Israelis React to Prospect of War in Lebanon

Hundreds of people have died in the hostilities that began last week after the abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants. Steven Erlanger, Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times, talks with Noah Adams about reactions among Israelis to the ongoing conflict.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

Steven Erlanger of The New York Times joins us now from Jerusalem.

Mr. Erlanger, the world is seeing quite a bit of destruction constantly on television, hearing about it on the radio. What's going on there in Israel? What's on the front page? What's on television and radio there?

Mr. STEVEN ERLANGER (Bureau Chief, The New York Times): As you'd expect, Israeli papers are full of Israeli stories. They're concentrating quite a lot on what's going on in the north of Israel.

Two young Arab Israeli children died in Nazareth, and the papers are full of stories about their family. There's an interesting discussion about the whole role that Israeli Arabs play in the society and how they feel about this.

There are lots of stories about psychological trauma and stress, and there's also - you know, as you'd expect - a lot of coverage of Lebanon.

ADAMS: Israel is used to conflict, but is it a general topic of conversation? Is it overtaking everything in the country?

Mr. ERLANGER: It is not overtaking everything, but it's overtaking quite a lot. I mean, it is a war, and it feels like a war. And there's the feeling that the Israeli government is finally taking on Hezbollah. And I think there's some resentment to the sense Israelis have that the world is against them and that somehow, you know, what other countries do is okay, but when Israel does it, it is not okay.

ADAM: The issue of proportionality comes up here. The United Nations high commissioner for human rights talking about both Israel and Hezbollah and attacks on civilians, saying that these attacks could qualify as war crimes when investigated.

Mr. ERLANGER: Well, that's right, but they have to be investigated. This is the same Louise Arbour who didn't seem to think that the American's 78 days of bombing Serbia qualified in the same way as some war crimes. So, this is one of the things that strikes Israelis as strange.

They say, at least, that they are trying very hard to target Hezbollah targets. They're not targeting civilians, and the rockets they're facing are indiscriminate weapons aimed at cities, aimed to create terror. And they feel that the moral equation is twisted here.

ADAMS: Do people have an idea of what the government is up to? Is there, indeed, a plan? Is it being made public? And does it have support? And does it involve Iran?

Mr. ERLANGER: This government of Ehud Olmert, which is still relatively new, has been more explicit and open, I think, with the Israeli public than probably the Sharon government would have been. Partly because Ariel Sharon had a kind of built-in credibility with Israelis, and there was this sense having been such a hawk in the past, he could kind of get away with most anything. And there was a sense that he knew what he was doing even if he refused to talk about it.

I think people are actually quite pleased that he's aggressively in southern Lebanon. What no one's quite sure is how and when it's going to end, and whether it's going to end with Israeli's goals satisfied, which is a weakening of Hezbollah and a pushing back of Hezbollah from the border. Because if it doesn't end that way, then I think the Olmert government is probably in some deep political trouble.

ADAMS: And do people indeed see Iran at the end, somehow at the end of this?

Mr. ERLANGER: Well, they do, but no one particularly wants a wider war. Regionally, the fight against Hezbollah is seen as a blow to the prestige of Iran, depending on the way it comes out. And Hezbollah is seen as a cat's paw of Iran and a proxy. It's weakening would be considered to be a defeat for Iran as well.

ADAMS: Steven Erlanger of The New York Times, talking with us from Jerusalem.

Thank you, sir.

Mr. ERLANGER: Thank you.

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