Week in Review: Crisis in the Middle East

Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr reviews the week's news with Scott Simon. This week was dominated by fighting in the Middle East between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): It is important to remember that the cause of the current violence was Hezbollah's illegal attack from Lebanese territory. It is unacceptable to have a situation where the decision of a terrorist group can drag an entire country, even an entire region, into violence.

Mr. KOFI ANNAN (Secretary General, United Nations): Both the deliberate targeting by Hezbollah of Israeli population centers, with hundreds of indiscriminate weapons, and Israel's disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of the Lebanese people, must stop.

SIMON: That's United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan speaking Thursday to the United Nations Security Counsel. And before that we heard Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaking at a State Department press conference on Friday.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And certainly the fighting, the bombing, the violence intensified this week.

SCHORR: Mm hmm.

SIMON: Foreigners are being evacuated from Lebanon. What more are we learning about the military capability on both sides of this border?

SCHORR: Well, we may be knowing a lot more about it in the next few days. It looks now as though the Israeli forces have been massed along the Lebanese border. And it looks as though we are on the verge of seeing a full-scale invasion of Lebanon.

SIMON: Now, Hezbollah, for their part, has been able to fire rockets deeper into Israel than they...

SCHORR: And they...

SIMON: ...were believed to have been able to do it.

SCHORR: They have apparently better rockets than they've had before. They have longer range rockets. They've reached Haifa and beyond. And all these rockets, which are Iranian made, apparently give them a greater firepower than they've had so far.

SIMON: Secretary of State Rice will travel to the region. On Sunday, she'll be in Israel. She'll visit the Palestinian territory. She'll go to a conference in Rome with Arab leaders. What does she hope to accomplish? And what is she pointedly maybe leaving off the agenda, that you can tell so far?

SCHORR: Well, she is not going to Lebanon for now.

SIMON: Mm hmm.

SCHORR: She is going to Israel. She'll talk to Palestinians. She will talk to Israelis. And apparently, to some extent, it is a matter of showing the American flag, because the president would like to show that we are interested. I don't see any solution, early solution, coming out by shuttle diplomacy, and so on. But if she is there, whatever happens, then she can take a part in trying to make happen. As for example, there may be talk of creating an international peacekeeping force, then she's there, can help to work it from there.

SIMON: Mm hmm. Certainly when you follow the conflict on a daily basis, even hourly basis, the biggest apparent losers that you see are civilians, Israeli civilians in the towns you mentioned have been bombed by Hezbollah, and then of course the Lebanese people who have lost more than - well, several hundred people at this particular point, including children and women, non combatants, and the infrastructure of so much of southern Lebanon has apparently also been damaged.

SCHORR: That's right. All that you say is true. And it's not over yet, I believe, because the Israelis seem to be very much concerned about the fact that there are some installations they have not been able to reach from the air or with rockets.

SIMON: Mm hmm.

SCHORR: And so we seem to be on the verge of a full-scale invasion of Lebanon. Israel has called up its reserves.

SIMON: Mm hmm.

SCHORR: And that would apparently indicate that.

SIMON: There are a number of people in the Israeli cabinet who openly said look, Hezbollah has victimized the Lebanese people for the past number of years. Hezbollah has made Lebanon a target. Hezbollah has enlisted out country in a war on terrorism. We don't like it. They seem to suggest that Israeli military action would give Lebanese people the opportunity to, in a sense, rise up against Hezbollah and identify with the Israeli action to destroy Hezbollah's infrastructure.

But you at it at the end of this week. Lebanon's prime minister has been outspoken in his criticism of Israeli military action. Are the Lebanese people reacting as it was predicted they would by some people?

SCHORR: Well, I have no idea how the Lebanese people feel about this, except I do know what's happening right now is that thousands and thousands of Lebanese are being obliged to leave their homes in the southern part of Lebanon, warned by Israel that they'd better get out, and they are leaving.

SIMON: Well, I want to ask about Syria, because, of course, Syrian troops were ejected from Lebanon just last year. The government of Lebanon said, to keep our independence we want the influence of Syrian troops to be gone.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: Does this conflict seem to have presented Syria with any new opportunities in Lebanon?

SCHORR: Yeah, the opportunities for Syria, as we witness them now, is simply to be able to help Iran and do whatever Iran would like. Iran has been shipping the armaments into - down into Lebanon through Syria, and that Syria now sees it has to cast in its lot with what looks like the country that's going to run things around the Middle East for a while, namely Iran.

SIMON: Hmm.

SCHORR: Well, by the way, I may also mention...

SIMON: Yeah.

SCHORR: ...that with all this, many people have now forgotten to be talking about Iran's nuclear pretensions.

SIMON: Mm hmm.

SCHORR: And that may be one of the things that they gain from this, was simply to divert attention from that.

SIMON: I certainly want to talk about Iraq this week, and first (unintelligible) to this issue. The Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, has condemned Israeli incursions into Lebanon, in fact, calling - and Gaza, calling them, in fact, a criminal act, certainly a departure from how the U.S. has characterized that.

SCHORR: That's right. But he is a Shiite and he has connections with the Shiites elsewhere, and that's what makes this all so interesting. Now, Lebanon is exposing the fact that we're facing a quite big struggle for the hearts and souls of that part of the Middle East.

SIMON: Mm hmm. Are we reducing people to just, you know, to just a label, according to what, you know, what they bore and their faith is? I mean, the whole idea of a democracy, obviously, which is what they're trying to engender in Iraq and other places, is that people can vote in a larger national interest, not just have to identify with their religious affiliation.

SCHORR: But it is only when the sectarian factor in it looks so important that you have to mention, as far as I'm concerned, I would not make a point of saying Shiites all the time. Except that it works out that way.

SIMON: Hmm. United Nations report released this week says that last month alone, more than a hundred civilians per day were killed in Iraq.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Which is, of course, more than 3,000 civilians in June. The number has been much higher than anything reported so far.

SCHORR: That's right. I mean, that war goes on. Wars don't end. They're simply replaced for a time being by the next war. Now what's happened now is that Lebanon has distracted a lot of attention from Iraq, from Afghanistan, certainly, which we are not talking very much about. But we live in a warlike time and it's one war after another. And this one in Lebanon looks like the biggie.

SIMON: Before we go, Dan...

SCHORR: Hmm.

SIMON: ...as it appeared a couple of places this week, our show and most NPR News programs from now on are going to be presented from Studio 2A, which has been renamed the Daniel Schorr Studio in honor of you and your impending 90th birthday. There, I said it, you're not 75, you're 90. Sorry.

SCHORR: I am about to be 90 and this is probably the greatest honor that could be bestowed on anybody, is to have his name on the radio studio. And I'm suitably thankful and, I must say, even a little moved.

SIMON: Well, I thought that being 90 was a pretty good honor too.

SCHORR: Well, people keep asking how does it feel to be 90, and I say, well, considering the alternative, it feels fine.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

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