BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. [NEWS CLIPS]:
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Israel unleashes the biggest bombing campaign in Lebanon in decades. [BOMBS IN BACKGROUND] There's a crisis over kidnapped soldiers –
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: A major escalation in the Mideast already -- Israel's ambassador to the U.S. called it a major, major escalation
MALE CORRESPONDENT: It came in the form of volleys back and forth across the border between – [END NEWS CLIPS]
BOB GARFIELD: The news from the Middle East this week was at once familiar and unusually terrifying, a hostage-taking turned conflagration that quickly engulfed Israel, Lebanon and Palestine. By Friday the situation was still escalating, with Syria and Iran suggested as instigators, and the violence was widely portrayed as the brink of full-scale war. Press in the United States struggled to find context and reflexively reviewed the past, but in the Middle East, the press was dealing with the immediate emergency. Susan Caskie is the international editor for The Week magazine, and she joins us once again with a look at the Middle East press reaction. Susan, welcome back to the show.
SUSAN CASKIE: Good to be here, thanks.
BOB GARFIELD: Let's start with the Arab press outside of Lebanon. The sentiment is split in a kind of a surprising way.
SUSAN CASKIE: It is. It's interesting that the independent papers in the Arab world are almost uniformly excited and happy about the Hezbollah action. These are London-based papers such as Alquds, Al-Araby, Al-Hayat. And it does seem that when you look at the television images going around the Arab world, there is a lot of support in the streets for what Hezbollah is doing. But then you go over and look at the Arab government-run papers – for example, Egypt's state-owned paper, Al-Ahram, as well as others in Saudi Arabia and Jordan that are calling for restraint on all sides – the Al-Ahram editorial, in fact, said, we need to stop talking about who started this escalation. All sides should realize that the side that is hurt more than others is Lebanon.
BOB GARFIELD: Hezbollah has essentially been holding the government hostage with its de facto veto power in the Parliament, and controlling South Lebanon. Is there no backlash from those who think that the militants are just endangering the nation that is just now recovering from a long civil war?
SUSAN CASKIE: Well, that's an interesting question, because I think the answer is yes. But any criticism of Hezbollah is veiled and sort of coded in the Lebanese press. Most of the Lebanese newspapers, they'll start out their editorials and commentaries with praise for the Hezbollah action and say, you know, you brave people who are attacking and resisting and fighting for the Palestinians and fighting for the Lebanese homeland. And then, later in the commentary, we'll see a little bit of a kind of hint that Hezbollah needs to be reined in by other factors. And the way that they hint at this is they'll say, now to move forward, we need real unity among all Lebanese. And there's an undercurrent of fear, it seems, in these commentaries, that Lebanon could slip into another civil war. An-Nahar had another commentary saying the Lebanese will not fight each other again, despite what happened before.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to ask you a question about motivation. Israel left Lebanon, which it had occupied for years, and Hezbollah claimed victory, claimed that it had driven the Zionists out. Is there anything in the press in Lebanon which gets to why they are now sending rockets into Israel and kidnapping Israeli soldiers?
SUSAN CASKIE: Yes, absolutely. The Lebanese papers are full of opinions as to why Hezbollah chose now to act, and they're pretty unanimous [LAUGHS] in the opinion that Syria and Iran are pulling the strings. Those two countries fund and support Hezbollah. In a Lebanese paper, Al-Nahar, Sahar Baasiri says that this Hezbollah operation christens on the ground the alliance extending from Tehran to Gaza, passing through Syria and Lebanon. So what he's saying there is it's not only Tehran and Hezbollah but also Gaza, where Hamas is based, that all of them are involved in this.
BOB GARFIELD: What about Israel? Whatever you feel about Israel, it's certainly a place where there's, you know, a lively press debate at all times. Is there unanimity there?
SUSAN CASKIE: Oh, absolutely not. [LAUGHS] There's never unanimity in the Israeli press. And, in fact, in this situation more than others, there's even a diversity of opinion within the same commentary, which you don't often see. Normally you'll see, you know, a left-wing Israeli paper saying we should stop the violence and a right-wing paper saying we should go ahead and crush the Palestinians. But instead, many of the centrist and leftist papers are pulling an "on the one hand/on the other hand" kind of anguished analysis of what's going on. On the one hand, they have to act, because there's been this infringement of sovereignty and rockets fired into Israel. On the other hand, nobody wants another war with Lebanon. So there's a real kind of dithering. Then, of course, you do have a certain strand in the right-wing press that says just go in there and crush them. The Jerusalem Post, which is a conservative paper, came out with its editorial and said, now is the time to eradicate Hezbollah from Southern Lebanon and secure the northern border. Also, in several of the centrist papers and the right-wing papers, there's been this strand of argument that says former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral withdrawal policy is what is really to blame here for this deteriorating security situation. Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in Ma'Ariv, and he said, we pulled out of Lebanon and Hezbollah took over, and they're attacking us. We pulled out of Gaza and Hamas took over, and they're attacking us. So obviously, unilateral withdrawal is not working. And so that'll be a debate that will most likely take over the Israeli press after this crisis has passed.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, Susan. Well, as always, thanks so much.
SUSAN CASKIE: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Susan Caskie is international editor of The Week magazine.