updated 7/18/2006 1:34:44 PM ET 2006-07-18T17:34:44

Guests: Daniel Ayalon, Robin Wright, Jed Babbin

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Right now in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, breaking news.  The war that began over two Israeli soldiers now holds the world hostage, as the most powerful political players on the globe work furiously to avoid an international conflict.  Tonight, Israel warplanes strike deep into Lebanon, smashing Hezbollah positions in southern Beirut and killing at least a dozen civilians.  Meanwhile, Hezbollah continues its campaign to have rockets rain down on northern Israel, while its leadership vows that their efforts are only beginning and that Israel needs to beware of their cyclone.

In a moment, we will take you to that war-torn region and hear from NBC reporters to get the very latest on the escalating violence that some political leaders in America are predicting could lead to World War III.  We‘ll also talk to experts at home to discuss what efforts the U.S.  government will take to mediate this crisis and whether George Bush‘s slip of the tongue in Russia today will make that job more difficult.

But first, let‘s go to the northern Israeli city of Haifa, the target of most of Hezbollah‘s attacks.  NBC‘s Martin Fletcher is there, and he‘s got the very latest for us—Martin.

MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  The residents of Haifa here are under siege as (ph) a third day of rocket attacks from Hezbollah across the border.  Katyusha rockets have been raining down.  One of them scored a direct hit on a house just by the coast.  It smashed into the three-story building, completely destroying half of it.  The water (ph) was flying.  Soldiers were—came running.  There were only three people in the house at the time, luckily, but all three were wounded.

At the same time, other rockets fell in other towns across the north of Israel—Roshpina (ph), Kiryat Shimona.  In fact, all these northern settlements have been under attack now for six days.  One rocket fell near a hospital in Sifat (ph).  Several people were wounded.

At the same time, Israeli warplanes and artillery have been pounding their targets in south Lebanon, inflicting considerable damage.  The Israelis say now, according to military sources, that they think they‘ve degraded the Hezbollah strength by about 25 percent.  That means that the Israelis have a lot more work to do.  They feel that they need to continue attacking Hezbollah for a week, 10 days or so.  Their goal is about 50 to 60 percent.  At that point, they believe Hezbollah will no longer be effective as a fighting force, will no longer threaten Israel, and that‘s the point the political analysts believe a cease-fire could start coming into effect—Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  Now let‘s go to NBC Middle East bureau chief Richard Engel, who‘s in Beirut tonight—Richard.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Beirut right now is coming apart at the seams.  Part of the downtown area, the Dahi (ph) neighborhood, where Hezbollah has its headquarters—I should say had the headquarters—that building and all of the surrounding buildings have been completely destroyed.  This city has—is suffering tremendously.  Not only is its infrastructure under attack, the airport being hit every single day, today the seaports, but also the communities here are starting to feel the tension.

There have already been some clashes as their—as Christians and Shiites are fighting.  Mostly, it‘s the Shiites who support Hezbollah.  There have been reports that Christian villages have not allowed in some of the refugees who‘ve been leaving this city to go to Christian villages, which are considered more—somewhat more safe.

And amid all of this, the Israeli air strikes continue.  They‘ve been continuing tonight.  There have been more than 10.  Some of those air strikes have been focused on an area where earlier today, Hezbollah tried to launch a long-range rocket, the longest range it has in its arsenal, something that could go 60 miles carrying a 1,200-pound warhead.

Now, this—what happened was a Hezbollah rocket team was setting up in a van actually not very far from here, to fire this rocket.  An Israeli air strike destroyed the van, but that blast sent the rocket up in the sky.  It was a failed launch.  And then the rocket actually started coming back down right towards us.  But luckily, it petered out and fell to the ground harmlessly.  But it did send a lot of the reporters, including me, who were on that hill, running and scampering for cover.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much, Richard Engel in Beirut.

Now, Daniel Ayalon is Israel‘s ambassador to the United States.  I spoke with him earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMB. DANIEL AYALON, ISRAEL‘S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.:  What we do, really, is attacking Hezbollah targets and only Hezbollah targets.  But there is one problem here, Joe, and that is there are no Hezbollah camps.  What they do is, they position their arsenal and their terrorist fighters inside populated areas.  This is their tactics all along.  They are using civilian population as human shields.

But there is an answer to that, as well, too, because what we are doing is we are warning the population to leave, even at the risk of also have the terrorists flee the area.  But we are giving them a fair warning.  And only once they are cleared, then we attack the weapons, the command and control systems, communication and the terrorist targets themselves.

SCARBOROUGH:  How stunning was it for you and other members of the Israeli gnu to find that you actually had allies inside the Arab League, who came out and condemned Hezbollah for their actions against Israel?  I would guess you and many others in the government never believed you would have lived to see a day like this.

AYALON:  Well, I believe that the Middle East, Joe, is really in a crucial moment, in a very important juncture.  And there is a line on the sand.  On the one side of the line are the Iranians, the Syrians and their proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas, and all the other terror organizations, including all these insurgents in Iraq.  And Iran and Damascus‘s idea is to push their agenda.  That means to have their influence on the Middle East, to turn the Middle East into an Islamic and very extreme entity supporting terror and extreme ideology which would really rival the civilization that we all live in.

SCARBOROUGH:  Do you believe that Iran might be staging all of this for those purposes?

AYALON:  Absolutely.  The Iranian masterminds in Teheran are really playing a very intricate chess game, I would say.  They are moving their pawns, which are the Syrians, in a way, the Hezbollah, Hamas, according to their own agenda.  As you mentioned, one is to distract from their nuclear ambitions and their fervent activity right now to acquire nuclear capabilities.  And secondly, to push their agenda of radicalization of the Middle East.

As I mentioned, all the—on the other side of the line in the sand is Israel and the West, first and foremost the United States, and of course, all the moderate Arab countries, who do not like to see the region really go into the slippery slope and in the hands of terrorists.

SCARBOROUGH:  Certainly, their opportunity to do that is lessened when you have the Arab League coming out, condemning them, and in effect, siding with Israel—certainly unprecedented.  Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for being with us tonight.  And good luck and God bless in your efforts.

AYALON:  Thank you, Joe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And now to get the reaction from Washington, D.C., let‘s go to MSNBC military analyst General Barry McCaffrey and MSNBC‘s political analyst, Pat Buchanan.  Let me begin with you, General McCaffrey.  We‘ve heard politicians behind us over the past several days talk about the possibility of this regional conflict expanding into World War III.  Is that hyperbole, or does the world significant danger if this crisis is not averted soon?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, clearly, it‘s a very dangerous situation.  The next 30 days will be crucial.  The Israelis are going to do anything required to stop their cities from being pounded by rockets.  The economy couldn‘t go more than a month and sustain this.  So if that means direct ground action against both Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank or the Syrians, they‘ll do it.  I don‘t think the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Syrians want to get involved in a ground war with Israel.  I think this‘ll be contained, but it‘s a rough period coming up.

SCARBOROUGH:  And when you talk about Syria, obviously, the Syrians, according to George Bush, could stop this tomorrow if they wanted to.  Can you explain for us how close—I mean, I believe, you know, Syria‘s capital, Damascus, is only 50 miles from Beirut.  This is a real powder keg waiting to erupt, isn‘t it.

MCCAFFREY:  Oh, yes.  Sure.  I don‘t—by the way, I don‘t think the Syrians now can put a stop to Hezbollah.  That‘s a Shia militia, a Shia terrorist organization responding to Iranian influences.  So I think the Syrians are in a very difficult position.  If they were viewed as an active participant in bringing to a halt the economy of Israel, there‘ll be Israeli tanks in Damascus inside of 14 days.  So again...

SCARBOROUGH:  Do you really believe...

MCCAFFREY:  ... I don‘t believe that‘s going to happen.

SCARBOROUGH:  So you believe that if this continues and Syria—if you can draw a line between Damascus and what‘s happening in Beirut and points south, you really do believe that Israel would be willing to take tanks into Damascus within the next 14 days?

MCCAFFREY:  They will not be able to tolerate the direct attack, stand-off weapons, on Israeli population centers.  And by the way, in my view, we, the international community, should not constrain them in protecting themselves from that kind of attack.  They can bargain over the three soldiers.  They can bargain over a bunch of things, the location of the fence between a West Bank—they can‘t bargain over Tel Aviv and Haifa and the cities that are going to be under attack.

SCARBOROUGH:  General, there a lot of Americans that don‘t follow this story day in and day out, don‘t understand the intricacies of this region.  But will you explain how the dots are connected between Iran and Hezbollah when it comes to money, and Damascus and Hezbollah when it comes to training and also logistics, and how, really, in the end, this war will continue, whether a hot or a cold war, until Iran and Syria is somehow restrained?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think—you know, first of all, I don‘t think a lot of this is explicable because it‘s illogical.  It makes no sense for the Palestinians to stay in poverty, to be a pawn.  Makes no sense for Lebanon, which by and large is innocent, to be hostage to Hezbollah.  It makes no sense for Hamas to have brought the government of, you know, Gaza to a grinding halt.

So this is illogical.  I don‘t think it can be stopped easily.  The hatred is too deep.  But again, I do believe, in the short run, we, the international community, should not constrain the Israelis from bringing a halt to a direct attack on Israeli cities.  I don‘t think they can do that with artillery and air power, so I think the next step is they‘re going to go in on the ground in a major way to stop the fire on their civilians.

SCARBOROUGH:  And of course, if that happens, then suddenly, we‘re talking about a scenario that looks like 1973 or 1967, and it could get very dangerous.

General, stay with us.  Pat Buchanan, stay with us.  We‘ll be right back after the break.

Coming up next, more with our guests and our special coverage of the crisis in the Middle East.  We‘re going to have all the latest pictures from that war-torn region—as I said earlier, a powder keg that‘s ready to explode.  We‘ll also have retired Air Force Colonel Rick Francona here to take us through the region and show us the map.

And later: It wasn‘t meant to be heard around the world, but microphones caught George Bush in a private conversation with Prime Minister Tony Blair, the president calling it as he sees it.  Coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back.  Still with me, Pat Buchanan and General Barry McCaffrey.  Also here, Lawrence Kudlow of CNBC‘s “Kudlow & Company” and a former adviser to President Reagan.

General, one more question to you.  I talked about how if Israel went in with a massive ground force and went up to Damascus, that it could be like ‘67 or ‘73.  Do you disagree with that?  Do you think that Damascus might...

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I don‘t think...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAFFREY:  Yes.  I don‘t think they‘re going to do that.  I think the Syrians are going to be careful to not incur direct Israeli attack.  The Iranians are stirring the pot, but there‘s going to be very little control over Hezbollah, or for that matter, over Hamas, a Sunni militia, on Israel‘s other flank.  So think Israel‘s in a real challenge.  How do they stop the rocket attacks on their civilians and the impact it‘ll have on the economy?  That‘s the challenge for the next 30 days.  Not likely, in my judgment, to be war with Syria, Egypt, Jordan.  Not going to happen.

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, if the rockets keep raining down on the Israeli citizens, doesn‘t the Israeli government have the right to go into Lebanon and destroy Hezbollah, and if, in fact, Damascus is calling the shots, go up to Damascus and take care of them?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, first of all, I don‘t think Damascus is calling the shots.  But I agree with you 100 percent, and I agree with the general.  If they‘re firing rockets, Katyushas and these other rockets, into northern Israel, the Israelis have a right to go across that border and wipe out those rockets and wipe out the nests from which they‘re being fired.

And I agree with the general.  I think they‘re going to have to do that, Joe, because I don‘t think they can do it with air power and with missile strikes and—but the Israelis are thinking this over because they spent 18 years in southern Lebanon, they were unable to defeat and crush Hezbollah.  And after losing over 600 men, they pulled out and had some kind of truce.

I agree, I think that‘s the only force in the region now that can clean out Hezbollah in the south.  The Lebanese can‘t do it.  And so I agree with the general there.

But I don‘t think—really, I don‘t think Syria wants a war with Israel.  I‘m not sure Syria had a role in this.  I wish the president would put the facts on the table when he says that, you know, Syria is behind this because it doesn‘t make sense from Syria‘s own standpoint.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Pat, last night, you had said what Israel was doing in Beirut and in southern Lebanon was immoral.  Do you stand by that position tonight?

BUCHANAN:  I stand by the position that the deliberate attack on the infrastructure, the air fields, the oil depots, the gasoline stations, refineries and power stations, which have put innocent people in the dark, where their food is rotting and where their water can‘t be purified, of Lebanon—it is innocent here—is wrong.  That is collective punishment, and it is wrong.

So I disagree profoundly with that.  And I notice the ambassador said today, We are not doing that.  And yet the news says they‘re doing that, and the chief of staff of the Israelis said, We‘re going to set back Lebanon 20 years.  Now, the Lebanese people, like the Israeli people, are friends of this country, and neither of them should be brought under attack, as they are non-combatants.

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan says that, Lawrence Kudlow.  Do you agree with Pat that this is sort of a collective punishment against the Lebanese people?

LAWRENCE KUDLOW, CNBC‘S “KUDLOW & COMPANY”:  No, I don‘t agree with Pat at all.  I think that, in fact, the Lebanese government should have stationed their forces on the southern border a year ago.  The Lebanese government should have disarmed Hezbollah.  Those were agreements made by treaty.  And as the Israeli ambassador noted quite clearly, the Lebanese government are harboring—they are safe-harboring Hezbollah terrorists.

I think, frankly, the United States and the rest of the free world owes Israel an enormous vote of thanks for going after Hezbollah and Hamas, for cleaning out these terrorist militias...

SCARBOROUGH:  But Larry, let me ask you...

(CROSSTALK)

KUDLOW:  And by the way...

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on one second!  I need to—I need to go back—and I‘ll let you complete that thought.  But as a supporter of Israel, I understand when the prime minister of Lebanon, saying in an interview, basically, that they couldn‘t clean out Hezbollah from the southern part of Lebanon, or else there would have been a civil war.

KUDLOW:  I don‘t think that‘s a credible position, for any number of reasons, one of which, though, is he should have asked for help from the United States or the united Nations or some coalition group.  They just let this thing slip and slide.  And while I completely agree with my friend, General McCaffrey, regarding Iran pulling the strings—they are the ultimate puppeteers—I must, with the greatest respect, disagree with the general, Syria has a major role in this.  That is what President Bush has been talking about in St. Petersburg and elsewhere.  Syria has been safe-harboring.  Syria has allowed the Hezbollah, the terror camps, the training camps, the missile installations.

For all we know, Syria has the weapons of mass destruction that weren‘t found in Iraq.  But we do know that Syria has allowed Hezbollah and other terrorist groups to go back and forth across the Iraqi border, fomenting trouble!  So Syria is...

(CROSSTALK)

KUDLOW:  They have a huge role in this story!

SCARBOROUGH:  General McCaffrey, Larry Kudlow says Syria is not blameless.  They have a huge role in this story.  Respond.

MCCAFFREY:  Oh, I think he‘s right.  He‘s entirely right.  Syria‘s been an active—it‘s been supporting Hezbollah.  I‘d be astonished if these big missiles, like Silkworm, didn‘t come in through Syria to Lebanon, not flown in directly from Iran into that airfield.

I guess my only caution would be now I‘m not sure they can turn it off.  There is no Syrian force that can intervene and be a peace-keeping force on the Lebanese frontier.  But I think Larry‘s entirely right...

(CROSSTALK)

KUDLOW:  Let me just ask, ultimately, Barry, isn‘t it—isn‘t it Iran

at the end of the day, it‘s Iran.  I‘m just saying...

MCCAFFREY:  Yes.  Sure.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... in part of the day, it‘s also Syria.  And I don‘t want them to get off scot-free.  I‘ve never understood American policy towards Syria, particularly in the last year or two.  But I just didn‘t want to let them go blameless.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... Joe, let me step in here, please, Joe.  Look, let‘s take Syria.  The father of the present president, Hafaz al Assad, was offered by the Israelis, the most decorated man in Israel, Ehud Barak, 99 percent of the Golan Heights, right up to the Sea of Galilee.  Secondly, if the Israelis in 18 years, with the finest army of the region, cannot disarm Hezbollah, how in heaven‘s name can you demand that this poor Lebanese government go down there and disarm them?  And then to go attack their infrastructure...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  ... begs another obvious question.

BUCHANAN:  That is outrageous, Joe!

SCARBOROUGH:  If they couldn‘t do it in 18 years—and of course, we all know about the hell they endured starting in 1982 -- what hope is there that they‘re going to be able to disarm Hezbollah now?

BUCHANAN:  Well, they can do it, I think.  But I agree with the general.  They‘ll go in there and go right up to the second river.  But after that, I think Hezbollah is going to put up a hell of a fight, and there are going to be a lot of Israeli dead.  And I understand why the Israelis are saying, Look, do we want to do it that way and lose those guys, or can we get somebody else in there?

KUDLOW:  Israel is fighting for its life and its survival as a free and autonomous country.  And we don‘t know that they can‘t clean them out.  I‘m going to bet on Israel because history shows that attempts by Israel to clean out these terrorists across the border have been stopped by diplomatic and so-called treaties that were broken, with which Israel, for whatever wisdom, abided by, including the fact that, what, a few years ago it was Israel who pulled back from the Lebanese position.  So now they are not going to listen to anything until they have done their job.

And I just want to add again, Joe, if you give me a second, we owe Israel a great vote of thanks and gratitude for going after these terrorist groups because nobody else seems to want to do it.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Larry Kudlow...

KUDLOW:  And that is the key point I want to make.  Thank heavens for Israel!

SCARBOROUGH:  You‘ve made it twice now, and I‘m going to give you a chance to make it again when we come back after break.  Stay with us, gentlemen.  We‘ll be right back in a minute.

And friends, it is important to underline right now that this is happening just months—just months—after Israel continued to move through a peace process where they believed free elections in the Palestinian territories would yield a democracy that would allow them to move forward and continue a peace process in this region.  But as they found in 2000 with the Oslo accords, they‘re finding now that the closer they get to a peace agreement, the more they‘re willing to give up, the more it seems they find themselves ensnarled in war disputes with Palestinians, Lebanese, and of course, now Hezbollah.

We‘ll be right back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCAROROUGH:  Israeli war planes continue to pound targets throughout Lebanon as the crisis in the Middle East escalates.  We‘ll have more of our special coverage in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY in a moment.  But first let‘s go to Chris Jansing for the latest news.

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back to the special coverage of the crisis in the Middle East.  We‘re keeping track of the latest developments there.

Robin Wright is a diplomatic correspondent for “The Washington Post.” 

She is with us on the phone.  She has spent years covering the Middle East.  She has interviewed the leader of Hezbollah.  Robin, thank you very much for being with us.  You spent six months travel traveling this region and talked with Nasrallah.  Tell us about this man who right now is seen at being in the center of this conflict.  Who is he and how dangerous is he and is he a figure that could transform the region?

ROBIN WRIGHT, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Nasrallah is a man who thinks of him both as an Ayatollah Khomeini, a revolutionary leader, a cleric, but he also seems himself in the image of Che Guevara, the Latin American revolutionary.  He sees himself in many ways as above the kind of warlord politics of Lebanon and a regional play player in which he is not only challenging the Israelis on behalf of the Palestinians, but creating an alternative image.  This is a role he has foreseen for himself since he was nine years old when he became enamored of another cleric who was mobilizing the Shiites of Lebanon for the first time.

SCARBOROUGH:  Robin, obviously when you have leaders of the Arab League, countries of the Arab League coming out and criticizing Hezbollah, it‘s quite possible that this man over played his hand.  Do you believe he did that and do you think there may be recognition and they may have take then a step too far or is this the type of crisis that he wanted to draw Israel and possibly the United States into?

WRIGHT:  No.  I don‘t think he wanted to draw the United States or Israel into this kind of conflagration.  I think he was calculating that if his fighters seed two or more Israeli prisoners that he could then organize a prisoner swap.  He announced the day after this that he had been planning this for more than five months and he organized a prisoner swap in 2004 which he in exchange for three Israeli bodies and one businessman managed to win the release of 430 Palestinian and Arab prison prisoners held by Israel.

And I think that was his calculation and his goal and probably thought there would be some kind of violence along the border, but never this kind of massive destruction or retaliation, anyway, by Israel.  So he over played his hand and I don‘t think he envisioned the kind of cost for all of Lebanon.

SCARBOROUGH:  You remember the Winston Churchill quote about the Soviet Union I think he said being a riddle wrapped in an mystery wrapped in an enigma.  It seems to me can you say the same about Lebanon and Beirut six months ago.

We were seeing images of hundreds of thousands of people going into the streets demanding sovereignty from Syria.  Now six months later.  We are seeing this once beautiful city descend into hell.  Can you give us your best explanation for Americans who haven‘t had the opportunities that you have had to tell us about Beirut and about Lebanon and where they stand in this battle between Hezbollah and Israel and now the countries in the Arab League?

WRIGHT:  Well, I don‘t think the images we see today and a year ago are inconsistent.  In fact, the majority of Lebanese really do seek democracy, they seek a strong state.  They seek idea of diversity for Christians and Muslims.  The fact is Lebanon has not finish the business of transition, has not wrapped up the damage from the end of the 15-year civil war which ended in 1990.

But they have not yet finished the last business, the disarming of militias.  Hezbollah is the last private army and it was the last major challenge.  It was embodied in a UN resolution in 2004.  In many ways what we are seeing is the playing out of the drama.  Can you eliminate all the private armies and consolidate a state or not?  That‘s the challenge that underlies this broader - or immediate crisis along the Lebanese border.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much.  Robin Wright with “The Washington Post”.  We greatly appreciate your insights.  Now let‘s bring into our group Jed Babbin who served as deputy undersecretary of defense for the first Bush administration.

He is the author of “Inside the Asylum, Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think.”

Jed, listening to Robin Wright, I think she is dead-on.  I think this is the last step in a 20-year process of the Lebanese needing to clear out Hezbollah and disarming them and moving them forward.  Right now it seems like this entire country is being held hostage by this one remaining radical terror group.

JED BABBIN, FORMER DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE:  Well, I think it‘s right in part, but what she said about it being a private army is wrong.  This is the element of the Shia revolution in Iran.  It was created by Iran.  It was set up there and used by Syria as effectively a border guard force against Israel for the past 20 something year years.

What‘s going on now is really that the Israelis are trying to force Lebanese government to divorce itself from Hezbollah which they have accepted previously as a legitimate party and partner.

SCARBOROUGH:  But which they‘re don‘t feel like they can do right now because if they did that, it would lead to civil war.

BABBIN:  Well, I think that‘s a cop out, Joe.  At some point you have to be a responsible government.  You have to be someone who is going to say either we are a terrorist government in which case Hezbollah is a legitimate part of it or we are going to be part of a legitimate world.  And the Lebanese have not had the means or the will or the power or anything else to do it and in fact they have been terrorized by Syria and in fact, if you look back, you see that Syria has dominated Lebanon.

So this is not something that the Lebanese have a lot of say in, but on the other hand, they have to take responsibility for.  If you have a terrorist government, you have a terrorist government.  It‘s nothing else.

SCARBOROUGH:  General McCaffrey, you know we have spoken before about your travels over to Iraq.  Obviously a lost people have been critical about coverage, news coverage in Iraq and across the Middle East.  It‘s very easy to show things blowing up.  It‘s hard to explain the subtleties of geo political politics as things are changing.  It seems like there is a revolution going on in the Middle East right now.

If you look at the front page of the “New York Times” today, you get Arab League members are starting to criticize Hezbollah because they are concerned about Iran, they are concerned about Shiites in Iran, they are concerned about Shiites in Iraq, they are concerned about Shiite influence now in Lebanon.

It seems like whether he meant to do it or not, George Bush‘s war in Iraq may have created a split in the Middle East that could provide an opportunity for the United States.  Talk about that.

MCCAFFREY:  It‘s a difficult way to go about it, I must admit.

SCARBOROUGH:  It is ugly.

MCCAFFREY:  We‘ve got 130,000 troops, 21,000 killed and wounded, $350 billion and I think we needed to get into Iraq, up an Iraqi government and get out as rapidly as possible.  That is our current strategy and hopefully we will pull that off.  I think the caution is clearly the enormous divide between the Persian Shiites with their potential bomb and the rest of the Sunni Muslim world.  The fear on the part of many Egyptian and Jordanian leaders seeing this Shia arc encircling Sunni Muslims.

There is no question in my mind.  The Iranians put Hezbollah, the Syrians had been promoting them as a surrogate form of attack Israel.  Now we are stuck with this out come.  We better stand aside and not get U.S.  military forces in any peace-keeping force in the Golan Heights, Lebanese border, Gaza, West Bank, no, no, no.  Let the Israelis sort it out with neighbors and let‘s argue for peace as the end result of what will probably be a 30 to 90 day war.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Larry Kudlow, go ahead.

KUDLOW:  I just want to say one point.  I don‘t want to disagree with General McCaffrey on tactics.  I don‘t know anything about it.  I will say that free elections in Iraq have changed some minds in the Middle East.  Economic liberalization has also changed some minds.  They are not the radicals they once were.  They are more moderate.

I think Bush deserves at least some credit on that and secondly, I want to note Iranian arms are moving through Syria to the Hezbollah.  That is a fact.  Many, many experts believe those Iranian arms are moving through the Syrian airport in order to get to Hezbollah.

SCABOROUGH:  Larry Kudlow, it seems to me and I am not proposing that the United States go into Tehran, but it seems to me that everybody is ignoring the 800-pound elephant in the room.  This war and terror going back to 1979, Islamic terror.

KUDLOW:  I agree.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on a second.  Going back to 1979 begins and ends in Tehran.  And until we take care of Tehran, we are going to be talking about this for the next 30 years.  So what do we do?

KUDLOW:  No question.  I agree with your assertions on that, I‘m just taking it one step at a time.  The end game is in fact Tehran.  My friend Norman Podhoretz, the “Commentary” magazine editor and writer, he called this the beginning of World War IV.  He said it several years ago.  The Cold War against the Soviets was World War III.  And you have to connect the dots.  Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, North Korea and terror cells in the United States.  Terror cells in Canada and bombings in London.  Connect all those dots and you will have the correct picture.

SCARBOROUGH:  It all goes back.  General, I want to thank you for being with us.  Really, as always appreciate your great insights.  Larry—

Yes, sir?

MCCAFFREY:  Joe, a quick intervention.  I agree with Larry Kudlow again on taking down Saddam was the right thing to do.  I had some disagreements on the methods of execution, but this is a better out come for the Middle East and the U.S.

KUDLOW:  I know you do, general.  I know you do and I appreciate your views on this.  Always have.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Gentlemen, thank you so much and I want to thank you two for being with us.  Pat, Jed, stay with us.  We are going to have more of our special coverage including Americans trapped in Lebanon and talking to one live when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back to the special coverage of the crisis in the Middle East.  The fighting crossed has already into Lebanon and can spill into Syria.  Egypt and any of the nations surrounding Israel.  Here to give us a closer look at how close we may be to that tipping point, here is Rick Francona, who of course is also an MSNBC military analyst and the author of “Ally to Adversary.”  Rick, if you could, take us across the Middle East, especially the region and explain to us how this really is a powder keg with these countries literally on top of one another.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, U.S. AIRFORCE:  We have been focused on the area of southern Lebanon and Israel.  You have to look at what‘s next door here over in Syria.  Israel has been successful this isolating the conflict into the Gaza Strip down here and Lebanon.  It has not outside the border borders and we have to make sure it is not.  Despite the increasing capabilities of Hezbollah and the missile range, I have these threat rings drawn here, Joe, to show you how far down into Israel and how much of the country is now under missile threat from Hezbollah.  This is the Fajr-3, the Fajr-4, this is already 40-miles into Israel.  The rocket that was destroyed today has a greater capability and goes almost 100-miles which puts Tel Aviv within range of this missile, this rocket.  So we are seeing the expansion of this conflict.  Israel has been very successful at keeping it confined to Lebanon.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Israel is not a large country.  What is it, about the size of New Jersey?

FRANCONA:  I guess so.  The problem is that Israel is demanding that Hezbollah be moved further north so that they can‘t strike into Israel.  So if they move them further north into Lebanon, look how far this is.  With that longer range rocket, they are talking about pushing Hezbollah up this far into Lebanon.  That creates an area in Lebanon that is a third the size of the country of Israel.  Who is going to control that?  They want the Lebanese army to go in.  The Lebanese army is not capable of controlling that.  Is an international force going to come in there?  They are things the Israelis are going to have to deal with this as it progresses over the next month.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Pat Buchanan, you have got Syria right next to Beirut.  I mean, Damascus less than 50-miles away.  So what do we do, how do we keep these players apart?

BUCHANAN:  I think Syria has got a real interest in not getting involved in a war with Israel.  That interest is they would it lose it horribly.  Syria has missiles and could do some damage to Israel, but they would be smashed.  Israel has got an interest in not going to war with Syria, Joe, because if Assad falls, the alternative is probably the Muslim Brotherhood or radical Islamists.  For 35 years, Israel and Syria, whatever you say about it, had a truce on the Golan Heights where not a single incident has occurred.

SCARBOROUH:  So is this a case, Jed, as pat says, if the current government falls in Damascus, the alternative may be worse like in Pakistan?

BABBIN:  We need to take the chance, Joe, the problem is, and pat sounds like Tony Zinni.  Stability uber alles.  You have instability as a good thing in the Middle East.  To destabilize and topple the Assad regime is a risk we have to take because they are fun funning terror and involved in terror and they are a terrorist government.

SCARBOROUGH:  Thank you so much Jed and Bob.  Thank you, Pat.  Thank you so much.  Colonel Rick Francona, we appreciate it.  We will be back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s bring back in Pat Buchanan.  Pat, respond if you will to what Jed Babbin and explain to us what Jed was talking about earlier?

BUCHANAN:  I think Jed was saying as I understood, I don‘t want to be wrong, but as I understood him, United States should some how go to war with Syria or go after Iran.  This is silly!  Iran hasn‘t attacked us.  Syria hasn‘t attacked us, Hezbollah hasn‘t attacked us, Hamas hasn‘t attacked us.  They don‘t want war with the greatest power on earth.

General McCaffrey is right.  We ought to stay out of the fighting unless Americans are attacked.  And don‘t send peace keeping troops in the middle otherwise, we‘ll wind up with another marine barracks.  Joe, I understand the sympathy of Kudlow and these other folks for Israel  and they‘re under real fire but the Lebanese are dying in Beirut because of what Israel is doing and Israelis are dying because of what Hezbollah is doing.  We want to stop the war and help Israel in terms of wiping out these nests of attack but keep the United States out of it.  Quite frankly, the United States ought to adopt more of the posture of a great power rather than sticking completely with one side which I‘m afraid Bush is doing.

SCARBOROUGH:  You have believed for sometime, have you not, pat Buchanan, that the united states policy in the Middle East is skewed to Israel?

BUCHANAN:  Of course it is.

SCARBOROUGH:  And that many of our problems in the Middle East arise from that?

BUCHANAN:  Well, certainly.  I mean, both Democrats and Republicans, 100 percent behind Israel.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, who should we support in the situation?  Syria? 

Iran?  I mean, what‘s the alternative?

BUCHANAN:  Our alternative is to support our values and our interests.  They sometimes they overlap and are the same as Israel‘s then we support them.  When they don‘t, we disagree.

SCARBOROUGH:  As far as allies go, U.S. values, are they not closer to Tel Aviv‘s than to Damascus?  Closer to Tel Aviv‘s than Tehran?  Closer to Tel Aviv‘s than Saudi Arabia‘s.

BUCHANAN:  And we believe that the Palestinian people have a right to a home of their own, on their own land and not to have the land confiscated and not to be abused and have power stations .

SCARBOROUGH:  I understand that, pat.  But look at Oslo in 2000.  Bill Clinton basically forced Barak to give Yasser Arafat everything he asked for.  They rejected it.  And then they started an intifada.  And then of course we give Palestinians just about everything they asked for in 2005.  They hold the elections?  What do this they do?  They elected Hamas.  I mean, what does Israel have to do to prove to its critics that it‘s willing to play ball with its enemies?

BUCHANAN:  Oslo was 1994 and there was a not a terrorist attack or very, very few until Rabin was murdered by an Israeli crazy on the West Bank.  The first intifada was a success and the second was a terrible thing but it started with Ariel Sharon walked up on the mound he with about a thousand security people.  Rocks were thrown and Palestinians were cut to pieces.  The next day it started.  There are wrongs on both sides, Joe, and we should stand for the right, we should stand for justice and stand for America.

SCARBOROUGH:  Are you saying there‘s a moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas?

BUCHANAN:  No.  You know very well what I am saying.  There‘s a moral equivalency when people are standing up for the right.  I think that the Lebanese people are in the right.  They haven‘t done anything wrong.  I don‘t think they ought to be bombed.  I don‘t think it ought to be hell in Beirut if it‘s the Lebanese people who are suffering.  What did they do wrong to deserve what‘s being done to them?  I know what Hezbollah did wrong and I know what Hamas did wrong.  What did the Lebanese people did wrong?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and Pat, I certainly can understand and this is where I believe we can agree, and I greatly appreciate you being with us, Pat Buchanan.  But if you look at what‘s happened in Lebanon since 1982, that country has gone through and experienced so much tragedy but over the past year, there‘s been reasons to believe that Lebanon could in fact be a great example of moderation and cooperation within Middle Eastern countries.  That of course may slip away from us tonight and in the next several weeks, as war continues to rage in this region, we‘ll be covering it and certainly hope that the United States will stand up, be a great power, step in and do what is required to bring all sides to the table and bring peace to this troubled land.

That‘s all the time we have for tonight, an MSNBC special report with Rita Cosby starts right now.  Rita?

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

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