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Growing Friction Between Israel/U.S.; Major Escalation in Ukraine Fighting; Casualties Mount in Israel/Gaza Conflict; White House Juggling 6 Major Crises

Aired July 29, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting live from Jerusalem.

There is friction growing between the Netanyahu government here in Israel and the Obama administration. Israeli officials, some of them at least, have been openly criticizing the peace efforts led by Secretary of State John Kerry. They aren't necessarily criticizing Kerry's failure to get a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, but rather that he was supposedly pushing a deal that these Israeli officials insist favored Hamas. For example, the columnist, Ari Shivit, wrote in the newspaper "el Haaretz," "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ruined everything. Very senior officials in Jerusalem described the proposal that Kerry put on the table as a strategic terrorist attack." Strong words. The State Department fired back, saying this isn't how friends treat friends.

A little while ago, the secretary of state defended himself in the deal he was proposing.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm not going to worry about personal attacks. I think that President Obama has it right, the international community has it right, when we say that it is more appropriate to try to resolve the underlying issues at a negotiating table than to continue a tit-for-tat of violence that will invite more violence and perhaps a greater downward spiral, which would be much more difficult to recover from.


BLITZER: Aaron David Miller is joining us from Washington. He's with the Woodrow Wilson International Center. He served six secretaries of state on Arab/Israeli issues.

So, Aaron, were you surprised to hear criticism from Israeli officials over the past few days, so much of the criticism reflected in the Israeli media?

AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: No. I mean, having watched this movie for over 20 years, Wolf, I know that in emotional times, you get a lot of ad hominem and a lot of criticism. It was really bad with Shamir and Baker and before that with Carter and Began. So, no, I'm not surprised. I don't like it. As an American, I frankly am somewhat offended by the criticism against Kerry.

But let me make a couple points. As you know -- you've been around this issue as long as I have -- it's impossible to get anything done, the smallest thing, without an extraordinary amount of effort and usually without making both sides unhappy for a time. Number two, the reality is that I admire John Kerry. I respect him. But Woody Allen was right, 80 percent of life is not just showing up. It's showing up at the right time. And the reality is, Kerry's mediation, there's no way it was going to work, because neither Israel, nor Hamas, feels sufficient urgency right now to stand down or deescalate. And I don't care how balanced or brilliant a mediator is, without the raw material to actually craft a cease-fire, you're not going to get one. So Kerry never had -- frankly never had a chance.

Where I think he may have driven off the highway is the notion somehow that he conveyed that Israeli and Hamas requirements are essentially symmetrical, that Israel and Hamas are the major combatants. So that if, in fact, you want to end the conflict, you've got to find a way to meet in a reasonable way the needs and requirements of both sides. Now, the reality is that may be true in a negotiation. It's not true in the way the Israelis perceive the world. And, frankly, giving the different relationships we have with Hamas, an organization by statute that is considered to be a terrorist organization, on one hand, and relations with a close ally, however problematic and imperfect the Israelis may be at times, I think there was great sensitivity, particularly among members of the Israeli cabinet that don't support Netanyahu's effort to find a way out of this, but who want a lot more in Gaza. So I think Kerry opened himself up in a way that wasn't intentional to a lot of criticism. But the reality is he's no more responsible for the perpetuation of this conflict. The parties who are responsible, frankly, for its perpetuation, are the ones who are waging it.

BLITZER: That would be the Israelis and the Palestinians. They've been waging it for a long time.

I don't know if you read David Ignatious' column in "The Washington Post" today, but he was pretty critical of the secretary of state as well. Suggesting it was a blunder, what he was trying to do. He said it wasn't a mistake involving any bias against Israel, but rather, in his words -- and I'm quoting now -- "a bias in favor of an executable short-term deal, which Kerry was wrong to focus on, specifically the short term." What do you think of that criticism?

MILLER: I mean, I think it's right, the notion. And it seems logical on paper that you get a stand-down for 12 hours, for 24, and you string enough of these short, expedient cease-fires together and somehow you can create the basis for a long-term stand-down. It's just not logical. You're in the middle of a kinetic conflict. From the perspective of each side, they both want to continue to drive it until they believe that their needs are met. So the notion that you're going to coordinate cease-fires on a 12 to 24-hour basis, even with the alarming humanitarian situation that exists, primarily on the Palestinian side, and expect to extricate yourself from this conflict, it won't end this way.

The reality, Wolf, we're somewhere -- this is going to end, I would argue, in the following manner: Quiet for quiet is no longer possible. The Israelis have too much invested in this right now. They've said too much about what they need in order to see it end. Hamas needs an explanation to justify the death and destruction that they have courted on the Palestinian population of Gaza. That's one extreme. That's not going to happen. The other extreme is transformation. That somehow Hamas is going to be fundamentally demilitarized and these Israelis are going to open up. Not going to happen either.

Somewhat in between, greater economic openness, movement for Gaza, some demilitarization, closing the tunnels, getting the Egyptians to staunch weapons flow, I suspect that's where this is going to end up.

BLITZER: Aaron Miller, thanks very much for joining us.

Aaron David Miller, of the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C.

We'll continue our breaking news coverage of the situation in the Middle East. That's coming up.

Also, the fighting rages on in Ukraine. So the E.U. and the U.S., they are now taking new steps. We have details. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: Now to the situation in Ukraine. Once again, fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian military forces prevented international investigators from reaching the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight 17.

Just a little while ago, Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Russia for its actions.


KERRY: While the Russians have said that they want to deescalate the conflict, their actions have not shown a shred of evidence that they have a really have a legitimate desire to end the violence and to end the bloodshed.


BLITZER: But now there may be a major escalation in the fighting. CNN has confirmed Ukraine's military has fired ballistic missiles at separatists.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us now with more on this late-breaking development.

What can you tell us, Barbara? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the U.S. government

had not planned to reveal this information, but CNN confirmed with three U.S. officials that, in fact, U.S. spy satellites other the last 48 hours picked up the heat signature of Ukrainian forces firing short-range ballistic missiles into rebel-held territory, those pro- Russian separatists along the southeastern border of Ukraine with Russia. These are short-range ballistic missiles, ground-to-ground weapons. They go about 50 miles but they have a 1,000-pound warhead. That makes them the deadliest, heaviest weapons fired on the ground in this conflict to date.

Why might Ukraine be doing this? Ukraine has had a number of its aircraft shot down, surface-to-air missiles, the same thing that brought down MH-17. In order to stay out the kill zone of those surface to air missiles, Ukraine now turning to very heavy weapons on the ground.

No official response from Moscow yet. The Ukrainian foreign minister says it didn't happen. But I have to tell you, several U.S. officials telling us they have the intelligence information to back it up. But it is so politically sensitive because, of course, the U.S. supports the Ukrainian government, that they may decide not to release any further information about it all. That's what we're being told -- Wolf?

BLITZER: So, Barbara, there's a sense that this could supposedly level the playing field, is that right?

STARR: Well, I think that's maybe what the Ukrainian forces are hoping. Actually, what's been happening over the last several days is Ukraine has been pushing back against the pro-Russian separatist's territory, and that's one of the reasons the fighting has escalated. By all accounts, Ukrainian forces are having some success. They're pushing those rebels back towards the Russian border. Russia, not reacting well to that, shipping more heavy weapons across the border to the separatist-held areas. We're likely to see, I would think, some significant additional escalation before it's all over. Apparently, the Russians are getting nervous about the gains that the Ukrainians are making. And that's why they're shipping weapons into the area.

The Ukrainians making gains. That's why they're stepping it up -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much.

Barbara Starr, breaking news, here on CNN. She often does.

Thanks very much.

The White House says the United States could unveil new economic sanctions on Russia as soon as today.

Meanwhile, the European Union has already agreed it will level penalties on eight people, the so-called Putin cronies. Their identities will be released tomorrow. It will also sanction the country's energy arms and financial sectors. Calls for sanctions have gained momentum since Malaysian Airlines flight 17 was shot down.

And the cold relationship between Moscow and the U.S. is getting worse. The U.S. now says Russia has violated a 1987 nuclear treaty by launching cruise missile tests. The allowed infractions date back -- the alleged infractions, I should say, date back to 2008. President Obama has written to his Russian counterpart, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, about the matter. Tense relations emerging between the U.S. and Russia.

For the last three weeks, the violence and the destruction in Gaza, southern Israel, that violence has been relentless. CNN's Ian Lee has been right in the middle of all of it. He's now back here in Jerusalem, with me. We'll discuss what he saw when we come back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Jerusalem.

It's been three weeks since this latest conflict erupted and the human toll continues to mount. Palestinian health officials say more than 1100 people have been killed in Gaza, thousands more have been injured. On the Israeli side, 53 really soldiers have been killed. Three civilians are dead as well.

My colleague, Ian Lee, is in Jerusalem with us.

You just came back from Gaza. You were there almost three weeks, in Gaza. Now you're here, getting ready to go back to Cairo. Give us a little sense how awful the situation is in Gaza.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's -- really, no one has a chance to relax or have a moment to themselves. There's a constant -- you hear the explosions from bombs, from artillery that's constantly present. There's also drones. When you talk to people, that's the thing, no one has a sense of ease there. And even when you go into the U.N. schools where there's shelters, even there, you feel people tense. And I think that's the one thing about this area, is it's very tense, especially when they hear news about what happened back home, where their houses are. They don't know if their houses are still standing. A lot of people are worried about that as well.

BLITZER: Is there constant noise? I'm sure you're trying to sleep in Gaza City. Could you? My sense is that there's always some activity going on that's going to startle people.

LEE: There's always the buzzing of drones. That's one thing you notice once you go there.

BLITZER: The drones, that noise, you can get used to it after a while.

LEE: You get used to it. But also you've have the explosions, especially at night. We would notice that a lot of fighting would pick up at night. And really when you're trying to sleep, getting those few hours, you would hear these loud explosions. They would shake your rooms. And for a lot of people, that would be one of the things is that would be hard to kind of relax, like I said, because those bombings at night is when we really hear that intense fire.

BLITZER: Here in Israel, I mean, it was just a little while ago, there was some rocket that came in from Gaza on the outskirts of Jerusalem. You heard the sirens go off. That Iron Dome went off and intercepted that rocket. I don't know if there was any damage. We don't have a full report yet. But in Gaza, there are no sirens. There's no advance warning other than when the Israelis themselves knock on the roof or whatever or send you a text message, "Get out of that building."

LEE: That's right. We would witness a lot of these knocks on the roofs and these are -- what we're told are little explosions that kind of give a jolt to the building to say that an air strike is inbound. Sometimes they do kill people, as we witnessed three children were killed by a knock on the roof. These are not harmless. Yes, you're right, there isn't a warning for people. They would get a message that said their house is under threat. They would try to leave. They were told to go to central Gaza. But even at central Gaza, you still get air strikes. So really, there isn't a sense of security or a sense of warning that they could take cover or take heed.

BLITZER: When you spoke to average Palestinians living in Gaza, did some of them actually blame Hamas for what was going on by putting their rockets and missiles in heavily populated areas or schools, U.N. shelters or whatever? Did any of them blame Hamas or simply it was the Israelis who were responsible for their misery.

LEE: This is a guerilla warfare. And in guerilla warfare, the army is part of the population. They get a lot of their support from the population. When we talk to people, there's a lot of support for Hamas. This support comes from -- they don't want to return to the status quo. And what they say is they want a lifting of the siege of Gaza. They want goods and services that flow freely. So right now, they say that they are in it right now, they're going to support Hamas, and they really are in it for the long haul.

BLITZER: So you think they -- most of them support Hamas? They don't necessarily support the Palestinian Authority, the more moderate leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas?

LEE: I think that people want a change of their living situation. Whoever can bring that about is the person that they are going to support. And a lot of people right now see Hamas as the way forward to change that. But if the Palestinian Authority is able to improve their condition as well and bring concrete change, then you could possibly see that shift to them as well.

BLITZER: You and I spent some time in Cairo, this new government in Egypt. They don't like Hamas at all, as opposed to Mohamed Morsey, the Muslim Brotherhood president. So there's a whole shift going on right now.

LEE: Yeah. That's right. That's an interesting part, because the government in Cairo calls Hamas a terrorist organization. Far different from Mohamed Morsey, who -- Hamas was part of the Muslim Brotherhood. Interesting thing in this conflict to see is how Hamas, for the future, if this is a stalemate in future conflicts, how will they rearm themselves, especially since right now we're seeing those tunnels that they use destroyed by the Egyptian military and a far larger Egyptian military presence on the border. It's going to be interesting to see how they are able to rebound after this conflict.

BLITZER: It's a dangerous assignment for you. Glad you're out safe and sound.

Ian Lee, thanks very much for all the good work.

Ian Lee, reporting for us, giving us a sense of what's going on.

And the situation here in the Mideast isn't the only crisis the White House is dealing with right now. There are tons of hot spots around the world. We're going zone by zone when we come back.


BLITZER: The Obama White House is juggling at least six major crises around the world, probably more.

Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you look at the map it's easy to see the government is dealing with a tremendous number of hot spots in the world.

Let's start with Israel and Gaza. More than 1,000 people have died, mostly civilians, mostly Palestinians. And that fight continues to rage on.

In Syria, next door, more than 150,000 have died in three years of civil war. Chemical weapons have been used by the government. And President Bashar al Assad, despite the calls for him to step down, still in firmly in power, just now into his third term.

Over here in Iraq, the story is the terrorist group ISIS. 5,500 have died as it's tried to carve out an Islamic state from Iraq and Syria. 1.2 million driven from their homes.

Over in Libya, the worst fighting since 2011. The U.S. embassy has been evacuated. Militias are battling the government. 97 people dead just in two weeks.

And, of course, up here in Ukraine, where the jetliner was shot down in the eastern part of the country, the fighting rages on. 1100 or more dead. 100,000 driven from their homes.

And, of course, on top of this, yes, Iran remains a constant worry.

And North Korea just recently threatened to nuke the White House over its disagreements. So if you want to say the world is a challenge, the world is a mess

right now, it absolutely is.


BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks.

That's it for me. The news continues next on CNN.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf Blitzer, thank you so much.