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Netanyahu Defends Israeli Military Action in Gaza; Tsarnaev Friend Found Guilty; Critics Says Obama Should Be Proactive; Can Commercial Airliners Be Protected from Attacks; Bill Clinton Talks Israel/Palestine Conflict.

Aired July 21, 2014 - 13:29   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Obama weighed in today with some of his strongest language yet since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine. He demanded that the Russian president do more to rein in the pro-Russian rebels at the crash site.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia, and President Putin in particular, has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation. That is the least that they can do.


BLITZER: Republican Congressman Ed Royce of California is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.

What's your reaction to President Obama's remarks today? Are they tough enough for you? Do you think they'll have the impact and make Putin listen?

REP. ED ROYCE (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, I think we have a different international audience and maybe we have the international will now. So, yes, I think the president needs to lead with strong words here.

The Europeans are beginning to hear the stories, which I heard from a U.S. official today, about what's actually happening at that site. And as you know, credit cards have been taken off of individuals, wedding rings. Those credit cards, there's been attempts to use them.

Part of the problem of recruiting in Russia and in Ukraine on these social media, which is what the Russians have been doing, is that they are actually recruiting either malcontent and every skinhead that has a beef. And as you can imagine, these are poorly led troops. The four senior commanders are all Russian citizens. They're not eastern Ukrainians. But they don't have very good control over these troops.

BLITZER: Do you have a good sense, congressman, how much Russian military involvement there was in help -- assuming that these pro- Russian separatists did fire that surface to air missile, how much Russian military help they received?

ROYCE: Yes, we know from General Breedlove (ph), the commander of NATO forces, that a month ago they took ethnic eastern Russian-speaking Ukrainians into Russia for training on how to fire these particular devices, these anti-aircraft weapons. And then we know subsequently from General Breedlove that they brought about 150 heavy tanks and anti-aircraft pieces, like this particular one, across the border and -- for the use by the separatists in order to try to check the advance, which was going pretty well on the part of the Ukrainian forces.

Unfortunately, although they've used these in about 12 instances to shoot down aircraft in the region, unfortunately they were not well enough trained. And as a consequence, they managed to shoot down a jetliner here, took credit for it temporarily and then tried to retract it off of the social website. But this is a great tragedy and it's putting enormous pressure on Russia because public opinion in Europe, in central Asia, in east Asia, worldwide, is now galvanizing to get the Russians to back off.

BLITZER: Why won't the Russians -- why won't Putin acknowledge, you know what, we made a major, major mistake? What would be wrong if he were to do that?

ROYCE: They're doubling down and they're trying to cleanse the crime scene. And that is why you can't -- you weren't able to get access. You know, for two days they held up the bodies on the train, refrigerator train. What they're doing, apparently, is picking up pieces of medal and trying to remove any evidence on the SA-11. But that evidence is now pretty well established anyway. And it's very unfortunate that they're digging a deeper hole.

I guess my hope is that with this coming up in the Security Council this afternoon, there will be some type of major consensus that Russia will not block, that will allow the international community to move in unison. Because what is happening on the ground is only further exacerbating the anger over the treatment of these bodies. And this -- this right now I think has put a situation in play where Putin would be wiser to cease moving heavy equipment and tanks into eastern Ukraine, and allow this situation to be resolved.

BLITZER: Yeah, that situation is awful right now and the fighting intensifying.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us. Always good to get your perspective.

Ed Royce is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Coming up, we've got much more news. Two major stories we're following. What's going on in Ukraine with the airliner?

Also, here in the Middle East, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu answering his critics who say he's overreacting in response to the attacks by Hamas. You'll hear what the prime minister of Israel has to say. Plus, how the U.S. is now handling the situation in Israel and Russia.

Many say the president is not doing enough. Our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, is here. He'll weigh in.


BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Jerusalem.

The Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is speaking out. He's defending Israel's military operations in Gaza. And he's blaming Hamas for the escalation and all the violence.

I spoke with him yesterday at the Israeli defense ministry in Tel Aviv.


BLITZER: You see these painful pictures, though, of these Palestinian children and these refugees, thousands of them fleeing their homes. It's a horrendous sight going on if you look at the images. Heartwrenching. What goes through your mind when you see that?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I'm very sad. When I see that, I'm very sad. We're sad for every civilian casualty. They're not intended.

This is the difference between us. The Hamas deliberately targets civilians and deliberately hides behind civilians. They embed their rocketeers, their rocket caches, their other weaponry from which they use to fire on us in civilian areas. What choice do we have? We have to protect ourselves. We try to target the rocketeers. We do. And all civilian casualties are actually unintended by us, but actually intended by Hamas. They want to plant as many civilian dead as they can. Somebody said -- it's gruesome. They use telegenticly (ph) dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead, the better.

BLITZER: The arguments the critics make is that you're overreacting now, overkill.

NETANYAHU: Well, look, I want to say this. There are very few examples in history of countries that have been rocketed on this scale. If you look at our response, it's actually very measured, trying to be as pinpointed as we can. I think when people say that -- I appreciate the support we've received from President Obama and many world leaders for Israel's right to self-defense. Others are saying, yeah, you have the right of self-determination as long as you don't exercise it. What can a country do? What would you do? What would the people of the United States do if your cities were rocketed now, 2,000 rockets falling in American cities? People would say, in the United States, as obliterate the people. You don't obliterate them. We don't have any battle with the Palestinians in Gaza.

BLITZER: But it is brutal there now.

NETANYAHU: It's very difficult. Because Hamas is using them, the Palestinians, as human shields. We developed anti-missile systems to protect -- we use anti-missile systems to protect our civilians. They use their civilians to protect their missiles. That's the difference. Again, such a cynical brutal heartless enemy. We try to minimize civilian casualties. We try to target the military targets. Unfortunately, there are civilian casualty, which we regret and we don't seek. They all fall on the responsibility of Hamas.

BLITZER: The president, President Obama, he urged you the other day, all of the parties to return to the cease-fire that was reached in November 2012. Are you accepting his proposal, go back to that cease- fire?

NETANYAHU: I already did. I already did.

BLITZER: If Hamas were to say to you right now, we accept the cease- fire, would Israel withdraw its forces from Gaza?

NETANYAHU: That was the Egyptian proposal, which we accepted and they refused.

BLITZER: If they accepted now? Is it too late?

NETANYAHU: I don't want to speak of it being too late. I think the first thing is a cessation of hostilities but then we have --


BLITZER: But could Israel withdraw its forces --


NETANYAHU: First, we have to deal with this tunnel business.


BLITZER: More of my interview with the prime minister later today in "THE SITUATION ROOM," 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Just ahead, many think President Obama should be doing more about the situations in Ukraine and the Middle East. But can he? We're going to ask an expert.

And there is technology to protect commercial airliners from surface- to-air missiles. So why aren't those commercial airliners using that technology? The answer, that's next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The jury has just reached a verdict in the trial of the friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, has been following the story for us.

What happened, Susan? SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's really important, because this is the first trial that involves the Boston bombing investigation. We have two guilty counts of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the accusations involved by the state, by the government, against a friend of Dzhokhar, the accused bomb, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Now, this young man is a student, a native of Kazakhstan. He was a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. The government accused him of, after the bombing, after exchanging text messages with accused bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, going to Dzhokhar's dorm room and removing a backpack and a laptop. The government later found the backpack in a landfill and found the laptop, which had been preserved by one of the friends there. He was found not guilty, however, of removing the laptop from the dorm room. So it appears to be in some ways a split verdict.

Regardless, he will be -- he will be sentenced in October. And of course, this might provide an avenue of appeal for him. But very important in that this is, again, the first verdict involved in that massive investigation into the Boston Marathon bombing. He was never accused of being involved in the planning of the bombing, only in what happened afterwards -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Do we have any idea if -- how many years in prison he might have to serve, what kind of a sentence he might get?

CANDIOTTI: Quite a long time. Up to 25 years in prison. He's been in jail the entire time, being held not only without bail on this charge, but also on immigration charges as well. So, for now, he remains in jail, awaiting sentencing.

BLITZER: Susan Candiotti with that story, thank you very much.

Other news we're following, as you know, the world looks to the United States to be a leader in foreign policy. Many of the president's critics, though, President Obama's critics, say his policies are reactive rather than proactive.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, of "The National Journal."

Ron, the president spoke earlier today. He was on the South Lawn of the White House. He touched upon the situation in the Middle East. He touched upon the situation in Ukraine as well. Let me play a little clip of what the president said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Russia continues to violate Ukraine's sovereignty and back these separatists and these separatists become more and more dangerous, and now are risks not simply to the people inside of Ukraine but the broader international community, then Russia will only further isolate itself from the international community and the costs for Russia's behavior will only continue to increase.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: So, how does that strike you, the tone, the passion, the content, of what he's saying?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's interesting. It's a very characteristic statement because if you look at the president's remarks on foreign policy, increasingly, over the past year the west point speech, a lot of reliance on the international norms and participation in the international system as a way of governing behavior and moderating the behavior of states. I think the challenging phases is a hardening conclusion in the foreign policy elite of both parties that events are controlling him, rather than the other way around, that he's being too passive, too reactive, too much restraint. The public is also unhappy with the results we're seeing in the world.

But the big difference, of course, Wolf, is the public polling is also very reluctant to see our involvement escalate in these confrontations. That's the ironic legacy of the Afghanistan and Iraq and very expansive foreign policy vision of George W. Bush.

BLITZER: I remember a few years ago, I was on that trip. Ryan Lizza, of our "New Yorker" magazine, one of our CNN contributors, he wrote a piece in the "New Yorker" magazine, "Leading from Behind." That this has been the president and the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's strategy, if you will. That really has stuck. And it's hurt the president, hasn't it?

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Look, I think, in many ways, the Obama foreign policy is a reaction to the perceived failures to the Bush foreign policy. For eight years, Bush was seen, and in some ways, exaggerated ways, but in many ways, real, and being a focus of unilateral and military action to kind of drive America's goals in the world. The president came in and said he's going to rely more on multilateral, more on diplomacy, more on kind of incentives, again, through involvement in the international system. I think the real fascinating situation we find ourselves in is clearly, by the end of the Bush presidency, most Americans concluded that hard-line work.

Now as we head towards the final years of the Obama presidency, you see an increasing sense that this more restrained approach isn't working either. It really begs the question of what comes next. I think the 2016 candidates will be running in an environment where the foreign policy of each of the two previous presidents will have seen to have produced inadequate results.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, our political analyst. Ron, thanks very, very much.

Coming up, the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 could have happened to any aircraft. What can be done to protect flyers, people who are traveling at 30,000 or 35,000 feet? We're going to take a closer look at the options just ahead.


BLITZER: On "This Day in History," July 21, 1969, Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin leave the moon surface after making history as the first humans to land on the moon. Together they collected dozens of pounds of lunar material and brought it back to earth, on "This Day in History."

Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was most likely shot down by a BUK missile launcher. This raises the question, can commercial airlines be protected from missile attacks.

Brian Todd is joining us from Washington right now.

Brian, we know Air Force One is protected by electronic jammers from most of these kinds of missiles. Can the same be done for commercial flights with a lot of passengers on board?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is possible this could be done. There is a variation of it used on El-Al, the Israeli airline. Many experts we've spoken to say the type of countermeasure needed to fend off that kind of missile that downed the Malaysia Airlines plane last week would be difficult to put on commercial planes. El-Al. Wolf, as you recall, had an attack on a commercial plane after it took off from Kenya in 2002. That was a shoulder-fired missile and it barely missed that plane. Now El-Al has laser-based counter measures. After a threat is detected, a laser fired from a turret moves toward the missile and deflects it away. Those are measures to counter simpler shoulder-fired missiles. To fend off the sophisticated radar- guided missiles, like the one apparently fired at the Malaysia Airlines jet, one possible countermeasure -- we have some animation to show here -- according to experts in varies reports, says this could be fired from the commercial plane in a canister.

That canister would burst open and send out what's called chaff, like confetti, strips of aluminum that are radar reflective, and that shower of metal --you see it there -- that could confuse the radar or the missile and send it in another direction. But Wolf, former fighter pilots tell us it would only confuse the missile for a few seconds and then the pilot would have to pull abrupt maneuvers to get away. Those could endanger passengers. So not really practical in a commercial airline.

BLITZER: I'm told by some Israeli experts here, over the past few days, they are coming up with some new technology right now. They think they're going to get it ready in the next year or two, and it might be available for commercial airlines. We'll see if they can.

Brian, you're working this story and you'll have more in "The Situation Room" later today.

It's a conflict he tried to resolve while in office, but like so many others, he came up short. The former president, Bill Clinton, weighs in on whether he thinks peace will ever come to this part of the world.


BLITZER: He's one of the many world leaders who have tried in vain to bring peace to the Middle East. CNN's Anna Coren spoke exclusively with former President Bill Clinton this weekend and asked how he thinks the current escalation in violence can be stopped.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza. And you said that Israel is isolating itself from world opinion by failing to clinch a peace deal with the Palestinians. This is a conflict that you weren't able to resolve when you were in office. What makes you think that it's possible now?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think it's possible partly because, at some point, you get tired of doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same results. It's crazy. But I think that -- and I hope that this will lead to everybody doing a little soul searching and trying to get back to the baseline issue of a peace agreement now. With Hamas involved, it raises a different issue, which is that there is no way the Israelis are going to give up the West Bank and agree to a state unless Hamas agrees to give up violence, and recognizes its right to exist. They won't do it. And that's sort of a nonstarter. And I think it should be. That is, I think you can't just have a one-way peace. You've got to have both sides that have got to give up what the other side mostly objects to.

COREN: Do you see that happening any time soon?

CLINTON: I don't see it, but I feel that it could happen. I know that Prime Minister Netanyahu could make a peace that a majority of the Israelis would support. They have said over and over again, if he says that this is good for their security, they would support it.


BLITZER: For more of Anna's interview with former President Bill Clinton, go to We'll also have more later in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern, a special two-hour edition of "The Situation Room."

For our international viewers, "AMANPOUR" is next.

For our viewers in the United States and North America, NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.