Skip to main content
Search
Services


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THIS WEEK AT WAR

Roundup of Week's Events in Israel, Lebanon and Iraq

Aired July 29, 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 CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, I'm John Roberts in Metula, Israel with a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR. The artillery shells keep firing, the bombs keep dropping and the rockets keep landing in northern Israel. And at this point there seems to be no slow down in the fighting. There were some moves in the diplomatic track today, though. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Tomorrow she is going to go to Beirut to speak with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to try to navigate a way to end this crisis. There were some positive developments on the diplomatic track today.
Hezbollah political leaders said that they may be open to a cease-fire and Israeli officials have dropped their precondition that Hezbollah must disarm first before any cease fire is declared. The fighting continued today again as I said. Israel hitting some 60 targets around Lebanon, mostly trying to hit Hezbollah outposts, strongholds, weapons storage facilities. There was more fighting in and around southern Lebanon, though Israeli forces did withdraw from the city of Bint Jbeil which has been the site of so much heavy fighting over the last few days.

Israeli defense forces report they have killed some 200 Hezbollah fighters and there have been no Israeli casualties since Wednesday when eight died in the fighting in Bint Jbeil. But at the same time though, some 90 Katyusha rockets fell on northern Israel today. Damage was fairly minor and there were no deaths here in Israel.

And in the Lebanese port city of Tyre, a mass burial today, 31 victims of the fighting, innocent civilians in southern Lebanon buried in a mass grave. In the Islamic tradition, their bodies, their caskets, simple wooden caskets were pointed toward Mecca for burial.

The diplomatic track continues to try to bring an urgent end to this crisis. In the meantime it seems, Israel is using whatever time it has to try to inflict as much punishment on Hezbollah as possible.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): Dressed in desert brush camouflage, their faces blackened to blend into the night, Israeli soldiers prepare to open up a new front in the ground war. In Hebrew, this soldier says, mom, I love you before heading into battle. They are near the resort down of Batula (ph), high up in the Israeli northeast, their presumed targets, Hezbollah outposts in Shiite villages just beyond the Lebanese borders. In other sectors, the fighting has been vicious, often in close quarters. This combat engineering battalion has just returned from the front in Maroun al Ras in the central part of the border. Amnon Jizlin told me what it was like going up against Hezbollah fighters.

AMNON JIZLIN, ISRAELI SOLDIER: You always need to think like (INAUDIBLE) thinks. You need to look at everything suspicious, to even if you did the same thing yesterday. You need to do it differently, always thinking, always keeping guard.

ROBERTS: The army has pulled most of its troops back from Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold in the Lebanese south. Fierce battle there killed eight Israeli soldiers on Wednesday. The loss of two friends there has only heightened Stefan Silver's motivation to win.

STEFAN SILVER, ISRAELI SOLDIER: (INAUDIBLE) It makes you want to go in there and eventually make sure they didn't die in vain.

ROBERTS: Support for the war remains high in Israel, but there are critics who say a slow ramp up in troop deployments has bogged the ground campaign down. After more than two weeks of intense fighting, the Israeli Army is still operating in only a very small part of southern Lebanon, what you can see behind me here and they still don't have complete control of the area. The army's top generals say they know that air power alone is not going to do it, but they insist they already have enough forces on the war to win the war. The army is eager to show success in a slide show displaying photos of captured Hezbollah weapons, anti-tank rockets, guns and ammunition, body armor, communications, even sophisticated American tow missiles. The northern command's General Shuki Shachar says among the troops, morale is high.

GEN. SHUKI SHACHAR, ISRAELI ARMY'S NORTHERN COMMAND: They are soldier that are fighting six and seven days without resting, without eating normal food, without taking bath, nothing, and they continue and ask, what is the new mission? What we will do tomorrow morning? That's the spirit of the forces.

ROBERTS: But with the diplomatic effort to end the fighting becoming more urgent, Israel may have little time left for new missions and new battles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: A look at what's happening today in the conflict in the Middle East. I want to point out that in order to accommodate all of the interviews, perspective and analysis that this program requires, we had to prerecord portions of it late last night in Haifa. And right now, let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day this week.

Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travels to Beirut and Jerusalem to push for an end to the conflict, but not an immediate cease-fire. Tuesday, President Bush and Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki meet and decide to send more U.S. troops to Baghdad to battle increasing violence. Wednesday, international talks in Rome fail to agree on a plan for peace in Lebanon. Thursday, a new tape from al Qaeda calling on all Muslims to join the fight against Israel. Friday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives at the White House pressing for a halt to the fighting in Lebanon. This week at war. The Middle East crisis is taking a terrible toll on civilians. Here on the Israeli side, the rockets are falling on major cities, towns and village every day. People have died. Dozens have been injured. On the northern side of the border, hundreds of civilians have died caught in the crossfire. We're going to take a look at what it's like, where the bombs are falling. But we warn you, the images you're about to see are disturbing.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anyone who is hurt or feels unwell, please come to the ambulances he announces. A few have injuries, mostly shock and there are fears some may still be trapped inside. A 75-year-old man has had a heart attack just moments after the Katyusha landed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, we weren't able to bring him back.

VAUSE: He died. Another victim?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another victim.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the hospital, more civilian casualties (INAUDIBLE) in a war where neither side seems to be pinpointing its attacks. The sobs of a mother, the cry of her baby daughter and the scream of her son. Medics have just told her that her husband, Mohammed was killed.

ROBERTS: So what effect is the civilian casualty in this war having on the prosecution of the war from both the Lebanese side and the Israeli side. We will talk with our people in the field. John Vause joins us here in Haifa, Ben Wedeman is in very hard hit Tyre and Major General Don Shepperd joins us from Washington.

Let's start with you John Vause. You have covered a lot of these rocket attacks in the last couple of weeks. What kind of effect are they having on the civilian population here? Certainly not as many people have died here in Israel as have in Lebanon, but they are taking a toll.

VAUSE: It's more of a terrifying nature of the rockets that can fall anywhere and any time. The death toll though among the Israelis nothing compared to the death toll among civilians. But it is taking a toll. More than a million Israelis taking cover each night in bomb shelters and in (INAUDIBLE) and then of course, there is just the unknown of where these rockets could fall. They could fall at any time. The support for the war, though, seems to be incredibly high among the Jewish section of the Israeli population. Eighty percent of Israel is Jewish and 20 percent mostly Arab. The Arab section of the population though, they want a cease-fire. They can identify with the Lebanese that the Arabs have crossed the border. They can identify very closely with the impact of the war, especially in south Lebanon and they want the fighting to end and they want it to end now John.

ROBERTS: Ben Wedeman up there in Tyre. The pictures that we have seen from your reporting, it's just difficult to think how people could live like that. What kind of effect is this having on the civilian population there?

BED WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really, it's been a devastating war for Lebanon and on the civilian population. You have dozens, possibly hundreds of villages and towns spread across the southern part of the country that are essentially isolated. That means people can't get out. That means food cannot get in. In many areas, the water system doesn't work because the electricity has been hit. We hear so many stories of those who can get out from those who can't get out who talk about basically huddling in the basements of their homes for days and days, eating just little bits of bread and onions and whatnot, drinking dirty water, people with medical conditions who can't get treatment, can't get medicine.

We are seeing occasionally people are able to go in convoys that really rush madly out of these villages trying to get out. The problem is that in many areas, bridges have been blown. Roads have been destroyed. I heard of a case of a woman who had to walk 15 kilometers through the country side where there was an active battle going on. It's just hell for these people. And really, it's basically from the border to Tyre, it's become a free fire zone as far as the civilian population goes. The hospitals are having a very hard time dealing with the casualties. Many of the casualties are basically driven to Beirut where they can get better treatment, also because the hospitals are concerned that there may be a sudden influx of more wounded and they're running low on medicine.

And because the infrastructure has been so severely damaged, much of this part of the country is cut off from the rest. So it's a severe humanitarian crisis. The Red Cross is telling us they're afraid that diseases are going to break out in some of these isolated villages and they simply aren't able to get to the people who need the help most. John.

ROBERTS: Major General Don Shepperd, the Israeli military and the Israeli politicians here say that they're doing everything they can to try to minimize civilian casualties in this. Are you surprised at the number of civilian casualties on the Lebanese side? Are the Israelis too aggressive in their prosecution of this war?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I'm not at all surprised at the civilian casualties. When you're using rockets, you're using air power, you're going to get a lot of collateral damage. The problem with collateral damage, even if you're accomplishing your military objectives, it's turns public opinion against you. It turns world public opinion even more against Israel and the United States and it drives people towards Hezbollah and sympathy for them. So it's a very difficult situation and it's going to continue it looks like for a long time John.

ROBERTS: Earlier this week, just as it seemed that Israel was about to open a new front in the northeast, a United Nations outpost just across the border on the eastern side of Lebanon was bombed. Here's what U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: You can imagine the anguish of the soldiers and the men and women, unarmed military observers who were down there in the service of peace. And as I said, we await the investigations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Four members of the United Nations interim force in Lebanon killed in that attack. Major General Don Shepperd, we have heard from the United Nations that they called repeatedly to Israeli officials saying don't bomb us. Don't bomb us. Ten calls made over the course of six hours. Are the Israelis at fault here? Does this sort of thing - should this sort of thing happen?

SHEPPERD: This sort of thing should never happen and it happens often in war where you strike your own people. You strike the wrong target. Although it's under investigation and I always hate to jump to conclusions, it's fairly obvious to me that somebody screwed up big time. It was probably on the Israeli side and somebody simply designated the wrong target or had the wrong target John, terrible tragic situation.

ROBERTS: And John Vause, are Israeli politicians beginning to worry about the world backlash to what's going on in Lebanon?

VAUSE: As far as Israeli is concerned, there really is only one country that it cares about, the opinion of the United States and it seems that the United States is firmly behind Israel as it takes on Hezbollah, giving Israel breathing space to continue with this air bombardment and also what we're now seeing, a ground incursion in southern Lebanon. So the problem though is that the United States then starts feeling pressure from other countries. Then of course the pressure mounts on the Israelis. But for the Israeli government right now, it's trying to maintain a unified firm front, try to keep the people behind this operation and it has that support. It can't win this war with Hezbollah without the support of the Israeli people and the Israeli government. At the moment, that is the number one concern.

ROBERTS: Every indication that the war is going to continue for some time and innocent civilians will continue to get caught in the crossfire. John Vause in Haifa, Ben Wedeman in Tyre, Major General Don Shepperd, stay with us, because we want to get back to you in just a moment. Thanks all. Coming up next, we're going to turn from the fighting to the diplomatic struggle, both here in the Middle East and in Iraq. All eyes have been focused here on Israel and Hezbollah, but the dying still continues in Iraq. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: So can the diplomatic track really bring an end to hostilities in this crisis and is the United States risking its reputation by backing Israel so solidly? Let's check in with chief national correspondent John King, who's in Jerusalem and White House correspondent Ed Henry. First of all, let's take a look at how John King reported this story on Wednesday. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The mood was described as tense, frustrating. Secretary of State Rice said to be under constant siege viewed by many at the Rome emergency summit as the obstacle to a cease-fire plan. But she stood firm insisting any cease-fire that did not demand Hezbollah disarm would be meaningless and could not be accepted by Israel anyway.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Because unfortunately, this is a region that has had too many broken cease-fires, too many spasms of violence followed then by other spasms of violence.

KING: And so a summit designed to provide hope, the hostilities might soon end, instead ended with Lebanon's prime minister devastated.

FOUAD SINIORA, LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER: The more we delay the cease-fire, the more we are going to witness more are being killed, more destruction and more aggression against the civilians in Lebanon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: John King, there's so much daylight between the United States and Israel and much of the rest of the world, can the secretary of State close that gap over the next few days, maybe perhaps weeks?

KING: That is this weekend's challenge, John, Secretary Rice back in the region trying to bridge the differences with Israel, much more importantly trying to see if the government of Lebanon is ready to stand up to Hezbollah. Then the debate shifts to the United Nations early next week. They're trying to get a resolution. The most important part for many is the size and the strength of the new international force. But Tony Blair hit it right on the head at the White House discussing this with President Bush on Friday. He says, you can have an agreement on paper. What if Hezbollah says no? Hezbollah would have to stop the shooting, let that security force in. So there are significant policy divides, obstacles to a cease-fire agreement. Secretary Rice will try to work them out. But essentially what the international community now has decided is to try to force this on at parties. We will know probably by mid week next week whether they can succeed.

ROBERTS: The ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton has said repeatedly, how do you strike a cease-fire? How do you negotiate a deal with a terrorist group? Ed Henry, is the White House worried though that as the world backlash grows against Israel's bombardment of Lebanon, that the White House and President Bush are going to get caught up in the crossfire here. We see more anti-American demonstrations in Lebanon and now some of America's closest allies are saying that you really have to do more to rein Israel in.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The White House has been on the defensive this week. Their goal at the beginning was to try to isolate Hezbollah by the president calling on Iran and Syria in particular for their support of Hezbollah. But now the White House runs the risk of course of maybe isolating itself along with Israel since they appear to be standing in the way of a cease-fire.

In the middle of the week, the White House was quite stunned by the international reaction suggesting that Secretary Rice's first visit to the Mideast was a failure and that's why on Friday, you saw the president come out with his closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and now talk about sending Secretary Rice back to the region this weekend of course and moving toward a U.N. resolution that would both bring an end to the hostilities hopefully, but also talk about some sort of a international force to try to keep this a lasting piece. The White House has been pushing back on the notion that it's against a cease-fire by saying, look, it might just be a piece of paper. They want this to be a lasting peace. They say the Middle East is littered with so-called peace agreements that didn't pan out. John.

ROBERTS: What a slap in the face. A lot of Republicans took it earlier this week as well, John King, when Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki came to Washington and condemned Israel. Is he off the reservation there with President Bush or is that just for public consumption back in Iraq?

KING: He's off the reservation. The White House trying to look past that if you will by saying he may have been playing to his domestic political audience. You have a Shiite insurgency. You have disagreements even within his own Sunni base back inside Iraq and Israel is just not, simply popular in Iraq. I mean Iraq is on the record in the Saddam Hussein regimes as wanting to wipe Israel off the map. The White House is essentially saying, give this man a break. He has a very difficult job. Don't pummel him on this. There are much bigger issues to deal with.

But the Republicans John, are just a short time away from an election. Israel is a powerful political force in the United States. So it's a side theater, if you will. But it is anything that distracts whether it's Mr. Maliki, the president, from the key challenges in front of them is a dangerous distraction. So that should be the story next week and even closer to the November elections, certainly not, but anything that distracts the president for a day or two is tough when he has so many difficult issues to deal with, including trying to broker this cease-fire and hoping, because his own legacy will be framed by it, that Mr. Maliki is finally the solution to bringing civility to Iraq.

ROBERTS: And Ed Henry, President Bush making a decision to send more U.S. troops into Baghdad, now he's got Baghdad's prime minister at odds with him. What are the challenges here in terms of hanging onto public opinion in favor of continuing American presence in that Iraq war?

HENRY: Very major challenge. Adding to it, John King was just reporting, Republicans on the Hill very nervous about those midterm elections coming up. Just a month ago, General George Casey was suggesting privately that perhaps some major troops would be coming home this fall, but instead, this announcement this week, more troops going into Baghdad. It's not what Republicans wanted to hear John. ROBERTS: Big challenge to try to bring peace to this region. But State Department officials knew it was going to be. John King in Jerusalem and Ed Henry from Washington. Thanks very much. Coming up next on "This Week at War," with all of the attention focused here on the Middle East, is Iraq becoming the forgotten war?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously the violence in Baghdad is still terrible and therefore there needs to be more troops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: President Bush at the White House on Tuesday in his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki talking about the sectarian violence there. With all of the focus on the war here in the Middle East, is Iraq becoming the forgotten war? And what kind of toll is it taking on civilians? We're going to talk with our experts in the field. Arwa Damon is in Baghdad, Jamie McIntyre is at his post at the Pentagon and Major General Don Shepperd joins us from Washington. Let's take a look at how Arwa Damon reported this story earlier this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Through the thick smoke, the luckiest escaped. As the dust settles, those unharmed help the walking wounded. Some carry the limp bodies of the dead. Rescue workers rush to help others trapped beneath the rubble. Dozens killed, over 100 wounded after a car bomb, mortars and Katyusha rockets devastated a central Baghdad neighborhood. A complex attack, a specific target is unknown.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Arwa Damon, as bad as things are for civilians here in the Middle East war, the toll of death in Iraq seems to exceed what's happening here.

DAMON: It is John, it is quite devastating. In fact, according to the most recent report released by the United Nations mission to Iraq, an average of 100 Iraqi civilians are losing their lives every day and that is not to count attacks against Iraqi security forces. They also estimate that in 2006 alone, 14,000, at least 14,000, Iraqi civilians have died. It really is a very devastating state and it's only escalating. The violence is only increasing, especially in the capital of Baghdad.

ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre, this pronouncement by President Bush that he's going to send more troops to Baghdad, what does that mean for the U.S. military and how long is this going to go on, this increased deployment of troops in that city? JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The main thing it means is that the hope for reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq this year just isn't going to happen. In fact, with this decision to hold over a unit for up to four months, a striker brigade, that means that the U.S. will actually have an increase of about, up to about 16 brigades, so a slight uptick in the number of troops, to about 135,000. And so it doesn't look like they're going to be able to make any troop cuts any time soon.

ROBERTS: Major General Shepperd, President Bush keeps on saying U.S. will stand down as Iraqi forces stand up. How is that going? How soon can we expect the Iraqi military to be able to handle security, particularly in a place as hot as Baghdad?

SHEPPERD: Well, John, nobody can argue that Baghdad is going well or Iraq is going well right now. So I don't know what time frame is going to take for the Iraqi forces to come up to speed. The Iraqi military is one problem. The police are another problem and the center of activity right now is in Baghdad. So he's going to have to rush more troops into Baghdad and he's going to have to keep troops there longer at least right now John.

ROBERTS: General Shepperd, what's the holdup in getting Iraqi forces up and running? It's more than three years now.

SHEPPERD: It's not just getting them up and running. It's the capability and the capability is, they're going to have to work together for a long time. They're going to have to have some successes before they really get capable. But clearly, you're still going to see other sections of the country turned over to these Iraqi forces and U.S. forces come out of those areas and come back into Baghdad. So it's really Baghdad that's not going well right now or physically not going well. Some of the other sections of the country are going OK, John.

ROBERTS: Arwa Damon, what kind of success are U.S. troops going to be able to have in quelling the sectarian violence. Are the two sides just so at each other's throats that U.S. troops won't make that much difference. If they want to kill each other, they'll do it when and where they can.

DAMON: That remains to be seen, John and that's an interesting point actually, this new role that U.S. forces are finding themselves in caught between Sunnis and Shias and the varying death squads that are operating at will through the country, but especially here in Baghdad. When it comes to these death squads or these militia, the number one step that the government and the U.S. forces have to take is to disarm them. Only then will the situation be able to proceed forward. But if you speak to ordinary Iraqi civilians, they will tell you that Sunnis and Shias have lived side by side in this country for centuries and they will say, that it is extremist elements within each group that are the ones that are really at each other's throats and your average Iraqi really only wants a peaceful country.

ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre, what about that idea that Iraqi forces may find -- U.S. forces, rather, might find themselves in the middle of all this. Are they worried about becoming target, almost becoming a third arm of what's going on in there in terms of the violence?

MCINTYRE: Here's the problem John with what's going on now is that it is -- the strategy simply isn't working. They do have a lot of Iraqi troops, 275,000 Iraqi security forces now. But the violence isn't getting any better and the theory was that the Iraqis would be better at handling this than the U.S. troops because they know the people. They know the territory. But that's not happening either and the result is now they got to bring U.S. troops back to sort of retrain the Iraqis how to take and secure sections of Baghdad. So the real problem here is the underlying strategy which was the key to getting U.S. troops out, is not working on several different fronts and that just doesn't bode well for U.S. troops getting out any time soon.

ROBERTS: Major General Shepperd, you're a commander. You're told to deploy your troops in Baghdad. Do you want to be getting in the middle of the sectarian war in a large urban environment like that?

SHEPPERD: No you really don't. What you want to do is you want to assist the Iraqi forces. But you have no choice. You're going to have to protect yourself and your men and basically you're going to be in the middle of it. When you're in the middle of Baghdad or in the middle of any town, you're going to react to whatever you're caught up in.

So it's a situation we don't want to be in, John. But we find ourselves there. We're going to have to find a way out of this. And the way, again, is to get the Iraqis up to speed as we go out. And it's tough duty.

ROBERTS: U.S. forces finding themselves now in the middle of another difficult challenge.

Arwa Damon in Baghdad.

Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

Major General Don Shepperd, retired, in our studio in Washington.

Thanks.

And now, a THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance.

In December, Lance Corporal Adam Kaiser died in an IED explosion in the war torn city of Fallujah. In Naperville, Illinois, his family remember earlier days, remember the too short life of a boy who grew up to become a soldier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's -- that's the twins. That's Adam on the left and Amanda on the right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We, you know, I think about him every day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wanted a little brother and a little -- or a little sister. So I got both.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He loved Halloween. That was really one of his favorite things to do. He always had to dress up as military, most of the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could kind of sum it up as kind of goal driven, that those final four or five months before he went in, you know, he was running every night, doing all kinds of exercise, you know, pushing himself. By that time he had a black belt in Tae Kwon- do and he was working toward a second degree black belt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is our favorite picture from Iraq and they're all getting ready. And he's got a smile on his face, which is something he normally didn't do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean he didn't do it to get a scholarship. He didn't do it for that. He did it because that was his dream. And I'm glad that he got to live that out. I just know I miss the little boy that I just loved so much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Based on his last, you know, that part of his life, he would want to be remembered as a Marine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Coming up next, we'll be back with the latest from the Middle East.

But first, a look at those who fell in this week at war.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: We're back live now on this special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR.

I'm John Roberts in Metulla, Israel.

Thanks very much for joining us.

It is a very noisy night here in the northernmost population center in Israel.

We're hearing barrages of artillery firing. There is one of those drones buzzing overhead and every once in a while, we hear the sound of machine gun-fire, as well. So it sounds like something is happening very close and it sounds like it's something that's very big, something we'll be reporting on as the days go on here on CNN.

We're going to take a step back here in just a minute to take a look at the bigger picture here, what this all means for the greater Middle East region.

But, first of all, we've had correspondents here in the Middle East covering this story since the day it began. That was 17 days ago now, almost 18, with a new one about to dawn, when it started back on July the 12th. Here's a look at some of the reporters' notebooks that they have filed since then.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We stop by Israel's military headquarters for a background briefing with a senior military officer. No cameras allowed inside the building. But outside, you could feel a country at war.

(on camera): I think it's safe to say that where I'm standing right now would be ground zero as far as Israel enemy's are concerned. They'd like nothing better to launch a rocket or a missile that would hit this spot right here, the headquarters of the Israeli Defense Forces, the IDF.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Drive into Southern Beirut and you quickly discover another city entirely, a heavily bombed state within a state, beyond the control of the Lebanese government. This is Hezbollah territory. Along the road, posted like billboards, pictures of so-called martyrs, Hezbollah fighters who died battling Israel.

(on camera): You can drive around. It doesn't seem like there's anyone around, And all of a sudden your eyes -- it's almost like adjusting to the darkness. Suddenly, you realize there are people who are watching you, guys on motorcycles talking on cell phones who pass you by, watching very closely what you're doing.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Not long after getting to Shlomo's house, we heard our first air-raid siren.

(on camera): Justin! Justin! Justin?

OK, so we're inside the house. We're headed up to the safe place. Where is it? Over here? I don't know where Justin is. Do you know?

(voice-over): Justin was on his own. The closer we got to Haifa, the more we heard the sirens. Several times we heard them. Several times we had to stop and take cover.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is moment of intense conflict in the Middle East. Yet our aim is to turn it into a moment of opportunity and a chance for a broader change in the region.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: President Bush in a press conference at the White House on Friday, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressing his hope that this conflict in the Middle East could be a new beginning. But could it just be the beginning of new problems?

We're going to talk about that with Brent Sadler, who's our Beirut bureau chief. He's in Beirut with us. Wolf Blitzer of "THE SITUATION ROOM" is in Jerusalem. And Middle East expert Shipley Telhami at the Brookings Institution and the University of Maryland is with us from Washington.

Shipley Telhami, let's start with you, first of all.

Are Israelis worried that very soon world public opinion is going to start to turn against them if they continue this campaign?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, actually, world public opinion has already turned against them. Frankly, what has been shown over the past few weeks is a huge gap between government positions and public opinion, European public opinion, Arab public opinion. There was a misread, frankly, early on in this crisis that public opinion was split on the Hezbollah issue and on the Israel operations.

Actually, in the Arab world, at least, there was no question that the vast majority of people, possibly up to 90 percent, according to some unscientific polls, were on Hezbollah's side from day one. Arab governments were not. European governments were not. They made a strategic decision. And as this crisis goes on and there's more casualties, they're backtracking. And that's what's happening with American diplomacy. Initially it succeeded in getting a very volatile coalition to give the Israelis a chance. But right now that gap between public opinion and governments is expanding by the day. And that is trouble for American diplomacy.

ROBERTS: Wolf Blitzer, still, the overall majority, the overwhelming majority of Israelis support this action.

But is the Israeli government considering -- would they consider an earlier end to this war than they originally were looking at because of the fact that people are looking at them now and saying you've got to stop this or you're going to be very much ostracized in the eyes of the world?

BLITZER: I think that the Israelis always have one eye on what international public opinion says, especially what U.S. public opinion says, because they know they're very dependent on the United States for economic and military support, especially military support. They monitor very closely the attitudes of what the Bush administration is expressing, as well as members of Congress.

So far, they still see that strong support, especially from the president of the United States and from Condoleezza Rice. And that's going to allow the Israelis to go forward and to try to destroy a much of Hezbollah's military capability as they can.

But there's no doubt they're beginning to feel the international pressure here in Jerusalem. ROBERTS: Brent Sadler, on your side of the Israel-Lebanon border, is Israel at risk here of creating a new ideological leader with its bombardment of Lebanon?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly the more Israel inflicts casualties among the civilians in South Lebanon, then that's going to strike hard, not just here in Lebanon itself, but also in the Arab world at large. Inside Lebanon, you basically have a split situation in terms of the population. Those that are behind the so- called Cedar Revolution last year that was really the seeds of a new democracy being planted here in Lebanon, want to see circumstances after this conflict under which Hezbollah will be an equal party to the others, without its weapons, and that Hezbollah will stand only for Lebanon and not be drawing Lebanon into conflict with Israel in the interests of Syria and Iran.

ROBERTS: Well, Shipley Telhami, Israel would like to put Hassan Nasrallah out of business.

But is there a risk here that they're going to build him up into something even bigger than he was before because of all of this?

TELHAMI: There's no question that he's already won the hearts in the Arab world. He was already popular, mostly because many Arabs saw him as having forced the Israelis out of Lebanon in 2000.

At the moment, just by virtue of having -- seemed to have performed well against Israel, even if he doesn't win in a major military victory -- he's going to emerge as a winner in the hearts of the Arab public.

I haven't seen this kind of attraction in the Arab public since the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. That's a lot to say back in the Arab national leader, back in the 1960s, who died in 1970.

Hezbollah itself, frankly, we talk about it as not Hassan Nasrallah. But certainly he's been a very, very clever leader. But they have a population base. You know, the Shia who are united behind them right now, even Amar, their religious leader, spoke to Al Jazeera last night. They're all behind him. You're talking about 40 percent of the Lebanese population.

That's not something you can really defeat as such. It's very difficult. It's a strategic, I think, challenge for Israel right now that is very difficult to deal with.

ROBERTS: Brent Sadler, does Hassan Nasrallah win simply by not losing?

SADLER: Yes, there are people on the ground here already saying that Nasrallah is in a no lose situation, politically, morally speaking, in terms of his representation in the Arab world, as we're hearing a lot of ground based support there.

And the way Hezbollah has been performing in these battles, particularly for Bint Jbeil, has shown that in the past six years, under Nasrallah's leadership, Hezbollah has wasted no time in being able to use its connectivity with Iran and the supply of weapons from Iran, supported by Syria, to put up a formidable pattern of defensive positions and bunkers and underground tunnels and strategy that can really inflict damage on the Israelis.

ROBERTS: And, Wolf, is there any concern on the part of Israeli leaders that when this is all over, they could actually find themselves in a worse position with Lebanon than they were going into it?

BLITZER: I think they acknowledge, at least privately in all the conversations I've had since I've been here in Israel, John, is that they have to win decisively. A tie does, in fact, represent a defeat for Israel. If Hezbollah emerges relatively intact militarily and politically, if Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, stays in business and remains a formidable force in Lebanon, that represents a significant setback for the Israelis, no matter how many of their rockets they destroy, no matter how many of their weapons caches they destroy.

They understand that. That's why they're going to continue to try to destroy as much of Hezbollah as they possibly can and why it's no secret that they're trying to kill the leadership of Hezbollah, including Hassan Nasrallah.

ROBERTS: A complicated political and public relations calculation.

Brent Sadler in Beirut, Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem and Shipley Telhami in Washington, thanks very much.

Coming up next, we're going to check in with our correspondents for some behind-the-scenes look at this Middle East war, the evacuation of Americans from Beirut and a look inside a hospital here in northern Israel.

You're watching THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr was embedded aboard the Navy ship USS Nashville, which was evacuating American citizens from Lebanon and providing aid for those in need.

Here's her reporter's notebook.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We came here to cover the story of thousands of Americans trying to get out of Lebanon, get out of the war zone.

As we landed on the beach in Beirut, suddenly thousands of Americans coming over the beach. We all felt like we were in the middle of some unreal experience, possibly a movie. But, of course, this was reality. Marines carrying babies under either arm; Marines carrying old people through the water.

We met one lady waiting on the pier for her two sons, who had been in Lebanon by themselves visiting their grandparents. She wasn't sure her kids were even on the boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think one's going to Turkey today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no.

STARR: She waited and waited and waited and finally there was a very happy reunion.

The man in charge of the military operation, Brigadier General Carl Jensen, was somebody that nobody had really ever heard of. But when he landed on the USS Nashville, it was a take charge, John Wayne kind of attitude.

(on camera): You get ordered to go extract Americans from Southern Lebanon.

Can the United States military do the job?

BRIG. GEN. CARL JENSEN: I think you know the answer to that.

STARR (voice-over): This was the ultimate story for the United States military, the ultimate good news story, something they really wanted to do after so many months of difficult news for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ROBERTS: With dozens of Katyusha rockets falling into northern Israel every day, there is an urgent need for emergency medical care.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes us inside Rambam Medical Center, the largest hospital in northern Israel, where doctors, under fire themselves, are saving lives.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You do really get a sense of what's happening now here. You saw the ambulances take off after that thud, not even 100 meters away, probably, here. It is total pandemonium here. But everyone is getting ready. They're getting their gloves on. They're getting their garb on. They're waiting for any traumas that might actually come into the hospital. This is where they'll come, from this particular area.

(voice-over): Within minutes, patients come pouring in, all of them civilians. Hard to say how badly wounded, but bloodied, banged up and certainly terrorized. Suddenly all those sirens and thuds come to life.

(on camera): Now, just to give you a sense here, you get the sense that there's been a lot of shrapnel injury here, probably some glass injury, as well. Obviously a lot of bleeding here, there's no question, from the shrapnel.

(voice-over): Many of the injuries come from these vicious ball bearings packed into the rockets. I saw them firsthand.

(on camera): Take a look at these pellets. The rockets we've been talking so much about are filled with thousands, tens of thousands of these pellets. I want to give you an idea of how much damage they can do. Take a look at this car. This is close to the blast site. Look at these pellets. They've gone straight through the body of the car, shattered out all these windows, through the car seat, as well. This car has been completely devastated by these ball bearings. Imagine what they do to the human body.

(voice-over): Today, no one dies from the missile strike. Quickly, breathing tubes are placed and the blood is replenished; patients stabilized.

Rambam is one of the finest trauma centers anywhere in the world. Still, I saw it in Beirut and now here in Haifa. Hospitals are not immune in this war.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ROBERTS: Doctors taking care of civilian casualties, not only here in northern Israel, but Lebanon, as well.

Next up on THIS WEEK AT WAR, NATO troops taking over in Afghanistan.

Can they keep the peace?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: The guns along the Lebanese border never rest. Twenty- four hours a day they keep raining down deep into Lebanese territory. Nighttime brings no respite, either. In fact, if anything, it only steps up the pace.

Take a look at this armored personnel carrier. Talking to one of the soldiers who's working to repair this, he says this isn't Hamas. He says these people aren't fooling around. They are serious about what they're doing. They're actually using anti-tank weapons.

With Hezbollah proving far more difficult to rout from Bint Jbeil than the Israeli Army first anticipated, there is a constant need for reinforcements. I'm standing in Israel right now. That is Lebanon. And the reinforcements are just going over the border.

This is where the Katyusha hit in Kiryat Shmona. You can see that there's not a lot of damage to the ground. It hit the curb. Because most of the explosive force goes out this way. And it's not just the force of the explosion that's very dangerous.

Have a look at this car. It looks like it's been hit by machine gun-fire. These Katyushas are packed with ball bearings.

(voice-over): Here's a look now at the events that we'll be covering next week.

On Monday, NATO troops will take over military duties in the south of Afghanistan, the region with the fiercest fighting.

Also on Monday, the U.N. Security Council will vote on renewing the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.

And on Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on a new law to regulate the treatment of detainees in the war on terror.

Back now live from Metula, Israel, the very most northern population center in Israel.

I'm John Roberts with this special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR.

It is 3:00 in the morning here now, but there is no letup in the fighting. We're hearing the sound of artillery. There are jet fighters in the air. And way off in the distance, on the Lebanese side of the border, machine gun-fire. Israel taking whatever time it has left to try to degraded Hezbollah's capabilities to the greatest extent that it can.

At the same time the diplomatic track continues, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be in Beirut tomorrow for talks with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. And at the United Nations, negotiations continue on a resolution to try to bring an end to this fighting.

The scenes of war that we have seen here in the last couple of weeks, particularly in Beirut, for many people, bring back terrible memories of a horrific day back in October of 1983. It was the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, where 241 American servicemen died.

Coming up on "CNN PRESENTS," we'll take an in-depth look at the Marine barracks bombing. And there you can hear a bomb off in the distance. How did it happen and what have we learned from it? A special edition of "CNN PRESENTS: THE MARINE BARRACKS BOMBING," coming right up.

But first of all, back to Atlanta for the news headlines.

And here's Carol Lin -- Carol.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

Search
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines