Israel Threatens Retaliation Against Islamist Violence

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Prime Minister Ehud Barak has promised Israel will "strike back hard" against Hizb'allah in reaction to further violent attacks in south Lebanon.

Barak held closed-door consultations with his security cabinet on Monday, a day after an Israeli soldier was killed and seven others wounded in fierce fighting against the Islamist gunmen there.

Yedidya Gefen, 20, a medic, was killed by mortar fire as he attended four other soldiers wounded by a roadside bomb charge.

Gefen's death brings to five the number of Israeli soldiers killed in the security zone over the last two weeks. Four members of the Israeli-allied South Lebanese Army have also been killed in attacks since the beginning of the year. One was the second-in-command of the SLA, Akel Hashem.

Barak's second-largest coalition partner, the Shas party, called on the government to take a "time-out" in talks with Syria until Damascus restored quiet in south Lebanon and reined in Hizb'allah.

Shas party spokesman, Itzhik Soudri, told that Shas wanted Barak also to stop any secret talks that may be going on.

"It's impossible to manage negotiations when we are under fire," the party said in a statement.

Syria is widely believed to be responsible for the escalation in Lebanon, since Hizb'allah operates in Syrian-controlled territory and its supplies are channeled through Damascus.

Opposition Likud party Leader Ariel Sharon called on Barak during a party meeting on Monday to separate the issues of southern Lebanon and Syria and to strike "painful blows" at the Lebanese government and Syrian interests in Lebanon.

"We need to begin an immediate withdrawal from Lebanon," Sharon said, adding there was no reason to delay until July, the deadline Barak has set for a pullback.

First, however, Sharon said there had to be a clear demonstration that Israel would respond to attacks on its soldiers, borders, citizens and the SLA by targeting Lebanese infrastructure - roads, bridges, power stations, oil refineries and TV stations.

"In other words, Beirut will be in the dark," Sharon's spokesman Rana'an Gissin told

Gissin said Sharon set as another condition prior to withdrawal: the finding of a solution to the problem of ensuring future protection for SLA soldiers and their family members.

Barak has tried to talk tough while emphasizing a policy of restraint during the past two weeks in the hopes that deadlocked Israeli-Syrian talks might still be restarted.

However, ministers arriving at the security cabinet meeting seemed to indicate that the time had come to react to the Hizb'allah escalation of violence.

Justice Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, who has been backing Barak's restraint, said after the latest Israeli deaths that the time had come to retaliate. Israeli reprisals may even facilitate the resumption of talks with Syria and Lebanon once the two countries understood Israel's firm position of swift response to attacks.

The Lebanese Daily Star reported that the Lebanese army has gone on high alert in expectation of an Israeli attack. Israeli communities along the northern border are also taking precautions.