Guests: Rafael Frankel, Miri Eisen, Arye Mekel
ANNOUNCER: Tensions in the Mideast escalate as Israel and Hezbollah continue their deadly conflict. And with no sign of a cease-fire in sight, thousands of Americans begin to evacuate the war-torn region.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m not really afraid. I just want to get out of here.
ANNOUNCER: But will diplomatic help arrive in time to rescue the stability of the Middle East?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s war now. Duty calls.
ANNOUNCER: Now, from Tel Aviv, Tucker Carlson.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST: Welcome to the show.
We‘re coming to you tonight from Tel Aviv, Israel, in a country under high alert. At least 80 Hezbollah rockets landed in the northern part of the nation earlier today, killing one man as he ran to a bomb shelter in his neighborhood. Fourteen other civilians were wounded. Today marked the seventh day of fighting.
The numbers tell a story of escalating violence. At least 226 people have been killed in Lebanon, 24 have been killed in Israel.
Israeli airstrikes left at least 31 people dead in Lebanon today alone.
That includes nine in the same family.
Meanwhile, Americans are leaving Lebanon in greater numbers. The State Department says at least 275 people were evacuated today by sea and by helicopter. Overall, up to 5,000 are expected to get out over the next few days, all of them American citizens.
But Israeli officials warn that fighting could last for weeks and involve large numbers of ground forces, potentially, making chances of a cease-fire seem remote, at least for now.
With the very latest from Haifa, Israel, north of here, we go to NBC‘s Mark Potter, who is standing by.
Mark, what were you seeing in Haifa?
MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi there, Tucker.
It‘s a little bit quieter now than usual, at least for the last couple of hours since nightfall. We haven‘t been hearing the thumping of the explosions that we were hearing earlier today. But what we are experiencing right now, relative quiet, stands in stark contrast to what was happening earlier today when the rockets were really raining down on this area of northern Israel.
All day long, we could hear the air raid sirens, and we could hear the explosions, some of them close, some of them far away as the Hezbollah rockets just came in one right after the other. Your number, 80 Hezbollah rockets, hitting this area today. That‘s an awful lot for the people in the area.
You can hear the air raid sirens in that video now. People heard that all day long in many different cities today. Nine of them alone fell in Haifa in three separate barrages. We‘re told that some 29 people were injured today, include many who suffered extreme anxiety, panic attacks, and that‘s fully understandable with the eerie sounds of the sirens and the rockets coming in, and the destruction and the people who are hurt.
Perhaps the worst of the day occurred in Nahariya, a town north of where we were. That‘s the story you were alluding to a moment ago where a man was killed. We‘re told it‘s a particularly sad story.
He and his wife were running for shelter as the bombs were coming—as the rockets were coming down, the siren was wailing. He didn‘t make it. He was killed by the rocket.
Another person was injured when a rocket struck a couple of homes. Other small towns all through this area, where there are about a million people in northern Israel, also experienced these attacks.
Now, here in Haifa, the historic port town, the third-largest city in Israel, a couple of rockets hit today that we knew about. One hit the port itself, and another one, most surprisingly, hit the very same building, a maintenance building at a railroad depot where eight people were killed on Sunday. And we were told by reporter who flew over that you could actually see two holes in that building.
Now, Israeli military officials say that they continue their attacks against targets in Lebanon. The air force saying that it flew another 100 missions today.
An interesting little fact. Both the Israelis and the Lebanese government are urging truck drivers in the south Lebanon area to take the covers off their trucks, the cargo in the back, so that the pilots can see what they‘re carrying and make sure that they‘re not carrying ammunitions. We are told that a convoy of four trucks was attacked because the pilots believed that indeed they were carrying weapons coming in, as the Israelis say, from Syria into Lebanon.
The diplomatic efforts are also under way. There‘s talk at that level with the Israeli officials. Also, U.N. envoys are trying to broker peace. But right now from this level, we can tell you that the fighting still continues, and with the bombs raining down a lot today, it‘s very clear that this fighting continues.
Tucker, back to you.
CARLSON: Mark, is there surprise that after all these—you know, seven days a week of airstrikes against Lebanon, that Hezbollah still has the rockets sufficient to bomb Haifa? Which, incidentally, if you could just set the scene for our viewers, is not on the Lebanese border. I mean, it‘s some distance away, correct?
POTTER: No, it is some distance away. And the rockets that we‘re getting here are not the Katyushas that are hitting—the short-range rockets that are hitting near the boarder.
These are longer-range rockets. And Israeli officials have said that they believe they were designed by Iran, manufactured and distributed by Syria.
Not much surprise on the part of Israeli official, who said that for years they had been watching the buildup of this weaponry. And they didn‘t feel that they could do anything about it.
They are, by the way, taking advantage of this incident, which began a week
ago with the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers to try their best at this
time to rid the northern border of the Hezbollah guerrillas. And they are
trying to use what time they have left, as the diplomatic efforts are
continuing, to take out as many as they can to try to clear out that border
CARLSON: Mark Potter in Haifa, Israel.
We turn now to Beirut, Lebanon. That is where “The Washington Post‘s” Anthony Shadid, the Middle Eastern correspondent for that newspaper, is standing by. He‘s on the phone.
Anthony, what‘s happening tonight in Beirut?
ANTHONY SHADID, “WASHINGTON POST” MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, Beirut, it‘s a—it‘s a mixed day. There was a little bit less—actually, quite a bit less bombing today in Beirut, although there was quite a few raids going on in the rest of the country. Some have even speculated that the bombs had eased because of the evacuations going on.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of foreigners left today. A hundred and twenty Americans were aboard four helicopters that ferried them from the U.S. Embassy to Cyprus. British, Greece, Swedish, Norwegian ships pulled into the harbor, the Beirut harbor, and evacuated hundreds more.
It‘s given a certain unease to a lot of Lebanese here who we talked to.
They wonder if once the foreigners are gone if there‘s going to be less
restraint on Israel as it carries out this campaign that has so far
dismantled the country‘s infrastructure, killed more than 227 civilians—
or more than 227 Lebanese, I should say, most of them civilians, and sent a
you know, a wave of refugees, more than 60,000, across Beirut and the mountain hinterland.
CARLSON: Well, give us a sense, Anthony, of the destruction of the
infrastructure you just alluded to. What exactly is destroyed? What‘s it
what‘s it like to live there right now?
SHADID: Yes, I think it depends on where you‘re at in the city, Tucker. If you go through—if you go through parts of eastern Beirut, which is a predominantly Christian neighborhood, it‘s relatively unscathed. It‘s actually completely unscathed. There‘s been no bombing in certain neighborhoods.
When I was in Sadakia (ph), for instance—that‘s the name that‘s used for the southern suburbs—they‘re Shiite Muslim and it‘s a traditional kind of stronghold of Hezbollah—there‘s quite a bit of damage. You go through streets where it‘s—there‘s rubble in the streets, broken glass. It looks like a hailstorm in some ways.
The faces of apartment buildings are sheared off. And the Hezbollah compound itself, an area that is known to Lebanese as the security square, is completely destroyed.
Today, like I said, there was a little bit more—there was a respite in the bombing, and there was a little more traffic on those streets in the southern suburbs. In fact, I met one guy who was standing there smoking a traditional Arabic water pipe, and I went up to him and asked him, you know, whether he actually—whether he ever planned to leave, and he didn‘t.
He saw fleeing as a way of—as a way of surrender. And I think you do hear this sentiment among Shiite Muslims still. And again, it‘s not the—it‘s not all of the country. It‘s a certain portion of the country, though it is the single-largest community.
And you know what Hezbollah has to do is it has to rely on its traditional supporters. And those supporters don‘t show any signs of wanting to give up, basically.
CARLSON: We‘ve been hearing reports, surprising reports, and maybe you can tell us how true they are, of people in the Arab community, especially Gulf nations, essentially rhetorically attacking Hezbollah, not being very sympathetic to Hezbollah or their Shiite backers. And the surprise, at least from where I stand, is how little support from the Arab world Hezbollah seems to be getting.
Is that the feeling you get in Beirut?
SHADID: I think that‘s right. I think you see—I think you see a couple different narratives.
I think you see a narrative on the ground. I mean, in terms of how people in the streets are perceiving this conflict. And I suspect it‘s a little bit different there. It looks like it‘s a little different there. But I think you‘re exactly right in terms of Arab governments, and I think there‘s a lot of reasons for that.
I mean, we‘re looking at a Shiite-Sunni divide at a certain extent. And I think the governments that you‘ve pointed out, who have been lukewarm or, in fact, opposed to what‘s going on, are the traditional Sunni heavyweights of the Arab world, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
You know, I think a lot of people—and you even hear this from Hezbollah officials who we were speaking to this morning—they see this as a bigger issue than—than the release of two Israeli soldiers. They see this as a battle for the strategic realignment of the region.
And this is a Hezbollah official saying this. And I think this fits in line with what Israeli and American officials are saying.
Again, this gives a lot of people who live here, the people who are having to go through this, you know, a certain pause. They‘re worried that when we‘re talking about not a—not a fight between a militia, albeit a very strong militia, and Israel, but rather seeing a proxy war go on that involves some of the most important and most influential actors in the region.
CARLSON: Yes. No, I think that‘s exactly—that‘s exactly the sense we‘re getting from the distance here.
Anthony Shadid in Beirut.
Thank you very much.
SHADID: My pleasure.
CARLSON: Still to come, the death toll is rising as airstrikes and rocket attacks continue in Israel and in Lebanon. What would it take to turn the tide? And is Israel about to send ground troops into Lebanon, maybe to Gaza?
We‘re in Tel Aviv with the latest.
Also, Americans are still trapped tonight as the fighting rages. We‘ll talk to a woman who was stranded in Lebanon with her family and to a student who just escaped today. She is en route. She‘s checking in by cell phone.
That‘s all coming up.
CARLSON: Welcome back. Thanks for joining us. We‘re live tonight from Tel Aviv, Israel, keeping a close watch on the escalating hostilities here.
We‘ve been talk about the situation in Israel, where more than 80 rockets came across the northern border. Now we switch to the view from Lebanon.
The death toll there so far has been considerably higher than it has been here in Israel. At least 11 people were killed when Israeli planes struck Lebanese army barracks earlier today.
Will the conflict there escalate and will ground troops be necessary to defeat Hezbollah?
Joining me now to talk about that, Rafael Frankel. He‘s a reporter from the “Christian Science Monitor,” who‘s been based in this area for some time.
Rafael, thanks for coming on.
RAFAEL FRANKEL, “CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR”: Sure thing.
CARLSON: Is it, do you think, plausible Israel defeats Hezbollah without sending—without reinvading Lebanon?
FRANKEL: Well, I think the military believes right now that it needs about another three to four weeks of just air raids, and that‘s just to degrade Hezbollah‘s capabilities. I don‘t think there‘s anyone here that thinks they can deal an all-out defeat to Hezbollah without putting ground troops back on the ground. And there‘s really no will in Israel to go do that. They had a very bad experience there, obviously, for more than - for almost 20 years.
FRANKEL: And it‘s just not a scenario they want to get back into.
CARLSON: So, is it—you‘re an American who‘s spent a lot of time here and speaks the language fluently. Is it somewhat akin to Vietnam in the popular memory here?
FRANKEL: It‘s something like, that yes. You know, the Lebanon war was sold to the public. They weren‘t so convinced about it.
The former prime minister, Ariel Sharon, sold it to them, and then it just dragged on for years and years and years. And you had dozens of Israelis dying there every year for about 18 years, and it became something very bitter. A very bitter memory for the Israelis.
CARLSON: But the—but the IDF, the Israeli army, is saying that the objective here is to disarm Hezbollah, to make it no longer a threat to Israel. But is that possible without actually sending soldiers?
FRANKEL: Well, when I talked to foreign ministry officials today, what they told me is, you know, that‘s the part where diplomacy would probably come in. If they don‘t have diplomacy, they can degrade Hezbollah‘s capabilities a lot, they might be able to take out a certain percentage of their rockets that they are able to fire to Israel. But a complete disarming, and really to completely—to completely do away with the threat Israel faces from Hezbollah, they‘re going to need diplomacy, they‘re going to need international community.
They want the enforcement of Resolution 1559 from the U.N. which calls for the disarming of Hezbollah. And they want the Lebanese army to come take up positions in southern Lebanon in place of Hezbollah.
CARLSON: Any idea why Israel has attacked two Lebanese army outposts?
FRANKEL: I really don‘t. When I talk to military officials, they say that categorically—that the Lebanese army is not a target.
FRANKEL: And it‘s just—I don‘t have an answer to that.
CARLSON: Tell me about public opinion here. Since you said the Lebanon war, the 1982 Lebanon invasion is still a sore spot here in Israel, is there any significant opposition to this current fighting?
FRANKEL: Not really. They view this as a very justifiable war of self-defense. They view what happened with the attack from Hezbollah over the Israeli border into completely nondisputed territory.
We‘re not talking about Palestinians who have some claim over land here. We‘re talking about an attack that happened in Israeli territory by any standard used in the world.
Israel withdrew to a U.N.-certified border, and they view it as a completely unprovoked attack by Hezbollah. And so, from that sense, there‘s just a certain line across which every Israeli will agree that no one can cross, and Hezbollah seems to have crossed it. And it has completely galvanized public support for this campaign.
CARLSON: It seems foolish. I mean, if you‘re Hezbollah, you‘re looking across the border at Israel, a country that has nuclear weapons and, you know, 50 years of history that proves it‘s willing to fight. Why would you do this? Why would you stick your finger in Israel‘s eye by kidnapping two of its soldiers?
FRANKEL: Basically, what people say is that what‘s going on here is a larger game going on in the Middle East of power. And what you have is a lot of pressure being brought to bear right now on Iran because of its nuclear program. And as you probably know, Hezbollah is basically controlled by Iran, they‘re financed, and the arms they get come from Iran and Syria.
Iran and Syria are in very precarious positions right now in the national community. And what probably happened was that, you know, Tehran viewed this moment as a time where they could use Hezbollah to deflect pressure from itself. And that‘s what the people are saying about why Hezbollah chose this time to do that.
CARLSON: So, this is, as a guest we just spoke to, Anthony Shadid, said, potentially a proxy war between Israel and the West and Iran and the forces of radical Shiism. So, are people concerned that this will turn into an actual war between Israel and Iran?
FRANKEL: Well, I mean, at the moment, I don‘t think anyone wants that to happen. The Israelis don‘t want that to happen. The Iranians don‘t want that to happen. The United States doesn‘t want that to happen.
So, unless we have some really huge change—in other words, if, for instance, one of Hezbollah‘s really long-range missiles comes and hits Tel Aviv, for instance...
FRANKEL: ... and takes out a school and there are massive Israeli casualties, or they hit a power plant or a chemical plant, and there really are a lot of people that die, I don‘t think there‘s a will on anyone‘s part to escalate this conflict. But because it‘s the Mideast, and because they‘re basically playing a game of fire and brinksmanship...
CARLSON: That‘s right.
FRANKEL: ... you just never know where it‘s going to happen.
CARLSON: When the 9/11 moment might happen.
Rafael Frankel, from the “Christian Science Monitor,” thank you very much.
FRANKEL: Thank you.
CARLSON: Well, as we said, we‘re coming to you from Tel Aviv, but the story, of course, resonating around the world, including in Washington, D.C., where President Bush himself addressed it today.
We go now to Washington to NBC White House Correspondent David Gregory—
DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Tucker, the president is now speaking to members of the press, the travel pool. He‘s just had a meeting in the White House with senators from both parties coming down from Capitol Hill to get a briefing on the G-8 economic summit. But, of course, this is the topic of the day, of the week, indeed of that summit.
And the president has made remarks about the escalating crisis and what the critical next steps are for the United States and the international community. Let‘s listen so to some of what he‘s been saying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But instead, a lot of the discussion was on the Hezbollah attacks into Israel. What was really interesting was that—and I briefed this to the members—that we were able to reach a very strong consensus that the world must confront the root causes of the current instability. And the root cause of that current instability is terrorism and terrorist attacks on a democratic country.
And part of those terrorist attacks are inspired by nation states like Syria and Iran. And in order to be able to deal with this crisis, the world must deal with Hezbollah, with Syria, and continue to work to isolate Iran.
I strongly believe every nation ought to be able to defend herself from terrorist attacks. We‘re also mindful—and I talked to the members about the need to make sure the government of lebaon does not collapse. It‘s in our interests that Lebanon be free and the Siniora government succeed.
We also talked about the evacuation of U.S. citizens in Lebanon, and Condi briefed the members about the joint plan with the Defense Department to make sure there‘s enough transportation to expeditiously provide transportation for those who want to leave. And we‘re in the process of doing that.
And all in all, it was a very positive visit there in the G-8. We dealt with significant problems.
Sometimes it requires a tragic situation to help bring clarity in the international community. And it is not clear for all to see that there are terrorist elements who want to destroy our democratic friends and allies. And the world must work to prevent it from doing so.
With that, I‘ll be glad to answer a couple of questions.
Let‘s see here—yes?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: The president taking some questions there in the cabinet room after a meeting with—by a bipartisan group from Congress to get an update on the G-8.
You heard, of course, the president talking about the crisis in the Middle East, and the president really articulating the view that is very much in lockstep with the Israelis at this point, which is that Hezbollah is very much the aggressor here with their patrons, Iran and Syria, and that the international community has to step up to all three.
And so, while there is so much emphasis and so much discussion about a cease-fire, Tucker, one of the things that we have heard from the White House today, from the State Department, as well, from U.S. officials across the board, that that they don‘t think the conditions are ripe yet for such discussion of a cease-fire, which also means that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not prepared to go to the region until there has been significant pressure brought upon Hezbollah to stop firing into northern Israel, and until there is a commitment to fortify the Lebanese army in the southern part of Lebanon to wipe out Hezbollah, as you‘ve been talking about, which is part and parcel of U.N. Resolution 1559.
So, that‘s very much the focus of the administration right now, trying to get all parties together to speak with one voice and to really put pressures on the parties that the president thinks are involved.
CARLSON: But David, as the president just said, Iran and Syria, as he put it, stop Hezbollian (ph) attacks, immediately if they wanted to. Of course, he said something similar at the G-8 summit to Tony Blair, famously.
Is there any indication that you‘re getting that the U.S. government is making back-channel efforts to communicate this to Iran and Syria, to say, hey, knock it off now? Are we doing that?
GREGORY: It‘s not clear that they‘re doing it through back-channel efforts. One of the things that we heard in that open mic incident yesterday is the president wants the U.N. to apply that kind of pressure.
Today, Condoleezza Rice was meeting with her counterpart from Egypt, the Egyptian foreign minister. And there are certainly those Arab allies, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, others who have come out against the attacks by Hezbollah and support from Iran and Syria. So, that kind of pressure is starting to build.
The difficulty, however, is that the president is in the position of having to gather allies of the United States to put that pressure on, as he said, to continue to isolate Iran. It‘s not something that the U.S. is in a position to do by itself for the very fact that we don‘t have real contacts with these countries besides back channels. So, we need others to get involved at this stage.
CARLSON: David Gregory at the White House.
Thanks a lot, David.
CARLSON: Coming up, the remarkable story of one American student who managed to escape from Lebanon today. She‘ll tell us how she got out and where she is now.
We‘ll be right back.
CARLSON: Welcome back. We‘re coming to you tonight from Israel, a country that is resting uneasily under the threat of yet more Hezbollah rocket attacks.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for a cease-fire today but only “when conditions are conducive.”
The Israeli army says the fighting could continue for weeks and has not ruled out a ground invasion of southern Lebanon.
So, is the region on the verge of a much wider war, or is peace, immediate peace, still within reach?
Joining me now on the phone from Haifa, Israel, north of here, Israeli government spokesperson Miri Eisin.
Miri Eisin, welcome.
MIRI EISEN, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: Good evening.
CARLSON: What does it—good evening. Thanks for joining us.
Tell me, what does it mean that Israeli fighter jets have apparently attacked two Lebanese army outposts? What‘s the significance of that?
EISEN: Well, the first outpost that we actually attacked a few days ago was a radar outpost.
XXX was radar outpost.
MIRI EISIN, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: And as I‘m sure you recall, one of our ships was hit by a missile that was a land-sea missile. And sadly, we had information that it was Lebanese army personnel that aided the Hezbollah with their radar to be able to pinpoint our ship.
So the only places that have been attacked with Lebanese armies is when we have clear evidence that they are aiding and abetting the Hezbollah. Aside from that, we do not have anything against the Lebanese army or the Lebanese, in that sense. We‘re trying as much as possible only to strike against Gezbollah targets. In this case for us, that‘s why they were targeted.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST: But why would the Lebanese army collude with Hezbollah since—isn‘t it the Lebanese army that is everyone‘s hope for a better Lebanon? Israeli is calling of for the Lebanese to take control of the country, that the Lebanese government is officially angry at Hezbollah. Why would they be helping Hezbollah?
EISIN: This isn‘t all the Lebanese army. These were certain soldiers, certain units inside the Lebanese army. I‘ll remind you that the Lebanese is made up out of the different sectarian units, and they actually have within their military lots of Shiites, as they do have Sunni, Christian, Jews, and all the other sects from within Lebanon.
So, yes, they did have that type of support. We pinpointed it. They were using some of their anti-aircraft missiles, trying to fire against our aircraft. Those are the only ones pinpointed in all of our firing within Lebanon.
CARLSON: What sort of arsenal do you think Hezbollah has left in Lebanon? How many rockets and what sort of range?
EISIN: Oh, they definitely have a lot left. We‘re not, at this stage, talking about the fact that we think that we‘ve already wiped it out, which is why the military is still talking about the fact that we still have a prolonged attack.
But have no doubt about it, they have been heavily hurt. Hezbollah has been stockpiling these weapons for years. They started with this before when we were still sitting in Lebanon. Certainly, they continued it. And this was with maybe not the open assistance of the Lebanese government, but the Lebanese government certainly didn‘t try in any way to stop their stockpiling all of these rockets.
So they started out with tens of thousands of rockets, and they certainly have thousands. We‘re doing our utmost best to pinpoint, to target, and to find those. It isn‘t easy. Hezbollah has based itself inside the civilian population, hiding within the civilian population, and it makes it very difficult to target them.
CARLSON: And very quickly, is there any evidence in the last six months or year even of arms coming directly from Syria or even Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon? Do you have any evidence of that?
EISIN: We already have evidence of two missiles, one that landed inside Israel, and one that landed on an Israeli boat. One with an Iranian missile, the other a Syrian missile. There‘s no question whatsoever that they definitely have these capabilities and have been given them from Iran and Syria.
This isn‘t something that surprises us. As we heard before, also from your correspondents, the fact that Iran and Syria are the main backers of Hezbollah in Lebanon, also Hamas in the Palestinian authority, make it very difficult.
CARLSON: Right. Miri Eisin, government spokesman. Thanks for joining us tonight.
Coming up, I‘ll talk to a mother who‘s stranded in Lebanon with her 4-year-old son and not getting any help from the U.S. government, she says. Don‘t go away. We‘ll be right back.
CARLSON: Welcome back to Tel Aviv. We‘re here on the ground in the Middle East. Our faithful producer Willie Geist has been monitoring the coverage of the conflict back in the United States. Willie‘s in our MSNBC studio with today‘s edition of “Beat the Press”—Willie?
WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC PRODUCER: Tucker, thank you. Stay safe out there. We‘re going to start a little differently today with “Beat the Press.” We take our shots. Today, we want to pat somebody on the back, correspondents literally risking their lives to bring us the latest news from the Middle East. Many have been caught in the line of fire. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Foreign mediators are trying to work out a cease-fire but apparently, without success.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: See the building that was hit. Over there, there‘s still smoke. There are no signs that people have been killed or injured.
SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: This firing back and forth as it continues. A live look. We are just—there are some Katyusha rockets landing just behind—just behind the camera position, even as we speak. Not an unusual occurrence, but certainly closer than normal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GEIST: Boy, Shep can duck and cover, can‘t he? Now, I admit, TV anchors are prone to grandstanding. They chain themselves to light posts at the first sign of a tropical depression. But this is real. This is very real. Since the beginning of the war in Iraq in 2003, 74 journalists had been killed. That‘s a lot.
So from my air conditioned studio here in suburban New York, I say thank you to Anderson Cooper, Shep Smith, Tucker Carlson. Tip of the cap to all you guys.
Next up, the beloved Miss Nancy Grace, the queen of crime, the top dog of tabloid news, decided to try her hand at hard news last night and cover the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. And in keeping true to form, she offered some of her own creative insight on who‘s really at war over there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY GRACE, CNN ANCHOR: We know, or we have been told, that some of the rockets being fired are Iranian rockets. We assume that some of the Israeli rockets that are being fired are American rockets. So, when it‘s all said and done, is this between America and Iran? How can we say with a straight face that this does not involve America and Iran?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GEIST: Well, I‘ll say it with a straight face. This does not involve America and Iran. Nancy, I went down, because I was very alarmed by your report we were at war are Iran. I asked our resident military analyst, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona of the Air Force. He confirmed to me and MSNBC we are not at war with Iran. So hopefully, there‘ll be a correction tonight. I know that‘s a relief to our viewers.
Finally, “Beat the Press” would not be complete without a nod in Bill O‘Reilly‘s direction. Last night, while every other networks was wall to wall in coverage of the Middle East conflict, O‘Reilly and FOX News saw fit to veer off course and cover another pressing story. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: In the “Back of the Book” segment tonight, there are an estimated 3,800 strip clubs in America right now employing more than half a million Americans. But some say the billion-dollar industry is a crime wave. Joining us now from Las Vegas is Brent Jordan (ph), who worked as a bouncer in the strip business 20 years. He‘s the author of the new book “Stripped.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GEIST: Now, forget the fact that Mr. O‘Reilly is covering strip joints while there‘s a war in progress. We have his ratings. You kind of make your own rules. I just want to thank him and “The Factor” for exposing the seedy underbelly of strip joints. They shattered the public perception that nudie bars are bastions of decency and old-fashioned American values. So to you, Mr. O‘Reilly, and “The Factor,” I thank you.
Tucker, that‘s it for “Beat the Press.” Let‘s go back out to Tel Aviv.
CARLSON: Willie Geist. Thanks, Willie.
Well, this conflict here between Israel and Lebanon is playing out around the world, of course, but it‘s noted particularly acutely in the Arab world. And the response has not been what many expected. Raghida Dergham is the senior diplomatic correspondent for al-Hayat, the leading Arabic newspaper. She joins me from New York City, tonight.
Raghida, thanks for coming on.
RAGHIDA DERGHAM, SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, AL-HAYAT: Thanks, Tucker.
CARLSON: Are we overstating the disapproval that Arab governments are showing towards Hezbollah? That really has been the headline here in Israel and in the United States. Oh, my gosh, you see Arab governments essentially taking Israel‘s side in a war. This is precedent-shattering obviously. Is that overstatement?
DERGHAM: Yes, to say that they are taking Israel‘s side in the war. It would be an overstatement. But certainly, it‘s true that for many Arab governments the majorities are critical of Hezbollah because some of Hezbollah acted while the government was upset in the decisions.
So, therefore, they were instrumental in bringing the country into this havoc that the Israelis are pouring on Lebanon, the infrastructure of Lebanon, and the civilians of Lebanon. But there are right now calls from the Arab countries for a cease-fire and from the international community, the issue to cease fire now or not to cease fire and when, then?
And, therefore, there are differences emerging. Some believe that the continued solution, if you will, that the Israeli intent on disarming Hezbollah through military operations only, would probably eventually backlash because of the cost it‘s inflicting on Lebanon.
CARLSON: The cost it‘s inflicting on Lebanon. Tell us about that. I mean, were you surprised—do you think other people who follow the situation here were surprised that of all the hotspots in this region, Lebanon has found itself in the middle of a shooting war? Lebanon is, I would have to think, one of the richest—Beirut certainly one of the richest places in the Middle East. Was it a shock?
DERGHAM: You know, Tucker, many Lebanese are saying, “Take that war to your own homes and take it to—play it out between each other.”
DERGHAM: For example, if it is the Syrians and the Iranians who are supplying Hezbollah, and if it is Syria and Iran, as both Israel and the United States are accusing of doing this, and that is probably quite correct, then take it to them. Stop sacrificing this country just because it happened to be the Lebanon that is permissible, if you will.
People are tired of that. And in the final analysis, the quick fix, whether it‘s military fix or diplomatic fix, is not going to really resolve the issue, even if Israel wins against this organization Hezbollah in this war between the state and organization.
Israel needs to understand that it needs to win the peace with its neighbors. And that will require really understanding what does it take. It takes an end of occupation and getting rid of this conflict once and for all.
We need to go back to the Palestinian issue and need for the United States to have a conversation with Iran so that Iran stops to play with others‘ lives so that it can position itself regionally and internationally.
CARLSON: But there is a feeling, Raghida—and I think I agree with you personally—that Iran is unreasonable, that there is a fanaticism you see in the leadership in Tehran that makes that government very difficult to negotiate with, even to have conversations with.
What do you think the response in the larger predominantly Sunni Middle East would be if there was a war between Israel and Iran? I mean, would that be entirely a bad thing from the point of view of, say, Egypt and Saudi Arabia?
DERGHAM: Well, I‘m not so sure it would be bad from their point of view if the other option, the alternative, is to have Iran play its war out through Arabs, whether it is in Lebanon or otherwise.
The problem is that many feel—and I‘m one of those—who feel that there would be no confrontation really, not likely, between Iran and Israel because they have somehow continued the talks (ph) between them. It‘s that historic accommodation that they have had in their relationship.
Now, therefore, it is necessary to find out what‘s next. If that is the case, shall we just expect for further destruction of Lebanon and only that while we wait for the deal to be made later? It is going to be prolonged, we hear, but that is going to be a deal at the expense of the country called Lebanon. Or are we going to see a change in the Israeli policy? Take it to where you think it‘s coming from. Stop just destroying Lebanon.
CARLSON: Yes. I think, no matter where you are politically, it is tragic to see that city and that country destroyed. Raghida Dergham from New York. Thanks very much.
DERGHAM: I thank you, Tucker. Thank you.
CARLSON: Well, for all the photographs you‘ve seen of people being evacuated from Beirut, there are still thousands more stranded there tonight. Marilyn Skaf was on vacation with her husband and 4 ½-year-old son when the bombs began to fall last week. She says she and her family are not getting help—or at least not the help they need—from the U.S. government to get out of Lebanon. Marliyn Skaf joins us now on the phone from Lebanon.
Marilyn, thanks for coming on.
MARILYN SKAF, FAMILY STRANDED IN LEBANON: Yes, hi. How are you?
CARLSON: Can you hear me?
SKAF: Yes, I can.
CARLSON: Is the U.S. government aware of the fact you‘re there, and have you asked for that help from your government, our government, the U.S. government?
SKAF: Yes, I have. I spoke with the U.S. embassy here in Beirut, and I registered—I gave them my name and my passport number and my husband‘s name and my child‘s name, and my dad also registered us online. So I think we‘re pretty covered there. But still, we haven‘t heard anything. We‘re just sitting and waiting and trying to get some instructions on how to go home.
CARLSON: You haven‘t heard anything? What did they say? What did the embassy officials you spoke to say when you said, “We have a small child, and we want to leave as soon as possible”?
SKAF: They just said, “Continue to watch local news, and we will call you.” That‘s really all that they‘ve said. And it‘s really hard to get through to the embassy. And when I finally did, all they said was, “Just hold tight in a safe place.” And the town where we are, it‘s very safe. It‘s a Christian area. So we‘re just staying inside and just waiting.
They really couldn‘t give us any more information. They said, “Evacuations are being planned,” but they couldn‘t give us any time or date or anything like that. And it‘s just frustrating waiting because we see other boats coming in and, you know, other boats coming in, and we‘re not hearing anything. It‘s just frustrating.
CARLSON: And do you feel safe? Where precisely are you? Are you in a hotel? Are you in a guest house, someone‘s home? Where are you right now?
SKAF: We‘re in a family home, our relatives‘ home here in—it‘s a small town called Safra (ph). It‘s within Juni (ph), the Christian town of Juni. So we‘re just staying here.
CARLSON: Well, set the scene for us. Are there people on the street? Do you have enough food? Does it feel like a war zone? Do you feel threatened?
SKAF: No, not at all. We don‘t hear anything from where we are, thank goodness, especially for my son. We‘re not hearing anything. We‘re just—we‘re in a safe place. We have plenty of food. We have lots of fruits and vegetables in the back yard and, you know, in the garden. And that‘s great.
But we‘re just waiting. But, no, we don‘t feel threatened where we are at all. It‘s beautiful, actually. We can see out into the Mediterranean, and it‘s just very sad, actually, to know that all this is going on, and it‘s such a beautiful place.
CARLSON: Well, if you‘re going to be trapped in a war zone, that sounds like the place to be. Marilyn Skaf, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.
SKAF: OK. Thank you.
CARLSON: So how long will this go on? No one can know for certain. But some guesses are more educated than others. Arye Mekel is the consul general of Israel in New York City. He is one man who has an educated guess on this question. He joins us tonight from New York City.
Ambassador Mekel, thanks for coming on.
AMBASSADOR ARYE MEKEL, CONSUL GENERAL OF ISRAEL: Thank you, Tucker.
CARLSON: It doesn‘t benefit Israel, it seems to me, to destroy Lebanon. You want, I would imagine, a stable, prosperous, Lebanon. You want Beirut to be like Dubai, I would imagine. That‘s good for Israel. But the long this goes on, the less likely that is to happen. I mean, Lebanon is going to be destroyed. Is that a factor in thinking through how long this offensive will continue?
MEKEL: I don‘t think so. We are not destroying Lebanon. We are destroying Hezbollah. We are doing the Lebanese a huge favor because Hezbollah is not serving the interests of Lebanon. It‘s serving the interests of Iran and Syria.
So, in fact, we are doing Lebanon a big favor. When this is all over, we will live in peace with Lebanon. We have no conflict with them. We don‘t control any of their territory. They don‘t control any of ours. We are doing them a big favor.
CARLSON: I believe that completely. I just wonder, though, if it‘s possible to root out Hezbollah without destroying the country. As we‘ve heard it described, Hezbollah is like a metastasized cancer that has spread into residential neighborhoods all throughout the city. Can you take them out of the country without destroying the infrastructure of the country?
MEKEL: We believe that we can. We are attacking Hezbollah strongholds, missile depots, Hezbollah facilities. This is what we are attacking. And we believe that we can do so. By now, we probably already reduced very dramatically the military capability and terrorist capabilities of Hezbollah. We will reduce them to such an extent that they will not be a menace to either Israel or Lebanon.
CARLSON: Well, that‘s, of course, what your prime minister said today. He said that Israel would keep fighting until Gezbollah posed no threat to Israeli civilians. But as long as Hezbollah exists, even as a political party, don‘t you think it will pose a threat? I mean, is that an attainable goal?
MEKEL: Well, we‘re not trying to intervene with the political problems of Lebanon. All we want is Hezbollah not to be anywhere near our borders. We want the Lebanese army to sit there in a friendly manner, just like we have with Jordan and with Egypt.
And we don‘t—we want Hezbollah to be disarmed, and, of course, we want our soldiers to be returned unconditionally to Israel. What they do later on with the Lebanese politics, it‘s none of our business.
CARLSON: Yes. Which brings me to the obvious question—is there news tonight about the whereabouts of the three Israeli Defense Force soldiers who have been kidnapped? Do you have any idea where they might be and if they‘re OK?
MEKEL: Well, as far as we know, they are relatively OK, alive. Maybe some are injured. Two are in Lebanon. We don‘t know where. One is in Gaza. I mean, three are in Lebanon. And there‘s another soldier in Gaza. But we don‘t know exactly where.
CARLSON: All right. Ambassador Mekel from New York. Thanks for joining us.
MEKEL: Thank you, Tucker.
CARLSON: Still is Israel planning to send ground troops into Lebanon?
Chris Matthews joins us with some important breaking news. Don‘t miss it.
We‘ll be righ tback
CARLSON: Welcome back. We‘ve been saying all night that this is a regional conflict, but it‘s also a global story. And to prove that, we go now from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles, where MSNBC‘s Chris Matthews has breaking news on this conflict—Chris?
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Thank you, Tucker. We have two points to break. One is that Israeli former prime minister, currently the vice prime minister of the country, has committed Israel‘s help to prevent any danger to the American evacuees as they leave war-torn Lebanon.
He said they will not be harmed at sea, nor will they be harmed by Israeli bombs while they‘re still on land. He also said something quite powerful. He said his government will not invade Lebanon on the ground. Let me give you the quote. I asked him, “What would cause you, the Israelis, to take ground troops into either Lebanon or, on a sustained basis, or into Syria?”
Peres, this is the vice prime minister of the country. He‘s speaking for the country. “Nothing whatever would lead them to go into Lebanon on the ground. We don‘t intend to enter Lebanon from the ground. The danger today is not an exchange of power on the ground, but really the missiles and the rockets we should try to stop it.”
So there you have the Israeli government saying they will not invade Iraq—I‘m sorry. They will not invade Lebanon on the ground, which has been a big question for days now.
CARLSON: Do you believe, Chris, though, and does the deputy prime minister believe, that Hezbollah can be disarmed from the air, essentially?
MATTHEWS: Well, the Israelis clearly intend to diminish the threat from Hezbollah. And the way they‘re doing it right now is with bombs, with highly targeted, sophisticated bombing of all the Hezbollah infrastructure in the country. They‘re, of course, killing a lot of civilians in the process, but the goal is clearly to try to reduce the ordnance that the Hezbollah forces have at their disposal.
Of course, 13,000 rockets is a hell of an order for any bombing campaign. But from everything we‘ve seen, they hope to eliminate most of that firepower from Hezbollah by the end of this campaign.
CARLSON: That‘s right. Chris, I‘m hearing in my ear that we actually have the sound byte from your interview with Mr. Peres. We‘re going to put it up on the screen for our viewers to see. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: We shall do whatever we can to make the voyage safe. And we shall participate, clearly, in helping them to go out as they want.
MATTHEWS: Will they be endangered by the bombing by Israel of Lebanon?
PERES: I don‘t think so. I think it‘s been coordinated, and they‘ll have a safe passage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: Did he mention in your interview with him, Chris, the kind of amazing response from much of the Arab world to this conflict, Saudi Arabia for instance, all but taking Israel‘s side in this? Same with Egypt, same with Jordan, really without precedent? Did he mention that?
MATTHEWS: No, he didn‘t. Of course, you have to discriminate there, Tucker, as you know, between the governments, which are moderate and want to play ball, and the street.
CARLSON: That‘s right. Still, for the Saudi foreign minister to publicly berate a fellow Muslim group, and essentially take Israel‘s side, is something I‘ve never seen in my lifetime.
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘ll have to see how powerful that message is. I‘m very skeptical about a long-term accommodation between any Arab and the Israelis. I think their biggest fear right now is that Hezbollah is the spear of the nation, so to speak. They‘re out there fighting for the Arab cause while these moderate governments are standing back.
I think there‘s some jealousy here and fear that even in the Sunni parts of the Arab world that the young people, the people in the streets, are now rooting like hell for Hezbollah when they should be rooting for their own countries.
I think there‘s a real effort, by the way, to mute out, to stifle, if you will, all the news coming from the front on the northern border of Israel, because those governments do not want their people out there cheering for a Shia operation against Israel.
CARLSON: For the first time in history, I‘m on the side of those governments. Chris Matthews from Los Angeles. Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
CARLSON: And that‘s it for us tonight from Tel Aviv. Tomorrow, we‘ll be moving north coming, we think, from Haifa. You‘ll have to stay tuned then to find out. Thanks for watching. Up next, again, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.
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