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THE SITUATION ROOM

Israel Orders Reinforcements For Battle Against Hezbollah Guerrillas; Ayman al-Zawahiri Lashes Out At Israel's Battles Against Hezbollah and Hamas Militants in Gaza; 172nd Stryker Brigade To Be Extended in Iraq; Roula Talj Interview; For Second Day Israeli Fighter Jets Pounded Tyre; Bush to Host Tony Blair at White House; U.S. Involvement in Middle East Hasn't Always Gone as Planned

Aired July 27, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ali, thanks very much.
To our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.

Happening now, Israel orders up reinforcements for its battle against Hezbollah guerrillas. It's 11:00 p.m. here in Jerusalem where top officials have made new decisions about the future of the fight. Tonight both sides are trading fire and Israel is claiming the damage to Hezbollah has been, quote, enormous.

Also this hour, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant takes a stand in the Middle East crisis. Ayman al-Zawahiri's new tape is a rallying cry for terrorists. Is there any clear connection though between al Qaeda and Hezbollah?

And a bird's eye view of the target of Hezbollah attacks. Join me and a top general on a chopper ride across northern Israel. You may be surprised at what you see and what you don't see. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just moments ago the United Nations Security Council approved a formal statement expressing shock at the Israeli attack that wound up killing four United Nations military observers in Lebanon earlier this week. But there's no formal condemnation of Israel. More on this coming up.

Here in Israel tonight, the military is calling up thousands more reserve soldiers to fight Hezbollah guerrillas, and the defense minister of Israel is vowing the militant group will not return to what it was. Israel's cabinet agreed today to press ahead with the offensive in Southern Lebanon, but not, repeat not, to expand it. Hezbollah fired more rockets into northern Israel today.

The Israeli military says more than 150 missiles landed over the past 24 hours. Israel puts its death toll from the conflict at 50. Lebanon's health minister is now reporting as many as 600 civilians killed in Lebanon, though the country's official death toll now stands at 405. Hezbollah doesn't release casualty figures. Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, meanwhile, is vowing that al Qaeda will not stay silent about Israel's battles against Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon and Hamas militants in Gaza. In a videotape aired by Al-Jazeera television network, Ayman al-Zawahiri urged Muslims in Lebanon and Gaza to, quote, stand with us. The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas indicated today there may be news soon about that Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas militants more than a month ago, but Hamas denies the release of the soldier is imminent.

Our correspondents are standing by, covering all these developments. Michael Ware is in Beirut. Let's go to northern Israel first. CNN's John Roberts, standing by with the latest on that front, John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you mentioned reinforcements. You see some of them behind me. This is a combat engineering group that is preparing to go across the border into Southern Lebanon, join the fight in there. They say that they are all fired up after what happened in Bint Jbeil yesterday when eight Israeli soldiers lost their lives.

I talked to a couple of soldiers, one of them said says yes it makes us a little more frightened, a little bit more anxious, but we are eager to join the fight. Another one said, look it, this conflict, for me, at first, was all about mission, it was all about defending Israel, now it's become personal.

Just a couple of minutes ago, Wolf, I talked with one of the top generals in the northern command, General Shuki Shahar (ph), who told me that he believes that they are making good progress against Hezbollah but he said what we're looking at here is a group that's well-dug-in. They have fortified the positions, they can mold in to the community. He figured that there's about 1,500 Hezbollah fighters out there operating in very small groups.

We have been urging the Israeli military to take us across the border to get a look at what's happening on the other side. Late last night and early this morning they did just that. It wasn't us, it was another organization. They took a pool camera in for the very first pictures from the Lebanese side of the border.

Take a look here. It was another combat engineering group that was taken over, it was a small operation, lasted about an hour or so, up into Maroun al-Ras, which is the very first town that the Israeli army took as they started their incursion in to Southern Lebanon.

A correspondent, who was embedded with those troops, reported that the streets of Maroun al-Ras were all broken up and that there really was no sign of life there. But, there also wasn't any sign of that heavy fighting that the Israeli army was engaged in, in Bint Jbeil, in that Hezbollah counter-attack. Though this area still does remain fairly dangerous, Wolf, because one Israeli army officer lost his life in the area around Maroun al-Ras.

As to how long this is going to last and how far it is going to go, it's a matter of debate even right now. It's on going between the Israeli army, the Israeli Defense Forces and the Israeli politicians. General Shahar told me there were two plans, really here. One is to go into Lebanon just a short way, and clear up that area. One is to go even further, all the way to the Litani River, but he is not sure at this point if there's the political will to go that far, Wolf.

BLITZER: John, it sounds like the Israeli cabinet here in Jerusalem decided not to necessarily expand this operation, to keep sort of the status quo. That would suggest a less robust incursion than General Shahar may have been suggesting was possible?

ROBERTS: They are expanding it and they're moving further westward. They continued to bombard the town of Yaroun in Lebanon. So that would now include Maroun al Ras, Bint Jbeil and Yaroun. It's an area that's roughly about 20 square miles at most. It's still a fairly small area when you look at the overall size at Southern Lebanon and everyone in the army believes that in order to really go into Southern Lebanon you would need a much larger force, which perhaps is why they are calling up those reserves.

In terms of timing, here's something interesting that General Shahar told me tonight, Wolf. He said that if you just wanted to hang onto a little piece of Southern Lebanon, this all could be over in one to two weeks. They think that they may have degraded Hezbollah's capability enough to be able to stop the operations after a couple of weeks. He says, if you want to go further, though, then you are talking about a much longer period of time.

BLITZER: And presumably a lot more casualties on both sides, and the Israelis clearly more concerned about their own casualties than on the other side. John thanks very much, we will get back to you.

Let's get to that new al Qaeda tape linking the terrorist group's battle against the western world to the Middle East crisis. Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, lashing out at Israel's battles against Hezbollah forces in Lebanon and Hamas militants in Gaza. He says al Qaeda will not stay silent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI, AL QAEDA NUMBER TWO: The dangerous events going on in Gaza and Lebanon are proof to any sane person that the crusader's Zionist war is targeting us. No one budged for 10,000 prisoners in Israeli jails, however the whole world went up in arms for three Israeli prisoners.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The al-Zawahiri tape aired on Arab language television station Al-Jazeera. Now let's bring in CNN's Michael Ware. He's covering the warfare in Beirut. He's reported extensively on al Qaeda in his earlier days as "Time Magazine's" bureau chief in Baghdad. Michael, this coalition, if you will, between al Qaeda and Hezbollah and maybe Hamas, what do you make of this videotape that just was released by Ayman al-Zawahiri?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think Wolf, it's clear that al Qaeda feels within its Jihadi, militant constituency it can't be seen to be standing idly by. However, we know that Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda have had very prickly relations. I mean, apart from some early reports in the early 90s, during al Qaeda's Sudan days, when there are stories of training exchanges between al Qaeda and Hezbollah, largely they have not been partners.

They come from (INAUDIBLE) divide. And in fact there has been much criticism going both ways. And I think if you study what's said in this tape today by al Qaeda's number two, he doesn't specifically refer to Hezbollah and he doesn't specifically refer to any geographic domain where al Qaeda will become involved in this crisis.

In fact, he says they attack us everywhere. We shall attack them everywhere. That says to me that he's giving al Qaeda a license to respond against American and perhaps Israeli interests in a domain much broader than the current conflict here in Lebanon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How much of this is related, this strain in the past, at least, al Qaeda being largely Sunni dominated, Hezbollah largely Shia dominated. The sectarian strain that's clearly evident between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq, how much is spilling over among various terrorist groups?

WARE: Yes Wolf, you very much hit the point here. I mean, that is the natural schism between these groups. There's also issues about doctrines, tactics, methodology. But fundamentally, this is a sectarian divide. Now, in the early days of al Qaeda, we knew they operated in Afghanistan in the 80s alongside Shia groups, but as al Qaeda developed and matured, as increasing Egyptian influence came to hold sway, there was a growing anti-Shiaism.

But within classic al Qaeda, that led by Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri himself, that's always been moderated at least to some degree. I mean, we see an ongoing, complicated relationship with Iran. However, this new generation of al Qaeda that -- for which Zarqawi, recently killed by American forces, was the midwife, is vehemently anti-Shia. That would clearly be playing in here with Hezbollah.

However, don't discount the common enemy being Israel. Al Qaeda has never really had traction on the Israeli issue, the Palestine issue. They are looking to capitalize on this now, but I suspect it won't be in the area itself.

BLITZER: It gets rather complicated, all these moves. Thanks very much, Michael Ware on the scene for us in Beirut.

Now to some new diplomatic moves. The Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planning to return here to the Middle East perhaps this weekend, and several nations are expressing interest in joining an international peacekeeping force if -- and this is a huge if -- if the cease-fire can be reached.

Our chief national correspondent John King is here in Jerusalem. He's covering all of this, just back from Rome where the secretary of state apparently didn't have such great success in the diplomatic front.

What are you hearing about the latest maneuvers to try to see diplomacy work?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what you see right here in the region today is a public display of the disagreements that prevented a deal on a cease-fire at the emergency Rome summit. Several top European Union officials and European officials are here in the region for meetings with Israeli officials, meetings with Palestinian officials, and others.

I want you to listen. This is a top diplomat from the European Union. She is here meeting with Israeli officials, and what she is trying to say is just because they didn't reach a cease-fire agreement in Rome yesterday, Israel should not take that as a green light for endless military operations. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENITA FERRERO-WALDNER, E.U. EXTERNAL RELATIONS COMMISSIONER: The killing of innocent people has to stop, because we think that never ever a military action will bring an end to this. On the contrary, I think it can only be a negotiated solution. Therefore, we do support the package of Kofi Annan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And yet, back at the White House, President Bush today says it has to be a lasting peace, it has to be a real peace, not a fake peace, the president says. That means it's going to take time, in the U.S. view, to negotiate all of this out and in the meantime, the administration fully supports what Israel is doing.

BLITZER: Is there any progress that you discern that you are seeing coming on the creation of a new U.N. sanctioned international peacekeeping force that would go into south Lebanon?

KING: There is some progress there, and that is probably the biggest achievement of the Rome summit when it comes to the security environment. We know at the meeting that Italy said it would participate, France said it would participate. We're told Norway and Turkey also said they are inclined to participate. They want to see the details, the scope of the force.

The rules of engagement will be world out at the U.N. Security Council, but at least four nations have said we're most likely in. France is a possibility to take the lead because it commands the current U.N. force in there, although I'm told that France is a little wary given its own troubled history of military operations in Lebanon.

But there is some progress on that front, perhaps the most encouraging sign, if you will, when it comes to the security front, but you need a cease-fire, first.

BLITZER: She's pushing hard for an international peacekeeping force -- the secretary of state -- but she and the president don't want U.S. troops involved.

KING: They don't want U.S. troops involved. They say the U.S. military is stretched too thin. There are some who say if you get to loggerheads over this, and you can't get a few deal, the United States might have to offer a few hundred troops symbolically to move the process along, but so far so good is what most officials say on the issue of the force, but you need a cease-fire, first. That's why Secretary Rice is coming back as early as Saturday night.

BLITZER: You'll be here, standing by, waiting for her to return. John King, thanks very much. John is going to be with us later during our 5:00 p.m. Eastern hour as well as during our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Meanwhile, there's a new poll that shows Americans are generally supportive of President Bush's handling of this crisis in the Middle East. Forty-seven percent approve, 27 percent disapprove. The new CBS/"New York Times" poll also asked if the United States has a responsibility to resolve the conflict? Thirty-three percent said yes, 58 percent said no.

We're just getting some new developments coming in from CNN's Jaime McIntyre at the Pentagon. Jamie, what are we learning?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as we first reported in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday, consideration that the 172nd Stryker Brigade would be extended in Iraq. Today Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has approved that request from General George Casey who wants those battle-tested troops with their Stryker armored vehicles to patrol and provide security in Baghdad.

The families are getting the news today that those troops who thought they were coming home have been extended for up to six months additional duty in Iraq. We are told it will probably be less than six months but that's the authorization.

The Pentagon put out a statement today saying, quote, "The department recognizes the continued contribution of the 172nd Stryker Brigade and their family members." It said the extension reflects, quote, "the continued commitment of the U.S. to security with the Iraqi people."

And, Wolf, as you can imagine, telling troops that they'll only have to serve a year and then telling them they could be there another six months is not something that is welcome news and not something that the Pentagon does lightly, but in this case, they felt the special capabilities of this unit were exactly what was need in Baghdad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How many soldiers are we talking about, Jamie?

MCINTYRE: We are talking about 3,700 or so troops. About 200 of these troops already had come home. They were wrapping up their tour. They were up in Mosul. Now, instead of coming home, they will be sent to Baghdad, one of the most dangerous parts of Iraq, for another couple of months of deadly duty. BLITZER: Jaime McIntyre at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Let's go to New York. Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File." Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: What a shame. Hi, Wolf.

Time for the next chapter in the ongoing debate over President Bush's domestic eavesdropping program. Administration officials told a Senate committee yesterday it wouldn't be practical for them to get warrants -- individual warrants -- every time they needed to eavesdrop on a conversation suspected of involving al Qaeda, despite the fact that the law is very clear that's exactly what they are supposed to do.

Under Senator Arlen Specter's proposal, the FISA court would decide if the entire program is constitutional. Critics say that that would allow the judges to move away from individual warrants and grant blanket approval to the entire program. One civil liberties advocate says "it would turn the clock back to an era of unchecked presidential power."

Specter responded that getting the president to agree to submit the program to the FISA court was, quote, "quite a breakthrough," unquote. I guess getting him to obey the law that already exists is out of the question.

Here's the question we are asking: Is the current law against spying on Americans without a warrant inadequate? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com, or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

Coming up, we're going to have much more from here in the Middle East, my journey to Haifa and northern Israel, a city on alert and on edge. We're going to show you what happens when the sirens blare and the anxiety grows.

Plus, the warfare and political divisions in Lebanon. We'll get the lay of the land from a top Lebanese political analyst, a former adviser to the Lebanese government.

And even the best laid battle plans can have some unintended consequences. Our Jeff Greenfield will look back at the results of modern wars.

Stay with us. We're in Jerusalem. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: While Hezbollah rockets have rained down on Northern Israel, Lebanon's capitol of Beirut, scene has been battered badly by Israeli airstrikes over these past two weeks.

Roula Talj, she's a Lebanese political analyst, former adviser to the Lebanese government. Roula is joining us now live from Beirut.

Roula, are you seeing any light at the end of this tunnel?

ROULA TALJ, LEBANESE POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I am. More than ever. Because I think...

BLITZER: Why?

TALJ: The atrocities -- the atrocities, Wolf, of this war are turning Lebanon into a very fertile ground for extremism and opportunistic fundamentalists like Zawahiri and company. And I think Washington is way too smart to understand that there is high stake at the moment, and they need to take the right decisions in order to accomplish the cease-fire. And from there, take both parties into negotiation phase to find a definite solution for this ongoing problem, conflict. That's why. I...

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying, Roula, is that this latest tape from Ayman al-Zawahiri -- I hear you suggesting that this is going to, together with some other issues, convince the United States to do what? Explain what you think the U.S. should be doing to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

TALJ: You know, after September 11th, George Bush asked to be given the chance to go and fight extremism all over the world. And he took his troops to Afghanistan, and then to Iraq and all over the place. And I think today with Zawahiri's statements, it made it clear that Zawahiri and his -- al Qaeda are going to jump on the wagon to take the opportunity and to take advantage of what's happening in Lebanon and Gaza for their own benefits.

And I think there are some intelligence and very smart people in Washington that would understand the message as a direct threat to them. It's not about Shia resistance in Southern Lebanon, who have a straight political agenda that can be dealt with. It's -- this conflict could be taken to a more ideological, religious phase that will -- could get out of control, and could lead the world to more conflicts and more complications that could never be dealt with on time.

So I truly trust the smart people in Washington. And the smart people in Washington who also want the best interests of Israel, but through peace and justice. If you are able today to achieve justice between the Palestinians, the Lebanese and Israelis, I think we would do a great benefit to our people on both sides of the borders: Lebanese, Palestinians and especially Israelis. And I trust those -- yes?

BLITZER: Roula, let me interrupt. Roula, let me interrupt. Is there any sense of growing frustration in Lebanon as a result of what Hezbollah has done there? In other words, is there a backlash against Hezbollah because of the attacks against Israel and the Israeli counterstrikes and all of that? Are people angry, in other words, at Hezbollah?

TALJ: Wolf, probably behind closed doors. I don't know. To be honest with you, maybe behind closed doors, people are frustrated. But when you talk to people in the streets, to our friends, my -- our families; on the contrary, the growing frustration is against Israel and especially the Americans, because they are allowing Israelis to go on with their attacks. They haven't done anything to cease-fire or to get people to think -- to think smart.

And let me say something, Wolf. What I wanted to highlight here, I understand that it's like a high stakes poker game taking place, where Olmert cannot give in because he would lose politically, where the resistance in the south also cannot give in because of their existence, practically.

But what I want to say -- and I'm addressing this to all the smart, moderate people of the United States and Lebanon and Israel and all over. Courage is to give in when it's needed, when it's for the best interest of all. And I think it would be very courageous to cease-fire and to get to the negotiation table in order to seek a solution that would secure both Palestinians, Lebanese, Israelis, a better future. The generation to come will not have to suffer what we are suffering today. And this is the courageous part. It's not courageous to bombard and to destroy...

BLITZER: All right.

TALJ: ... and to create more hatred. Go ahead.

BLITZER: Roula Talj is joining us...

TALJ: Go ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: Roula, we'll back with you in the next several days. Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, IDF forces, Israel Defense Forces, are calling the South Lebanese border town of Bint Jbeil Hezbollah's quote, "terror capital." Yesterday, a day after the Israel military announced it had taken control, eight Israeli soldiers were killed and nearly two dozen wounded. Now there's a Web site associated with the village, and it's giving us some new insight.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the town of Bint Jbeil, as you said, does have its own Web site. And it's a place that's been up for a few years, and in the past it's been posting pictures of the surrounding area of the town's mosques and its markets. Now this town is the scene of intense fighting.

This Web site has become some sort of forum for people discussing what's going on. The site, which can be read in both Arabic and English, on its front page, it's simply now saying "resisting." And it's the guest book area, which is available for open comments on the site, which has seen many, many passionate debates going on between people all over the world about what is going on in Bint Jbeil.

For example, there's one here from a Palestinian, who is expressing solidarity with Hezbollah there. Another one just a few clicks away, and you'll get to somebody from Canada, who is expressing -- hoping for victory for the other side, for the Israelis, hoping that this town will become a parking lot, in his words, for Israeli tanks.

There are comments from all over the world, some of them coming in Dearborn, Michigan, where the site is actually registered. We tried to get a comment, but were unable to reach them today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you. And coming up here in "THE SITUATION ROOM," caught in the crossfire. Civilians flee as more bombs drop on targets in Tyre. That's in Southern Lebanon. Why the bombs are not the only danger they're facing.

And what I saw when I took a Blackhawk helicopter over northern Israel. More of my eye-opening experience. That's up.

Live from Jerusalem, you're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting tonight from Jerusalem.

For the second day in a row, Israeli fighter jets pounded the Lebanese port city of Tyre, taking aim at suspected Hezbollah targets.

CNN's Karl Penhaul is there, joins us now -- Karl.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in the course of the day, we have been trying to find out a little bit more about that Israeli airstrike on a 10-story apartment building in downtown Tyre Wednesday evening.

Red Cross officials have told us that at least 12 people were wounded in that attack. Israeli Defense Force officials have told us, their intended target was the Hezbollah militia leader for all of south Lebanon.

(voice-over): The ruins are still smoldering the morning after an Israeli airstrike. Firefighters scour the wreckage. Hours earlier, it was chaos here. Now the only sound you can hear is an Israeli reconnaissance drone buzzing over head and water gushing from broken pipes.

Just yards from the bomb site, Jihad al-Husseini tries to clean up the office of his driving school.

JIHAD AL-HUSSEINI, DRIVING SCHOOL OWNER: The good army, when you -- when you make war with -- with another army, not with people and children. Why?

PENHAUL: This was a 10-story apartment building, and residents say civilians lived here. The Israeli Defense Forces say the target was Hezbollah leadership. This war has shattered homes, yet, some reminders of more peaceful times survive, mementos of happy families who have now fled the battlefield.

Since the conflict exploded, there had been a steady exodus. Now, as I drive around Tyre, after Wednesday's attack in downtown, I see the streets are emptying faster than ever.

MOHAMMED AL-HUSSEINI, TYRE, LEBANON, OFFICIAL: Everyone here doesn't have -- isn't -- isn't confident about anything, because he's expecting, anytime, anywhere, a bomb.

PENHAUL: Yesterday, more than 40 people were bunkered down in the basement of this apartment block in Tyre. But yesterday's attack convinced most of them they were no longer safe. Now only fisherman Ali Atieh and his family are left.

ALI ATIEH, FISHERMAN: I am afraid, because from the bomb yesterday.

PENHAUL: His son Hussein (ph) has seen the news on TV that diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire have failed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no chance to being -- to -- to stop the war.

PENHAUL: Amid the ruins of bombed-out buildings, hope is hard to find.

(on camera): Again, Thursday, in the area around Tyre, we saw bombardments by Israeli warplanes, artillery. And even, on occasion, Israeli navy ships joined the fray -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Karl Penhaul, thanks very much.

Let's bring in CNN's Zain Verjee. She is joining us now from Washington with more -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the latest developments now in the Middle East crisis.

Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has released an alarming new message. He links al Qaeda's battle against the West to the Middle East conflict. Meanwhile, more than 150 Hezbollah rockets slammed into northern Israel today.

Israel's prime minister says he's going to call up 15,000 reservists to support troops in southern Lebanon -- this as the Palestinian Authority president says, news about a captured Israeli soldier may be forthcoming. And the death toll from the crisis continues to mount. More than 400 Lebanese have been killed. One thousand six hundred and sixty have been injured. Israel says 50 Israelis are dead and more than 300 injured.

Let's go back now to Wolf in Jerusalem.

And, Wolf, you took a Black Hawk helicopter today over northern Israel. Give us a sense of what you saw, what it was like, what struck you.

BLITZER: It was about 90 minutes over northern Israel.

We had left a small Israeli airfield outside of Tel Aviv earlier in the day. And we simply headed north, along the Mediterranean coast toward Haifa. We got to Haifa, flew over Haifa, saw some of the damage, the destruction, from those Katyusha rockets that went in.

It's pretty depressing to see that port, normally one of the major ports of the Eastern Mediterranean. I barely saw a ship docked in Haifa, very few people on the streets, very little traffic, a city really, really drained, as a result of these two weeks-plus of warfare that is going on.

And, from Haifa, we went further north, toward the Lebanese border, toward Rosh Hanikra. And, then, we headed east, along the border, to see what's going on there. At one point, Zain, I could not only see smoke coming from the ground, but I could smell it as well.

Some of these Katyushas that come into northern Israel, they land in these forests. The trees start burning. And there's little forest fires, if you will. You could smell it in the air. We flew over some of the northern areas, Kiryat Shmona, not far from the Lebanese border.

We went up to the northern -- the upper Galilee, the lower Galilee,, near Tiberias, and elsewhere, in Safed. It was a -- really, a bird's-eye view of what's going on. And it underscored how small, Zain, this area really is. It's really not a big area. And that's why there's, potentially, so much destruction.

I have to give you one additional note, Zain. As much as the damage I saw on the Israeli side -- and I was with a top Israeli brigadier general, Ido Nehushtan -- we both recognized that the destruction and the damage on the Lebanese side, coming from the Israeli shelling and the airstrikes, clearly much more significant.

We are going to have a lot more, though, on this, Zain, coming up in the next hour, as well as 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Zain, thanks very much.

And up next: Why do they fight? Sometimes, battle plans can become casualties of war. Our Jeff Greenfield will put the current Middle East crisis into some sort of historic contest.

And President Bush meets tomorrow with the British prime minister, Tony Blair. Do these staunch allies see eye to eye when it comes to the Middle East crisis?

Live from Jerusalem, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Jerusalem.

Earlier today, I had an opportunity to travel to Haifa in northern Israel, a top target of Hezbollah rocket fire. The usually vibrant port city now is desolate, depressing, and, at times, frightening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Shortly after arriving in Haifa, we hear a wailing sound, a warning that Hezbollah Katyusha rockets are on the way.

(on camera): All right, we are at this Israeli air force base. The sirens have just gone off. You can hear them behind us. And, so, they are telling us we should go to a shelter, which is what we are going to do right now.

(voice-over): Israeli civil defense officials say, the rockets could land as quickly as 20 seconds after the sirens sound. Sometimes, you have a little longer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But, if they don't hit in the two minutes, then you will get an all-clear sign.

BLITZER (on camera): Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's how long it takes from here. On the other side, it's (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Did they get the all-clear?

(voice-over): That does not give someone a lot of time to run. And that explains why so many residents in the northern part of Israel have moved south, to more secure areas.

(on camera): How often do these sirens go off?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have been going off every few hours.

BLITZER: Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you have seen, since this morning, we have had three of them. So...

BLITZER: All right, we just got the all-clear. That means the sirens are off. If Katyushas have landed, they -- they have landed. We don't know if there was any damage or destruction. But we're going to get out of here now, and walk back to our van, and head over to our location in Haifa, where we are working.

(voice-over): The ride through this city is bleak, not many cars on the streets, not many people either. (on camera): As I take a look at this port, and this Haifa Bay, it's pretty depressing to see there aren't very many ships at all docked in Haifa right now, pretty much empty, understandably, because those Katyusha rockets, they have been coming in, day 15, day 16.

And there's, according to Israeli military authorities, really no expected end in sight, at least over the short term.

If you take a look down there, you see that beautiful Bahai temple, the shrine here in Haifa, such a great attraction. People come from all over the world to see it. And you see these buildings that -- pretty much deserted.

You see the infrastructure. You see what was a robust city, and probably will come back to be a very robust city down the road. But, right now, it's not.

(voice-over): For the future of Haifa and the northern part of Israel, this will be a turning point. It's still not clear, though, in which direction things turn.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Clearly, this remains a very, very fluid situation in the northern part of Israel. We're going to have much more on that part of the story coming up in the next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Meanwhile, the United States and Britain traditionally stand together in times of war. Are President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair on the same page in the current Middle East crisis? We will preview their big meeting tomorrow.

And we will read between the lines of the new message from Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant. Will al Qaeda create even more terror in the Middle East and beyond?

Live from Jerusalem, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In the midst of the crisis here in the Middle East, President Bush will host the British prime minister, Tony Blair, at the White House tomorrow. It's yet another challenge for two allies who have endured war and controversy on their watches.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent Elaine Quijano -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the visit by Prime Minister Blair was scheduled well before this latest Middle East crisis broke out.

But now, of course, plotting Mideast strategy will be the central focus, with both leaders under pressure to change their approach.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): When they last met, President Bush's frank and off-color assessment to British Prime Minister Tony Blair dominated the news and showed the president's frustration with the diplomatic effort.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I felt like telling Kofi to call -- get on the phone with Mr. Assad and make something happen.

QUIJANO: But that was 10 days ago.

(SHELLS FIRING)

QUIJANO: Since then, the fighting has not stopped. And the civilian death toll continues to climb.

Against that backdrop, President Bush is set to welcome Blair, his staunchest ally in the war on terror, to the White House. Both the president and the prime minister are facing intense pressure from European allies to support an immediate cease-fire.

WENDY SHERMAN, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT ADVISER: Europe and the United States are not on the same path. And we will see if Tony Blair is going to stick with Europe or stick with the United States.

QUIJANO: So far, the Bush administration has not budged, with the president restating that peace and a cease-fire are not the same thing. At an Oval Office meeting with Rumania's president, Mr. Bush laid out his Mideast goal.

BUSH: To hopefully end this as quickly as possible, and, at the same time, making sure there's a lasting peace, not a fake piece, not a fake, you know, circumstances that make us all feel better. Then, sure enough, the problem arises again.

QUIJANO: With the secretary of state expected to return to the Middle East this weekend, the White House is forcefully rejecting any notion her earlier trip there was a failure.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You are laboring under the presumption that she was supposed to come up with a magic wand and say, a cease-fire. What she has said is, what on earth is the good of having another empty handed cease-fire in the Middle East?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: Now, today, President Bush engaged in some telephone diplomacy, speaking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the second time this week. Tomorrow, Mr. Bush will sit down with Prime Minister Blair in the Oval Office, before the two leaders appear before reporters in the East Room -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine, thank you.

President Bush's ambassador to the United Nations is today defending the job he has been doing. John Bolton went before a Senate committee for a second round of confirmation hearings. Mr. Bush used a recess appointment to send Bolton to the U.N., after Democrats blocked his nomination last year.

The appointment expires in January, unless the Senate votes for formally confirm him. Bolton told senators he has had made what he calls modest progress toward reforming the U.N. bureaucracy and in demanding a stronger response to North Korea's missile tests.

But a key Democrat, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, charges that Bolton has burned his bridges with his colleagues at the United Nations.

We will follow this story for you.

Up next: your safety vs. your civil liberties -- should individual warrants be tossed out altogether when it comes to spying on Americans to protect against terrorism? We will tell you what you are telling Jack Cafferty. That is coming up.

And I will speak with an Israeli brigadier general about the crisis here in the Middle East. Is Israel getting more than it bargained for in taking on Hezbollah in south Lebanon?

That's coming up in our next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're are live from Jerusalem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Middle East historically has been a cauldron for old hatreds that often boil over into new bloody wars. And the United States, occasionally, has been a player in many of those conflicts. And the outcome hasn't always gone as planned.

Here's our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, when you are up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember that you set out to drain the swamp. That's the plain-language version of the law of unintended consequences. And, boy, is it playing out in today's headlines.

Just look back, starting about 25 years ago.

(voice-over): After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the U.S. armed the Mujahedeen with Stinger missiles and with other weapons to counter the Soviets.

It works. The Soviets flee. Moscow is critically weakened. And our side takes power, who become the Taliban, providing support and shelter for al Qaeda. In 1990, Saddam Hussein's Iraq invades Kuwait. The U.S. sends half-a-million troops to the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, to dislodge Iraq from Kuwait, perhaps winning the U.S. plaudits for helping a Muslim nation turn back aggression. But Osama bin Laden sees this presence in the Holy Land as a major affront, and steps up the terror war against the United States.

In 2001, after the attacks of September 11, the U.S. kicks the Taliban out of Afghanistan, a universally approved move, in part designed to show American resolve. But there's another consequence. It happens to free Iran from a major adversary to its east.

In 2003, the invasion of Iraq topples Saddam Hussein, supposedly paving the way for a free, inclusive, stable government. But, by providing neither enough troops for order and security, nor a well- grounded approach to creating a new government, U.S. policy sets up a scenario in which Iraq increasingly comes under the sway of secular Shiites, with very strong ties to Iran.

And the sectarian violence comes in spite of the support of Ali Sistani, the most important Shiite cleric in Iraq for non-violence and for accommodation. And Sistani 77 years old.

And it's not just the United States that is the victim of unintended consequences. In 2000, Israel pulls out of southern Lebanon, hoping to gain credibility as a peace partner. But Hezbollah treats the pullout as a sign of Israeli weakness, and spends years accumulating weapons in the region. This now makes it far more difficult for anyone, Israel, the Lebanese government, or some international peacekeeping force, to disarm Hezbollah.

(on camera): Finally, the very emphasis on democracy, narrowly focused on elections, instead of on the slow, painful development of free institutions, has now put in power Hamas in the Palestinian territories, President Ahmadinejad in Iran, and Hezbollah as a significant player in the Lebanese government, not exactly the dream team for a peaceful settlement of grievances, and not exactly what we had in mind -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Not exactly. Thanks very much, Jeff Greenfield, for that.

Still to come: the National Security Agency's terror-fighting tactics. Should there be new laws to protect Americans from spying without a warrant? Jack Cafferty is standing by.

And the U.S. mission in Iraq. We're going to have a live report from the Pentagon on new plans to keep several thousand soldiers on duty longer than planned.

We're live in Jerusalem, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the Bush administration officials told a Senate committee yesterday that it's not practical for them to get individual warrants every time they need to eavesdrop on a conversation suspected of involving al Qaeda, despite what the FISA court law says.

So the question: Is the current law against spying on Americans without a warrant inadequate?

Bruce writes from Louisiana: "As a sitting district court judge for 18 years, I can assure you and the American people, the only real guardian of individual rights is, to borrow a phrase from Joseph Wambaugh, the thin black line. Only judges stand between a police state and the individual. Take away that part of the equation, and we are left with the unfettered power of the federal government used against the individual. Mr. Bush must understand that, in order for a democracy to properly function, everybody's papers has to be graded."

John in Alabama: "A warrant should be used to spy or eavesdrop on Americans. Now, the warrants should be faster coming in cases of national security or terrorist activities. Most Americans want their liberties under the Constitution protected."

Michael in Washington: "The current law against spying on Americans is inadequate, only in that it does not define the failure to obey it as high crimes and misdemeanors, an impeachable offense."

Linda writes: "Since when does Congress feel like there has been a great breakthrough when the president deigns to 'allow' a court to review his illegal activities?"

Jim in Franklin Square, New York: "I thought the law was clear. Therefore, you must be asking if the president should be -- have to obey the law. But, with the wusses in Washington, the dimwit in the White House, the suck-ups in the Supreme Court, and the lunatics in Lebanon, does any law mean anything anymore? I have decided the answer is no. So, I'm going to begin to look for a more rational and intelligent planet on which to live. Therefore, this will be my last e-mail to THE SITUATION ROOM."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: And Rick in North Carolina: "You're the reason Sony invented the mute button on my remote control.'

Thank you, Rick -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Big fan of Jack's.

Thanks very much, Jack, for that.

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