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U.S. Airlines Halt Flights To Israel; Netanyahu Hamas Is Like ISIS and Al Qaeda; Albright's Criticism; Black Boxes Handed Over; Bodies to Be Flown to Netherlands

Aired July 22, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, the FAA bans U.S. planes from flying into or out of Israel after a rocket attack near the country's main airport. Israel says this move is an overreaction and, quote, "gives a prize to terror."

Also right now, stop fighting, start talking. That's the message from the U.N. secretary-general to the Israelis and the Palestinians. The U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, is expected to fly here to Jerusalem at some point soon.

Also right now, a Belgium plane is on the way to Ukraine to pick up the flight data recorders from Malaysia Air Flight 17. The question now what, if anything, can those black boxes tell us?

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Jerusalem. I'd like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

An update now on the breaking news we're following. The crisis in the Middle East now affecting international air travel. First, several U.S. carriers started suspending flights into and out of Israel. And now, the FAA back in Washington is prohibiting those flights by all U.S. airline because of the fighting between Israel and Hamas. The move comes after a rocket landed on a house close to Ben Gurion International Airport, that's just outside Tel Aviv.

CNN's Aviation and Government Regulation Correspondent Rene Marsh is joining us from Washington. Rene, first of all, which airlines, roughly how many flights are affected? Why did the FAA decide to take this extraordinary step?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can tell you, as far as the airlines go, what CNN has been able to confirm so far, we know Delta, U.S. Airways, United, they say that they have suspended their operations to and from Tel Aviv. Air Canada has also told CNN that they are simply evaluating the situation. So, we're waiting to hear if they will follow the lead of these U.S. carriers.

Going back to the FAA statement, we do know, now, that they are prohibiting all U.S. airlines. They have come out and said this within a notice, that they will not be allowed to fly to and from the airport there in Tel Aviv for a period of up to 24 hours. And after that 24 hours passed, they will re-evaluate the situation and issue another notice. All of this, as you mention at the top there, it's a result of that rocket strike. They say it landed approximately a mile from the airport. So, of course, that raises security concerns.

Before this announcement from the FAA, we saw that the airlines, they were taking action on their own, choosing to cancel their flights. But now, we have word from the FAA, no U.S. carriers should be flying to or from that airport in Tel Aviv -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It looks like there's a ripple effect going on, Rene, because we're just getting word from our Richard Quest that Lufthansa has now suspended all traffic, all flights in and out of Israel for 36 hours as they re-evaluate the situation. El Al, the Israeli carrier, will still fly nonstop between Israel and the United States, and between Israel and places in Europe and elsewhere.

But this is a significant development. I take it, this is just my gut, in part, the FAA, Delta, United, U.S. Airways, they're also airing on the side of caution after that Malaysia Flight 17 was knocked down -- shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Right now, it's a very sensitive situation. What are you hearing about that?

MARSH: Absolutely, because, you know, just moments after that flight was shot down and we realized that that was what the situation was, the question then became why was this plane in that airspace? And the answer has been that that airspace was not restricted. And so, the question became, why not?

So, now, I think what we're seeing here is people -- agencies, whether it's the FAA, or whether it's their international counterparts, as well as the airliners, they're not taking any chances. Again, a big lesson learned here following Flight 17 in which originally it was believed that that flight would have been safe if it was flying above 32,000 feet. It was flying at 33,000 feet. And that situation proved everyone wrong, that it was not a safe situation. So, I think what we're seeing now is reevaluation process, so to speak. People just not wanting to have another situation like this unfold, just taking every precaution possible -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, as I said, erring on the side of caution. Rene, stand by. I want to go to Ben Gurion airport right now. Atika Shubert has made her way there. Atika, we're been reporting about a mile, less than a mile, about a mile or so, a rocket from Gaza, from Hamas landed near Ben Gurion airport. There have been others that have landed not far away from Ben Gurion airport. Last week, Hamas actually issued a statement telling international carriers don't fly to Israel anymore because your planes could be in danger. What are you seeing there, Atika, and what's been the reaction you're getting from Israelis?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm actually in the town of Yahoud (ph) and this is where the rocket landed, very close by here, almost completely destroying a house there. So, it is a concern.

Having said that, we've been seeing planes landing and departing now every few minutes. So, in many way, the Ben Gurion airport is operating as normal. But, obviously, this could have a very significant effect, if now the U.S. Airlines are not flying here and Lufthansa has redirected it, could have a knock-on effect with many airlines and that would be a terrible blow to the economy, especially here in Israel.

Now, Israel's transportation minister has already come out criticizing the U.S. airlines, telling them that they shouldn't be redirecting their flights, and specifically saying that by doing this, they were, quote, "giving a prize to terrorists." This is from Israel's transportation minister, Yisrael Katz. So, clearly, Israel very upset with this. But what can it do if all of these airlines are going to be start taking this decision and erring on the side of caution. We'll have to see how many more follow in the footsteps of Delta, U.S. Airways and United Airlines.

BLITZER: And, now, apparently Lufthansa as well, according to our own Richard Quest. We'll see if Air Canada and other international carriers do. You're absolutely right, this could be a significant blow to Israel's economy if tourism completely -- almost completely dries up.

Atika, stand by. I want to get some analysis now of what's going on. Joining us here in Jerusalem is Daniel Ayalon, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States. Also, joining us on the phone is Michael Goldfarb, the former FAA chief of staff.

Mr. Ambassador, first to you, you spent several years in Washington. You know the FAA doesn't make these kinds of decisions easily. Are they doing the right thing, erring on the side of caution?

DANIEL AYALON, FORMER ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, the short answer is, no. Not being disrespectful to the FAA, but I think this is a wrong reading of the situation. First of all, under merits (ph), El Al Airlines, which is known for its very pedantic, the highest standards of security, is flying in and out. Other air flights -- I think Air Canada is still flying.

So, from the perspective of danger, there is no danger whatsoever. We have been receiving all these rockets for almost 30 days now. It's not the situation of the Malaysian airport which was hit directly by a specific missile that was supplied by the Russians to the Russian separatists. They cannot hurt our -- cannot hurt our airlines. So, this is the first thing. And safety, of course, is above everything. And safety has not been compromised whatsoever.

BLITZER: Let me ask Michael Goldfarb about that. Michael, you worked at the FAA for a long time. Clearly, a decision like this is not an easy decision by the FAA. Give us your take.

MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, FAA: Well, I respectfully disagree with the ambassador. I think it's actually a good decision for Israel in the longer term because it puts the government, who has the technical information, who understands the risk, as opposed to each individual airline, in the position of making these determinations. What would happen if the FAA didn't step in? When would Delta resume flights into Tel Aviv? When would American resume flights? On the basis of what information? So, the government needs to take these steps. Whether it's safe or not, it's the perception of risk and the perception is very high. It is clearly colored by MH-17. But, nonetheless, it's a time-out, a time to put a more orderly place -- orderly process in place, Wolf, to see how one can resume, safely, flights into the airfield.

BLITZER: And, Michael, I assume that it's not just -- it's not just the rocket that landed within a mile or so of Ben Gurion airport, did destroy pretty much that house that we've been showing our viewers, that picture, and it's probably not just the threat that was issued by Hamas last week, warning international carriers, don't fly in and out of Israel. I assume the FAA would only do this if they had some other information that would reinforce that fear, that notion, don't fly to Israel. And I ask that question, if -- based on your experience at the FAA.

I do believe there's other information that they have. I think the backdrop has to be what happened in the Ukraine. I mean, it basically blew apart the whole theory of when hand-held missiles or ground missiles could reach civil airlines, civil aviation, at 32,000 or 33,000 feet.

And now the question really is, and it will be a debate, whether other governments will follow suit and handle airspace and airspace restriction, as opposed to leaving it up to each individual airline. A pilot is not in a position to make decisions of safety and security threats. The airline operations don't get that kind of information. So, I think it is somewhat of a game changer long-term. But it gives a pause, allows a more orderly way to resume flights safely.

BLITZER: And Ambassador Ayalon, it's not a coincidence, as you probably know, you spent, what, four or five years as the Israeli ambassador in Washington. This follows the State Department travel advisory --

AYALON: Right.

BLITZER: -- that was issued last night, warning all Americans to stay away from Israel, except for if -- to stay away for everything, except for essential business in Israel. Nonessential travel to Israel, they say, should not take place also to the west bank. Certainly they're advising against any travel whatsoever to Gaza. So, the State Department issues a travel advisory like this, saying don't go to Israel if you don't have to right now. Now, the FAA canceling all U.S. airline flights here. Do you remember a time when this was something like this was happening?

AYALON: Never with the FAA. And, again, with all due respect to Mr. Goldfarb, I think reading the situation and trying to even remotely compare the situation here in Gaza and the Ukraine and the Malaysian is totally wrong. Statistically, to hit Ben Gurion airport is the same statistics to hit, now, Cairo airport or Amman in Jordan or many in between. The FAA is not stopping all flights to the Middle East. So, on the -- again, on the merit of security, security is not compromised, safety is not compromised, number one.

But, secondly, from the broader perspective, this can wreak havoc on all civil aviation worldwide because if the lesson from Hamas that any rogue organization can threat countries and airlines and they will stop and heed to this, then I don't think there is much hope for the international economy. So, I think this is wrong and I hope they will reconsider soon.


AYALON: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Well, a lot -- a lot will depend if there's a cease-fire and things get back --

AYALON: Even -- yes.

BLITZER: -- get to normal, maybe they will.

AYALON: But, Wolf, even without a cease-fire, we have been sustaining this for 30 days. Nothing is going to happen in the airport. And I think if they look and they do their analysis, they will find out that this was a decision to be reversed.

BLITZER: All right, Mr. Ambassador, I want you to stay with us. I have some other questions on the efforts behind the cease-fire. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Daniel Ayalon will still be with us. Michael Goldfarb, to you, thanks very much for joining us. We'll stay on top of the breaking news.

There's other news we're following, including here on the ground. Diplomats are intensifying the push to end the bloodshed, but there does not -- at least for now, does not appear to be any progress in sight. Here are the latest developments we're following right now.

A fresh round of explosions rocked Gaza today. Black smoke filled the air as Israeli forces pounded more targets. Meanwhile, Hamas fired more rockets into Israel. Secretary of state, John Kerry, is expected to come to Jerusalem, at some point. He's trying to help broker a cease-fire. He's still in Cairo. Earlier, the secretary said talks have been constructive thus far.

And U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, had a blunt message for both sides in the conflict, stop fighting and start talking. Ban held a joint appearance with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. The Israeli leader says the goal of Hamas is not peace but Israel's destruction.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER, ISRAEL: Hamas is like ISIS. Hamas is like Al Qaeda. Hamas is like Hezbollah. Hamas is like Boko Haram. And there's so many other of these Islamist groups that define majority, that reject pluralism, that reject respect of human rights, that use their own people as human shields, that attack indiscriminately civilians. This is part of a larger pattern. What grievance can we solve for Hamas? Their grievance is that we exist. They don't even want a two-state solution. They don't want any state solutions.


BLITZER: The Israeli military, meanwhile, added to the uncertainty today over the fate of one of its soldiers and to Hamas' claim that it actually captured an Israeli soldier. Israeli officials initially denied the claim by Hamas but later said they were looking into it. Today, the Israel defense forces say they still have not identified the remains of a soldier killed in an attack on Sunday. Israeli media reported that the soldier is missing and presumed dead.

Still to come, the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, shares her thoughts about the situation in the Middle East. And you may be surprised about what she's saying about Israel's reaction. But first, the latest on the investigation into Flight MH-17. The plane's black boxes have been handed over to investigators so what happens now?


BLITZER: Just a short while ago, President Obama visited the Dutch embassy in Washington. He signed a book of condolences for the victims who perished on Flight MH17. That flight, of course, originated in Amsterdam. The president also pledged to work with the Dutch to find justice for the victims.

Now to latest developments on the downing of the plane. The 282 bodies that have been recovered so far have been taken in refrigerated train cars to Kharkiv. They were handed over to Dutch authorities, who are expected to fly them home sometime tomorrow and begin the very grim task of identification.

Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine have controlled the crash site, have also handed over the plane's two black boxes to Dutch authorities. They will be taken to London where accident investigators will go through them, including a U.S. investigator from the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board.

Meanwhile, evidence continues to grow that the plane was taken out by a surface to air missile. The U.S. says it has tracked the missile's trajectory and its point of detonation with the plane. And new video also appears to show wreckage from MH17 peppered with shrapnel holes.

And speaking earlier today, Australia's prime minister says he had enough of the way the crash site and the investigation was being handled.


TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: After the crime comes the cover-up. What we have seen is evidence tampering on an industrial scale and obviously that has to stop.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Let's bring in Nick Paton Walsh. He's joining us on the phone now from Kharkiv.

The bodies, Nick, of most of the victims have been moved, handed over to Dutch officials. So what's happening now and what happens next?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, I'm standing outside the factory where many of these bodies -- well, of all the bodies as far as we're aware, have been brought by train this morning. Now, the Dutch officials in there, together with U.N., OACE (ph) monitors, all the various international groups who have come here to assist the Ukrainians in this operation are moving - are beginning with the delicate task of taking the bodies from the refrigerated train and preparing them to be put into the coffins, which will then be flown from the airport here, we understand, back to the Netherlands.

Now, we believe that's not going to start happening until some point tomorrow. I spoke to a Malaysian security official here. He suggested it may happen a little earlier. And he also went on to say that actually he would -- traveled on the train with the bodies from the crash site through here to Kharkiv. And for the 282 of them that have been presented to -- by the separatists in what he referred to as a good condition. As they were actually mostly intact. He did also mention though that there were 87 body parts handed over as well.

Now, if that turns out to be the case, it provides potentially a quicker, easier job for many of the officials combing through, trying to work out who these people certainly are, and that may bring some solace to relatives looking to bury them soon, Wolf.

BLITZER: Two hundred and ninety-eight people were aboard that plane. What are officials there where you are telling you about the overall investigation?

WALSH: Well, the investigation here is just beginning to get underway. We are -- there are Malaysian investigators at the site, as you mentioned. There are a real concern for many of the government citizens were on that plane, that there is a bid to try and remove evidence, tamper with evidence. The OSCE monitors, who were originally here to try and monitor the conflict in the (INAUDIBLE) country, instead have been dragged into trying to assist with the aftermath of this air crash. They say that while initially there were the problems with access to that site, that eased (ph) in the days subsequently to that.

But the real issue for the crash now, of course, is the - we're seeing the black boxes being taken to the United Kingdom. A U.S. official from the NTSB has joined them there to look into the content of those black boxes. And - as the (INAUDIBLE) the weeks forward, it will become clear quite what level of evidence was on that plane in terms of damage done by the missile, if that was the case, as most western officials suggest now, and quite what conclusions can be drawn from that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Our Nick Paton Walsh on the scene, a very grim scene indeed. We'll get back to you. Thanks very much.

Coming up later, by the way, this hour, Richard Quest is going to join us. We're going to speak also with a senior official from Malaysia Airlines. We're going to get more on what that airline can tell us about the investigation. Richard and I will speak with that official. That's happening about 20 minutes or so from now.

Can the bloodshed here in the Middle East be stopped? The former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, is now weighing in with some surprising words. That's ahead.


BLITZER: Right now, Secretary of State John Kerry is still in Cairo. He's holding discussions with Egyptian leaders and others about a potential cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. One person who knows firsthand how hard that can be, Madeleine Albright. She's a veteran U.S. diplomat, the first woman ever to serve as the U.S. secretary of state. I spoke with her earlier today. I began by asking her what the U.S. can do to facilitate peace between Hamas and the Israelis.


MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I think that Secretary Kerry is doing everything that he can. He's in Cairo. The point here is there has to be some kind of a cease-fire. A cease-fire that Hamas has to accept. Because in the past, Prime Minister Netanyahu has accepted times of cease-fire and it's Hamas that has not accepted it.

I do think that the point has to be made, if rockets are being shot at Israel, that Israel does have a right to defend itself. But the bottom line is a question of proportionality and then trying to figure out what the solution is. And we know, frankly, you do, Wolf, we've talked about this over the years, there has to be a way that Palestinian is recognized, that there's a two-state solution, that the various points that have been put on the table over the years are met. We do care, most of us, about the security of Israel. But it cannot have that security if there's not a two-state solution. And I think Secretary Kerry has done an amazing job in pushing, but ultimately it has to be the political will of the parties to bring this to the table. But now there has to be a cease-fire.

BLITZER: Are you suggesting, Madam Secretary, that the Israelis are overreacting to the provocation, the missiles, the rockets coming in? Are they going too far when you use the word proportionality?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I do think that it is very hard to watch the number of Palestinians that are being killed, innocents. It is hard to dispute the fact that, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has said, that, in fact, there are innocents being put in the way in order to act as shields. But the bottom line is, I think that this is hurting Israel's moral authority. I do think that it looks as though they are overdoing, which is why I think there has to be more emphasis on the fact that they have accepted the cease-fire and then try to figure out who has any influence over Hamas in order to get them to accept a cease-fire. They say they will not accept until the rockets stop. And the bottom line is, they have to -- that's the only way to stop everything is to have a cease-fire.


BLITZER: So, is Secretary Albright right? Is Israel overdoing it? Are civilian casualties hurting Israel's moral authority? I'll ask the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, about the criticism. And we'll also hear later this hour from Nabil Sha'ath. He's a former Palestinian foreign minister. He's in Ramallah. We'll talk about the prospects for a cease-fire. Lot's going on. We're continuing to follow the breaking news.