A string of attacks on Israelis elsewhere in the area in the past two weeks has intensified pressure on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to respond with a painful blow to Palestinian militants. Sharon, who is politically vulnerable amid a Likud Party primary election battle with Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, huddled with generals yesterday to discuss retaliation.
Environment Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a Likud member, called for a special draft of army reservists for an offensive in the Gaza Strip against leaders of Hamas, which took responsibility for the bombing. The call seemed to echo Netanyahu's campaign jabs at Sharon for not expelling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from the West Bank and Gaza.
An aide to Sharon suggested the recent attacks by Palestinian militants seek to tempt Israel into a harsh retaliation that would distract the United States from efforts to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "They would like to see Israel respond in such a way that would ignite the entire area," said Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesman for Sharon. "We are not going to react in any way that would harm U.S. efforts in the region. We stand to benefit."