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THIS WEEK AT WAR

This Week at War

Aired July 22, 2006 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN HOST: Wolf, thanks very much. I'm John Roberts with THIS WEEK AT WAR. We're up with an artillery battery along the border between Israel and Lebanon. It could be very loud here in just a couple of seconds because they're getting prepared to launch another volley of rounds into southern Lebanon to try to suppress those Hezbollah Katyusha rockets that have been coming to Israel since the 12th of July. Eighty-eight more rockets came streaming across the border today. The air raid sirens started early in the city of Haifa. We counted nine rockets coming into the first volley. A little bit later after that there was another volley. Only a single rocket in that.
But we went out to the Nesher (ph) neighborhood in Haifa which is just about a mile and a half out of the downtown area where we ran into Zohar Borenstein (ph). His house took a direct hit from one of those Katyusha rockets. It came in through the roof, exploded, blew the top of the house off and went down through the second floor which was four inches of solid concrete and landed on the ground floor.

That's where Borenstein and his young son had taken refuge away from the Katyusha rockets. Remarkably he came out unscathed but not everyone in northern Israel was as lucky today. Some of the other rockets fell in a kibbutz, a very open area. One poor man was alone in his car when the rocket came very close to it, killed him. Another hit a woodworking shop and killed a man inside there.

As you can see, the noise, the smoke, the explosions continue tonight and will continue well into the night here along the Israel- Lebanon border as they try to knock down the Hezbollah outposts that are firing those Katyusha rockets.

There was also a lot of bad news in Baghdad. Some 50 people killed, 165 wounded in a series of suicide car bombings. Suicide car bombings. One of them was in an open air market in Sadr City, that's in the eastern part of the Baghdad. A suicide bomber in a minibus detonated after picking up commuters. Now this appears to be a new tactic that the insurgents and the terrorists in Baghdad are engaging in.

Last week a man came in in a minivan offering people day work. When they gathered around his van he then detonated it. Another incident, a dead man was left in a car and when people gathered around that to see what was going on that car was detonated and a number of people were killed, as well.

Also news from Baghdad, Saddam Hussein was taken to the hospital today. He's been on a hunger strike for the past couple of weeks. He was put on a feeding tube to try to keep him alive.

We're going to take a look in this next hour at how all of this fits together. What's going on here between Israel and -- Israel and Lebanon, the Hezbollah-Israeli fight as well as what's going on further to the east in Iraq and the sectarian violence there and Iran now mixing it up -- mixing it up both with Hezbollah here in the Middle East as well as the Shiite militias in Iraq and now moving into Afghanistan.

We should tell you that portions of this program were pre- recorded just before I came here to the Middle East. So let's start now with a look at what our correspondents reported this week day by day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): Monday, Israel pounds Lebanon with air strikes and artillery barrages as Hezbollah continues to fire rockets into northern Israel. Tuesday, in Iraq one of the worst attacks on civilians this year as violence reaches a new high.

Wednesday, evacuations by land and sea as intense fighting forces U.S. citizens and others to flee Lebanon.

Thursday, Israeli ground forces crossed the border to battle Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Friday, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice lays out a plan for peace and announces she is headed for the Middle East. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

The question of the week, will the Mideast crisis continue to build into all-out war? In Beirut, correspondent Ben Wedeman, and in Larnika (ph), Cyprus, Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. On Tuesday President Bush put the blame for the escalation of Mideast violence squarely on the militant Islamic group Hezbollah.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: They were unprovoked and they took hostages. Imagine how the United States would react. If somebody provoked us with that kind of action and secondly, start firing rockets and it's just provocation of Hezbollah that has created this crisis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (on camera): Ben Wedeman, Israel going about this bombardment with the full support of the United States saying it has the right to defend itself. You've seen the conflict from both sides. What's your sense of how long it will last and where might it be going?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's hard to say at this point, but certainly it seems to have legs, this conflict. Both sides haven't really indicated any willingness to step back, to step down. Hezbollah says it wants its three Lebanese prisoners released. Israel says it wants the two Israeli soldiers who were captured returned. Now they're talking about some sort of 20-mile buffer zone within Israel (sic) which many Hezbollah officials almost laugh at at this point. But what is clear, John, is that there's a radicalization going on the ground here in Lebanon. I've spent a lot of time with refugees coming from the south in Beirut and many of them, of course, blame Israel, but they blame the United States for letting this happen and day by day I feel that the intensity of the anger at the United States growing very palpably.

ROBERTS: You actually felt a little bit of that yourself personally?

WEDEMAN: Yes, one day we went to see the distribution of food by an American charity to refugees from the south. We arrived at one hotel that's inhabited by refugees and when we showed up, some young men came out and told us they don't want us to take pictures. We said fine, we'll put down the camera and try to talk to them, convince them to allow us to do so and we had a fairly heated exchange, but slowly, slowly as is often the case in the Middle East, when you talk people calm down, but just when I thought the situation had stabilized one man came rushing out of the crowd and started to trying to hit myself, my cameraman. We rushed away, but very much you get the feeling not just there, but in many places that people are saying the United States gave Israel the green light for this offensive. The United States gave Israel the weapons to destroy the infrastructure, to hit civilians. So it's beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable in certain places on the ground.

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr, you were part of an extraordinary event the first time in 23 years that marines had landed on the shores of Lebanon. What was that experience like?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it was astounding. We traveled with marines off the USS Nashville and perhaps in the most stunning and historic coincidence, many of these marines on the Nashville belonged to the very same unit that got hit 23 years ago at Beirut International Airport where 241 marines lost their lives. Some of these marines so young they weren't even born then, but they are aware of the history of the Marine Corps in Lebanon.

You know, John, it was the pictures that send chills up and down your spine. Everyone commented how they felt like they were in a movie. Marines coming through the water carrying a baby under each arm, carrying elderly people in wheelchairs. Helping people with their bits of luggage to try and get on to this Marine Corps amphibious war ship. And the flotilla of marine ships growing to four marine amphibious war ships now. The effort for the next many days will be to get out as many Americans as possible.

ROBERTS: Americans being criticized for getting off to a slow start, but they certainly seem to have things well in hand at this point. Barbara Starr in Cyprus and Ben Wedeman in Beirut, thanks very much.

Now let's check in with our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour who has been following this from the Israeli side of the border. Christiane, how does it look like the battle is going there and how much longer may Israel keep this up?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've been watching the air war from here. We've seen all the planes taking off, all of the sorties we've heard about, it's been incredibly difficult according to the pilots to get the small, mobile rocket launchers that are fired into northern Israel. So what they're planning potentially is a ground force and we've been seeing all the tanks, troops, massing on the northern border and we've heard from the generals about the call- up of reserves and all of the active duty forces. In their words, all our power is being directed at Lebanon.

ROBERTS: We have seen a lot of suffering on the Lebanese side of the border, but there is suffering there in Israel as well. However, Israel is being criticized for an excessive use of force. Is the Israeli Defense Force worried and is the Israeli government worried that if they keep this barrage up too long they are going to end up on the wrong side of public opinion?

AMANPOUR: Israel has been conducting this offensive with one eye on the ground to the military objective and one eye towards the international public opinion and public opinion at home. Right now because of the massive casualty toll in Lebanon, there is increasing international criticism. At home, though, the Israeli population, according to the first poll taken since the war, are very, very strongly behind this strong response to Hezbollah's action when it came across and took those soldiers and killed others.

So that is a very strong endorsement for the government of the policy that it's conducting. We don't know whether that will change and if Israel starts to take a lot of casualties, whether that will change, but for the moment that's the way it stands here.

ROBERTS: And it certainly doesn't look like there's any end in sight for the bombardment on both sides of the border, either. Christiane Amanpour, northern Israel. Thanks. And stay with us because we want to come back to you in a couple of minutes.

Can diplomats make their voices heard over the rockets and shelling along the Israel Lebanon border? We're back with that on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

But first, distraught, but safely back home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only thing I could do is grab my baby and hold on because you know it would start rattling and you know you are going to start to see explosions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: One of the lucky Americans who made it out of Lebanon as the Israeli bombing offensive intensified. Thousands of foreign nationals fled the country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: The diplomatic track to solve this Middle East crisis takes a step forward this afternoon when President Bush and the secretary of state meet with Prince Saud al Faisl, the Saudi foreign minister at the White House. Following that, the secretary of state is going to be headed to the Middle East for a first round of diplomacy. She'll be meeting with officials in Jerusalem as well as with Palestinian officials in Ramallah and then traveling to Rome where she is going meet with leaders from around the world to see if there's a way forward to ending this crisis. Here's what the secretary of state had to say about it on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The goal of my trip is to work with our partners to help create conditions that can lead to a lasting and sustainable end to the violence. Yet, as I prepare to depart for the Middle East I know that there are no answers that are easy nor are there any quick fixes. I fully expect that the diplomatic work for peace will be difficult.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: All eyes on U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. She spoke out Friday in Washington. So Secretary Rice going on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East. Is she talking to the right people? Can she talk to the right people and is there a viable plan to reach an end to hostilities?

Joining me to talk about that John Alterman, from the Center for Strategic and International studies here in Washington, Adam Shatz of "The Nation" magazine in New York and again, CNN's Christiane Amanpour in northern Israel.

ROBERTS: Jon Alterman, is this a plan for peace? How do you think this will play out?

JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: It seems to me this the beginning of a process for peace. She'll go to Israel. She will tell the Israeli leadership we stand by you, we are with, we understand what you're doing, by the way I'll be back in about a week and this is going to start ending then.

ROBERTS: So she's giving them a little bit more time to try to degrade Hezbollah before the diplomacy starts in earnest.

ALTERMAN: That's my sense is that at this point she's trying to get a sense for what is the lay of the land, what needs to be done still. Sending the messages of concern to people in the multilateral meeting in Rome and then she'll go back and when she's back she's going to be doing full-time diplomacy.

ROBERTS: Adam Shatz, getting Hezbollah to back down, how difficult will that be based on what you believe Hassan Nasrallah is up to here?

ADAM SHATZ, "NATION" MAGAZINE: My sense is that it will be difficult to accomplish particularly if the wake of the heavy civilian casualties that have taken place in Lebanon and which Washington has essentially green lighted.

ROBERTS: So does that mean that Nasrallah is bound and determine to try to elevate his position in Lebanon and therefore not going heed international calls to back down?

SHATZ: It means that Nasrallah is going to wait as long as he possibly can before disarming.

ROBERTS: Christiane Amanpour, Syria and Iran are going to be a key in any negotiations to the end in hostilities. Who talks to Syria and Iran? It can't be the United States.

AMANPOUR: Well, it can't be any more. The United States has not had relations with Iran, but it did used to talk to Syria and that was important because Syria does have influence with Hezbollah and in the past other groups in this region, but the U.S. administration of President Bush has chosen to isolate Syria among others in the region and therefore they don't have that particular route right now.

What many people here are questioning and wondering is what is going happen? Is Hezbollah going to be so weakened militarily that it's going have to talk about some kind of political solution, some kind of indirect negotiations to give back the hostages and to decide its future because if it doesn't, some are saying, it may even lose its political support because it is also a political organization.

ROBERTS: Israel not only trying to weaken Hezbollah militarily, but also at the leadership level. Take a look at these pictures from Wednesday. Israel says it dropped 23 tons of bombs on a position in southern Beirut. They said, Israel said, that this was a command bunker for Hezbollah. Hezbollah said no, it was a mosque that was under construction. Not sure from either side which is the accurate story, but Jon Alterman, it's pretty clear that Israel is targeting Nasrallah. It wants to take him out. Is that just going to stiffen his resolve? Is that just going to bring him to the negotiating table?

ALTERMAN: It is unclear, and it is unclear how you negotiate with somebody who is not a state. States know how to negotiate with states really well and they can make treaties. But how do you negotiate with a non-state actor? It seems to me the only thing to take care of groups like that is politics, not military force.

The other thing is that we remember that Israel has assassinated a whole series of Hezbollah militants including -- Hamas militants including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and it hasn't been the end of Hamas as a political movement and as a military movement they remain a viable position.

ROBERTS: Adam Shatz, you have spoken with Hassan Nasrallah. What's Hezbollah's end game? What's he after?

SHATZ: I think Hezbollah has several end games. One is clearly proving that it is the only deterrent against any potential Israeli aggression and so by inviting an Israeli reprisal on this level it's essentially saying to the Lebanese, look, the only organization in Lebanon that can defend you is Hezbollah since the Lebanese army, as everyone in Lebanon understand, is a joke.

I would, however, disagree with one comment that Mr. Alterman made regarding with negotiating with non-state organizations. Israel has had concluded several successful negotiations with Hezbollah including in January 2004. There was a major prisoner exchange between Hezbollah and Israel.

ROBERTS: Christiane Amanpour, can diplomacy fundamentally change the strategic equation on the ground as the United States is insisting it has to?

AMANPOUR: Well, it actually does have to. Even the Israelis and the chief of staff said they're actually not going off to Nasrallah. They have no interest they say, in killing him. They just want to disarm Hezbollah which is why they want to push them back and they may even go in on the ground. We've been seeing all sort of preparation, but the Israeli military has told us that this will not be won purely militarily. They want to weaken Hezbollah so that there is a possibility of a negotiated, diplomatic, political whatever word is used, that kind of solution. In the meantime the Arab players around this region, most of them Sunni, most of them concerned about Iran and its proxies, Hezbollah, the Shiite powers, are thinking that perhaps if Hezbollah is weakened. That deals an indirect weakening blow to Iran as well.

ROBERTS: A long, torturous diplomatic trail ahead as one State Department official told me, there is a long hard slog coming up for Condoleezza Rice. Adam Shatz in New York and Christiane Amanpour in northern Israel. Jon Alterman here. Thanks very much.

Not just the sounds of war along the Israel-Lebanon border. In Iraq, it has been another week of mayhem. Dozens more killed. We'll go to Iraq in a moment, but first, CNN's Anderson Cooper with some personal reflections from the front lines of the Mideast conflict.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): When we hear an explosion we jump into our van and try to get to the scene as quickly as possible. We've all seen the pictures, but they don't capture fully what it is really like, the smoke in the air, the adrenaline racing through your veins, the fear, the pain that deepens into resolve. After a while it all threatens to become routine. You have to fight against that though, sometimes you see all that's around you and sometimes you just want to close your eyes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Anderson Cooper with some of the images of THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: Back now live in northern Israel with THIS WEEK AT WAR. I'm John Roberts, where the artillery guns appear to have gone silent at least for the time being, but they'll probably keep it up all night. That has been the pattern for the last week and a half. As we said at top of the show. It's been a terrible day for violence in Iraq. Some 50 people killed and 165 wounded in a pair of suicide bombings, one in Sadr City, east of Baghdad, and another one up in Kirkuk. It's another example of the sectarian violence that seems to be tear part of that country apart. Just before I left for the Middle East I got together with the panel of experts, correspondent Arwa Damon in Baghdad and General Spider Marks, Retired, of the U.S. Army and as well Congressman Gil Gutknecht of Minnesota who recently returned from Baghdad, he's a Republican, big supporter of the war but came back with a different perspective. We began our panel with Arwa Damon in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Arwa Damon is the place going hell in a handbag?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it would certainly look that way and if we look at the attacks that have happened over this last week, like you just mentioned, 22 Iraqis killed in a coffee shop. Over 40 killed in a market bombing and 60 killed day laborers just looking for work. We've definitely had a series of attacks this week that would indicate it is becoming a very dire situation.

Of course, that only underscores the urgency and the importance for this current Iraqi government to actually be able to implement their security plan. That is what people here are waiting for, John.

ROBERTS: Congressman Gutknecht, back in the middle of June there was a debate in congress or a resolution to pull U.S. troops from Iraq and to set a timetable for the withdrawal. Here's what you said during that debate.

REP. GIL GUTKNECHT, (R) MN: Remember, now is not the time to go wobbly. Let's give victory a chance and a lasting peace will surely follow.

ROBERTS: You just got back from Iraq and you were there last weekend. Has your mind changed some from that visit?

GUTKNECHT: Well, I've matured a bit. The situation in Baghdad is worse than I had expected and I still believe that this is not the time to go wobbly, but I think we have to send a clear message to Iraqis that ultimately it's their fight and their war and their country and what we have to do is put more pressure on them to take responsibility for their own security. Our forces have done a marvelous job and they've done all that they can do, but in terms of this guerilla-type warfare going on in and around Baghdad, it's much easier for the Iraqis to deal with that than us because I know the culture and they speak the language.

ROBERTS: You've said maybe it's time to pull some troops out. GUTKNECHT: I think that may be one way you could send a message to the Maliki government but we're there to support them, we will provide the umbrella of protection but ultimately in terms of policing the streets it's their job.

ROBERTS: Spider Marks, are U.S. troops at the moment the only thing standing between Iraqis and full-blown civil war?

BRIG. GEN JAMES MARKS, (RET) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: No, no they're not. The Iraqis continue to grow their own security forces, but the U.S. is there obviously as we both know and sir, as you've just pointed out to bolster what is growing in terms of Iraqi security forces and all along that's been the metric. You've got to develop the government and you've got to develop the security forces. This isn't a military solution. It's going to be a political solution.

ROBERTS: I asked the question because Zalmay Khalilzad suggested that if U.S. troops were to leave it would probably escalate into full-blown civil war.

MARKS: Well, clearly, the U.S. has a tremendous role to play, tremendous role to play. We have provided all along the backbone for the growing Iraqi forces. You don't want to remove that.

ROBERTS: Arwa Damon, how close do you think Iraq is to the tipping point?

DAMON: Well, that's always a question that's really hard to answer, John. If you ask Iraqi civilians, they do live in fear and say if they are a Shia that they end up in a Sunni neighborhood that we hear stories and countless reports of when Iraqis are out in the street their identities are being checked trying to figure out which religious sect they're from.

We hear countless reports of unidentified bodies blowing up, countless reports of sectarian violence and it certainly would seem as though the country were on the brink of civil war and when you speak with the average Iraqi civilian they will say I'm a Sunni, I'm married to a Shia. So it's really quite difficult to put your finger on that one.

ROBERTS: So there are still some people that would like to see it not descend into chaos.

Congressman Gutknecht, do you think the White House is still pursuing the right policy in Iraq?

GUTKNECHT: I think they're pursuing the right policy, I think they have to be a little bit more aggressive. I think there is a tendency among some of the Iraqi politicians to want to shift more and more responsibility back to the Americans. In fact, that's part of this maturing process. Part of what we did on our trip, though, was we left Baghdad and went up to Irbill which is the capital of the Kurdish zone. It's like going from the moon to Manhattan. The difference between the two areas, it could not be more different. In Baghdad, most people live in fear. In the Kurdish zone people are happy and the security is different, and one of the big differences between the two areas is the Kurds have taken responsibility for their own security.

ROBERTS: General Marks, wrap it all up for me here. When we look at what's happening in the Middle East and what's happening over in Afghanistan with the nearly resurgent Taliban. How does all of this violence in Iraq fit into that big picture?

MARKS: I would argue that what you see is that that is creeping normalcy. That is what the citizen on the street has learned to accept. Terribly unfortunate and the only way it is going to be dampened down is through Iraqis stepping forward as they are trying to do through the growth of their own security forces.

ROBERTS: And the problems continue in Iraq. General Spider Marks, Congressman Gil Gutknecht and Arwa Damon in Baghdad, as always, Arwa, good to see you. Thanks very much.

Twenty-three-year-old marine staff sergeant Ryan Tejeda was the father of two young girls and he was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to New York City. He was a patriot who died in this country, a patriot, but not a citizen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a good son, a good brother. A good friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our first Dominican hero in Iraq, he died fighting for this country. He gave his life for this country.

Where I'm from, in this neighborhood, when you walk around you have to stop every two minutes and say hello. Hi, long time no see you, how are you doing?

This is 180 Street. Staff Sergeant Riayan Agusto Tejeda Street. The street was renamed in his memory. This was where he used to play basketball with his friends. With this thing here, he is still with us. He's still alive and he's still playing basketball on this corner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Staff Sergeant Riayan Tejeda, still alive and well in people's memories in New York.

From Iraq to its long time enemy, Iran. Is Iran pulling the strings in the Mideast conflict? We'll be right back with our panel of correspondents and experts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: John Roberts back from northern Israel live with more of THIS WEEK AT WAR. We're right up at the border between Israel and Lebanon and we're with an artillery battery that we spent most of today with and they've been laying down fire across the border. Can't tell you exactly how far because that would aid the other side in trying to figure out where this battery is, but they've been laying out fire on the Hezbollah outposts, strongholds and some of the Hezbollah infrastructure that's been responsible for firing all of the Katyusha rockets into northern Israel. At last count the Israel Defense Force has said that 88 Katyusha rocket had flown over from Lebanon into Israel. A number of those struck in Haifa early this morning. It was about 11:00 when the air raid sirens went off. I counted nine explosions in the first volley. Another one came down in the second volley.

We chased around the city to try to find out where they landed and we went to the home of one man, Zohar Borenstein, and we found his home had taken a direct hit from one of these Katyusha rockets. He had heeded the air raid siren and had gathered up his young son and gone to the safe room at the very bottom of his house where the house was dug into the hillside so it was very safe. The rocket came through the top of the house and blew the top of the house apart and put about a 31/2 foot hole in the second floor which was four inches of concrete and went down into the basement where he and his son were. But thankfully for them they came out unscathed and two other people weren't so lucky, though, a man in a woodworking shops was killed by a Katyusha rocket as was a man out in the middle of field in a kibbutz, he just happened to be in absolutely the wrong place at the wrong time.

Now people have wondered what is this conflict all about? What is this new Middle East war all about? Is it about land or is it about ideology. Some people here in Israel believe it could be a war between radical Islamism and western-style democracy.

So how does this all fit together? How do Israel and Lebanon fit in with the greater picture in the Middle East and is Iran working behind the scenes to pull the strings with Hezbollah to try to increase its influence in the region? I sat down with two people who know an awful lot about this, from the Center of American Progress, Joe Cirincione and also CNN's Aneesh Raman who has spent a lot of time in Tehran. He's in Damascus right now.

I started out in a pre-recorded section of this program just before I left by asking Joe Cirincione if he believed Iran's fingerprints were all over this conflict.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE CIRICIONE, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: It's too much of a coincidence to know that Iran was not involved. We don't know for sure, but the Hezbollah kidnapping occurred on exactly the day that the UN Security Council was bringing Iran the nuclear program over to its docket and the G-8 was set to discuss Iran as one of its central points. The effect of this operation was to deflect attention away from Iran and move it away from world attention. Whether or not Iran actually ordered the kidnapping is unknown, but they certainly profited from it.

ROBERTS: Aneesh Raman in Damascus. You're in Syria now. A little bit earlier this year you were over in Iran. How does this all fit together? How does the kidnapping, the Middle East conflict, Iran, Israel and the greater Palestinian conflict, how does it all fit together.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Essentially, John, it fits together with the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is explicitly trying to become the leading voice for the Islamic world. When I was there in Tehran and I spoke to the Iranians they supported him vehemently on that. They said he is representing the voice of a disenfranchised population in this part of this world.

The letter that he sent, you'll recall, to President Bush amid the nuclear crisis earlier this year didn't mention any resolution, but rather a litany of problems he saw in this part of the world embroiled in relative to U.S. foreign policy. And here as well. You see Syria and Iran growing in their bond. It's not an obvious bond in times of peace, but in crisis they're finding that relationship to grow even stronger.

Iran's president called the Syrian president at the end of last week voicing his support and very bellicose statements coming out of Iran as well. So they want to emerge and Iran's president and its people as sort of the power brokers to any sort of solution and the key gateway to anything getting resolved and emerge as the voice of the Muslim world that has been a void since the death of Arafat and Saddam Hussein, of course, was trying to do that. He was overthrown, so Iran's president wants to be that voice.

ROBERTS: So Joe, if this is all about Iran trying to expand its influence how does the United States approach it? We can't talk with Iran.

CIRINCIONE: We have certainly cut ourselves off from Iran over the last few years. We've had several opportunities in just the past five years including in 2002 and 2003 to negotiate with Iran. We should have taken those opportunities. We didn't. The problem has just gotten worse ask now the Israeli war with Lebanon is going antagonize the entire region. This plays directly into Iran's hands.

Ahmadinejad appears to be in fact a more reasonable leader for some of the extreme statements he said as the rest of the region moves over to that extreme position.

ROBERTS: One of the real concerns about all this as well is that Hezbollah, like al Qaeda, is a terrorist organization that has global reach and, of course, we worry might they attack over here in the United States? Kelli Arena took on that subject on Wednesday. Here's what she had to say.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hezbollah has never attacked on U.S. soil. But U.S. officials say if the situation in the Middle East escalates further, that could change.

ROBERTS: Hezbollah never attacked on U.S. soil, but it has attacked in Buenos Aires and Argentina, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Is there a possibility, a potential here that if this starts to go very badly for Hezbollah, for Iran and Syria, that they could send terrorists, suicide bombers to the United States to attack?

RAMAN: Well, of course that's tough to tell from here. What I can tell you, though, is there is growing support within Syria in the time I've been here in Damascus, from the Lebanese that are fleeing. I saw it in Iran as well. For Hezbollah, for Hassan Nasrallah, they seem him sort of equitable to Ahmadinejad as the more militant, active voice for the Muslim world, and first thing that greets the Lebanese refugees here in Syria -- I've been to the border a number of times -- are the flags of Hezbollah.

And within the communities of refugees that you speak to, they've got Hassan Nasrallah speeches on their mobile phones. They see him as challenging the Israelis, and is in the broader situation trying to fight for the Palestinian cause. It's interesting to note that both Hezbollah and Iran's president have really co-opted the Palestinian situation as their own. They see that as a way that they can really voice the Muslim frustration that exists here.

When you travel in Tehran, you see murals of those that are suicide bombers that existed within the Palestinian cause. You see murals that are down with the USA, murals that are down with Israel. But people really don't have that anger. They are really friendly people in Iran. They voice support for the American people. They have different thoughts on the American president. Here in Syria, the same sort of thought exists, but that danger is very much there, support grows for Hezbollah, John.

ROBERTS: Typically Middle East conflicts don't usually have much of an affect on us here in the United States, but the world is changing. Aneesh Raman in Damascus, thanks, Joe Ciricione from the Center for American Progress, thank you as well.

When we return, the Afghan front. There has been a sharp escalation in militant attacks in the past few months. Is the Taliban on its way back? That's coming up.

But first, Mideast bloggers in Haifa, Israel. A blogger who calls herself Carmia wrote on Tuesday, "I'm hearing booms all the time and I don't know anymore which ones are real, which ones are in my head and which ones come from television."

And on Monday, a blogger at Beirut Notes wrote, "No antibiotics, no electricity, less and less gasoline, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Israel are killing us and the world is watching."

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ROBERTS: A resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. Is the United States at risk of losing parts of the country to the enemy it defeated five years ago? And what does it mean for the war on terror? Canadian television correspondent Steve Chow is in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre at his post, and retired U.S. Army Brigadier General "Spider" Marks, our own CNN analyst, is with us once again.

So, let's take a look at what Steven recently reported on, action in southern Afghanistan with what people are calling a newly-resurgent Taliban.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE CHAO, CTV NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Canadian soldiers were looking to pick a fight on this night. They didn't have long to wait. Caught in a Taliban ambush, soldiers returned fire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Steve Chao in Kandahar how bad is it getting there in the southern part of the country?

CHAO: Well, John, many soldier are relating the level of insurgency to fighting in Iraq, in some areas such as Tallulah. What you have seen just now is footage of Pashmul, an area just west of Kandahar City, where Canadians have been engaging the Taliban in several firefights. A total of nine Canadians have died in the past few months, and it is a big shock to the Canadian public. For them, they are used to the Canadian military being involved in peace-keeping roles, but there's little peace to keep here in the south of Afghanistan. There very much is a growing insurgency at a level that even surprises many military planners.

ROBERTS: General Marks, some people are saying this is the most action Canadian troops have seen since the Korean War. How did we get to this point? Is this a function of not wrapping up Mullah Omar, who's said to be leading the resurgent Taliban, in the initial Afghan campaign?

MARKS: Well, Mullah Omar is still loose and still leading his Islamic militia, on the ground in Afghanistan. The challenge is that the terrain is so complex, it's so compartmentalized. You have to achieve density on the ground with foot soldiers. You've got to have guys on the ground that are controlling that terrain, or you run into circumstances like this, where the Taliban can come back in.

ROBERTS: All right. Jamie McIntyre, how does all this fit into what we're seeing across the broader Middle East? Is this Iran trying to use its influence to now gain a foothold to its eastern border?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what you're seeing really is the same sort of tactics that have been effective in Iraq being employed in Afghanistan. What we're seeing in Afghanistan is a lot of intimidation. I was just looking through some of the reports over the last week, there was an attack on a girls' school, there was a Taliban hijacking some road equipment and destroying it.

And then when the U.S. and NATO forces go into a town to try to find them, they simply melt away. So they're having a very difficult time finding and engaging the enemy why they do, they're getting a pretty tough fight. ROBERTS: Steve Chao, what's your understanding of the role Iran might be playing there and how do you think this fits in with what we're seeing in the Middle East?

CHAO: Well, there's very little surprise to the Afghans who are down here. Iran, Pakistan, all these other neighboring countries have often had a part in playing in terms of politics down here. It's long been called the great game. The Soviets themselves have tried to play that game. They were defeated down here in the south by fighters as well as the British more than 100 years ago and people are now saying will the coalition succeed here? They are in fact putting more soldiers down here. NATO will take over at the end of the month. They're hoping to double the amount of coalition and international forces. But many people still question whether in fact it is enough to fight an insurgency that, as was mentioned, continues to melt away during times when the coalition forces show up in strength.

ROBERTS: Obviously, Jamie McIntyre, the advent of these NATO troops in the southern part of the country is going to be a real break for American troops, who have been handling the lion's share of the operations in Afghanistan, but is there, as Steve Chao said, a potential here that we're going to backslide in Afghanistan and it could be back to the dark old days of Taliban and al Qaeda bases there?

MCINTYRE: There is a real danger of that. Obviously, the addition of NATO forces is great news for the U.S. because it gives them a lot of help, and it's a big test for the NATO. Over the weekend, the top NATO commander and secretary-general of NATO visited there saying this is NATO's most important mission, but how will NATO resolve hold up, as you see the Canadian forces taking casualties. Dutch forces are going to be moving in. And how will the alliance, will they stick with it?

And by the way, don't count on a big reduction of U.S. troops once the NATO troops are there, because they're going to still need just as many U.S. troops, even with the addition of NATO forces.

ROBERTS: General Marks, what's your sense of all this? Is Afghanistan ever going to be peaceful, or will America, like Russia, always be fighting battles there?

MARKS: No, we won't, we won't. What, as Jamie pointed out and as Steve pointed out, the key ingredient right now during this battle handoff to the NATO forces, is to have sufficient forces on the ground. And as Jamie pointed out, intimidation occurs when you can move in certain areas with impunity and that's what's happening with the Taliban. We've got to have more forces on the ground.

ROBERTS: But still more problems, lingering problems in Afghanistan five years later. General Marks, Steve Chao in Kandahar and Jamie McIntyre over at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

From the fighting in Afghanistan, we're coming back to the United States and the political battles over what the U.S. can do about the crisis in the Middle East. But first, another moment in "This Week at War."

MAJOR BRIAN ABNEY, KENTUCKY ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: Seeing everybody out here and just the support, it's, it's something else. Getting to see loved ones. Can't really describe it.

ROBERTS: Major Brian Abney expressing everyone's joy and relief as members of the 63rd Airborne Group of the Kentucky National Guard returned home from duty in Kuwait. They spent a year there training aviators headed for Iraq.

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ROBERTS: Well, the White House is facing tough questions in "This Week at War."

Is the Bush administration making the right moves in this new Middle East crisis, and what are the political repercussions? Joining me to talk about this, CNN's White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, and Andrea Koppel, who covers Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, a CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation asked Americans how President Bush is handling the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.

Here's what they said. Forty-five percent disapprove, 38 percent approve. And 17 percent say they're unsure of how President Bush is handling the conflict. Suzanne, let's start with you. Is the White House concerned about that public opinion with Condoleezza Rice now going to the Middle East? It seems as though they're almost answering critics who have said you need to get more engaged here.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely, John. It was fascinating to see how the Bush administration handled this story from the beginning. At the beginning of the week when this first started brewing, the Middle East crisis, President Bush was in Germany with Merkel. There was a press conference I attended. He was asked about how the administration, if it was any kind of concern about some sort of war, regional war taking place, and the president was joking, saying I thought you were going to ask me about the pig, this wild boar. He's anticipating this German barbecue that was to come in the hours to follow and there were really whispers, if you will, if this was going to be President Bush's foreign policy Katrina, meaning that he would be somehow flat-footed on this, a slow response.

We saw a dramatic shift when he went to Russia, when he was with the G-8 leaders. Clearly it seems as if there were diplomatic efforts that were being made when they were behind the scenes. We saw that luncheon where the microphones caught even some of the frustration that President Bush had when he was talking to British Prime Minister Tony Blair about what to do next, how much pressure to put on Syria. But clearly, we see a White House that is fully engaged here. And yes, under quite a bit of criticism about how it all started.

ROBERTS: Andrea Koppel, what's the mood in Congress about all of this?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly at the moment, all eyes are on this congressional delegation, which left at week's end and is headed over to the region. This is the House Intelligence Committee. This trip was planned for the last several weeks. Obviously, the focus of the trip is now on the crisis in Lebanon and Israel.

Nevertheless, at the moment, things are fairly quiet, but as you know, John, this is a very fluid situation, and we saw earlier this week just one small example of how you can have a small fire that suddenly spreads very quickly on Capitol Hill, and that one focused on the question of whether or not Americans were going to be charged to get out of Lebanon, and we saw House and Senate Democratic leaders seizing upon this, as Suzanne said, using the "K" word, likening the U.S. perception's slow response to get Americans out of Lebanon to the slow response after Katrina.

And we even saw some republicans, like John Sununu of New Hampshire, who called the State Department on the mat, said this is absolutely outrageous. He himself is Lebanese-American. So at the moment, things are quiet, but again, things could change very quickly.

ROBERTS: And some Democrats seemingly trying to take advantage of this by saying the way we got here was because of a failure of the president's Middle East policy. Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, Andrea Koppel on Capitol Hill, thanks.

In a moment we'll hear from another refugee from Lebanon, a man for whom the conflict is especially bitter.

But first, Petty Officer First Class Jerry Tharp married his girlfriend of 16 years only a month before shipping out in January. He was due home in September. This week family and friends in his hometown Alito (ph), Illinois, finished a garage they had planned as a homecoming surprise.

DENNIS CHRISTIE, THARP'S BROTHER-IN-LAW: This was a surprise for him to come home. And we planned on having it done, and this was not supposed to happen this way.

ROBERTS: Jerry Tharp died July 12th in Iraq in a roadside bomb attack. He will be driven past his new garage for the first and last time.

Here are some of the others who fell in "This Week at War."

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard like shh -- boom! Then we heard two more, and then we went outside to the balcony, and then you saw like a mushroom cloud of smoke.

ROBERTS: Thursday morning at Baltimore Washington International Airport, Danielle Nader hugs her family, safely home after a terrifying escape from Lebanon.

A joyful image to be sure, but there are other pictures, pictures that stick in the mind. This is one of them.

Joseph Cicippio, a hostage in Beirut begging for his life. Cicippio was kidnapped in 1985 and held for five years as Lebanon almost destroyed itself in a brutal civil war. This week, the pictures from Lebanon were terribly familiar and once again Joseph Cicippio was there.

JOSEPH CICIPPIO, FORMER HOSTAGE: The bombs were falling, and more and more every night.

ROBERTS: This time Cicippio got o out to Cyprus, safe, but haunted by memories of the past, and fears for the future.

CICIPPIO: You can't believe it. Here we are, years later, and we're doing the same thing over again.

ROBERTS: And history repeats, too often it seems. A quick look now at what CNN will be covering in the week ahead on Monday. Saddam Hussein's trial for mass murder, resumes in Baghdad.

On Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki will meet with President Bush at the White House.

And on Friday, Middle East peace, Iraq and Afghanistan will be on agenda when British Prime Minister Tony Blair meets with President Bush in Washington. Thanks for joining us on this "This Week at War." I'm John Roberts. Straight ahead a check of the headlines, then Anderson Cooper hosts,"CNN PRESENTS: Inside Hezbollah."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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