Everybody leads with the latest volleys in the Levant: Hezbollah launched about 150 rockets into Israel, killing two women and wounding dozens. Two rockets hit Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. Israeli airstrikes have now killed about 50 Lebanese civilians and again hit Beirut’s airport (though not the passenger terminals or control tower). The Washington Postsays both sides’ strikes “appeared to cross a psychological barrier.” USA Todaysums it up with a near-banner headline: “MIDEAST NEARS REGIONAL WAR.”
With the Beirut airport shut and Israel imposing a naval blockade, the only way out was overland via Syria. At least it was: The Los Angeles Timessays the remaining highway out has now been closed, too. Israel’s top commander removed any doubt about the tactics: “We have decided to impose a closure on Lebanon in the air, in the sea, and on the ground.” (By the way, the LAT’s near-banner headline has a quite narrow focus: “ISRAEL BLOCKS LEBANESE COAST.”)
Haifa is about 30 miles from the border and much farther than previous rockets have hit. As the New York Timesnotes, Hezbollah crowed that it’s using a new rocket, the Raad (or Thunder). What the paper doesn’t mention is previous reports that the thing has a range of 90 miles, which if true means it could hit Tel Aviv. By the way, Time magazine had a prescient piece a few weeks ago on Hezbollah’s rocket buildup.
President Bush said “Israel has the right to defend herself” but added that he’d also appreciate it if Israel wouldn’t destroy Lebanon’s government. The European Union criticized Israel for “the disproportionate use of force.”
Lebanon’s military is notoriously weak, but a Post analysis says the central government might, just might, try to push Hezbollah out of the way: “Lebanese officials began to lay the groundwork for an extension of government control to southern Lebanon.” The problem is, if they push too hard, civil war is a possibility: “Hezbollah is the most powerful representative of Shiites, Lebanon’s government would find it almost impossible to alienate such a crucial constituency.”
In a NYT op-ed, Slate contributor Michael Young calls Hezbollah’s attack an attempt at a “coup d’état.”
The Times’ Tom Friedman says Hezbollah hasn’t been the only ones trying that kind of move lately: “This is not a conflict about Palestinian or Lebanese prisoners in Israel. This is a power struggle within Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq over who will call the shots in their newly elected “democratic” governments and whether they will be real democracies.”
A NYT analysis inside the paper mentions this interesting tidbit: “Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, said in an interview with an Egyptian newspaper that he tried to negotiate a settlement between Hamas and Israel over the capture of Cpl. Gilad Shalit. He said he did work out a deal—but that a third party put pressure on Hamas to back out.”
The WP fronts and the NYT off-leads the White House agreeing—in a hedged, handshake deal—to submit the NSA’s warrantless snooping program to a secret court for a one-time constitutional review.
The deal, which is contained in a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, “represented a clear retreat by Bush” proclaims the Post. Maybe politically, but in terms of substance it’s questionable at best: The bill says the oversight is actually voluntary, and the proceedings in the FISA national-security court will be held in secret, with no outside lawyers, and the ruling itself may be kept mum. Also, the Specter bill actually loosens some of the current restrictions on wiretapping.
One other thing flagged by the WP in the 28th paragraph: “Specter agreed to repeal a section of the original FISA law that made it the exclusive statute governing such intelligence programs.” The reason that might have been worth mentioning, oh, say, 27 paragraphs higher: That’s the section that makes the current program likely illegal.
A NYT analysis carefully weighs the evidence and runs away with TP’s prestigious Credulous Hed of the Day Award: “RESTORING A CONSTITUTIONAL BALANCE.” (Your Slate umbrella is in the mail!)
The WP fronts the House voting overwhelmingly to extend the Voting Right Act. Some Republicans had wanted to put the kibosh on two provisions, one requiring bilingual assistance in some voting areas, and another requiring that Southern states get federal approval for changes in election laws.
A frontpage NYT piece profiles the GI now accused of raping an Iraqi girl and killing her along with her family. He was a high-school dropout with three misdemeanors and was accepted into the Army just as the military, desperate for recruits, began issuing more “moral waivers.”
The WP stuffs what might be the clearest piece yet on the administration’s to-and- fro on whether—or how exactly—it will abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling that all detainees are covered by some Geneva Convention provisions: Sure, administration officials are dissembling. But more than that, they’re split.