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Hezbollah Leader Warns of Escalation; Interview With Israeli Consul General Arye Mekel; Interview With Lebanese Consul General Mohamad El-Harake

Aired July 25, 2006 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you all for being with us tonight. Appreciate your dropping by.
There is breaking news tonight in the Middle East crisis, stories that may have major repercussions.

Before our "Top Story" coverage goes in depth, here are the very latest war bulletins, starting with an attack on a U.N. observation post. It happened in southern Lebanon. At least two U.N. soldiers are dead tonight -- two more feared dead as well. Israel says it does not target U.N. personnel and will investigate.

But, as we speak, the finger of blame is pointing directly at Israel. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the attack apparently was deliberate, and came despite personal assurances from Israel's prime minister that the observation post would be spared.

We can't remember Kofi Annan being this angry lately.

Another war bulletin -- just minutes ago, Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, went on Lebanese TV to issue an ominous new threat. He says, the conflict is about to move into -- quote -- "another stage beyond Haifa." At least 96 Hezbollah rockets hit Israel's northern cities today. Hezbollah may have even longer-range rockets to unleash on Israel's bigger cities, which are further inland from Haifa.

Now, all this comes as fighting intensifies in southern Lebanon. Israel's military says it has taken a Hezbollah stronghold, killing a senior commander and 20 to 30 guerrilla fighters.

Tonight, we have live reports feeding into our control room from Beirut, Jerusalem, and northern Israel.

Let's get right to the breaking news out of Lebanon, the deaths of at least two U.N. observers. The U.N. says it happened during an Israeli bombardment.

John Roberts joins me live now from the Lebanese-Israeli border -- the Israelis saying that they find Kofi Annan's rather rapid response objectionable. They're insulted by it. And they said, let's have an investigation here -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's -- that's because the Israelis certainly do not want to be seen as targeting U.N. personnel deliberately. They say that they're trying to take every precaution to make sure that non-combatants don't get caught up in the crossfire. But it is very difficult, with the level of bombardment that we have been seeing over the last few days, particularly tonight, here at this artillery battery, for innocent bystanders, non-combatants, to get caught up in the -- in the crossfire.

As we understand it, the nationalities of these members of UNIFIL, which is the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, were Austrian, Finnish, Canadian, and Chinese -- two of them dead, two of them injured, apparently buried in the rebel of that outpost. The United Nations, at this point, is not saying which of the four were the ones who are dead, Austrian, Finnish, Canadian, or Chinese -- Paula.

ZAHN: Do you have any better understanding tonight of exactly what happened during this bombardment? Any other details?

ROBERTS: It is impossible for us to get any other information, other than what we're provided by the Israeli Defense Forces.

The reason for that is that, even though we have been asking for days now, the Israeli Defense Forces will not allow us across the border. They have been saying that they have complete control over the town of Maroun al la-Ras -- or Maroun al-Ras, rather -- and Bint Jbail, which is a little bit further north of that.

And we're saying, well, you have got control of these towns. When can you take us in and see them? So, with no -- with no impartial observers on the other side of the firing line, Paula, it is impossible for us to know exactly what went on.

ZAHN: All right, John, if you wouldn't mind standing by, we are going to come back to you in a moment, and bring Wolf Blitzer into our conversation now. He's anchoring "THE SITUATION ROOM" from Jerusalem. He will be there all week long.

Wolf, I want to remind our audience of exactly what U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had to say about the deaths of the U.N. observers.

Here is the statement. In it, Annan said he "was shocked and distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting by Israeli Defense Forces of a U.N. observer post in southern Lebanon, despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that U.N. positions would be spared Israeli fire" -- an unusually strong statement from the secretary-general, and an unusually strong response from the Israelis.

What are they telling you tonight about this charge?

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": It is an explosive charge that Israel deliberately, at least apparently deliberately, tried to kill these United Nations observers. Unclear what Israel's motive might have been, if, in fact, that is true. But the Israeli government is responding very, very angrily to what Kofi Annan alleges -- the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Ayalon, coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, just moments ago, and -- and saying that it is deplorable, this knee-jerk reaction, in effect, he says, from Kofi Annan, before any investigation has been completed.

On the circumstances, he says it is unclear who killed these United Nations observers. It could have been Israel. If it was Israel, it was a mistake.

But he then goes on, and he raises the possibility it could have been Hezbollah itself. The UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which, ironically, is supposed to end its mandate in Lebanon by the end of this month, Paula, UNIFIL, in its original statement, blamed aerial bombs for the targeting of this U.N. position in south Lebanon.

And the only ones who have aerial bombs right now in this war, if he means bombs coming from warplanes, that would be Israel. So, it is a really ugly situation, and, of course, heart-wrenching that four innocent United Nations military personnel from four different countries may have been killed -- Kofi Annan, in that statement, saying two they confirmed dead, two more feared dead, Paula. So, it is -- it's not a pleasant situation...

ZAHN: And, Wolf...

BLITZER: ... for any of the parties concerned.

ZAHN: ... UNIFIL has added to that, saying that they believe that Israel continued to fire at close range even during the rescue operation, after the initial airstrike.

We will continue to follow this throughout the hour, as new details become available.

Wolf, see you a little bit later on.

And I will also be speaking with a top Israeli diplomat here in the U.S. and ask him what happened.

Right now, let's go quickly back to John Roberts, who is standing by on the front lines, where it is just past 3:00 in the morning, Israeli time. And Israeli forces continue their intense bombardment of southern Lebanon -- John.

ROBERTS: Paula, the guns have gone silent for the moment. It is the first time in the last four hours that they have. It has been an intense night, and now morning, of bombardment here at this artillery battery.

Here is the intent of -- of -- of this crew. What they're trying to do right now is keep Hezbollah pinned down, trying to soften up Hezbollah positions, so that the ground forces, the Israeli ground forces on the other side of the border, can move forward, can attack those Hezbollah positions, can -- can move, not with impunity, certainly at this point, because Hezbollah still remains a very viable fighting force, but certainly allow themselves to move forward with least resistance as possible.

On the ground today in Lebanon, the Israeli Defense Forces did claim a significant victory.


ROBERTS (voice-over): Bone-tired and covered in dirt, soldiers return from the front lines, waving a captured Hezbollah flag. And, after two days of what he described as intense house-to-house fighting, their young commander made this pronouncement.

BRIGADIER GENERAL GAL HIRSCH, NORTHERN FRONT BATTLE COMMANDER, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: The battle is going quite good. In the last few hours, actually, we took total control on the city of Bint Jbail.

ROBERTS: But taking what the Israeli army claims was Hezbollah's southern stronghold does not eliminate the danger.

More Katyusha rockets fell in the Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona. The missiles ignited brushfires that burned across the hillsides. Crop-dusters, modified to carry fire retardant, swept in low to put them out.

A number of missiles also hit Haifa, Israel's third largest city, causing a number of injuries. The rockets were among 96 that Hezbollah fired into Israel.

And, in a staging area along the border, one soldier narrowly escaped death, when Hezbollah got off a lucky shot with a mortar that turned out to be a dud.

We wanted to talk with soldiers about the battle. Army rules, though, prevent them from speaking to us without authorization. It was clear from their faces and posture that the fighting was difficult. But, rested and refueled, they're eager to get back to the battlefield.


(on camera): No talking, just making coffee.



ROBERTS (voice-over): And, late into the evening, the Israeli army opened up a new front in its campaign, firing shells into Shiite villages north of what is called the Galilee Panhandle, not far from the Israeli town of Metulla, parts which of are now declared a military zone.

All along the border, the guns are firing, a nonstop, 'round-the- clock effort to soften up Hezbollah positions. The ground forces could move forward to capture more territory. Completing the operation will not be easy. Hezbollah is dug in deep, says General Hirsch, well-trained and well-financed. He has never seen any terror organization so well-prepared.

HIRSCH: It will take time.

ROBERTS (on camera): A week?

HIRSCH: And...

ROBERTS: Two weeks?

HIRSCH: I don't know, sir. It will take time, because we intend to dismantle Hezbollah infrastructure, because you can see that there is no peaceful life in almost all Israel.


ROBERTS: Israel's defense minister, Amir Peretz, said that it is Israel's intent to hold ground in Lebanon until an international stabilization force can be brought in.

Paula, there isn't even any agreement to bring in an international stabilization force yet, which means that Israeli troops are going to remain on the ground in Lebanon for some time, even after the fighting is over -- Paula.

ZAHN: Yes. And it doesn't seem like anybody wants to volunteer for that international stabilization force as well -- a lot of countries saying: We don't want in.

John Roberts, thanks.

And we are going to get more on the military situation tonight from our own "Top Story" military panel.

Meanwhile, though, Israel resumed airstrikes on Beirut today -- plus, a late development from Hezbollah's leader.

Let's go straight to Beirut, where we find senior international correspondent Nic Robertson.

Nic, what is the latest?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, it was a half-hour speech by the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

In that speech, he warned of an escalation in Hezbollah's campaign against Israel. He said the war was entering a new phase, a phase that would go beyond Haifa. This is something he spoke about in a speech about a week ago. It is meant -- or it is interpreted as meaning, here in Lebanon, at least, that Hezbollah will fire missiles on Tel Aviv.

That indicates firing missiles of a longer range than have yet been used against Israel, if Hezbollah is capable of it. That's what the leadership of Hezbollah appears to be threatening there, also threatening -- he also said of going beyond -- beyond Haifa, at a time and a place of Hezbollah's choosing, again, indicating that they will perhaps ramp up their attacks, even further than this latest escalation.

And he told the -- he told the people watching Lebanese television tonight that the terms of the cease-fire offered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were humiliating the -- were humiliating for them, and that they certainly wouldn't be accepting them.

And the -- late this afternoon, after just almost two days of all relative norm -- normality inside Beirut, the bombs here began to fall again.



ROBERTSON (voice-over): For 24 hours, it had almost been normal in Beirut, 24 hours without bombing. That ended with a massive Israeli airstrike. Huge clouds of smoke rose from Hezbollah's heartland in the southern suburbs of the capital.

At the same time, details reached Beirut of the grinding Israeli advance northwards, into Lebanon -- the mountain village of Maroun al- Ras taken -- Bint Jbail, three miles, five kilometers, over the border, a town straddling a strategic crossroads, taken.

But what is next? Lebanese military sources suspect, Israel intends to advance much farther, another 20 miles north, across the Litani River, into the town of Nabatiyeh, before west to the coast and the port city of to Tyre...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hezbollah rocket. Hezbollah rocket.

ROBERTSON: ... where Hezbollah still fires rockets at Israel. It is a military operation that, at this rate, could take weeks -- in the path of that potential advance, this house in Nabatiyeh, where Lebanese officials report seven civilians were killed when it was hit in an Israeli airstrike.

And, in nearby Tyre, the injured and displaced continue to flood in from the nearby villages and towns, desperately into need of relief supplies.

In Beirut, those supplies began arriving -- U.S. helicopters bringing enough emergency medical kits to supply 20,000 people for three months, the leading edge of a $30 million American aid program to south Lebanon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a humanitarian crisis here. We want to address that. The U.N. has appealed to people, to nations, people for support. We want to support that appeal.

ROBERTSON: The U.S. aid is being handed over to the International Red Cross to distribute as they see fit.

Initially, it is going into storage, mindful that, in the last few days, the Lebanese Red Cross had vehicles hit in Israeli strikes.


ROBERTSON: Well, right now, the Red Cross officials are telling us they're going to leave the medical supplies in that warehouse, until they can get those security guarantees that they can drive the aid safely down to the safe of -- south of Lebanon, where it is needed -- Paula.

ZAHN: Nic Robertson, thanks so much.

And we have got a lot more ahead for you tonight on tonight's "Top Story," including the ultimate test for American diplomacy. Can the U.S. help put a stop to the violence?


ZAHN (voice-over): The urgent search for a cease-fire -- after two weeks of bloodshed, finally, America's top diplomat has a plan to end the violence. But will anyone else agree?

Israel has the manpower and the airpower, one of the most fearsome armies on Earth. So, why is Hezbollah still so fiercely fighting?

Coverage of our "Top Story," crisis in the Middle East, continues right after this.



ZAHN: Another "Top Story" we're following tonight: Israel's first-responders. Please stay with us for an ambulance ride through streets that are anything but normal, but where Hezbollah rockets can hit at any second.

Our "Top Story" coverage continues with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Rome tonight, just hours away from crucial meetings with her counterparts from all over the world.

She's going to try to persuade them, agree to a U.S. plan to send two international peacekeeping forces into Lebanon.

John King is also in Rome tonight, and has all the details for us now in the middle of the night there -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, good evening to you from Rome.

The formal discussions, as you noted, get under way at the summit here tomorrow. But Secretary Rice is working late into the night. She has had a one-on-one conversation with the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, also, we're told, dinner with Mr. Annan, again, with the European Union's top diplomat, and with a very key player in these conversations, the prime minister of Lebanon -- her pace here much more hectic, much more unscripted than as she began the day in Jerusalem.


KING (voice-over): It was all carefully scripted, a friendly handshake and an Israeli embrace of Washington's new ideas to end the fighting.

But there are many obstacles to a cease-fire deal. And Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made clear, nothing will change just because the diplomats are finally talking.

EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Israel is determined to carry on the fight against Hezbollah. We will reach out for them. We will stop them. And we will not hesitate to take the most severe measures.

KING: Secretary Rice, in turn, emphasized, Washington won't demand Israel stand down, unless there is first an agreement that puts Hezbollah out of the terror business and requires the Lebanese army to take control of the south.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: An enduring cease- fire, an enduring cessation of violence, which would indeed make the security situation better than it was before.

KING: Anti-American sentiment on the Arab street -- this is during a Rice stop in the Palestinian territories -- complicates the deal-making at Wednesday's emergency Lebanon summit in Rome.

As she arrived for those talks, one obstacle looms especially large: Hezbollah's refusal to disarm makes it harder to win commitments for a new international peacekeeping force.

ROBERT MALLEY, MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA PROGRAM DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: Right now, it is simply not realistic to expect this Lebanese government, any Lebanese government, to go after Hezbollah's weapons, and that, if an international force came in and tried to do it, it would become the target of attacks by Hezbollah, and perhaps by others.

KING: The United States envisions an initial force of roughly 10,000 troops that would be endorsed by the United Nations, but not under direct U.N. command, with the authority to engage Hezbollah militias, and to police the Syrian border and other Hezbollah resupply routes.

The concept of such a force has broad international support. But securing commitments is another matter. The United States and Britain, for example, say they can't pitch in because of Iraq and other obligations.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: Try to give you a bit of a flavor of the haggling and the uncertainty here in Rome, on the eve of this summit. As noted, the U.S. wants a force of about 10,000. It would prefer that the Egyptians and the Turks take that force.

But we're told tonight, neither the Egyptians, nor the Turks have agreed to that. No one, in fact, has agreed to take command of the initial peacekeeping force. There is also discussion of a larger force, perhaps 25,000 or 30,000 troops, but, Paula, again, no agreement on that tonight.

There is so much disagreement that Mr. Annan, the U.N. secretary- general, says, why not have a 60-day, maybe a 90-day cessation of hostilities, and then work all the rest of this out? But the United States does -- doesn't like that approach. It thinks, if you do that, you lose the urgency to deal with the issue of disarming Hezbollah. The United States want that, disarming Hezbollah, to be part of any deal to end the fighting.

ZAHN: John King...

KING: Paula.

ZAHN: ... thanks so much.

And I am going to speak with diplomats from both...

KING: Thank you.

ZAHN: ... Israel and Lebanon tonight.

First, from the Israeli side, joining me now, the consul general of Israel, Arye Mekel.

Thank you so much for dropping by.

We are going to start...


ZAHN: ... with the breaking news first. And that is the news that at least two U.N. peacekeepers are dead, after an Israeli -- an alleged Israeli airstrike on a U.N. observation post.

You have the secretary-general of the U.N., Kofi Annan, coming out and accusing Israel of apparently deliberate targeting by Israeli defense forces of this observer post. That is a very serious charge.

What is your response?

MEKEL: It is.

And it is really unnecessary and -- and surprising, because we will investigate what happened. But, even if it was done by Israelis, it certainly was not deliberate, very far from that. We have no dispute with the U.N. In fact, we have no dispute with Lebanon. ZAHN: So, what do you think his motivation is for making that charge?

MEKEL: I wouldn't want to make that charge.

I used to represent Israel at the U.N., until two years ago. We respect the secretary-general. And I think we will have to talk to him, you know, directly to -- to figure out the accusation.

ZAHN: But it is not clear to me whether Israel is out-and- outright denying this charge.

MEKEL: No, of course we are denying the charge. Of course, we are not going to attack the UNIFIL positions deliberately. Why would we do that? Things like that, unfortunately, happen during wars.

ZAHN: But maybe not denying the charge, but denying whether you actually conducted this air raid, or conducted the raid that ended up in the -- in the deaths of these men.

We heard one of your spokespersons -- I believe it was the Israeli representative to the U.N. -- saying that Hezbollah might have done it.

MEKEL: Well, I think the best thing would be to wait for the investigation.

You know, we will investigate, and we will know for sure what happened. Of course, I would like to offer my condolences to the families and the U.N. But to say that this was deliberate is very erroneous, very strange.

ZAHN: Could it have been an accident? Could it have been mistargeting?

MEKEL: It could always be accidents. It's war.

You know, we lost already a number of soldiers, a number of -- of pilots in accidents. It could happen. But, certainly, to say that this is deliberate is very unwarranted.

ZAHN: The charge goes on from a UNIFIL spokesperson, saying that Israel continued to fire at close range at this observation post, even as a rescue mission was under way.

MEKEL: I don't know what UNIFIL says.

I can tell you that, when I represented Israel at the U.N., not a week went by without me going over there to complain against UNIFIL and being in cahoots with Hezbollah.

But, certainly, this was, today, if -- if we did it, it was a -- a total mistake. We are sorry. And we send our condolences to the families and to the U.N.

ZAHN: Are you implying tonight that UNIFIL is in cahoots with Hezbollah?

MEKEL: No. It used to be too close to it. We had some accusations over the years, when three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped.

In any case, they were not effective in stopping Hezbollah. The fact is that they were at the border, and they kept attacking Israel. They were not effective. This is for sure.

ZAHN: Right now, in a number of stinging editorials, newspapers in Jerusalem are accusing the Israeli military of miscalculating the strength of Hezbollah.

Here we are, two weeks into this conflict, and Hezbollah, after 4,000 sorties, is still successfully, today, lobbing 96 rockets into your country.

MEKEL: Well...

ZAHN: How can that be?

MEKEL: ... they are...


ZAHN: Is that bad intelligence?


I think that our military had very good intelligence. The decision was made now to act. And I think, by the time this is over, Hezbollah will no longer be a danger to Israel. It will not be anywhere near our borders. And it will not be able to send missiles or rockets against Israel. But the -- we have no timetable.

ZAHN: You're saying by the time this is over.


ZAHN: You have no timetable. What...


ZAHN: What are we talking about here?

MEKEL: Since we have no timetable, I can't give you a timetable.

ZAHN: But, no, are you talking weeks, months?

MEKEL: I wouldn't like to, you know, make any guesses. It is up to our military and to our government.

But, basically, there -- there is a goal here. The goal is that Hezbollah will not be anywhere near our border, and it will no longer endanger the state of Israel. We have to note what we are talking here. You know, we are talking here about one million Israelis being in shelters now for 12 days, including my elderly Holocaust-surviving parents in Haifa. And we're including -- talking here about endangering the -- so many of our citizens. We have to put an end to this. And we will. There's no question about it.

ZAHN: And the question, of course, is what happens in Rome and what might change in -- in the days to come.

Consul General Arye Mekel, thank you...

MEKEL: Thank you.

ZAHN: ... very much for your time tonight.

MEKEL: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: And, in just a minute, I will ask Lebanon's consul general about tonight's breaking news.

Plus, 14 days into the fighting, is Israel winning, and how do you define that? Did it underestimate how fiercely Hezbollah would fight back, or miscalculated about how hard it would be to eventually disarm them? We will take a look at that in depth with a panel of top generals, as our "Top Story" coverage continues.

We will be right back.


ZAHN: More now of our "Top Story" coverage of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Just before the break, I spoke with the top Israeli diplomat.

Joining me now is Mohamad El-Harake, Lebanon's consul general here in the United States.

Thanks so much for joining us.

I want to start with the breaking news with you first as well, the allegation by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Israel deliberately targeted U.N. peacekeepers at an observation post in southern Lebanon.

Is that irresponsible, for him to make that charge before any investigation is even undertaken?

MOHAMAD EL-HARAKE, CONSUL GENERAL OF LEBANON: Probably, he got some serious report from Lebanon before he made such charges.

And, in Lebanon, we got used to the attack against the U.N. forces. And Lebanon, we still remember the massacre of Qana, in which the compound of the U.N. was pounded, and other events.

ZAHN: So, does that mean you think that Israel deliberately targeted these U.N. peacekeepers, or do you think it was a mistake?

EL-HARAKE: That is too soon to elaborate on that. There will be, certainly, a kind of investigation.

But, as a Lebanese diplomat, witnessing the destruction of his country, I can assure you that Israel is capable of deliberately attacking the U.N. observers.

ZAHN: On one hand, you say it is too soon for you to make that judgment.


ZAHN: But you're not accusing Kofi Annan...


ZAHN: ... of being irresponsible here, because you say he's probably been given information by the Lebanese government that would confirm that.

EL-HARAKE: No. He was given information by his own people in Lebanon that told him that the attack came from a plane, from jets, from the sky, not from the ground. So on that basis, Kofi Annan charged Israel that it deliberately attacked the U.N. observers.

And we are used in Lebanon to these attacks from time to time now for decades from Israel, coming from Israel. It is not the first time that they do such horrible massacres.

ZAHN: Let's talk about the other breaking news tonight...


ZAHN: ... coming from Hezbollah leader, Nasrallah. He is saying that he is threatening to expand this war beyond Haifa. How much capability do you think Hezbollah has tonight, after some 4,000 sorties by the Israeli air force?

EL-HARAKE: Even if you will not be satisfied with my answer, let me tell you how much Israel has capabilities. We have...

ZAHN: But that's not the question.

EL-HARAKE: I know. I know that.

ZAHN: We want to get a sense of how much firepower has diminished. How many of the rocket launchers have been destroyed.

EL-HARAKE: You should not ask me this question in the first place. Please, don't be offended for that. Because what I know, we have in Lebanon 800,000 people displaced right now in the country. If I compare our population of 3 million people to 300 million in the United States, we get the number of 80 million people displaced. We get 2,000 people wounded. It will be around 200,000 wounded. We get 400 killed, 4,000 killed. And now you asking me about the capability of Hezbollah and Israel? I don't know. I know what Israel is doing in our country.

ZAHN: I certainly understand and respect what you're saying about the human toll.


ZAHN: But what Israel continues to say is that if Hezbollah didn't blend in with the population, the civilian population, you wouldn't have those kinds of death toll numbers and casualty figures.

EL-HARAKE: It is the same rhetoric. You know, you remember what it did with the Palestinians. It is with Israel always a catch-22 situation. Either you kill each other as Lebanese, or I come to kill you all. Either you kill each other as Palestinians, or I come to kill all of you.

Do you remember what it did with Hamas, with Abu Mazen? You have a weak government, you cannot control Hamas. Now they are saying the Lebanese government is weak, you cannot control Lebanon.

This same Lebanese government was capable of capturing a member of al Qaeda, and the people of Lebanon was jubilating over his capture, congratulating their government. And what Israel did now to strengthen this government? It attacks the Lebanese army barracks, it attacks the buildings -- official buildings, it puts thousands of people in the streets of Beirut. All Lebanon now is in horrible situation because of its barbaric acts.

ZAHN: In closing, to be perfectly fair, the U.N. gave the Lebanese government a couple of years to disarm Hezbollah. That didn't happen. And I only have 10 seconds left.

EL-HARAKE: Yes, sure.

ZAHN: Is that because your government is incapable of doing that, or they just didn't want to disarm Hezbollah?

EL-HARAKE: We were around the negotiating table discussing all our problems in a very civilized way. We were discussing them seriously.

Let me tell you one thing before we finish. Israel took 22 years to implement Resolution 524, adopted in '78, to inviting Israel to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. Israel couldn't wait for 1559 adopted on the 2nd of September, less than two years, giving us the possibility of implementing this among ourselves as Lebanese. This is the way Israel wants to see a strong Lebanon? And yesterday, I see Mr. Netanyahu, former prime minister, saying we are good people, we don't want to wipe out Lebanon, the whole Lebanon. We only want to -- sorry.

ZAHN: The world today is focused on your government's...

EL-HARAKE: I know, I know that. I know.

ZAHN: ... inability to stop Hezbollah. We have got to leave the conversation here. Love to have you come back some other time.

EL-HARAKE: Thank you.

ZAHN: Thank you very much for your time.

EL-HARAKE: Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

ZAHN: Really appreciate it, Mohamed El-Harake.

Now, two weeks into the fighting, why are Hezbollah rockets still slamming into Israel? Is disarming Hezbollah too big a job even for Israel's sophisticated armed forces? Our top story panel of military experts goes in depth next.

And then later, how many rockets, how much stress can the Israelis stand? We're going to ride along in a Haifa ambulance as our top story coverage continues.


ZAHN: Coming up in this half-hour of our top story coverage, how are first responders holding up when every day brings rockets and casualties? Well, we're watching developments along the Israeli- Lebanese border. We'll get a live update.

And then at the top of the hour, on "LARRY KING LIVE," some of the youngest victims of the fighting.

Now, tonight, Israel says it controls the southern Lebanese city of Bint Jubail, and it has killed a senior Hezbollah commander. But that doesn't really sound like much to show for to some after two weeks of war on the Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon. Israel is indisputably the greatest military power in the Mideast, so why haven't the Israeli Defense Forces defeated Hezbollah or neutralized Hezbollah by now?


ZAHN (voice-over): The military wing of Hezbollah has never revealed its head count, but military sources estimate there are only 2,000 to 3,000 Hezbollah fighters. The small guerrilla militia is dwarfed by the Israel Defense Forces, a standing army of 186,000.

STEVEN COOK, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: The idea that this is a modern military organization with advanced tanks, advanced planes, advanced helicopters. Hezbollah, although well armed and a disciplined militia, doesn't have that kind of firepower.

ZAHN: Despite the disparity in manpower and firepower, two weeks into this war, Hezbollah's rockets continue to rain on Israel at about the same rate as they did when this conflict began.

TIMUR GOKSEL, FORMER U.N. PEACEKEEPER: They don't keep their weapons in warehouses. They don't keep their weapons in storages that can be easily found and destroyed. They scatter them all over south Lebanon. ZAHN: So, did Israel miscalculate Hezbollah's resilience? In the first days of the conflict, we kept hearing Israel would just need a couple of weeks to neutralize Hezbollah. Yet here we are a couple of weeks later, and today at Haifa's main hospital, the wounded Israeli civilians keep on arriving.

And then, there's this. A bunker where Israel said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was hiding. Israel dropped 23 tons of bombs on it. Just a day later, Nasrallah was on TV.

And even in Israel, where wartime dissent is rarely heard, a commentary in a prominent newspaper called for an immediate investigation of Israel Defense Force mistakes citing flawed intelligence, poor soldiering skills and officers' arrogance.

STEVEN COOK, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Quite clearly, Israelis hoped that this would be a quicker operation than it is. They had hoped to rely on air power to decapitate the Hezbollah leadership. But now they have decided that they need at least at this moment limited ground forces to go in and clear out Hezbollah fighters in the immediate area near the Israeli border.

ZAHN: For its part, Israel says if it showed less restraint it would be further along in its goal of eliminating Hezbollah's ability to attack Israel.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: We're using a fraction of a fraction after a fraction of our firepower. If we use the firepower we have, we could just level Lebanon. But we don't.

ZAHN: As for Hezbollah, its leader defines victory this way: the survival of his militia.


ZAHN: And joining me now, two of our military analysts, retired brigadier general David Grange and retired brigadier general James "Spider" Marks. Also with us tonight, brigadier general Michael Herzog of the Israel Defense Forces. He happens to be a visiting military fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Politics. Glad to have all three of you with us.

General Herzog, I'm going to start with you. "Time" magazine had a critical article about the Israeli strategy saying, quote, "Each side underestimated the other's fierceness and willingness to fight. So now the Israelis are stuck with a war on a scale they didn't plan for, and without an exit strategy." Do you think Israel underestimated the strength of Hezbollah?

MICHAEL HERZOG, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: No, I don't think so. I think Israel estimated correctly Hezbollah's military capabilities. We knew they had over 13,000 rockets. We knew about most of their capabilities. We knew they would fight.

But I think this is an age of asymmetric war when the military is facing a terror group hiding behind civilian population. And especially challenging is a case of Lebanon where you have an area of 30,000 rockets and hidden in bunkers, throughout Lebanon, in civilian populated areas and so on.

You can't expect a victory overnight. It didn't happen in Iraq. It didn't happen in Afghanistan. It won't happen in Lebanon. What -- the fact we're employing air strikes, we're not invading Lebanon the way we did in '82.

ZAHN: All right, but General Grange, a lot of people were expecting those air strikes perhaps to be more successful and a lot is being made of the 23 tons of bombs that were dropped by Israeli forces on a bunker they thought was housing the Hezbollah leader Nasrallah. They didn't get him. He shows up on T.V. a day later. Is that evidence of bad Israeli intelligence?

DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think the Israelis overestimated the capabilities, the power of Air Force and technology. But I never heard one ground commander state, at least I haven't that this would be a quick two-week fight on the ground. I never heard that. It said two weeks, two months, whatever it takes.

Think of the bombs we dropped and the type of bombs we dropped in Tora Bora and we didn't get bin Laden. I think you've got to put it in perspective when you're fighting terrorists or insurgents that it is a long haul.

ZAHN: So brigadier General Marks, should the Israelis have employed ground forces earlier or earlier on the process in conjunction with those air strikes?

JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Paula, I think they should have. Look, surprise matters. It would have been an amazing feat if they could have gotten their ground forces earlier across the border, even in advance of air strikes.

The United States before it entered Iraq did just that, ground forces preceded the Air Force in terms of the strikes. Timing matters and surprise matters. As David pointed out, you can't destroy an enemy like this from a standoff distance through the air or through artillery strikes.

ZAHN: General Herzog, a brief thought on the head of Hezbollah's threat that he will expand this war beyond Haifa. I assume he meant cities further inland. Is that an empty threat or what do you think their capability is at this hour?

HERZOG: I don't think this is an empty threat. They have the capability. They have long-range missiles. They have the earthquake and they have the range of over 120 miles. They reach Tel Aviv, they can reach south of Tel Aviv. So I wouldn't think this is an empty threat.

ZAHN: Generals, all three of you, appreciate you joining us. Our top story panel tonight, Generals Herzog, Grange and Marks.

Now the rain of rockets has turned Israel's first responders into constant responders. Coming up next on our top story coverage, a single amazing day in the life of an ambulance crew in a city being attacked by rockets. We'll also go back for live updates on tonight's developments in Jerusalem and northern Israel. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: So now our top story coverage moves to the northern Israeli city of Haifa. It has been under siege from Hezbollah missiles since the start of hostilities almost two weeks ago. At least 18 more people were wounded today in Haifa. And every day brings exploding rockets, packed with ball bearings, powerful enough to pierce cars and walls with deadly results. But for emergency crews, when the sirens sound, and others take cover, they go into action. Here is John Roberts (sic).


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The call comes in, Haifa is again under attack. Katyushas are falling. It is not known how many.

And Erez Geller, a paramedic says there are wounded, the precise number is unknown. So too, how badly they have been hurt. As he arrives on the scene of one rocket strike, there is chaos and confusion.

An apartment block has taken a direct hit. Anyone who is hurt or feels unwell, please come to the ambulances, he announces. A few have injuries. Mostly shock and there are fear some may still be trapped inside.

EREZ GELLER, HAIFA PARAMEDIC: We're using the police to search the apartments, some local apartments, they have to make a quick search.

VAUSE: Everyone did make it out in the midst of this crisis, warnings of another attack.

GELLER: Guys, let's find a safe place to be because there is another one on the way. Rockets on their way over.

VAUSE: What's happened?

GELLER: Reports of rockets are on their way over here.

VAUSE: And reports of wounded are coming in.

GELLER: We have so far 14, 15.

VAUSE: Fourteen?

GELLER: Fourteen.

VAUSE: This is the debris of another Katyusha strike here in Haifa. It landed in an open area. This is traffic roundabout. But not far from here, just a hundred feed away, residential apartment buildings.

Geller and his team are called to one apartment where a 75-year- old man has had a heart attack, just moments after the Katyusha landed.

For half an hour, they work to save his life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately we didn't -- we weren't able to bring him back.

VAUSE (on camera): He died?


VAUSE: Another victim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Another victim.

VAUSE (voice-over): John Vause, CNN, Haifa.


ZAHN: And our top story coverage of the crisis in the Middle East continues in just a moment. But first, we're going to take a quick biz break.

On Wall Street, the Dow added 52 points, the Nasdaq 12. The S&P up nearly 8 points. It

It is finally a buyer's market. Realtors report for June shows home sales down, prices up just slightly.

And another milestone for our "Crude Awakenings," our nightly look at gas prices. The states with today's highest gasoline prices are in red, the lowest in green. And for the first time, the nationwide average for unleaded regular is $3 per gallon, a long upward trend since May. Check out that chart.

It is going on on 4:00 in the morning in Israel. Will the new day bring an escalation in the fighting? Hezbollah is threatening that. Please stay with us for a live update from all our reporters. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Back to our top story now. We're going to get the very latest on the crisis in the Middle East.

Let's check in with Anderson Cooper, who joins us from northern Israel tonight. Wolf Blitzer from Jerusalem.

Anderson, what kind of reaction are you getting to Hezbollah leaders -- oh, we're hearing some artillery fire, aren't we?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, you certainly are.

ZAHN: I hope you're able to hear me.

COOPER: We're -- yes, no, I can hear you. We're with an Israeli artillery unit right along the border, and basically, as you know, they just continue to lob shells all night and all day long, Paula.

ZAHN: And what is their reaction to this latest Hezbollah threat, that they want to expand this war beyond Haifa?

COOPER: You know, look, people from the Israeli Defense Force you talk to will say, look, this is a tough neighborhood we live in. And this doesn't really come as a surprise.

The question, of course, is exactly what the capabilities of Hezbollah are. And that is sort of an unknown. I mean, these Katyusha rockets they have been firing, the farthest south in Israel they have been able to get is just a little bit past (inaudible), but there is talk that they may have larger rockets, rockets that may even reach as far as Tel Aviv.

Israeli citizens have been warned about that more than a week ago. And nothing really would surprise people in Israel.

You know, is Nasrallah talking about rockets firing further into Israel? Is he talking about possible other forms of violence elsewhere in the world, possible suicide attacks? It is unknown. And that's probably the way Nasrallah wants it.

ZAHN: And of course, Wolf, this threat comes at a time when Israel has taken credit for killing a top Hezbollah commander. If confirmed, how big of a blow is this to the leadership structure of Hezbollah?

BLITZER: Well, you know, he's described by the Israelis as the top commander in the central segment, if you will, of southern Lebanon. It would be a blow to Hezbollah, but by no means a death blow, and the Israelis acknowledge that.

As far as the threat of longer-range rockets or missiles to Tel Aviv, Paula, I've spoken with top Israeli officials. They take this threat very, very seriously, in part based on that pretty sophisticated missile that they used to disable that Israeli warship off the coast of Lebanon more than a week ago. That missile did a pretty good job. It was pinpointed with accuracy, and they're very concerned about what Nasrallah may have up his sleeve.

ZAHN: Anderson Cooper, you've got 15 seconds for a closing thought here.

COOPER: Well, you know, the battle continues, the shelling continues. It really only seems to be intensifying on the ground. Of course, the big battle, the town that they seized today they say is a major move, it gives them a high bluff in south Lebanon, Paula.

ZAHN: Anderson, thanks so much. We'll see you later on on your own show, (inaudible) two more hours, "The Mideast Crisis" getting under way at 10:00. Wolf Blitzer, we'll see you tomorrow on "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thank you, both.

We're going to take a short break here. Coming up at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE," some of the youngest victims of the conflict, innocent young children. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Finally, we close with a top story update, and you're probably ready for some good news now. A joyful homecoming at Boston's Logan Airport for Laurie Gabriel (ph) of Salem, Massachusetts. She had gone to Lebanon to adopt a little baby boy. They happened to be trapped in the fighting. Both are finally home tonight, and that look on brand new papa's face says it all.

What a great story.

Thanks for joining us tonight. See you tomorrow night.


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