As the fighting stepped up here today, we are all in place to cover it tonight. As I write this we are hearing of another Hezbollah volley into Haifa via Israeli radio, but there is no evidence of it here in Tel Aviv. In terms of highway driving time, this may be the best way to put it, for those familiar with distances on the U.S. East coast: it's as if the fighting were taking place in Baltimore, and we're in Washington, D.C., where life continues as usual, but where citizens have been warned to be on the lookout.
So far today, we met with former Israeli Prime Minister (and decorated military hero) Ehud Barak, and we were given an off-the-record briefing at the Israeli Defense Headquarters by a high-ranking general in the Israeli military. It's a common practice at home and in our occupation, and it informs our coverage. Sadly, the same practice is not an option where the other side in this fight is concerned, though there are sources that can be worked to get an idea of their plans and strategy. Notably, in a portion of our briefing that we were able to quote from, this senior official described Hezbollah as "good" terrorists -- he went on to explain, "they have a very capable organization... dangerous and capable." In his job, he said, "once you are exposed to the intelligence, you can't sleep at night." We were able to see, on his laptop computer, gun-camera video of some of the major targets destroyed by the Israeli Air Force. The problem for the Israeli forces is easy to see: Hezbollah is believed to be sitting on thousands of rockets. Some are believed to be stored in private homes. While the original Russian design dates back to World War II, and while they cannot be called accurate, they are deadly and terrifying -- so are the Israeli counter-strikes. That is where we are in this conflict. Rockets are faster than diplomatic efforts.
Photo caption: Brian talks to an Israeli general. Photo by Subrata De, NBC News.
We went out on the streets here in the city tonight, and found that even though residents have been told to be aware of the nearest shelter (if Hezbollah launches the longer-range missiles that they are thought to have, the military estimates they would be able to sound the sirens soon enough to allow two whole minutes of warning time here in Tel Aviv), there is no sense of danger, gloom or urgency. Some speak of "the trouble in the North" -- and others insist the outdoor cafes are more crowded than usual with those who are temporarily displaced from their homes in the north of Israel... just as Damascus, Syria is getting a population influx of a different kind, and families are living on the streets of Beirut because their homes have been destroyed by Israeli bombs.
We'll cover the news from the U.S. as well, including the heat that is scorching such a wide area, even given the time of year. Indonesia is again tonight the scene of sadness and natural disaster... after another (much smaller) tsunami hit there today. We'll also pause to remember what early MSNBC viewers might have seen 10 years ago tonight -- when during our cable newscast we received the first word, from the U.S. Coast Guard, that a commercial jetliner was missing off the southern coast of Long Island.
Off to prepare tonight's broadcast -- we have a fleet of correspondents, producers and camera crews working very hard and braving danger to cover this story. We certainly hope you can join us for our Monday broadcast.