The tense weeklong standoff over Palestinian militants' capture of an Israeli soldier has become laden with significance far beyond the fate of the missing 19-year-old tank gunner. Whether or not the soldier is ultimately freed, events have been set in motion that could lead to a prolonged Israeli military entanglement in the Gaza Strip, a troubled terrain that the Jewish state thought it had relinquished for good. In addition, analysts say the confrontation could imperil Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plans to cede most of the West Bank to the Palestinians to create a state, and perhaps result in the long-term strengthening of the Hamas movement — whether or not the Islamist group survives as a governing power. If Israel and the Palestinians can agree on one thing, it is that, by accident or by design, the stakes in this brewing battle have become extremely high. And each side is aware that it has much to lose and little to gain...For many...the ongoing siege of Gaza is a death knell to hopes that by now, nearly a year after Israel's landmark withdrawal of troops and Jewish settlers, the territory would be well on the way to becoming a prototype for Palestinian statehood — with a viable economy, a measure of autonomy and functioning democratic institutions.Particularly interesting is the article's discussion of Israel's perception of the historical stakes, which have been heightened amid months-long hit-and-run attacks on Israeli military outposts by Hamas elements, and especially the recent capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit:
The raid by three Hamas-allied militant factions left two Israeli soldiers and two assailants dead. But what might have then been a predictable and limited equation of strike and retaliation was vastly altered by the fact that the militants were able to spirit away a soldier — a nightmare scenario for Israel, which has often spent years trying to ascertain the fate of soldiers seized by Arab guerrillas. Through much of the country's history, hostage crises — Munich, Entebbe — have served as defining moments, and the conclusion usually drawn by Israel is that it is better to strike decisively than to talk. The Israeli military establishment reflexively fears any erosion of its power of deterrence, and for that reason, the early days of this offensive, which began Wednesday when troops and tanks moved into a slice of southern Gaza, were a source of frustration to army chiefs. Every day brought reports in the Israeli media that the military brass was aghast at the spectacle of the crack Golani infantry brigade parked on Gaza's northern border, firing artillery salvos but ordered to refrain from entering the coastal strip....But the political implications of the standoff have threatened to overshadow the military offensive. Olmert's government has declared that it draws no distinction between the elected Hamas government and the group's military wing, which was one of the factions claiming responsibility for the soldier's abduction.As the passage indicates, Israel's reaction is partly driven by the "the lessons of history," and there is some interesting political science research examining how historical analogies shape the actions of decisionmakers. Also, last Wednesday's OpinionJournal.com ran this provocative commentary by Michael Oren, who argues that Israel's slow response to the months of Palestinian attacks have embodened the terrorists. Oren argues that Israel needs to return to Ariel Sharon's policy of targeted-killings, which would improve Israeli security by demonstrating a new-found resolve to counter Palestinian terrorism at the source. See Aubrey J's blog for regular updates on Operation Summer Rain.