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U.S. Navy Destroyer Being Sent to Mediterranean; U.S. Helicopters Took 21 Americans From Lebanon to Cyprus on Sunday; American Trapped in Lebanon Discusses Her Experience

Aired July 17, 2006 - 14:30   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well here's what we know about the Mideast crisis right now. A U.N. delegation in Lebanon says that country should play a role in restoring peace. Lebanon's government, of which Hezbollah is a part, has been largely sidelined since hostilities erupted.
The number of dead in this conflict is approaching 200 -- 165 have been killed in Lebanon, 24 in Israel. Hundreds more are wounded. Many of the roughly 25,000 Americans in Lebanon are desperate to leave. U.S. marine helicopters are helping get some of them out, including a family with a sick child.

The State Department is chartering planes and a cruise ship to bring out many more, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading in the other direction, into the conflict soon.

Violence in the Middle East pushed oil prices to record highs last week. Let's check on how they're faring today. Susan Lisovicz live from the New York Stock Exchange. Hey, Susan.



PHILLIPS: As missiles head into Lebanon, westerners are heading out, or at least trying to. The U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy all starting evacuations now. And now we've learned about a stepped up U.S. effort that is on the way. Let's get the latest now from Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Kyra, a little bit of a slow start, but the U.S. is getting its evacuation effort in high gear. An estimated 25,000 Americans in Lebanon, about 15,000 the State Department says has registered on their Web site and of those, about 3,000 just since the crisis began.

Beginning yesterday, the U.S. government began to get some of them out. Here we see some of the first evacuees, a group of 21 taken out yesterday, flown from Lebanon to Cyprus, about -- just over 100- mile flight there. And those three CH-53 helicopters are from the 24th marine expeditionary unit, which is operating in the Red Sea.

We talked before about the ship, the Iwo Jima. It probably will not move to Lebanon, although the helicopters from there will continue to play a role. In fact, we're told that three more of these CH-53s will show up tomorrow, making six helicopters making runs between Lebanon and Cyprus.

But the main way they're going to be getting people out is by ship. The State Department has chartered a cruise ship called the Orient Queen, a Greek flag vessel, which is supposed to arrive in Beirut tomorrow. It has the capacity for 750 people in its normal configuration. Theoretically they could put even more on because it will be really a short half-day trip from Lebanon to Cyprus, again. And then the ship will be able to go back and get more people.

So again, the State Department is anticipating that perhaps as many as 5,000 Americans may want to actually leave. Also, by way, playing a part in this, the U.S. Destroyer, USS Gonzalez, which will be providing security for the operations as the U.S. coordinates with the Israeli government, as well, which has blockaded Lebanon.

But the U.S. government hopes that over the coming days, they'll be able to move hundreds of people out, Americans who want to go to Cyprus and then from that point on, they're pretty much on their own to find commercial transportation, although, also under consideration, the possibility of chartering commercial aircraft to fly to Cyprus to provide flights out to other locations where they can catch commercial flights because it's going to be, obviously a crush of traffic on commercial carriers in Cyprus. Kyra?

PHILLIPS: All right, Jamie McIntyre from the Pentagon, thanks, Jamie.

Well the Israeli defense forces, IDF, may well be as battle tested as any fighting force on earth. Steve Hartov, former IDF operative, has been working his sources for CNN. Steve joining us once again. You know, we've been talking about the fact that these rocket strikes getting deeper into Israel. Why is that?

STEVE HARTOV, FORMER IDF OPERATIVE: Well, Kyra, the Hezbollah began using a fairly primitive nine-foot long rocket in the early stages of this. But now they've gone up to the Fajr-3s and the grad- 21s (ph) and some of these are multiple-launch rocket systems with up to 40 tubes, which they can fire simultaneously. The range has increased and you're seeing extensive hits simultaneously.

PHILLIPS: Which, of course, calls for special operations, one of your specialties.

HARTOV: That's right.

PHILLIPS: Tell me how special ops is playing an important role in this and I know you can't talk a lot about the technology, but if you could just talk about the lasers, I think it's interesting with regard to what special ops is doing right now.

HARTOV: You've got that exactly right. That is probably, of course, we don't want to identify units and so forth on the Israeli side, but you can assume that special operators are on the ground well past the northern border of Israel and their missions would be to detect these launch sites and paint them with laser targeting devices so that aircraft flying above can use their ordinance to hone in on those pinpoints and destroy the launchers.

PHILLIPS: Talk to me about the precision issue when it comes to Hezbollah and the weapons that it has. Taking a look at that Israeli warship that was hit, does Hezbollah have the type of weapons that are stroke of luck, hit it, we took a guess. Or do they have GPS or radar-guided weapons?

HARTOV: I don't think they have a lot of GPS or radar-guided weapons. They might have a few. At least we haven't seem them yet. We haven't seen them yet. That ship was definitely an exception. That was a radar-guided missile, almost like a cruise missile and it did go after the ship, you know, in a sophisticated way. I think that most of what you've seen fall on northern Israel is basically dumb warheads. And they don't seem to have any serious ground to air capacity because the Israelis haven't lost any aircraft.

PHILLIPS: Hezbollah's intelligence, is it humans on the ground? Do they have drones?

HARTOV: Interesting that you bring that up. A number of years ago they did fly a couple of sort of homemade drones over the northern border in Israel and that stirred up the defense establishment on the Israeli side having been penetrated by, basically, basement-made aircraft.

But I don't think that they have anything of a very sophisticated nature in terms of drones. What they do have is probably human assets on the ground in Israel, folks who can pick up a cell phone and say, yes, you almost hit that target, you need to, you know, drop 100.

PHILLIPS: Steve Hartov, former IDF, editor-in-chief of "Special Operations Report." Steve, always appreciate your insight. Thanks so much.

HARTOV: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Reliving one of the worst aviation disasters in history, the midair explosion of TWA 800. On the tenth anniversary of this catastrophe, a chilling warning that it could happen again. That's coming up on CNN, the most trusted name in news.


PHILLIPS: Let's get straight to Tony Harris working developments in the Middle East. Tony?

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Hey Kyra, in addition to bringing you the e-mail stories of people in the region and what they're going through right now, we're trying to make a connection with folks to put them on the air so that we can hear their stories in real time.

Sara Ahmadia is an American, she's in Lebanon right now and she's on the phone with us. Sarah, how are you holding up?

SARA AHMADIA, AMERICAN TRAPPED IN LEBANON (on phone): Very well, considering the circumstances. HARRIS: So, give me a little more, how you doing? I mean, I know you were there visiting family, give us a sense of what you have seen.

AHMADIA: Well, we started off, I've been in Lebanon since July 8th, so, not for very long. This the first time I have been here to visit my family. My dad grew up here. And, so, we were just going to the beach on Wednesday, south of Madrid and we saw the first bomb hit in south Lebanon.

We went back to the town we were staying in and we thought that we would be safe there because it's totally away from Hezbollah activity and everything. But two days later, this past Friday, bombs hit less than 500 yards away from the house where we were staying.

It was, I can't even explain what it was like. I mean, the best way I can describe it is that there were five planes, the reconnaissance plane was circling overhead and we would hear it when it came at the target, which was at a highway right behind the houses and it would make a buzzing sound and then the missile would come about 30 seconds later.

HARRIS: Oh, boy. Does your family live in an area that would be considered a Hezbollah stronghold?

AHMADIA: Absolutely not. This is insane. They're targeting so many places that have absolutely nothing to do with the Hezbollah, nothing.

HARRIS: You scared?

AHMADIA: Absolutely. We're safe where we are now because after that, after those bombings, we waited until the plane had gone until all the bombs stopped. My cousin's house, which was actually a little bit down the road, was destroyed in it. We fled to Sharoon, which is the town I'm in now. I've been here since Friday. And there are three of us, three families staying here that are related to me. And we seem to be safe here. I mean, there was a bombing in the valley right next to us last night and we can still here the planes, but I think we're OK where we are. I hope we're OK where we are and we're just going to sit in safe.

HARRIS: Sara, let me ask you to describe what it must be like. How amazed are you to find yourself, on your first visit to Lebanon, to find yourself in the latest of the middle latest flare up of hostilities in this region?

AHMADIA: It's horrible because we checked ahead of time. I'm very, very surprised. We went from hearing the first bombs on Wednesday during the day to waking up Thursday morning and finding ourselves completely isolated from the rest of the world. It's terrifying. Before we knew it, the airport was bombed, the highways were bombed, closing off Syria and that was it, we were stuck.

HARRIS: You sound tired. Are you getting any sleep? AHMADIA: Some, off and on. But I've definitely had my share of nightmares since those bombings. It was terrifying. Also my throat, there was a lot of smoke a couple of days ago when the bombs hit so close to us, there was a lot of smoke and a lot of dust because all the dust and glass was falling in the house. We were hiding in the basement. It was, obviously, not good for my throat.

HARRIS: Okay. So, Sara, finally, we wish you well, be safe, but are you, do you want to leave or do you want to stay?

AHMADIA: I don't know. I'm waiting for the United States to, you know, they haven't been very communicative with people here. We feel very abandoned, quite frankly. I'm just waiting for them to come up with something.

If I may say one more thing, though, probably the most important reason why I wanted to be on the air because it has absolutely nothing to do with me and everything to do with who's letting people know that these are civilian targets getting bombed and the United States, right now, our government is supporting the bombing of innocent civilians. There's only a few Hezbollah killed and like 200 Lebanese civilians that have absolutely nothing to do with Hezbollah. Many of them are against Hezbollah and our government needs to stop this.

HARRIS: All right Sara, you understand there is an entirely different view of the situation on the ground than the one you've just expressed, you understand that, correct?

I understand that and it's horrible. I don't know what information is being conveyed to the United States, but it's not what is happening here.

HARRIS: Sara, I appreciate your time, I can't debate it with you right now. But thanks for your time and be safe. Kyra, back to you.

PHILLIPS: Tony, appreciate it, we'll keep checking in.

My next guest says Israel is targeting the wrong nation. Adib Farha is a former Lebanese government adviser. He joins me from Wichita, Kansas. Great to have you back Mr. Farha and just to let our viewers know.


PHILLIPS: Pleasure to have you. And just to set up, why are we talking to you from Wichita. Well, we talked about this last week and that's because you believe you received threats from members of Hezbollah and, therefore, you had to leave your country. --

FARHA: I don't know who the threats were from, but Hezbollah could have certainly have been them.

PHILLIPS: One of the options. And you were an adviser to Rafik Hariri before he was assassinated. I'm just curious, if you were able to advise the prime minister right now, what would you tell him? FARHA: I think the prime minister is doing as well of a job as he can. His primary concern is maintaining national unity and making sure that the country does not slip into the abyss of a civil war again. We've seen how damaging that has been and, unfortunately, it looks more so every day that sectarian tensions could flare up any minute and he's also appealing to the world for humanitarian aid and also for a cease-fire.

I'm not sure that his appeal for a cease-fire is going to be well received by Israel or by the United States. They both feel that it's premature. This is a campaign that started with the intent of degrading Hezbollah's military capabilities and they're a long way from being finished with that.

PHILLIPS: And Mr. Farha, last week when we talked, you were telling me about the Lebanese government not being able to get a hold on Hezbollah and be able to participate in the U.N. resolution to disarm Hezbollah. We got in depth on that. Since then, we were able to get a number of interviews with the head of Hezbollah. You mentioned Iran, you mentioned Syria and the fact that both countries are backing Hezbollah. I now want to take a piece of that interview and get your response to what the head of Hezbollah had to say over the weekend.


HASSAN NASRALLAH, HEZBOLLAH LEADER (through-translator): I deny, completely deny any presence of Iranian soldiers. The Iranians have complete experience and could use these capabilities are all Lebanese and sons of Lebanon and belong to Lebanese families since hundreds of years. They are talking about Iranians and Iranian soldiers and tomorrow might be talking about Northern Koreans or Japanese or Russians or Chinese.


PHILLIPS: Couple questions for you Mr. Farha, you were an adviser to the Lebanese government, first of all, he did not deny weapons from Iran, but he's denying that Iranian soldiers are involved with what's happening. Why don't we start with the soldiers aspect, do you agree with that?

FARHA: My information is that there are a few dozen Iranian advisers. It is assumed that Hezbollah started out with about 12,000 missiles in three categories. There are certain missiles that Hezbollah is allowed by Iran to use when they see fit. There are some, another type of missile where they need Iran's permission and the third kind, the more sophisticated ones, which I understand, Hezbollah is only the custodian for those missiles and only the Iranian so-called advisers would shoot them.

There is no doubt this is a war between Iran and the civilized world. Hezbollah is just a tool of Hezbollah, of Iran. It is Iran's western assets and this is a much more serious situation than it originally appeared to most casual observers. This is a war between Iran, trying to establish its interpretation of Islam of radical Islam or of terrorism, which Islam is innocent of. It's trying to impose Islamic states all over the region and dominate the region.

PHILLIPS: Adib Farah, former Lebanese government adviser, stay with us sir, I want to talk to you more about the Lebanese army and what its role should be and also talk more about Hezbollah being part of the government you used to advise. Stay with us. We'll talk to you some more.

In addition, new attacks on Beirut and northern Israel. Many westerners being flown or shipped away from the danger zone. The latest on the evacuation efforts straight ahead.