Rice Launches Mideast Mission with Lebanon Stop U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in Beirut to begin a diplomatic mission to the Middle East. Her unannounced stop in Lebanon is intended to show support for the country's beleaguered government. Rice will work to end hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah.
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Rice Launches Mideast Mission with Lebanon Stop

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Rice Launches Mideast Mission with Lebanon Stop

Rice Launches Mideast Mission with Lebanon Stop

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is away. I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today flew into Beirut, Lebanon, beginning diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerillas. Later she is to travel to Jerusalem. Rice told reporters on her plane that here is an urgent need to establish a cease-fire in Lebanon, but only, as she put it, under the right conditions.

Israeli leaders now say they are willing to consider an international force to keep the peace, but they are not yet embracing a cease-fire.

Coming up, a report on the damage that Israel's bombing is doing in Lebanon.

First, after nearly two weeks into this war, Israel's army has not succeeded in stopping Hezbollah's rocket attacks. NPR's Mike Shuster reports from Jerusalem.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

On the first day of this war, July 13th, Hezbollah fired 125 rockets into Israel. On Saturday, Hezbollah fired 129 rockets into Israel. Although these rockets continue to kill Israelis in the city of Haifa and elsewhere across northern Israel - yesterday more than 30 rockets fell on Haifa alone - more of the rockets are now falling harmlessly in fields. But there's not doubt Israel has not yet been able to destroy Hezbollah's rocket threat, says Michael Oren, senior fellow at the Shalem Center here in Jerusalem.

Mr. MICHAEL OREN (Senior Fellow, The Shalem Center, Jerusalem): If you judge it only in terms of stopping the missile fire, then the Israeli army so far has fallen short of its goals. Begs the questions whether those were realistic goals to begin with. It's extremely difficult to find missile launchers, to locate, uproot and destroy the extensive arsenals of missiles which Hezbollah possesses.

SHUSTER: Initially, Israel attempted to destroy the missiles through air attacks, but last week Israeli ground units started operations inside the Lebanese border, and now they hold at least one key village in southern Lebanon. Overnight more Israeli troops crossed the border. Israeli leaders insist this is not another invasion. Government spokesman Avi Posner says the goals are precise.

Mr. AVI POSNER (Spokesman, Israeli Government): Our intention is to remove the Hezbollah stronghold. We have no intention whatsoever to re-conquer Lebanon. You know that we left Lebanon six years ago with the intention of never coming back there.

SHUSTER: Nevertheless, it is uncertain how large a force Israel will have to insert into Lebanon to remove the threat, how long they will have to stay, and how they will get out. Some in Israel thought the war would be over by now, but Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, says he expected Hezbollah to put up strong resistance.

Mr. EFRAIM HALEVY (Former Director, Mossad): Hezbollah have been preparing for this for years. They are seasoned fighters, highly motivated, and they're doing everything they can to hold on. I'm not surprised by that at all. If there is something I am surprised about, it is the audacity of the Iranians, who seem to believe that they can do anything they wish. And I believe that if this operation goes well, of all the players they are in for the most bitter of disappointments.

SHUSTER: Israeli leaders have also worked hard to shape international perceptions of this war in a way that goes far beyond their narrow fight with Hezbollah. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has spoken frequently of an axis of evil that extends, he says, from Iran through Syria to Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza. Israel's leaders have sought to convince other nations that this is another front in the war against terrorism, and not just Israel's fight.

The concept emerging here of an outside military force is a well-armed one, possibly from NATO, that could use weapons to keep the peace. But this force would not be limited to southern Lebanon in the Israeli view. It would be deployed on Lebanon's border with Syria and at Lebanon's Mediterranean ports, in order to prevent the re-arming of Hezbollah, says Michael Oren.

Mr. OREN: So no longer talking about a buffer zone, we really need to hermetically seal Lebanon from Syrian and Iranian influence.

SHUSTER: This was the thrust of Israel's diplomatic efforts over the weekend, and will certainly be at the center of talks today and tomorrow with Secretary of State Rice.

It is not clear whether other nations, especially in Europe, will be willing to participate in such a dangerous mission. The Bush administration has not yet taken a clear position on it, and some European officials are angry at the devastation the Israeli air force has caused throughout Lebanon. Even if there are nations willing to send troops, it could take weeks or months to organize the operation.

Former Mossad Chief Efraim Halevy insists it must be done quickly.

Mr. HALEVY: The sooner and quicker the world gets its act together, together with Israel, and coordinates with Israel the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanese territory, the better for all concerned.

SHUSTER: But at the moment, Israel's military operations in Lebanon are widening, and there is no international consensus yet on forming an intervention force.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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