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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
War in the Middle East
Aired August 1, 2006 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, Israel unleashes ground troops into southern Lebanon and now reports of intense Israeli-Hezbollah combat in northeast Lebanon right next to Syria's border. Is this the last big push before a cease-fire or are we headed for a wider war?
We've got all the latest news and passionate debate, including our exclusive guest, Her Majesty Queen Noor, just back from Jordan. With reporters at the front lines and more, it's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We have an outstanding line-up of guests. We'll have a debate or two. And we've got of course reporters all across the scene, longitude and latitude, on top of everything.
Let's start with John Roberts in northern Israel, our CNN senior national correspondent. He's been reporting extensively on the war from that northern border with Lebanon. What are they saying there about what's going on in southern Lebanon, John?
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're not talking about what's going on in the Bekaa Valley, if that's what you were alluding to, Larry. We have asked them repeatedly whether or not there are operations in Baalbeck, the ancient city up there in the northern part of the Bekaa Valley, along the border with Syria. No comment is the official response from the Israeli Defense Forces at this point. We hope to learn more in the coming hours.
In terms of what's happening right along the border, we traveled from Metula, which is at the northern tip of the Galilee peninsula, all the way over to within about 15 miles of the Mediterranean sea, and we saw numerous engagements in Lebanon along the area of Al-a- Disa, (ph) which is just on the western side of where we are right now, Kiryat Shmona, all the way down to Ayt al Shaab, which is just around the area of Shatula, which is where the two soldiers were kidnapped back on July 12th, the incident that touched off this conflict.
We also saw a lot of evidence of troop and armor build-ups along the border. Many of those tanks and armored personnel carriers either are inside Lebanon now or are preparing to go in very soon. We didn't see evidence of a major ground operation just yet, the one that has been talked about by Israeli officials and approved by the security cabinet yesterday, Larry, but we expect to see that in the coming hours.
We are seeing tanks, armored personnel carriers, and those big bulldozers traveling up these roads toward the border on transporters. So we expect that when we wake up tomorrow, Larry, there's going to be much more evidence of a pending major ground operation.
KING: thanks, John Roberts in northern Israel. Let's go to Michael Ware in Beirut. What you're hearing -- what are you hearing in Beirut about the action in Baalbeck?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry, what we're hearing is that the Israelis have introduced a new form of operation that certainly publicly we haven't seen so far before.
This is very much a deep strike operation, targeting the heart of a Hezbollah stronghold in the Bekaa Valley. What we see is airborne troops have been inserted into a target at Baalbeck, which is 90 miles from the Israeli border. The precise target that they're after is still unclear. It could be a command and control center. It could be a particular arsenal.
But what we do know from Lebanese security forces is that they have entered a Hezbollah-run hospital at that location. They've gone through the hospital, checking the identity documents of all the staff, the doctors, and the patients. There is speculation in local and Arab media here at the moment that they're actually after a high- value target, a member of Hezbollah's Shura, or authoritative council, its main decision-making body. So at this stage a lot remains unclear, but there has been fierce combat so far from the Israeli border. Larry?
KING: Thanks, Michael. Let's go to Brent Sadler, CNN's Beirut bureau chief. He's covered this region for over 20 years. What do you make of this Israeli attack in Baalbeck?
BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Larry, quite clearly one of those typically bold and daring Israeli commando operations, more than likely supported by special forces, right into the heart of Hezbollah's area there. We've known that the Bekaa Valley, close to the Syrian border, has been for decades an area of intense interest to the United States for the kind of training that's gone on in there particularly of extremist groups.
Years ago it was the Palestinians, the PLO. Subsequently it's been Islamic Jihad, Hamas, other hard line groups. So it really is interesting to see that the Israelis send helicopters, according to my security sources here, three helicopters landed, I'm told. Troops went into that hospital. That hospital, incidentally, I understand is manned by many Syrian and Iranian medical staff. It's operated and funded by Hezbollah. This is not just any ordinary hospital. And it comes under the wing of an organization, I'm told, called the Khomeini Charitable Society. So that gives you some idea of why perhaps the Israelis went there.
What are they looking for? Perhaps a high value target, one of Hezbollah's top leadership or perhaps as another intelligence assessment suggests were they trying to find one of those captured soldiers who might have been injured when taken in the ambush, that deadly ambush three weeks ago and could have ended up captive in the hospital? Too early to say, but certainly a lot of action and it's a big development here. Larry?
KING: Thanks, Brent. Brent Sadler, CNN's Beirut bureau chief. Now let's go to Washington. Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, United States Army, Retired, CNN military analyst. Tell us about this Baalbeck operation.
BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY, (RET): Larry, this is what we would have thought the Israelis would have done a while ago. I mean, this is classic Israeli deep strike, very bold, commandos involved.
Let me show you what we're really trying to talk about. Again, this is speculation. And the Israelis won't say anything while those soldiers are downrange in harm's way. It's 61 miles from the tip of Israel up to Baalbeck. So by helicopter that's probably 30 to 45 minutes map of earth, following the terrain. And it's only seven miles to Syria. So it is hard up against that border with Syria.
This is what Baalbeck looks like as we focus in on this digital terrain map. Baalbeck is very built up. Again, not very far at all from Syria. A lot of defining terrain between Baalbeck and the Syrian border. So Syria legitimately has got some concern that there might be some spillover.
Larry, when we pull out of that and we come back down to the southern portions of Lebanon, this is where we could anticipate the increased forces from the IDF coming across. We have seen increased activity today in both Ayt al Shaab and Dibil, again, where those soldiers were captured a few weeks ago.
And then what we want to do, Larry, is take you back down into Maroun al-Ras. Very prominent terrain. A hilltop. Back down, as you can see, heading north into Bint Jbeil. Very prominent terrain. Compartmentalized. Very tough to fight in there, as the Israelis have indicated. And look what the terrain looks like along that border with Israel. As we take you to a few locations, Larry.
We're going to move you over to the east -- or correction. To the west a little bit. This is very difficult terrain if the Israelis are coming across with their armored formations. It's compartmentalized, very difficult to support each other as they are conducting operations. And, again, quite prominent pieces of terrain where you can have good what's called defilade fire but you have to be very careful about being isolated. So this is what it looks like, what looking at right now, Larry.
KING: Thanks, General Marks. As always, we love calling on you. He really knows the terrain, so to speak. We'll come back and meet the Syrian and Israeli ambassadors to the United States. Don't go away.
KING: We will now meet first the ambassador Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States, and then we'll meet the Israeli ambassador. Ambassador Moustapha, what do you make of this Baalbeck situation very close to the Syrian border?
AMB. IMAD MOUSTAPHA, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, of course, this is a grave development and a very serious one, but the Israelis are trying to do what Hezbollah excels in, which is guerrilla warfare, hit and run, and I think they are right now, the information I have just received is that they are in serious trouble. Hezbollah is fighting ferociously in Baalbeck, and they have already killed three soldiers there, Israeli soldiers and probably, probably the Israelis has got a new fiasco there.
KING: Fiasco meaning you think they will be harmed greatly in that operation?
MOUSTAPHA: They failed to achieve their tactical objectives of this operation.
KING: Do you expect your country to become involved?
MOUSTAPHA: We hope we will not be involved. We have said this time and again. We do not want to further escalate the situation in the Middle East. As of day one we have called for an immediate cease- fire and a prompt exchange of prisoners. The two Israeli military soldiers and the thousands of Arab civilians, particularly the women and children, held illegally by Israel.
KING: Ambassador, how do you answer to something puzzling to us neophytes maybe? You're in the Washington studio. The Israeli ambassador is in the Washington studio. Why can't you talk?
MOUSTAPHA: The answer is very simple. Why should we talk when Israel is right now killing our people in Lebanon ...
KING: What do you accomplish by not talking?
MOUSTAPHA: ... destroying Lebanon, occupying our territories. I will tell you. Syria has publicly, publicly invited Israel to reengage in a peace process leading to a comprehensive solution of the Middle East conflict. However, Israel has flatly and categorically refused this. The situation in the Middle East won't be resolved by two ambassadors at CNN studios talking or not talking to each other. The issues are serious.
Occupation is the mother of all evils. As long as the Israeli occupation will continue, as long as the Palestinian will suffer tremendously because of this occupation, as long as Israel will continue to kill Lebanese civilians while they claim that they are the friends of Lebanon, as long as the situation will not resolve, the day the Israelis will realize that if they want their grandchildren to live in peace with our grandchildren they cannot continue to depend on their sheer military superiority, once they realize this peace will be achieved in the Middle East. Occupation should end.
KING: Could this get out of hand?
MOUSTAPHA: Of course. This is a very serious situation. It has already gone beyond the acceptable norms of decent human beings. The massacre that's going on in Lebanon today is totally, totally outrageous.
KING: Do you have any optimism?
MOUSTAPHA: As a human being I should be an optimist. I believe that one day wisdom will prevail and the Israelis will realize that they cannot continue doing what they are doing to us, occupying our territories, killing our people.
KING: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.
MOUSTAPHA: You are welcome.
KING: Now let's talk to Ambassador Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador to the United States. He's in the same studio. Ambassador Ayalon, why can't you talk?
AMB. DANIEL AYALON, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: We can talk. I've always wanted to talk. But there's much more than talking. There's also doing. When the Syrians say, well, we want peace, they really talk from both sides of their mouth because publicly they say we want peace but at the same time they are sheltering and supporting and financing the most brutal network of terrorism. Khaled Meshaal Alin (ph) Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and eight more Palestinian terrorists have their headquarters in Damascus. In Syria you have training camps for all those terrorists. So they know exactly what they have to do. You cannot talk and kill at the same time.
And I would advise them to take the great leadership and wisdom of Anwar Sadat of Egypt. When he came to Jerusalem and we talked, peace came and prevailed. The same was with king Hussein, the late King Hussein in Jordan. So if they will stop the hostilities, if they will stop supporting the Hezbollah as a proxy, what they do now, then certainly we can talk ..
KING: Ambassador Moustapha says that your troops and the situation in Baalbeck, that you're in trouble.
AYALON: Well, I wouldn't put him as our spokesman. And allow me, Larry, not to bring more details since the operation is still under way and we would not like to compromise the mission and the safety of our soldiers. But certainly what we see here say new type of operation, and I can tell you that right now from a strategic point of view we are at a tipping point where Hezbollah is collapsing in terms of no longer controlling the command centers. They are on the run, and I believe we are beginning to see the end, where Hezbollah will have a major military defeat which is essential in order to establish a new political reality in the Middle East and certainly in Lebanon.
KING: You are beginning to see the end? Like how close?
AYALON: Well, I do not want to term it in precise time, whether it's days or weeks. But I would say it's closer to days than to weeks. But certainly what is most important, Larry, is not just a military victory. A military victory on the ground against the terrorists and their -- and the ones who sent them, Syria and Iran, is a necessary step.
But it's not sufficient. What will be sufficient, if we will have the international community behind us, imposing and making sure that Resolution 1559 will prevail, meaning disarming the Hezbollah, deploying the Lebanese soldiers all the way through our border, really maintaining the integrity of Lebanon, and basically returning Lebanon back to the Lebanese.
KING: Thank you, ambassador. Ambassador Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador to the United States. When we come back, Her Majesty Queen Noor will join us, along with George Mitchell and John Roberts on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
KING: Let's meet our panel. In Washington a return visit with Her Majesty Queen Noor, the widow of the late King Hussein of Jordan. In Northeast Harbor, Maine, the famed George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader and international peace negotiator. And in northern Israel, CNN's senior national correspondent, John Roberts. On the scene almost from the get-go.
All right. Your majesty, we have the two ambassadors on, from Syria and Israel. They're in the same studio. They can't talk to each other. Your husband was a proponent of talking to your enemies. Why can't we talk?
QUEEN NOOR: I don't know. There are so many parties to this conflict that are -- and to various conflicts in the region that are not talking to each other. And as so many conflicts have proven in the past, the resolution to violence and to the destruction of countries and the tensions between communities was to put people together. Everyone needs a seat at the table, as the Northern Ireland peace talks proved. And George Mitchell is the expert, not me.
But until there is dialogue that is pursued with all parties by all parties, including the United States, you are going to end up with only violence and only tension and no possibility of finding and identifying common ground, as King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin and others in the region were able to do during a period with a very different mindset.
KING: What -- George Mitchell, what do you learn by not talking?
GEORGE MITCHELL, FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, it's very difficult, Larry, because sometimes it's more clear, easier to say and understand when you won't talk to people who do bad things. But of course sometimes it's hard to end a war if you don't talk to people who are fighting the war or who are financing and directing the war.
But I do think, Larry, there is some hope from recent statements. Secretary of state Rice yesterday said that she thought she could get this cease-fire, an acceptable cease-fire, this week. Today deputy prime minister of Israel, Shimon Peres said the end is near. And I think what you're going to see now in the next few days, the last few days of fighting, I hope, is both sides seeking to put themselves in a position where they can claim in fact and in perception a victory because it would be a tremendous problem for both sides if they're perceived as suffering a devastating defeat.
So I think now you're going to see a huge effort right at the end to position both sides to claim and to have a victory.
KING: John Roberts, Ambassador Ayalon just said that he thinks we're closer to the end than far away from it and he called it a matter of days. What are you hearing over there?
ROBERTS: The speculation here in Israel, Larry, is that Sunday may be the last day of major operations here. There's mounting international pressure to bring this to a close. I think the reason why we're seeing the ramp-up in ground operations is because Israel knows that the time is short. They've come under enormous criticism from hard-liners here for being too slow in getting that ground campaign going, and so now they're ramping it up as quickly as they can, extending it as much as possible so that they can gain as much ground as they can.
There's an area here, Larry, in southern Lebanon known as the Step in Israel. As you move northward and northeastward, the ground gets higher. There's an area of about two and a half to three miles inside Lebanon which is very high ground. That's where Hezbollah has a lot of its strongholds, and it's a perfect position from which to shoot those Katyusha rockets into Israel. So what the army is hoping to do is to gain control of that land, cut off Hezbollah as well from the north, which is why we see these troops moving in from the northeastern peninsula, if you will, of Israel, this Galilee Peninsula, which is that little sliver of land that goes up in between Syria and Lebanon, moving across to cut Hezbollah off from the rear so that they can gain control of that territory and hold on to it, provide security until that international force comes in.
But Larry, that's a time period that's going to be measured in weeks because if they're talking about 10,000 to 15,000 international troops coming in it's going to take quite a while to get them in place, get them up and functioning so that they can handle security.
KING: This panel will return. Her Majesty Queen Noor, George Mitchell, and John Roberts, for the bulk of the end of the program. We have two segments before they come back. One of those segments we'll provide a debate between two outstanding journalists who disagree with what Israel's doing, and we'll check in with our reporters in the field right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: If we really put our minds to it and work, that this week is entirely possible. Certainly we're talking about days, not weeks before we are able to get a cease-fire. It's time to end the violence. But the reason that the United States has talked about an urgent cease-fire but one that cannot lead to a return to the status quo ante, is because the Middle East has been through far too many of these spasms.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back. Let's get you up to date on the breaking stories of the moment. Israeli troops strike in northern Lebanon near the Syrian border. Israel claims over 200 Hezbollah fighters killed in the three-week campaign. Lebanon says nearly 560 soldiers (sic) have been killed. Secretary Rice says the cease-fire is possible this week. Israeli vice premier says Israel pleased with the progress of war sees end in weeks, not months. And fewer Hezbollah attacks on Israel. That's the up to the minute. Let's go to northern Israel, where Anderson Cooper is standing by. He will host ANDERSON COOPER 360 at the top of the hour. What's the reaction there to all of this, Anderson?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Larry, you know, it's been an intense day of fighting, as you know, in south Lebanon, in particular two towns on the Lebanese side of the border. Three Israeli troops were killed 25 wounded, fighting has been intense. As you said, Israel claims to have killed more than 200 Hezbollah fighters. They say those are the hardcore fighters, not some of the Hezbollah reserves but really the hardcore units.
Those numbers disputed by Hezbollah. But whatever the actual numbers, we can see on this side of the border the fighting has been intense. Continued air strikes, continued bombardment with artillery shells. And as you know, also now, right now as we speak according to the latest reports, intense fighting further north, very close to the Syrian border near a hospital just several miles away from the Syrian border, Larry.
KING: And you'll be covering all of that at the top of the hour. Anything else you want to tell us that you'll be dealing with?
COOPER: We'll also be looking at the incoming Katyusha rockets here. A big drop-off in the number of incoming rockets and mortars. Just today about 10 or so projectiles landing in northern Israel. That is a major drop off. As you know, they had been averaging more than 100 a day. We're actually going to introduce you to some kids here in one of the towns here in northern Israel and a strange hobby has actually developed among some of these kids. They've started to collect Katyusha rocket fragments. It's a growing hobby among a lot of kids here. We'll talk to some of them, as well as covering all the angles on the fightings on this side of the border as well as in Lebanon.
KING: That's Anderson Cooper, the host of "ANDERSON COOPER 360" at the top of the hour.
Let's go to Damascus, Aneesh Raman, CNN international correspondent. The Israeli military operating in Baalbeck near the Syrian border. Are the Syrians concerned, Aneesh?
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They will undoubtedly be looking at Baalbeck given the fact, Larry, that Israeli ground troops are now just miles away from the Syrian border. Were they too close for comfort? That's what we'll have to see ahead today, if there is any official statement from the Syrian government. We've seen air attacks on that main road between Lebanon and Syria over the weekend. One hit just four miles away from the Syrian border. The Syrians have largely remained quiet but they really see the ground forces as something different. The country's information minister just a few days ago said that if Israeli ground forces got too close to that border, it would be seen as a threat to national security here in Syria.
Now, despite the fact that yesterday the country's president raised the alert level of the troops, we're seeing no indication Syria wants to get involved in this military conflict on Syrian soil. It has very little, if any, advantage in doing so. But again, the ground forces are something different. It's a very precarious situation. Tensions are high. And we'll have to see if the Syrian position now changes. Larry?
KING: Thanks very much. Let's go to Michael Ware in Beirut. What's the mood in Beirut about all of this? The ambassador from Israel says that he sees the end in sight. Do they see it there?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I know they certainly want to, Larry. I mean, this very much is a city holding its breath. I mean, what people will be waking up to in a couple of hours is news of this new operation by the Israelis.
People are going to be wondering is this the prelude to something bigger to come? That's certainly the expectation here in Beirut, that there is worse just around the corner. They're seeing the Israeli troop build-up. They're seeing the jets back in the skies over Beirut. They've seen the intense fighting in southern Lebanon along the border. So to be honest, people here quite frankly are expecting the worst. Larry?
KING: Thanks very much, Michael. When we come back, we'll take a break, and when we come back, two distinguished American journalists with different viewpoints about what Israel is doing in the Middle East. We'll get to them and then return to our panel right after this.
KING: We now welcome two distinguished American journalists. They're both in New York. Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief of "U.S. News & World Report." He thinks that Israel should finish its mission in Lebanon. And Eric Alterman is the media columnist for the "Nation" magazine, senior fellow for the Center for American Progress. And he thinks Israel's invasion of Lebanon was a mistake.
We'll start with Mort. So many civilian casualties. Doesn't this sort of carnage just create more terrorists, Mort? Isn't it all kind of in vain?
MORT ZUCKERMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Well, I think that's always one of the sad consequences of this kind of situation. But you have to understand that Israel was trying to defend itself against Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran. Hezbollah and Iran do not believe in a two-state solution. Israel had left Lebanon six years ago. There was absolutely -- there was no territorial issue. There was no occupation issue here. And what Hezbollah has been doing ever since then is building up its arms to threaten Israel strategically because they will have arms, missiles basically that can attack every major Israeli city, and nobody can live under that kind of threat when they are -- they have demonstrated that they are prepared to cross over the internationally recognized border and attack Israelis.
KING: Eric, why should American Jews be opposed to what's happening in Lebanon?
ERIC ALTERMAN, MEDIA COLUMNIST, NATION MAGAZINE: Well, Larry, I agree with what Mort just said, that no state could sit tight for this kind of attack on their citizens. And I agree that Lebanon and Syria have no interest in a two-state solution.
But the question is does an action like this bring Israel any closer to a two-state solution? Does it even bring Israel closer to not having these kinds of attacks on its borders? The attacks are continuing, in the first place.
In the second place, Hezbollah is stronger politically than it was before the invasion. There was a lot of distance between the Arab leadership -- leadership of Arab countries and Hezbollah when the invasion began, but now they're rallying around that because they have to because of the situation Israel's created.
Syria and Iran are actually strengthened by this invasion politically. And so you've strengthened Hezbollah. You've strengthened Syria and Iran. You've created a recruiting video for these jihadists around the world, with all this killing of innocents and destruction of territory.
And so I think it's up to American Jews to say to our Israeli brethren and our Israeli friend, this is not a good deal. This is a bad bargain. We understand that you had to do something, but the costs here do not -- the benefits here do not justify the cost.
KING: All right. Mort, why is he wrong?
ZUCKERMAN: Well, he's wrong because the fundamental fact is that if you allowed Hezbollah to continue to accumulate long-range missiles sometime in the next couple of years -- I mean, we've seen it, there were pauses in 1993 and 1996, Israel withdrew in the year 2000, sometime in the next few years you would see an attack on Israel that would render the state virtually unlivable and impossible to develop and grow and live a normal life.
All Israel wanted was peace. Now, you could argue what is the best way to do that, and I'm not saying that there isn't validity to some of the concerns about the costs, but Israel basically had no choice. The government would have fallen, 90 percent of the Israelis supported it because they knew what they were fighting for was their own home. They were fighting for their own existence. They did everything that everybody asked them to do. The U.N. sanctioned it. And what do they get? They get just a constant barrage of rocket attacks. So they had to defend themselves.
ALTERMAN: Well, sure, they had to defend themselves. But it sounds a lot, Mort, like the case for the war in Iraq. Years down the road there's going to be a problem. But right now you're creating a very significant problem that's going to make everything worse. What Israel needs for its security is a Palestinian peace partner.
This is making that harder and harder to get. Right now there's no partner in Palestine to negotiate a peace with. So Israel was trying to do it unilaterally. Fine. But the only real path to security for Israel is a genuine peace with the Palestinians. And this is pushing that day further and further off into the future and many, many deaths.
ZUCKERMAN: I don't disagree with a two-state solution. I don't disagree with the fact that Israel needs a peace partner. But what Israel's been getting from the Palestinians -- I mean, you had a prime minister here who comes into office after Israel withdrew from Gaza, withdrew from Lebanon, is prepared and announced that he was going to withdraw from -- 90 percent of the West Bank.
And what do they get? They get rocket attacks. They get kidnapping of hostages. They get missiles being launched. I mean, you're talking about a neighborhood here that doesn't work according to the way we would like our neighborhood to work.
ALTERMAN: But Mort, this is counterproductive. We're strengthening Syria, we're strengthening Iran, and Israel is strengthening Hezbollah. It's just like the American invasion of Iraq. It's helping our enemies.
ZUCKERMAN: I can't argue every issue with you, but I do not think that Hezbollah is stronger. The whole issue here is can you get the Lebanese government in a situation where there's a weakened Hezbollah to take over control of their own government and not threaten Israel? That's the issue that Israel was fighting for.
ALTERMAN: But the Lebanese government, which didn't like Hezbollah, has now embraced Hezbollah because that's the nature of what happens when you declare war, when you start destroying a country. They have to support the people who are being attacked.
KING: Gentlemen, what do you think happens now, Mort? What do you think will happen?
ZUCKERMAN: I think the critical thing is going to be the nature of the cease-fire. I hope there is a cease-fire, but I hope the cease-fire is sustainable in this sense, that it doesn't just declare a cease-fire like we had in 1993 and 1996, which turned out to be not worth the paper they were written on. It's got to be a cease-fire in which the Lebanese government takes over the Lebanese-Israel border and the Lebanese-Syrian border and makes it possible for Hezbollah to be marginalized and not to be reinforced through Syria as they have been over the last six years since Israel left.
If the Lebanese border can do that with the support of foreign forces, then I think we will be in for a period of relative quiet and everybody can rebuild their own countries. Both countries have suffered. And I think it is critical to eliminate that strategic threat to Israel's existence.
KING: Eric, what do you think will happen?
ALTERMAN: Well, I think you've given an enormous propaganda victory to Hezbollah and its allies Syria and Iran. And I think what Israel needs to do in the event of a cease-fire is to make some sort of grand gesture to counter that, to undo some of the damage that they've done to their own image and to the prospects for peace in the near and medium term.
KING: Could this get worse, Mort?
ZUCKERMAN: Yes, it certainly could get worse. If, for example, we get a cease-fire that's a meaningless cease-fire. I don't think anybody should have any doubt that what's going to happen from here on over the next several years is what's happened in the past.
Hezbollah will rebuild its forces. Hezbollah is a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran. It's determined to actually wipe Israel off the map. Nasrallah has stated publicly he's glad that the Jews have congregated in Israel because it will make it easier for him to kill them.
So what you are going to see, if that happens, and the Bush administration abandons its policy for a sustainable cease-fire here, then you will have another major disaster within a few years.
KING: Eric, what do you think will happen?
ALTERMAN: Well, capabilities and intentions are two different things. I mean, Mel Gibson might like to wipe Israel off the map, but he can't do it. The fact is Israel is a regional superpower. It is far stronger than any other power in the region.
It has -- now is the time when Israel can afford to be generous. I'm not saying they should be generous because I believe in love and peace. I'm saying that Israel's long-term interests are with a secure peace and now is the time to get it, when you're strong.
KING: Thank you both very much. Mort Zuckerman, the editor-in- chief of "U.S. News & World Report" and Eric Alterman, media columnist for the "Nation" magazine. We'll be back with our panel, her majesty Queen Noor, George Mitchell, and John Roberts. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with our panel, your majesty Queen Noor is in Washington. Do you think this push is the final push, the Israeli push, before a genuine cease-fire?
QUEEN NOOR: I don't know if this is the final push. But I do know that the humanitarian and political consequences will not end whenever this push ends. Those will be with us for a very, very long period of time.
This action, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, the loss of so many civilian lives, I think it's up to 500 by now, a third of those or more are children, the disproportionate use of force has only undermined what moderates in the region and empowered extremists in the region.
And unless there is a shock and awe commitment to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, the occupation of Arab lands, the refugees who since 1948, their descendants and those displaced in 1967 number about 4.9 million, the Gaza, yes, it's mentioned so often that the Israelis withdrew and don't understand why there have been these problems. Well, Gaza was left like a prison.
Air, sea, and ground blockades. And the prevention of any -- the development of any kind of economy. Absolute poverty there. And to the extent that 36 percent of young people in that community think that because they have no other horizons, no hope for the future, no options, feel that maybe becoming a suicide bomber at the age of 18 is the best option they've got.
QUEEN NOOR: That is how the seeds of violence and distrust and hate develop. Hezbollah, like Hamas, developed in response to Israeli occupation of Arab lands.
QUEEN NOOR: And that is where we must focus, and that is the reason that Israel is having so much trouble in the region. Focus on that and you drain away the support for militant extremes. People will focus on building a better future.
KING: George Mitchell, are they going to get a cease-fire?
MITCHELL: I think it's likely, Larry, in the next few days, certainly those are the signals coming from both Washington and Jerusalem, and your own reporters in the field assuming things remain approximately where they are now.
The immediate effect will be that Hamas will have been significantly weakened militarily but paradoxically strengthened politically. Certainly the reporting from all over the Middle East suggests that they'll be politically strengthened.
And the question is whether the cease-fire will include a practical and effective mechanism to implement Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah. That'll be the crucial question in the next stage.
And oftentimes, Larry, immediate impressions don't last. They can harden into reality, but that can change. I think right away, though, the immediate effect will be a much weaker militarily Hezbollah but probably stronger politically.
KING: Is Queen Noor's point correct, that the overriding problem is still the Arab-Israeli conflict?
MITCHELL: Yes, it is, Larry. I've said that many times, including on this show several times in the past couple of weeks. That remains the central concern of people in the region and really throughout the Muslim world. Remember, one out of five persons on earth is Muslim. One out of five Muslims is Arab. Both will grow in the future as they have very high birth rates. That's the central concern and it really -- now we're seeing the unfortunate fruits of the administration's single-minded focus on Iraq and not on the central concern in the region.
But I have to end by saying, Larry, I do not believe it's hopeless. I do not believe it cannot be resolved. In fact, out of tragedy can come progress, and there is another moment of opportunity now when this is brought to a close to move it toward a sensible, reasonable discussion to achieve the two-state solution that both sides still say they want.
KING: John Roberts in northern Israel. The debate we just heard between Mort Zuckerman and Eric Alterman, is that going on in Israel? Are people there debating, did we go too far, should we go further?
ROBERTS: Absolutely, Larry. But the ones who are the most vocal are the hard-liners who say that the Israeli Defense Forces and the Israeli political leadership did not go far enough quickly enough. A real concern here that the ramp-up in the operations on the ground were too slow, they didn't go in there with enough forces, and that's why they got bogged down in places like Bint Jbeil.
But when you look at the overall context of this conflict, and this is also what a lot of hard-liners are concerned about, the challenge for Israel is much greater than it is for Hezbollah. Israel has to degrade Hezbollah's capabilities so that it no longer is able to fire those Katyusha rockets into Israel. Hezbollah still, even after flying those rockets every day, sometimes to the number of 150 or more, still is estimated to have 9,000 rockets left. So Israel has to go in there and really degrade Hezbollah's ability to function as a militia.
All Hezbollah has to do after this is all over, when a cease-fire is declared in the hostilities, Hassan Nasrallah has to walk out of his bunker and say, I'm still here, and in some way he wins. So it's very challenging for the Israelis, Larry, and I think that's why we're seeing this new initiative on the ground to try to gain as much territory, hold it for this international force to come in, and really kick Hezbollah out of south Lebanon. KING: And we'll take a break and be back with our remaining moments with our distinguished panel right after these words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Israel's 48-hour period of relative restraint is almost over. After nearly three weeks in cramped shelters, the young, the old, the infirm are desperate to go.
"Get us out of here," says this woman, "please get us out of here."
The first to reach the mainly Shiite village of Itaroun (ph), a group of journalists, who do what they can to help.
(on camera): The people in this town have been under bombardment for 20 days. The Red Cross hasn't made it here. The U.N. hasn't made it here.
(voice-over): Everyone is fleeing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: John Roberts, before you leave us, are they expecting a cease-fire soon?
ROBERTS: The emerging belief here, Larry, is five more days. Sunday, and then the guns may fall silent. But what really does a cease-fire mean? If Israel intends to hold on to the territory that it has captured in south Lebanon, and it looks like it would have to, because Hezbollah of course is not only a militia but a movement. And if Israel withdraws, doesn't hang on to those positions, it's easy for Hezbollah to reinfiltrate some of those areas that Israel has cleared them out of.
So it's likely that even though the guns may fall silent, Israeli forces will stay in for a number of weeks, if not a couple of months, until an international force can be, A, agreed to, and, B, brought in to take control.
KING: Thank you very much, John.
Your Majesty, are you more confident today than yesterday?
QUEEN NOOR: Oh, I'm an optimist by nature, like my husband. It's been tested sorely over these last years. I do believe that all hope is never lost. And as I have emphasized before, I think that it's vital that we recommit to resolving a just and comprehensive peace that will resolve and end occupation, that will deal with the refugees, that will resolve and end occupation, that will deal with the refugees, that will bring the parties together to listen to one another, to engage in a mutually respectful dialogue no matter what the histories, because there is an ugly history on all sides in this conflict. And to remember that 50 percent of the population in our region is under the age of 18, 70 percent under the age of 30. We must look to these generations, these coming generations. Israelis and Arabs and Americans must consider what Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein did. What are they leaving to the next generation? Are they going to leave this bankrupted approach and vicious cycle of violence, or are they going to try something new? And that means working together.
KING: Thank you so much. Your Majesty, Queen Noor, the widow of King Hussein of Jordan.
And George Mitchell, I want to ask you one question about Castro. Can peace break out here, George?
MITCHELL: You mean in Castro or...
KING: No, no, no, I'll get to Castro in a second. The Middle East. Can peace break out?
MITCHELL: Yes, it can. Yes, it can, Larry. I was just thinking as I heard some of the other comments. This is an ancient conflict. It's gone on for a long time. The British domination of Ireland lasted 800 years. Today, there is a free and vibrant Republic of Ireland. It has excellent relations with the United Kingdom. There remains the problem of Northern Ireland, still a serious issue, but one that hopefully -- where the war is over and progress will continue to be made.
So no matter how ancient the conflict, no matter how much hurt has been done, it can be ended and peace can break out.
KING: Now we have a minute left. If Raul Castro were to take over permanently in Cuba, would that advance the possibility of a relationship with the United States?
MITCHELL: I doubt it, Larry, because my expectation is that he would follow the same line as his brother.
He's 75. His brother is nearly 80, and it's not likely that he would embark on a radically different course in terms of the economic and foreign policies of Cuba. If he were to, that of course would make a big difference, but one of the essential requirements is an election, and I doubt he'd risk it. So I don't think that will be the case.
I do think that the end is near for communism in Cuba. It's a spectacular failure. It's been held together, I think, in large part by Fidel Castro's personality and charisma and leadership. But I think the end is near. I think that people there see what's happened. They obviously see what's going on nearby, and I think they want a better life, and they can't have it in that system.
KING: Thanks, George, as always.
MITCHELL: Thanks, Larry.
KING: George Mitchell.
That's another edition of "LARRY KING LIVE" as we stay on top of the scene nightly.
We now go back to northern Israel. Anderson Cooper is standing by. He will host "AC 360" for the next two hours -- Anderson.
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