Matt Rees: He's been fairly widely criticized for overreacting, particularly in editorials in the Israeli media, where sending the F-16s has been seen as out of proportion, leaving fewer places to go after this and bringing international criticism without any real positive gain. Essentially, if Israel had done the same thing with helicopter gun-ships, it might have passed unnoticed by the international media. But using fighter planes has drawn fierce criticism. Until now they've been almost routinely assassinating people and going into the Palestinian-controlled Area A and it wasn't getting that much attention editors had lost interest in stories about it because it had become commonplace but this brought renewed criticism.
So it's seen here as an error in international terms, but Israeli editorials and politicians are concerned that it's an escalation that leaves little room for maneuver. One asked, if this is the response when a terrorist bomb kills five people, what are we doing to do when a terrorist bomb kills 20 drop a nuclear bomb on Ramallah? There's a concern that this escalation has come too early, and too cheap. And that it hasn't done very much to help Israel's situation.
Worse, perhaps, the air strikes had to have pleased Hamas and Hizbollah…
Yes, that's exactly what they want. When they send a suicide bomber, it has a dual purpose. To kill Israelis, and also to draw the harshest possible response because it helps them politically. That was the way Hizbollah fought their war in Lebanon. Now, the radical groups have provoked Sharon into a serious escalation that's causing him political and diplomatic problems. Until now, Sharon's strategy had simply been an intensified version of the things Barak had done. But the air strikes mark a serious departure.
Does this put pressure on Sharon's government will it cause the Labor Party to rethink whether it wants to be in his unity government?
Not really. The conditions that led them into the unity government haven't really changed. And remember, it's not just Sharon making these decisions. The Defense Minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who has had a strong hand in these decisions is actually a candidate for the Labor Party leadership. Sharon has always been very good at having someone to blame when his plans go wrong. He used to blame those above him, like former Prime Minister Menahem Begin. Now that he's in power, he has people below him to blame. Ben Eliezer takes part of the heat on defense issues, diplomatic setbacks can be blamed on foreign minister Shimon Peres, and so on.