Until recently, Amir Peretz, now at the centre of decision-making in Israel's war with Hezbollah, was best known as a trade union leader issuing strike threats. Unless finance ministers agreed to wage rises or slowed down privatisation of state industries, the country would be brought to a halt with strikes, Mr Peretz, former chairman of Israel's national trade federation, the Histadrut, would warn during flamboyant press appearances. Now, as Israeli defence minister, Mr Peretz threatens Lebanon with further devastation. In a visit on Thursday to the north of Israel, an area hit by Hezbollah rockets during eight days of fighting, he warned Beirut it would have to agree to prevent Hezbollah attacks if it wanted an end to Israeli air strikes, which have taken the lives of at least 319 people in Lebanon. 'We are responsible for all the citizens of Israel and we will defend all the citizens but we demand from Beirut that if it wants its sovereignty it has to take responsibility,' he said. 'If it doesn't take control of its own territory and remove the terrorist organisations, it cannot complain that its sovereignty is being harmed.' If there have been any winners in the conflict thus far, it is Labour Party leader Mr Peretz and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The popularity of each has surged as they preside over a conflict that the overwhelming majority of Israelis, including those on the left wing, see as justified. Relentless daily rocket strikes across the north have sparked a feeling that this is a time to rally around the government. The two men forged an alliance after the Israeli elections in March, deciding on a national unity government bringing together Labour and Mr Olmert's Kadima party. They hope to get the credit if Israel wins this round, which began with a Hezbollah raid into Israel in which two soldiers were seized. This followed a raid into Israel by Palestinian militants from Gaza in which a corporal was taken prisoner. Mr Olmert and Mr Peretz decided to break with the previous policy of negotiating the return of abducted soldiers through lopsided prisoner exchanges and, instead, embarked on a bid to cripple Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The ferocity of the military efforts was in part a result of the army trying to restore its standing. 'Everyone knows there will be a ceasefire in a few weeks, so the idea is to destroy as much as possible in a short period to teach a lesson that 'we won't tolerate any more such operations by Hezbollah',' said Haifa-based analyst Wadie Abu Nassar. But, analysts say, things could still go badly wrong for Mr Peretz and Mr Olmert, especially if the ambitious goals of having Hezbollah disarmed and the Lebanese Army deploy in the south are not met, or if the air strikes alone prove unable to deliver a decisive victory. At least 34 Israelis have died in the fighting so far. Mr Peretz, in the role of the tough defence minister, has been able to broaden his appeal to parts of the public that were turned off by his formerly dovish views on the Palestinian issue and his espousal of socialism, said Avraham Diskin, a political scientist at the Hebrew University. 'He has shown he can use his fists not only against the capitalists, but also against the Arabs, so he's gaining in popularity,' Mr Diskin said. Mr Olmert, who also lacks a security background, vowed during a Knesset speech on Tuesday that Israeli military operations would ravage Hezbollah. 'We will search every area, harm every terrorist and destroy the entire infrastructure of terror in every place,' he said. This posture has scored points for him with right-wingers, who were critical of his role in withdrawing Israeli settlers from Gaza last year and of his plans for a unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank that was to be accompanied with annexation of swathes of the occupied territory. Mr Olmert and Mr Peretz will have to decide whether to order a potentially costly ground invasion or to seek a diplomatic solution that would leave Hezbollah intact and perhaps able to claim it had withstood the Israeli Army. Mr Peretz, in his remarks in northern Israel, hinted that Israel might undertake such a major ground incursion, something it has shied away from doing since a withdrawal from Lebanon under Hezbollah pressure in 2000 ended a disastrous and costly 18-year occupation Some die-hard doves have been dismayed at Mr Peretz's presiding over an operation causing so many civilian deaths. A statement by the Yesh Gvul (There is a limit) organisation and other groups on Thursday said: 'This is the time to take a stand against war crimes, including deliberate harm to civilians. This is the time to silence the cannons and start talking. There are no military solutions.'