The Rest House, a resort on a stretch of sandy beach in Tyre, is our base of operations for covering the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. My Lonely Planet guidebook says that in high season, the place should be frequented by rich Beirutis, and rooms go for as much as $335 a night.
Now, the pool is empty, the Mediterranean Sea is swimmable at your own risk due to a questionable waste treatment plant nearby, and the sunset view terrace is frequented by representatives of the Hezbollah militia.
Frankly, it’s not all that bad. The biggest irritant is the throng of international press that has gathered here, realizing that this might be the best and safest place to watch the fighting. We weren’t the first media outfit to find the place, but we were in the first wave. Since then, there’s been a deluge.
When you perch on the pool terrace, you face south, and that gives you a fairly unobstructed view about eight miles south and east toward Israel. It overlooks a big chunk of territory that the Israelis want to take back from Hezbollah fighters.
I've been here 10 days now, and it's become almost routine, although still a bit unsettling, to watch Katyusha rockets fired from within a quarter mile of where one is standing.
|A Katyusha rocket fires off from the city of Tyre, Lebanon.|
As they shoot up, they look like nothing more roman candles at a Fourth of July celebration. When you gaze at the ragged contrails as the rockets head toward Israel, it’s hard to believe they could hit anything. But, some of them find their marks in cities in northern Israel — in apartment buildings, businesses, cars, and open fields.
It’s now down to a pretty neat pattern. Wait a few minutes after the rocket fires, and you will hear the roar of Israeli jet fighters overhead and the drop of a few bombs around the area of the launch. Sometimes you'll hear artillery blasts over the distant mountain ridge, or Israeli gunships sitting off the coast, and sometimes, there’s no response at all.
Whether there is a response or not, that few minutes is probably enough for any one or several fighters to find their way out of the area to go on and fight another day. That, or the launching is done by remote control, so there is no fighter to get anyway. And as the rockets are launched from simple launchers, even if those things are blown up you often see the rockets fired from the same position time and again. Even after the place has been hit time and again.
For us, observing from a safe distance, it can be like watching a video game, where all of the ugliness is represented by inanimate electronic figures behind a screen. It’s also like an 18th century painting of those aristocratic European families who would venture to the top of a hill and picnic while two regally formed armies waged war below.
(A note here: By the third day of dutifully recording those Katyusha launchings, we were advised in the most direct terms that it would not be a healthy thing for us to continue to do. Scattered among the international media were representatives of the Hezbollah militia. And like any military organization, they are worried about operation security. They figure that the Israeli defense teams in Tel Aviv might actually be tuned in to FOX, and real-time displays of rocket firings could help Israel in its targeting ability).
But we also do venture out to see what is really happening. And when we do its always an eye-opener. The landscape of southern Lebanon has been turned into a huge slab of ugly Swiss cheese with craters instead of holes from the constant pounding of the Israel Air Force scattered all around : In the middle of a road, on the side of a road, in the middle of a field, in the middle of a house. I suppose all of these are aimed at (and maybe were successfully getting) Hezbollah fighters. But there also seems to be a bit of a randomness to it all.
Or not so random, when you watch the bodies of children and women being pulled out of the wreckage of buildings. I was at Qana, where more than 50 people were killed in an overnight Israeli air strike. I don’t buy any of those conspiracy theories that the whole thing was staged for the international media.
There is a very good chance that the people were somehow tied in to the Hezbollah mission. Either families of fighters, or human shields, or what have you. But they were still people. And it’s never nice to see dead people. Especially little ones.
And then there’s not just the single building hit. There’s the entire town getting whacked. We took advantage of a break in the offensive action one day to check out Bint Jbail along the Israeli-Lebanese border. It has been pounded by Israeli firepower for days. It’s a center of Hezbollah activity, by Israeli reckoning. Of course, any town that sports a Katyusha model on its “Welcome to our Town” sign is always a tip-off.
|Our crew walks through the deserted, bombed-out streets of Bint Jbail.|
Still, the old Vietnam War adage came to mind as I walked through the rubble of the town. Apparently the Israelis figured they had to destroy the town to save it. Or at least save Israelis from getting hit by Hezbollah projectiles launched from the place.
At least some folks remained who clearly had nothing to do with Hezbollah. Elderly people who incredibly had stayed in the town during three weeks of bombardment and lived to tell the tale. Or at least be carried to waiting ambulances that would take them to safety.
So now we wait for the nascent ground offensive to reach us. The Israelis are already moving into Lebanon on the ground at other locations. They’ll have to cross a lot of land to reach us from the border, but it can be driven in an hour. And with firepower protecting the way, maybe even done without a lot of casualties.
Or maybe not. And that’s why we think the Israelis are biding their time. Hezbollah has had years to entrench here. The local population either likes them or is scared of them. And Israel will not have done its job until it defangs them in this area.
We went to the history books to see what happened the last few times the Israelis came though here on the ground. In 1978, when they moved up to the Litani River, they simply bypassed what they called the “Tyre pocket.”
But in 1982, when they staged a more impressive invasion, they hit Tyre hard. We spoke to people who still remember that “Thunder Run.” So we are once again hunkered down a bit here at The Rest House. Watch as the outgoing and incoming get closer. And see who wins — Israel, Hezbollah, or the diplomats.
All the while gazing out at the sea beyond the little palm tree umbrellas set up on beaches empty of any tourists. Just stray journalists and international aid workers. And recall what one old-timer told us about 1982. The Israelis set up their tanks here when they last occupied the place. Right next to where the swimsuit shop and tattoo parlor are now.
It’s a cruel summer.
Greg Palkot currently serves as a London-based senior foreign affairs correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1998 as a correspondent. Follow him on Twitter@GregPalkot.