Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Israel Expands Military Operation Across Southern Lebanon; Hezbollah Leader Makes New Threats; Rumsfeld Testifies Before Senate Armed Services Committee; Mark Regev Interview; Dozens Of Hezbollah Rockets Land in Israel, Taking Deadly Toll; Court Rules DeLay's Name Will Stay on Texas Ballot in November; Lieberman Losing Ground in Poll

Aired August 03, 2006 - 16:00   ET


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, Hezbollah unleashing another barrage of rockets and threatening to strike Tel Aviv if Israel keeps pounding Lebanon's capital. It's 11:00 p.m. in Beirut, the target of renewed Israeli air strikes. We're live on the front lines, following all the new attacks and the new threats.

Also this hour, a new high-level warning that Iraq may be on the brink of civil war. It's 4 p.m. here in Washington, where Iraq triggered a political skirmish between Donald Rumsfeld and Hillary Clinton.

And will Senator Joe Lieberman's career be a casualty of the Iraq war? New poll numbers just out suggest the Democrat may be days away from defeat. We'll have the latest on his bid for re-election and why his troubles extend beyond Iraq.

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

In the Middle East right now Israel is vowing to unleash a major retaliation if Hezbollah fighters actually go ahead and attack Tel Aviv. Hezbollah's leader threatened today to strike the Israeli commercial capital if Israel keeps pounding Beirut. In a taped address Hassan Nasrallah also offered to stop rocket attacks if Israel ends its military campaign.

Hezbollah unleashed a new barrage of some 180 rockets on northern Israel today, killing eight Israelis. For Israel this has been one of the most deadly days so far in this three-week war. The Israeli army reports three of its soldiers were killed in ground combat in southern Lebanon along with four Hezbollah fighters.

Israel renewed punishing air strikes on Beirut overnight. The Lebanese army says Israeli aircraft are dropping leaflets in Beirut's southern suburbs, warning residents to get out before new attacks. The United Nations, meanwhile, diplomats are considering a draft resolution that calls for both an immediate cease-fire and a need to address the root causes of the current crisis.

Our Brent Sadler is standing by in Beirut, but let's go to CNN's Matthew Chance. He's on the border between Israel and Lebanon for us once again tonight. What's the latest, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, thanks very much. In a ferocious barrage of Hezbollah rockets striking towns and cities across northern Israel over the course of this day. At least eight Israeli civilians killed. Emergency workers scurrying between those various locations where more than 200 rockets hit, we understand over the course of this day, causing widespread damage and injuries, and as I say, those eight dead.

There's been a ferocious barrage in the other direction as well, with Israeli artillery and ground forces pounding hard at Hezbollah strongholds across southern Lebanon. There are about 10,000 Israeli troops on the ground now in southern Lebanon, and they are battling in close quarters with Hezbollah fighters, getting casualties as well themselves, inflicting casualties but at least three Israeli soldiers killed as well. A number of others injured over the course of the day.

The Israeli strategy now being played out could be expanded over the next few days, according to the Israeli defense minister, Amir Peretz, saying that they will now expand their operations to take in vast swaths of territory up to the Litani River, north of the Israeli border, then hold that territory until such times as a multinational force can be decided upon and deployed in southern Lebanon to take over peacekeeping duties.

In the meantime, Israeli Defense Forces saying they're determined to cleanse the area, in their words, of Hezbollah fighters and their infrastructure. The concrete bunkers that they've dug in with over the past six years since Israel ended its occupation of southern Lebanon. Wolf.

BLITZER: There are wire service reports now, Matthew, saying that as many as 10,000 Israeli ground forces are operating in Lebanon, going back and forth at any one time. Is that a number that they're talking about publicly? You're speaking with Israeli military commanders all the time.

CHANCE: That certainly seems to be the kind of numbers that we're talking about at the moment, though the Israeli military will not give specific numbers of their forces on the ground, obviously. But what we've seen over the past week is a call-up of tens of thousands of Israeli reservists, and now, they have to have a couple of days' training before they're combat ready, but now they're coming online in ever greater numbers.

So we're seeing this military operation on the ground really expand from town to village to town across southern Lebanon. And we could see Israeli boots on the ground for some time because they will be waiting, as I say, for that international force to be agreed and deployed before they leave. BLITZER: And the prime minister of Israel says they're not leaving until that international force is in place, ready to take charge together with the Lebanese army, if they're up to it. Thanks very much, Matthew, for that.

Let's go to Beirut. Brent Sadler is our bureau chief there, knows this story well. Brent, we heard today once again from the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah. He's clearly alive and supposedly well, he's making new threats.

BRENT SADLER, CNN BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF: That's right, Wolf. More than alive. He's also very much in command and control of Hezbollah's militants, according to political sources close to Hezbollah, it is Nasrallah who's pulling the strings. And not long ago we saw him appear in a recorded televised statement on television here, shown on all satellite channels.

And this was after a night, Wednesday night, when Israeli planes struck the southern suburbs once again, Hezbollah's stronghold, and Israel dropped leaflets earlier this day, Wolf, warning residents in four more districts of the suburbs to evacuate in anticipation of further air strikes against Hezbollah areas.

In those leaflets that were dropped the Israeli Defense Force said there would be brutal and hurtful consequences as a result of Hezbollah's terrorist actions, referring to the sustained and seriously increased number of deadly rockets fired into Israel.

Now, in response Nasrallah has said that if other parts of Beirut, and here he means specifically central Beirut, if they came under a wider Israeli air campaign then Hezbollah would try to hit Tel Aviv. Let's listen to what Nasrallah said.


HASSAN NASRALLAH, HEZBOLLAH LEADER (through translator): If you hit our capital, we will hit the capital of your entity. If you hit Beirut, the Islamic resistance will hit Tel Aviv and is able to do that with God's help.


SADLER: Wolf, that's a serious escalation of words, and at a time when Lebanese here in the capital and elsewhere are suffering fuel shortages there's a sense of dread with that kind of rhetoric tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because the theory would be that if they did go ahead in Tel Aviv that all bets are off. The Israelis retaliate even more ferociously than they already are right now. I assume that's what you're referring to. The fear in Beirut that any attack on Tel Aviv could trigger more of what we saw over the past 24 hours, Israeli resumed air strikes on the Lebanese capital.

SADLER: Absolutely right, Wolf. We've seen an incremental build-up of the escalation in the military action. When Nasrallah has threatened in the past to hit Haifa, he delivered on that promise. To go beyond Haifa, he delivered. To go beyond Haifa, he delivered.

So it's not expected by the Lebanese that if Nasrallah says that he would have a go at trying to hit Tel Aviv, he would attempt to deliver on that promise. But only, he said, if the IDF attacks central Beirut. At the same time Nasrallah is saying, listen, Israel, if you stop hitting our civilian infrastructure, killing our civilians, Hezbollah will stop firing those rockets -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Brent Sadler reporting for us. And we're going to keep our cameras up in Beirut as well as in the northern part of Israel. If we see or hear those sirens going off and more of these rockets coming in or Israeli air strikes moving against targets in Beirut as we did almost 24 hours ago, we're going to bring that to you.

Much more on this crisis. Much more on the conflict in the Middle East coming up. But there's another war going on, not very far away. That would be in Iraq. And on Capitol Hill today a new warning about a possible civil war erupting. New testimony by the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and new sparring between the secretary of defense and Senator Hillary Clinton.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, it was a pretty fascinating exchange that the defense secretary had today before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Wolf. It had been six months since the secretary appeared in an open public session, and the senators today were ready to talk to him.


STAR (voice-over): One day after feeling the heat and agreeing to testify in public Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would not let his Senate critics corner him.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: This is not 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, when you appeared before this committee and made many comments and presented, you know, many assurances that have frankly proven to be unfulfilled. And ...

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Senator, I don't think that's true. I have never painted a rosy picture. I've been very measured in my words. And you have a Dickens of a time trying to find instances where I've been excessively optimistic.

STAR: Rumsfeld's generals also sounded a warning about the rising sectarian violence in Iraq.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: General Pace, you said there's a possibility of the situation in Iraq evolving into civil war. Is that correct?

PACE: I did say that. Yes, sir.

MCCAIN: Did you anticipate this situation a year ago? PACE: No, sir. I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it in Baghdad in particular; and that, if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war.

STARR: Both generals emphasize they believe the Iraqi government will keep civil war at bay.

On the war between Israel and Hezbollah, Abizaid said the conflict in Lebanon poses great risk to regional stability.

ABIZAID: Hezbollah fields greater and longer-range weapons than most regional armed forces.

STARR: For the first time, he laid out the U.S. military's view that a peacekeeping force commander must be able to exercise all his options.

ABIZAID: And I think in the case of southern Lebanon, he'll have to have capabilities that are just not minor, small arms, but would include all arms.


BLITZER: And Wolf, General Abizaid said he had recently returned from the Middle East and, in his words, he had, quote, "rarely seen it so volatile or unsettled" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Lebanon now clearly within the Central Command that General Abizaid oversees. It used to be in the European command. Now it's in the Central Command, along with Syria. And so as a result, he's got his hands full, General Abizaid, not only dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan but now dealing potentially with what's happening between Israel and Lebanon as well.

Let's go back to the last time that the secretary of defense did testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee about six months or so ago, comparing that to today. You've been closely listening and watching. Barbara, is there a change in what the defense secretary is telling the Congress about a civil war?

STARR: Well, you know, it's hard to say because what Rumsfeld keeps emphasizing is everybody's got a different definition of what a civil war is. In a classic military sense, as long as there is a central government in Iraq and it maintains control of the government and the security institutions, there is not a civil war by standard military definition.

But nonetheless, let's be realistic. According to the United Nations, about 100 Iraqi civilians are killed each day in the sectarian violence. All of the generals, the secretary himself, all understand and say that sectarian violence is on the rise.

This hearing should have been the time, Wolf, when the generals were up there able to talk about bringing some of the troops home. They had hoped at this time of year to be able to tell the Congress that they might bring home as many as two brigades by the end of the year. Clearly, that is now not going to happen.

More troops headed into the Baghdad area to try and get control of the capital -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Barbara. Thank you very much. Barbara Starr reporting. We're going to have a lot more on this subject, then and now. Statements made by the defense secretary, his top generals. Has there been a significant shift? Were there overly rosy scenarios that were put forward months ago, as compared to what they're saying now? We're going to have a lot more on that in the next hour.

In the meantime, let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, this is extremely rare. The United States Senate actually shamed itself into doing the right thing. Last May, they voted to build a fence on the Mexican border. Then last month, they voted not to provide the money to build the fence on the Mexican border.

But even this callous bunch of self-serving weasels couldn't live with the hypocrisy and embarrassment that accrued from that little bit of stupidity. So yesterday, they reversed themselves. And now they have voted to come up with the money to build the fence on the Mexican border.

And apparently, it's not a moment too soon. According to a new book by Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist, the number of illegal aliens currently inside the United States is three times the official Washington estimate. Not 11 or 12 million -- more than 30 million, or 1/10 of the total population of the country. Gilchrist charges federal officials deliberately undercount the illegals.

He says they don't count children of illegals or recipients of past amnesty programs. Gilchrist says the reason the government is lying about the number of illegal aliens is because telling the truth would make it too difficult to get political support for another amnesty program.

Here's the question. What does it mean if there are three times as many illegal aliens in this country as the government tells us there are? E-mail us at, or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

And coming up, the deadly new attacks and the dangerous threats being lobbed by Hezbollah and Israel. I'll ask the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev where the war goes from here. He's standing by to join us live from Jerusalem.

And a new legal defeat for former Congressman Tom DeLay. We'll tell you what that means for him and for the fall battle for Congress.

And Paul Begala and Torie Clarke. They're standing by to join us on Mideast politics, from Israel and Lebanon to Iraq.

And the Donald Rumsfeld/Hillary Clinton showdown today.

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


BLITZER: In the Middle East conflict, this is the second deadliest day for Israeli civilians. Eight were killed in a fierce new barrage of Hezbollah rockets. Now Israeli and Hezbollah leaders are exchanging threats about attacks on Tel Aviv and Beirut.

We're joined now by the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev. Thanks very much for coming in.

Clearly, Hezbollah still has some very significant military capabilities. Within a matter of an hour, what, they launched more than 100 rockets against northern Israel.

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY: Yes. I think we've been successful in hitting a lot of their infrastructure. But we've got no doubt that there's still some firepower there left.

I'm hopeful, Wolf, though, that as we continue to move in the south, dealing with those Hezbollah fortresses, those Hezbollah bunkers in south Lebanon, that the ground forces are doing at the moment with these surgical land incursions -- that that will do much to make the Israeli population safer.

BLITZER: Here's what Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, said today. He said, "If you hit our capital, we will hit the capital of your entity. If you hit Beirut, the Islamic Resistance will hit Tel Aviv and is able to do that with God's help." That's a serious threat. He's made it before. Can he deliver? Do you believe that -- does Israeli intelligence believe he has the missiles that can hit Israel's commercial capital?

REGEV: Well, the first thing -- Nasrallah should read his geography books, because the capital of my country is not Tel Aviv, it's Jerusalem. But to get to your main point, I think we have successfully hit a lot of his long-range strategic capabilities. But I can't exclude the fact that he has some missiles left, and we take what he says seriously. And we will continue to strike against his infrastructure, to neutralize the threat he poses to my country and to the citizens of Israel.

BLITZER: Here's what he also said about his fighters. He said, "The Israelis were surprised by the human factor of the resistance and they experienced proof today and we will prove in the future that they are fighting men who have a high level of faith and bravery." By all accounts, this is quite a formidable force, these Hezbollah fighters.

REGEV: I have no doubt that that's true. They've been getting, over the last decade, some of the most up-to-date equipment, military equipment from Iran and from Syria. They've had time to dig in, to prepare fortifications.

And unfortunately, every time we send in our ground forces, there's difficult fighting and we take losses. I mean, ultimately, their people, the Hezbollah fanatics, are willing to die. They want to die. They think they're going to heaven. And it's a problem.

And they're all motivated by the president of Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad, who just said today that he thinks my country should be wiped off the map. And that's a piece of advice we will refuse to take in Israel. And I think in dealing decisively with Hezbollah, we're getting rid of the forward -- the long arm of Iran and we will defend our country.

We will neutralize the Hezbollah threat. That's good for Israel. It's ultimately also good for Lebanon and for all the moderates in the Middle East, that we neutralize this extremist element.

BLITZER: Here's what Ahmadinejad actually said. I'll read it. He said, "Although the main solution is for the elimination of the Zionist regime, at this stage an immediate cease-fire must be implemented. The sole existence of this regime" -- referring to Israel -- "is for invasion and attack."

This is a country, Iran, that supposedly -- according to U.S. intelligence, European intelligence, Israeli intelligence -- is building a nuclear bomb. How close are they, in your opinion, in your estimate, to getting that nuclear bomb?

REGEV: Well, if they're close at all, it's a problem. And I'll tell you what also bothers me, not that he just said that my country should be eliminated, should be wiped off the face of the earth. I mean, he's basically saying destroy Israel and all the Israelis.

But I'm also disappointed. I mean, he was there at a conference of Muslim countries, and I didn't see one leader stand up and said Mr. Ahmadinejad, you don't speak for me, you don't represent Islam, you don't represent Muslim opinion. And I think that's one of our problems today.

I want to see more moderate Muslims stand up and say that Iranian extremist leadership, people like Hezbollah, people like Hamas, they don't speak for us. And I think there's too much quiet on that front, and I'd like to hear more moderates standing up and having their voices heard.

BLITZER: The commander of the U.S. Military Central Command, General John Abizaid, testified today before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he referred to Hezbollah and its capabilities in a very ominous exchange. Listen to this.


GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CMDR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Hezbollah fields greater and longer-range weapons than most regional armed forces. If left unchecked, it is possible to imagine chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons being transferred to malicious or terrorist organizations by a state actor.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Do you have any evidence at all that Iran -- presumably he's referring to Iran, maybe Syria -- that they have transferred chemical, biological, or nuclear capabilities to Hezbollah?

REGEV: I have to be careful with what I say, Wolf, but I can say what we all know to be true. On the first day of this conflict, we saw them take out an Israeli naval vessel with a very sophisticated Iranian shore-to-sea missile. It was a very precise attack with a very advanced missile system. That was given from Iran to Hezbollah.

We see it with their ability to strike deep into Israel, to cities like Haifa, cities like Nazareth, cities like Afula, with these long-range missiles, these rockets that were given by Iran to Hezbollah. And we are concerned that as the Iranians get more missile systems, as their military gets stronger, as they have more weapons, that they will be given to Iranian proxies like Hezbollah.

And that's why it's just so important that we deal with this cancerous growth in Lebanon now before it expands, before it becomes even stronger. Taking that cancer out, neutralizing Hezbollah, which is ultimately what the international community says has to be done -- U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 specifically calls on Hezbollah to be disarmed.

We're now weakening Hezbollah. As we move into the cease-fire, we'll see the international community, I hope, more energetically move to bring about, together with the lawful government of Lebanon, the disarmament of Hezbollah. That's good for everybody.

BLITZER: Mark Regev is the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. Thanks very much for coming in. We'll continue this conversation down the road.

And amidst the latest fighting, Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called the Internet the new battleground for Israel's image. But will a new controversial online tool help or hurt?

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner for details -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the World Union of Jewish Students is a grassroots organization based out of Jerusalem. They're pushing a new piece of software called the Megaphone to promote pro-Israel messaging on the Internet. You download the software and it sends you alerts throughout the day, about half a dozen of them a day.

Some of the messaging here is pretty neutral, like send your personal story to CNN, encouraging people to send us their video and images. Others is more targeted language like "Hezbollah, coming soon to a hometown near you." This is primarily what this stuff is like.

Now, it encourages you to go vote in polls, to pass around articles, to go watch certain videos, again, all with the idea of promoting Israel on the Internet and attacking Hezbollah. Now, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not behind the project, but they are absolutely endorsing it. It's been downloaded about 14,000 times so far. They're encouraging 100,000 people to download it. They even sent out an e-mail to that effect.

But what's interesting to note is that anyone can download this software and it's now gotten into the hands of some south Lebanese bloggers, who are encouraging people to use it to promote Lebanese opinions and Palestinian opinions online instead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki Schechner, thank you very much.

Still ahead, much more on the crisis in the Middle East. We're going to be going and speaking to the former CIA director James Woolsey on this, one of the most deadly days for Israeli civilians.

Also, Tom DeLay. His name is still on the ballot in Sugarland, Texas and neither he nor the Texas Republican Party are happy about that. Why their next stop could be the United States Supreme Court.

And the Northeast sweltering under sizzling heat for the third straight day. Is relief coming anytime soon? We'll tell you when the cooler weather should arrive. Much more coming up. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We'll get back to our coverage of the crisis in the Middle East.

First, though, let's check in with Zain Verjee for a quick look at some other important stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. There could finally be some relief tonight in the heat wave that's been boiling the Northeast. For the third day in a row, temperatures neared 100 degrees along the East Coast. Excessive heat warnings are posted from Massachusetts to the Carolinas, but a welcome cool front is making its way east. Since Sunday, at least a dozen deaths are blamed on the hot weather.

This year's hurricane season may not be as bad first thought. Hurricane researchers at Colorado State University say it's unlikely that there will be a monster storm like Hurricane Katrina. They predict that there will be fewer storms than last year's record 28 because of cooler ocean temperatures.

Their updated forecast anticipates seven hurricanes. That's down from nine predicted earlier. They say three of those storms will be -- quote -- "intense."

Tropical Storm Chris is weakening. This season's third named storm is dumping rain as it moves north of Puerto Rico, toward Cuba -- its top sustained winds near 40 miles an hour, barely strong enough for a tropical storm. Forecasters expect Chris to keep weakening into a tropical depression. It could move into the Gulf of Mexico on Monday -- Wolf. BLITZER: Thank you, Zain.

In our "Strategy Session" today: a crisis in the Middle East that goes beyond the intense warfare under way right now between Israel and Hezbollah -- the head of the U.S. military's Central Command telling senators today Iraq could indeed be sliding toward civil war.

Joining us now, our CNN political analysts, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke.

Let's talk about the war between Israel and Hezbollah first. Listen to what Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, told our Larry King in an interview that they just taped that will air later tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE." But listen to this.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Our role is clearly to be on the side of peace and to be on the side of the development of a more stable and democratic Middle East. And that means that we, in this particular conflict, are very much focused on the future of a Lebanon that can be, indeed, sovereign, that doesn't have foreign forces controlling its territory, that doesn't have a state within a state that causes wars that then devastate both the territory of Lebanon and the Lebanese people.

And it means, too, recognizing that we have a relationship and a friendship with Israel. And we want Israel and Lebanon to be able to live in peace. And, so, it's not as if we're on one side or the other here. We're on the side of certain principles, certain kinds of behavior that we really believe will lead to a peace for both the Lebanese people and for the Israeli people.


BLITZER: A lot of Democrats are supporting the president in the way he has handled this three-week war in the Middle East.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they're supporting Israel. The president supports Israel. And that's a good thing.

It's one of the few bipartisan things in Washington, is that leading Democrats and leading Republicans agree that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, that they started this, and that Israel has the right to cross a border to defend itself from a terrorist organization, the same way we went around the world, the United States did, to attack Afghanistan when it harbored the terrorists who had attacked us. So, we see that parallel, I think, Democrats and Republicans alike.

I think where Dr. Rice is perhaps doing a disservice to herself, our president, and our country is in the way she has conducted herself in this. She just said her goals and America's goals are peace, stability, and democracy. How's that working out?

There's no peace. There's no stability, and there's no democracy. Things are getting worse. And then, in the middle of all of this, for Condoleezza Rice, our secretary of state, to say, well, this is just the birth pangs of a new Middle East, it was one of the most callous, unhelpful, harmful statements I have ever heard an American diplomat make.

And this is why, in the last week, two former State Department aides for President Bush, this current president, have come out, very publicly, attacking the president and Dr. Rice, Richard Haass, who's now the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Armitage, who was the number-two man at the State Department itself.

BLITZER: You want to talk about that? You want to respond?


Paul is doing what a lot of members of Congress, thankfully, haven't been doing, is just kind of some cheap shots and some superficial rhetoric addressing a very, very serious issue.

I think one of the things that's important to keep in mind is that what you see and hear from this administration publicly is probably just a part of what is actually going on, is that an engagement in this process, as Wolf knows, because he knows the territory better than just about anybody else, is so important to be there and to be part of trying to forge a lasting peace, of trying to help forge a sovereign Lebanon that really does control its borders and its state.

It doesn't mean you're out there giving blow-by-blows every single day, trying to score political points. It's very, very difficult. From a communications perspective, I think they're doing quite well, under very difficult circumstances.

BEGALA: Could any piece of communications have been more harmful than for Dr. Rice to say, this is just the birth pangs of a new Middle East?

What that says to...

CLARKE: If that...


BEGALA: ... the dead Israelis and the dead Lebanese is that, oh, well, no big deal.

CLARKE: Well...

BEGALA: It was astonishingly callous...

CLARKE: Thankfully...

BEGALA: ... to say that.

CLARKE: ... the people in the region know that is just one statement out of many. And, thankfully, the people in the region know the work that has been going on behind the scenes.

If that's the only thing the secretary of state said, sure. But that -- it is misrepresentative to say that represents the policy or that represents the strategy.

BLITZER: There is, as you correctly point out, wide bipartisan support for what the president is doing, in trying to support Israel and end this fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, in a way that will prevent it from coming back, even with a greater vengeance, down the road.

Where there is a bitter dispute, as you well know -- and it was amplified today at the Senate Armed Services Committee -- is on Iraq and what's going on there.

Listen to Hillary Clinton, the junior senator from New York.


CLINTON: I think it's fair to say that that collective common sense, overwhelmingly, does not either understand or approve of the way you and the administration are handling Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under your leadership, there have been numerous errors in judgment that have led us to where we are in Iraq and Afghanistan.


BLITZER: So there's no letup at all in criticizing the secretary of defense and the administration as far as Iraq is concerned.

BEGALA: Right, nor should there be.

I thought that that exchange, you know, was civil, but testy. It was -- these are two smart people with very different views about how Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush have done their job in Iraq.

But what's going to last out of the testimony we heard today was what you were covering earlier, General Abizaid saying -- and I'm paraphrasing -- I don't have the quote in front of me -- saying that we could be sliding toward a civil war in Iraq, saying that he has -- that he has rarely seen the Middle East in as bad a situation or Iraq in as bad a situation.

Those are the things that are going to last for the commanders in the field. And I will point out that some of my friends on the far right -- and not Torie, who actually knows the area, but some of my friends on the far right, for a long time, have said, things are great in Iraq, but the press isn't telling us the truth.

And I think General Abizaid today struck a blow for everybody who believes in these journalists who are risking their lives to tell us the truth. Things are awfully bad over there. And that's what the general said today under oath. And I think some of the folks who have been attacking the press for telling us the truth now are going to be in a difficult position trying to attack General Abizaid for saying the same thing.

BLITZER: General Abizaid was specifically asked about comments that the British ambassador to Iraq made this week suggesting, yes, in fact, Iraq could be slipping toward civil war.


But, again, General Abizaid also went on to say, some good and some positive things are happening. And we should be very careful, on these serious matters, not to take the one statement that works for our political purposes and overuse it. I think you have to take the entire picture in context.

We have also heard some very encouraging things -- encouraging things lately, in which the Iraqis think they can start to assume more and more control for their own security. The Brits think that is a path that we're headed toward. Those are positive things.

But I have to say, the difference between members of Congress on Iraq and Israel is stunning. And it is not because there is overwhelming bipartisan support for what is going on with Israel and the Hezbollah. It is because you take on Israel to any extent in this town at great political peril. That is why members of Congress are minding their manners to a T. on this. And Iraq is a much easier, cheaper shot. And that's why they're taking it.

BLITZER: We will continue this down the road. Thanks, guys.

CLARKE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we want to thank Paul Begala and Torie Clark. Remember, they're part of the best political team on television -- CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Up next, northern Israel under attack -- the fallout from Hezbollah rockets that keep whizzing across the border. We will have a new report from the region. We will go there live.

And former Congressman Tom DeLay appears to be stuck on the ballot in Texas. We're going to tell you about a new court ruling, just came out, and why it may -- what it may mean on Election Day.

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


BLITZER: Hezbollah's leader is vowing today, his fighters will keep fighting Israel until their last breath and their last bullet. Dozens more Hezbollah rockets landed in northern Israel today, taking a very deadly toll.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Akko, Israel.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has been a bloody day here in northern Israel. According to Israeli police, more than 160 rockets have landed across the area throughout the day.

Now, this is the scene of one of the deadliest rocket hits. Just in the late afternoon, the air-raid siren sounded here and rockets started falling in the city, some just down this road.

But after the siren had ended, some people came out into the streets to see what had happened. And this is when one more rocket fell. Now, four people who were standing nearby were killed in this particular attack.

Now, we understand, also, that three more people were killed in a town near to Ma'alot, which is northeast of here. They were driving in their car when a siren sounded. They said that they were trying to get out of the car and find shelter, but they were in an open area -- also, many injuries -- according to Israeli police, 28 injured, and 10 of those severely wounded.

So, at the same time that the Israeli politicians are saying that Hezbollah's capability to strike Israel has been dealt a heavy blow, we're seeing a second day of very heavy rocket attacks.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Akko, Israel.


BLITZER: And we will have much more coming up on the war in the Middle East.

But there's a developing political story we're following here in the United States. A federal appeals court today upheld a lower court ruling that former Congressman Tom DeLay's name should stay on the November ballot in Texas. Delay and the Texas Republican Party are trying to get DeLay's name removed and replaced by another GOP candidate. They say they plan to appeal.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, to tell us what this means.

Candy, what does it mean?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what this means is that Tom DeLay, who moved to Virginia and retired from the U.S. House, and wanted to be taken off the ballot in his district in Sugar Land, Texas, the 22nd District in Texas, may indeed be on the ballot.

More importantly, it means no other Republican can get on the ballot. So, what has been a Republican seat for 22 years, with Tom DeLay sitting in the seat, stands a very good chance of turning into a Democratic seat, because one of the options, we're told, that, in fact, the Republican state party is thinking of in Texas is conducting a write-in campaign for a Republican candidate. But write-in campaigns are extremely difficult.

Pretty predictable reactions to this story from both sides -- the Republicans, nationally, are staying pretty mum -- the Democrats saying they thought that DeLay was trying to be too cute by half by taking himself off the ballot. It is not over yet, though, Wolf -- one final word. They are going to take this to the Supreme Court.

Most people we talk to say it's pretty difficult for the Supreme Court to reverse something that has gone all the way up there. But, as we all know, the Supreme Court can do surprising things from time to time. So, it's going to the Supreme Court. That's the last chance that the Texas Republican Party has to remove DeLay's name and put another person with an R by their name actually on the ballot.

BLITZER: And that's why they call it the Supreme Court.

CROWLEY: That's right.

BLITZER: Thanks, Candy. We will watch this political story for our viewers.

And coming up: harsh new allegations against Israel for its attacks on Hezbollah targets in Lebanon -- are Israeli Defense Forces guilty of war crimes? We're going to examine the accusations online.

And, in our next hour, the former CIA Director James Woolsey on the crisis in the Middle East -- is it part of a broader global battle against terror?

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


BLITZER: We're getting some new information on Israeli casualties today. We're going to have much more on the war in the Middle East. That's coming up.

But there's also some striking new evidence today that the Democrat who almost became vice president in 2000 may be poised for a huge political defeat next week.

A new poll shows Senator Joe Lieberman has lost considerably more ground to a Democratic primary rival in Connecticut. The Quinnipiac survey of likely Democratic primary voters shows businessman Ned Lamont now has a 13-point lead over Senator Lieberman.

Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, has more on the race and what's dragging Lieberman down -- Jeff.


JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, if the latest poll out of Connecticut is right, three-term Senator Joseph Lieberman is headed for likely defeat in next Tuesday's Democratic primary. And Iraq -- more specifically, his steadfast support for that war -- is the big reason. But it is not the only reason. And that's something those looking for broader lessons from this primary might want to keep in mind.

NED LAMONT (D), CONNECTICUT SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Baby, I say it's high time we rock the boat.


GREENFIELD: Yes, Ned Lamont would never have mounted so daunting a challenge to Lieberman without the Iraq issue. But just about all of the Democrats now eyeing a White House bid, Kerry, Edwards, Clinton, Bayh, Chris Dodd, also voted for the use of force resolution in 2002.

Among presidential aspirants, only Wisconsin's Russ Feingold voted no. But Lieberman's backing has been different. As late as last November, he wrote an op-ed piece for "The Wall Street Journal" hailing visible and practical progress.

President Bush often quoted Lieberman and, at a State of the Union speech, embraced him, a moment known as "The Kiss" to Lieberman's foes. But Lieberman's problems with Democratic constituencies go further. He has often taken positions at odds with his party's base. He supported vouchers for public school students, so they might attend other schools. Both Connecticut teachers unions have endorsed Lamont.

In the past, Lieberman has questioned the value of affirmative action. Ten years ago, he said, "Affirmative action is dividing us in ways its creators could never have intended." Prominent African- Americans, like Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Reverend Al Sharpton, are now actively supporting Ned Lamont.

And during the controversy over Terri Schiavo last year, he supported intervention to keep her on her feeding tube, and found himself aligned with religious conservatives on this issue. Schiavo's husband is now campaigning for Lamont.

There is also lingering unhappiness with Lieberman's decision back in 2000 to run both for vice president and his Senate seat. Had Al Gore won that contested election, Lieberman's replacement would have been chosen by a Republican governor.

And that would have cost Democrats control of the Senate, thus fueling the idea that Lieberman cared more about his career than his party. And his promise to run as an independent, if he loses the primary, might complicate Democratic efforts to take two or three House seats from vulnerable Connecticut Republican incumbents.

(on camera): So, while a Lieberman loss will likely be interpreted as a sign that the Democratic Party base will demand an anti-Iraq candidate in 2008, let's not forget the special circumstances that have hindered Lieberman's fight.

And one more thing: If he does lose this primary in a landslide, isn't that going to make an independent run a lot harder to justify -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, thank you. Jeff is part of the best political team on television -- CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Up next: your e-mails to Jack Cafferty's question of the hour on illegal immigration.

Also, we're keeping you up to the minute on the crisis in the Middle East. This has been a day of increasing bloodshed and threats that the war will expand even more. We're going to have live reports from the region. That's coming up right at the top of the hour.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: And it's now official: Israel -- Israel now officially confirming that today has been the deadliest day yet for Israeli casualties since the start of this war back on July 12 -- eight Israeli civilians confirmed dead today in a barrage of Hezbollah rockets coming into northern Israel, four Israeli soldiers killed today, 12 Israelis dead on this, the deadliest day for Israel so far in this war -- much more coming up at the top of the hour.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York with -- he's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The number of illegal aliens currently inside the United States is close to 30 million, not 11 or 12. That's according to a new book by the founder of the Minutemen, Jim Gilchrist.

The question we asked is: What does is it mean if there are three times as many illegal aliens in this country as the government says there are?

Pat writes from Norwalk, Iowa: "It more than likely means that there are also three times as many terrorists in the country as the government thinks there are. And that's a scary thought."

Michael in Los Angeles: "It means that NAFTA works as it was envisioned by Wall Street, not the way it was sold to the public."

Dan in Sarasota, Florida: "It means someone is trying to sell books by making outrageous claims. Children of illegal aliens, if born in this country, are not illegal aliens. They are U.S. citizens. Recipients of amnesty from past programs are not illegal aliens either. The racism evidenced by these folks is incredible."

Lillian in Wayne, Illinois: "Miscounting the number of illegals in this country is par for the course for a government in denial about everything else it tells us is going so great."

Sid in Arlington, Texas: "No one knows how many illegal aliens there are. Someone in the Bush administration pulled the 10 million figure out of the air, thinking that most people would buy it. He was right." Lynn in Woolwich, Maine: "If there are three times the number of illegal aliens in this country than has been reported, then this amnesty plan is three times as bad as I thought it was."

And Judy in Port Angeles, Washington: "It means the government tells us the truth about one third of the time. No surprise there."



BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

Still to come, we're going to go back to Israel and to Lebanon right at the top of the hour for all of the latest developments on this, a very deadly day for Israeli civilians and military forces also.

The state of the war in Iraq -- have top U.S. military officials changed their tune, and have they contradicted one another along the way? We're going to have a fact check. That's coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Has Israel committed war crimes? That's the allegation of a new report from a human rights group. The organization writes that Israeli Defense Forces have -- quote -- "disturbing -- a disturbing disregard for the lives of Lebanese civilians."

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, has details -- Jacki.

SCHECHNER: Wolf, Human Rights Watch tracks human rights issues in more than 70 countries around the world. And they have researchers right now on the ground in Lebanon and in Israel.

And while they're calling on both countries to stop targeting civilians, they issued a new 50-page report today that condemns Israel for what it calls indiscriminate warfare, and says that Israel needs to pay more attention to distinguishing between combatants and civilians, and not doing so is a violation of international humanitarian law.

Now, they include in this report a map of areas they say that IDF attacks have killed civilians.

They also -- IDF, on its Web site, has countered this, also, in -- several times saying that Hezbollah is responsible for any death to Lebanese -- Lebanese civilians, rather -- because it says they use them as human shields. That is IDF's position on that.

Now, Human Rights Watch has also condemned Hezbollah, a couple of weeks ago, saying that they, too, are violating international humanitarian law by packing rockets aimed at Haifa with metal ball bearings, not designed to do any military damage, but to harm civilians -- Wolf. BLITZER: Jacki, thank you very much.