updated 7/19/2006 2:29:10 PM ET 2006-07-19T18:29:10

Guests: Ehud Barak, Hisham Melhem, Ian Williams, Jed Babbin

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Breaking news tonight.  As Israel‘s war with Iranian-backed terror group enters its seventh day, well, Iran warns that no one in Israel is safe anymore.  Beirut lurches towards anarchy.  And the world‘s most dangerous region heads toward total war.  Israeli bombs hammer targets across the battered country of Lebanon again tonight, as Hezbollah missiles continue spreading chaos across the Holy Land.

Now, as you can see from this video posted on the Internet, tens of thousands of Israelis are hiding in bomb shelters across northern parts of that country.  Also tonight, Israel refusing to rule out a massive ground invasion of Lebanon, and the top general said the war could last weeks.  All this as thousands of Americans are trapped in the Middle East crossfire.  Where is the U.S. government?

We‘re going to be covering every angle of this crisis with “Nightly News” anchor and managing editor Brian Williams in the Israeli city of Haifa.  And we‘re going to take you inside the war zone with NBC News correspondents overseas, MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson in Israel‘s capital, and American experts to tell us whether U.S. forces face yet another Middle East war.  We‘re also going to go inside and get details from former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, the most decorated Israeli soldier in that country‘s history.

But first, let‘s get the very latest breaking news developments on this story today.  Israeli bombs killed 31 people, and Hezbollah fired more than 100 rockets into northern Israel, killing one, the Israeli air forces again bombing the Beirut airport.  And Israeli armored forces are clashing with Palestinian militants after pushing into central Gaza.

Meantime, on the diplomatic front, President Bush said Hezbollah is the root cause of this war, and he‘s sending Secretary of State Condi Rice to the Mideast on Friday.  Lebanon‘s prime minister is saying Israel is a terrorist state.  It‘s committing everyday terrorist acts.  And here at home, a scary note, as the FBI is actively seek terrorist killing squads that may have already activated inside the United States.

But we begin our reports tonight in Israel‘s third largest city, Haifa.  NBC‘s Martin Fletcher is there—Martin.

MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Joe, Hezbollah has fired more than a thousand rockets at Israel towns in a week, 65 of them at Nahariya and 14 rockets today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  We started our day in a bomb shelter in Nahariya.  I asked the kids, Do you know Hezbollah?  They want to kill us, 11-year-old Tal (ph) says.  His sister, Michal (ph), feels safe here.  But as we left, panic.  New rocket attacks all around us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Katyusha!  Katyusha!

FLETCHER:  Katyusha, she shouts—bombs.  Where are my children, she

cries?  A man points to the smoke, and we run there.  Half a mile, past

another bomb shelter, more frightened people point pointing the way.  When

we get there, cars are destroyed, gasoline flowing down the street, burning

embers, live electric cables on the ground, water mains broken, deadly

combination.  The Katyusha rocket with its 50-pound warhead made only a

small hole in the ground but spread terror.  A man is in shock.  Then close

by, a second rocket, but nobody was wounded either time.

(on camera):  The house here has been hit by a rocket, but everybody was inside the bomb shelter here.

(voice-over):  And then the third rocket.  Terror on the home front.  We run another half a mile.  A quick response can save lives, but for all three bombs, we got there before the ambulances.  This man had no chance, a direct hit.

(on camera):  They‘re just waiting for the ambulance to arrive yet again.

We‘re right next to a bomb shelter.  Most people are inside, and that‘s how they stayed safe.  But this man clearly was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

(voice-over):  At the shelter, this lady is desperate.  Where are you?  Where are you?  She cries.  The man explains.  She‘s lost her husband.  The woman tries to call him.  Then everyone hears a phone ring.  It‘s by the dead body.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Israel‘s key goal is to destroy Hezbollah as a military threat, but even after a week of bombing, Israeli generals say they‘ve still got a long way to go—Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  Martin Fletcher, thank you so much.

Now the NBC‘s Beirut bureau chief, Richard Engel.  Richard, what‘s the very latest there?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Joe, the evacuation of Americans from here finally began in earnest today by air and sea.  U.S. officials say this was all coordinated with governments in the region to make sure that it happened safely.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  Four Marine choppers lifted 120 humanitarian cases out of Beirut, including women with small children and Americans needing medication.  At Beirut‘s main port, a huge Norwegian transporter was diverted to give 1,000 Europeans and 136 U.S. college students safe passage to Cyprus.  American officials say up to 2,400 more Americans could be evacuated tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We will continue facilitating Americans to leave as long as we need to do so.

ENGEL:  Leaving today, 21-year-old Lizzy Colmia (ph).  We met her last week, trapped in her dorm, complaining about the slow American response.  Today...

LIZZY COLMIA, AMERICAN STUDENT IN LEBANON:  I‘m smiling, yes.  I mean, we‘re about to go home.

ENGEL:  As the Americans left, Israel held its fire in Beirut for the first time in a week but stepped up attacks elsewhere on trucks loaded with Hezbollah‘s weapons in Tyre, near the Israeli border, and in nearby Itarun (ph), killing five members of a family.  Another Israeli attack killed 10 Lebanese soldiers on an army base.  They‘re not supposed to be targets, either.

(on camera):  For most Lebanese, there‘s no help to escape the fighting.  Yesterday, a five-story building stood here.  As this war continues, entire sections of south Beirut are being reduced to chunks of concrete and burning debris.

(voice-over):  Ahmed Homani (ph) took advantage of the lull in air strikes in Beirut to inspect his hardware store.  The Israelis haven‘t left anything, he said.  Homani is waiting it out.  So are 65,000 from south Lebanon, now living in emergency shelters.  They escaped to Beirut for its relative safety.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

But the calm didn‘t last long, Joe.  Just hours after the Americans got on that ship out of Beirut, Israel resumed air strikes on the city.

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

MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson is live with us tonight from Tel Aviv, Israel.  Tucker, thank you for being with us.  You know, I checked up on Mapquest, Middle East Mapquest, and distances—you‘re about 120 miles from Damascus.  You‘re about and 120 miles from Beirut, closer to those capitals than New York is to Boston, It is a real powder keg over there.  Tell us what the very latest is where you are.

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “TUCKER”:  Well, it‘s an incredibly, incredibly small country, and as often as you hear people describe Israel that way, you really have to come here to get a sense of just how tiny it is.

I want to show you today‘s issue of “Ha‘aretz,” which is probably the best English-language paper available in this country.  Here‘s the Hebrew version right here.  And like all the papers here, it‘s leading with the story, which is the fighting on the northern border, and by the way, in Gaza.  This is a two-front war, of course.  The Hamas battles going on in Gaza and then Hezbollah to the north from Lebanon.

But the point here is, this is a democracy, Israel.  It‘s a fractious democracy.  People—lots of different opinions.  They express them a lot.  You‘re not hearing a lot of different opinions on the question of fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon.  There seems to be unanimity.  Virtually everyone, from the extreme right—and it exists here—to the extreme left—and that exists, too—thinks that Hezbollah, A, brought it on itself.  They started this.  They deserve to be punished.  And B, that this is really a war by proxy with Iran, that Iran is behind everything that Hezbollah is doing and that Iran is really a threat to Israel.

I personally happen to agree on both counts.  It‘s interesting.  Tonight we went—I went with my producer, Jameson Alesko (ph), down to the nightclub area in Tel Aviv.  It was about 3:00 in the morning.  It was about 5 minutes after 3:00, actually, when we pulled up in a car to the waterfront area to get a sense if people were still going out.  There‘s a war going on, after all -- 135 rockets came over the border today.  And yet people were partying like it was 1999.

I want to show you a clip of a conversation I had with a woman outside one of the bars—actually, a girl who grew up in—who was born in Los Angeles but an Israeli citizen.  And I asked her, What do you think about what‘s happening in Lebanon?  Here‘s what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE) I just want to (INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARLSON:  That‘s the attitude.  And in the next—I just will say, in the next sentence, she said, You know, in three months, I‘m joining the army.  I‘m going to have a gun, and I‘m going to kill Arabs.  And then she burst into laughter.  I judge not.  I merely report—Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Tucker.  Thanks so much for that report.

It‘s just a fascinating situation over there that so many of us just can‘t understand.  Greatly appreciate that report, look forward to talking to you throughout the week.

Now let‘s go to former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak.  He, of course, was the driving force behind Israel‘s withdrawal from southern Lebanon six years ago.

Mr. Prime Minister, obviously, the Lebanese government is demanding an immediate ceasefire.  Now, some elements are being quite critical of Israel, basically comparing it to a terrorist state for responding in kind.  How do you respond to those attacks?

EHUD BARAK, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER:  We cannot accept a situation where in a neighboring country, Lebanon, there is a political party called Hezbollah, with members in the parliament and in the cabinet, that has its own rockets.  And at will, they decide—they have their own policy.  They decide to attack Israel.  That‘s something we cannot accept.

SCARBOROUGH:  Does Israel have the capability of destroying Hezbollah, destroying their military capabilities over the next several weeks?

BARAK:  Of course, you cannot erase (ph) every individual fighter or supporter, but we will keep doing this, and I believe at a certain point, the combination of the pressure on the Hezbollah, pressure on the Lebanese government, and hopefully, the pressure from the rest of the world will end up with meeting the demands of the joining statement of the G-8.

SCARBOROUGH:  It seems that there is a backlash from Hamas and Hezbollah and other terror groups.  Why is it the more that Israel is willing to give to the Palestinian people, the more your country comes under attack?

BARAK:  Because the Hezbollah and the Hamas are exactly like Usama bin Laden and al Qaeda.  When people ask us, Why don‘t you negotiate with them, I tell them it‘s like asking the United States to negotiate with Usama bin Laden.  You know, those guys, they get orders (INAUDIBLE), and the orders are out to destroy you.  So what exactly you‘re going to negotiate with them?

That‘s time for staying power or tenacity, determination, the old Israeli conviction that we will never, ever yield to terror, period.  So it‘s not surprising because those guys do not want an agreement.  They do not want reconciliation.  They do not want peace and tranquility.  So they deliberately try to torpedo it whenever it seems to be slightly—even slightly closer.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much, Prime Minister Barak.  We greatly appreciate you being with us.

BARAK:  Thank you for having me.

SCARBOROUGH:  And stay with us for this special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. “Mideast Crisis.”  And coming up next: Iran and its support of Hezbollah. right in the middle of the battle.  Should America be setting its sights there?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I will look directly in the camera, say, Mr.  President, as an American of the United States of America, I wish to God the least that you can do is make that phone call and at least put a ceasefire to get all of our families and all of these Americans out of harm‘s way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ENGEL:  But it didn‘t stay quiet for long, Joe.  As you can see, just hours after Israel...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  That was NBC‘s Richard Engel with bombs going off around him as he tried to file a report for us tonight.

Well, today, NBC News‘s Brian Williams flew with the Israeli military for a bird‘s-eye view of the conflict.  He got about as close as he could to the border with Lebanon and he filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” ANCHOR (voice-over):  Here in Israel, because it is often hard to get a good idea of the size and scope of this back-and-forth air war and then report it accurately, we went up with the Israeli military today to get closer to the rocket launching and the counterattacks, and as a result, got closer to some of the action than we had intended.

In a Black Hawk 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 chatter in Hebrew, we learned there is activity on the ground right below us.

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.

(on camera):  There‘s a launch trail right there.  I saw the launch.

(voice-over):  From a distance of six miles, I witnessed a rocket launch, a rising trail of smoke, then a second launch, an orange flash and more smoke as a rocket heads off toward towards 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 mountain is interrupted by the sound of sirens.

(on camera):  We are in Haifa, and the air raid sirens have just sounded.  Generally, that means we have 60 seconds to seek shelter.

(voice-over):  We have chosen a high-rise apartment building at random and are directed down several flights of stairs to a bomb shelter, all the while waiting to feel or hear something signalling possible impact.

(on camera):  On our way down the stairs, we felt a deep but far-off concussion of what has become known as a hit or a missile strike here in Haifa.

(voice-over):  After the all-clear, we venture out into the empty streets.

(on camera):  This is an unusual sight in a city of a half million people, the city of Haifa, a major thoroughfare with no cars.  Most of these buildings are empty.  But over here is the view the Israelis are most worried about, down in the port section of the city, the petrochemical plant and the fuel storage tanks.

(voice-over):  Haifa is a battleground in a random war.  Those who remain behind here have decided to play the odds.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

One side of this conflict, a look at this conflict from the air and from the ground here tonight.  That‘ll do it from here in Haifa for now, Joe.  Back to you.

SCARBOROUGH:  Thank you so much, Brian Williams.

We turn now to Iran and what role it plays in the current crisis in the Middle East.  Iran, of course, is supplying arms to Hezbollah, and tonight, a lot of people are asking if they‘re behind the current violence.  So what happens next?  Should we attack Iran?  What‘s happening in the Middle East in general?

With us now, retired Air Force lieutenant colonel Rick Francona, who‘s also an MSNBC military analyst.  Rick, I wanted to get this map out because this has been a fascinating transformation that nobody‘s really talking about out there.  Of course—and let‘s show this—In 1967 and 1973, two regional wars.  And these were the states that were attacking Israel.  You, of course, had Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, I mean, Lebanon.  From all sides, Israel was attacked...

COL. RICK FRANCONA, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: 

Surrounded.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... surrounded—by everybody.  Now tonight, 20 years later, 30 years later, you actually have Egypt condemning Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia doing the same, Iraq doing the same, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey—allies.  I mean, if you are looking at the map 20 years later, you‘ve got Syria and Iran standing alone.  These people are surrounded.  Talk about it.

FRANCONA:  That‘s right.  These countries feel the pressure.  They feel they‘ve been isolated diplomatically.  No, no one looks at, you know, the—the long term, the 30-year view.  Everybody looks at the four-year view, who was in power when.  But when you look at this map and you realize these are the two hold-outs.  And Syria and Iran have this relationship that goes back to about 1980.  Syria was the only Arab country that sided with Iran in the Iran-Iraq war.

SCARBOROUGH:  And let‘s show, by the way—again, let‘s look at this map.  You‘ve got, speaking of surrounded, Turkey, a NATO ally, Iraq, of course, our troops there, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, 70 percent of Lebanon critical of Syria.  But what‘s happening to Iran?  Who are they surrounded by?

FRANCONA:  Well, Iran has now—they‘re surrounded by Kuwait, Iraq, the—and I call them the “stans” because we don‘t know all the names of...

SCARBOROUGH:  Coming up north, the stans, and then of course, over here...

(CROSSTALK)

FRANCONA:  ... Afghanistan and Pakistan, now a U.S. ally.

SCARBOROUGH:  So you have actually here, these two countries, Iran and Syria, alone.  And of course, what they‘re doing is, Iran, because they‘re alone, transferring missile technology to Syria, who‘s getting it into Lebanon and to Hezbollah, their ally.

FRANCONA:  You‘ve got Iran trying to fight a battle remotely through Syria with its proxy allies, Hamas and Hezbollah.

SCARBOROUGH:  And they have to do that there.  This is approximately -

just so people understand, this is approximately 1,000 miles between Iran and I real.  So what do they do?  Again, they ship missiles to Syria, smuggle them into Lebanon.  Hezbollah gets them...

(CROSSTALK)

FRANCONA:  Well, Joe, they don‘t really smuggle them.  It‘s done in the open.  It‘s done in broad daylight at Damascus airport.  The airplanes fly in on the—into the civilian terminal, they load them onto Hezbollah trucks.  I‘ve watched it.  I‘ve been at the airport with U.S. congressmen, escorting U.S. congressmen.  I‘ve watched them off-load Iranian Air Force planes onto Hezbollah trucks and drive them...

(CROSSTALK)

FRANCONA:  ... in broad daylight.

SCARBOROUGH:  Just unbelievable.  Let‘s go—we‘ve got another map

that I want to show that just will explain to people just how close this is

these areas are.  You have Tel Aviv and Haifa, of course.  Tel Aviv to Beirut—this is 5-0 miles!  Tel Aviv—I‘m sorry, it‘s 100 miles.  Actually, from the border up is 50 miles.  From the border over to Damascus, you‘ve got about 50 miles.  Again, from Tel Aviv over to Damascus, the capital, about 120 miles, a distance shorter than New York up to Boston.  I mean, this—this is a powder keg.  These people are on top of...

(CROSSTALK)

FRANCONA:  Yes.  And you know, so, when you‘re talking about Katyusha rockets and different sizes of rockets, they don‘t have to be very big to have an impact.  So if you‘ve got a relatively low-tech weapon -- - the Zelzal 2, the 80-mile range rocket can hit...

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.

FRANCONA:  ... all the way down to Tel Aviv, three million Israelis under threat of that weapon.

SCARBOROUGH:  And this is basically, this area right here...

FRANCONA:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  You‘ve got three million.  And again, it‘s—these rockets, which are being launched from southern Lebanon.

FRANCONA:  Fortunately, we don‘t think they‘ve been able to launch one yet.  The Israelis destroyed several of them.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.

FRANCONA:  That‘s what Richard saw yesterday...

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.

FRANCONA:  ... in Beirut.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.  You‘re talking about the next—the next generation of them.  But the ones that are being launched that right now have a million people in danger...

FRANCONA:  Easily.  Easily.  And what‘s surprising is the failure of the Israelis to be able to detect and destroy these.  So it shows that the Hezbollah has been able to develop an infrastructure.  They‘ve been able to hide these launchers.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.

FRANCONA:  It‘s very low-tech.  You can launch these with a piece of pipe and a car battery.

SCARBOROUGH:  Tell you what, dangerous.  Thanks so much, Rick.

FRANCONA:  Sure.

SCARBOROUGH:  As always, greatly appreciate it.

Coming up next: the Hezbollah threat to America.  Fears of possible attacks here at home have the FBI scrambling to find threats in America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Please, please let me see a sign to show that he‘s alive.  We are just married.  We are just started (INAUDIBLE) Please, let me see a sign that he is alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  The FBI on the trail of Hezbollah operatives in the United States.  Are they armed, locked and loaded, and ready to attack us?  We‘re talking to our terror analysts, coming up, but first here‘s the latest news you and your family need to know. 

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hezbollah and Iran says they are ready to attack the United States of America.  Quote, “We‘re only waiting for the supreme leader‘s green light to take action.  If America wants to ignite World War III, we welcome it.” 

Now, Reuters is reporting that the feds are worried about Hezbollah cells in the United States, which so far have focused on fundraising.  But the FBI is worried they could commit violent acts on own soil. 

Let‘s bring in now MSNBC terror analyst Evan Kohlmann.  Also, Hisham Melhem, he is the Washington bureau chief of Beirut‘s “Al-Nahar Daily.”  And also MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. 

Evan, let me begin with you.  The FBI concerned about Hezbollah in the United States.  Are they armed and dangerous? 

EVAN KOHLMANN, MSNBC TERROR ANALYST:  Well, certainly they‘re armed.  The dangerous issue is a little bit different.  We‘re not really sure about what their exact intent is, but we have seen definitive evidence that Hezbollah has established evident a presence here in the United States. 

And some of those instances has been very instructed as to what Hezbollah is up to.  Particularly I‘m referring here to a cell down in Charlotte, North Carolina, that was picked up by the FBI, a cell where members of the cell had actively participated at Hezbollah training camps in Lebanon. 

The FBI actually has seen some very interesting photos of these folks brandishing RPGs, automatic weapons, and also anti-American propaganda. 

Now, what‘s interesting is that these folks, while extremely capable -

and I think more capable than, really, Al Qaeda cells have proven to be -

they traditionally really have been focusing on fundraising.  But there is that latent capability that they have, in case they are provoked, to strike at the United States. 

And I think in some ways the way that they have been responding to Israel is in some ways a lesson.  I think that Iran wants to demonstrate to the United States to say that:  Look, if you provoke us too much, if you push this confrontation over atomic weapons too far, just understand that, you know, we have this card up our sleeves and that Hezbollah can cause a lot of damage if we wanted to. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Pat Buchanan, right now you‘ve got the leader of Hezbollah in Iran saying that they‘ve got over 2,000 recruits over the past year and are willing to send them to the United States of America and rain hell from above.  What should the president of the United States do?  What would you advise him to do, if you have an Iranian government that is openly saying they‘re going to commit acts of terror against this country?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, they‘ve threatened that before, if the United States attacked their nuclear facilities.  But the Iranians have not attacked anyone in 27 years, in terms of a major war.  And I think if they unleash their terrorists, people or personnel against the United States I think they realize they would be at war. 

We certainly ought to take seriously the fact that there may be Hezbollah sympathizers or supporters in the United States, but I still think our main problem is Al Qaeda, Joe, because they have no country, and they‘ve got nothing to lose, and they‘re willing to commit suicide.  I don‘t think the Iranian government is. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, talk about how pragmatic these people in Iran and Syria are.  Certainly, there‘s a lot of evident to believe that they‘re madmen, but Damascus it seems always backs up whenever there‘s an opportunity to thumb their noses at Israel.  And they know that Israel could roll into Damascus tomorrow and take that country over. 

Is it the same with Iran?  Are they afraid of confrontation with the United States or Israel so instead they‘ll issue these sort of declarations, but then back off when the time comes? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, clearly Ahmadinejad has been shooting his mouth off, but Israel‘s got 300 nuclear weapons, and the United States has thousands of them.  So Iran knows what would happen in the event of a major war. 

As for Syria, Joe, these are very pragmatic people.  You mentioned they fought Israel in ‘67 and ‘73.  In 1991, they joined George Bush‘s coalition against Iraq and sent troops to Saudi Arabia, for heaven‘s sakes. 

I think there is a lot that can be done with diplomacy with these folks.  And one reason is, I just cannot understand any Syrian interest in a war with Israel—which Israel can roll into Damascus or really damage or destroy them, and the United States could finish them off.  Why they would want to fight America, it does not make any sense to me. 

Now, you know, there are crazy people out there, but they‘ve never done anything to the United States comparable to what Qaddafi did, and Qaddafi was allowed out of the penalty box. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hisham, talk about the split that Hezbollah has caused in the Arab world.  It is so dramatic that you‘ve got three countries that all attacked Israel in ‘67 and ‘73 now condemning Hezbollah for their attacks on Israel.  What‘s happening?

HISHAM MELHEM, “AN-NAHAR”:  Well, it reflects, Joe, a growing fear and concern among key Arab states, especially those states that are friendly to the United States, like Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, over the rising influence of Iran and Iran‘s role in intra-Arab politics.

Iran today, because of its alliance with Hezbollah in Syria and its support for Hamas, is a major player in the affairs of the eastern Mediterranean, as well as the Gulf. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Hisham, that was my next question.  You know, we‘ve grown up in the United States hearing how Arab states hate America because America is trying to exert undo influence over that region, American hegemony.  But is the table turning a bit?  Not that people love America; they certainly don‘t over there.  But now is there an equal fear of Iran‘s hegemony, trying to spread the Shiite revolution, this sort of populous revolution, across the streets of the Arab world? 

MELHEM:  Look, if you live on the Arab side of the gulf, you live in the shadow of a major Iranian power.  This is a country of 75 million people, an oil-producer, a country with 4,000- or 5,000-year history, a clear sense of identity, a strong leadership, whether we like it or not.

And then you have Iran now extremely, extremely influential in Iraq.  And we, the United States, gave the Iranians two great gifts in the last few years, the toppling of the Taliban, which were hated by the Iranians, and the toppling of Saddam, who invaded Iran.  And now the Iranians can make the United States literally bleed, unfortunately, in a place like Iraq, and now they are extending their influence to the eastern Mediterranean, through Hezbollah and through Syria. 

So many Arab analysts, many Lebanese politicians, many Arab leaders see Hezbollah today as an integral part of Iran‘s regional strategic deterrence. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hisham, talk about the laws of unintended consequences, taking away some of Iran‘s long-time enemies actually hurting the United States.  Thank you so much, Evan Kohlmann.  And, Hisham, greatly appreciate it.  Pat Buchanan, stay with us, because coming up next we‘re going to be talking about the latest on Americans who‘ve been caught in this crossfire.  But first, Israel says it‘s just defending itself, but see why some people are blaming Israel for this coming war.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back.  Is Israel to blame?  Well, that‘s what “The Nation” magazine is claiming in an article that condemns Israel as a terrorist state and blames the war itself on Israel‘s, quote, “oppressive occupation of Arab lands.” 

With me now, from “The Nation,” Ian Williams.  We also have Jed Babbin who served as undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.  And still with us, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. 

You know, Ian, I‘ve got no problems with your magazine trying to sell a few extra copies, but you cannot be serious blaming this conflict on Israel. 

IAN WILLIAMS, “THE NATION”:  Look, retaliation is a failure if you have to do it.  The Israelis have been practicing this for 40 years.  And why is it right for them to retaliate and not others?  From an Arab point of view, if Israel comes in and assassinates a politician, or arrests your cabinet, or takes prisoners back from Lebanon and puts them in prison, why is this different from one Israeli soldier? 

And from that point of view, everyone in the Middle East is looking and saying, “Excuse me, are there two different laws on this world, that Israel can do one thing and”...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Ian, it seems to me that, if you‘re from Israel and you‘re a politician that‘s been arguing peaceful coexistence with Palestinians, you‘re looking like an idiot right now.  You look back to 2000 with Bill Clinton. 

WILLIAMS:  But Olmert and people like that...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, hold on a second.  Where you have Bill Clinton in 2000 forcing Barak to strike a deal with Arafat, gave him everything he wanted.  They rejected it.  2005, you now have Sharon giving back Gaza, giving back the West Bank, and what happens? 

WILLIAMS:  He didn‘t give up Gaza.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  The Palestinian people are like Hamas.  The more Israel gives, the more Israel is attacked.  What‘s in it for them? 

WILLIAMS:  Joe, they didn‘t give the West Bank back.  They still keep all of the most important parts of the West Bank.  And the rest of it, they treat the people there like they‘re Africans in a South African Bantustan. 

In Gaza, it‘s like a slow-motion Warsaw ghetto.  The people there are let in and out occasionally.  Food supplies are stopped.  Trade is stopped.  They‘re bombed.  They‘re strafed.  They‘re shot at like fish in a barrel, and then you wonder why they get upset?

SCARBOROUGH:  Ian, Ian, you and I both know that if the Palestinian terrorists stop shooting at Israelis, then we would have a two-state solution in a matter of months. 

WILLIAMS:  That‘s not true.  Every time that Hamas agrees to a cease-fire...

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s absolutely true. 

WILLIAMS:  ... Joe, every time that Hamas has agreed to a cease-fire, they Israeli secret service have gone and shot one of their leaders.  Now, that looks to me like provocation.  Somebody knows that they don‘t want a two-state solution.

SCARBOROUGH:  Jed Babbin, the Israelis went after Hamas leaders after Hamas leaders kept blowing up grandmothers in synagogues, kept blowing up little children waiting at bus stops in the morning.  There is no moral equivalency between these two—from the state of Israel and Hamas or Hezbollah, is there? 

JED BABBIN, FMR. DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE:  Well, Joe, I‘m just really confused now.  I wish the tinfoil hat squad would figure out who they want to blame.  I heard howling Howie Dean screeching today that, if Democrats had been in the White House for the past six years, we wouldn‘t have this war going on in Lebanon right now.  So I wish they‘d figure out who they want to blame. 

Of course you‘re right.  The moral equivalence argument is nonsense.  People who go around murdering women and children and blowing up school buses don‘t have standing to object to people who come in and decapitate the heads of terrorist organizations.  You know what?  That works.  I wish we were doing more of it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, I would guess that you are closer to Ian than Jed and myself.  Do you think there is any argument to make that Israel is to blame for this?  You said their actions were anti-Christian.  You said that they were un-American.  You said they were immoral.  Doesn‘t Israel have a right to defend itself? 

BUCHANAN:  Certainly.  And I also agree that Hezbollah ignited the northern war with the killing of a couple of Israeli soldiers and the capture of others. 

And then Israel pulled down from the shelf a preplanned operation.  But that operation, Joe, undertook to smash and destroy the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon.  Nine out of 10 of the dead in Lebanon are civilians.  They‘re hitting airfields, oil depots, gas stations, roads, bridges, light houses.  This is what I had...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, it‘s not like Hezbollah—Pat, it‘s not like Hezbollah walks around with targets on their heads or they live in little tents saying, “Aim here.”  They purposefully use civil civilians as shields. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, yes, they do, but look, Joe, all these attacks, they got attacks all over Lebanon.  The Israelis had the high moral ground.  They still are in the right in the war that is going on, Hezbollah versus Israel.  They are in the right in that war.

All I have argued and others have argued is, why in heaven‘s name have the Israelis gone attacking today a barracks with some soldiers sitting there, smoking and joking.  They‘re Lebanese soldiers who have been kept out of the war.  That‘s like going into Israel and killing Israeli soldiers in peace time. 

There are things Israel has done are wrong, things they‘re doing is right, Joe.  All I‘m saying is, a knee-jerk support of the Israelis on the West Bank, Gaza, everything they did was right for 50 and 60 years is a nonsensical position for a great power like the United States. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Ian, so do you think Israel should forfeit its rights to Jerusalem?  I mean, what does Israel need to do to strike peace? 

WILLIAMS:  Let‘s get it—under international law still recognized by the U.S., Israel is occupying East Jerusalem.  It‘s occupying the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and Gaza.  Loads of U.N. resolutions supported by the United States have said it should get out.  Israel at the moment is saying, “Well, we‘ll think about getting out”...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Stay with us, Ian.  Stay with us.  We‘ll be right back in a second with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re back with our panel.  Jed Babbin, Ian said that the Israelis have taken up so much land that just giving up the Gaza Strip or some other lame land offering is not enough.  Of course, they got that land after they were attacked in 1967 by everybody, and attacked by everybody again in 1973, and gave back a hell of a lot more land than I would have given back. 

So what‘s the answer here?  How does Israel defend itself? 

BABBIN:  Well, that‘s the real point, Joe.  You can‘t defend Israel without the Golan Heights.  I‘ve stood there.  I‘ve looked both ways.  I‘m an old Air Force puke, and we think of things in different terms. 

At that point, Israel is nine miles wide.  That‘s three decent runways long, Joe.  By the time you‘re at the end of the runway, you get your wheels up and you‘re looking around for your squadron mates, you‘re over the country.  If you don‘t have the Golan Heights, you can‘t possibly defend it. 

They won it.  They took it in a defensive position.  And they‘d be insane to give it back.  And all this international law gibberish is just that.  International law is about winners and losers, pal!  And the international law of the United Nations...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan...

BUCHANAN:  Jed, that is silly.  That is silly. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat gets to respond.  Go ahead, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  That is silly.  Ehud Barak, the greatest soldier in Israeli history, offered to give back 99 percent of the Golan Heights right down to Galilee, right down to Hafez al-Assad, a far more ruthless character than the ophthalmologist who‘s running the country now.  Good heavens!

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan and Jed Babbin, thank you so much.  And he was wrong.  The more that Israel offers, the more that they‘re attacked.  It makes no sense.

Now to breaking details.  The State Department will not charge American citizens for the evacuation of Americans stuck in Lebanon.  Let‘s go right now to NBC‘s foreign correspondent Andrea Mitchell in Washington. 

Andrea, what do you have? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Hi there, Joe. 

Tonight, the State Department has responded to widespread criticism of a requirement that evacuees sign a promissory note to eventually pay for their transportation out of the Lebanon war zone. 

I‘m told that, as a result of a National Security Council meeting at the White House today and after hearing outright criticism from members of Congress, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has now directed her staff to waive that legal requirement that people sign promissory notes. 

So as a result, the U.S. government will now pay for people to travel to Cyprus.  Evacuees, though, will still have to pay for the rest of their trips back to the United States.  The State Department does say though that it has negotiated cut-rate fares with the major airlines. 

This is only, of course, the latest controversy over what some critics say have been a slow and halting response on the part of the U.S.  government to thousands of Americans trying to get out of Beirut—Joe? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, thank you so much, Andrea.  And Andrea told us off-camera that Condi Rice is not going to the Middle East on Friday but sometime next week. 

Now, more special coverage to come.  But first, take a look at some of the sights and sounds from another tense day of fighting overseas.

Thank you so much for being with us tonight in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  That‘s all the time we have.  But stay where you are.  An MSNBC special report, “MIDEAST CRISIS” with Rita Cosby, starts right now.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

transcript

Watch Scarborough Country each weeknight at 9 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,