- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

As we went to press, the Israeli Army, which announced several days ago that it had halted a major military operation against terrorist bases in northern Gaza, was preparing to send a large military force back in to stop the continuing rocket attacks from Gaza which have made normal life in neighboring Israeli towns impossible. It looks increasingly doubtful that the events in Gaza will somehow be contained and that it will end up being little more than the latest skirmish in the longrunning dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Iran, Syria and Hamas give every indication that they want the conflict to widen into a larger war. Nor does Israel seem to be shy to respond.

Since Israel’s founding in 1948, there have been eight Arab-Israeli wars: Israel’s 1948 War of Independence; the 1956 Sinai campaign; the Six-Day War (1967); the War of Attrition (1969-1970); the Yom Kippur War (1973); the Lebanon War (1982); the first intifada (1987-92); and the second intifada, launched in September 2000. The first five of these wars involved (primarily) conflict between the Israeli military and the armies of neighboring Arab states. The Lebanon war involved Israeli military action against terrorist groups being harbored in a neighboring state; the first intifada pitted Israeli security forces against a combination of restless, angry young people and terrorists; the second intifada pitted Israel against terrorist organizations and loosely affiliated militias and a de facto Palestinian army. When the next war takes place, it could well turn out to be combination of state-on-state warfare and warfare between Israel and state-supported terrorist groups.

Years from now, it may be seen that the June 25 attack on the Israel Defense Force base at Keren Shalom by Gaza-based terrorists who killed two Israeli soldiers and kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit will be remembered as a seminal day in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The kidnapping of Cpl. Shalit has set into motion a series of events — in particular, galvanizing Israel into sending its army into Gaza to destroy sites used by terrorists for the past several years to launch rockets into the Jewish state. Since January, when Palestinians voted for Hamas, the Palestinian Authority has been governed by a terrorist organization whose raison d’etre is the destruction of a neighboring country. Now that Israel has concluded (reasonably, in our view) that it cannot abide living next door to people calling for its annihilation and firing rockets at its citizens, regional rogue states like Syria and Iran are determined to widen the conflict.

Several days after the abduction of Cpl. Shalit, Israel warned that Hamas operatives in Damascus — most importantly, Hamas politburo boss Khaled Meshaal (who is believed to have planned the Shalit operation) — would face retribution, and Israeli warplanes (the Israeli Air Force has overwhelming air superiority over Syria) overflew Syrian President Bashar Assad’s palace in northern Syria. Damascus responded by terming Israel’s act a “provocation,” and has suggested the possibility of extending the war against Israel to the Golan Heights — which has been largely quiet since the Yom Kippur War. Israel put its forces on alert in anticipation that Hezbollah, a proxy of Iran and Syria, would heat up Israel’s border with Lebanon, which has become a fortress with Israeli and Hezbollah checkpoints in very close proximity.

On Monday, Hamas boss Khaled Meshaal held a press conference in Damascus, broadcast over Syrian state television and stations throughout the Arab world, in which he defended the kidnapping of Cpl. Shalit and demanded that Israel exchange imprisoned Palestinians (terrorists) for the Israeli soldier. If anything, Syria, which previously relegated Hamas spokesmen to Beirut, has become more brazen in its support for this terrorist group. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is reiterating his calls for Israel’s destruction.

Jordan (which fought Israel tenaciously in the 1948 and 1967 wars) is deeply worried that it too is now in the terrorist crosshairs. The Hashemite Kingdom, which is being targeted by Hamas and Damascus, is said to be very worried about the possibility that Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committee (the group that kidnapped Cpl. Shalit) are seeking to create a rocket infrastructure in the West Bank, replicating what Hamas has created up in Gaza. In sum, the Shalit kidnapping may be setting into motion events that will trigger a wider war pitting Islamofascists against Israel and some moderate Muslims.

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