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Israel Approves Wider Ground War in Lebanon; New Explosions Heard in Southern Lebanon; Miri Eisen Interview; Democrats Support Lamont

Aired August 9, 2006 - 16:00   ET


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, Israel gives the green light for a bigger and likely more bloody ground war in southern Lebanon. It's 11:00 p.m. here in Jerusalem where Israeli officials say the fighting could last another month. Now, Hezbollah's leader is vowing to turn southern Lebanon into a graveyard for Israeli soldiers. In the midst of the crisis, look who is here in Israel: the Reverend Pat Robertson. He talks at length about the war, religion and why he felt it was so important for him to come to Jerusalem.

And Senator Joe Lieberman fights to keep his seat despite being deserted by fellow Democrats. It's 4:00 p.m. in Connecticut where Lieberman's primary loss puts Iraq politics front and center. Is this a sign of things to come in the battle for Congress? We have some brand new poll numbers out this hour. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This hour, Israel is a nation bracing for a vastly larger and potentially deadlier ground war in Lebanon. Israel's security cabinet today overwhelmingly approved a potentially risky new phase of the battle to defuse the Hezbollah threat. After nearly a month of war, Israeli officials now say the combat could last another 30 days.

These are pictures just coming into CNN of the situation on the northern border where volleys, rocket fire continuing without let-up. Right now, these pictures only in the past few minutes, likely a prelude of a whole lot more about to unfold in this region of the world. At the same time, Hezbollah's leader is warning Israeli Arabs to leave the city of Haifa so his troop can step up attacks without harming fellow Muslims.

In a televised speech, Hassan Nasrallah calls a proposed U.N. peace plan, quote, "unfair and unjust." But he said he supports Lebanon's offer to send 15,000 troops to southern Lebanon once Israel withdraws. Today the Bush administration is warning both Hezbollah and Israel not to ratchet up the violence.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The escalation is something that we do not want to see but also you have to have a resolution that addresses the root cause of Hezbollah, has a practical solution to making sure that the Lebanese government will be able to have military and political control over the south.


BLITZER: On the diplomatic front, the U.S. special envoy David Welch made an unannounced trip to Beirut today to meet with Lebanon's prime minister. Lebanon has raised concerns about a U.N. draft resolution on the conflict. It was brokered by the United States and France. Diplomats say they hope for a vote on the resolution perhaps tomorrow. They've been hoping for such a vote now for days.

Meantime, the body count here in the Middle East keeps rising. Israel now puts its total death toll at 105. Lebanon reports 827 people killed, most of them civilians. As always, our correspondents are reporting from the combat zone. CNN's Brent Sadler is in Beirut. CNN's John Vause is here with me in Jerusalem.

But we lead off with CNN's Matthew Chance, once again along the Israel/Lebanese borders. Matthews, update our viewers on the very latest.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, the chaotic scene here on the northern border. You may be able to hear -- of course you can hear behind me the thumping barrage of Israeli guns as they continue to pound Hezbollah oppositions in south Lebanon. Since Israel's security cabinet approved the expansion of military operations in south Lebanon, they're saying they haven't given the order for that expansion to take place yet.

But I can tell from you this vantage point right a few hundred yards away from the Lebanese border, there really has been a dramatic upswing in military activity over the course of the past several hours. We've been watching hundreds of Israeli soldiers backed by tanks, rolling in to southern Lebanon, really striking hard at these Hezbollah strongholds.

They're going in, of course, to push as deep as they can into this area of southern Lebanon just across the border. Also in support, you can hear this artillery, really pounding, really opening up behind me, going in, in support of the 10 to 12,000 Israeli troops that are already there and have been engaged in close combat, close quarters fighting with Hezbollah guerrillas.

It has not been an easy battle so far for the past several weeks. There have been high casualties on both sides. On the Israeli side particularly, we're not allowed to tell you though because of the censorship laws in this country, exactly how many casualties there have been, but suffice to say, that the Hezbollah rebels are very well trained according to the soldiers we've spoken to coming out and their officers. Very well armed, very dug in and they are proving very difficult indeed to dislodge.

If the military campaign expands one of the big concerns, of course, for the Israeli military and for Israelis in general that they can expect more and more Israeli casualties. And that may be the one factor at this stage, Wolf, that is holding these soldiers back.

BLITZER: Matthew, we're hearings the gunfire, the shelling, the artillery. We also heard the sirens. I take it that suggests that there's fear rockets are coming into the area, close to you. Is that right?

CHANCE: Well, that certainly is the suggestion, Wolf, but we haven't seen any come in over the last hour or two, but certainly this is a very exposed location, right on the front line now with these battles taking place right behind me.

So obviously there's a considerable danger as there is across this whole northern frontier with Lebanon. Our understanding is that those sirens are linked to some kind of central radar system that go out across the whole of the northern frontier when there is a rocket threat.

And of course there is a virtually constant rocket threat. Despite this barrage here, it doesn't seem to have been able to dent the capability of Hezbollah to fire their rockets into southern Lebanon. And so we are exposed here, all of us, in northern Israel.

BLITZER: Matthew, these pictures we're showing our viewers are pictures of cameras in Israel, but they're looking into southern Lebanon. We see a rather, as you describe it, chaotic situation unfold and some are already suggesting this could be the prelude to part two, the new stage of this war, another even more robust, more massive Israeli invasion of south Lebanon, forces moving all the way up, potentially, to the Litani River, 20 or 30 kilometers into south Lebanon and perhaps even further.

Are you getting those indications that a new, more robust ground offensive has either started or is about to start?

CHANCE: Well, I certainly think it's true to say, Wolf, that any new expanded ground offensive would probably look like this, what we're seeing right now, in its earliest stages.

I happen to know though that the Israeli government have denied at this stage that this is the expansion that has been approved by the security cabinet and is merely an extension of the operations that we've been witnessing over the past several weeks.

The difference this time is it is taking place so close to the cameras, so do we have a real privileged view of this battle unfolding in southern Lebanon. But as far as where or when, according to the Israeli officials and the Israeli government personnel that we've spoken to, this is not the start of that expansion of military activities. Although again, it will certainly look like this when it happens.

BLITZER: And we're going keep showing our viewers that live picture of southern Lebanon from a vantage point in northern Israel. It looks, as you point out, some significant military activity under way right now. Not exactly clear what is going on, although the fireworks clearly evident to all our viewers, Matthew, around the world.

We know in recent weeks, the Israeli activated around 15,000 reserve forces. It always takes them time to get them ready for actual battle. These guys are reservists who in civilian life do all sorts of other things. Is there an indication from what you're seeing right now that some of those 15,000 reservists are now battle tested, battle ready and prepared to move into Lebanon?

CHANCE: Yes, I think definitely. I think it was actually more than 15,000. They called up three divisions, which could be as many as 30,000 people, perhaps even more than that. Certainly tens of thousands was the phrase that was given to me by Israeli defense officials when I asked them about the numbers.

But it's a slow process. These people are called up by text, by telephone, by letter. Then they have to report for duty. And then they have to undergo a certain amount of refresher training, and then day by day, they become available to go back into combat situations.

And so that's why we've been seeing this gradual, but steady buildup of Israeli forces, Israeli troops on these border areas, in preparation for a big push into southern Lebanon.

What we've been seeing in the meantime is quickly -- quick in and out operations, perhaps like this one we're witnessing now involving ground forces wit tanks, armored personnel carriers, backed up by the heavy artillery guns a distance away from the Lebanese border. And we've been seeing that. We're expecting to see more of it unless this conflict is brought to a diplomatic conclusion as soon as possible, Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you. I just want to point out to our viewers, we're looking at these live pictures of southern Lebanon where there is considerable military activity going on. We'll keep showing you these live pictures of the battle field in south Lebanon.

Let's bring in John Vause. He's here in Jerusalem with me. John, this a very significant day because, what plan B, from the Israeli perspective, about to unfold. Tell our viewers what the Israeli Security Cabinet specifically decided to do today.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it took them six hours to make this decision, which is an indication of just how crucial this was and how much thought went into this cabinet decision today. Essentially, they met against the backdrop of growing disquiet among the Israeli public that this war is not going as planned.

Essentially the air power, 5,000 air strikes over the last four weeks or thousands of artillery shells being fired into southern Lebanon is not achieving the results they need. This is why they have approved the call-up of reservists, like 30,000, maybe more. We still don't know. The Israelis won't tell us. That is why they're now preparing to go into southern Lebanon.

Everything which I've been told so far is that this push, this massive ground force in to southern Lebanon, could be a day, maybe two days away because of the diplomatic efforts which are under way. The Israelis want to give that time.

This is also a threat to Hezbollah, a threat to the Lebanese government, that if they don't act, the Lebanese government does not act, if Hezbollah is not tamed by the Lebanese government, if they do not stop the rocket fire, there will be serious consequence and the Israelis will go in on foot. There is a big risk here for the Israelis with the high number of casualties. It's a risk though they're prepared to take at this stage.

BLITZER: I want to just point out that our CNN International viewers are now joining our coverage. I want to welcome them and just update them on what is going on. A major Israeli military offensive under way right now. We don't know if this is the start of the new invasion, if you will, a new, more robust military operation approved by Israel's Security Cabinet earlier today here in Jerusalem, overwhelmingly approved during a six hour discussion that the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened earlier today.

John Vause is here. Matthew Chance is along the border, watching all of this unfold. John Vause, from the Israeli perspective, and you've been here now for three years as our correspondent but you've been coming often to this part of the world for about five years, there's a very, very robust debate under way in Israel about some of the mistakes that unfolded over the past month and it's playing out, to a certain degree, with this major shake-up at the highest commands of the Israeli military.

VAUSE: Well we've seen the head of the northern command essentially being side-lined because of criticism that he was too slow to react to this, too cautious in the early stages of the war, too slow to send the army in, in any force. So now he's been replaced by his deputy. So that's an indication that the government is very unhappy. Many Israelis want this government to act and to act hard and that's what we're seeing now.

BLITZER: We're presumably going to see the start of something a whole lot more explosive, at least that's been authorized by the Israeli cabinet today. John Vause, thanks, stand by, because we're going to be coming back to you. I want to go to Beirut right now.

Brent Sadler is our correspondent, our bureau chief on the scene right now. Brent, tell our viewers, from your vantage point, how all of this is unfolding, because shortly after word of the Israeli cabinet decision came out, we heard from the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah.

BRENT SADLER, CNN BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF: That's right, Wolf. There has been a quickening of the tempo of battle in south Lebanon. Earlier this day, I wasn't so very far away from where some of those explosions were taking place. I heard intense air activity.

I heard air strikes going in around Nabatiyeh, which is a main market town in the south. Thumps every three or four seconds or so throughout the afternoon and that really is followed up on four days of consecutive strikes against the Beirut capital itself.

Now Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, gave his first reaction since that U.N. draft resolution has been circulating in New York, and quite clearly from his words here, Hassan Nasrallah is being defiant. He's basically saying they're standing fast.

He's telling the Israelis that despite a month of bombardments and ground operation, Hezbollah, he claims, it's rocket power is still very much intact. And if there is a wider offensive to strike more of Lebanon under Israel's control then this is a chilling threat that Hassan Nasrallah just a short time ago aired on television here. Let's listen in Wolf.


HASSAN NASRALLAH, LEADER OF HEZBOLLAH (through translator): You will not stay in our land, either we will force you out by force, we will liberate our dear southern land. We will transfer it as a graveyard to the Zionists. All those will fight you at the front lines, will fight you with bravery and wait for you at every village, at every hill or valley, at any stage, thousands of Mujahadeen are waiting for you, are really disturbing the brave.


SADLER: So certainly there, Wolf, some strong criticism of Israel's failure, says Nasrallah, to defeat Hezbollah thus far. Also today, more strikes against the Lebanese capital, mounting casualties on this side as Lebanese from all parts of this country now look at what's happening, as you can see from those picture coming out from Matthew Chance' position on the Lebanese/Israeli border, as to how soon this second phase, that's very widely expected, will get underway.

Remember, Wolf, that the large part of the south, including the port city of Tyre, as Lebanon's third largest city, now cut off from the rest of the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brent Sadler, thank you very much. I just want to show our viewers what we're seeing ourselves in south Lebanon. These are cameras in northern Israel. Live pictures you're seeing. It looks like a major new military offensive now under way in south Lebanon.

Israeli officials earlier in the day approved this major expansion of the ground war. The Israeli Security Cabinet meeting for some six hours. The Prime Minister Ehud Olmert then going forward with an overwhelming decision on the part of the Israeli cabinet to go ahead and give the military more authority to unleash more firepower if there's no diplomatic resolution any time soon.

Let's get some official word from the Israeli government. Miri Eisen is an Israeli government spokeswoman, retired colonel in the IDF, in the Israel Defense Forces. Is this the start, what we're seeing live around the world right now, a start of a new, more robust, Israeli ground invasion deeper into south Lebanon? MIRI EISEN, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESWOMAN: No, it isn't right now. What we're seeing now is the continuation of the same operations that we've seen all over, only this time we're seeing it from close up. All of us have seen over the last week the immense amount of Katyusha rockets that have fallen on the city of Kiryat Shmona. You were there. I've been there.

Hundreds of rockets have fallen over the last week. We're trying to get at the source of those Katyusha rockets. It's relatively near to the city itself. It's a small operation that looks large from where we're looking right now, but this is not opening up any new front. It's taking care of one that has been consistently hitting Kiryat Shmona.

BLITZER: So where these Israeli troops are going toward right now, specifically the Katyushas, the rockets coming into Kiryat Shmona, they have intelligence that they know where it is and that's why they're moving in, in a rather massive way right now.

EISEN: We have always watched where the Katyusha rockets come from. Our problem is going into these civilian areas, into these towns and villages, into the areas that Hezbollah is waiting. These are one of the cities like al-Khiam. It's directly north of Metulla and Kiryat Shmona. Hezbollah is definitely based there, and they've been firing the Katyusha rockets from there. We are going to go and get those rocket launchers.

BLITZER: So when will the total new invasion, what some are calling a Normandy, a D-Day like invasion, authorized by the Israeli cabinet today. When is that expected to begin?

EISEN: Israel is for the diplomatic solution. We have said that clearly. That was the main issue that came up today in the Security Cabinet meeting. We, at this stage, see the diplomatic solution as the main way we should go. The efforts of the international community are amazing.

They're talking about the Lebanese army, an international force, the implementation of security resolution 1559 and we want to give that the best chance that we can. Until we have a diplomatic resolution, we will continue with the military operations and if there isn't one, then we would think of expanding and certainly hitting any terrorist infrastructure, all of the rocket launchers and the headquarters in southern Lebanon.

BLITZER: The Lebanese government says it's ready to send 15,000 regular Lebanese army soldiers to the southern part of the country. The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, says he supports this Lebanese plan. He's willing to cooperate with it. The key issue, Israel has to withdraw. You say Israel has no territorial designs in Lebanon. What's wrong with that Lebanese proposal?

EISEN: Israel has said clearly that we think that the Lebanese proposal is an interesting one. But we're all aware also of the limitation. The Lebanese army will not disarm Hezbollah. When we talk about the implementation of 1559, it has two parts. The Lebanese army deployed on our northern border and the disarmament of Hezbollah.

I'm not surprised that Hassan Nasrallah is happy about that solution. Any solution which he thinks won't disarm Hezbollah is one that he's for. We feel that the Lebanese army needs the backing, the oomph, of an international force, something robust, something that can really help them effectively disarm the terrorist organization.

BLITZER: Is that the international stabilization force? Do you believe a French-led, multinational force could disarm Hezbollah and prevent Hezbollah from regrouping, getting more rockets?

EISEN: I think that the combination of the Lebanese army, the backing for the Lebanese government, and a robust force could certainly make a difference. And we have to remember, we're four weeks into fighting. Hezbollah is not the same Hezbollah of four weeks.

The fact that they are hiding all of the casualties that they have had, at least 400 terrorists killed, headquarters, all of the fortifications, all of the weapons that we have taken, they're trying to hide that fact.

BLITZER: But they're still capable of launching rockets against northern Israel, another almost 200 coming into today.

EISEN: You're right, Wolf. And that's one of the things that we're doing on the operations like this evening. For us, this is the threat, tens of thousands of rockets. We're proud of the fact that we've attacked two thirds, but for us, the third that's left is impossible because it's thousands. And still Syria and Iran continue to send in more rockets, more launchers. They're the main conduits, the main suppliers and we have to make sure that this stops.

BLITZER: Do you think this can be stopped by the United Nations Security Council?

EISEN: We think that the diplomatic resolution is the main way to go. That is the way this will be resolved. The Security Council resolution is the beginning of the process, and that is the way that we want to go.

BLITZER: Miri Eisen is a spokeswoman for the Israeli government, retired colonel Israeli Defense Forces. Thanks for coming in.

EISEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're going to continue to watch those pictures coming from south Lebanon, a major military offensive. You just heard from the Israeli government spokeswoman. This is not -- repeat -- not the start of phase two, this plan B in the Israeli campaign against Hezbollah, but it is a significant military move underway right now. We're going to go back to Matthew Chance and watch it.

Also Jack Cafferty is off this week. "The Cafferty File" will return on Monday. Still coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, much more on our top story. Israel gets ready to move its force deeper and deeper into Lebanon. We're going to go back to the border between the two countries.

Plus, politics back home. Lieberman loses, but the senator vows to fight on. But will Democrats who once gave him their support abandon him now?

And later, the battle for Capitol Hill. Can Democrats retake Congress? We have some brand new poll numbers out this hour. Live from Jerusalem, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're reporting live from Jerusalem.

There's heavy military activity unfolding along the border between Israel and south Lebanon. You've been seeing it live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

CNN's Matthew Chance is on the scene for us. Matthew, we just heard the Israeli government spokeswoman, Miri Eisen, say this is a limited campaign, although it looks a lot more than limited to those of us watching on live television -- a limited campaign to deal with the threat, one specific threat of Katyusha rockets coming into a town in northern Israel. Set the stage for our viewers, Matthew. What do you see and what do you hear?

CHANCE: Well, we hear a great deal of ferocious pounding with Israeli guns, artillery guns, as well as tanks really striking hard at the hillsides, at various buildings described as Hezbollah strongholds just across the Lebanese border, literally a few hundred yards from where I'm standing right now. Behind me, you can see the live pictures as they're being broadcast to us as well.

There's a great deal of military activity with tanks crossing those borders as well as hundreds of Israeli soldiers that are walking slowly, by foot, across the areas, some of them strewn with land mines those areas, so they're being very careful as they advance into southern Lebanon.

But this is -- the Israeli spokeswoman is absolutely right. This is the kind of operation that has been underway in various parts of the Israeli border with Lebanon for the past several weeks, but it is looking very dramatic at the moment. It is looking like there's been a dramatic upswing in the military activity. And you can hear the artillery behind me pounding at those Hezbollah positions.

Certainly, I think it does look like -- as I mentioned a few moments ago in that previous report, it does look like an expansion of the military operations here. They're using a the lot of tanks, they're using a lot of personnel and certainly, Wolf, all along this border, this frontier with Lebanon, over the past several days we've witnessed a dramatic buildup in the amounts of forces that have become available to the Israelis.

They've been calling up their reserve soldiers, they've been deploying tanks and armored vehicles along the border, waiting for the order to be sent in. This looks like, from what we see on our television sets and here actually witnessing the situation firsthand, close up, it does look like this is a major incursion at the very least into southern Lebanon by the Israeli forces, Wolf.

BLITZER: Although you did hear Miri Eisen, the spokeswoman for the prime minister, tell us only moments ago live here on CNN in THE SITUATION ROOM that we should not overread what we're seeing, that this is not necessarily what the Israeli Security Cabinet approved today, which would be a much more robust ground invasion moving all the way into south Lebanon up to the Litani River, 20 or 30 kilometers and maybe even further into Lebanon -- if that happens, that would certainly be an even more significant military move.

CHANCE: Absolutely, Wolf. And what I was trying to say is that over the past several days, we've seen the military forces accumulate along this border that would make that very robust invasion of southern Lebanon a possibility. We've seen tens of tanks, maybe 70, 80 tanks in just a small area around where I'm speaking to you right now accumulate on the Israeli side, gather on the Israeli side of the Lebanese border waiting for that order to go in.

Now, as you say, our understanding at the moment and according to that Israeli spokeswoman, the order to expand those military operations has not been given. The approval has been given but the order hasn't. Nevertheless, we are seeing this dramatic upswing in military activity perhaps as some kind of precursor to that main invasion that may well be given the order to go ahead in the days ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly looks like that, Matthew. I'm going to have you stand by, because we're going to be coming back to you as these live pictures here on CNN continue to unfold. There are dramatic, dramatic developments unfolding in south Lebanon right now. We're going to continue to show these pictures.

I do want to spend a few moments, though, taking a look at a major political story that has been unfolding back in the United States. That would be Senator Joe Lieberman's primary defeat. And it's being felt far beyond his home state of Connecticut.

Many fellow Democrats are now turning their backs on the former Democratic vice presidential nominee, and they're embracing the man who beat him that. That would be Ned Lamont.

But Lieberman is vowing to fight on now as an independent candidate.

Dana Bash is following all the fallout in Washington.

First, though, let's bring in Mary Snow. She is on the scene in Hartford, Connecticut.

What a political story, Mary.


And, you know, throughout the day, Connecticut Democrats have been turning up the pressure, trying to get Senator Joseph Lieberman to bow out of an independent run. Now, we just caught up with the senator a few moments ago. He says he is standing firm, that he is in this race until November.


SNOW (voice-over): The grassroots candidate meets the Democratic establishment. Ned Lamont made friends quickly, embraced by some who had campaigned against him. He touted a record 43 percent voter turnout as a victory in itself.

NED LAMONT (D), CONNECTICUT SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I think we can change Washington, D.C., challenge the Bush administration, and put forward a strong, constructive alternative agenda of what he's doing to this country.

SNOW: With the new kid on the block calling for Democratic unity, Senator Joseph Lieberman is now relying on Republicans, independents and divided Democrats. He filed petitions to run in November as an independent candidate, saying his four-point loss to Lamont wasn't a mandate.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: I'm fighting on for that cause of a government of unity and purpose and solving problems, not one that spends all its time, as Lamont has done and will do, distorting the opposition. I don't want these folks to take over my party or American politics.

SNOW: Those folks are the Internet bloggers whom many credit with putting Lamont on the map, challenging traditional Democrats. Now those traditional Democrats are endorsing Lamont, including longtime Lieberman supporter Senator Christopher Dodd. He made it clear he doesn't support Lieberman's independent bid.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: I regret that decision, but that was his decision to make. And, certainly, we will have, I hope, a spirited campaign, if he stays in it.

SNOW: While pressure builds for Lieberman to back out, he did get a vote of support, but from a Republican, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: This country needs nonpartisan elected officials who think that doing the right thing for the public is more important than supporting some party.

SNOW: Some political observers point out that Lieberman will have to run like a Republican, and it's his association with Republicans that became the cornerstone of the opposition against him in a race that spawned 30,000 new Democrats in Connecticut.


SNOW: Now, polls done before the primary show that, in a three- way race, Joseph Lieberman would win in November. And Democrats admit it will be challenging, with him running as an independent.

But, today, they're certainly vowing to press ahead and win in November -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, reporting for us from Connecticut -- thank you, Mary.

And I just want to remind our viewers, these live pictures you're seeing from south Lebanon, a major Israeli military move under way, not -- repeat, not -- the start of plan B, this new, more ground -- more robust ground invasion that was authorized overwhelmingly by Israel's security cabinet earlier in the day, but a strike, a strike against what Israeli government officials say is the source of Katyusha rockets coming into northern Israel -- these dramatic pictures continuing to unfold live for our viewers in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We will continue to show these pictures to our viewers.

Also want to continue to cover the political bombshell back in the United States, the aftermath of Joe Lieberman's loss.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

The fallout from this story, Dana, is very intense.


At this point, only a few of Senator Lieberman's colleagues from the Senate are sticking with him in his independent bid. Most are opposed to it. And some Democrats who are eyeing the party's presidential nomination for 2008, like Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and retired General Wesley Clark, they are urging supporters to push Lieberman to stop his campaign.

Other potential 2008 contenders are being a bit more subtle.


BASH (voice-over): Joe Lieberman is still running, but finding out fast that party loyalty and political reality trump friendship.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I will be sending a -- a contribution to Mr. Lamont today. I have called to offer whatever support he needs, as he continues his campaign.

BASH: Democratic leader Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, in charge of electing Senate Democrats, set the tone, pledging to fully support Mr. Lamont's candidacy.

One by one, many of Joe Lieberman's longtime Senate colleagues announced, they're lining up behind the winner of the Democratic primary, not Lieberman. The pressure from Democrats to drop his independent bid is thinly veiled.

CLINTON: Well, he's going to have to make that decision. And I hope he, obviously, thinks hard about it.

BASH: Top Democrats had considered sending an emissary, like Connecticut's Chris Dodd, to push Lieberman to give up. Now, strategists tell CNN, they will let the dust settle, and see if polls show his support slipping, which would give them an opening.

LIEBERMAN: No, no, no, I am in this race to the end. For me, it is a cause.

BASH: With the primary result comes a dizzying debate over what this means for November and beyond. Because Lieberman is perceived as supportive of the president, Democrats leaders see an early indicator of anti-Bush, anti-incumbent sentiment they hope can sweep Republicans out of office.

To Republicans, a hawkish Senate veteran defeated by an anti-war newcomer equals a fresh opportunity to paint Democrats as weak on defense.

KEN MEHLMAN, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: It reflects an unfortunate embrace of isolationism, defeatism, and, too often, a blame-America-first attitude by national Democratic leaders.

BASH: A new CNN poll does show opposition to the war now at 60 percent, an all-time high. And anti-war activists who vowed to make an example of Lieberman are empowered, warning other candidates to take notice.

TOM MATTIE, MOVEON.ORG: The race in Connecticut is a bellwether for, you know, anti-war sentiment among the entire public, in addition to the base of the Democratic Party.


BASH: The reality is, many Democrats who voted for the war, especially those with potential 2008 aspirations, like Hillary Clinton, had already begun to heed warning signs flashing from Connecticut, and have been much more vocal, in recent weeks, about their disagreements with President Bush over the war and his strategy and management of that war.

Still, there is deep concern among some Democrats today that anti-war activists will be so emboldened by the defeat of Lieberman that they will turn their attention perhaps to other Democrats down the road who backed the war, instead of focusing on what Democrats, as a whole, really want to focus on between now and November, which is beating Republicans -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you.

Dana Bash and Mary Snow, they are part of the best political team on television -- CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

And one other note about the Lieberman story -- in Crawford, Texas, earlier this afternoon, the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, said President Bush will not support Lieberman, as he makes a bid to keep his Senate seat as an independent.

Coming up, we will get more on our top story, a step-up in Israel's land war in south Lebanon. We're going to live to the Israeli-Lebanese border -- Matthew Chance on the scene for us. We're watching the story unfold. It's unfolding right in front of our eyes, on live television, as the Israeli cabinet authorizes a new, more robust ground offensive into south Lebanon.

Also coming up: A top Christian conservative comes to Jerusalem. In the next hour, my one-on-one interview with the Reverend Pat Robertson here in Israel. I will ask him why he felt compelled to come to Israel right now.

I'm live in Jerusalem, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

We're following dramatic developments in this war. It's about to become the second month of the war -- and the Israeli cabinet today deciding to give authorization to the Israeli military to step up its ground invasion of south Lebanon, moving troops potentially as far north as the Litani River, 20 or 30 kilometers into south Lebanon, and perhaps even further north.

We're also launching watching an intense battle unfolding along the border right now. If you have been watching THE SITUATION ROOM, you have been seeing the pictures, hearing the sounds, the explosions, the shelling, on live television.

Matthew Chance is right in the thick of things. He's hearing it. He's watching it.

Matthew, update our viewers on what's going on.

CHANCE: Well, there has been a big upswing in military activity, Wolf, over the course of the past several hours, since I have been reporting to you.

In fact, a fierce artillery barrage -- and you can hear it going on behind me -- has been really pounding, really pounding the areas of south Lebanon. I can tell you, the artillery barrage has been quite ferocious.

What we have also been witnessing, Wolf, is an overflow of Israeli troops, hundreds of them actually crossing the border from Israel into Lebanon, backed by columns of tanks as well. And that's why, I think, we're seeing such a ferocious opening-up of the Israeli guns at the moment, in support of those troops, as they try and take the various Hezbollah strongholds, which are the immediate objective at -- at the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what I sense is unfolding, Israeli ground forces moving in, backed up by armored vehicle, tanks. They're moving in. But, in advance, there's the shelling that's going on to soften up the targets, if you will, soften up what the Israelis would regard as enemy positions, Hezbollah positions, in south Lebanon.

Is that an accurate, roughly accurate, picture of the military scene?

CHANCE: I certainly think it is, Wolf.

I mean, over the past several days, we have been hearing and watching this Israeli artillery, along with tanks, really pound Hezbollah positions in the area of south Lebanon, just across the border, a few hundred yards behind me, in fact.

It's only in the past 24 hours or so, though, that we have seen a real upsurge in this military activity in this particular location, which is just a short stretch, remember, of the Israeli-Lebanese border.

But, over the past few hours, especially, we have been seeing that artillery barrage intensify, ahead of the troops, as they go in, ahead of the tanks, as well. And, so, it has been a gradual softening-up of those Hezbollah positions, as the Israeli Defense Ministry calls them, before the Israeli soldiers go in.

Now, what the ultimate objective is, is not altogether clear to us.


CHANCE: And you can hear the mortars raining down behind me right now.

The objective is not altogether clear. But, in the past few weeks, we have been witnessing Israel conducts what it calls pinpoint operations in and out of Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon. And it has been a very tough fight. They have been losing people. They have been engaged in close-quarters fighting with Hezbollah fighters around towns that they have previously announced they have captured.

And, so, this enemy, from the Israeli point of view, Hezbollah, has proved to be a very tough enemy to dislodge -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Matthew, it sounds very, very powerful. We're going to be coming back to you, Matthew. Thank you very much -- Matthew Chance on the border, along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

These have been live pictures you're seeing, a new Israeli military offensive under way, but not -- repeat, not -- the more robust ground offensive that has been authorized by the Israeli cabinet, an authorization that was voted on, overwhelmingly, earlier today, six-hour debate in the Israeli cabinet -- the cabinet deciding to give the military the authorization to push all the way up to the Litani River, if necessary, to stop those Hezbollah rockets from coming into northern Israel.

We're going to have much more on this story coming up -- much more on our other major political news coming up as well, Joe Lieberman suffering a major setback in that primary race in Connecticut.

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


BLITZER: We have been watching a major Israeli battle unfold in south Lebanon, Israeli troops moving in on the ground, backed up by armor, by tanks, artillery shells going in, as well. Israeli officials say they're looking for the source of Katyusha rockets coming into one town, a major Israeli town in the northern part of the country.

They say they have intelligence where these -- rocket fire originates, where the rockets are coming in from, and that's why this strike is under way. They insist, though, this is not -- repeat, not -- the start of that big new ground offensive authorized overwhelmingly by the Israeli cabinet earlier today. We're going to have a live report from the border. That's coming up right at the top of the hour -- much more on our top story.

There's another big political story we're following, as well. That would be Joe Lieberman's loss. And it's figuring into the bigger battle for the control of the U.S. Congress.

We have some brand-new poll numbers on the fall showdown.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He has been looking over all those numbers.

Bill, first of all, tell us what you have been seeing in the exit polls involving Joe Lieberman's primary defeat.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, here's something very surprising, Wolf, from the CBS/"New York Times" exit poll. Most Democratic voters interviewed yesterday thought Senator Lieberman is doing a good job. They give their senator a 56 percent approval rating.

Then, why did they reject him? Because it was also about President Bush. Fifty-nine percent of Connecticut Democrats said Lieberman is too close to Bush. Now, do Connecticut Democrats want their senator to run as an independent? No, said 61 percent. More than a quarter of Lieberman's own supporters say they don't want him to run as an independent.

BLITZER: Bill, what about the poll and the numbers it's showing about Congress?


Well, our survey shows that Democrats are maintaining a double- digit lead, 53 to 40 percent, nationally when voters were asked how they would vote for Congress this year. Democrats also seem to be more highly motivated than Republicans. Most Democratic voters say their minds are firmly made up. Most Republican supporters say, you know, they might change their minds between now and the election.

Democrats seem to be riding a demand for change this year. By 54 to 40 percent, Americans say the Republican Congress in power since 1995 has been a failure. That's almost exactly the margin by which Democrats are leading in the congressional vote -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you -- Bill Schneider reporting for us.

Another incumbent's primary loss is on our "Political Radar" this Wednesday. Even in defeat, the Georgia congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, managed to raise eyebrows again. She delivered an angry speech last night, blaming the media and electronic voting machines for her loss in yesterday's Democratic primary runoff. It's the second time in four years the controversial lawmaker has been denied reelection.

Former DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson easily won the runoff by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin -- Cynthia McKinney going down in defeat.

Up next: those brand-new poll numbers on the battle for Congress and Senator Lieberman's primary defeat, major political happenings in our "Strategy Session."

And we're also following the breaking news here in the Middle East -- new explosions rocking southern Lebanon, after Israel approves a wider ground offensive. We're going to have live reports right at the top of the hour, as this news continues to unfold.

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


BLITZER: We're watching all the developments unfold today -- and they're coming in fast and furious -- here in the crisis -- let's call it a war, because that's what it is -- a war unfolding in the Middle East, a war taking an ominous new turn today, as the Israeli cabinet announced plans to go ahead and authorize a much more robust, much more -- a much larger Israeli ground offensive into south Lebanon -- details coming up right at the top of the hour.

I want to continue, though, our discussion of the stunning political news back in the United States, Joe Lieberman's defeat.

Let's have a little analysis of what has happened, our "Strategy Session." Joining us now, Donna Brazile, our Democratic strategist, and Bay Buchanan joining us, as well, our Republican strategist.

Donna, first to you.

This creates all sorts of problems for the Democratic Party, as we see major Democratic figures lining up behind the Democrat who won the primary, Ned Lamont.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The majority of Democrats, Wolf, are -- are united behind Ned Lamont.

You saw today Harry Reid came out in support for Ned Lamont. Hillary Clinton came out in support for Ned Lamont. Ned Lamont will be able to unify the Democratic Party, not only in Connecticut, but also nationally.

This is really a race not about the left or the right, but about moving America forward. And Ned Lamont represents change. And, together, with his supporters last night, they sent a message, not only to Democrats, but to Republicans as well, is that the status quo is no longer acceptable. They want to see a new direction.

And I think Ned Lamont will be a very strong contender this fall.

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Wolf, the key here, though, is...

BLITZER: Bay Buchanan...

BUCHANAN: Go ahead.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Bay.

BUCHANAN: The key here is, you are going to have an incredible race here. This is going to come down to a general election between Democrats, one of whom is saying -- it's a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party.

One is from the anti-war, left-wing part of the party. The other one is a moderate, fighting to say that the moderates have to retain control of this party, if they're going to have a future.

This is what it is going to be -- it's an enormous distraction for the Democrats in the general election. I think it's excellent for Republicans, as we watch this battle. And Donna is wrong. I do believe it's for the soul of the party. And it's going to energize that left wing incredibly.

BLITZER: But -- but, Bay, let me point out these new numbers -- and Bill Schneider just reported them as well -- in our new CNN poll.

We asked the American public, do you favor or oppose the war in Iraq, as it's unfolding right now? Thirty-six percent favor. Sixty percent, Donna and Bay -- but let me let Bay respond -- 60 percent oppose, Bay, this war. So, why do you say it's a minority of the American public who are siding with Ned Lamont?

BUCHANAN: Well, I think there's -- well, now, I didn't say there's a minority. There's going to be a battle inside Connecticut for the soul of the Democratic Party.

But the key here is, if the left-wing, if the anti-war crowd gets the real momentum going here, it will not only influence what happens in Connecticut. It's going to influence what happens in '08, as they get greater and greater control, embolden their own leaders to speak out more radically.

And I think you may have a candidate in '08 that's far more to the left than maybe the Democrats may want in a general election. That's where I think it's going to go. And that's why I say they should be somewhat concerned to totally energize this anti-war left wing in their own party.

BRAZILE: Well, I can understand why...


BLITZER: All right. Let me let Donna respond to that.

Donna, go ahead.

BRAZILE: Thank you, Wolf.

I can understand why the Republicans would like to see a fight within the Democratic Party. The truth is, the party is very unified. The party is unified behind Lamont. But, more importantly, the party is unified on Iraq.

You saw in the polls, 60 percent of the American people believe the president has mishandled the situation. Had Joe Lieberman stood up to George Bush earlier in the campaign season, then voters would not have had to stand up to Joe Lieberman yesterday.

So, this is an opportunity to take control of Congress. This an opportunity to send a message to the Republicans and to the rest of America that the -- that Democrats are ready to provide the leadership and to take America in a new direction.

BUCHANAN: And, Wolf, the key here...

BLITZER: But, Bay...


BLITZER: Hold on one second, Bay.

BUCHANAN: Certainly.

BLITZER: Hold on one second. Isn't this a win -- potentially, at least, a win-win situation for the Democrats? If Ned Lamont wins, he's a new Democratic senator from Connecticut. If Joe Lieberman wins, he's an independent, but you know, most of the time, he's going to be voting with Democrats. So, it looks like it could be a win-win for them.

BUCHANAN: Well, there's no question. There's no Republican in play up there. This is between two Democrats, this general election.

But the key is, how much of a distraction is it, Wolf? How much attention goes there, as they -- as the parties take sides in this race, the moderates against the left wing?

And, then, the key is, your polls are worrisome. There's no question. But there's a big jump between those Americans who are against this war and those who believe it's time to pull out, let's say, in six months or eight months or nine months. And that's where the Democrats are going to go.

I believe there's going to be real momentum for the Democrats to come up with a timetable. And I don't believe the American people are there.

BRAZILE: Reverend Jackson...


BLITZER: All right, Donna, go ahead and wrap it up.

BRAZILE: Well, there's no question that the Democratic Party has a healthy left wing and a healthy moderate and centrist wing.

And the truth is, is that the party is unified, and the party is unified at taking the country in a totally new direction. And I don't believe we're going to have any problems. Ned Lamont will have -- not have any problems unifying the Democratic Party in Connecticut.

BLITZER: We shall see. Thank you very much.

Donna Brazile, Bay Buchanan, and, to our viewers, as you saw a few moments ago, as well, Bill Schneider, they are all part of the best political team on television -- CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Liberals online are calling Ned Lamont's victory over Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary a watershed event. Is this just the beginning of something bigger? And what will this mean for Democrats and Republicans in November?

Standing by with some analysis is our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, in the past, the anti- war liberal bloggers have claimed success raising money for their candidates, raising their profiles, and also challenging the Democratic establishment that they feel is out of touch. But they had never really got a win. Howard Dean's presidential bid in 2004 showed the power of the Internet to organize, to fund- raise. But Dean fell short of the nomination. Last year, the liberal blogosphere rallied around anti-war Democrat Paul Hackett in an Ohio special election. Hackett came close, but he ultimately lost out to the Republican.

For Ned Lamont, the online community, the liberal blogosphere had been going all-out., the online political group, had raised $270,000 -- their volunteers calling voters in Connecticut. The blogs had been raising money as well, also using their sites to debate Lieberman -- some of them occasionally raising criticisms that their tactics went too far. But, all of this effort, they ultimately claimed victory.

The momentum in the liberal blogosphere -- sphere -- today towards November is absolutely clear -- at Daily Kos, Kos telling his vast online community: "Everyone has a race nearby that could use your help. The time to fight is now."

And, online, it's a fight that has already started, after yesterday's primary victory for Lamont. Look at this, from the Republican National Committee, them sending out this fund-raising e- mail, accompanied by a video. That's Ned Lamont with liberal filmmaker Michael Moore -- also, Markos here, from Daily Kos, trying to define this new Democratic Party that they're saying is moving to the left, including the liberal bloggers in that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you very much.


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