Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


Carnage Continues in Middle East

Aired August 7, 2006 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, as the world watches in horror, the carnage continues in Israel and Lebanon. Deadly airstrikes pushed a combined civilian death toll towards 800.

And, after 27 devastating days, Lebanon says it will send 15,000 troops into the Hezbollah-controlled south if Israel pulls its troops out. As diplomacy drags on half a world away, could this be a turning point? Can a ceasefire save the Middle East?

We'll get all the latest from Anderson Cooper and John Roberts, both embedded with the Israeli military, and reporters from Beirut to northern Israel, all next on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: Good evening and welcome to our continuing coverage of the Middle East conflict. We have reporters in key positions abroad and at home tonight.

They include Senior National Correspondent John Roberts in northern Israel. He spent much of the weekend embedded with Israeli Defense Force soldiers; also reporting for us tonight, CNN International Correspondent Michael Ware in Beirut and at the United Nations in New York Senior Correspondent Richard Roth.

First to Michael Ware in Beirut, what's the latest on that Israeli attack in Beirut today? What's the death total Michael?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest report from Lebanese internal security forces put the death toll at 15, Larry. This was a particularly devastating strike at a time when many ordinary people were going about their business in the streets. So, you can imagine that this has inflamed local anger to an even greater pitch than we've seen previously -- Larry.

KING: What about the announcement from the Lebanese government today it will send 15,000 of its troops to the border if the Israeli troops withdraw? What reaction are they getting?

WARE: Well, so far it's quite mixed. I mean the Lebanese Army it's commonly known is extraordinarily weak. It's poorly structured, poorly equipped. It very much needs a lot of international assistance and it's stated as fact even by its own generals that it cannot possibly hope to stand toe-to-toe with Hezbollah should the need arise.

The other thing though, however, is coming back from the Bekaa Valley, the Hezbollah heartland, even there it was clear to see the Lebanese Army side-by-side with Hezbollah, so it's very clear where their sympathies lie. This could be a good thing in lowering the level of conflict but I'm not sure what degree of trust that will give Israel -- Larry.

KING: And what happened in Beirut today with the Arab League?

WARE: Well what we saw was representatives of the Arab League meet with the Lebanese government. They agreed on Lebanon's seven- point plan. Delegates from the Arab League are now traveling to the U.N. to speak to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and to press Lebanon's case -- Larry.

KING: Thanks, Michael.

Let's go to New York, the United Nations, Richard Roth, he's been there for years, our senior correspondent. The Lebanese are now offering to send 15,000 troops to the border. Does that move this along, Richard?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: It may play a role in how much and how the United States and France negotiate an adjusted Security Council resolution which met with stiff opposition from Lebanon and others in the Arab group.

As Michael Ware said members of the Arab League are now traveling from Beirut here into New York. They will meet in an open televised session with members of the Security Council, air their grievances, and more importantly in private talk about what they might be willing to accept in this resolution.

Ambassador John Bolton of the U.S. and his French counterpart spent more hours this afternoon in New York going over the text. The French ambassador said, "I want to work to make it better" but still there is a drive, a real feeling here of wanting to get a resolution approved. The earliest would be Wednesday, Larry, possibly Thursday.

KING: And what about the Arab League coming to town tomorrow?

ROTH: Well they'll be here and they will be meeting with Secretary-General Annan and members of the Security Council, an in- person pitch to say, "Listen, your resolution is unbalanced" in their views. It calls on the Hezbollah to stop attacks but it allows Israel to keep its troops on Lebanese soil until weeks from now when an international peacekeeping force is sent there.

Lebanon is going to try to say, "We're sending thousands of troops down there now. You don't have to wait that long. Israel can get out when we get there;" however, Israel and the United States likely to be very cynical about that in terms of calming Hezbollah.

KING: Do you expect a resolution this week, Richard? ROTH: I think you will see a resolution sometime this week, maybe towards the end of the week, but Lebanon and Israel will have to accept it and Kofi Annan will have to tell the council if they do or not.

KING: Is it resolution one or resolution two?

ROTH: It's resolution one. Officially it will have a much higher number. The second resolution would dispatch a more robust international force with peace enforcement powers to do more than just use binoculars and monitor a truce. Some Arab countries have a problem with that.

KING: See any optimism at the U.N.?

ROTH: I think there's optimism that they finally after weeks may get something voted on and approved. They think that obviously people have been watching their TV screens, as ambassadors have said. They see the carnage. Even this waiting for two or three more days is costing more lives if this resolution is to have an effect at all.

KING: When the U.N. was formed, Richard, in 1945 there were member nations but there were no Hezbollahs or Hamases or al Qaedas. Do they have to pay attention to this resolution?

ROTH: They have to. They're a member of the Lebanese government but militias and entities like this, rebel groups, they're not really part of that U.N. world where it was, as you said, country A and country B were fighting and then the blue helmets came in and everything was nice. It's a much messier complex world and how Hezbollah reacts, of course, will really probably determine exactly the fate of these resolutions.

KING: Let's go to northern Israel and John Roberts, who has been embedded with Israeli Defense Forces. What's the latest on the military offensive, John?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it continues to expand, Larry. For the first couple of weeks we noticed sort of little pockets of activity in the areas of Bint Jbeil and then (INAUDIBLE).

But now it would appear that from the Mediterranean Sea all the way along the Israel-Lebanon border up to the town of Mitula where we are, there are enormous areas of activity as the military brings in more reserves, more troops on the ground and starts pushing further forward.

But, Larry, it's a very difficult fight. We spent 48 hours with troops living with them in a small town in the very hottest zone of the battles now. A number of soldiers were killed in the area. Everyone from the unit that we were embedded with is fine. But there does seem to be a new intensity on the Israeli side to try to push those Hezbollah forces further out.

The problem that they're having though, Larry, is that they're not getting them out of the towns and villages. They take the surrounding territory. They try to call in airstrikes, artillery, and the Israeli Air Force to pound those positions.

But whenever they go into these towns, as they did in Bint Jbeil today, they're still taking casualties. A couple of Israeli soldiers were killed there. Another Israeli soldier was killed this morning in a town just to the west.

And, as the Israeli forces intensify their ground attack, Hezbollah is intensifying its reaction firing today 141 rockets into northern Israel. It used to be in towns like Kiryat Shmona that you would hear a couple of air raid sirens every day. Now you hear them almost constantly.

As we returned from the front we were traveling through Kiryat Shmona. We were stopped in there for the better part of an hour taking cover in an above ground concrete garage as air raid siren after air raid siren went off and those Katyusha rockets fell in volleys of six, eight at a time. So, Larry, it's getting increasingly hot on both sides of the border.

KING: John, you remain with us because you're going to be part of our panel. John Roberts will join us right after the break along with George Mitchell and Robin Wright.

You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


KING: A major debate coming, Arianna Huffington versus Dennis Prager on Israel and Israel's efforts in the war.

John Roberts remains with us in northern Israel. Joining us from northeast Harbor, Maine is George Mitchell, the former Senate Majority Leader and international peace negotiator. And, in Washington, Robin Wright, the Washington Post correspondent who has written extensively on the Middle East and has a new book coming called "Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East."

What do you make, Robin, of this Lebanese proposal to send 15,000 troops to the border if Israel will leave?

ROBIN WRIGHT, WASHINGTON POST: This is a tremendously important development. This is important for a lot of different reasons. First of all, the Lebanese cabinet voted unanimously on it and that included two Hezbollah cabinet ministers.

This is a young government. It was elected 13 months ago. The prime minister is a former finance minister who has not had a long record of leading a very fragile government.

This is an overture that has been -- that the international community has been trying to get Lebanon to do for 30 years, more than 30 years since the beginning of the civil war in 1975.

This is the kind of thing that the Lebanese are being proactive looking for ways to try to get their own sovereignty deployed throughout the country and they have Hezbollah support. The Shiites are onboard and this in itself is a major development.

I know the United States is looking at this trying to reassess how they may merge this proposal with their own resolution that they've sponsored jointly with France and to see if there's a way of blending them so that they can accommodate Lebanon's desires.

KING: George Mitchell, what do you make of the idea?

GEORGE MITCHELL, FMR. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I share Robin's view. I think the French have already hinted that they would like to make an accommodation if that's possible. I think the U.S. will be probably a little more reluctant to do so. But a serious negotiation is underway and I think that's what everyone expected or should have expected.

It was unrealistic to think that you could just put out a resolution and everybody will just fall in line. You can't use the approach "my way or the highway" and I think there is a discussion going on. It appears to be serious and this is clearly an attempt by the government of Lebanon to introduce a new element that from their perspective will influence hopefully the negotiations.

KING: John Roberts, what are they saying in the Israeli military about this idea?

ROBERTS: Well on the political level, Larry, they are saying that they welcome this overture by Lebanon but both at the political level and the military level they are very skeptical about it because what the Israelis say is that Lebanon and its army have not been able to control Hezbollah in the south.

They have been subservient to and in some cases the Israeli forces here and the Israeli officials believe they have been perhaps sympathetic to as well Hezbollah and there's not really a lot of faith that if the Lebanese Army comes down into the south it's going to actually control the territory.

The Israeli forces believe that if the Lebanese Army comes down, Hezbollah may be able to reconstitute itself and that's something that's absolutely anathema to the Israelis. So, unless they get some really firm guarantees from Lebanon that they are going to crack the whip on Hezbollah, you're going to see those Israeli forces staying put.

I spoke with a commander of the company that we were embedded with who said "Look it, you know, there's not a great track record of other forces protecting the Israeli -- or protecting the Lebanese side from the Israelis" and in terms of, you know, allowing those Katyusha rockets to come into Israel.

So, there's not a lot of faith that Lebanon is going to be strong enough, the Lebanese Army strong enough to be able to handle security in the situation, so the belief is among the forces that I was embedded with and talking to and the generals that I have been talking to as well that the Israeli military is going to have to remain at least in some parts of southern Lebanon until this international force is brought in -- Larry.

KING: Now, Robin, the Lebanese cabinet voted for this idea unanimously and two members of that cabinet are Hezbollah. Is that encouraging?

WRIGHT: Well that's very encouraging. The fact is, as I said, you have a consensus. On John's point there is -- the reality is that if Israel stays in Lebanon it is likely to go through the same experience it did during the 22 years it occupied the south and that is it's going to become the target of whether it's Hezbollah, suicide bombers or other forms of attack that it doesn't have very many options either.

And the reality is that unfortunately because of Israel's punishing air attacks that the Lebanese people are today quite united in supporting Hezbollah. A staggering poll last week in a country with 17 different recognized religious groups, 87 percent said that they backed Hezbollah, which is unprecedented in the history of Lebanon.

So, trying to divorce the Lebanese Army completely from Hezbollah is going to be very difficult. But the government has also understood I think today in its overture that it must take action that it has to act as a sovereign entity, which includes Hezbollah but is not exclusively Hezbollah and that in itself is an important move.

KING: Our cabinet -- our panel rather will be coming back. I'm making them a cabinet already. Our panel will be coming back with us throughout the program. John Roberts will be with us throughout the program.

And we'll be right back. Don't go away.


KING: Welcome back.

We'll be spending the next five or six minutes or so with Senior National Correspondent John Roberts. John spent 48 hours embedded with the Israeli Defense Forces.

Before we talk to John about it let's take a look at part of a report he put together during his two days at the front. Watch.


ROBERTS (voice-over): Under cover of night, an elite army reserve unit prepares to strike out across the border, their faces painted black, briefed on the battle plan. They put boots on the ground, destination a hot zone, some seven miles inside southern Lebanon.

(on camera): We've been walking for a couple of miles now. We're going to stop to drink a little bit of water. The going has been hard, up one hill, down another, very, very dusty but it's an amazingly clear night here in south Lebanon.

The moon was up a little while ago. Now the moon is down. It's much darker than it was before but it's just a sky full of stars, somewhat at odds with the action on the ground this peaceful night. (voice-over): Before daybreak, the unit enters an abandoned house near the Lebanese town of (INAUDIBLE), their base of operations for the next 24 hours.


KING: John Roberts, what sort of action, is that the kind of action you saw?

ROBERTS: It is, Larry. There wasn't a lot of close contact fighting. In fact, there was none with that unit. Its task was really to set up observation posts and to try to identify Hezbollah positions and bring in what's called indirect fire artillery and Israeli Air Force bombs.

It's a tank hunting unit by definition, which means that it would go out if there was a war let's say with another country in the region. It would go out and identify tanks because they're equipped with TOW missiles, those powerful, sophisticated American anti-tank missiles, and try to take out tanks.

But instead on this particular occasion in this particular conflict what they tried to do was identify Hezbollah positions, then use those missiles and the indirect fire, as I mentioned before, to try to knock out those Hezbollah positions or even positions that Hezbollah could potentially use.

KING: John, what are the troops saying about the enemy?

ROBERTS: They're saying that it is a sophisticated enemy. It's a well-trained fighting force. It's well-funded. It's not to be underestimated is what the commander of the platoon that I was embedded with said.

And it's obvious, Larry, by the very fact that even as they were going after those Hezbollah positions in the area that we were embedded in, in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah right in front of their noses fired off a volley of six or seven Katyusha rockets that were destined for northern Israel.

You can hear behind me a pounding that's going on. That's Israeli outgoing artillery and multiple rocket launchers hitting what they believe are Hezbollah positions on a ridge line not too far away. We also saw some Israeli armored personnel carriers and tanks up there so a very fierce battle going on just behind me here.

And it just goes to show that even after more than three weeks of operations here the region's most powerful military has failed to suppress Hezbollah. They remain a very viable fighting force and everybody in the army, the air force and the entire military very cognizant of that.

KING: Therefore, what is morale like?

ROBERTS: Morale is pretty good. We were embedded with the reserve forces and, you know, they're citizen soldiers. They hold jobs. They're attorneys. They're accountants. They're doctors. The guy who was leading our platoon is a graduate student in civil engineering. Another one was in acting school, was supposed to graduate yesterday.

And there's a sense that they're a part of this. They don't really want to be a part of yet another war. They know that they have to be because when you're in Israel everyone has to do mandatory duty in the armed forces. And, if you're a reservist, you can get called up in a moment's notice.

There was a sense to a man of the people that I was embedded with, Larry, that they want this to be over as quickly as possible. They don't want a long campaign. They don't want even a temporary occupation of southern Lebanon.

All they want, to a man again, is peace but they don't know if that can ever be obtained. This is a region that's been at war in one way or another for 8,000 years. Why they believe should this century be any different?

KING: Did you ever feel personally in danger?

ROBERTS: Yes, absolutely, Larry. You're always in danger here. It was really interesting that I spent 48 hours on the front under constant threat of Hezbollah attack. They're using these powerful Sagr anti-tank rockets that can also be used against buildings.

There were a couple of soldiers who died this morning in Bint Jbeil from such an attack. Another soldier died earlier in the morning. Two died a few days ago. When the Israeli Army takes up positions in these buildings and then Hezbollah finds out they're there, they counterattack, so you're constantly in danger there.

But also on the way back after coming back from the front, we were driving through Kiryat Shmona, the air raid sirens went off. We took cover in an above ground concrete parking garage and the air raid went on for the better part of an hour, Larry. So, regardless of where you are over there in the hot zone on the front lines in southern Lebanon or here in Israel everyone is in constant danger.

KING: Thanks, John, you'll be with us throughout the program. Hang tough. John Roberts, our CNN Senior National Correspondent who has been embedded with Israeli forces over the weekend.

By the way, Anderson Cooper has been embedded too and he's going to be with us in a little while.

When we come back we're going to get at it with Dennis Prager and Arianna Huffington. Don't go away.


KING: Welcome back.

Here are the headlines to the minute. Lebanon agrees to send 15,000 troops to the border if Israel will withdraw.

Israeli strike in Beirut kills 15.

Hezbollah fires at least 140 rockets into Israel.

President Bush promotes U.N. draft resolution.

In Lebanon we have 715 dead, more than 2,700 wounded.

Israel says it has 97 dead and more than 700 wounded.

And in that connection we welcome to LARRY KING LIVE, Dennis Prager, host of the nationally syndicated Dennis Prager Show, who believes Israel needs to continue the fighting. And, Arianna Huffington, the founder and editor of the, a very successful dot com, introduced not too long ago and has taken off.

Dennis, why dos Israel have to keep it up and why the killing of civilians?

DENNIS PRAGER, RADIO HOST, THE DENNIS PRAGER SHOW: Well, I'll start with the latter, the killing of civilians is the tragic, tragic, tragic byproduct of any war against terror, in fact any war at all. When we fought Germany there were a tremendous number of German civilians who died, obviously Japan similarly.

Today with precision weapons you can minimize casualties and Israel has. The Hula so-called massacre, the prime minister of Lebanon just announced there wasn't 40. It was actually one Lebanese civilian. The Cana so-called massacre, it wasn't 60 or whatever, it was 29. The number of actual civilians being killed by Israelis is minimal.

The key, of course, is to remember that Hezbollah targets civilians. Israel sends leaflets warning that civilians should flee. The moral compass is totally opposite on both sides. Why should Israel continue because if Israel doesn't deal some sort of tough blow to Hezbollah, it will be a huge victory for Iran and for terror.

KING: Arianna, doesn't Israel, that little pocket surrounded by people who don't like it have to defend itself?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, FOUNDER, HUFFINGTONPOST. COM: Absolutely, Larry. There's no question that Israel has the moral right to defend itself. We are not talking about morality. We're talking about tactics and strategy and effectiveness. And the current tactics are not effective.

As Robin Wright said in the previous segment it's unprecedented to have united Lebanon, all the different religions, all the different ethnic groups against Israel and for Hezbollah. There were 90 percent of the Lebanese who were against Hezbollah before this particular war started. To have turned that around is really a major threat to Israel's security. That's what we are talking about. We're not discussing...

KING: In other words, you're saying this is a tactical mistake?

HUFFINGTON: We're talking about a tactical mistake and I'm not just saying that. You have Pat Buchanan saying that. You have Chuck Hagel saying that. You have Bob Novak saying that. This is not a left/right position. This is about tactics and effectiveness.

PRAGER: Well, it is a left-right position. The people you quoted weren't exactly folks that have been known to be in the pro Israel lobby. Pat Buchanan has always found something wrong with Israel.

HUFFINGTON: Are you suggesting that Chuck Hagel, the second ranking senator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is on the left?

PRAGER: In foreign policy, he is aligned much more with the Democrats than the Republicans.

HUFFINGTON: Effectively what you're saying if they don't agree with you, they're on the left. That's not really a way to argue.

PRAGER: No, I didn't say -- I think we have to be intellectually honest. He agrees with the Democrats more than the Republicans on foreign policy.

KING: You think this is a Democrat-Republican issue?

PRAGER: No. But I'm just talking about the particular illustrations that Arianna offered does not make this a non-left-right issue. The right is virtually unanimous in believing Israel has to do what it has to do, and the left is divided. That's true. The left is on this one time to its credit, incidentally, there are people who say, like Thomas Friedman in the "New York Times" and James Carroll in the "Boston Globe," who are saying you know what, Israel really has to win this one, otherwise we're all in bad shape.

HUFFINGTON: But we disagree on how do you win. We all want Israel to win. We all want Israel to actually be able to be secure and living in peace. But right now there's no question that the right winning strategy is to isolate the extremists from the moderates. And you yourself wrote in a column that not every Arab, not every Muslim is an enemy of Israel. And right now what Israel has succeeded in doing is basically uniting the Arab world against Israel and for Hezbollah, for a horrific terrorist group. And that is not a sustained position.

PRAGER: That's worth responding to. It's an important argument and it's worth responding to. When Lebanon, if you say, was 90 percent against Hezbollah, I don't know if that's true, but it's not far from the truth. Maybe 70 percent against Hezbollah.

But you know what? It didn't matter. It's irrelevant. The relevance was Hezbollah controlled Lebanon. The Lebanese army is impotent. The Lebanese government is impotent. If you spoke out against Syria, like Hariri did, you were assassinated. So it's irrelevant. From Israel's standpoint, whether or not Lebanese like Israel has no impact on Israel's security, none.

HUFFINGTON: It has a huge impact because Hezbollah lives among civilians. Civilians have to harbor Hezbollah, as we know perfectly well. So if civilians are against it, it is a huge benefit for Israel.

And you know, when I met Ehud Olmert just before he came prime minister, just before Israel withdrew from Gaza, it was clear that he was somebody willing to change course if he had evidence to prove it.

Remember, he had been against the Camp David peace accords. Then he became the single most important proponent of withdrawal from Gaza. So right now my question really to the prime minister and to the people making decisions in Israel is are you possibly believing that what is happening right now, the tactics you are using right now are going to lead to victory for Israel?

KING: Is all this about two troops?

PRAGER: No, it isn't about two troops because Hezbollah had been sending over rockets, as we all know, for the last few years. They have been sending -- just...

KING: ... So why did Israel react now?

PRAGER: The two troops were the final straw. It's just like our final straw was 9/11. We had been attacked by Islamic terrorists in Africa, the USS Cole, the World Trade Center before. But 9/11 was our final straw. The final straw with Hezbollah was the capturing of its soldiers. What should Israel have done? Negotiated with Hezbollah?


PRAGER: ... I need an answer. What should Israel have done?

HUFFINGTON: You use an incredibly unfortunate example, the 9/11.

PRAGER: Because far more people died.

HUFFINGTON: No, not at all. Because we went after the wrong enemy after 9/11. We had the world with us, and we went after the wrong enemy, and right now Israel had the world with it and against Hezbollah and it used the wrong tactics. That is the similarity with 9/11.

KING: Doesn't Israel need world opinion?

PRAGER: As Golda Meir put it, and I'm paraphrasing, I don't remember the exact words, world opinion is with us when we die, and we'd rather live.

HUFFINGTON: You know, Dennis, you're quoting world opinion. Let me quote Greek mythology. There's a great myth about the monster Hedra. You could cut off a head and two other heads would spring up. And that is really the problem with Hezbollah.

As we've heard before from John Roberts and others, the Israeli army was surprised by the effectiveness of Hezbollah. They will have unlimited weapons. No matter how many weapons we take out, if you don't win the war for hearts and minds, if you don't capture the Arab imagination, you're not going to win in terms of victory for Israel, which means security and guaranteeing its existence in peace.

PRAGER: You know, the Arab imagination is a very good point. I would like to win the hearts and minds of the Arab world but that is a battle, unfortunately, that's going to have to be waged within the Arab world. The Arab world is right now behind the rest of the world on every barometer of what we call higher civilization.

This is not an ethnic slur or anything like that. That is taken from Arab intellectuals report to the U.N. The Arabs -- the greatest change the Arabs could undergo is to stop focusing on destroying Israel. The day the Arab world says you know what, the Jews really have a place in the Middle East, the Arab world will change.

HUFFINGTON: But 25 days ago you had Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan against Hezbollah. And now you have the Arab League and the Arab world, Sunnis and Shiites united.

KING: Why?

HUFFINGTON: Because of the civilian atrocities. Because of what has happened.

PRAGER: Atrocity is not the right word, tragedy.

HUFFINGTON: And I absolutely agree, that Israel is not...

KING: ... You don't think Israel is deliberately killing?

HUFFINGTON: Of course not. I mean, these are all unintended consequences. But unintended consequences, collateral damages are very significant.

PRAGER: And so Israel's mistake was to take so long. Israel had a green light from all of humanity. You're right. That's my whole point. You are making my point. Even the Arabs want Hezbollah destroyed. But Israel took so long, tragically, waiting perhaps for world opinion.

KING: We're running out of time. How does this end?

HUFFINGTON: Right now there's no question there will have to be a cease-fire. But the truth is there cannot be a cease-fire until Israel withdraws from Lebanon. The Lebanese are not going to put 15,000 troops there while Israel remains there.

PRAGER: Lebanese troops in southern Lebanon doesn't mean anything. A third of the Lebanese army is Hezbollah. They will never fight Hezbollah, the Lebanese army. It's another Band-Aid. Israel has to -- and Israel is willing to have a cease-fire if it gets its soldiers back and somebody monitors those rockets.

KING: Thank you both very much, Dennis Prager and Arianna Huffington. Tomorrow night another debate on the same subject. Returning will be James Zogby and Alan Dershowitz -- James Zogby and Alan Dershowitz tomorrow night. We'll be back with more. Don't go away.


KING: We're now go back to northern Israel and spend some moments with Anderson Cooper, the host of "AC 360," seen immediately following this program, has just been embedded with the Israeli military in southern Lebanon. What group were you with, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I was with the unit of combat engineers, Larry, on a mission to destroy a Hezbollah outpost. What was interesting about it is was the position was only about a mile or so inside south Lebanon. So we crossed over the border in the dead of night. But it took hours and hours, some 14 hours in all, to get there and back, a distance of only a mile. The main roads are booby trapped, IEDs, improvised explosive devices, the kind we've seen in Iraq to deadly effect, Hezbollah has rigged up a lot of these roads. I could actually see the devices in this one spot.

So Israeli forces literally building new roads, just using those enormous bulldozers to chart a new course. Finally reached this outpost. They attacked it with rockets. They attacked it with air power as well, mortars. And finally blew up the entire thing with more than 1,000 tons of C-4 explosives. It was a remarkable sight not only to see that explosion but just to see the Israeli operation. You really get a sense of how intense the fighting is on the ground and how difficult it is for these Israeli forces, Larry, to get to these positions even if they're as close as a mile away from the border.

KING: Any restrictions placed on you at all?

COOPER: There's certainly always some censorship rules in Israel in terms of military requirements. They, in some cases, don't want you to show the faces of some soldiers. They don't want you to show identifying marks on some of the vehicles. All of those rules are kind of known in advance and, you know, we are openly discussed.

KING: What do the Israeli soldiers say about the Hezbollah?

COOPER: Well, I think a lot of what they say cannot be said on television. As you know, soldiers often very frank in their assessments, in particular of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. But I mean, the edited version, Larry is, you know, they don't trust them. They believe Hassan Nasrallah wants to destroy the state of Israel, is anti-semitic and they have heard all those comments.

They're very well aware of what the force they're dealing with. But a lot of them have respect, I don't know about respect, but they say, look, these Hezbollah fighters, they have courage, they're not just running, they're attacking. And I think, I don't know that they were surprised by the level of resistance, but they certainly have a healthy understanding of the threat that they are facing.

KING: That's what I meant, was how well they regarded the enemy as a tactical enemy.

COOPER: Yes, it is a tough fight. There's no doubt about it. And I mean, you talk to these Israeli troops and they're very honest about the threat they are facing. In the end they shrug and say look, what are we going to do? We were attacked. You know, we're defending our state. All of them and I've heard it over and over again, the Israeli forces will tell you they believe in the cause, they believe in what they're doing, and they say, look, we have no other choice, we've got to win this.

KING: So morale was high?

COOPER: I'd say so, yes. I mean, look, the troops are certainly tired. I was in an armored vehicle with about eight other soldiers for a total of 14 hours. You know, I was up the entire time, and I'm pretty tired. A lot of these soldiers were just out like a light as soon as the lights went off. And we were heading to a front line position. I was probably the only one nervous. These guys were veterans by now. But you know, morale is certainly high. They know the fight is tough. There's not a lot of false bravado you hear from these troops. They're very willing to say, look, this is tough, this is guerrilla war, it is not easy.

The fact that they are fighting, you know, even in towns that they have been in, Bint Jbeil, and have left, Hezbollah has retaken or, you know, put up, sent more fighters back in, so it is very difficult. It is excruciating combat. House to house in some cases, street to street. And they are seeing casualties. And that can certainly hurt morale. But these guys and these women are determined.

KING: Are you going to do more of the same, Anderson?

COOPER: I would like to. I'd like to. It's a hard thing to set up. The Israeli Defense Forces don't have a history of sending in embeds with correspondents. John Roberts and I, I think we're, whether we're the first or not, I'm not sure, but we're certainly, this weekend it's rare to have two correspondents from a network embedded in different positions. So it's a fascinating learning experience, and I would love to do it again. We'll see if that's possible.

KING: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Thanks, Larry.

KING: Anderson Cooper will host "AC 360" at the top of the hour. That's 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific. When we come back, our panel resumes. George Mitchell, Robin Wright, and John Roberts. Don't go away.


KING: Our panel's back. So let's start this segment with some sound from earlier tonight on CNN. Here's the Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Dan Gillerman, reacting to that Lebanese proposal to send 15,000 troops to the border.


DAN GILLERMAN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The Lebanese government has had at least six years to deploy its forces in the south. It didn't do it. It didn't do it when it had the power and the authority to do it. To expect them to do it now, when they have no power, no authority, after they've relinquished their sovereignty to the Hezbollah and let themselves and the whole country be held hostage by the Hezbollah seems to me very, very unrealistic.


KING: All right, George Mitchell. What do you make of that?

MITCHELL: Well, it's an understandable concern because, in fact, Hezbollah has been developing for six years. But of course the government of Israel didn't do anything during that time also, even though Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah. The fact is, Larry, that there aren't any good alternatives in this situation. There's a real problem, extremely complex, and it may be that each side has to give a little something to get the fighting ended and to get back into some kind of reasonable discussion to try to resolve the basic root causes of the problem. But I'm not surprised at the Israeli ambassador's response. It is a legitimate and understandable concern. Whether or not it prevails, we'll have to wait and see how the negotiations come out.

KING: Robin Wright, what do you say?

WRIGHT: I think we need to remember something very important. The Syrian troops only withdrew in April last year for the first time since 1976. You've only had a government that's really been in control of its own army, that was Democratically elected and not controlled by Syria, since last June. We're talking 13 months ago. It really, you know, to talk about six years is a little bit unfair.

Yes, Lebanon could have done a lot more over the entire course of this confrontation with Israel in restraining all of the militias, first of all the Palestinians and then Hezbollah. It has been unable to. But this is the moment at which it has committed and that's an important turn of events.

One of the other important moments, and that's for the United States' role, and that will be trying to beef up the Lebanese army, to train the 60,000 to 75,000 troops, provide them with the equipment. This is the one role on the ground that the United States is likely to play and this will be critical in making sure that the Lebanese army doesn't fall apart and is well-equipped enough to provide the kind of security that Israel needs along that very volatile and vulnerable border.

KING: John Roberts, what are they saying in Israel about the proposal? ROBERTS: They would like nothing more, Larry, than to have the Lebanese army patrolling the border, providing security in south Lebanon. That's what they've been calling for the last three weeks here in Israel. But their skepticism, as former Senate majority leader Mitchell was saying as to whether or not the Lebanese army can do it because it's not just the last six years, as Robin Wright was talking about, but even very recently they believe that the Lebanese army really is toothless, in the shadow of Hezbollah, that Hezbollah is really pulling the strings here in southern Lebanon.

So unless there is a fundamental change, a fundamental new commitment by this fledgling Lebanese government to give that military more authority to get it in there and provide the type of security that Israel is looking for, the Israeli troops are going to say, look, there's no way that we can leave southern Israel.

And if they don't -- sorry, leave southern Lebanon. And if they don't leave southern Lebanon, as Robin was pointing out earlier, that's going to constantly be a source of irritation for Hezbollah and for the people of Lebanon. They fully expect these troops that are in the field, that if they stay in Lebanon there are going to be skirmishes. Hezbollah is going to continue to at least attack them but not continue to fire these rockets into northern Israel.

So Larry, it's a very difficult solution to try to work out here and it does really require an enormous commitment on the part of this new Lebanese government, which doesn't really have a lot of power in the face of Hezbollah, to say look, this is the way it has to happen. There is some optimism here that in 1982 the Lebanese government got tough with the PLO. Perhaps they'll do it again in 2006 with Hezbollah.

KING: We'll be back with more of George Mitchell, Robin Wright, and John Roberts on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE, don't go away.


KING: George Mitchell, after listening to John Roberts, how much of this is a question of trust?

MITCHELL: Larry, I can tell you from my personal experience in the Middle East, there is the total absence of trust. Indeed I would call it active mistrust. It's an irony that until recently at least I haven't seen polls on this subject lately, but until recently two thirds in both Israel and among the Palestinians favored a two-state solution and the process need to bring it about despite all of the violence of the past six years, and yet on each side there was a total mistrust of the other's intentions to do the same thing.

It is the crux of the problem. No one will take a unilateral step to -- as a gesture to the other. Unilateral steps have been taken but they've been taken for what is perceived to be the self- interest of the party taking them. So it's a profound problem. It plagues every conflict situation. And it's extremely difficult to overcome while there is ongoing violence and a continuing level of death and destruction and demand for revenge. That's why there has to be an end to the violence and the fighting to allow emotions to at least subside a little and to permit political leaders to take the actions needed to bring about hopefully a long-term resolution.

KING: Robin Wright, if trust is the issue and has been the central issue, aren't the odds always against you?

WRIGHT: In the Middle East, sure. But the fact is we have seen an evolution since the first Camp David talks in the late 1970s. And just three years ago you saw the Arab League agree to put forward a plan that would recognize Israel's right to exist.

This is a quantum change. This was a very important moment. You have the feeling that the juncture we face right now is really pivotal in the history of the region. Whether there is a setback because of this conflict that takes us back a generation to the kind of hostility and distrust and active working against each other that we witnessed so long ago.

I mean, we were on the cusp of something, and the question now is whether it can be restored in any semblance of what it was just three years ago.

KING: John Roberts, is that what you sense there as well, this is all about trust?

ROBERTS: Oh, and as Senator Mitchell said, it's more about the lack of trust than it is about trust. The Israeli government, the Israeli military really have no trust in Lebanese officials that they're going to do anything about this. They don't have any trust in the United Nations. They don't believe that an expanded United Nations interim force in Lebanon is going to have any effect in policing, patrolling, and securing that area.

They only have trust in the international community, that if they can get a huge force in there, talking 15,000 to 20,000 soldiers, that they may be able to create this buffer zone. So that's the end-game here for Israel, Larry, and that's the intent of the Israeli officials, is to push as hard as possible for this international stabilization force.

But here's a point to keep in mind in terms of all of this fighting. Israel is not up against a conventional force that wants to bring everyone home alive from the battlefield. They're up against an organization where fighters go into this battle, don't caring if they live or die.

In fact, if they die they become a martyr to the cause. And that's why Israel is having so much trouble pushing Hezbollah out, because many of these fighters believe that the greater glory of their cause is to die in an ambush against Israeli forces or to just try to inflict as much damage as they possibly can, regardless of whether they live or die. When you're fighting a force, Larry, that doesn't care if it lives or dies, that's an extremely difficult force to fight. KING: George, do you see anything, anything at all in the fact that the president has not spoken to the prime minister of Israel?

MITCHELL: I don't, Larry. I'm somewhat surprised by it, but I don't think in the absence of knowledge about the reasons for it, if any, that it's possible to make any comment. He may feel that Secretary Rice is making enough contact. I think there is some domestic political pressure on Prime Minister Olmert in terms of the way in which the campaign has unfolded and a criticism that he has received for first believing that an exclusively air campaign or primarily air campaign could achieve the result and now the belated push to get ground troops up there.

And as I said last night, I think what you're seeing now in these last few days is a positioning on both sides to try to be able to claim victory, to try to say what we did was justified because we have achieved a victory. I think the initial goal of the total destruction of Hezbollah now appears beyond reach if the events of the past few weeks have any significance. But there still is room for some effort to try to position themselves to claim victory on both sides.

KING: Thanks, George. Thanks, Robin. Thanks, John Roberts. We are out of time. We'll see you again tomorrow night. Let's head to northern Israel. Standing by is Anderson Cooper to host "A.C. 360." Anderson?


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