Today's Papers

Many Burnt Bridges

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all lead with the obvious: the escalating war in the Middle East, with Israel pounding Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon and Hezbollah heavily damaging an Israeli naval ship with a remote-controlled drone. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with the fighting.

Israel struck Hezbollah headquarters in the Beirut suburbs and tried to take out its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who was unhurt. The Hezbollah drone, rigged with explosives, hit the Israeli ship about 10 miles off Lebanon’s coast. The papers say the ship was badly damaged, and four Israeli soldiers were missing.

Yesterday’s events drew tough talk from both sides, with Nasrallah declaring “open war,” and Israeli officials saying their aim is now far beyond simply freeing the soldiers taken hostage earlier in the week: They want to put Hezbollah “out of business,” as one Israeli military leader put it.

The NYT says eight Lebanese were killed in air strikes Friday, and a total of 66 over the last three days have died. Four have been killed by Hezbollah rocket attacks in Israel, and the NYT says “tens of thousands” of Israelis are now in bomb shelters.

President Bush, unlike many other leaders, has opted not to call on Israel to rein in its bombing campaign in Lebanon. Administration officials repeated what has become a Bush mantra: Israel has the right to defend itself. The LAT reports Spain, Norway, France, Russia, and China criticized Israel. The papers make the point that the issue is likely to loom over the G-8 summit this weekend.

Some of the language being used may sound familiar to President Bush, with the NYT quoting one unnamed Israeli official calling it a “war on terrorism that is making a point on two fronts”—the other front being Gaza. According to the WP, Nasrallah took the with-us-or-against-us tack. The paper’s Anthony Shadid writes: “With dramatic phrasing, he said Friday that Lebanese now had two choices: either surrender to Israel’s demands or fight with Hezbollah.”

There is much discussion over who or what is driving Hezbollah’s actions. While the papers agree that Syria and Iran are the Shiite group’s sponsors, there is uncertainty over whether Iran is pulling the strings to draw attention away from its nuclear program or to show its strength in the region. Other possibilities include Hezbollah attempting to capitalize on the instability, which some feel could bring it more support from the street.

The United States may find it hard to help negotiate a solution. The NYT fronts an analysis piece making the case that the Bush administration has backed itself into a corner by refusing to engage with what it terms terrorist groups and the countries that sponsor them—in this case, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and Syria. The piece says some experts believe the administration may eventually have to approach Syria in some form. 

The papers point out that Hezbollah is not, for the most part, gaining support among countries in the region. A statement from Saudi Arabia condemned Hezbollah’s actions, though it somewhat bizarrely referred to them as “uncalculated adventures.”

The papers disagree on an aspect of Hezbollah backing. The NYT says Syria and Iran “have not come to Hezbollah’s defense,” while the WP points out that “in Damascus, Syria’s ruling Baath Party vowed to support Hezbollah against Israeli attacks, and cars careered through the city’s streets after nightfall honking horns and displaying Hezbollah’s yellow and green banner.”

There is, of course, much fretting from residents on both sides of the border. Hezbollah’s rockets—apparently provided by Iran—can now reach much deeper into Israel. On Friday, a woman and her grandson were killed by one of the more than 100 rockets that hit northern Israel.

The WP goes inside with a strong feature from the heavily damaged poor suburbs south of Beirut, which are mostly Shiite and pro-Hezbollah. Amid bombed bridges, roads, and buildings, residents question why they are being made to suffer. One man, the owner of the now-damaged Queen’s Lingerie shop, told the WP: ” ”Here, I’ll show you the military targets,’ he said, his voice in its best deadpan. ‘Here are the rockets, the long-range ones,’ he said, pointing at a pile of clothes, ‘and the short-range.’ ” Overall, the Post appears to have the best and most nuanced coverage.

The WSJ takes a look at the economic impact of the violence and raises the possibility of a U.S. recession, caused mostly by rising oil prices. The story says oil was up 4 percent this week and that the Dow Jones fell significantly, “wiping out most of 2006’s gains.”

Beyond the war, death penalty news makes it to the NYT front, with Missouri officials unable to find an anesthesiologist willing to assist with executions. A federal judge had ordered the state to hire a board-certified anesthesiologist after the doctor who had been giving out the drugs for lethal injections said in a deposition that he, um, improvised in the process. Apparently, the state proposed the job to 298 anesthesiologists, and they all said no.

Maybe they could just stick with the same guy. Sure, he says his dyslexia has led him to mix up phone numbers and cable bill account numbers, and that “it’s not unusual for me to make mistakes.” But as the NYT points out: “He indicated in his testimony, however, that he had made no mistakes in his death chamber work and that the mistakes elsewhere were ‘not medically crucial.’ “