The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s effort to free three captured soldiers (one in Gaza, two in Lebanon) has become a broad campaign to alter the strategic balance of the Middle East, reported Washington Post political analysts on Sunday, arguing that this is an enormous gamble for the new Israeli prime minister.

The analysis states, "Israel’s assault on Lebanon, which has already killed [105] people and turned much of the country into a battlefield, could backfire if it becomes a protracted quagmire, provokes war with Syria or exposes Israelis to increasingly deadly attacks."

Following the capture of an Israeli soldier from a tank in southern Gaza June 25th by Palestinian resistance fighters, Israeli forces have been attacking the undefended people of Gaza, taking out bridges, power plants, government buildings and infrastructure, and killing 76 Palestinians in the last week alone.

The Israeli justification for the mission has changed considerably from June 25th until today.  At first, Israeli military commanders in Gaza said the operation was launched to "restore the army’s confidence", after having been caught off-guard by the ambush on the tank by the Palestinian fighters, and to "free the captured soldier".

Within a week, more than 25 Palestinians, 20 of them civilians, had been killed in Gaza (and one Israeli soldier was killed by ‘friendly fire’ from his fellow soldiers), and Israeli commanders were saying, "We will not apologize for civilian deaths", which the army said were caused by “human or technical error".  

Soon the mission expanded, to "change the basic parameters and the basic pattern of behavior so that there will be no more kidnappings and no more insurgencies and no more terror activity" — the most recent statement of Israeli Cabinet Minister Isaac Herzog.

According to the Washington Post analysis, Palestinian Prime Minister Olmert, who replaced Ariel Sharon when he suffered a stroke seven months ago, likely sees Israel’s simultaneous offensives in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon as a way to strike a decisive blow not only against Hezbollah and Hamas but also against the interests of Syria, which sponsors the Hezbollah resistance movement and Iran, which has called for the destruction of Israel.