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THIS WEEK AT WAR
This Week at War
Aired July 30, 2006 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf, and good day everyone. This is a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR. I'm John Roberts in Metula, Israel, which is way high up in the northern part of Israel and it recently became a hot zone. Katyusha rockets coming in here today. There was recently a mortar attack.
We were hoping to bring this broadcast right from the very front lines, but it was just getting a little bit too dicey in there, so we pulled back to what we hope is going to be a much safer location.
Of course, the big news of the day is that terrible tragedy in Qana, Lebanon. The Israeli Air Force, which it says was going after a Katyusha rocket launcher armed by Hezbollah, took out instead a house. A number of Lebanese evacuees from southern Lebanon had taken refuge in there and the house collapsed on top of a basement. The Lebanese authorities say as many 60 or more people died, including 19 children.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed great sorrow at the tragedy. But again, Israel stressed it was going have Hezbollah targets, not civilians. The White House today expressed its condolences and again urged Israel to show the utmost caution to avoid civilian casualties.
Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was supposed to go to Beirut but Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said do not come. The secretary of state is staying here in Israel and will head back to Washington tomorrow.
In Beirut, more than 5,000 people took to the streets to protest the attack in Qana while the Lebanese prime minister today praised Hezbollah, thanking them for their sacrifices in the war against Israel.
United Nations Security Council convened an emergency meeting. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned the attack in Qana and urged the Security Council to call for an immediate cease-fire.
Meantime, rockets continue to fall here on northern Israel. One hundred and thirty four today. Twenty-four of those landed inside towns, villages and cities including three that came in here to Metula. One landed just a couple of hundred yards from our position.
As we do every week on THIS WEEK AT WAR, we are going to give you analysis and perspective of the week's events. We should tell you that in order to do that this week we had to prerecord parts of this program Friday night in Haifa. We'll have more on the Qana attack coming up in just a couple of minutes but first let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day to day this week.
(voice-over): Monday, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice travels to Beirut and Jerusalem to push for an end to the conflict but not an immediate ceasefire.
Tuesday, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki meet and decide to send more U.S. troops to Baghdad to battle increasing violence. Wednesday, international talks in Rome failed to agree for a plan on peace in Lebanon.
Thursday, a new tape from al Qaeda calling on all Muslims to join in the fight against Israel.
Frida, British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives at the White House pressing for a halt to the fighting in Lebanon. THIS WEEK AT WAR.
As we said at the top of the show, the big news today in the Middle East crisis is that Israeli Air Force attack in Qana. They killed, according to Lebanese authorities, more than 60 people, 19 of them children. Were going to talk about this. Ben Wedeman, CNN correspondent is in Tyre Lebanon. John King is in Jerusalem. And General Spider Marks, retired, is in Washington for us.
First of all, let's take a look at how Ben Wedeman reported the Qana attack today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another stretcher, another body. The ambulances are full of the dead. Children, women, old men. Crushed while hiding in the basement. An Israeli bomb landed right next to a house in the village of Qana, where dozens of women and old people and children had taken shelter.
There is a four-month-old baby under the rubble says Qana resident Riad Shalhoub (ph). Lebanese army officers say they counted more than 80 strikes on Qana overnight. Large parts of the town have been totally devastated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Ben Wedeman, give us a little bit of an eyewitness report, you spent several hours in Qana today. What it was like? How bad was it?
WEDEMAN: Well, the destruction, John, was extensive. We were surprised as we were driving up just how building after building after building had been flattened. When we arrived at the scene, they were still bringing bodies out. We watched first as a woman was brought out on a stretcher. There were no wounded at the scene. The house itself was leaning at a precarious angle because it was not hit, but there is a huge crater right next door. And so there were rescue workers, people from the village also, digging with their hands through the rubble, trying to get inside underneath the building. But they were very worried that the building was just going, it was leaning at such an angle that it was just going to collapse on top of them.
Meanwhile, we heard Israeli jets overhead and bombing fairly nearby. So it was a scene -- There was a lot of emotion, a lot of anger, shock as well, but also fear that there were more strikes to come. John?
ROBERTS: John King, we saw those protests in Beirut today, 5,000 people taking to the streets to denounce Israel and the United States. Is the White House rethinking its position about its resistance to a ceasefire because of this attack in Qana?
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, now, publicly there is no change in the U.S. position, although I can tell you from a number of sources, the secretary of state is described as exasperated. She knows that the pictures in the Arab and Muslim day today are first of the carnage of Qana and then of her shaking hands with top Israeli officials here in Jerusalem as all of this is playing out.
We are told there are more tensions. For the first time we're being told of tensions in the conversations with top Israeli officials. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, for example today said that he needed 10 days, perhaps two weeks for Israel to achieve its military objectives. This just after he was told by Secretary Rice that the United States wanted to move as quickly as possible on the United Nations resolution that would bring about a ceasefire, perhaps within the next week.
So we are hearing more and more of tensions in the conversations with Israel. More and more a sense from the secretary of state that the United States has bought Israel this time, faced criticism from around the world for doing so, and frankly is getting very little or anything for it from the Israelis.
Publicly, though, the U.S. position is pass the Security Council Resolution and get a ceasefire. The U.S. is hoping that can happen by the end of next week. But again, there is mounting frustration starting with the secretary of state and making its way throughout the administration, John.
ROBERTS: John, General Marks, give us the military perspective on this. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he has expressed great sorrow because of this attack. How does something like this happen, and how does a military defend itself after doing something like this?
GENERAL SPIDER MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET): Well, John, if you are explaining, you are losing. And when you are conducting combat like this from a standoff distance and you are going after precise targets in a built up area, there will be friction, there will be collateral damage. The way the military does this, there is a very precise process. John, you are familiar with it. You were with the cav as we went across the border into Iraq a couple of - a few years ago. You understand how precision strikes and clearance of fires should be conducted.
And what happens when you have Hezbollah shooting rockets contiguous to, abutted up and tucked up next to buildings, and then when Israel sees those launch positions, it goes through a very quick process of trying to determine whether they are going to strike, they then will, because of the terrain, they will drop precision munitions, that means satellite guided or laser guided. The bomb lases itself or it's lased by someone on the ground.
And it goes after the target. In this particular instance, I can only assume that the blast effects were larger than they anticipated and the proximity of Hezbollah position to that building was that much closer. There fore when they hit it you had the effect of collateral damage and the building being hit.
ROBERTS: We want to point out that the Israeli Defense Forces have released surveillance video of the area around Qana, what they say is a building similar to the one that was hit, not the building that was hit but a building similar to the one that was hit and they say they have footage of a Hezbollah rocket launcher a short distance away. They were going after that rocket launcher which was as close as 50 yards away from that that building. But they have not yet provided us with video showing the Hezbollah rocket launcher, the alleged Hezbollah rocket launcher exactly in that location.
So is this going to have an impact on the diplomatic track? Let's listen to what secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said about the attack today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: In the wake of the tragedy that the people and government of Lebanon are dealing with today, I have decided to postpone my discussions in Beirut. In any case, my work today is here. I will continue to meet with Israeli officials as we work to put in place the elements necessary to bring an end to this conflict.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Ben Wedeman, she didn't really postpone her trip or call off her trip, Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister told her not to come. How angry are Lebanese officials about this attack today?
WEDEMAN: Well, obviously this is something that complicates an already very complicated situation. Lebanese officials are very wary of being seen talking to the Americans or talking to the Israelis. They feel that as we heard from Prime Minister Siniora today, he says now is not the time for discussions. He wants a ceasefire immediately. Because he is under a lot of domestic political pressure.
He is the one who is supposed to be carrying through with Resolution 1559 which has been problematic over the past few months and years. Therefore he is in a very difficult position. Hezbollah politically is gaining more and more power on the ground. So for Lebanese politicians, it's a very difficult situation.
John, I also wanted to jump in on the earlier conversation. When we were up there in Qana today, there were no signs that we could see of Hezbollah missile launchers. Now local inhabitants told us that no missiles were launched from the village. There is reason to take those claims with a pinch of salt. But certainly there was nothing on the ground to indicate, right next to this house at least, that there was a missile launcher.
ROBERTS: And John King, we just have just a couple second left. Is this going to derail the diplomatic track or could it still proceed.
KING: Hello, hello, I hear you just fine.
ROBERTS: OK. Well, we seem to have lost John King. All right. We are going to come back with more with THIS WEEK AT WAR.
We are going to take a look at the diplomatic track not only here in the Middle East but Iraq as well. Stay with us. You're watching a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR.
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? Lets check in with chief national correspondent John King who is 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 VIDEO CLIP)
KING: 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 ceasefire plan. But he stood firm, insisting any ceasefire that did not demand Hzbollah disarm would be meaningless and would not be accepted by Israel anyway.
RICE: Because unfortunately this is a region that has had too many broken ceasefires and 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 ceasefire the more we are going to witness more are being killed, more destruction and more aggression against the civilians in Lebanon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: John King, there is 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 are trying to get a resolution. The most important part to many is the size, the strength of the new international force. But Tony Blair hit it right on the head on the White House discussing this with President Bush on Friday. He says you can have an agreement on paper, but what if Hezbollah says no. Hezbollah would have to stop the shooting, let that security force in.
There are significant policy divides, obstacles to a ceasefire 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 the parties. We will know probably by midweek next week if they can exceed.
ROBERTS: The ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has said repeatedly, how do you strike a ceasefire, 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 you really have to do more to rein Israel in.
KING: That's right. The White House been on the defensive this week. Their goal at the beginning was to try to isolate Hezbollah by the president calling out 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 ceasefire.
And 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 towards a UN resolution that would both bring an end to the hostilities hopefully but also talk about some sort of an international force to try to keep this a lasting peace.
The White House has been pushing back on the notion that it's against a ceasefire 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: Quite a slap in the face a lot of Republicans took it, earlier this week, as well, John King, when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri 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 is off the reservation. The White House tries to look past that by saying he may have been playing to his domestic political audience. You have a Shiite insurgency. You have disagreement with his own Sunni base (sic) back inside Iraq and Israel is just simply not popular in Iraq. Iraq is on the record in the Saddam Hussein regime as wanting to wipe Israel off the map.
So the White House 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 from an electing. Israel is a powerful political force in the United States. It is 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 him is a dangerous distraction. So will that be the story next week and even closer to the November election, 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 ceasefire, and hoping because his own legacy will be framed by it, that Mr. Maliki finally the solution to bringing stability to Iraq.
ROBERTS: And Ed Henry, President Bush making the decision to send more U.S. troops into Baghdad. Now he has got Baghdad's prime minister at odds with him. What are the challenge here in terms of hanging on to public opinion in favor of continuing American presence in that Iraq war?
ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very major challenge. Adding to what 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, 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?
ROBERTS: We're back live with this special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR. John Roberts in Metula, Israel, which has become the latest hot zone along the Israeli border. It is not far from here the Israeli army launches incursions into southern Lebanon to try to attack some of those Hezbollah rocket launcher positions. But with all of the focus here on the Middle East, is Iraq getting lost in all of the noise? A place where there is still 130,000 troops in harm's way and civilians are dying at an alarming rate. Just before returning to the front lines in Haifa, I got together with Arwa Damon who is Baghdad. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. And Major General Don Shepperd, U.S. military retired, to talk about that.
I began by asking Arwa Damon if it's true, if it isn't true at least, that more civilians are dying in Iraq than are dying here in this crisis.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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?
DON SHEPPERD, MAJOR GENERAL: 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.
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.
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.
ROBERTS: Back live on this special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR. John Roberts in Metula, Israel.
Let's take a minute here and get you updated on the latest news, of course, the big story of the day, the Israeli Air Force goes after what it says was a Hezbollah rocket launcher in the southern Lebanese town of Qana. Instead, it hits a house, collapses a house. Inside the basement of that dwelling, dozens of Lebanese refugees fleeing the fighting in southern Lebanon. According to Lebanese officials more than 60 dead, 19 of them children. The Israeli Defense Force tries to explain what was happening releasing surveillance videotapes saying it was going after a Hezbollah rocket launcher, the house was an unintended target. This has derailed for at least a moment the diplomatic track to get this fight under control, to try to initiate a ceasefire.
Condoleezza Rice, supposed to go to Beirut today, she canceled that trip. Meantime, Hezbollah continues to fire rockets into northern Israel, 134 rockets landed on the ground here today, 24 of those inside towns and cities, three of them right here in the town of Metula.
With world opinion against this conflict growing ever louder, there is a sense here in Israel that the government believes it has increasingly short time to try to complete its plan against Hezbollah, but is using whatever time it has to try to degrade their capabilities to the best of its ability.
ROBERTS (voice-over): Dressed in desert brush camouflage, their faces blackened to blend into the night, Israeli soldiers prepared 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 town of Metula, high up in the Israeli northeast. Their presumed targets, Hezbollah outposts in Shiite villages just beyond the Lebanese border. 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 SOLDIERS: You need to think like the enemy 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 troop back from Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold in the Lebanese south. Fierce battles 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: It bounces your morale higher. 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.
(on camera): After more than two weeks of intense fighting, the Israeli army is still operating in only a 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 another forces on the ground to win the war.
(voice-over): 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: There are soldiers that are fighting six and seven days without resting, without eating normal food, without taking bed, nothing, and they continue and ask what is the new mission, what will we do tomorrow morning, that's the spirit of the forces.
ROBERTS: But with the diplomatic effort to end fighting becoming more urgent, Israel may have little time left for new missions, new battles.
ROBERTS (on camera): And that's the latest in the military campaign here along the Israel-Lebanon border. In just a moment we are going to take a step back. Take a look at the conflict in the Middle East and what it means for the greater region. Stay with us. You're watching a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR.
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.
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?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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, Shibley 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 Amal, 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 Shibley 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Not too long ago we came under Katyusha attack. Three rockets fell in the town perimeter of Metula. One of them hit harmlessly in a garden, another one hit in the middle of the street, it took out a vehicle that was parked there, but thankfully there have been no injuries.
Here's a look now at the events 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 UN 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.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTS: Back now live in Metula, Israel. Our apologies for yanking you back and forth during this program between Metula and Haifa, but as you can understand a war zone it's difficult to get together all at one time in one place all of the people we need to bring you the perspective and analysis that we want to bring you on this week at war. Just before we go, we're recapping our top stories.
That Israeli Air Force attack in Qana, Lebanon in which some 60 people were killed, 19 of them children. The Israeli Air Force said, and it has provided some videotape of a similar building says that it was going after a Hezbollah rocket launcher that was located close to the house that collapsed with those evacuees inside.
Again, this is not this attack, this is a similar attack, but it has raised question as to what happens now to the diplomatic track. Does it accelerate the effort to try to bring an end to hostilities or does it at least temporarily derail the diplomatic track?
We hope to have the answers to those questions for you in the coming days.
Thanks for joining us on this special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR. I'm John Roberts in Metula, Israel. Now stay tuned for "CNN PRESENTS: Inside Hezbollah." It's coming right up. But first back to the CNN Center in Atlanta for a brief news update.
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