Today's Papers

Kidnap and Conflagration

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox, and Washington Post all lead—most with near-banner headlines—with Lebanon’s Hezbollah snatching two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. Three soldiers were killed in the raid, and another five died in a rescue attempt. As the LAT catches the most details of, this morning Israel bombed the runways of Beirut’s airport, and it reportedly killed two dozen civilians in airstrikes near the border. Haaretz says Israel has also begun a naval blockade. One Israeli civilian was killed by a Hezbollah rocket. Yesterday Israel made its first (and apparently relatively small) ground incursion into Lebanon since 2000. USA Todayreefers the fighting and leads with teenage boys seeming to lead the national uptick in violent crime.

Hezbollah said it planned the attack for months and said it wants a swap for Lebanese prisoners. The LAT notes that Hezbollah “failed in a similar operation late last year.” Israel did a big swap with Hezbollah, including for a kidnapped citizen, just two years ago.

Israel’s prime minister said he’s holding Lebanon’s government responsible. “This morning’s events are not a terror attack,” he said, “but the act of a sovereign state.” Hezbollah is in Lebanon’s government, but the country’s army isn’t in control of the south near the border. Hezbollah is.

Israel also stepped up its offensive in Gaza, with about two dozen Palestinians killed there yesterday, about half of whom seemed to be militants and the others mostly children of one family who died in an airstrike when a Hamas leader had a meeting at the family’s house.

As, again, the LAT notices: Hezbollah’s leader warned Lebanese officials to keep their traps shut and not criticize the raid: “Nobody should say anything that gives cover to attack Lebanon.”

“Basically, they are saying, ‘to hell with Lebanese politics,’ ” said one analyst. “I never thought Hezbollah would disregard so much the Lebanese politics and mood.”

Of course, it’s unlikely a coincidence that Hezbollah decided to escalate at the same time things are unfolding in Gaza. One theory the NYT pushes: Hezbollah has been training Hamas, and they’re now working together.

The LAT raises the possibility that it’s something of the opposite: “There is a competition, though nobody talks about it,” said one Israeli analyst. “Hezbollah is under pressure to do the same thing to show they are at least as able” as Hamas.

Then there’s the common thread everybody agrees on: Iran, which bankrolls both groups.

Speaking of that helpful country, the papers mention inside that Europe’s nuclear negotiators left Iran, saying Tehran isn’t interested in talking. In return, Russia and China agreed to, at least, have the U.N. Security Council formally demand that Iran get with the program and stop enriching uranium. China and Russia have long held off on getting tough with Iran, and this isn’t proof of a change: They still haven’t agreed to any sanctions.

A piece inside the NYT flags the U.S.’s top commander in Iraq saying he might move more GIs into Baghdad. “You have both sides now attacking civilians, and that has caused the recent spike” in killings, said Gen. Casey, who made the comments during a not-so-feel-good press conference with visiting poo-bah Donald Rumsfeld (who, as it happens, has famously had friction with generals for pushing for smaller-sized forces).

About 30 people were killed in Baghdad. In a town just north of the capital, about 20 Sunnis were kidnapped and later found executed. Hours later: “A group of Sunni insurgents stormed into a Shiite area of that city and seized 25 hostages.”

A day after confidently declaring, “WHITE HOUSE SAYS TERROR DETAINEES HOLD BASIC RIGHTS,” the NYT recognizes that the administration’s stance is actually still murky. And to the Times’ credit, the paper puts that right up above the fold: “ADMINISTRATION PRODS CONGRESS TO CURB THE RIGHTS OF DETAINEES.”

What the Times clarifies, and what there were already signs of before, is that while the administration—per the Supreme Court’s recent ruling—now agrees that all terror suspects are covered by a few provisions in the Geneva Conventions, at least some in the administration are looking for wiggle room. What it wants is Congress to redefine what those provisions mandate and what the punishments are if they’re ignored. As it stands, any GIs or, say, officials, involved in violating the provisions could face an annoying little law called the War Crimes Act.