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Monday, December 29, 2008

Out like a Lion

Seems 2008 had one more conflict to unleash before the countdown to a new year begins. Cal Perry flew from his home base in Beirut to Jerusalem to cover the conflict:

Cal also posted on the "In the Field" blog about his preparations for the assignment:
December 29, 2008
Airborne, but still grounded in Mideast politics
Posted: 1029 GMT
JERUSALEM — Think things through: Gaza is burning, and I’m in Beirut.

There’s nothing better than being frantically under control. Nothing better than looking at the phone as it rings and reading, “CNN Mothership.” 99 times out of 100 it’s a conversation about that day’s piece, or future pieces — in this case, it’s my favorite call. Either Earl or Bruce is calling to say, “Get moving now Perry.”

Besides wanting to jump out of your skin and directly into the story — you have to stop and think. Remember your training from all those years past, of security advisers with various accents telling you “plan, plan, plan.”


I suppose you can take a reporter out of Iraq, but you’ll never get the Iraq out of the reporter.

So, first, where are you headed? In this case, we’ll need things like a flak jacket, bandages, tourniquet, bug spray and warm clothing. Then the equipment. Cameras, computer - basically all the various cool toys that enable us to get pictures and information out to the world. The apartment quickly starts to look like a tornado aftermath zone.

Then there’s the passport question. Any stamp from Israel in your passport will immediately prevent you from going to countries like Syria and Iraq. No good if you’re covering the region for an international news organization. So, you better have two, or convince the Israeli authorities to give you an entry stamp on a separate piece of paper (something they are quite good about and willing to do).

If you have two passports: you best hand the right one to the right authorities at the borders. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in a very long conversation with very strange questions. Lots of fun in that scenario - trust me.

The distance from Beirut to Jerusalem is a simple 145 miles. Beirut is directly to the north, but is separated by a border that is locked down as tight as any border in the world. Hezbollah controls the southern part of Lebanon — and Israel has armed forces right up against its northern border: the two view each other as constant, and considerable threats.

They should - after a summer war in 2006 that changed the region forever. At the very least, Lebanon was changed — and is still changing today.

So getting from Beirut to Jerusalem is the equivalent of a crash course in Middle Eastern politics. It’s a lot like the TV show, “The Amazing Race” … only with lots of guns and periods of incredible boredom.

There are two travel options: neither of them appealing. First, you can drive, across Lebanon, through Syria into Jordan … and then across the bridge into Israel. It’s one giant desert. By desert, I mean: there is NOTHING out there. If you’re lucky — that may only take you 15 to 16 hours depending on how long you sit at border crossings, explaining to various intelligence officers where you’re going and why in the world you would want to go there. But 24 hours ago that option closed down — the border between Jordan and Israel was shut.

In some ways it’s a relief because I’ve done that drive 3 times in the past 2 years — and it’s about as much fun as a trip to the dentist. So, with the border shut: it’s option number 2.

Fly. Of course, there are no direct flights from Beirut to Jerusalem - so, you fly to Amman, Jordan. From Amman you sit and wait for the flight to Tel Aviv — it’s about a 7-hour layover.

As painful as it is: you get a feel for where things are, what the situation is — and how the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. It’s because between the flights, the airports and the border crossings … are cab drivers. They fill in the gaps despite the massive amounts of information coming across your Blackberry — which is great, because the minute you hit the ground, you’re off and staring into a camera.

As a story is still breaking, you can often learn more about the situation in the region from them. More important than that, you get far greater information: a genuine “feel” of the situation. In Lebanon I heard that everything was Israel’s fault. They started it, the driver said — and things are going to spin totally out of control. In Jordan I heard that it was Egypt’s fault. They’re the ones that silently gave the nod to Israel to start its campaign in Gaza.

In Israel, in the past 24 hours I’ve heard two versions: one, everything is fine - this is something “we (Israelis) need to take care of,” Hamas is to blame. And the old Middle East adage … it’s mostly “everyone’s fault.”

So, from Beirut to Jerusalem I can safely say that the region is like a pot of pasta simmering on your stove: you watch it simmer and as the water and foam rises, you can turn down the heat. But have you done it in time?

Or is it going to boil over anyway — and make a complete mess of your kitchen?

Posted by: Cal Perry, CNN Correspondent

Meanwhile, Paula Hancocks (who is normally based in Jerusalem) headed for the border and was doing a live report when rockets came in from Gaza:

CNN does not seem to have any reporters inside Gaza so far.

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Before leaving for the holidays, Michael Ware prepared a report on an investigation by the US military into the death of a man who was killed during a Special Ops raid. Please note: this report (which has not been aired on Domestic) carries a Graphic Content warning:

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And just to leave on a less-confrontational note -- on Sunday's Late Edition, Wolf Blitzer ended the look back at 2008 with some comments about the upcoming hand-over of the program to John King. The change won't happen until January 18th, so we still have a few more weekends with the Wolfman:

This is my final blog post of '08, so here's hoping everyone has a very enjoyable but safe New Year's Eve, and that we all have a much better 2009!

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MWmcFan said...

Thank you Cyn for all your excellent posts in 2008! Looking forward to seeing more from you in 2009. Your posts are always filled with important international news.
Let's hope 2009 will bring peace and prosperity to all.

Anonymous said...

Paula said on the air that Israel has sealed the border to Gaza and isn't letting journalists in, which is why she's been stuck on the Israeli side of the border. The only English TV network I've seen with a correspondent in Gaza is Al-Jazeera English because they have a permanent bureau there.

Cyn said...

I would think people would be getting into Gaza via Egypt. Any reporters who appear on TV from inside Israel are probably not likely to be allowed in by Hamas, though.

Delie said...

Cyn, you are our ATA/ATC Chief international correspondent!
Thanks for all your posts. "Rendez-vous" next year, same time, same place.