The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Postall lead with the heavy fighting in the Mideast: Eight Israeli soldiers died in an ambush as they were trying to take the strategic town of Bint Jbail near Lebanon’s southern border. Another Israeli soldier was killed in a village Israel said it took a few days ago. Hezbollah also fired about 130 rockets into Israel, wounding 10 people. Two dozen Palestinians were killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza. About half of the dead were civilians. Only the LAT datelines from Gaza City, where the paper’s reporter watched gunmen prepare for Israel’s arrival. The Post describes “pitched battles” as about 30 tanks moved into one town. USA Todayreefers the Mideast and leads with airfares up about 10 percent since last year.
As expected, little happened at the yesterday’s brief diplomatic confab in Rome, where Secretary of State Rice put the kibosh on the “entreaties of nearly all of her European and Arab counterparts” to push for an immediate cease-fire. The Post notes that U.N. chief Kofi Annan proposed an alternative platform calling for a “pause” in the fighting, but the measure was “blocked by intense U.S. pressure.”
Hezbollah’s ground attack included mortars, RPGs, and laser-guided anti-tank missiles. It was so heavy and such a surprise that it took Israeli soldiers—most of whom were from the famed Golani Brigade—an hour to shoot back. The eight soldiers killed reportedly died in the first few minutes of fighting. Israeli sources gave varying estimates on the number of guerrillas killed, and as usual Hezbollah didn’t release any numbers.
“It was hell on earth,” one Israel soldier told Haaretz. “People risked their lives not only for the wounded but also for the dead bodies.” A few days ago, an Israeli general had said Israel controlled the town.
A front-page Post piece explores Hezbollah’s resilience so far. “These may be the best Arab troops we’ve ever faced,” said one Israeli intel expert. Hezbollah’s force in the south operates nearly autonomously, and most of the fighters are part-time militiamen who live in the area. “The command and control system is this,” said the intel expert, as he held up a cell phone.
As the NYT explains, Israel’s seemingly limited successes are why “the country’s goals have so quickly changed from fully dismantling Hezbollah to securing a narrow strip” along the border.
Everybody has more details on the Israeli strike that killed four U.N. soldiers. According to U.N. officials, their outpost was targeted by 21 strikes that went on for hours including after rescuers arrived. U.N. commanders said they made 10 calls to Israeli military officers, who promised to end the bombardment. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert said there will be an investigation and said it was “inconceivable” the compound was purposely hit.
The NYT teases a poll that the paper says show a “strong isolationist streak” in the U.S. Nearly 60 percent of respondents said the U.S. doesn’t “have a responsibility try to resolve the conflict” between Israel and others. About the same percentage said the U.S. should set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.
The Wall Street Journal goes high with a poll showing 45 percent of respondents support the president’s response to the Mideast crisis. The poll also has 60 percent saying the country is heading in the wrong direction—about the same as it’s been for months.
The Post off-leads a preview of a bipartisan congressional report concluding that the Homeland Security Department’s contracting process is FUBAR. Investigators said the department doesn’t have near enough contract specialists, and the number of no-bid contracts has, as the WP puts it, “exploded.” Since DHS was created in 2003, there have been “significant overcharges, wasteful spending or mismanagement” on contracts worth a total of $34 billion.
After hanging with one U.S. unit in Baghdad for a few days, a Post reporter gets the impression that morale isn’t all that high. “Honestly,” said one named soldier, “it just feels like we’re driving around waiting to get blown up.”
The Associated Press has an interesting analysis suggesting the new security push in Baghdad will increase the probability of a confrontation with radical cleric Moqtada Sadr. The reason: Sadr’s gunmen control chunks of the city and are causing havoc.
The LAT fronts an interview with the U.S.’s top ground commander in Iraq, who said the push in Baghdad will include about $100 million in reconstruction projects. “I am not downplaying the importance of security, but the key thing here is getting the people believing their life is going to get better,” he said. Then he added, “Quite frankly, in 33 years in the United States Army, I never trained to stop a sectarian fight. This is something new.”