The escalating Middle East war dominates headlines again, with everybody leading that Israeli troops and tanks are converging on Israel’s northern border in apparent preparation for a massive ground invasion into southern Lebanon. Israeli military officials say they prefer to rely on air strikes for now—but thousands of Israeli reservists have been called up and the spectre of a protracted conflict is looming. “I suggest we don’t count the dead until it’s all over,” said the general in charge of the Israeli border forces.
Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon turned into an 18-year occupation, and Israeli commanders want to avoid a repeat—but they won’t let memories of the past slow them down entirely. “We will also conduct limited ground operations as much as needed in order to harm the terror that harms us,” the IDF chief of staff said in Haaretz. Hezbollah is thought to be holed up in tunnels near the border—the Los Angeles Times thinks this is why Israel might invade, while the New York Times thinks that’s why Israel will stay away.
Fighting on Friday was heavy: Small units of Israeli ground troops moved in and out of Lebanese border regions, operating where warplanes couldn’t reach. Approximately 60 Israeli air attacks hit strategic targets throughout Lebanon, including a key bridge on the Beirut-Damascus highway that was considered a “particularly proud symbol of Lebanon’s recovery from the destruction of previous wars.” Haaretz reports that Hezbollah rockets hit a U.N. observation post in northern Israel. Lebanon’s army, idle thus far, is ready to defend its territory should Israel invade.
There’ll be no shuttle diplomacy for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who dismisses talk of brokering any cease-fire that doesn’t end with Hezbollah disarming. “What I won’t do is go to some place and try to get a cease-fire that I know isn’t going to last,” Rice says. The LAT alone notes that some Senate Democrats are calling for Bush to appoint a special envoy to the region.
Israel continues to tell residents of southern Lebanon to evacuate, and the Washington Post fronts an extensive, harrowing look at the traveling conditions refugees face: “Pulverized homes, roads blocked by craters, rubble and the burned stumps of citrus trees, forsaken villages with not a resident in sight and long stretches of deserted streets seized with fear of Israeli attacks.”
What’s the mood in Israel? Troops massed on the border seem happy at the opportunity to engage a tangible foe after years of facing an amorphous Palestinian enemy. In Tel Aviv, Israeli citizens generally support the war while acknowledging the sacrifices it will mean. “Sometimes our wars are fast. I don’t think this one will be,” said one man. Meanwhile, with morgues and refrigeration trucks full to capacity, Lebanese officials are resorting to burying the dead in mass graves, the LAT reports. The NYT fronts a wrenching photo of wooden coffins lined up for mass burial.
The NYT reports from mosques across the Middle East, where, in sermons, imams are predictably denouncing the United States—and, less stridently, unspecified Arab nations (like Jordan and Saudi Arabia) that don’t support Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Sunni Muslims on the Internet are unsure whether to support Shiite Hezbollah.
The WSJ reports on an unraveling détente between Arabs and Jews in Detroit—home of America’s largest Arab population. “We did not seek this fight, but we will finish it!” said one rabbi. “Hezbollah is the people of Lebanon,” said a local Arab leader.
The NYT off-leads news that the U.S. is expediting a shipment of bombs to Israel, authorized as part of a 2005 arms package. Israel requested the precision-guided bombs a few days ago; an anonymous U.S. official says that weapons were rushed because of Israel’s ally status.
The WP fronts a piece on the “puzzling and intriguing” relationship between embattled Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., and the vice president of Nigeria, both of whom are apparently suspected of bribing each other at various times over the past few years. No word on whether Jefferson was promised untold millions in exchange for helping the veep conduct a simple money transfer.
The NYT fronts news that NASA has erased from its mission statement the mandate “to understand and protect our home planet,” apparently to jibe with Bush’s plans for manned missions to Mars. Buried in the middle of the story is the news that the phrase has been part of the mission statement only since 2002, rendering NASA scientists’ complaints about the loss a little hollow.
The LAT reports that increasing numbers of elderly Americans are carrying mortgage debt to their graves. “This whole attitude of paying off the mortgage and owning the home free and clear is disappearing from the country,” said one mortgage expert.
Those aren’t Ethiopian troops that Somalians are seeing in Mogadishu, the Somali transitional government says—they’re Somali troops wearing Ethiopian uniforms! “Some people have seen this and they think that Ethiopian soldiers are surrounding them, but it’s actually our forces,” the minister of information said. Well, obviously.
Hearings will be held next week on John Bolton’s renomination as ambassador to the United Nations, everyone reports. Bolton can thank former foe Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who changed his mind on the polarizing diplomat in a Thursday WP op-ed.
The NYT reports on the plight of New Orleans residents who, nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina, are still stuck with unreliable electric power that’s about to get much more expensive.
Cheez Whiz In His Veins: Harry Olivieri, credited with co-inventing the Philly cheesesteak, died at 90. “My father is just as famous as the man who created the wheel,” his daughter said, “except the wheel is a little less fattening and it won’t end up on your hips.”