BEIRUT, Lebanon, July 12 (UPI) -- Israel's dual front war with the Lebanese Shiite military wing of Hezbollah along its northern border, and with the Palestinian Hamas movement along its southern frontier with Gaza promises to make this summer a particularly hot one in the ever turbulent Middle East. And this is no reference to the climate.
The militant Hezbollah raised the stakes in an already explosive situation with the capture Wednesday of two Israeli soldiers, and by Israel's own admission, the killing of three others.
In a rare press conference Hezbollah chief Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah indicated that the only way out of the new crisis and to guarantee the safe release of the three Israeli soldiers would be to exchange them for several thousand Palestinian and Hezbollah militants currently held in Israeli jails. Two Israelis were abducted Wednesday and Cpl. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped more than two weeks ago from an army checkpoint near Gaza.
Nasrallah said that the only way to secure the release of the kidnapped soldiers would be through indirect negotiations, followed by a swap of prisoners. While Hamas and Israel do not engage in face-to-face meetings, there have always been back channels allowing the parties in question to "talk."
When Shalit was kidnapped, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the army into action where they destroyed bridges and roads along with a power station, leaving the people of Gaza literally in the dark and without water. Without pumps to bring water up from the wells, the residents of Gaza could not even flush toilets, causing sewers to overflow.
Now the Israelis are carrying out a repeat performance in Lebanon. They say they blew up the bridges in order to prevent their soldiers from being moved out of the area of operations, thus making it more difficult to find them and extract them.
Nassrallah said nothing prevents a joint Lebanese-Palestinian action to find a solution for the three captured Israeli servicemen. The Israelis, meanwhile, warned Hezbollah that "they will pay a heavy price for their actions." Prime Minister Olmert accused Lebanon of "an act of war." Analysts understand that statement to lay blame on the Lebanese government because of the presence of a member of Hezbollah in the Lebanese government.
Israel has further threatened that their response would be "very painful"; suggestions of an intensive retaliation campaign include striking Lebanon's infrastructure to destroy bridges and roads, communication facilities and power plants. Israel is taking this incident so seriously that it is even considering re-occupation of southern Lebanon, noting that thus far bombings were "limited" to this area.
Nasrallah said his group has exercised "self-restraint" but warned: "We are ready to go far," if Israel opted for escalation.
In Beirut, meanwhile, the Lebanese government met in an emergency session and declared it was not aware of Hezbollah's action and was thus was not responsible in an attempt to probably contain Israel's anger.
Former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel questioned Hezbollah's right to take such a "war decision" unilaterally, pushing Lebanon into "a dark tunnel." Nasrallah called on all Lebanese for solidarity and not to give Israel a pretext to justify its attacks on Lebanon, suggesting all differences be left aside for the time being as priority goes to freeing the prisoners from Israeli jails.
In Jerusalem the Israeli Cabinet met to decide on what actions to adopt against Lebanon. Some analysts believe Israel will try to assassinate Hezbollah leaders if they can. Otherwise, they could attack Lebanese infrastructure hoping it would turn the people of Lebanon against Hezbollah.
That, however, would be a serious mistake if the siege of Beirut in 1984 is anything to judge the future by. The likely reaction would be to bring the people closer to Hezbollah rather than alienate them.
Other analysts see Syria and Iran as the real powers with whom to contend, given that logically neither Hamas, whose military chiefs reside in Damascus, or Hezbollah, who gets most of its backing from Tehran, would take it upon themselves to escalate the situation to such dangerous new heights without first checking with their respective handlers.
(Dalal Saoud in Beirut and Claude Salhani in Rabat wrote this report.)