Video: A day in the life in 'rocket alley'

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 7/19/2006 7:14:27 PM ET 2006-07-19T23:14:27

Wednesday we ventured north to the border with Lebanon — the area that has become "rocket corridor" — a free-fire zone, with Hezbollah rockets flying in one way and Israeli artillery firing back.

If you look closely down in the valley, to what is normally a fairgrounds in the far north of Israel, there they are — Israeli artillery batteries. If you don't see them at first, you'll hear them go off.

The pounding of Lebanon goes on all day and all night. In military parlance, they are called 155s — American-made 155mm cannons, hurling Israeli-made shells into another country. Their range can best be put this way: A shell fired in Washington could easily strike Baltimore.

"This isn't a game," Israeli officer Darone Speelman told me. "This is about life or death, and I'd rather live."

Speelman grew up in Detroit. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1996 and then moved to Israel and signed up to fight. This young officer who grew up rooting for the Lions and Tigers is now shooting at guerillas he cannot see.

"Today we fired well over 100 shells out of this location," he says. "150 shells just today, but it's a 24-hour operation here."

The young men are like soldiers anywhere.

"Actually, they took us from the beach and our girlfriends and they put us here," one man said. "We don't really want to be here."

They dream about the outside world. They know parts of Lebanon are being pulverized by what they do. They are proud of the accuracy of their weapons, but they know that's a relative term — and they don't think a whole lot about where these shells go.

After a long stretch of silence during which the guns were mostly idle, we witnessed a sudden volley, apparently in response to intelligence on a target from a spotter in the air.

One of these shells today or tomorrow, if we go with the law of averages, is going to kill a 6-year-old boy somewhere who is not the intended target. I asked one of the soldiers how they rationalize that.

"I don't think there's any way to rationalize the death of a 6-year-old child," he said. "I think a 6-year-old child is — having children myself — is unbelievably painful. However, I know the pains — having been here for days — that we're taking not to hit civilians. However, my family is at risk right now. Israel is at risk."

Each blast moves the air for 100 yards around. These shells can open a hole in the earth, 40 miles away. It's long-distance destruction; just like the rockets we saw today all over the countryside, coming in from Lebanon.

The Katyusha rockets — random and unguided — are highly dangerous, as we've seen. The ones we don't hear about land on hillsides where they often start fires, which we observed today on a hillside in Lebanon.

The fires are everywhere. Luckily, these are the rockets that don't hit buildings or people. They are, however, the marks of a conflict that has so far mostly been fought long-distance.

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