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THE SITUATION ROOM

IDF: 215 Hezbollah Rockets Fired From Lebanon; Hospital Targeted in Raid Used as Hezbollah Base; Relief & Red Tape; John McCain Interview; Daniel Ayalon Interview; Israel Releases Video of IDF Raid in Baalbeck, Lebanon; More Violence Continues in Iraq; Tropical Storm Chris Could Turn into Hurricane

Aired August 2, 2006 - 17:00   ET

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


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

Happening now, it's midnight in the Middle East war zone. Hezbollah fires a record number of rockets into northern Israel and one reaches farther than ever before. New details on Israel's deepest strike yet.

Also coming up, thousands of Israeli troops try to grind down Hezbollah on the ground in southern Lebanon.

And a CNN exclusive. We're on board an Israeli warship blockading the coast of Lebanon. And we're on the scene as a relief ship reaches Lebanon with desperately-needed supplies.

And it's 1:00 a.m. in Baghdad, where Iraq's president now says his country's own forces can take over security by the end of this year. Can American troops count on that? I'll ask Senator John McCain. He's coming up this hour live in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

After three weeks of warfare, fresh signs today that the Middle East conflict is actually widening. Hezbollah launching 215 rockets into northern Israel. That's the most it's fired on a single day in this three-week war, and one actually fell in the West Bank, the deepest strike yet.

The Israel military released new details and new pictures from its overnight raid deep into northeastern Lebanon. The IDF says the hospital it raided in Baalbeck was used as a Hezbollah base. It says it killed 10 militants and brought five more back to Israel.

And as thousands of Israeli ground troops battle Hezbollah face to face in southern Lebanon, diplomats at the United Nations say the U.N. Security Council could take up a cease-fire resolution this week. They say the United States and France are working out differences over the terms. No resolution yet.

CNN's Brent Sadler is standing by in Beirut.

Let's go to northern Israel first. John Roberts is on the front lines for us once again tonight.

What's the latest, John?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon to you, Wolf.

Late tonight, the Israeli Defense Forces released video of that daring raid into Baalbeck in the northern part of the Bekaa Valley, very close to the Syrian border. It's night scope video, the commandos going in.

Here's what is shows.

According to Israeli Defense Forces, the people that you see on the ground are Hezbollah fighters scattering as those Black Hawk helicopters bristling with those special operations commandos are coming into that area. We also see video of Israeli troops on the ground as they prepare to go into a Hezbollah hospital which the Israeli army says is not a hospital so much as it is a base of operations for Hezbollah.

They went in, they killed a number of Hezbollah fighters, according to the Israeli army, about 10. They also managed to arrest five Hezbollah fighters, though Hezbollah says they weren't guerillas, those were civilians.

And they also say that they got a treasure trove of information. The Israeli military going through files, strategy, intelligence from Hezbollah. They say it was a very good operation. All of the Israeli forces returned, there were no injuries. And now they have what Israeli officials believe could be five bargaining chips for future negotiations between Israel and Hezbollah.

Of course Hezbollah still has those two Israeli soldiers that were kidnapped back on July 12th, holding them hostage. Now Israel has what it believes are some high-value Hezbollah midlevel leaders, perhaps even some upper-level leaders that they can use in future negotiations with Hezbollah.

We also got today some video exclusively from the Israeli Defense Forces of operations around the area of Maroun al-Ras. The video shows what the Israeli Defense Forces say is a missile launcher right next to a mosque, proof, the army says, that Hezbollah is using religious sites and other areas in the community to hide its missile launchers.

And they also provided for us video of them using what are called fuel bombs to clear an Israeli -- at least a Hezbollah outpost of suspected booby traps. They're going in, they're clearing out these areas, they're trying to hold the ground in preparation for that international stabilization force to come in.

Now, we should remind you, though, that stabilization force has not even been agreed to yet, but Israeli military and political leaders do believe that in the coming days the United Nations is going to say, time to wrap it up, we've got the framework for a cease-fire, we've got agreement on a stabilization force, now it's time to end the hostilities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John Roberts in northern Israel.

Thanks very much. We continue to hear that shelling going on behind you.

Let's head north to Beirut. Brent Sadler is on the scene for us to report on today's developments there -- Brent.

BRENT SADLER, CNN BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, that attack, that commando raid into Baalbeck really did stir up a hornets' nest. In response to what the Israelis have been saying, a Hezbollah M.P. here, Hash Hassan (ph), said that -- in firing back to what Ehud Olmert said, that Hezbollah was being destroyed, had almost been destroyed, "How come?" said this Hezbollah M.P. member of the Lebanese parliament. "How come Hezbollah can still fire a record number of those rockets, those Katyushas into northern Israel as we saw today?"

So quite clearly, Wolf, Hezbollah is being able to use its historic tactics of guerrilla-style warfare to the maximum, still being able to use the natural terrain, the cover of south Lebanon, and the knowledge of the terrain in south Lebanon to carry on with these rocket launchings.

There were more of those Katyushas fired from the southern port city of Tyre. Israeli jets picked up the trails of smoke and pretty quickly launched retaliatory strikes.

And there is concern among the Lebanese now, because there's been a sudden run in petrol here, because two-thirds rationing now effectively in place at the gas stations. A real concern among Lebanese that, even though diplomatic efforts are under way at the United Nations over the components, a mandate of an international stabilization force, Lebanese are now getting downwind of real serious concerns that this is going to be a longer war, rather than one that might be finishing any time soon.

One quick footnote, Wolf. I was down south near the border for a couple of days. I saw a tremendous amount of devastation.

If I flash back, you'll remember to 1982, when the Israeli Defense Forces invaded Lebanon to sweep out the PLO. Compare that destruction to the destruction today, there simply is no comparison.

Much of the south is being laid to waste by what the Israelis are doing to destroy Hezbollah, in terms of infrastructure, village setups, buildings, businesses, so on and so forth -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I remember those days well. I was in Beirut, together with you, back in '82.

Brent, thank you very much. And as the fighting rages on in southern Lebanon, civilians face an increasingly desperate plight. Relief supplies are slowly trickling into some of the hard-hit areas.

CNN's Karl Penhaul is in the port city of Tyre -- Karl.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that 48-hour lull in Israeli airstrikes does seem to have allowed many civilians to get out of those outlying villages and out to safety. But aid organizations say there is still a growing humanitarian crisis, and quite often the problem is getting aid to where it's most needed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PENHAUL (voice-over): A welcome sight for a war-torn city: 200 tons of international aid sails into Tyre harbor. The ship's hull is emblazoned with freshly painted Red Cross, the guarantee of safe passage past the Israeli warships blockading Lebanon's coast.

Today, it's bringing basic food supplies and cooking kits.

(on camera): It's taking (INAUDIBLE) freighter about eight hours to sail from Cyprus here to the port of Tyre. But now as they begin offloading some of this aid, it seems that thing are going to be far from straightforward.

(voice-over): At dock side, a Lebanese customs officer tells an international Red Cross worker he cannot unload 5,000 gallons of diesel needed to run water pumps in far-flung villages. Even in desperate times there's red tape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can take the decision upon the minister of energy.

PENHAUL: Before heading into the countryside with these supplies, aid officials must get a pledge from the warring parties not to attack their aid convoys.

ROLAND HUGUENIN, ICRC SPOKESMAN: We send maps with key positions of all of the villages we want to stop at. And we have this information passed on to the Lebanese side and to the Israeli side. And by the next morning we normally have either a green light or a red light.

PENHAUL: After a 24-hour lull, Israel resumed airstrikes Wednesday morning around Tyre in retaliation against Hezbollah launching more rockets from the city's outskirts.

For now it's too dangerous for the Doctors Without Borders charity to venture outside Tyre, so they're distributing washing kits, along with diapers and powdered baby milk to around 400 refugees at this school in town.

Relief worker Hakim Khaldi says the risks are keeping many other aid organizations away. HAKIM KHALDI, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: It's quite difficult because there is not so many international organizations, but mainly we found local organizations, many Lebanese organizations who have been doing a very, very huge job.

PENHAUL: Many of the refugees are impatient after three weeks of Israeli air and artillery bombardment.

This man tries to fight one aid worker as he grows frustrated with the long wait. Others drag him out of punching range.

Back at the port, dockers work fast to unload the (INAUDIBLE). The crew wants to up anchors by late afternoon. They feel they've already spent long enough in harm's way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PENHAUL: More aid ships are scheduled to be sailing into the port of Tyre in the coming days. But as the International Red Cross itself says, it will still be a question of getting safe passage from the warring parties to ensure the aid gets to those border villages -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Karl Penhaul reporting.

Thank you.

Let's go up to New York and Jack Cafferty -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf.

Well, somebody has finally worked up the nerve to say it out loud. We have a constitutional crisis in this country. So says Congressman John Conyers of Michigan.

He's the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. And in an upcoming report, he describes what he calls an alarming pattern by the Bush administration of operating outside the law and with no meaningful oversight by Congress.

Conyers says the Bush administration may have broken a total of 26 separate laws and regulations, including misleading Congress and the American people about the decision to go to war in Iraq; manipulating intelligence about the justification for the war; encouraging torture and degrading treatment of prisoners in Iraq; allowing inappropriate retaliation against critics; and approving unlawful domestic surveillance.

Conyers says these things have happened because a Republican- controlled Congress has refused to do its job of providing oversight and conducting formal investigation into this stuff, thus allowing an unchecked abuse of power on the part of the White House.

We called the White House for a response to all of this, but instead of addressing any of the questions that are raised by Congressman Conyers, we were told to call the Republican National Committee.

Here is the question: A top House Democrat says the Constitution is in crisis. Do you agree?

E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty in New York.

Thank you very much.

And there's a new development happening right now involving the actor-director Mel Gibson and his arrest in recent days for drunk driving.

Let's bring in Zain. She's got details -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, CNN's confirmed that prosecutors have charged actor Mel Gibson with a misdemeanor drunken driving charge, having an elevated blood alcohol level, as well as having an open container of liquor in his car.

As you know, he was stopped around 2:00 in the morning on Friday on Pacific Coast Highway after a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy allegedly observed him driving his Lexus at something like more than 85 miles an hour. There was apparently an open bottle of tequila allegedly found in his car.

As well, he was accused, as you know, of making anti-Semitic comments. Since then, he has apologized, has said that he never believes any of the things that he said. And there are also -- he has also issued a report that he will be in rehab soon.

But Wolf, this is the latest development. Prosecutors now charging him with a misdemeanor.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you. We'll continue to watch this story.

Up ahead, our exclusive look at Israel's naval blockade of Lebanon. We're going to take you on board an Israeli warship that's in charge of this operation and show you how it's monitoring the waters off the coast of Lebanon.

Also, we'll talk about the Middle East crisis and the war of Iraq with Senator John McCain. He's standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, Iraq's president predicting when his forces might be able to take over security from American troops. Is he being too optimistic? We'll get reaction from the Pentagon.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): This is the INS Lahav, flagship of the Israeli navy, enforcing a sea blockade off Lebanon. These are international waters, but here Israel decides who comes and who goes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Motor vessel Zahirvi (ph), motor vessel Zahirvi, Israel Navy warship going to channel 16 -- over.

VAUSE: All ships like this Liberian freighter are intercepted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Israeli Navy warship, good afternoon, sir. We'd like to ask you a few questions -- over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

VAUSE: The Israelis want to know its destination, captain and cargo.

JUNIOR LIEUTENANT YONATAN, ISRAELI NAVY: If any merchant vessel will attempt to break it, then, yes, we will have the authority to stop it.

VAUSE: The freighter is cleared, allowed to resume course. And that is how it's been out here for three weeks. No ships have been boarded. Warning shots only fired once.

A flotilla of missile and smaller patrol boats enforce this maritime checkpoint. And from the air, surveillance helicopters send back real-time information, including video, to the command and control center, a darkened room on a lower deck in the Lahav. Because of Israeli wartime censorship, it's not allowed to show the information on the computer screens. But the Israeli Navy says this technology gives them a detailed picture up and down Lebanon's coast and far beyond.

(on camera): Israel says its naval blockade serves two purposes: to stop weapons, especially missiles, coming from Iran and Syria from reaching Hezbollah, and also to prevent the two kidnapped soldiers from being smuggled out of Lebanon.

(voice-over): The Lahav is heavily armed with harpoon missiles, anti-aircraft defenses and torpedoes, a (INAUDIBLE) ship slightly smaller than a frigate and sister ship of the Hanit, which was hit by an Iranian-made Hezbollah missile in the first few days of this conflict, an attack which Israel's navy says took them totally by surprised.

JUNIOR LIEUTENANT ZVIEL, ISRAELI NAVY: We weren't prepared then because we didn't know we have the missile. In the moment we knew, in the moment we heard that the Hanit was hit by a missile, we turned all our defense systems on. And from that moment on, the ship is totally defense.

VAUSE: Most commercial shipping now avoid these dangerous waters, especially after a Cambodian freighter was also hit and sunk by a Hezbollah missile, leaving Lebanon even further isolated and under siege.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: And Wolf, the Israeli Navy says for the most part its key blockade has been observed (ph) by international shipping vessels which are now, for the most part, avoiding this area of the Mediterranean. Once in the last two-and-a-half weeks warning shots were fired, but they say for now most vessels are steering clear of waters around Lebanon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John Vause reporting, doing an excellent job for us.

Thank you, John, very much.

And coming up, why is it so tough to find a diplomatic solution to the current Middle East crisis? Our John King is joining us now with the obstacles the U.S. is facing.

Plus, Senator John McCain standing by live to join us from Capitol Hill on the Middle East crisis and the war in Iraq.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Efforts to end the fighting in the Middle East are picking up over at the Untied Nations, where diplomats say the Security Council could consider a resolution this week. But for the United States, the diplomacy has been extremely difficult.

Joining us now, are chief national correspondent, John King -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For starters, Wolf, diplomacy is difficult because the issues are difficult. Right now, intensive negotiations over what would the mandate be of this international force, could it engage in fights with Hezbollah, that's an immediate issue. But many think it's all the more complicated because of longer-term issues, including the perception, especially among the Arab nations, that this administration hasn't cared about their problems and is biased against them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELLEN LAIPSON, STIMSON CENTER: One of the structural problems of getting to an ending that pleases all of the parties here is that U.S. creditability and U.S. stature in the region is despairingly low.

KING (voice-over): Then an image that the United Nations is inflexible, even pushy. Critics of Ambassador John Bolton complain he's not interested in the personal relationship that are often the grease of diplomatic compromise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, it looks like as if his tactics, in fact, have backfired and isolated the U.S.

KING: Results are what matters most. And administration officials say critics ignore the facts.

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: We've been making progress on that here in New York and in exchanges between capitals, and I think that's really significant.

KING: But meeting Secretary of State Rice's goal of passing a U.N. cease-fire plan this week appears in jeopardy. And her work and her words are increasingly under fire.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: What we're seeing here, in a sense, is the growing -- the birth pangs of a new Middle East.

KING: That line was ridiculed across the Arab world and drew this rare rebuke from Saudi Arabia's foreign minister.

SAUD AL FAISAL, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We want to go back to the old Middle East. The only thing we see from this new Middle East is more problems and more disasters.

KING: Mr. Bush is, as the White House often notes, the first U.S. president to explicitly call for an independent Palestinian state. But critics say he lost interest when early efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process went nowhere and is now consumed by Iraq.

SANDY BERGER, CLINTON NATIONAL SEC. ADVISER: The problem is, there hasn't been a great deal of groundwork laid. I mean, this administration doesn't really have the architecture for engagement in the Middle East.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: So many tough issues immediately. And many think even if they resolve this, Wolf -- and again, it looks like they're on track at the United Nations for a resolution -- negotiations with France are tough. But people are reporting some progress.

Probably not by the end of the week. Probably early next week. But even then, many say there will still be a hangover, this domino effect, if you will, Hezbollah winning, if you will, the war of perceptions in the Middle East right now, especially in the Arab world, that will complicate U.S. policy well beyond this.

BLITZER: It could have severe ramifications for U.S. policy throughout the region. We'll continue to watch with you, John.

Thanks very much.

And coming up, dramatic images take us inside a region at war. Coming up, Israeli Defense Forces videotape of that raid on a hospital deep inside Lebanon. We're going to show you the pictures.

Plus, could Iraqi forces take over security by the end of this year? Details on what may be a very optimistic prediction.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting.

Let's get some more now on the crisis in the Middle East.

There's compelling new video out from the Israeli Defense Forces showing some of the operation in the Lebanese town of Baalbeck, along the border with Syria.

CNN's Zain Verjee joining us once again to show us the tape -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, as we've been reporting, the IDF raided a hospital in Baalbeck that it says was a Hezbollah headquarters. The operation was recorded by the IDF and video released at a news conference today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): A bold Israeli raid deep inside Lebanon, the town of Baalbeck, some 70 miles north of the border, a Hezbollah stronghold, according to the Israeli Defense Forces, with this hospital operating as the group's logistical base. An Israeli general provided play-by-play commentary as the IDF released video of the operation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): As the terrorists are firing here, this is their headquarters, the entrance to the hospital. You can see these vehicles coming to provide the troops with supplies.

VERJEE (voice-over): Once inside the hospital which both sides say was empty of patients, Israeli commanders and Special Forces conducted a thorough search, probing file cabinets inside a hospital office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): And here we are inside the headquarters and we found various ammunitions, weapons, within the office, within the hospital, with inside drawers.

VERJEE: Israel says the mission was carried out under fire, but reports no idea of casualties. It says 10 Hezbollah militants were killed and five captured in a precision operation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Then we have the fighters leaving exactly on time, leaving the objective. You can see the planned departure now, leaving the various targets, going to the helicopters, all exactly as planned.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Israel isn't identifying those five captured in the raid. Hezbollah says that they were civilians and not militants. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Zain Verjee reporting. Thank you, Zain. And coming up this hour, the Israeli offensive against Hezbollah, the rocket attacks on Israel, the efforts and the fighting. I'll speak with Israel's ambassador to the United States Daniel Ayalon this hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's move on now to the other war. That would be the new violence in Iraq that's happening today, including two more bombs exploding in a Baghdad soccer stadium where a group of young people were playing in front of spectators. Iraqi police report 12 people killed, including seven children, 14 people injured. And despite the surge in violence, Iraq's president is now setting a goal for the country's security forces to take nationwide control. Our pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joining us now live with details. Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf despite Talabani statements, despite the violence in Iraq, the Secretary of Defense says it's still not a civil war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): The aftermath of another bomb blast in Baghdad. On the very day Iraq's president said he hoped his forces could secure the country within months.

JALAL TALABANI, PRESIDENT OF IRAQ (through translator): Hopefully the Iraqi armed forces will at the end of the year will take over the security in all the Iraqi provinces, little by little, gradually. And hopefully we'll be in a first position to do that.

STARR: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared to distance himself from Talabani's optimism.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: He's the president of Iraq and he can make his statements and I didn't see the context of it or the translation of it and I can't comment beyond what our policy is.

STARR: The U.N. estimates 100 Iraqi civilians die each day in sectarian violence. The Defense Secretary said it's still not what he calls a classic civil war.

RUMSFELD: Is it a high level of sectarian violence? Yes, it is. And are people being killed? Yes. And is it unfortunate? Yes. And is the government doing basically the right things? I think so.

STARR: Rumsfeld appeared subdued even as he described how Shia and Sunnis are fleeing in the face of violence.

RUMSFELD: There are a couple of other things that are -- how would you characterize it, things you wish weren't happening.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Wolf there's another political wrinkle emerging here tonight. The secretary will not appear tomorrow at a public hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee that's been called to discuss the latest developments on the war in Iraq. He will appear only behind closed doors before members of congress tomorrow. No public questioning of him.

And some committee members are very disturbed about all of that because they point out it's been since February that the secretary has appeared before the armed services committee in an open hearing. But still he will send some of his top generals tomorrow, he won't be there. Wolf?

BLITZER: I'll ask Senator McCain, he's coming up next, how he feels about that decision by the secretary of defense. Thanks very much Barbara Starr for that. And as I said Senator John McCain, he's standing by to join us live from Capitol Hill. We'll talk about Iraq, we'll talk about the crisis in the Middle East. The war between Israel and Hezbollah and more. That's coming up.

Also more on that exclusive video from the Israel Defense Forces on that raid on a Lebanese hospital. I'll speak about it with the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon. And a storm brewing in the Caribbean right now, that would be tropical storm Chris, threatening several islands. Will it become the first hurricane of the season? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And joining us now to talk about the war in the Middle East, the war in Iraq, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. He's a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in. Do you think there should be an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think there should be an immediate cease-fire at the moment when Hezbollah has been, at least to a large degree, neutralized and there is an international force that will be moving in to ensure that Hezbollah doesn't continue its attacks on the state of Israel, and a process starts moving forward where the Lebanese government can gain control of its own country.

BLITZER: Is that really doable, to see an international force, largely European presumably, go in -- 15,000, 20,000 troops -- work with the Lebanese army and actually disarm Hezbollah and make sure those rockets aren't fired on northern Israel?

MCCAIN: Well, I think that Hezbollah probably has to be, by force of arms, reduced in their capabilities. But if you get a fairly robust military in there -- and I understand there are a number of nations that have already said that they would be part of it -- then I think that it can work.

But to just have the status quo, where if the international force leaves or doesn't come and Hezbollah is capable of continuing its attacks on Israel, then I don't see what progress you've made, in all due respect, to those who want an immediate cease-fire in place.

BLITZER: If the Israelis tell the United States they need another few weeks -- two, three, four weeks -- to get the job done, should the Bush administration, in your opinion, let the Israelis do that?

MCCAIN: I don't know, because I don't know what you would mean by two or three or four weeks, because I haven't gotten enough of a status on the battlefield. But the principle that Hezbollah cannot be allowed to be in a situation where, over time, they can resume their attacks at their own will is not an acceptable situation.

BLITZER: Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican of Nebraska, a man you know quite well, he caused a little stir earlier in the week by saying this fighting must stop and it must stop right now. Listen to this little excerpt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (D-NE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: The sickening slaughter on both sides, Mr. President, must end, and it must end now. President Bush must call for an immediate cease-fire. This madness must stop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As you know, President Bush and Secretary Rice, they're refusing to call for an immediate cease-fire. Who is right? Who is wrong?

MCCAIN: Well, look, there's no man I admire and respect more in the world than Chuck Hagel. We have deep bonds of friendship. I just feel that to restore the status quo, where Hezbollah has thousands of rockets, their announced goal of the extinction of the state of Israel, is not a workable situation.

I mean, if we in the United States were attacked from across our southern border, our northern border, and those people came and killed our soldiers and kidnapped others, I'm not sure the American people would be supportive of an immediate cease-fire. They would, obviously, want us to carry out our nation's highest priority, which is to preserve our nation's security. I respect the views articulated by my dear friend from Nebraska, I just have a disagreement on this one.

BLITZER: Another man you know, Senator Biden, among other Democrats, say that while they support what the president is doing right now, they think he should have been more proactive in recent years in dealing with the Middle East, dealing with the Israeli-Arab crisis, if you will, the conflict. Are you among those that believe that more could have been done in the years leading up to this?

MCCAIN: Oh, I don't think so. I know that other efforts were made in previous administrations, both Republican and Democrat. And as long as Yasser Arafat rejected the best deal that he possibly could have gotten from anyone, and then we have Hamas elected who, again, are dedicated to the extinction of its neighbor and are given to terrorist acts, then I'm not sure.

Look, I'm sure in hindsight, there's better things that every administration since 1948 or '47 could have done, but right now we have a situation where, I think, the administration is probably doing the right thing. And for me to somehow criticize what happened in the last few years, I don't think that's right.

BLITZER: Let's move on to the war in Iraq. Over these past three weeks, many more people died in Iraq than have died in Israel and Lebanon. Today, the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, said this. He said, "God willing, the Iraqi armed forces will, at the end of the year, take over all of the security in all of the Iraqi provinces, little by little." Is that an overly optimistic assessment on his part?

MCCAIN: I think it's probably a bit overly optimistic, particularly since a battle is now being waged in Baghdad and it is clear that things are not under control. That's why we're having to send in additional troops into Baghdad. I hope that he's right, and I pray every night that he's right. I'm just not sure that he is.

BLITZER: All of a sudden, the war in Iraq is going to become a lot more personal for you and your family, Senator McCain. We just got word your 18-year-old son has decided to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, and almost certainly if he gets through boot camp and all of that, you know where he might wind up. How do you feel about that?

MCCAIN: Well, I don't believe that my son would be any different and I hope not treated any differently than the thousands of sons of mothers and fathers all over America. And I know they're proud and I know they're concerned.

BLITZER: And you must be very proud of your son?

MCCAIN: Well I'm very proud of everyone's son who is serving.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, as usual, thanks very much for spending a few moments with us.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good luck to your son and good luck to all the men and women in the United States Armed Forces. Appreciate it very much.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: And up ahead, the latest on tropical storm Chris. Will it become the first major hurricane of the year? And in our 7:00 p.m. eastern hour, many people are struggling with how to deal with that triple digit heat. But others are struggling with how to describe it. Jeanne Moos will take a closer look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A record number of rockets rained down on Israel today. Israeli troops pushed deeper into Lebanon and battle Hezbollah forces on the ground. Despite some stepped up international efforts to end the fighting, the war seems to actually be widening right now. Last hour we heard from Lebanon's top diplomat here in Washington.

Joining us now is the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon. Mr. Ambassador thanks for coming in.

DANIEL AYALON, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Good to be here.

BLITZER: How do you explain the fact that on Monday very few Hezbollah rockets came in, maybe three on Tuesday, maybe a dozen. Today a record, 215 and one of them the furthest south actually hitting ironically in the West Bank. What's going on?

AYALON: Well there is no good explanation, obviously we're in a war. But you have to take note of the fact that these are the short range and these are the rockets which can be shot from a house, from a bush, by one or two individuals. So this is really a terrorist war which is very, very difficult. But, we are trying to be very careful not to hit them when they are near civilians.

We have taken most if not all of their long-range capabilities and the medium range capabilities. So what they're really throwing out now is what is left, which is the short range. And of course this is also not a solace for us, this is why we have to continue until we stabilize the situation and until we degrade the Hezbollah to a point where they will not be threatening us, the Lebanese or anybody else in the region.

BLITZER: But as you know, unfortunately, some civilians have been killed in Lebanon as a result of the Israeli air strikes. I want you to look at some satellite photography, reconnaissance photography that's just coming in. You can see it up here on this monitor. We'll show it to our viewers right now. Take a look at this before and after imagery, this picture right now is the before and I take it that's the after.

I want to see if we can get those two pictures side by side, because in some of the areas in south Beirut, and these are pictures of south Beirut, you see the before picture and then you see the after picture. And it's -- this is the before picture. You can see it right now.

Then I'm going to zoom out to the after and you can see some of the major destruction there. And what the critics of Israel are saying is that, you're simply bombing Beirut, you're simply bombing civilian areas, in the process killing civilians.

AYALON: Well this is not correct. If you have noticed, we have not been bombing Beirut for a few days now. After we had successes over the -- what is called the Forbidden City, the Hezbollah city in Beirut, where nobody could get in, not even government official of Lebanon. So we took care of this. Now the Hezbollah is denied of their headquarters, command and control centers, communication rooms and also some ammo depots they had in Beirut.

But we have not been bombing Beirut lately. Of course if there is a high value target there I think it's our role to do it. But we're being very careful not to hit civilians. Every civilian which gets killed of course on both sides of the border, we regret. And this is the difference in the war. We are targeting the terrorists. BLITZER: Yesterday we heard from Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, saying she thinks that within days, there can be a cease- fire, a U.N. Security Council resolution. That the process for an international peace-keeping force to move into Lebanon. Israeli officials including the Vice Premier Shimon Peres suggesting you still need weeks to get the job done. How much time do you need?

AYALON: Well it's very hard to define it in terms of a specific time, in days or weeks. I would say that it is according to the result and the progress on the ground. But here is the catch. They are targeting only civilians and civilians only with an indiscriminate weapons. And what we target is only the Hezbollah terrorists which happens to hide among civilians all of the time.

BLITZER: You need two, three weeks, four weeks, a month, what do you need realistically?

AYALON: Realistically I think its more days than weeks.

BLITZER: When you say days. A week? Do you think that there can be a U.N. Security Council resolution in the coming days?

AYALON: Well we hope so. We hope that the resolution will come together that will really reiterate and enforce the previous resolutions of the U.N., namely disarming the Hezbollah and giving Lebanon back to the Lebanese.

BLITZER: Who did you bring back to Israel from that raid yesterday -- that commander raid on that hospital in Baalbeck in north eastern Lebanon?

AYALON: There were some few Hezbollah terrorists which we have in our hands now.

BLITZER: And are they big shots, little shots, are they rank and file or are they leaders?

AYALON: Medium shots.

BLITZER: Can you give us any more details on that?

AYALON: Not right now.

BLITZER: But you still haven't found the leader of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah?

AYALON: No.

BLITZER: You're looking for him.

AYALON: We are certainly and I think that the fate of Nasrallah should not be different than Bin Laden. That justice will be brought to him and it should be on the hide until we find him just as Bin Laden is.

BLITZER: How worried are you that there could be a miscalculation in Syria and its military could be drawn into this war?

AYALON: Well not very much. I don't think it's within the Syrian interest to do it. And I think that the operations will be contained to Lebanon and Lebanon only.

BLITZER: Are you and the Bush administration, the Israeli government, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the president and secretary of state, basically on the same page? Are any differences emerging that you want to talk about?

AYALON: We're absolutely on the same page and we very much appreciate the great solidarity and support from the administration, from the president, from the Secretary Rice and from the American people, we see it in Congress, we see it among every walks of life in America.

We are fighting not just for us, not just for Lebanon, but we are fighting there on the front trenches on the war of terrorism. And this is where we have to draw the line in the sand and to stop the push of Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran and Syria as they are trying to do us harm, we will prevail.

BLITZER: Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador here in Washington, thanks for coming in.

AYALON: Thank you.

BLITZER: And Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour, he's going to give us a little preview. Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf thank you. Coming up at the top of the hour, we'll have the very latest on the escalating war between Israel and Hezbollah, reports from Israel and Lebanon. Despite Israeli claims of inflicting significant damage on Hezbollah's supply of rockets, Hezbollah has fired a record number of those rockets at Israel today and fired them deeper into Israel than ever before. We'll be live with reports tonight on those issues.

And tonight two more Americans have died in Iraq. The Iraqi president now says his troops will be taking over the security of that war-torn nation by the end of this year. We'll have the latest for you from Baghdad and Washington.

And Congress, in point of fact, will work fewer than 80 days this year. Imagine that, three of the country's top political analysts join me to assess what they have accomplished, what they have not and what we can expect from this administration and congress in the months ahead. We hope you'll be with us for all of that and a great deal more at the top of the hour here on CNN. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou, thank you.

And hurricane watches are now up in parts of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands as tropical storm Chris heads into warmer water. Florida forecasters say it's time for residents to start paying attention to Chris and to review their hurricane plans. For a bit more on tropical storm Chris, let's bring in our internet reporter Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the latest report from the National Hurricane Center says that tropical storm Chris is actually slightly weaker at 60 miles per hour but it does have the potential to strengthen over the next 24 hours.

CNN's new I-Report, where people can send in their own photos, is actually yielding this incredible photo of tropical storm Chris, this was taken by a guy named Gary Felton in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And what you're looking at is the edge, the leading edge of that storm, this as taken facing east early this morning.

Now also from the National Hurricane Center you can see the prediction that will have it this storm at hurricane wind speeds at 2:00 p.m. on Monday off the west coast of Florida. You can also go online to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for satellite loops. All of this information of course Wolf available on your computer.

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you. And Jack Cafferty will be back with your email in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. Jack?

CAFFERTY: The ranking democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, says the Constitution in this country is in crisis. We asked if you agreed with that statement. Here's some of what you've written.

Zita in Portland, Oregon: "Representative Conyers is spot on. As President Bush promotes bombing the Middle East to convince them of the advantages of constitutional democracy, our own constitution lies in tatters. Spying on Americans, detaining Americans without due process, an executive office acting unilaterally bypassing the Congress and many laws. I no longer recognize my country. This is the destruction of America that Bin Laden could never have accomplished."

Kevin in Missouri writes, "The president openly violates the Constitution's 4th Amendment. Congress worries about gay marriage and flag burning, the Supreme Court sits on its fat backside and does nothing. Yes, I think there is a constitutional crisis."

Jane in Georgetown, Texas, "Absolutely I agree, the crisis didn't just break out, it sneaked up on us. The Bush administration has chipped away at the three level equal branches of government and the rights of the people so insidiously that most of us don't even realize what's happened. But the Constitution is not working as it is supposed to or as it has in the past."

Jerry writes, "Jack you're a smart person, please don't act like this is a real story, there is no crisis, this is pure politics. The real crisis is the Congressmen and women who think that we can sit and hold hands with Muslims and North Korea and illegal immigrants and everything will be ok. Congress should be worried about protecting our country, not getting reelected."

And Jim writes, "I'm very happy to hear your question. If you're still on the air tomorrow, perhaps the tide is turning. The extreme violation of rights and protections in this country has gone beyond crisis to the point where Armageddon almost sounds like an improvement."

If you didn't see your email here, go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, we post more of these online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And a lot of people like to look at the other email as well. Jack thank you very much. See you back here in one hour, we're in THE SITUATION ROOM, weekday afternoons 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. eastern, for another hour 7:00 p.m. eastern. Much more on the crisis in the Middle East. In the meantime, let's go to Lou in New York. Lou?

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