Video: A scene most people never see

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 7/18/2006 7:43:59 PM ET 2006-07-18T23:43:59

HAIFA, Israel — Because it is often hard to depict this war of missile-firings and counter-attacks, Tuesday we flew with the Israeli military for an aerial view of this conflict — as close as we could possibly get to the border with Lebanon where the firing has gone on.

In a Blackhawk helicopter at 1,500 feet, we are flying over the northernmost part of Israel. With us is a high-ranking general in the Israeli Defense Forces. Over the constant air traffic control radio traffic in Hebrew, we learn there is activity on the ground right below us.

"They're having some shelling right now," the pilot tells me. "They landed about 30 seconds ago."

The trails of smoke and dust visible out the window are where Katyusha rockets have landed — in this case in the uninhabited Israeli countryside, and in some cases they have set fire to the surrounding brush. The missiles are unguided and random. And plentiful.

Then, I noticed something out the window. From a distance of six miles, I witnessed a rocket launch. A rising trail of smoke, then a second rocket launch, an orange flash and more smoke — as a rocket heads off toward Israel.

Our tour by air ended on the ground in Haifa, but in a low-lying and vulnerable part of the city. Our drive to the safety of the surrounding hillside is interrupted by the sound of sirens. Generally that means we have 60 seconds to seek shelter.

We have chosen a high-rise apartment building at random, and are directed down several flights of stairs to a bomb shelter — just waiting to feel or hear something, signaling possible impact.

On our way down the stairs we felt a deep but far off concussion of what has become known as a "hit" or "missile strike" here in Haifa.

After the all-clear, we again venture out into the empty streets. This is an unusual sight in a city of 500,000 people: A major thoroughfare with no cars. Most of these buildings are empty. But it's the port section of the city Israelis are most worried about — the petro-chemical plant and the fuel storage tanks.

Haifa is a battleground in a random war. Those who remain here have decided to play the odds.

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