Today's Papers

Tora! Tora! Tora!

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journalworldwide newsbox all lead with Israel’s response to last weekend’s suicide bombings: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he will launch a “war on terror.” In the first steps, Israeli helicopters blew up Yasser Arafat’s helicopters, surrounded Arafat’s office in the West Bank, and used fighter jets to bomb Palestinian police offices. The attacks were largely symbolic; no Palestinians were killed in the attacks. The Washington Postleads with word that Osama Bin Laden and friends may be close to making a “dirty bomb,” that is, a conventional bomb packed with some sort of radioactive material that could disperse (over a number of blocks) upon explosion.

The papers note that the Bush administration, unlike in the past, didn’t urge Israel to moderate its response.

Although Arafat has arrested about a 100 militants, Israel wasn’t impressed. “The top guys, and I’m talking about scores of them, have not been touched,” said an aide to Sharon. 

“Arafat will not succeed in fooling us,” Sharon himself added. “Arafat is the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East.”

The Israeli cabinet yesterday declared the Palestinian Authority to be “an entity supporting terror.” That finding, says the WSJ, “provides a legal basis for a broad military and economic assault on Mr. Arafat’s quasigovernment.” Liberals members of Israel’s cabinet disagreed with the tough talk and walked out a meeting in which it was being discussed. In fact, says the Post, Sharon, sort of like Arafat, is caught between two forces. Hawks are demanding that he take down Arafat. But if he does that, doves will abandon his coalition government.

One Palestinian minister told the Journal that Sharon’s demands of Arafat were unrealistic. “He’s tying Arafat’s hands tonight and tying his legs, blindfolding him and throwing him to the sea and asking him to swim,” he said. “If you swim, that’s fine. If you drown, you’re not a partner.”

The papers all go high with, yawn, Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge’s announcement of a third terrorism alert in as many months. Ridge said the alert is based on an “increased volume” of threat picked up abroad. Ridge also said that by next year he hopes to have a public threat thermometer set up. Rather than the binary yes/no system we now seem to have, it would be sliding scale, kind of like those “risk of forest fire” signs you see when you go camping.

The Post lead says that yesterday’s terror alert was partly motivated by the fear of the dirty bomb. The paper says that authorities don’t know that Bin Laden has the Bomb. It’s just that they’re seeing plenty of signs that he’s been working hard at it. Some countries are so concerned that they’ve begun to place Geiger counters at border crossings.

The NYT and Post, both citing a local Afghan commander, report that about a thousand Pashtun tribal soldiers are preparing to attack Tora Bora, al-Qaida’s mountaintop stronghold, and Meleva, a valley southwest of Tora Bora. The Times says that U.S. commandos will accompany the soldiers. But, says the NYT, “Pentagon officials said they had no information that such a coordinated attack was about to happen.” Given that this could become a big development, it would have been nice if the Times had actually quoted the Pentagon official and thus allowed readers to do a close read of the non-denial denial or whatever it was.

The move to push Osama out came the same day tribal leaders in the Tora Bora area held a loya jirga, the Afghan equivalent of a town-hall meeting, at which they ordered Osama and company to skedaddle: “To those foreigners living in the mountains of Afghanistan, we say to you: leave our country. Because of you, our innocent countrymen are suffering.”

The elders also told the United States to quit bombing their villages. The attacks, they say, have killed 200 civilians in the past week. “Just because we have beards doesn’t mean we are against you. Please make sure that you identify the real terrorists,” said one. The Pentagon continued to deny that it hit civilian targets.

The Post has the best explanation of what may have happened with the errant bombs: One of its reporters, Susan Glasser, used a global positioning satellite device to pinpoint the villages where residents say—and evidence shows—U.S. bombs landed. Then she gave the coordinates to the Pentagon, which confirmed those indeed were the targets. The bombs, said a military spokesperson, “fell smack dab on top of what we’re calling military targets. We’re not talking about mud huts.” But mud huts—and “more than 40 fresh graves”—is exactly what Glasser found when she visited one of the villages.

The WP, in the 15th graph of a story it fronts, mentions that the U.N. is pulling out of Mazar-i Sharif. But the interesting part is why they’re withdrawing. According to the Post, it’s “because of fighting between different groups in the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance.”

The Post quotes a Pashtun leader who explains why the situation around Kandahar may be stalled. “What America wants is not exactly what we want,” he said.  The United States is interested in “bringing people to justice. We just want them to go back to their countries.”

The NYT fronts the Pentagon’s acknowledgement that there are still pockets of Taliban resistance in northern Afghanistan, including some 2,000 near Mazar-i Sharif. The LAT says that the Northern Alliance is trying to convince those soldiers to surrender.

The papers report that the CDC announced the obvious: Lots of lots of letters may be cross-contaminated with trace amounts of anthrax. “There seems to be the potential for not just hundreds and not just thousands, but tens of thousands and maybe more letters to be potentially at risk for some level of cross-contamination,” said the director of the CDC. He added that there seems to be a very low chance of actually getting anthrax from these letters. Still, he said, people who have compromised immunity systems, like the elderly or HIV positive, “might be more comfortable” having someone else open their mail.

The WSJ asks a good question: Since authorities have figured out how to track letters that were sorted near infected letters, are officials planning on contacting the recipients of letters that were possibly cross-contaminated? Nope.

The WP has a feature on al-Jazeera, the independent Arab TV station, which, the Post says, has anti-American spin. A fascinating subject, especially when Today’s Papers read about it the first time in the NYT magazine last month.