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Israeli air strikes hit Lebanon -

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Israeli air strikes hit Lebanon

Reporter: Jonathan Harley

MAXINE McKEW: There's been a major military escalation in the Middle East today, with Israeli air
strikes on Lebanon's only international airport in the capital of Beirut. Israel has also hit a
television station run by the militant group Hezbollah. The strikes are part of Israel's
retaliation to Hezbollah guerillas' capture of two of its soldiers. Clearly in no mood for
compromise, Israel is holding Lebanon responsible for the soldiers' capture, branding it "an act of
war". In turn, Hezbollah has responded by firing a volley of rockets on northern Israel. Although
world leaders have urged restraint, the fighting will almost certainly widen. The question is how
far? Jonathan Harley reports.

CNN REPORTER: A breaking story this hour, Lebanese authorities say Israeli war planes have struck
runways at Beirut's international airport.

BBC REPORTER: The UN said that the tensions in the Middle East had escalated dangerously, with the
Israeli forces now fighting on two fronts - in Gaza, where they're still trying to free another
soldier, and now in Lebanon.

CNN REPORTER: We are seeing troop movements moving towards Lebanon in the town of Nahariah.

JONATHAN HARLEY: It's the most closely watched corner of the globe, where politics and geography
grind more often in violence than in peace. Every tension is analysed, and any escalation gets
headline attention. And in the tinderbox that is the Middle East, escalations don't come much more
provocative than Israeli rocket strikes against Beirut's international airport.

PROFESSOR AMIN SAIKAL, CENTRE FOR ARAB & ISLAMIC STUDIES, ANU: I think the problem is that it is a
disproportionate response. It is not a response against Hezbollah. It is a response against Lebanon
as a whole.

DR COLIN RUBENSTEIN, AUSTRALIAN/ISRAEL & JEWISH AFFAIRS COUNCIL: You would expect the sovereign
government to do something to defend its citizens, and in cratering the runway at Beirut airport,
this is a very targeted attack, immobilising the continuing supply of arms and material and rockets
to Hezbollah, which comes in on a regular basis through Syria from Iran.

ANTHONY BUBALO, LOWY INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL POLICY: I think it's very significant. I think
it's the first in what's likely to be a series of Israeli air, naval and possibly even ground
strikes against Lebanese targets.

JONATHAN HARLEY: Lebanon may be in Israel's crosshairs, but the ultimate target is militant group,
Hezbollah. Israel's objective - to cut Lebanese support to the group. Former Department of Foreign
Affairs officer Anthony Bubalo is now a Middle East analyst with the Lowy Institute.

ANTHONY BUBALO: This is very much intended for the Lebanese authorities and the Lebanese people and
the signal it's intended to send is to say that if the Lebanese government and the Lebanese people
continue to allow Hezbollah to operate independently in the south and to take military actions
against Israel, that a price will be paid, and that price will be paid by Lebanon and the Lebanese
people.

JONATHAN HARLEY: These attacks come as Israel maintains its 2-week offensive on Gaza. The strikes
there have been in response to a capture of Israeli soldiers by Palestinian militants. Now in
Lebanon, Hezbollah has snatched two Israeli soldiers and almost seamlessly, Israel's reaction swung
north.

DR COLIN RUBENSTEIN: The Israeli government has called this an act of war in kidnapping an Israeli
soldier in sovereign Israeli territory. We've seen the firing of quite a few Katyushas into Israel
and casualties. And the Israeli government, quite understandably, is holding the sovereign Lebanese
government responsible.

JONATHAN HARLEY: Now Israel is fighting on two fronts. Attacking Beirut's airport may seem
audacious, but it's no accident. It's a high-profile target, economically essential and located as
it is in the south, it's surrounded by Hezbollah heartland. The question is, what's next?

PROFESSOR AMIN SAIKAL: I think it's very possible that now Israel will probably target a number of
power plants and possibly a number of bridges and roads which would be very similar to its
operations in Gaza, and this will certainly set back Lebanon's post-war recovery and will basically
take Lebanon back a few years in its overall progress. Israel does not want any strong Arab actor.

JONATHAN HARLEY: Amin Saikal is the director of the Centre for Arab & Islamic Studies at the
Australian National University.

PROFESSOR AMIN SAIKAL: Hezbollah is a very well-trained, well-equipped force and well-motivated
force and, of course, they will fight Israel as hard as they can and then the possibly is that
Israel may try to widen the target and to possibly hit certain targets in Syria. Israel has already
accused Syria of being behind the kidnapping of its soldier on the border with Gaza because Israel
has claimed that it was the political leader of Hamas who authorised the whole thing from Damascus.

DR COLIN RUBENSTEIN: Well, clearly Hezbollah and its backers, Iran and Syria, have deliberately
opened up a northern front so that Israel will be preoccupied and from their point of view tied
down on two fronts. And it certainly is being tested and tested on two fronts.

JONATHAN HARLEY: Executive director of the Australia Israel and Jewish Affairs Council Dr Colin
Rubenstein says Israel can wage two campaigns at once and that there's more at stake than the fate
of a few soldiers.

COLIN RUBENSTEIN: This is the beginning, really, of a genocidal Islamist war against Israel and
from both the practitioners on the ground, Hamas and Hezbollah. Both of them are terrorist
organisations and regarded as such in this country and internationally.

JONATHAN HARLEY: Certainly, there's much riding on these offensives for the relatively new Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He won office in March following in the imposing footsteps of war hero
turned political warrior Ariel Sharon who was incapacitated by a stroke.

ANTHONY BUBALO: I think he's certainly vulnerable to criticism on the grounds that his security
credentials aren't that of former prime minister Sharon's and that applies also to his Foreign
Minister Peretz who was a union leader, rather than someone with a long military background.

JONATHAN HARLEY: However Israeli domestic politics plays out, there's the wider question of how the
world will respond. If Israel's feeling any diplomatic pressure to pull its punches, it's showing
little sign of it. And there's even less sign of what Washington had sponsored and called a roadmap
for peace.

PROFESSOR AMIN SAIKAL: There's no peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis and, of
course, there's very little hope of a peace settlement between the Syrians and the Israelis. I
think the whole picture or the whole environment has changed to the extent that now it lends itself
to more bloodshed, more conflict.