue the fight until the threats posed by Hamas and Hezbollah were removed.

He was followed to the podium in the Knesset by Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the loyal Opposition (a terrific concept, would that our Democrats would try it) who pledged his support for the government to obtain "a decisive victory without concessions."

But earlier Monday, the Middle East News Line reported Mr. Olmert's government has rejected recommendations for an infantry assault. "We want to keep our signature on the ground very low," an unnamed official was quoted as saying.

If Israeli tanks were to move in to crush Hezbollah, what would Iran and Syria do?

My guess is not much. Iran is too far away to provide conventional military support. Syria could, but Israel would pummel its army and air force.

"Presented with a choice between saving Hezbollah and staying alive, Syria's dictator will probably choose the latter," opined Michael Oren in the New Republic Monday.

However, Hezbollah acted against its own interests on behalf of Iran, so there's really no telling what Syria might do. This is, after all, the Middle East, as the scorpion said to the frog.

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