Analysis: Beware of trigger-happy politics

Despite the limited IDF retaliation to the Hizbullah attack, the new election period raises the possibility leaders will take a more aggressive hand and be heavier on the trigger in the coming months, analysts warn. The only thing that will hold them back will be the responsible nature of senior officers in the IDF and Shin Bet who will refrain from presenting too-harsh options for approval. The IDF retaliation to the most massive Hizbullah assault since Israel pulled out of Lebanon over five years ago was restricted to artillery and air strikes on the border. Even though Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz quickly blamed Damascus and Teheran for being behind the Hizbullah attack, and even though Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said the government in Beirut was responsible, no action was directed there. The restrained Israeli response was aimed at containing the tensions and was also due to Washington's request to react coolly. Still, while advisers were telling reporters that the retaliation wou ld be limited, Mofaz was announcing: "Violators will pay for attacks." Some politicians may try to portray actions as heavier than they really were, as Mofaz did on Tuesday. He also rejected claims that the IDF response to the Hizbullah offense was too mild, and stated that "it was an aggressive and large-scale response." Gloating generals and the defense minister spoke of how it was the Lebanese who came running to the UN to beg for a ceasefire. "This is a refreshing turnaround." Halutz told reporter s, warning that Israel had a "basket of operations" at its disposal should Hizbullah need another message. There is nothing stumping politicians want more than to wield a heavy stick in a great public display of just how they are providing security to th e citizens. "In a period of elections, it is the interest of the candidates to show their muscles. I presume that in the coming months we'll see them showing that they are not vegetarians and this is likely to create attacks and retaliations in the north and with the Palestinians," said Zvi Shtauber, head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. Shtauber noted that because of the popular unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, Israel gained a lot of maneuverability. "No one is paying attention to targeted assassinations anymore. It's part of the bargain," he said. Retired Maj.-Gen. Ya'akov Amidror, former military secretary for defense ministers, said that there was no real apparatus to restrain over-zealous leader s. "There are no internal brakes, not in Israel or any country really," said Amidror. "What there is, is a collective responsibility by senior officers not to present various options." Sharon wants to maintain his image of "Mr. Security" and may seek t o do so with a heavier hand against Palestinian terrorists or Hizbullah guerrillas. Mofaz also wants to beef up his security image too and will likely use his position to the hilt as he enters the race for head of the Likud Party. There is nothing wrong with harsh retaliations to attacks on Israelis. But our military might should not be manipulated for political gain. So watch out for more saber rattling as the elections approach.h