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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Hezbollah Leader Threatens Tel Aviv; Iraq Heading Towards Civil War?; Interview With Michigan Senator Carl Levin
Aired August 3, 2006 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you all for joining us tonight. Glad to have you with us.
Tonight's "Top Story": new explosions across Beirut, and threats of a wider and bloodier conflict in the Middle East.
Our in-depth coverage starts with the latest "War Bulletins." As we speak, it is 3:00 a.m. in Beirut. And Israel is once again targeting the city. At least four explosions have gone off. Tonight's attacks may trigger something that hasn't happened before. Just hours ago, Hezbollah's leader was on TV, threatening that, if Israel hits central Beirut, Hezbollah will attack Tel Aviv.
At least 200 Hezbollah rockets hit northern Israel today, killing eight civilians. It is the deadliest day of the war for the Israelis. Four of its soldiers died as well, as fighting continues throughout southern Lebanon.
Despite the bloodshed and threats, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has just told our own Larry King that she is hoping for an U.N. resolution to stop the fighting -- quote -- "within days."
We have live reports coming in from Haifa, the Lebanese-Israeli border, and Beirut.
We start off in Beirut right now, where explosions have been rocking the southern part of the city once again tonight.
Michael Ware is there and joins me now, just about the same time last night it happened there as well.
What do we know about these latest explosions?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, as I'm speaking to you, Israeli jet fighters are circling overhead. We can hear the dull roar of their engines as I speak.
What we had about two hours ago here in Beirut was four explosions, airstrikes by the Israeli air defense -- air -- air force. What they were hitting was unknown targets in southern Beirut in the traditional strongholds of Hezbollah.
We had an Israeli leaflet drop earlier this afternoon, warning residents in certain areas within these suburbs to evacuate, an ominous sign of things to come. Could this be what is laying ahead?
WARE (voice-over): As a wave of Israeli bombing brought the sounds of war back to Beirut, Hezbollah did not let it go unanswered.
HASSAN NASRALLAH, HEZBOLLAH LEADER (through translator): If you hit our capital, we will hit your -- the capital of yours -- of your entity. If you hit Beirut, the Islamic resistance will hit Tel Aviv, and is able to do that, with God's help.
WARE: That threat came on a day of frightening escalation in the war, with battles raging in southern Lebanon, as Israel threw 10,000 troops into the attack, pressing deeper onto Lebanese soil over a wider front, maintaining a grip on one border village and striking out to 20 more.
Despite the intensity of the fighting, Hezbollah gave no sign of withering -- a spokesman warning, not one Israeli soldier could be left in Lebanon under any cease-fire.
As if to make their point, the guerrillas' batteries launched more than 200 rockets across the border, a reminder to Israel they can still inflict casualties.
Lebanon is also paying a high price. And, in most of the country, life has been completely disrupted. Gas lines continue to grow. And some medicines remain scarce. The prime minister says, a quarter of his nation's three-million-plus population are displaced, and the war is turning his government to ruins.
FUAD SINIORA, PRIME MINISTER OF LEBANON: It is taking an enormous toll on human life and infrastructure, and has totally ravaged our country and shattered our economy.
WARE: That economy remains threatened -- the Israelis refusing to let much-needed fuel tankers pass through their naval blockade and contemplating the expansion of airstrikes.
In the wake of Nasrallah's statement, the Israelis immediately countered: Should rockets fall on Tel Aviv, they will target even more of Lebanon's infrastructure -- an exchange of threats that could take this war down a much more ominous turn.
ZAHN: Michael, at the top of your report, you talked about the leaflets the Israelis were dropping to warn civilians in Beirut that the campaign was expanding. Is there any evidence they have heeded those warnings and tried to get out?
WARE: Well, no. It's difficult to say.
The leaflets were only dropped shortly before dusk. And, as night fell, clearly, travel to these areas is extremely difficult. Already, the bulk of the civilian population in these areas has evacuated, some through choice, some because their homes were simply destroyed. However, I ventured down there earlier in the afternoon, and there was still clearly a Hezbollah security presence -- Paula.
ZAHN: Michael Ware, we will come back to you as you get more information on this latest round of explosions. Thanks so much.
And now we move on to the Israeli-Lebanese border, where Israel's growing ground offensive is being staged. That's where we find John Roberts, who joins us live.
John, you probably heard the news the secretary of state confirmed to Larry King, that she expects some sort of cease-fire to be agreed to within days.
What is it the -- the Israelis are trying to accomplish before that actually is enacted?
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What they're trying to do is degrade Hezbollah's capability, as much as they can in that time.
Paula, it is quieter tonight than it was last night, when we had a fierce artillery barrage on a ridgeline just over my left shoulder. We did see some fighting there earlier tonight. It looked like more close-quarters fighting, with those mortars being fired from -- or at -- at least rifle-fired grenades from the M-16 rifles.
And, as well, we heard some automatic gunfire rolling up through the valley. From the tip of the Galilee Peninsula, where we are, south and westward, all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, it was a day of intense fighting. It was Israel's worst day of the war, in terms of casualties, four Israeli soldiers killed today, two in action toward the Mediterranean. One later died of his wounds.
And, just a little bit to the west of where I am here, in the town of Taiba, another soldier was killed when his armored personnel carrier was hit by an anti-tank rocket.
The rest of the 12 people who died today were killed as those rockets continued to rain down on northern Israel.
ROBERTS (voice-over): Israel's defense minister has ordered the army to prepare for a major ground operation, a temporary land grab, to take territory more than 10 miles up to Lebanon's Litani River.
Tanks, troops and armor are streaming toward and across the border, a visible ramp-up in just the past 24 hours.
At the same time, the Israeli big guns shoot shell after shell into southern Lebanon, softening up Hezbollah positions, in advance of the ground attack.
(on camera): We are seeing a lot more artillery batteries these days. And we're seeing them much closer to the front as well, all along the Israel-Lebanon border. It's not just regular army units, like this one behind me. There are far more reserves that have been brought up to join the fight as well, firing those massive .155- millimeter howitzers, in support of Israeli ground forces just on the other side.
(voice-over): The Israeli army today released video of reserve units training up for battle. The call-up would dramatically increase the number of Israeli forces and boots on the ground, says General Benny Gantz.
MAJOR GENERAL BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: We can much more than double it and more. So...
ROBERTS (on camera): Double the size of the army in just a few days?
GANTZ: Yes. It's -- we have the resources. It's just a matter of needs and decisions.
ROBERTS: Just a few yards from the border, an Israeli reconnaissance team scouts targets on a nearby Lebanese hilltop. There is a Hezbollah bunker up there, they say. And they are watching for targets on the ground to expose themselves to Israeli weapons.
Israel's strategy is to take out as many of those Hezbollah positions as quickly as possible, sweep deep into southern Lebanon, and control a huge buffer zone, until international troops can arrive.
But the fighting is vicious, and Israel has taken many casualties.
BRIGADIER GENERAL AMIR ESHEL, ISRAELI AIR FORCE (through translator): We are taking risks where we have to, where it's absolutely vital. And you have seen some of this in, really, rescue operations, using helicopters, hair-raising operations. Our attitude is that, where we can save lives, we will do everything in order to do this.
ROBERTS: Behind the main advance, in towns they control, Israeli forces are clearing out Hezbollah's infrastructure.
In this Israeli army video, obtained exclusively by CNN, a combat engineering battalion brings in mines, powerful explosives, to demolish a Hezbollah outpost.
With the U.N. resolution to end the fighting now looking imminent, Israel is racing against the clock. Armored personnel carriers speed toward border crossings with new urgency. After three weeks of slow, hard fighting, and criticism of the ground campaign here in Israel, a lightning-strike drive, the military's specialty, appears about to unfold.
ZAHN: Is the -- do you get the sense of pressure that they feel time running out, as they approach this potential cease-fire, John? ROBERTS: Absolutely, Paula.
And there was all that criticism here in Israel, too, about the slow ramp-up of the ground operation. There are many hard-liners who believe that's the reason why the Israeli Defense Forces got bogged down in places like Bint Jbail, why they're having so much problem in towns like Aita al-Shaab, why they were taking so many heavy casualties.
Their -- the critics say that they should have gone in with everything they had right at the very beginning; that lightning strike that appears imminent now should have happened more than 20 days ago.
So, now it looks like Israel is running against the clock. They know they probably only have a few days left. And they're doing everything they can to try to hold on to that land, to try to grab as much as possible first, before they hold on to it, until that international stabilization force can come in.
ZAHN: John Roberts, thanks so much. Always appreciate the update.
Now, while all the fighting goes on, world leaders are still searching for a diplomatic deal for a cease-fire. France and other European countries want an immediate cease-fire. The U.S. wants to wait until Israel is ready, which means when Israel thinks it's done enough damage to Hezbollah to eliminate it as a long-term threat, which John has just addressed with us tonight.
Well, meanwhile, Anderson Cooper has been on the ground in Israel for two weeks now. He joins me now from Haifa.
So, Anderson, we heard John talk about how this was one of the deadliest days for the Israelis, at a time when the Hezbollah leader is threatening to attack Tel Aviv, if the Israelis go into central Beirut.
What is the reaction from folks who have had to live with the roar of rockets raining on them for weeks now?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, I think there continues to be strong resolve here.
You find that here in Haifa. You find that in -- in the towns all along the -- the -- the border with Lebanon. You know, it's -- it's nothing new that Hassan Nasrallah is threatening rockets hitting -- hitting Tel Aviv. He has certainly done that before. It sounds more serious coming now. It sounds more inevitable. I think people are -- are gearing themselves for that.
But it's interesting. Here in Haifa, I mean, some semblance of life has returned to this town. I haven't been here in about a week. I have been up by the border. And, just coming in tonight, some cafes were open. There were people actually sitting out on cafes having some drinks. That is something you didn't see even a week, a week-and-a-half ago. So, it seems like people want some sort of life to return to normal, and -- and to continue their lives, even in the face of this daily barrage of rockets -- Paula.
ZAHN: (AUDIO GAP) the resolve, but aren't -- aren't they nervous about these threats?
COOPER: You know, as -- as Israelis will often say to you, look, this is a tough neighborhood. This is nothing new.
They're -- they're used to threats. And -- and -- and, yes, I mean, they're certainly nervous. There are a lot of people spending an awful lot of time in their safe rooms, in their bomb shelters. But, you know, this has been going on for three-plus weeks now. These rockets are a daily occurrence. Today was a very bloody day, indeed -- eight Israelis dead very near to Haifa in two towns close to here.
But, you know, life goes on. And -- and this -- there -- there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. There's not a lot of confidence in diplomatic efforts that are under way. There's not a lot of clarity about what this cease-fire may mean, how quickly some sort of international force could get.
Israel is certainly gambling on that international force. Their entire strategy is based on an international force coming in. But you talk to soldiers on the ground, you talk to Israelis here, there's not a lot of confidence that that is going to happen any time soon.
ZAHN: Anderson Cooper, thanks so much. We will be looking for you at 10:00 p.m., when Anderson hosts his own show -- "A.C. 360."
Coming up, we have got more top stories we are following tonight, including a striking development in the fight for Iraq.
A stunning admission from our military leaders -- the growing violence in Iraq could lead to civil war. After billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost, what can they do to stop the killing?
And, as a star's anti-Semitic rant triggers widespread outrage, very few of his Hollywood friends are showing support -- how Mel Gibson reached the limits of forgive and forget -- all that and more just ahead.
ZAHN: So, as you have seen so vividly over the last three weeks, the crisis in the Middle East has basically pushed Iraq out of the daily headlines.
But, as the violence reaches unprecedented levels, it is one of tonight's top stories. At least 30 Iraqis died today, a dozen in Baghdad, when a bomb strapped to a motorcycle went off in a shopping district.
The U.N. says nearly 6,000 Iraqis were killed in May and June alone, an average of about 100 per day. Two U.S. Marines died today in Iraq's Anbar Province, bringing the U.S. military death toll to 2,582.
And, today, for the first time, a pair of the Pentagon's most senior generals are admitting that Iraq could be drifting into civil war. Now, that was part of a grim status report from top military brass testing -- that is, testifying before Congress, including the secretary of defense.
And, later, for the first time, Senator Hillary Clinton called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign.
Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr takes us through a very tense hearing today on Capitol Hill.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two of the most senior generals told the Senate Armed Services Committee, the threat of civil war in Iraq remains very real.
GENERAL JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: ... the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it in Baghdad in particular, and that, if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could -- could move towards civil war.
GENERAL PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Sir, I believe that we do have a possibility of that devolving to a civil war, but isn't -- does -- does not have to be a fact.
STARR: But the chairman still insisted that possible civil war doesn't mean it's happening yet.
PACE: Speaking for myself, I do not believe it is probable. And I do not believe it is probable for the exact same reason that General Abizaid just stipulated, which is that the government is holding.
STARR: The hearing had blunt political overtones. After resisting, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld finally agreed to testify in public, but would not let his Senate critics use the television cameras to corner him about the war in Iraq.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: This is not 2002, 2003, 2004, '5, when you appeared before this committee and made many comments and presented, you know, many assurances that have, frankly, proven to be unfulfilled. And...
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Senator, I don't think that's true. I -- I have -- I have never painted a rosy picture. I have been very measured in my words. And you would have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I have been -- been excessively optimistic.
STARR: Nevertheless, Senator Clinton, a potential 2008 presidential contender, is calling for Rumsfeld's resignation. Some committee members still pressing on the overall strategy and whether there are enough troops to stem the violence and help Iraqis defend themselves.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Is the situation under control in Ramadi?
ABIZAID: I think the situation in Ramadi is workable.
MCCAIN: And the troops from Ramadi came from Fallujah; isn't that correct?
ABIZAID: I can't say, Senator. I know that...
MCCAIN: Well, that's my information.
What I worry about is, we're playing a game of whack-a-mole here. We move troops -- it flares up. We move troops there.
STARR (on camera): Just about now, the Pentagon had hoped to be talking about bringing some of the troops home. But, with the rise in violence, there's no talk about that now.
Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.
ZAHN: And, joining me, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan.
Always good to see you, sir.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Thank you, Paula.
ZAHN: Do you think you got an honest assessment today from the administration today just how serious the sectarian violence is in Iraq?
LEVIN: Well, it's a lot more honest than it has been up to now. I think they're beginning to realize that their rose-colored scenarios just simply were not accurate. They're not working out.
And our military leaders, General Abizaid and General Pace, I thought, were very sober, as a matter of fact, today, General Abizaid, when he said that he -- the sectarian violence was as bad as he has ever seen it, and that, if not stopped, it could slide into civil war.
ZAHN: You talked about the sober assessments made by the generals today. We heard General Abizaid say that the sectarian violence in Iraq was -- quote -- "If not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war."
Do you think we're moving towards civil war? Or is Iraq in the middle of a civil war right now? LEVIN: I think there's a low-level civil war going on. They are clearly on the verge of civil war.
And it seems to me they have got to be told very firmly by the administration something that they have not been told. And that is, if they want to have a civil war, count us out. If they want to have a nation, we can be helpful. But if they have not and are not willing to make the tough political decisions to avoid a civil war, and to end the violence, then we're not going to be able to stay on.
ZAHN: When it came to the issue of troop reductions, General Abizaid said -- quote -- "It's clear that the operational and the tactical situation in Baghdad is such that it requires additional security forces, both U.S. and Iraqi."
Does that mean that any U.S. troops will be coming home this year?
LEVIN: I think they have to. I think that the only way that this violence is going to end is if the Iraqis decide to end it. We cannot end it. We cannot force them to end it by our military presence. It is a political decision that they must make.
And we must press them to make it by telling them, folks, you are facing the abyss. Don't count on us for an ongoing security blanket. It is not an open-ended commitment.
And, finally, General Abizaid acknowledged that the Iraqis, he thinks, understands that. But we must make that clear, that the open- ended commitment is over, that, when the secretary of state said, a year ago or so, that we're there as long as they want us, as long as they need us, that that's got to come to an end, because they will need us forever under that approach.
ZAHN: Senator Levin, thank you so much for your time tonight. Appreciate it.
LEVIN: Sure, Paula.
And it seems, just about every day, we see a blur of images from Iraq's constant violence. But one story in particular caught our attention -- coming up, an in-depth look at what happened when insurgent bombers actually targeted children on a soccer field.
And, then, a little bit later on in our "Top Story" coverage: a world full of crises, the incredible coming-together of events from the Middle East, to North Korea, and beyond, all demanding the president's attention. How's he doing? Our panel will monitor that for us.
ZAHN: Welcome back.
Our "Top Story" coverage of the war in Iraq continues now.
To most of us, the daily attacks in Iraq may seem like an endless series of pictures, burned-out cars, and victims in hospitals.
Well, today, we asked Harris Whitbeck to give us a close-up look at just one of this week's vicious attacks, a shocking bombing during a children's soccer game in Baghdad, an attack that killed 12 people.
HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The mangled remains of bleachers, a bloodied soccer shoe, evidence of the unexpected carnage during an afternoon soccer game in a Shia neighborhood of Baghdad -- the game suddenly interrupted when a bomb exploded, killing dozens of players and spectators, including three teenagers, and wounding 16.
Ali Rashid (ph), 16 years old, survived the attack. His body is freshly scarred from flying shrapnel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We were having fun, and we were so excited during the game. And, during halftime, I was chatting with my friend Salah (ph). But, suddenly, a huge explosion threw me backwards. And I ran for more than a kilometer, I was so scared.
WHITBECK: A day after the bombing, a funeral tent has been erected not far from the field. Teammates and relatives of a stricken spectator mourn his death.
"Sports should be respected and not targeted," says this man. "The victims did nothing to deserve what happened to them."
Outside the tent, two youths, not much older than some of those killed, stand guard against more attacks. It's not unusual for mourning relatives to become targets themselves.
The Iraqi government and the U.S. military hope a new plan to put more American troops onto the streets will go a long way towards curbing the growing sectarian violence.
In the midst of constant tit-for-tat killings, ordinary Iraqis can only plead for a different life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We should all challenge these difficult circumstances. We should start rebuilding our country. I hope we can live together, as we did before.
WHITBECK: A desire that shouldn't be farfetched, but one that seems increasingly difficult to reach.
ZAHN: Harris, you talk about the sense of relief that some of these folks have that more U.S. ground troops will be in place to, I guess, help them -- make them feel safer. But they certainly are aware of the fact that this debate is raging on here whether the country is already in a civil war.
What do they say about that?
WHITBECK: Well, they really don't see a distinction, and whether a civil war would bring on more violence or not.
The violence here is so random, so endemic, Paula, that people really are concentrating on just trying to survive their daily lives. Going out to a store or going out to a soccer game can really mean a life-or-death decision.
To think of a civil war, in a sense, is to think about the future of a nation. And people don't seem to be able to thinking -- to be able to -- be able to think about the future. They're thinking about just the immediate violence that they're facing every day.
ZAHN: And, of course, the brutality of what you just described tonight puts all of this into perspective, what these folks have to endure day in, day out.
Harris Whitbeck, thanks so much.
Now, as we speak, President Bush face crises on all fronts. How should he cope with a world full of troubles? I will bring together a "Top Story" panel to debate that in just a minute.
And, then, a little bit later on:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CULTURE AND ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: I'm Brooke Anderson.
Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade has sparked widespread anger and resentment. But what has happened to all of Gibson's friends, as he tries to repair his damaged reputation? What the deafening silence could mean -- when PAULA ZAHN NOW returns.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: We are going to take a special look now at a world in crisis. Our top story coverage turns to what some see as an unprecedented series of explosive events spiralling out of control events that affect all of us. From the Mideast to North Korea to Cuba, it's possible that never before has any American president faced so many difficult problems at the same time. It's a story we thought was very important so we put together a special panel with years of experience witnessing presidential crises and covering them in the news. We're going to get their take in just a moment, but first, White House correspondent Elaine Quijano reports on a president and his policies under incredible pressure.
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bloodshed between Israel and Hezbollah is the most urgent in the list of world crises to preoccupy the Bush administration. Consider that the Iraq war has lasted more than three years, Afghanistan is still simmering with Taliban attacks on U.S. and NATO troops nearly five years after the September 11 attacks triggered that war. Concerns about nuclear proliferation in Iran and missile tests by nuclear threat North Korea has the Bush administration engaged in high stakes diplomacy and now Fidel Castro's illness sends yet another foreign policy ball in to the air for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who told CNN's Larry King --
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, you do have to be a bit of a juggler. Because there's an awful lot going on in the world. But I really think we have a very strong focus on a set of principles that's guiding our policies.
QUIJANO: That set of principles is steeped in President Bush's second term agenda, to spread freedom and democracy around the world. But is it too much to handle?
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I would caution against thinking that this is unprecedented. For one thing, the overall state of the world in structural terms is probably better than it was in the Cold War. We don't have a big hostile block of major powers aligned against us. That's a huge improvement over what we saw for the 50 years after World War II.
QUIJANO: But hanging over it all says analyst Michael O'Hanlon is Iraq.
O'HANLON: I do think that Americans are in a bad mood about the world and the Bush presidency and, you know, America's overseas role because of Iraq first and foremost and that just sets the climate, the atmosphere, for every other decision.
QUIJANO: Even the president's supporters acknowledge Iraq is weighing down public opinion, at least domestically.
CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think the Iraq War, if anything, might have taken a toll on the president's political capital at home but it has not in any way diminished the stature of the U.S. or of his presidency around the world.
QUIJANO: Critics like former Clinton state department official Wendy Sherman disagree. They say Iraq has forced the president to take a more multilateral approach to foreign policy.
WENDY SHERMAN, FMR. STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The president has had to change strategy on many other issues since Iraq because the war in Iraq has undermined American credibility around the world.
QUIJANO (on camera): For the most, much of the administration's focus is on trying to find a solution to the Israeli-Hezbollah fighting. Secretary Rice has been working to get an U.N. resolution that could lead to a cease-fire, one could come within days. And if it does, that would be one less crisis this White House faces. Elaine Quijano, CNN, the White House.
ZAHN: So how does a president handle all of these challenges? Our top story panel is standing by in Washington. Jed Babbin, former deputy undersecretary of defense in the administration of the first President Bush. Donatella Lorch, former foreign correspondent for the "New York Times," and our chief national correspondent John King. Good to see all of you with us tonight. So Donatella, we just heard Michael O'Hanlon say he doesn't think this is unprecedented. Can you remember a time when a president has been hit with so many crises as one time?
DONATELLA LORCH, FMR. CORRESP. "NEW YORK TIMES": No, I can't remember a time but I'd like to point out that many of the crisis are made by the administration. The Iraq war, we went in to there. Afghanistan, we went in there. It's more than simmering. Afghanistan is falling apart. And we have basically stepped back as a government and haven't been as involved as we have promised to be so a lot of the situation right now is our own making.
ZAHN: All right. We'll come back to all these crises points in just a moment. Jed, I saw you nodding your head no, no, no when Donatella said in many ways the president manufactured or not manufactured but made these problems for himself because of his policies.
JED BABBIN, FMR. DEP. UNDERSECY. OF DEFENSE: Well, of course, and this is what we hear all the time. It's got to be George Bush's fault or it can't possibly be wrong. I mean this is nonsense. We are talking about a world that is literally at war. The fact of the matter is the president is doing pretty well given the choice of tools that he has picked out of his tool box to address these various crises.
ZAHN: All right, but Jed, who put the United States in the war with Iraq?
BABBIN: Well, of course, the administration chose to go there. But they had to do something as a stepping stone in the Middle East. Paula, what we have here is an entire region in flames and when Carl Levin keeps telling us that we need to do something about the war in Iraq and pull troops out of there, he is ignoring the wider war. This is going to go on in Iraq for 60 days or 60 years unless and until we deal with the regional problem.
ZAHN: All right.
BABBIN: That's what's going on in Lebanon.
ZAHN: John King, a broader thought from your perspective on how much of this was created by the president's own policies and how much he simply unwittingly had to face.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, there's no question that the war in Iraq was a war of choice for this administration. Now, the president says he had reasons to do it and history will debate that. It's not my job to pick sides but that was certainly a war of choice that the administration made under a set of circumstances that he says post-9/11 mandates he does these things. North Korea had nuclear missiles and a nuclear program that he inherited. Some say it got worse because of his policies, at least not paying enough attention to it. He would argue that North Korea, Kim Jong-il, signed a deal with the Clinton administration and then the Clinton administration thought all was fine and Kim Jong-il simply broke the deal. So, there's a lot of political blame back and forth. The world is a very busy place.
ZAHN: All right.
KING: To Michael O'Hanlon's point, when the Cuban Missile Crisis happened, it may have only been one crisis at a time, but you knew the Soviet Union had nuclear missiles that could reach the United States.
ZAHN: OK, trio, hang on one second. We are just hearing reports of another round of explosions in Beirut. And it was just a little over, I guess, about an hour and 40 minutes ago, we heard about a series of four explosions. Now we have been told there are reports of more in Beirut. When we checked in with Michael Ware earlier, it wasn't clear specifically what was being targeted but somewhere south of the central part of Beirut, which had been the pattern the Israelis have struck. We are trying to get Michael Ware up right now. He described the drone of Israeli airplanes overhead. And as soon as we have more information, we'll come back to it.
Donatella, another example of what this administration has to confront. Very quickly, 20 seconds a piece, what is it you think the president has to do in this conflict in the Middle East?
LORCH: He has to start communicating. He really has to open lines of communication and he has to confront a major problem in the Middle East which is the poverty, the growing extremism and standing by and letting bombing go through Lebanon and the destruction of Lebanon is not the way to do it.
ZAHN: Do you Jack concede that that has cost America some credibility for not more forcefully pushing for a cease-fire?
BABBIN: Absolutely not. I think we've gained credibility, especially with out enemies in Iran and Syria by supporting the Israelis and not calling for a premature cease-fire. A cease-fire now, a cease-fire in place, benefits only the terrorists of Hezbollah.
ZAHN: John King?
KING: I think while they're compromising tonight, Paula, at the United Nations, the administration is trying to get a cease-fire if not tomorrow, by Monday. I think the bigger question for this president when it comes to the Middle East and his democracy agenda will be, will he shy away, because Hamas and Hezbollah have become political forces in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon, will he shy away from democracy, or will he stick with the principle, saying democracy is about elections not about who wins.
ZAHN: OK. John, I have got to cut you off. We now have Michael Ware out of Beirut. Michael, describe to us what is going on in Beirut right now.
WARE: Paula, right now, Beirut is under heavy Israeli barrage from fighter jets circling overhead. Within the space of the last 10 or 15 minutes, at least 10 Israeli bombs had fallen on the city. Once more, it's to the south of the city, the southern suburbs. However, it is hitting an area that is not regarded as a traditional Hezbollah stronghold. It's a small area, a very poor Shia community, which is nestled against Beirut's International Airport.
So I say again, there's been at least 10 strikes in the last 15 minutes or so -- Paula.
ZAHN: Now, does this happen -- you think to be the same area where the Israelis had dropped leaflets advising the civilians to get out?
WARE: No. This is one of the strange things. This is not an area that was notified earlier this afternoon by the Israelis to expect bombardment, and therefore, to evacuate. This is an area that was not warned. But it's a very small area, very contained. So to have as many as 10 bombs dropped on top of it, in such quick succession would be having an enormous impact on the people living there -- Paula.
ZAHN: You say this is not a traditional stronghold of Hezbollah, and yet the Israelis have continued to tell us that they are not targeting civilians, but Hezbollah has burrowed itself into areas where these civilians live.
WARE: Well, this is entirely possible. It can be any number of things. Obviously, it's too hard to tell right now, at quarter to 4:00 in the morning here, with the bombing still under way and the jets circling over me as I speak to you, Paula. So it's very, very hard to determine, but we do know, of course, like any guerrilla insurgency, Hezbollah moves constantly, always shifting its locations -- Paula.
ZAHN: And Michael, before we let you go, wasn't there an expectation you might see these kinds of airstrikes escalate in advance of any sort of U.N. resolution being cobbled together and voted on?
WARE: Absolutely. I mean, this has been on the cards for some time. In fact, while you were just asking me that question, I'm not sure if you could have heard it, but there was yet another bombing. We're starting to hear them much more distinctively now, and the jet activity does seem to be increasing feverishly -- Paula.
ZAHN: And how many miles away would you say those bombs are dropping from where you're standing now?
WARE: It's -- it's difficult to say. I would guess that it's at least five or six kilometers from our current position here, so three or four miles -- Paula.
ZAHN: All right, Michael Ware, please stand by. If it's safe, we'll come back to you after this short break, and I wanted to thank our trio of guests. Jed Babbin, Donatella Lorch, John King. Sorry to cut you off, but once again, this example of what the Bush administration faces tonight in a world full of crises it has to confront. Thank you all.
We're going to take a short break and we'll be back with more breaking news out of Beirut in just a moment.
ZAHN: And we are back with more breaking news. New explosions in Beirut as we speak. Our crews have counted at least 10 explosions in the last 15 minutes or so south of the central part of Beirut. Let's go straight back to our Michael Ware, who's on duty there.
Michael, describe to us what you have seen, what you have heard.
WARE: Well, Paula, right now, Beirut is a city under attack. While there's still many lights on throughout the capital, much of it remains in darkness. Just a few miles away from us, Israeli warplanes are attacking unknown targets. The barrage has been quite intense. We have now had 11 airstrikes in the last 15 minutes or so, bringing a total of 15 attacks this evening in the last three hours. There was another one just then, Paula. So we're now at 16 airstrikes. And the jets are still buzzing overhead.
ZAHN: We're looking at that picture very closely. You can make it about the center of our screen when the last one went off. What do you think is being targeted?
WARE: It's very hard to say. My guess will be that these are what you could call targets of opportunity. By and large, the infrastructure of Lebanon that the Israelis sought to destroy has been destroyed in most part. The infrastructure, the obvious infrastructure of Hezbollah, its headquarters, its public offices -- they, too, have been destroyed. So, what I suspect these are, are targets that have been identified by intelligence. They know that someone's moving. They can see some activity, or they have specific information that someone or something has relocated to a specific building or house -- Paula.
ZAHN: We should make it clear, Michael, and you have in previous reports, that this is happening south of central Beirut, but today the head of Hezbollah said if central Beirut is struck, Hezbollah will retaliate by firing on Tel Aviv. What has been the reaction there to that threat? How seriously is that threat being taken?
WARE: Look, Paula, it's being taken with the utmost seriousness. That's one thing that everyone here on both sides of the border in this conflict have come to understand, that when Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah makes a threat, he has carried it through. So I think that there will be some repercussions to follow from Hezbollah -- Paula.
ZAHN: Michael Ware, thanks so much. Michael once again confirming that he has seen himself and heard some 16 explosions in an area in the southern suburbs of Beirut in just the last 15, 20 minutes -- or 17 now, alone.
We'll go back to Beirut as events warrant, but right now we are going to move on to a top story in entertainment. The Mel Gibson scandal is still the talk of Hollywood, still brewing. But in such a tightly knit company town, we have noticed a very interesting trend. Next in our top story coverage, who's talking and who's isn't?
ZAHN: There's growing anger tonight over the melt down of Mel Gibson. Our top story in entertainment tonight, some very big names are boiling over in public outrage over Gibson's anti-semitic outburst, but Gibson also has a very close circle of friends in Hollywood. So where are they tonight? Here's entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson.
ANDERSON (voice-over): Mel Gibson, actor, director, producer, anti-semite. Strong words from one of Gibson's fellow actors, Rob Schneider, who placed an open letter to the entertainment community in the Hollywood trade paper, "Daily Variety." In it, he responds to the statements Gibson made during his DUI arrest by saying, quote, I, Rob Schneider, a half Jew pledge from this day forth to never work with Mel Gibson even if Mr. Gibson offered me the lead role in "Passion of the Christ Two." While shrouded in a veil of sarcasm, Schneider's sentiments, like others from the world of entertainment, represent a growing Hollywood backlash against Gibson.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think I want to see anymore Mel Gibson movies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He needs to be welcomed in to the Jewish community by a public circumcision.
ANDERSON: The creator of "MASH" and "Tootsi," Larry Gelbardt had this wounding message for Gibson posted on columnist Army Archer's (ph) website. "You managed to con everyone, sir, including those of your own faith." He goes on to call Gibson "a man who so stokes the bonfires of bigotry."
(on camera): While a handful of Hollywood power players have spoken out about Gibson's actions, there are others who still remain silent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They may have to do business with him so nobody's going to openly criticize him, which I think is really cowardly.
ANDERSON (voice-over): But others are wondering where are Gibson's famous friends in his time of need? That's a question William Donahue, president of the Catholic League, wants answered.
WILLIAM DONAHUE, PRESIDENT CATHOLIC LEAGUE: When people fall, they need their friends at that moment. Not when he's apologized successfully to the Jewish community, not two months out. They need it now. So where the hell are these people?
ANDERSON: CNN has reached out to numerous Hollywood actors and directors that worked closely with Gibson. The resounding response, no comment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't see any of his former co-stars rushing to defend him.
ANDERSON: So, while this tarnished Hollywood A-listers struggles with a public shunning by the people he works with, the world waits to see who will stand by him. Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.
ZAHN: And we're going to take a little break. I should say before we go on the scandal has a long way to run. Apparently a police cruiser's camera got Gibson's tirade on tape. TV and radio stations are clamoring for it to be made public and police right now are fighting those requests.
Now we'll take a little break from all the crises in the world. Plus the hot button issue in Hollywood tonight by turning our attention to "Life After Work." Tonight, meet someone that left behind a very busy urban lifestyle to retire to the country. Now she spends here time caring for about 40 of her kids. Here's Andy Serwer.
SANDS BELLIZZI, ALPACA RANCHER: Did you get a hair cut? Are you not the sweetest thing in the world?
ANDREW SERWER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): 61-year-old sands says she enjoys life more thanks to her Alpacas.
BELLIZZI: Look at you, Earth Angel. You look beautiful.
SERWER: After selling their California home, she and her husband Paul bought land and made future plans.
BELLIZZI: He said, do you want to grow something? Do you want raise an animal? I said I want to raise Alpacas and he says what the heck is an Alpaca? They were indigenous to the high altitude areas of Peru, Chile and Bolivia and they're a long domesticated animal.
SERWER: After a couple of years nurturing her first Alpacas, while still working in travel sales, Sands closed her business to raise them full-time. On the Nevada ranch, they breed and sell these semi-exotic animals and market fleeces used for clothing and art.
BELLIZZI: Oh, honey. It is all right.
They're not harmed at all. And once they're down on the ground and they're secured, then generally they relax. When you take his fiber just naturally and make it in to yarn, you come up with a beautiful male, masculine sweater. Probably the best benefit of Alcapa ownership is it's a relaxed, wonderful place to be. SERWER: Andy Serwer, CNN, New York.
ZAHN: Look, he just smiled for us.
Coming up next, an update from the war zone. There have been more than a dozen explosions in Beirut within the past few minutes. Our Michael Ware on the ground in Beirut counting 17 explosions in all. The latest on the top story, next.
ZAHN: And an update now on the breaking news of this hour, as many as 17 explosions rocking Beirut as Israeli air strikes continue to target Hezbollah guerrillas on the second straight night of attacks on Beirut. That's it for all of us. Thanks for joining us, good night.
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