For over a week now - day after day - Israeli missiles and artillery shells have struck deep into Lebanon, while Katyusha rockets rained down on cities and towns of northern Israel. Israel says its aim is to retrieve two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah last week and to eliminate the threat the militant group poses to Israel.

The kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah July 12 and the kidnapping of another soldier by Palestinian militants in Gaza a few weeks earlier may have been the spark that ignited the fighting, but Israeli and American leaders clearly believe that the militants were acting under orders from Syria and Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was blunt in making that connection when he spoke before parliament Monday evening.

"The terror organizations working out of Lebanon and Gaza are nothing but sub-contractors working under authorization and encouraged and financed by governments supporting terrorism, governments that oppose peace. There is an evil road running from Tehran to Damascus," he said.

Prime Minister Olmert accused Syria and Iran of stirring up trouble, using Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza to do so.

Retired Israeli Major-General Yaakov Amidror agrees.  He says Syria wants to regain its influence in Lebanon after its troops were forced out by Lebanese and international pressure over a year ago. For Iran, he says, it is all about international pressure and nuclear ambitions.

"When you look at Iran and the threats from Iran as a response to the efforts to stop Iran from being nuclear, you say, OK, how they will do it?  When you look at the tools the Iranians have today, Hezbollah is the most important tool," he said.

General Amidror is program director for the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem, which describes itself as an independent, non-partisan research forum.  Amidror says it is vital that Israel be allowed to, what he calls, finish the job, in Lebanon to curb the influence of Damascus and Tehran.

Israel, the United States and other countries categorize Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organizations, something both those groups deny.

Yaakov Amidror also sees an even broader context for this conflict, the war against terrorism and what he calls the wave of radical Islam around the world, buoyed by political victories and by Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005.

"The success of Hezbollah to push us [Israel] out of Lebanon, the success of Hamas to push us out of Gaza, the success of the insurgency in Iraq fighting the Americans, the success of bin-Laden to survive against all odds after 9/11, the success of Hamas in the election of the Palestinian Authority [in January 2006] and so and so forth.  I think this war [in Lebanon] may be the last station to stop the running train of radical Islam," he explained.

Not everyone agrees. Israeli political commentator, Akiva Eldar of the liberal Haaretz newspaper sees a danger in broadening the goals of the conflict.

"The thing is the government is defining the objectives of this war while it was still going on and moving forward and I'm afraid that they are too ambitious," he said.

Eldar says no one doubts Israel's right to defend itself against the threat of Hezbollah. Recent opinion polls show the vast majority of Israelis support their government's military action. But Eldar warns if Israel ends up in a brutal, drawn-out war, both domestic and international support could quickly fade.