The latest Middle East crisis, that of the abduction of an Israeli Corporal, could be the trigger that finally unleashes all out war in the region. That the kidnapping came hard on the heels of a Hamas-Fatah agreement to "implicitly recognize Israel" seems to be confounding the experts who just can't fathom why this would happen now.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has apparently decided that this kidnapping will not lesson his resolve to withdraw from much of the West Bank, but he realizes what the ramifications of a soft response would be. He has his own cabinet to deal with, and many members who are skeptical of his lack of military prowess.
Still, Israel is not kidding around and will wait only so long before an all out retaliation. Cpl. Shalit must know that his army will do everything possible to retrieve him, but the government won't negotiate for his release. It seems, barring some Entebbe-like operation, that Cpl. Shalit's hours are waning.
This July 4 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the end of that mission (it began on June 27, 1976). I wouldn't be surprised to find that this is in the mind of Israeli planners right now. Even as an IDF spokesman told the press that they know where Cpl. Shalit is, it's hard to imagine how that can be known. This is very different from Entebbe, where the hostages were held at a known location that could be surveilled.
There is some criticism that Israel is being disproportionate in its response, but this misses the point. Negotiating for Shalit's release may still be an option, but in the mean time Israel can't afford to give Hamas and its allies reason to think that kidnapping is a successful tactic.
If Shalit is killed, or if Israel jumps the gun, it could inflame already hot tempers in the region. Hamas has an out, and could use the release of Shalit as a propaganda tool. It looks as if Egypt isn't going to help them out, and from what I am hearing, private opinions are that Hamas has stepped in it big time and may not be able to count on much help.