Return to Transcripts main page


Israel Ramps Up Military Offensive in Gaza; Political Gut Check

Aired July 13, 2014 - 07:00   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: That perhaps they are preparing for more. But that happened last night as Israeli forces crossing into Gaza and ignoring the U.N.'s request for a cease-fire. Raid happened as more rockets were launched from Gaza to Israel.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, at least 23 people were killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza yesterday. And that brings the death toll in Gaza to more than 160. Another 1,100 people have been injured.

PAUL: And right now, the Israeli military is dropping leaflets in northern Gaza, warning residents of more airstrikes today as Hamas leaders are targeted there.

BLACKWELL: Let's head to Wolf Blitzer's live in Jerusalem. We also have Diana Magnay who is live there along the Israel/Gaza border.

Wolf, we're starting with you. You spoke with this spokesman. Does it look like this is headed to this full ground offensive?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: I don't think it's necessarily a full ground offensive in terms of going into Gaza with a lot of tanks and a lot of armored personnel carriers and in effect trying to occupy Gaza.

I do think that everyone should brace for a limited Israeli ground offensive going in and going after specific targets trying to destroy as much of the Hamas missiles and rocket and military capability as possible and then getting out -- sort of what they did in a very, very limited fashion last night with this commando raid from the sea. I think we're going to probably see a lot more of those kinds of limited operations. I'm not convinced there's going to a full scale ground invasion or anything along those lines. There will, though, as long as Hamas rockets and missiles keep coming into Israel there will continue to be the airstrikes that the Israelis have been engaged in. They will continue to pound away from the air.

But as we heard from Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, he says in the next few hours there will be an operation in northern Gaza, in that one town where the Israelis dropped leaflets from the air, warning all civilians to get out. Unfortunately, a lot of those are not getting out. PAUL: All right. Diana Magnay, I believe we have as well.

Diana, I wanted to ask you about the Palestinian-Americans we understand who are being told to get out of Gaza. What have you seen this morning and why were they there I think a lot of people are wondering?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm at the area's crossing, which is on the Israeli-Gaza border. It's the only way that people can come in and out of Gaza. People with dual citizenship are now being allowed out. Some of them I spoke to were there for various reasons, you know, they have friends and relatives they were visiting for summer vacation.

One girl was with her sister to go to her other sister's wedding which was four weeks ago. They were meant to leave two weeks ago. They couldn't or didn't then. This is what she had to say about her experience.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very terrifying. I was born and raised in the United States so it was something that I'm not used to and it was a very terrifying experience for sure.

MAGNAY: How did you feel with all of the airstrikes all the time? What was it like?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: It was scary. I wasn't used to it, especially because I live in America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was kind of scary because you never knew where they were going to bomb. You kept hearing explosions. Sometimes they were close. Sometimes they were far away. You didn't know if your loved ones were hurt or anything. It wasn't a nice experience.


MAGNAY: And they are the ones who are able to get out, leaving behind family and friends who can't, that we know that there are 4,000 people who sought shelter with the U.N. refugee agency, Palestinian refugee agency in shelters inside there. The area of Beit Lahia where the leaflets were dropped where the defense forces say they are going to strike Hamas targets later on, that is some 400,000 people. They are asking 400,000 people to leave homes, to get out of the way of Israeli airstrikes.

So you can imagine how scared people in there are right now. Hamas telling them to ignore those warnings, which is why Israel says that Hamas is using civilians as a shield behind which they hide their weapons and their command centers.

Back to you.

BLACKWELL: Wolf, we understand in addition to Lieutenant Colonel Lerner you had a conversation with a member of the Israeli navy. Tell us about that conversation.

BLITZER: I spoke with an Israeli naval commander at one of their major facilities. And he said they are continuing to have a major concern about more weapons potentially, more missiles and rockets getting smuggled into Gaza and one of the concerns is that the missiles, the rockets could be coming from Iran. Listen to what he told me.


BLITZER: Earlier shipments were not stopped.

LIAV ZILBERMAN, ISRAELI NAVY COMMANDER: Yes. Obviously, they arrived but just saying that we have to try to find the next target, we have to operate all over Mediterranean to stop the smuggling because we understand for sure that it comes from Iran. It's very high-quality weapon and (INAUDIBLE) to citizens, to main cities, to Israeli citizens, their main goal, Hamas now is to kill as much Israelis as they can.


BLITZER: The Israelis are deeply concerned some of these weapons could still be smuggled in to Gaza through Sinai, through these underground tunnels, a massive network of underground tunnels from Sinai into Gaza. The Israelis bombed some of them, but some remain free flowing at least for now.

So, the Israelis got a lot going on. And I think it's fair to say, Victor and Christi, all of us should be ready for a major, major escalation in the coming hours and days.

PAUL: Wolf, Dr. Ashrawi with PLO who we talked with last hour as well, had said that Hamas militants are not using civilians as human shields, even though that is the contention from Israelis. And she has asked the U.N. and Ban Ki-moon to put Palestinians under protection of some sort.

What is the likelihood that would happen?

BLITZER: Well, I know that Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general, members of the U.N. Security council are working behind the scenes, the United States, the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, they're trying to work out a cease-fire right now, to at least stop the killing and to make sure that the rockets no longer come into Israel from Gaza and that Israel stops its airstrikes and now we've seen some commando ground strikes as well.

I don't know if they are going to be able to come up with a cease-fire to do it. I don't know if there is that kind of sophisticated capability, diplomatic capability to achieve that result. But as far as I can tell the only way the death and destruction is going to stop right now is what happened at the end of 2012, when the Egyptians largely worked out a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and there was a time-out, if you will. I don't see that necessarily happening right away though

presumably after more fighting that will occur. But the question is how much more fighting, how many more are going to die.

PAUL: All righty. Wolf Blitzer and Diana Magnay, thank you so much for all of the information from that region specifically.

BLACKWELL: Well, let's talk about that potential solution and any role Egypt could play, especially their new president, as these military offensive ramps up. The civilians as we heard in Northern Gaza are being told to evacuate.

PAUL: This is a grim warning that more airstrikes and ground invasions could be just hours away, as Wolf was saying. I want to bring in CNN Mideast analyst and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, he joins us from Tel Aviv, Israel.

Ambassador, thank you so much for being with us.

Based on your experience as a diplomat, is there a solution in sight to this crisis? And what would it take?

MICHAEL OREN, CNN MIDEAST ANALYST: Well, my experience as a diplomat tells me that with a crisis, there's also an opportunity. And in addition to the grave dangers that all sides are facing right now, again, as residents, Palestinian residents of the northern Gaza strip have been told to leave their homes, thousands have left their homes, Israel is prepared to escalate the fighting in response to dozens of rockets that fell yesterday, hundreds over the last week.

With the Security Council meeting, American diplomacy, Qatari diplomacy, Turks and Egyptians, all coming together, here is an opportunity, an opportunity could possibly look like this. A situation where a cease-fire is declared, where we take a precedent of the removal of chemical weapons from Syria's arsenals, it was a great accomplishment for the Obama administration, Syria's chemical weapons were removed over the course of the year without violence, we used that precedent to remove missiles from Hamas's arsenal.

Perhaps with American intervention, American inspectors, in return Israel would lift its blockade, it's maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip, international aid would be offered to the citizens of Gaza to infuse the economy there which was really devastated even before this crisis.

That measures could be taken that could strengthen moderate Palestinian elements including the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by integrating Palestinian elements in the crossover points from Israel into the Gaza also the gross over points from Egypt into Gaza. Now, it's not a perfect solution, but it changes the status quo and defuses much of the causes of the current round of fighting.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk specifically about Egypt's role. We know as Wolf just mentioned their role in ending the 2012 conflict. A new president there we understand has met with Tony Blair, hoping to negotiate the cease-fire here, to end this conflict between Hamas and Israel. What role could the new president there play and could this be this I guess a win-win for him, ending this conflict and also earning some favor here in the U.S.?

OREN: It's definitely -- it's definitely a win-win for him. There has been a strained relationship between the al-Sisi government and the Obama administration. And not just the Obama administration, both parties in Congress, both houses in Congress were unhappy with the way that Mr. Al-Sisi came to power and what looked like a military coup that violated American law. So, there's been strains there.

Here is a way that he, al-Sisi, can prove to American policymakers that without Egypt, not much can get done with the Middle East and American leverage is very important here. Egypt has had a complex relationship with Hamas. This current government is not very favorable to Hamas. The most resistance to an Egyptian role come from Hamas itself.

Hamas has already rejected an Egyptian offer of mediation. There will have to be some greater persuasion on Hamas, to get Hamas to agree to a more creative and constructive Egyptian role. But, certainly, Egypt is crucial here and I think it's in the interest of all parties, Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and others that Egypt does play a more prominent role.

BLACKWELL: All right. Ambassador Michael Oren, thank you so much for speaking with us this morning.

OREN: My pleasure.

PAUL: Appreciate it. Appreciate it.

The crisis in the Middle East, though, taking center stage today at the Vatican, too. Just moments ago, Pope Francis made an appeal for a cease-fire between the two sides saying this, quote, "I make a heart felt appeal to all of you to continue to pray with insistence for peace in the Holy Land. In light of the tragic events of the last days, I exhort to all of the interested parties and to all of those who have political responsibility at local and international levels to not give up the prayer nor any effort to cease hostility and reach the desired peace for the good of all."

Neither have announced, though, as we move on to running for president, saying -- I don't know, maybe, maybe not. A war of words is heating up between two possible candidates though -- Texas Governor Rick Perry for one and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

BLACKWELL: Also this peaceful area in Colorado has been hit by severe storms that have left two people dead. We'll tell you what happened here next.


PAUL: Imagine this. You're on a plane out of Hawaii, maybe heading home from vacation and over the middle of the pacific ocean, the captain announces let's make an emergency landing, on a tiny little island.

BLACKWELL: Teeny, teeny tiny. That's exactly what happened. It happened Friday. A United Airlines flight from Honolulu to Guam was diverted to Midway Island. Where is it? Well, it's in the north Pacific but few people knew that.

PAUL: The FAA said there was an electrical odor onboard, leading to that emergency landing. One passenger said the pilot mentioned smoke and failure of the radar and other systems. She also said she and the other passengers, they were more than a bit scared let's say.


KAREN VON MERVELDT-GUEVARA, PASSENGER: All thinking of people at home and our own little ones we had with us. We had a family next to us, a 3-year-old and a real tiny baby. I think of that the 40-foot drop, it got really silent in the cabin. People prayed. We all prayed. I prayed. There's nothing wrong with that.


PAUL: The plane landed safely on Midway Island. Take a look at it there. This is just a two-mile strip of land, home to only a few closed military buildings.

BLACKWELL: All 353 passengers had to wait in an old gymnasium for seven hours before a new plane arrive there had to take them back to Hawaii. Seven hours and some place you never heard of on a tiny island.

PAUL: At least walk out to the beach if they would have let me. Let me a little bit.

BLACKWELL: Taking pictures or something.

PAUL: OK. This summer, not one but three super moons are going to light up the sky. The first happened last night and then the next one will be August 10th and then September 9th.

BLACKWELL: The phenomenon happens when the moon is full on the same day it orbits closest to Earth. NASA says sometimes it's hard to tell difference between a super man and regular full moon because clouds and haze can mask the unusual brightness.

PAUL: In the meantime, Colorado, boy, they are getting hit with some deadly storms this weekend.

BLACKWELL: Yes, lightning strikes killed two people in separate incidents in Rocky Mountain National Park. Several other people were hurt there as well.

PAUL: Yes, Jennifer Gray with us now from the CNN severe weather center. What do you know?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Well, this park sits at a very high elevation, around 11,000 feet. Those two people were killed, 13 others have been injured over the weekend so it has been a deadly weekend for storms there. Of course, this area borders a tree line, so it is exposed making it very, very dangerous so folks are hiking, get caught by one of these storms, it can be deadly. We have seen many of these deadly storms across the country during 2014, already 11 deaths due to lightning, guys.

PAUL: All righty. So, real quickly, weather in terms of rainfall and did I hear you say a 40-degree temperature earlier somewhere?

GRAY: Yes. We're going to see lows in the 40s and 50s, can you believe it, over the northern plains as we go through Monday and through Wednesday. We're going to see temperatures 15 to 20 degrees below normal. We dealt with some rain yesterday. Came through Chicago -- in fact, we had a lot of rain, two to four inches in places four to six inches. The focus has shifted to the south of Chicago. We could pick up additional one to three inches.

But the city should stay mostly sunny for today. We're going to see rain, though, through New York City, two to four inches possibly through Monday and the possibility of severe weather as well. Indianapolis through Pittsburgh could see large hail and damaging winds today. That will shift to the east. D.C., Philly, New York tomorrow, it will be knocking on your door.

Look at these high temperatures, 70 degrees in Chicago. Highs in the 60s in Marquette during this week. Enjoy.

BLACKWELL: Wonderful.

PAUL: I admit that I get to about August 1st and I'm ready for fall.

BLACKWELL: Yes. That's my favorite season.

PAUL: Jen, thank you.

GRAY: All right.

PAUL: So, think about this. Could Rick Perry be prepping for a 2016 presidential candidate debate? Well, the Texas governor calling out fellow Republican Rand Paul on foreign policy.

BLACKWELL: But does he have a point? That's in our political gut check.

Also, she is the only survivor in a shooting that left her mother, her father, two brothers, two sisters all dead. Some stunning words from this teenager at her own family's memorial.


PAUL: All right, 21 minutes past the hour. And time for this morning's political gut economic.

BLACKWELL: Yes. I mean, we're just wrapping up the primaries for the midterms and already we're seeing sparks fly between two Republicans who could face off in their party's 2016 presidential primary.

PAUL: We're talking about Texas Governor Rick Perry who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination in 2012, wrote an op-ed in "The Washington Post", taking Kentucky Senator Rand Paul to task for his views on foreign policy.

BLACKWELL: Erin McPike joins us now from Washington to explain.

So, what did he say?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Christi, as you may know there is soul searching going on in the Republican Party right now when it comes to U.S. involvement in conflicts abroad and may a central issue in the GOP presidential primary two years from now.

So, Rand Paul, of course, is openly considering a presidential bid and he's currently the leading voice on the right arguing against significant U.S. intervention.

Well, listen to a couple of the comments he's made on CNN recently.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Let's not be involved in the Syrian civil war, and let's not be involved in the Iraq civil war.

If we're going to make a decision to go back into Iraq, I've been saying for a long time that we need to vote again. One generation can't bind another generation.


MCPIKE: Now, Rick Perry is slamming him in this op-ed, writing, quote, "Unfortunately, we live in a world where isolationist policies would only endanger our national security even further. That's why it's disheartening to hear fellow republicans such as Senator Rand Paul suggest that our nation should ignore what's happening in Iraq."

Well, Perry points out that the radical group ISIS is gaining steam in Syria and Iraq, with its expanding control of territory, weapons and money in the region, and then he goes on to say, quote, "This represents a real threat to our national security to which Paul seems curiously blind because any of these passport carriers can buy a plane ticket and show up in the United States without even a visa."

Well, Rand Paul is already responding with a very different criticism of his own against Perry. Paul's adviser Doug Stafford shot back, quote, "60,000 children just invaded Texas and their governor has time to write an op-ed in a Washington newspaper mischaracterizing Senator Paul's foreign policy. Perhaps he should concentrate on the invasion of his southern border." Foreign policy and immigration are certain to be hot topics in

the next primary and the general election as well, but as you can see the battle is already on, Christi and Victor.

PAUL: Yes, the words are getting stronger. Erin McPike in Washington, thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: This 15-year-old, it is tough to even imagine what is going through her mind and her heart right now, especially her heart. Her mother, father, both brothers, both sisters, everyone in this picture except for the girl you saw on the far left, killed in their home.

PAUL: But she is speaking at a memorial service for her own immediate family.


JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS: Good morning. Coming up on "INSIDE POLITICS", interesting choices with important implications. The Republicans join LeBron in choosing Cleveland, while President Obama chooses not to do a photo op at the border. And when it comes to immigration reform, where folks at the White House or Capitol Hill listen now to advise from a trio of billionaires.

All that and more. See you in a few months.

BLACKWELL: John, thanks. We'll see you at 8:30 Eastern.

Now to top stories we're following. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Austria for talks on Iran's nuclear program. He is joined by foreign ministers from France and Germany, the U.S., Russia and China.

PAUL: Officials hope to reach a permanent deal on the future of Iran's nuclear program by a July 28 deadline.

Kerry is also due to talk with his German counterpart about new allegations of U.S. spying on Germany.

BLACKWELL: North Korea fired two short range missiles into waters east of the Korean peninsula. This according to a South Korean defense official. Today's launches follow a similar launch on Wednesday. No damages or casualties reported. And South Korea says it's closely monitoring the situation.

PAUL: Three people are dead and five others wounded after a shooting in Pasadena, California. Authorities say the alleged gunman opened fire yesterday in a residential neighborhood after a dispute with his landlord. Officials say the 35-year-old suspect John Izeal Smith barricaded himself inside his residence after the attack. He did later surrender and is in custody.

BLACKWELL: The soul survivor of a brutal attack on her family spoke Saturday for the first time since the murders. Police say this girl, Cassidy Stay, her parents, and four siblings, were shot to death last week by a relative's estranged husband. She is 15 and she loves Harry Potter. So, she quoted a character during the memorial and that character says, "Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light."

PAUL: Pretty profound.

And a female Yahoo! executive is being sued for sexual harassment by a former software engineer. The engineer, also female, accuses Maria Zhang of coercing her into sexual act and threatening her job while she was living in Yahoo! housing. In a statement to CNN Money, Yahoo! said there is, quote, absolutely no basis or truth to those claims.

BLACKWELL: And, of course, throughout the morning, we're going to stay on top of the events between Israel and Hamas, these are changing by the hour. And we were told by the spokesperson for the military there in Israel that there will be some event there in northern Gaza within the next few hours.

PAUL: We're talking about that more when we come back at 8:00 a.m.

BLACKWELL: Sanjay Gupta, up next.