updated 7/18/2006 1:32:06 PM ET 2006-07-18T17:32:06

Guests: Rafael Frankel, Daniel Ayalon, Anne Barnard, Andrea Mitchell, David Ignatius, Karby Leggett, Tom Frank

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Right now rockets and missiles explode in the Middle East as Israeli war planes pound Beirut again.  Is a peace deal possible or could Israel invade Lebanon again?  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening I‘m Chris Matthews.  Tonight from San Francisco welcome to HARDBALL.  New attacks in Beirut going on right now in the sixth day of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.  What will take it to stop this war?  Hezbollah fired at least 100 rockets at Israel in the last 24 hours and Israeli air strikes have continued on two fronts, devastating targets in Lebanon and destroying the Palestinian foreign ministry and the Hamas headquarters in Gaza.  As fighting continues there, at least small signs that a diplomatic solution is at least possible. 

Israeli officials say they‘ll stop fighting if the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers are returned and the Hezbollah militants would withdraw from the border.  Hezbollah is not expected to accept those terms but Secretary Condoleezza Rice is making plans to go to the Middle East to help end the fighting, indicating that at least some hope remains for a deal. 

Meanwhile, 25,000 Americans are in the middle of a war zone.  We‘ll talk to NBC News Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski about the military‘s plans to evacuate them.  But we begin tonight in Lebanon in Beirut itself, where al-Jazeera and Lebanese TV are reporting that Israeli war planes are once again attacking in southern Beirut. 

NBC News Beirut bureau chief Richard Engel joins us now.  Richard, what‘s happening right now in Beirut? 

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF:  There are Israeli jets in the sky over the city now.  I‘ve been hearing them flying over our heads and dropping bombs in that area of south Beirut behind me.  There have been about 12 air strikes.  They‘ve been coming quite regularly, as we‘ve been hearing them whiz by, go overhead.  It is a building up of strength and then dropping their bombs.  This was just one area that‘s been attacked.  Also, this location, not far from here where today Hezbollah tried to fire the longest range rocket in its arsenal. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENGEL (voice-over):  Lebanon is burning, 50 more Israeli air strikes today, 600 in the past six days.  But few areas look as bleak and punished and primeval as south Beirut‘s Hezbollah stronghold.  Israel also attacked Beirut‘s port and factories, hospitals, and bridges across southern Lebanon. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t care about rockets.  All I care about is that I don‘t pay the price for somebody else‘s crime. 

ENGEL:  As we waited to file a report, we heard an explosion.  Israel had attacked a van of Hezbollah fighters, trying to launch rockets.  But the air strike set off a rocket.  It turned out of control and headed right for us but fell harmlessly.  A close call for us and Israel.  U.S. and Israeli intelligence say the rocket was a Zilzal two, range 60 miles, a 1200 pound warhead.  With all of this today, the British foreign office organized the biggest evacuation of its citizens since World War II.  And France mobilized as well. 

(on camera):  French embassy officials say they don‘t know exactly how many of the nationals are being evacuated today but that they will be allowed to come until this ship is full.  Now, Americans are increasingly asking, when will it be their turn? 

(voice-over):  At the American University in Beirut, Sarah Johnson from Louisiana can‘t leave her dorm. 

SARAH JOHNSON, AMERICAN STUDENT IN BEIRUT:  You don‘t even flinch anymore when you hear missiles or sonic booms. 

ENGEL:  She keeps a blog.  A main topic, the U.S. embassy‘s slow response. 

JOHNSON:  So far I‘m getting more information from my family back home, who are watching the news than from the embassy. 

ENGEL (on camera):  Two more American helicopters arrived here today with security assessment teams.  Americans we spoke to said these assessments should have been done right from the beginning, Chris. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you Rich, do you know whether the Hezbollah units are intended to go any further into Israel with their strikes? 

ENGEL:  Absolutely.  There was an attempt to launch that long range rocket today and there is no indication that they are planning on stopping those kinds of attacks.  Just the opposite.  Hezbollah says it has long range rockets, intends to use them, and that could be one of the reason we see so many Israeli aircraft in the sky tonight, to try to prevent them from launching deeper attacks into Israel. 

MATTHEWS:  On the peace front, on the peace making front, is there any chance the Lebanese government has the strength or the will to go in and replace Hezbollah on the Israeli border? 

ENGEL:  The simple answer is no.  It doesn‘t have the strength and it doesn‘t have the will.  It doesn‘t have the strength because the Lebanese army is very weak.  Hezbollah is much more dedicated, motivated, mobilized along the border area.  And it doesn‘t have the will because if the army went in to a position that it was confronting Hezbollah, that would mean it is effectively allying itself with Israel.  It‘s not willing to do that.  It also would confront, stir up sectarian tensions in this country and potentially start even a civil war. 

MATTHEWS:  Well that bottom lines it.  Thank you very much Richard Engel, the NBC bureau chief in Lebanon.  Martin Fletcher is standing by in Haifa, Israel.  Martin, what‘s the latest in terms of the bombing, the rocket attacks from Hezbollah and Lebanon? 

MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  There‘s lots of them.  That is the short answer Chris.  Despite six days of heavy Israeli shelling, Israeli military sources say Hezbollah still appears to have plenty of rockets to bombard Israel for months. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘ve got 13,000 rockets, are the Israelis afraid, especially the ones living in very developed areas like Haifa, usually safe from attack, that Hezbollah would just exhaust its rocket supply in the months ahead. 

FLETCHER:  Well, you know, no one is hoping here that it will take months.  They‘re hoping it will sort this out within days or weeks.  Preferably, obviously as soon as possible.  Hezbollah, those numbers, 13,000, obviously an extraordinary number based in the south Lebanon, facing Israel over a very small area indeed.  The Israelis say, the analysts here say they believe that Israel has degraded Hezbollah strength by about 25 percent.  That‘s the figure they use.  In the last six days of fighting, 25 percent of 13,000, that leaves about another 8,000 rockets still there. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the impact on Israeli life there.  How is it different in Haifa from the Haifa you‘ve known all these years. 

FLETCHER:  Incredible difference.  First, Haifa is a beautiful area. 

You see this behind me, the lights.  It is a wonderful, peaceful bay area.  Now suddenly it is a war zone.  The citizens here, who have only, it is known as a peaceful, quiet place that people come to rest, beautiful beaches.  Suddenly there is random death from the skies.  Katyusha rockets just falling very suddenly, eight or 10 a day.  I think of the last three days, Haifa has been hit by about 40 or 50 rockets.  You can imagine the difference. 

People are frightened.  They‘ve canceled all activities for children.  Summer camps closed.  People leaving their homes to go south.  All very frightened, but all very resolute at the same time Chris, behind their government.  But they say despite their fear and suffering, they‘re behind the government for the time being, anyway, saying we have to remove this threat from Hezbollah and they‘ll take it for as long as it takes.  That‘s what all the citizens are saying. 

MATTHEWS:  A great report.  Thank you very much Martin Fletcher in Haifa.  Now to Jerusalem, Rafael Frankel is a reporter for the “Christian Science Monitor” and he joins us on the phone.  Rafael, the sense there in Jerusalem of what‘s happening to the major cities of Israel. 

RAFAEL FRANKEL, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:  Well, Chris, everyone is obviously very worried about what‘s going on here.  And we had a major speech in the Knesset this evening from the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, saying that, you know, these are moments in the life of a nation when it must look reality in the face and say no more.  And that‘s basically the way Israelis are looking, as Martin just said, at this war right now.  They are seeing it as a very justified and necessary war in order to secure the northern border.  And there is a lot of sympathy around the country, not just in Jerusalem, for everyone in the north. 

MATTHEWS:  Which way is the public leaning, if you can generalize?  Are they leaning toward a longer, more persistent campaign against Hezbollah or a quick clean-up of this effort through a cease-fire? 

FRANKEL:  I mean, what the government is saying now, the military anyway, is saying, at least one more week, if not two that the military campaign is going to go on, that the air strikes are going to go on.  As far as the public is concerned, I think they‘ve basically steeled themselves for at least a few weeks if not a months worth of fighting.  And also prepare themselves for what might possibly happen is Hezbollah hitting Tel Aviv. 

We had a situation where the Israeli army says that the Hezbollah guerrillas were on the way to fire a long range missile into Tel Aviv.  And luckily, the Israeli Air Force is able to shoot it down.  So the public is ready for at least, I would say, a few weeks, if not a month.  The army is saying at least another week if not a little longer. 

MATTHEWS:  So, to size things up, from the perspective of your report, it looks like we‘re getting Haifa hit.  It never got hit before.  We‘ve got potential fears, current fears that Tel Aviv might be hit because of the range of these rockets.  And a commitment by the people of Israel to back the government, as far as it is going so far.  Which is to try to dramatically reduce the power, the rocket power of the Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.  Is that about it? 

FRANKEL:  That‘s exactly right.  And you know, the people here have gone through a lot.  Obviously as you know the history, it is a very violent one here and they‘ve steeled themselves for this confrontation and they feel like in the end, they‘ll prevail.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Rafael Frankel, with the “Christian Science Monitor” on the phone from Jerusalem.

Joining me now from Washington is the ambassador of Israel, Daniel Ayalon.  Thank you very much Dan for joining us tonight.  Give us—you know America as well as anybody in America.  You know our sense in watching this thing.  Tell us what you think we ought to know that we‘re not getting in the stories on the television so far.

DANIEL AYALON, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.:  Well, Chris, I think what we see here is an historic moment in the Middle East.  It is not just a matter of our kidnapped soldiers.  It is not just a matter of the security and well-being of our citizens, which is very important.  One million Israelis are sleeping tonight in bunkers and bombshells. 

It is the fate of the entire Middle East and much beyond.  On the one hand, or the one side of the divide, we see Iran and Syria, two very extreme regimes.  We see Iran with a motivation to increase its influence in the Middle East, to push its agenda of radical Islam with no tolerance whatsoever to other civilizations. 

And they are moving ahead.  They are moving in Iraq with insurgencies.  They are moving in the territories, the Palestinian territories with the Hamas.  And now they‘re moving in Lebanon with the Hezbollah.  So this is a determining moment.  And a blow to the Hezbollah, to the effect that we neutralize them from their capabilities, that will be a victory for the entire free world and also, the Arab moderate countries.

MATTHEWS:  What is the definition of success in this campaign?  Is it the reduction in the number of rockets Hezbollah has?  Is it the distance between the Hezbollah forces and the Israeli border?  How does your government measure success?

AYALON:  Well, the only way we can measure success is the full implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions 1559.  If the entire international community was very resolved and determined, when this resolution was taken into effect two years ago, we wouldn‘t have been in this situation now.

And 1559 called for the dismantling of the terror organizations, specifically the Hezbollah.  It called for the exercise of sovereignty of the Lebanese government through the deployment of their army on our border.  And this is what we should see.

MATTHEWS:  President Bush to say, let‘s skip the dirty word he used, the familiar word he used.  It didn‘t shock me certainly.  But let me ask you about the meaning of his comment off the collar, off the cuff, to Prime Minister Blair when he said “All we need to end this conflict is for Hezbollah to stop what it is doing.”  Is that enough?  It sounds like that‘s not enough from an Israeli point of view.

AYALON:  No, well it is.  And in fact, we have the greatest respect and admiration for the president in leading the world on the war on terrorism.  And it is a war.  And the Lebanese part, the Hezbollah part is also a part and parcel of the entire global terrorism, which is attacking us.

We are in a war that was imposed on us.  We did not start it/  And for the Hezbollah to stop doing what it does, of course it needs the influence of Syria and of Iran.  Without these two countries, the Hezbollah would not be able to do what it does.  It has amassed a deadly arsenal of weapons in huge proportions, which is what we are witnessing now.  So it is very important to neutralize Hezbollah because otherwise they will keep holding all of us, not just Israelis and Lebanese, but the entire region as hostage to the radicalism and to their very dangerous policies.

MATTHEWS:  With their new long-range rockets able to reach apparently something like 90 miles, some of them, how far back do you have to push them from the Israeli border to be safe?

AYALON:  It is not just a matter of pushing them backward.  It is a matter of applying a new political arrangement in Lebanon.  I think this is what is the most important.  And if the Lebanese government, which by the way, I take issue with your correspondent over there.  It is willing to take Hezbollah on.  It is willing to deflect its influence and to disarm them.  But they are not capable, it is true.

Hezbollah, as we see, is such a potent force because of the supplies from Syria and Iran.  Hopefully, at the end of this stage, of military campaign, they will no longer be a strong military force which will enable the Lebanese to take over politically.  And with that arrangement, I think the entire region would be much safer.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe the Lebanese government will speak its mind and heart after this campaign?

AYALON:  I hope so.  I think that in the short run, certainly, we see them speaking differently.  But in the long run, and circling their heart of hearts.  And also when we hear other responsible Arabs in the region, all of them want to see the demise of the Hezbollah as a terror organization with military capabilities.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, Ambassador Daniel Ayalon, a very familiar figure in Washington.  Up next, much more from the Middle East.  We‘ll hear from reporters in Haifa, Damascus and Jerusalem.  All coming up in our live report coming up now.  Plus, the latest on what world leaders plan to do, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, live on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  At this hour, Israeli war planes are striking Hezbollah strongholds in the southern suburbs of Beirut as the Mideast crisis rages into its sixth day.  Arab leaders have had unusually strong words for Hezbollah as this conflict unfolded.  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Along the Israeli-Lebanese border today, the attacks continued.  Israeli forces pounded Hezbollah opposition in and near Beirut and Hezbollah rockets rained down on more than 20 Israeli towns and villages.

But as the world saw British and U.S. military helicopters today starting to evacuate citizens from Lebanon, there were signs of hope for the broader Middle East. 

In several Persian Gulf states where the Arab street is often strongly anti-Israel, Arab governments now chastising Israel‘s enemy Hezbollah for, quote, “unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts.”

Last week, Hezbollah guerrillas crossed into Israel and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a raid that killed eight others.  This weekend, as the battle between Israel and Hezbollah intensified, Arab leaders gathered at an emergency summit in Cairo and Saudi Arabia‘s foreign minister said of Hezbollah, quote, these acts will pull the whole region back to years ago, and we cannot simply accept them.  It is rare for Arab leaders to criticize an Arab organization attacking Israel, especially as images of the destruction launched by Israeli forces is beamed into Arab living rooms across the Middle East.  The willingness of some leaders to defy public opinion underscores two new realities along the Persian Gulf. 

In many Arab countries, the ruling class is now far more concerned about their fast growing economies than about waging the war on Israel.  And fears are growing about the influence of Iran.  On the economy, the Persian Gulf states, thanks to their oil reserves and stable relationships with the rest of the world, are in the midst of a construction boom and unprecedented level of wealth. 

On Iran, Arab leaders see a troublemaker that is extending its influence.  The anti-U.S. rhetoric and Iranian support of Hezbollah appeals to the Arab street.  The Arab street and Muslim masses are a possible threat to leaders from Jordan to Egypt.  The delicate politics were evident at the G-8 meeting in Russia, where world leaders offered a unified voice condemning Hezbollah. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Should not be allowed to abduct people and shell other states. 

SHUSTER:  At the United Nations, criticism of the United States was muted when the U.S. rejected a resolution demanding an Israeli cease fire. 

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.:  I think before you get to cease fire, you have to look at what the causes of the conflict are.  I think you would have a cease fire in a matter of nanoseconds if Hezbollah and Hamas would release their kidnap victims and stop engaging in rocket attacks and other acts of terrorism against Israel. 

SHUSTER:  Today, Israel‘s prime minister said he would stop the war if the kidnapped Israeli soldiers were released, Hezbollah stopped launching rockets over the border and Hezbollah backed away from the border.  But getting Hezbollah to leave south Lebanon may not be very easy. 

(on camera):  And in the Middle East, what you see and hear publicly can often mask the furious and hard fought negotiations behind the scenes.  And when it comes to some Arab leaders, it is possible their criticism of Hezbollah is only an effort to try to box in Iran.  Still, American analysts are calling some of the statements a dramatic and significant departure from the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you David Shuster.  Anne Barnard is the co-bureau chief in the Middle East for the “Boston Globe.”  She joins us now on the phone from Jerusalem.  Anne, your sense of the potential here for any kind of resolution to this conflict. 

ANNE BARNARD, “BOSTON GLOBE” MIDDLE EAST BUREAU CHIEF:  Well, today Israel‘s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a very tough speech to the Israeli parliament.  It was a very passionate speech and he seemed to be reiterating most of Israel‘s demands, that Hezbollah withdraw from the border, stop firing rockets into Israel, release the captives and that the Lebanese army deploy on the border between Lebanon and Israel.  He didn‘t specifically say that Hezbollah has to be dismantled before Israel stopped shooting.  But, he did continue to say that a U.N. resolution calling for the dismantling of militias must be implemented.  He was a bit vague about when.  Maybe there was a small amount of movement there.  Behind the scenes Israeli officials, according to Lebanese officials, have made overtures, saying that maybe just a cease fire and a pull back by Hezbollah would be enough.  That‘s not confirmed by Israel. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re seeing an increasing pattern in world affairs where the United States is the lone supporter of Israel in the world.  Is that the perspective from the capital there, from Jerusalem? 

BARNARD:  Well, here people certainly have noticed that President Bush has not echoed calls for a cease fire.  They find President Bush to be the most pro Israeli president that has come along in a long while.  And they‘re certainly happy with that.  On the other hand, there are people on the Israeli left and Palestinians who are very disappointed that people aren‘t taking an opportunity here to maybe go back to the Arab league‘s initiative from 2002, where they talked about a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, based on Israel withdrawing to its 1967 borders, giving us the West Bank back to Palestinians.  And getting recognition from the Arab world for this. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, you‘re saying that the Israeli people, as concerned as they are about their own welfare, may feel that even the most pro Israeli president in years may have lost his ability to use his leverage with the other major powers, and the Arab countries. 

BARNARD:  That‘s right.  There is a very interesting opportunity here and also, a danger for Israel.  Israel has on its southern border with the Gaza Strip and in the north, with Lebanon Islamic groups that have won power through Democratic elections.  Now President Bush has called for those Democratic elections and now Israel is in a bind, dealing with these groups in power on its borders.  So the problem is how can President Bush be consistent with his call for democracy and still keep up his unwavering support for Israel. 

MATTHEWS:  Well developed, thank you very much Anne Barnard from the “Boston Globe.”  She‘s co-bureau chief there in Jerusalem.  Up next, thousands of people are fleeing Lebanon right now across the Syrian boarder to escape the fighting.  We‘ll go inside Syria tonight to see what‘s happening there.  That is always intriguing, what‘s happening in Damascus.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘ve heard several big explosions tonight in Beirut itself as Israeli war planes continue to strike Hezbollah strongholds there.  Thousands of Lebanese are streaming across the border with Syria to try to get out of harm‘s way.  NBC‘s Kerry Sanders filed this report earlier tonight from the capital of Damascus. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  No violence here in Damascus but plenty of anger as thousands took to the streets in a state sponsored pro-Hezbollah rally, chanting, we will get Israel back.  The borders remain the big issue here.  More than 150,000 refugees have crossed from Lebanon into Syria and they continue to do so today at about 2,000 an hour.  Like the Salah family, who arrived here nine members with their luggage, unsure where they‘re going to spend the night.  In the meantime Iran‘s foreign minister met with Syria‘s vice president today and said that he believes that a cease fire and a prisoner swap would be acceptable and fair.  Thus far Israel has rejected any prisoner swaps.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Kerry Sanders in Damascus.  Up next, we‘ll have a live report from Jerusalem and more on what the U.S. is doing to end this fighting.  And by the way, log onto HARDBALL.MSNBC.COM for my special blog, which you can see me on this ongoing crisis.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  New Israeli attacks on southern Beirut are going on right now.  The new wave of attacks comes after days of violence between Israel and Hezbollah.  Israel says it will stop fighting if the two kidnapped Israelis are returned and if Hezbollah militants withdraw from the border.  But Hezbollah has so far rejected all cease fire proposals as Israeli conditions.  Plus, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gets set to go to the Middle East.  We‘ll get into all of it with NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and “Washington Post” columnist David Ignatius. 

But, first let‘s go directly to the “Wall Street Journal‘s” Karby Leggett in Jerusalem.  Karby, I read this amazing story by you in the “Wall Street Journal” that Israel‘s true objectives here is to get the 13,000 rockets being held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. 

KARBY LEGGETT, THE “WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Yes, I think that‘s right.  I think that the realization in Israel is that as long as these rockets exist, they will pose a threat to daily life in Israel economically, politically, and in terms of security. 

MATTHEWS:  So the question is, is that long range objective a current objective?  Or is the prime minister of Israel speaking clearly when he says that all he wants is the two G.I.‘s back, the two Israeli soldiers  back and a movement back from the border by Hezbollah?  Which is it?  The longer term objective or the short term claim of an objective? 

LEGGETT:  Well, I think what is included from Israel‘s perspective in having Hezbollah removed from the border area, is also its disarmament.  Israel continues to point to 1559, the U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for the disarmament of all Lebanese militias and says that it is the responsibility of the world community to carry this out.  That is the ultimate goal, to have the weapons of Hezbollah taken off the table. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, give us your sense now, looking forward over the next week or two.  Do you believe that Israel is pointing toward an opportunity for Hezbollah to get out of this? 

LEGGETT:  I think to a large degree, both sides are not eager to see this spill into a major regional conflict.  I think the risk here is that at this point, we‘re seeing sort of a daily dose of tit for tat escalation.  Just now a while ago, another 50 missiles were fired at Israel.  The military continues to operate.  So the risk is if something big happens, Hezbollah hits a petro chemical plant and Israel then is forced to escalate to a level that goes far beyond what we have now. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much Karby Leggett who is on the phone from Jerusalem.  Great piece in the “Wall Street Journal” today Karby.  Let‘s bring in NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and “Washington Post” columnist David Ignatius.  Andrea, you‘re always on top of these things.  Is there something to be on top of right now?  Is there a real peace effort at this point? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  There isn‘t a peace effort from the United States and not from Israel because, the real goal of Israel, as stated very publicly, is to take out those Hezbollah rockets, particularly the larger and longer range missile that they have long feared, they claim that they took out one rocket with a 1,200-pound warhead that has a 65-mile plus range, which could reach Tel Aviv.  They say they did it.  U.S. intelligence said don‘t disbelieve that. 

In other words, we don‘t have hard confirmation on the ground.  So far, they have found that Israel‘s claims have been correct on these matters, that Hezbollah has this increasingly large and lethal arsenal, supplied by Iran, and unless and until the Lebanese government can control that southern Lebanese area, that border area, and a considerable buffer zone to that area, Israel will continue this. 

MATTHEWS:  Not to be demoralizing to the Israeli cause in terms of their perspective, but what stops one of the allies of Hezbollah to simply replace any rockets destroyed by Israel? 

MITCHELL:  That‘s exactly why Israel has been bombing every access to Lebanon, the port, the bridges, the airport, the roads from Damascus.  They have tried to stop that resupply, as well as stopping any exit for those captured soldiers that could be brought across the border to Syria. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to David Ignatius.  You‘ve always struck me as somewhere in the middle politically in trying to understand this Middle East crisis that never seems to end.  Do you think this one will have an ending in the near term?  Will there a peace cease fire, based upon mutual purposes here? 

DAVID IGNATIUS, “WASHINGTON POST” COLUMNIST:  It is entirely likely there will be a cease fire down the road.  I think Israel wants to keep shooting, wants to keep attacking, having gone in until it really has degraded Hezbollah‘s military capability.  The problem, what worries me is that the real consequence of what‘s happened over the last week is that the Lebanese government, in which the United States has a big investment, this was one of the few U.S. success stories in the region, really is going to have trouble recovering the idea that it can easily assert authority again, take control, disarm Hezbollah, which Israelis talk about as their goal.  It‘s a wonderful idea, I just don‘t see it happening as a consequence of this war.

MATTHEWS:  Dan Ayalon was just on.  I want you both to respond to this.  Dan Ayalon, of course a well known ambassador in the United States from Israel, says that he believes the heart and mind of the Lebanese government is to try to get rid of Hezbollah but they are afraid to say anything until they‘re crushed.  Is that accurate, Andrea?

MITCHELL:  Well, I think that was initially the heart and mind of the Lebanese government but they have now seen the infrastructure of their country destroyed by Israel.  That‘s exactly what David Ignatius‘ just said is the real risk.  There‘s a tipping point here. 

This government couldn‘t control its own social services.  Hezbollah had gradually become the most popular political force, Shia political force in Lebanon as it was and actually crossing sectarian grounds there by providing social services, by controlling some of the domestic ministries, by electing people to local officials and to parliament.  They were a government force on the civilian side, as well as controlling those militias that are supported with great amounts of money from Iran.  There is a real risk here that this government will collapse and you will have a civil war.  Exactly what David is outlining. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s look right now and move to a somewhat lighter vain, potentially.  Let look at what President Bush said today in the meeting when he was still over in Saint Petersburg. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF GREAT BRITAIN:  I think the thing that is really difficult is you can‘t stop this unless you get the international presence agreed.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  She‘s going.  I think Condi‘s going to go pretty soon.

BLAIR:  Well that‘s all that matters, if you see, it will take some time to get out of there.  But at least it gives people ...

BUSH:  It‘s a process I agree.  I told her your offer too. 

BLAIR:  Well it‘s only, or if she‘s gonna or if she needs the ground prepared, as it were.  See if she goes out, she‘s got to succeed as it were, where as I can just go out and talk. 

BUSH:  See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and it‘s over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, skipping the expletive, Andrea, what does it mean to get Syria to stop Hezbollah from doing what it is doing.  Is that as simple as he made it sound? 

MITCHELL:  Not at all.  Because he may be correct that there has been not enough pressure from Kofi Annan and others with relationships with Damascus, but, I mean, let‘s look back.  Warren Christopher went 33 times to Damascus and was criticized for a rather ineffectual show of diplomacy.  But, we have no relationship with Damascus for a lot of reasons on both sides. 

This administration has basically put off limits direct talks with Syria or Iran.  We have no leverage with either party.  We have to rely on others.  And to get Syria now to back off?  Why would it be in Syria‘s interests to back off when in fact Hezbollah is its proxy? 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you David, I‘ve been reading your columns for years.  You‘ve got contacts in the Druze community and all those people over there.  Are they all anti-American now?  Anti-Israeli? 

IGNATIUS:  No Lebanese like to see their country pounded.  And you wouldn‘t want to go around waving an Israeli flag in Lebanon.  There are many Lebanese who are sick of Hezbollah.  The idea of this militia, which has pitched Israel across the border, taking out bridges, power stations, making life miserable.  That upsets people.  And they‘re sick of it.  I think the key here is to have a more aggressive, engaged U.S. diplomacy in this part of the world. 

As Andrea said, we don‘t even have an ambassador in Damascus who could start this process.  If we want to build up the Lebanese government so that it someday can control all the territory of Lebanon, make it safer for everybody, for Israelis, for Lebanese, for everybody, we‘ve got to get more involved.  That‘s not going to happen and President Bush in that comment that was picked up by the microphone, talks as if diplomacy is a little spigot you can turn off and on.  Let‘s send Condi.  Let‘s pick up the phone and let‘s have Kofi do this.  It doesn‘t work that way.  It requires sustained engagement over time.  And that‘s been missing.  We‘re paying the price for it. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is he so different than his father? 

IGNATIUS:  Dr. Freud needs to come in on this I think.  His father was a person who knew the Middle East deeply.  He traveled and he knew the leaders.  He knew it from an intelligence standpoint.  He had run the CIA, the texture, the feel on your fingertips of the Middle East, the father had.  The son never really has had that.  To him, I think, as to many Israeli leaders, this is really about toughness.  About standing up to adversaries.  It is not about the feel and texture of diplomacy. 

MITCHELL:  In fact, Chris, if I may, second that.  The only foreign trip that George W. Bush took before becoming president was to Israel.  And Ariel Sharon, this was when he was defense minister, I believe or housing minister in charge of settlements, not when he was prime minister even, took him north in a helicopter to see the proximity of that border there.

MATTHEWS:  I know that trip very well, I‘ve been on it.  It is called the Likud trip.  I know that trip. 

MITCHELL:  And that is to toughen up American politicians and other visitors to just how vulnerable Israel really is.  But, he had not been to Europe.  He had not been, aside with from as a kid with his father to Asia, when his father was the special envoy in Beijing, he had not been anywhere else in the world.  His sole experience is through an Israeli prism. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll come right back.  It is getting very interesting here.  Andrea Mitchell and David Ignatius are staying with us.  And when we do return, we‘ll get an update on the evacuation of Americans trapped in Lebanon right now.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As the fighting rages on between Israel and Hezbollah, 25,000 Americans remain in Lebanon.  Tonight plans are underway to evacuate them, to get them out.  At least those who want to get out.  NBC‘s Pentagon Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski joins us now with the latest. 

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, the State Department estimates that of the 25,000 Americans in Lebanon, 24,000 of those have dual citizenship, Lebanese and U.S. and they estimate that only about 5,000 of those may want to get out of Lebanon and fast.  So far, U.S.  military helicopters have air lifted only 63 Americans out of Lebanon to the nearby island of Cyprus.  At that rate, it would take forever to evacuate all 5,000 or so. 

So beginning tomorrow, the U.S. has chartered a Greek cruise, The Orient Queen, to begin ferrying Americans, 750 at a time, for the five hour sail from Lebanon to Cyprus.  Now the U.S. warship the USS Gonzales, a destroyer, will accompany and escort the Greek cruise ship and provide force protection.  And within days some 2,200 marines, an amphibious task force, including the air craft carrier Iwo Jima, are expected to arrive in the area, again to provide force protection if need.

But U.S. military and Pentagon officials say those warships will maintain a discreet distance from the shoreline of Lebanon, so as not to provide any provocation or targets.  Because after all, it was in the early ‘80s that the U.S. was attacked twice by Hezbollah when they bombed the U.S. embassy, and the marine barracks at the Beirut International Airport, killing 241 marines.  Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, NBC‘s Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon.

We‘re back right now with NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and “Washington Post” columnist David Ignatius.  Listening to Dan Ayalon today, the Israeli ambassador, I thought I was listening to a Bush administration official, Andrea, because he kept talking about how everybody who is opposed to us or Israel in that whole region of the world is basically the same person.  They‘re a terrorist.  Are they sort of aping our line or we‘re aping their line, what is it now?

MITCHELL:  Well I think there is a confluence of interest here between the United States and Israel.  The U.S. would not mind at all and is permitting through this green light diplomatically, permitting Israel to go after Hezbollah because the U.S., this administration clearly wants Hezbollah wiped out, wants to be able to also deal an indirect blow to Iran, its chief sponsor, and wants to try to stand up that democracy. 

But as David and I were discussing with you just a minute ago, the real problem is whether that Lebanese fledgling democracy, which was created with the withdrawal of Syrian forces 18 months ago can really stand up, with having been beaten down so far and with the infrastructure of Lebanon so badly destroyed.

MATTHEWS:  David, the same question.  Are we speaking the same language?  The government over there, which is sort of a combination of Likud and some more moderating forces and this administration.  Are they speaking the same world view here?

IGNATIUS:  You know increasingly, it the same language, which I have this weird sense of deja vu, Chris.  I was in Beirut in 1982 when the Israelis invaded.  That was another big roll of the dice.  It was an effort to transform the situation.  That time the terrorists were the PLO and Yasser Arafat.

Israelis rolled the tanks all the way to Beirut thinking we‘ll finally crush them in their lair.  That proved to be a strategic disaster for Israel by the account of every Israeli I talked to.  And I worry that in a sense, Israel may be repeating the same mistake.  It‘s understandable they want to go after the people who were firing rockets at their cities, who were kidnapping their soldiers. 

The question is whether they‘ve taken the bait of this adversary.  You know, Lebanon swallows up invaders, as we have found, as the Israelis found.  It is a merciless kind of battlefield.  And I just worry that at the end of this mini war, whatever you want to call it, Israel won‘t really be very much more secure than it was before it started.  And that should worry everybody.

MATTHEWS:  David Ignatius of the “Washington Post,” Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, our chief foreign affairs correspondent.  When we return, we‘ll get back and give you the latest from Haifa, where Israelis continue to live with the threat, in fact the reality of Hezbollah rockets.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Three Hezbollah rockets hit Haifa today, one striking a three-story apartment house that collapsed into the street.  For an update on how Israel‘s third largest city is bracing for more attacks from the air, we turn to “USA Today” reporter Tom Frank, who was there this evening.  Tom, it looks to me like nobody wants a cease-fire, the president of the United States, Hezbollah or Israel.  What‘s going to happen?

TOM FRANK, USA TODAY (on camera):  Well you just named three parties that don‘t want a cease fire, but there are others that do want a cease fire.  I don‘t think that there is going to be one because Israel doesn‘t want to have a cease-fire and you can‘t have a cease-fire without one of the  main aggressors having one. 

I think that what‘s going to happen is that the diplomatic pressure will increase and Israel will have to start to scale back attacks and ultimately I think you will see some efforts of diplomacy.  I don‘t think you‘re going to see a United Nations force forming a buffer between Israel and Lebanon.  You may see an international force, maybe a NATO force or a European force.  But the United Nations is not very well-regarded here in Israel.

MATTHEWS:  What are about the Lebanese government coming down and replacing Hezbollah on the Israeli border?

FRANK:  Well, if they can do it, they might.  The problem is the Lebanese government is unstable.  The Lebanese army is weak.  And neither of them necessarily have the political or strength or muscle power to do that. 

So that‘s why there are a lot of people who are floating this idea of some kind of international force creating that buffer zone.  Israel doesn‘t like the idea of an international force.

MATTHEWS:  I know that well.  Thank you Tom, we‘ve got to cut you short.  Thank you very much for the great report, Tom Frank on the phone from Haifa.  He‘s with “USA Today.”

I myself keep thinking about America.  What do we get out of all of this fighting?  Israel wants to crush Hezbollah.  Hezbollah wants to lead and be seen leading the Arab front against Israel.

But again, I keep think about America.  What are we getting out of this fighting?  I fear it‘s the usual suspects, more hatred of Israel in the one billion fault Islamic world.  More hatred of the United States for its 100 percent backing of Israel.

That means more anger in the cafes of Cairo and Casablanca, more parents talking their bitterness, more young men joining the jihad, more recruits to the suicide ranks.  More terrorism. 

I agree with something former President Bill Clinton said today.  Israel may not be satisfied with a cease-fire.  Hezbollah may not want a cease-fire.  President Bush may not think a cease-fire is the key.  But every time we can stop the fighting, we can stop the killing. 

And the less killing there is, the less of a cry for revenge, the better the chance to get both sides to stop the overall fighting and that has the added advantage of being good for our country.

Join us for HARDBALL again tomorrow night.  We‘ll have the latest from the Middle East.  And at 10 p.m. Eastern tonight, an MSNBC special report on the Mideast crisis.  Right now, stay tuned for an exclusive interview with former ambassador Joe Wilson, the man who‘s now suing Vice President Cheney, on “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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