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THIS WEEK AT WAR
Week's War Activities Recounted
Aired August 12, 2006 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "This Week at War" is coming up in just a moment, but first, a look at what's happening right now in the news.
Israel confirms one of its helicopters was shot down by Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon. No details on casualties though yet. Israel also says it lost seven soldiers today in fighting on the ground.
The Lebanese cabinet has thrown its support behind the U.N. resolution that is meant to bring an end to the fighting. Israeli officials will talk (ph) about the measure tomorrow. They've already said they do expect to halt military operations on Monday.
Two more American soldiers killed today in Iraq. The military says they were on a foot patrol south of Baghdad when a roadside bomb went off.
British police raid some Internet cafes as part of their probe into the alleged airline terror plot. They're searching for any e- mails sent or received by the 23 men in custody.
Senator Joe Lieberman is refusing to quit his run for re-election despite losing the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont. Some of the biggest names in the Democratic Party have told him to give it up. But he says no. He is starting a new ad campaign. That's what's happening right now in the news. I'm Carol Lin. Now to "This Week at War."
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: I'm John Roberts in northern Israel, with "This Week at War." The crisis in the Middle East, when will the hostilities end and the overarching question, can there ever be peace between these two sides?
A major terrorist plot to bring down aircraft foiled. Was it a home grown operation or does it include the broader involvement of al Qaeda?
And Iraq, the sectarian warfare continues. Will it ever end, and when will U.S. troops be able to come home?
Topics we'll tackle in the next hour in "This Week at War." First, let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day this week. Monday, Lebanon pledges 15,000 troops to keep the peace, but the United Nations stalemates on a cease-fire proposal. Tuesday in Connecticut, Senator Joe Lieberman loses the Democratic primary to an anti-war opponent. Lieberman vows to continue as an independent. Wednesday, 15 Israeli soldiers die, their deadliest day so far as the cabinet again approves sending thousands more troops into Lebanon. Thursday, British police arrest dozens, accusing them of plotting to detonate liquid explosives on airliners headed to the United States. Friday, as the fighting continues in Lebanon, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads to the United Nations to push for a cease-fire vote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this resolution comes none too soon, and it marks a vital step forward. I am glad that the council members have been able to resolve their differences.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: "This Week at War." We're coming to you tonight from a tank battalion, an Israeli tank battalion that may be about to see action in southern Lebanon. Of course, the guns will eventually fall silent. The big question is when and the overarching issue, can there ever be peace between Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah? Joining me to talk more about this is CNN correspondent Matthew Chance who's also in northern Israel, from Lebanon, our Beirut bureau chief Brent Sadler and in Tucson, Arizona, U.S. Major General Don Shepperd, retired. Matthew Chance, let's start with you. Let's step back from the machinations at the United Nations and take a look at the broader picture here. Can a piece of paper ever bring peace to a region where there is so much tension, so much hatred, so much animosity, going back decades? There's not a great track record in the Middle East of adhering to U.N. resolutions.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These papers, as you say, these pieces of paper certainly haven't had a good track record of bringing peace in this region. I think I have to say that it's not just the Arab countries that haven't fulfilled their part of it. Israel also has a very patchy record, that when it comes to fulfilling United Nations resolutions, remember the resolutions calling for Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories conquered in 1967. Most of those areas are still held by Israel.
Both sides appear to have kind of run their course, as it were, made the judgment that this is as far as they can go. Hezbollah is not going to be able to do much more damage perhaps to Israel and Israel's perhaps not going to do much more damage to Hezbollah so maybe just a little piece of paper is all that's needed, John, for these two sides to step back and agree a face-saving peace.
ROBERTS: Brent Sadler, one of the big sticking points in the negotiations has been this idea of Lebanon sending its army to the south to maintain security along with an expanded United Nations force. What is the level of commitment on the part of the Lebanese government to actually use the military to provide security to go face-to-face with Hezbollah?
BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not really, John, a question of going face-to-face with Hezbollah. Hezbollah made an historic change in its strategy. For 20 years almost, the Hezbollah have failed to agree to let the army take control of the south. It's just not been down there, so the army itself is weak. It's politicized and that's one of the big problems that Israel has, too much reliance, too much expectation on that local Lebanese army force. That's why Israel is insisting that there should be an international force, a force that would have teeth to be able to apply the rules on the ground. Those rules on the ground clearly emerging would be a weapons-free zone, as far as Hezbollah is concerned, from the Litani River, down to the border with Israel. That's a huge area of land, 600 kilometers, just under 300 miles. It's a huge square area, mile area for these forces to deal with and that's one of the big problems that Israel has with the Lebanese army. You're not going to see the Lebanese army, John, stabbing Hezbollah in the back, and effectively taking their weapons from them. There has to be a political deal that Hezbollah has to go along with before that weapons free zone can be cleared and monitored effectively.
ROBERTS: General Shepperd, what is the ability of the Lebanese army to provide the level of security that Israel is demanding?
MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: John, it's not good at all. The Lebanese army is a very, very weak army. The Israelis do not trust the Lebanese army at all. They're going to have to be backed up by a very robust United Nations force that has a mandate and that mandate is going to have to include making sure that Hezbollah in the southern part is disarmed but it also leaves the Israelis with another very important problem, that is, even after Hezbollah is out of southern Lebanon, north of Litani, if they can get longer range rockets, they can hit Israel in the future.
ROBERTS: Of course, there have been a tremendous number of military casualties in this conflict on both sides, but also so many civilians have suffered, Israelis from these Katyusha rocket attacks and Lebanese civilians from Israeli air strikes. Let's take a look at how CNN's Jim Clancy and ITN's Martin Geissler reported on that this week.
JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The rising tide of civilian casualties is growing Hezbollah support in southern Beirut, but before this funeral would end, the war would add insult to injury. As bodies were lowered into the ground, barely 300 yards away, a massive bomb crashed on its target. Young men raised their arms in defiance and shouted "God is Great."
MARTIN GEISSLER, ITN: It has become a familiar sign but since last night, it's all the more chilling. People here aren't taking any chances. And here's what they're hiding from. This extraordinary picture shows the moment the Hezbollah rockets hit the city last night. Three people died, more than 100 were injured. Rescuers search frantically for survivors beneath the rubble.
ROBERTS: General Shepperd, how does Israel, how does the Israeli army look in all of this?
SHEPPERD: Well, basically, they've got to stop these rocket attacks and the problem with the rocket attacks on both sides, John, is that they do not bring this closer to a solution. You would think the people would want this to stop. What it does is it enrages the public on both sides, makes them more resolute and makes them seek revenge. It's a terrible situation. Israel has to press on to stop the rocket attacks, John.
ROBERTS: Brent Sadler how does Hezbollah come out of all of this?
SADLER: Well, Hezbollah comes out of this with a confidence being badly damaged north to south, but Hezbollah can keep its weapons and this is really important to understand, John, if Hezbollah keeps its weapons, still more of a new line that will be created in effect if this international deal goes ahead, Hezbollah will stand up afterwards, no doubt we'll see Hassan Nasrallah, its leader claiming a victory over the Israeli army.
ROBERTS: And Matthew Chance, Israel may succeed in getting Hezbollah off the border, but what's the lasting impact in the perception of the world for Israel?
CHANCE: I certainly think that amongst Israelis John, there will be a lot of questions asked and a lot of fingers pointed about how this campaign has been conducted by Israel's political and military leadership. Has this conflict, if it comes to an end soon, restored Israel's aura of deterrence around it or has it weakened it? That's a big question that many, many Israelis and many in the region will be asking once this conflict finally draws to a close.
ROBERTS: Very complicated issue with repercussions on all sides.
Matthew Chance in northern Israel, Brent Sadler in Beirut and Major General Don Shepperd, U.S. military retired from Tucson, thanks very much.
Coming up next on "This Week at War," a major terrorist plot foiled. Was it a home-grown operation or does it have the fingerprints of al Qaeda on it? We'll be back in just a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: President Bush in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Thursday, reacting to the news that authorities in Britain had foiled a terrifying plot to bring down as many as 10 transatlantic airliners with liquid explosives. Was it a home-grown terrorist plot or was the broader involvement of al Qaeda? Let's talk with our experts Jeanne Meserve with CNN is in Washington as is Clark Kent Ervin. He is the former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security and CNN's Becky Anderson is at Heathrow Airport. Jeanne Meserve, first of all, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said this could have been another 9/11. Just how elaborate, how big was this plot?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're talking about as many as 10 aircraft coming towards the United States, being blown up in midair. Do the math. It's a lot of people who potentially could have been killed here. It was a big one and they say it was the real deal.
ROBERTS: Clark Kent Irwin, this is something that doesn't seem to be unexpected. Back in 1994 Ramzi Yousef had launched what seemed to be a test flight, placing a vial of liquid explosives under a seat in a Japanese airliner. Just how much of a threat has this been and how long has it been a threat?
CLARK KENT ERVIN, FMR. DHS INSPECTOR GENERAL: You're exactly right about that John. We've known for at least more than a decade, for 12 years or so about the potential for liquid explosives to be used in this fashion. And therefore, it's really inexcusable it seems to me that the department hadn't worked already to develop counter measures.
ROBERTS: In terms of counter measures, what kind of counter measures can there be to liquid explosives? As far as I know, they don't show up in those scanning machines that they have for checked luggage and certainly there's nothing for the carry-on luggage to detect that kind of explosive or any kind?
ERVIN: Apparently there are some technologies that are in the testing phase right now that show some promise to defeat this kind of threat, but the problem is, that this technology still only in the testing phase, even though, again, we've known for about 12 months that this is a real possibility. So now appropriately, we're accelerating those efforts, but this is a little bit late, needless to say.
ROBERTS: Becky Anderson, was this a brilliant stroke of luck on the part of British authorities or was it part of a brilliant investigation?
BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was part of a brilliant investigation as far as we can tell, a tip-off coming after the 7/7 bombings, the transit bombing of July last year and there are parallels here, John and also differences. The parallels being these. These were primarily British Muslims, using home-grown explosives, effectively to wreak death, destruction, and devastation, and of course, they did that during July. The differences though, are important because back in July, these guys were locals essentially using a fairly basic bomb-making equipment. What we seem to be seeing here and the investigation has led officials here to believe that this was a lot more organized, a lot more sophisticated. You may, and we'll find out as this investigation moves into the second phase, find that these were cells, organized possibly in Pakistan, possibly in Afghanistan, possibly with these al Qaeda connections. So we're looking at what appears to be a much more sophisticated organization, but this investigation going on months, if not a whole year, and it was important when it culminated that these guys would stop before they carried out what could have been on a scale of 9/11 as we realize. ROBERTS: So a possible al Qaeda connection. What do we know about that? Here's how CNN's Kelli Arena reported that part of the story on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The alleged plot was sophisticated, with plans to attack more than one target, an al Qaeda trademark. It allegedly targeted airplanes, an al Qaeda obsession. What's more, the British plot closely resembles a 1995 al Qaeda plan to bomb a dozen U.S. jumbo jets over the Pacific during a two-day span. Officials say al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who oversaw that plot told interrogators he planned to use liquid explosives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: So Jeanne Meserve, what do we know about a possible al Qaeda connection and beyond that, what about connections in the United States?
MESERVE: Well we definitely know of a Pakistani connection. We do know that some of these suspects traveled to Pakistan. We know that subsequently they were wired money from Pakistan. We've now been told that a British subject was arrested in Pakistan, so there's definitely ties there. As to the United States, there were many leads given to the United States, government officials say, that law enforcement ran down before this whole cell was folded up. None of them turned out anything significant. On the day the plot was revealed, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said there was no U.S. connection that they were aware of, and yet they continue to investigate. Of course, they found materials along with these individuals they arrested. They're trying to exploit those and we do know that at least two of the suspects made phone calls to the United States. So this is in development still.
ROBERTS: Clark Kent Ervin, what does this mean for the future of air travel?
ERVIN: Well, I think, John, we're going to see a ban on these liquids for the indefinite future. As you say, there aren't any counter measures right now. The counter measures are in the testing phase. And so for the foreseeable future really, the only thing TSA can do is what it's done.
ROBERTS: Becky Anderson, wrap this up for us if you could. The Richard Reid shoe bombing incident, what happened on July 7th of last year, now this plot. What's going on in Britain?
ANDERSON: What the British authorities are saying is this, there could be as many if not more than 1,000 Islamic radicals here and some of those, let's remember, will have a Pakistani background, but some of these are white Islamic converts at this point. What they're saying, these guys are moving from radicalism to extremism. They are trying to infiltrate what's going on here in mosques and Islamic societies so some of those involved in this airline plot, for example, it seemed, may have belonged to the same Islamic society at one of the London universities. We don't know that for sure but that's certainly one of the leads they've got at the moment. What the authorities here are trying to do is to pin down where these guys are getting their information from and whether they are going to be extremely dangerous going forward. John?
ROBERTS: Very troubling, troubling developments. The authorities have to get lucky every time, the terrorists only have to get lucky once. Becky Anderson at Heathrow Airport, Jeanne Meserve and Clark Kent Ervin in Washington, thanks very much.
Coming up next on "This Week at War," the latest on the war in Iraq. The sectarian violence continues. Will U.S. troops ever be able to come home? Stay with us.
ROBERTS: On Tuesday a ceremony marking the handover of power from the U.S. military to Iraqi security forces in the city of Tikrit. Half of the Iraqi army's 10 divisions are now responsible for security in their areas. It sounds like good news, but meantime, sectarian violence continues to take a terrifying toll on Iraqi civilians and there are new questions about when and whether U.S. forces will be able to leave Iraq. Harris Whitbeck is in Baghdad for us tonight. Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the assistant managing editor of "The Washington Post" is with us in Washington, DC. Barbara Starr, first of all, start us off here, what is the significance of this handover of authority in Tikrit?
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's a step in the direction of having the Iraqis take security control of their country, but make no mistake, Baghdad is the face that Iraq shows to the world and until there is security in Baghdad, the corner has not been turned.
ROBERTS: Harris Whitbeck, there is ongoing debate about whether or not there is a civil war in Iraq. When it comes to the situation in Baghdad, is that a moot debate?
HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judging from what we've seen on the streets here in the last week, I'd say it is a moot debate, John. There is continued violence elsewhere. Just on Friday in Najaf, there was a bombing at a major, major Shia shrine there. That was attributed to Sunni insurgents. Both the Iraqi prime minister and the U.S. president expressed their outrage at that, which is only serving to inflame sectarian differences and more tit-for-tat killings all over Iraq, but particularly in the Iraqi capital.
ROBERTS: Rajiv, in your book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," you say that the United States brought in the wrong people at the very beginning. What was wrong about what they did and did that contribute to the situation that we see there now?
RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: It most certainly did, John. The problem began right at the start here, right upon the liberation of Baghdad. Instead of sending, you know, thousands of advisers to help Iraq's police force, instead of bringing enough troops to stabilize the situation in Baghdad, the initial decision by the White House and the Pentagon was to send very, very few people and people without the right skills, and you know, we're finally now trying to get it right by bringing in enough soldiers to help try to pacify the situation there, but some of the problems that we're facing right now are because, for many months, we just didn't have the right people there, training Iraqis, and enough troops there to help keep the situation under some sort of control.
ROBERTS: The U.S. military has recently put more troops in the city of Baghdad and it raises the question again, as we said of whether and when U.S. troops will be able to come home. Here's what General George Casey said about that on Tuesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. GEORGE CASEY, COMMANDER, US FORCES IN IRAQ: I'm very much against setting timetables because as we've seen just in the last six to eight weeks, conditions on the ground here change, and this is a war and that's what happens, action, reaction, and counter-action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Barbara Starr, we hear again and again from the White House as Iraqi forces stand up, the U.S. military will stand down. They handed over control in Tikrit. Iraqi forces are standing up, but there's no sign that U.S. forces are standing down yet.
STARR: John that is absolutely right. It's what's not happening that is so significant, and what's not happening is the two brigades of U.S. troops that George Casey hoped to be sending back home right about now, they're not going anywhere. They're staying. That is very significant. It says everything that needs to be said about the security situation.
ROBERTS: And Harris Whitbeck, what is the situation for U.S. troops in Baghdad right now?
WHITBECK: Well, there is an increased presence and over the next few days, we will see more of those U.S. troops on the streets of Baghdad. That announcement, which was made a couple weeks ago, now finally coming to fruition. U.S military officials on the ground publicly saying that the working relationship between the U.S. military and their Iraqi military counterparts is good. People on the ground tell a different story and they still talk about frustration on the side of U.S. troops on the ground when it comes to dealing with their Iraqi counterparts.
ROBERTS: And Rajiv Chandrasekaran, wrap this all together for us. We talk about how what's happened in Iraq is linked to what's happening here between Israel and Lebanon. What are those links? Connect the dots for us.
CHANDRASEKARAN: You know, at the very basic level what's happening there in some ways illustrates what is bedeviling U.S. forces in Iraq, the danger of asymmetric warfare, the resiliency of small bands of extremist fighters, you know. You go back to 2003/2004, when the U.S. military was voicing great confidence in its ability to sweep through parts of western Iraq and root out these last bits, as secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld called them "bitter enders" and sweep them out, and in many ways, what Israel is trying to do in south Lebanon, trying to sweep out these Hezbollah guerrillas and what we're seeing is that it's not so easy as that, that these fighters are entrenched. They're able to move about, in many cases undetected, and able to engage in a degree of guerrilla warfare that bedevils the Israeli army in much the same way this sort of violence has been affecting the U.S. military for now years in Iraq.
ROBERTS: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, thanks very much, with "The Washington Post," also Barbara Starr at the Pentagon and Harris Whitbeck in Baghdad, appreciate you all being with us. Now at "This Week at War," remembrance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARCY GORSLINE, CALEB LUFKIN'S MOTHER: Who was Caleb? Caleb was a boy, a man, a soldier who had a big heart. He was proud of who he was, and who he was serving, whether it was his family or his country. He always had a smile. One thing you will hear from everybody was whoever you interview, whether it's his buddies here or in Iraq or his family, his smile, and his love for life, love for people, his country, his comrades and his family. When they went to move his leg to put in a plate up his thigh, he went into cardiac arrest and 42 doctors were in that operating room when that happened. He was a big brother to not only his own brothers who they were his life, they were his life, but he was a big brother to his comrades. He represented our family and he represented his country with honor and dignity. It's the small town USAs of this world and these young men and women who are going over there, they're holding us together like glue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Next up on "This Week at War," how the war in Iraq has affected politics on the local level in the United States. Ned Lamont defeats Senator Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary, but first, a look at some of the others who fell in "This Week at War."
LIN: More of THIS WEEK AT WAR in just a moment. First, here's what's happening right now in the news.
This just in to the CNN center, a planned cease-fire in the crisis in the Middle East. UN chief Kofi Annan has just announced that fighting between Israel and Hezbollah will stop early Monday morning. The cease-fire was the centerpiece of a UN resolution approved Friday.
But more lives were lost in the conflict today. Hezbollah fighters shot down an Israeli helicopter in southern Lebanon, and at least seven Israeli soldiers were killed in ground combat with Hezbollah militants. British police raided Internet cafes in several cities today, including London. They're on the e-mail trail of suspects in the alleged transatlantic terror plot. Meanwhile, NBC News is reporting that there was some kind of a dispute between U.S. and British authorities over the timing of Thursday's arrests. The British reportedly wanted to hold off to collect more evidence.
And President Bush today reiterating that the U.S. cannot let its guard down. In his weekly radio address, Mr. Bush said the airline terror plot shows how America's enemies are constantly changing their tactics.
Terrorism charges in Michigan against three men who raised alarms by purchasing dozens of pre-paid untraceable cell phones. The men were also questioned by the FBI and they are now being held in a county jail.
Federal agents have also arrested three more Egyptian students who disappeared after arriving in the U.S. last month. Nine out of the 11 are being held. They were supposed to report to Montana State University, but they went AWOL. Authorities say they're not suspected of involvement in terrorism.
Coming up at 8:00, CNN PRESENTS: "No Survivors." It has been ten years since the TWA 800 tragedy but many experts worry it could happen again. CNN's in-depth reporting beginning at the top of the hour. That's what's happening right now in the news. I'm Carol Lin at the CNN center in Atlanta. Now back to THIS WEEK AT WAR.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: Because I supported the war, I feel a special responsibility to do everything I can to end it as soon as possible, but if you say you're going to pull out by a deadline, you are sending a message to your enemies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, whose position on the Iraq War may cost him his job. Democratic challenger, anti war challenger Ned Lamont beat him in the Connecticut Democratic primary on Tuesday. Is this a sign of things to come in the general election? CNN's Candy Crowley joins us now from Washington and Candy, is this a bellwether, is what happened in Connecticut a bellwether for the war in Iraq and a general election?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I would say bellwethers are better looked at after we have the next election. Certainly we are treating it as such at the moment. Democrats are looking at it and seeing a strong anti-war message coming out of it. Republicans are looking at it, saying when this sinks in with the public, particularly after what happened in London, and the round-up of the terrorists there they believe that this will, this message will not resonate throughout the country.
ROBERTS: Senator Lieberman has vowed to fight on as an independent. Polls would show that perhaps he has the support to be able to do it. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson urged Lieberman the other day to pull out. Will he listen to those calls or do you think he's determined to go ahead, candy?
CROWLEY: Right this second, he is determined to go ahead. There's some thought in the Democratic Party, and I have to tell you, it's a thought from those who would like Lieberman to pull out that if there is another poll and there's a three-way match-up between Lamont, Lieberman and the Republican candidate and it shows that Lieberman might lose they believe he'd pull out then. I can tell you everyone in this campaign says no, he is going to win this thing. As one said to me, "I guarantee you he will win re-election," so they're feeling very bullish.
ROBERTS: When news of this terror plot to attack airplanes became public the senator commented on it, connecting the terror plot to Iraq saying that the pullout from Iraq would be a victory for people who want to attack America. Ned Lamont said he didn't see the connection. Was that a stretch for the senator?
CROWLEY: Well it was a stretch, I will tell you, that a number of Republicans were making. We saw it all over Washington and beyond, saying listen, this is a war on terror, which includes Iraq, which includes what's going on in Britain, and so the Republicans are definitely using this to drive home the message that Democrats are, as one Republican put it, returning to the McGovern wing of the party.
So this is going to be the battle that we're going to see throughout this fall, which is, who can be tougher? Who does this nation trust to protect this nation?
ROBERTS: As we saw in the 2004 election, it was fought and won on security, with President bush saying that he was the one to provide security for the American people and that John Kerry would be soft on terror. Could the GOP score some points politically in November, because of this terror plot?
Certainly they think so, and that's the conventional wisdom that, when scary things happen, people turn to Republicans. But it may be that the war in Iraq has so colored everything that George Bush has done and that Republicans have done, that it will work against them this time. What we're seeing in the polling now is that the number one issue of Americans is terrorism, but when you ask them how they feel George Bush is doing or whether they trust Republicans more than Democrats, Democrats have an eight-point lead in the latest polling. The third time for Republicans working the national security issue may not work.
ROBERTS: Politically, one way or another it all seems to be about the Iraq War. Candy Crowley, thanks very much.
Coming up next on THIS WEEK AT WAR, more on the Middle East. We're going to step back and take a look at the big picture, who's winning?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: Syria and Iran sponsor and promote Hezbollah activities, all aimed at creating chaos, all aimed at using terror to stop the advance of democracies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: President Bush in Crawford, Texas on Monday, drawing clear links between Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. Israel claims that it is taking a punishing toll on Hezbollah's infrastructure and lead leadership. Hezbollah, on the other hand, insists it's holding off against the Israeli campaign so who really is prevailing in this conflict? Richard Roth is at the United Nations for us. Aneesh Raman is in Tehran, Iran, tonight, and Ray Takeyh the Council on Foreign Relations is in Washington.
Ray Takeyh, let me ask you this question. Who is winning?
RAY TAKEYH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, at this particular point, it's undeniable Iran's influence in the region is flowing growing. It's most important protege has not only survived an Israeli military attack but in many ways come out in a much stronger position, being acclaimed by the public opinion of the region and Iran's close relationship with Hezbollah obviously will be down in-to- its advantage. So given everything that is taking place in Iraq and the Lebanese front, I would say that Iran is becoming much more bullish and powerful and a significant actor in the region.
ROBERTS: Aneesh Raman, what about that? Many people were saying the action to kidnap Israeli soldiers in the first place was at the behest of Iran, trying to expand its influence. How could Iran possibly come out of this?
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, for the moment the official also quietly tell you given the relationship they acknowledge is only spiritual between Iran and Hezbollah, the only way Iran loses in this scenario, if Hezbollah is completely wiped out by Israel. That is a hard thing for Israel to do. So if Hezbollah survives this in any form and able to claim victory, Iran can claim some victory as well.
We've seen the Iranian government absorb the Palestinian issue, absorb Hezbollah. There isn't a real sense among the people I've spoken to that that's a logical thing for them to do, except to antagonize Israel. They don't have a plan necessarily for what to do to resolve the Palestinian issue but it's about putting pressure on Israel through what means it can and through that raising its status on the world stage.
Iran is desperate as is Syria to be engaged with, to be a legitimate player. You get the sense when you see the defiance on the nuclear front similar to what we're seeing with Hezbollah, that they're willing to push things as far as they can go to force engagement by the United States. ROBERTS: Richard Roth, generally speaking at the United Nations during these negotiations, France has represented Lebanon's interests, the United States has represented Israel's interests. Though it also has a big concern about Lebanon. Who is on the right side of the issue or the wrong side or is there a right side and wrong side?
RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think there are many sides and that's why it took so long to try to get some type of resolution adopted but France and the U.S., a week ago, thought they had a draft. Maybe they were surprised that their draft resolution did not win immediate, fast approval. Lebanon and Israel were both upset about the terms and as the week went on, the battle between France and the United States similar to what happened before the Iraq War, seemed to erupt again, though they worked much more together on this, but there's so many ramifications involving the UN and who can authorize what and the Middle East has always been an unbelievably thorny issue for the UN. So they all worked together but there were tensions and some real breaking points during the week, which were then healed.
ROBERTS: Ray Takeyh, when this is all over, when the guns fall silent, when security is preserved or on the way to preserving security, how does the Lebanese government come out? Fouad Siniora's government has been very weak in the face of Hezbollah, Syrian and Iranian influence. Could he come out stronger or could he come out weaker?
TAKEYH: The whole Lebanese political society may have to be reconfigured in the sense that potentially you may see a situation where Hezbollah's popularity actually translates into political advantage among non-Shia members within the Lebanese community, namely the Sunnis and perhaps even the Christians.
So in that sense, given the inability of the Lebanese government to sustain or cease violence and essentially exert some sort of a power over Hezbollah, implies that increasingly there are two governments in Lebanon, the Hezbollah government which enjoy a claim on the street and the Lebanese government, that was incapable of even having international community coalesce around its claims for the need for cessation of fire.
So the already weakened central government in Lebanon, and Lebanon has historically always had weak central governments, it's likely to come out even weaker in my judgment, as this crisis plays its way out in the intervening couple of months.
ROBERTS: Aneesh Raman, what about Iran in the future? It wants to be the power broker in the region. What lies ahead?
RAMAN: There is an uneasy environment right now. The Iranian officials are essentially, it seems, unclear how this is going to affect the other big front they are dealing with diplomatically, the nuclear front. They face a deadline at the end of the month to suspend their uranium enrichment. They have shown no indication they will get do that. You get a sense talking to the people that they're essentially prepared now for what seems inevitable, sanctions. When I was here a couple of months ago before this latest UN vote, there was a sense that they were behind the government as it stood firm against the world. But Iran will use this, I think, as a way to further increase (inaudible) on the world stage and raises the stakes further for action that can be taken by the UN on its nuclear program because it still maintains influence throughout the region.
ROBERTS: And Richard Roth, there will be an end to hostilities to the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah but will that end it?
ROTH: I don't know. The Middle East cauldron could erupt anywhere, at any time, as we all know and a UN resolution has never proved that it solves the crisis of whenever it's adopted. Sometimes it takes decades. Sometimes it could take a week. We do have an Iran deadline on a resolution coming up at the end of the month, that will be another interesting test for that region.
ROBERTS: And as diplomats like to say every breakthrough in the Middle East is preceded by a crisis but not every crisis precedes a breakthrough.
Richard Roth at the UN, Aneesh Raman in Tehran and Ray Takeyh of the Council for Foreign Relations in Washington, thanks very much.
Up next on THIS WEEK AT WAR, 48 hours on the front lines. Stay with us.
ROBERTS: Embedding is a term that many Americans are familiar with. It's when a journalist travels with forces as they're going through a war zone, living with them, eating with them, sleeping with them, seeing everything that they see.
It's a relatively new concept here in Israel and one that the Israeli army isn't yet completely comfortable with. But after a week of urging, the Israeli military finally capitulated and last weekend took me along for 48 hours on the front lines.
ROBERTS (voice-over): Under cover of night an elite army reserve unit prepares to strike out across the border. Their faces painted black, briefed on the battle plan, they put boots on the ground. Destination, a hot zone, some seven miles inside southern Lebanon.
We've been walking for a couple miles now. We're going to stop to take a little drink of water. The going has been hard, up one hill, down another, very, very dusty but it's an amazingly clear night here in south Lebanon. The moon was up a little while ago. Now the moon is down. It's much darker than it was before, but it's just a sky full of stars. Somewhat in odds with the action on the ground, this peaceful night.
Before daybreak, the unit enters an abandoned house near the Lebanese town of Rajimin (ph), their base of operations for the next 24 hours. Richard, last name withheld s one of the senior officers.
CAPT. RICHARD, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: We're using all the forces available to us, army, tanks and our air force, to fight these Islamist fundamentalist terrorists.
ROBERTS: The mission is to identify and suppress possible Hezbollah positions. They scout the hills with powerful binoculars and cameras that can bring far-off villages into sharp focus and dispatch patrols to probe nearby ground and buildings.
Abi is the fire control officer. He doesn't like this terrain. Hezbollah guerrillas lass, he says, could hide there so he calls in artillery. Within moments the hill is ablaze with incoming fire and smoke.
The company is under constant threat from Hezbollah missiles and snipers, so the unit's own sharp shooters keep a hair trigger alert.
(on camera): It had been a fairly quiet day in this position. The soldiers were getting some rest, waiting for some re-supply but moments ago some intelligence came in that this location may be targeted by Hezbollah. We heard the tanks start opening fire a couple of seconds ago and now these soldiers have taken a very aggressive, defensive posture.
Commanders evacuate another platoon from the building next door. Not long after, mortars hit close by. The stress of battle weighs on these civilian soldiers. Oded Norman (ph) is an attorney by trade ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't avoid being a soldier in Israel.
ROBERTS: Tomer Cohen (ph) was to have graduated acting school on this day. Instead he is in the theater of war.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lebanon is a cursed country for us.
ROBERTS: Conditions here are extreme. Everyone succumbs to exhaustion and the mission to rout Hezbollah fighters is frustrating. A volley of Katyushas that fly right overhead is proof of that.
The soldiers move constantly. Staying too long in one place invites attacks. They find a new position and fire rockets into the building to make sure it's clear.
As diplomacy moves forward, the mission to degrade Hezbollah's potency becomes more urgent. There is little faith among these soldiers that an expanded UN force could provide a barrier to the attacks and they fear they may be in Lebanon for a long time to come.
CAPT. RICHARD: The reality is that the only force that Israel can rely on to protect the citizens of Israel is the Israel Defense Forces. There's not been a great track record of other people protecting the Jewish people and the people of Israel.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTS: Forty-eight hours on the front lines, a unique and extremely rare perspective with the Israeli military. Coming up on THIS WEEK AT WAR, journalist Jill Carroll about to tell the story of her kidnapping in Iraq. Details coming up.
ROBERTS: At the top of this program we posed the overarching question. While the guns may stop and the cessation of hostilities may take place, will there ever be peace in this region? Some perspective on that this week from Lieutenant General Benny Ganz, who was famous for being the last man out of Lebanon during the 2000 withdrawal.
I interviewed him down near the Sea of Galilee earlier this week and I asked him that question. He pointed to a table top mountain not far off and said, that was the scene of a very famous battle in the 13th century. He said, this area has been in war, one shape or another, for thousands of years. Why would the 21st century be any different?
Now a look ahead at some of the stories that we'll be following in the week to come. On Monday, journalist Jill Carroll will tell the story of her kidnapping in a series of articles in "the "Christian Science Monitor."
On Tuesday, Italian troops in Nasiriyah are expected to announce when Iraqis will take over security there. All Italian troops are expected to be out of Iraq by the end of the year. And on Thursday first lieutenant Aaron Mutada will appear at a pre-trial hearing to decide if he will face criminal charges for refusing to deploy to Iraq.
I'm John Roberts in northern Israel. That's THIS WEEK AT WAR. Coming up, a check of the headlines and then CNN PRESENTS, TWA 800, "No Survivors, Could it Happen Again?"
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