The Syrians may actually have restrained Hezbollah up to a point the guerrilla movement pointedly refrained from delivering its expected salvo of Katyushka rockets into northern Israeli towns following the air raids, concentrating their fire exclusively on Israeli troops occupying Lebanese territory but they're plainly in no hurry to relieve the mounting domestic political pressure on Barak to withdraw from Lebanon. The Israeli prime minister set himself a July deadline for withdrawing his forces, unilaterally if necessary. Barak would prefer, of course, to have negotiated security guarantees with Syria to cover that retreat. Despite ratcheting up the pressure, though, Damascus doesn't want a unilateral Israeli withdrawal. "If Israel leaves Lebanon before there's a comprehensive peace deal with Syria," says TIME Middle East bureau chief Scott McLeod, "the Syrians lose one of their most powerful bargaining chips their ability to keep the peace in Lebanon." But although both Israel and Syria express a desire to return to the negotiating table, they still can't agree on whether to first discuss Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights or the security guarantees Syria will offer in return. And so the deadly bidding continues in a game of peace poker that is anything but peaceful.
The more things change... Eight months ago Israelis celebrated the election of Ehud Barak as the turning point that would finally set the Jewish state on a course to durable peace with its Arab neighbors. But the last two weeks have provided a harsh reality check. A Hezbollah attack in southern Lebanon Friday killed the seventh Israeli soldier to die there in the past two weeks, despite the heaviest Israeli air raids in four years. Friday's attack further set back U.S. efforts to stop the escalating from derailing the Israel-Syria peace process. "Israel's bombing attacks were a message to Syria's President Hafez Assad, whom the Israelis accuse of fostering the escalation," says TIME Jerusalem correspondent Eric Silver. "That perception is widely shared among ordinary Israelis, and the attacks may have severely weakened Barak's chances of winning his promised referendum on any land-for-peace deal with Syria. The prime minister is rapidly losing his wonder-boy image, and many of his ministers may be privately losing confidence in their leader."