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Israeli Group Troops Grind into Gaza; Deadly Conflict Threatens Humanitarian Crisis

Aired January 3, 2009 - 21:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN GUEST HOST: Tonight, Israeli ground troops grind into Gaza. As the bloody conflict with Hamas escalates, both sides remain defiant. And now, a deadly conflict threatens to be a humanitarian crisis. Are they past the point of no return? Right now, on LARRY KING LIVE.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. We are following breaking news out of Gaza. Only within the past few hours, Israeli ground forces began a massive operation inside Gaza.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, sitting in tonight for Larry King.

I want to go right to our Christiane Amanpour. She's in Jerusalem. She's monitoring the latest developments.

Christiane, what do we know? This operation began as nightfall, was only beginning out there in Gaza and in Israel.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It is still underway, we understand, by ground troops supported by naval forces. It did start in the early evening hours.

What gave signals that it was about to start, after eight days of around the clock aerial bombardment of targets in Gaza, what gave the signal earlier this evening here in Jerusalem was the beginning of ground artillery fire and stepped up air fire. Often these accompany an impressive ground incursion. In any event that did happen. People were seeing it happen.

Shortly there after, it was confirmed by Israeli forces, Israeli spokespeople and the Israeli defense Minster Ehud Barak gave a statement in which he said they thought very long and hard about this, that it would not be easy and not be short. But that their aim was, in Barak's words, was to stop Hamas's hostile action against Israel and the Israelis. He said there would be casualties. He said that they would be mindful of the humanitarian consequences. And he also made a public statement that they would not have any thought of starting anything up with their northern borders. That, a reference to Lebanon and Syria up there. Of course, you know, back in 2006, that was a war that Israel fought with Hezbollah up in the north.

For its part, Hamas remained defiant. As Ehud Barak was giving a statement and so too were Hamas spokespeople in Gaza. They said that they would continue the fight and it would be no picnic for Israel. And they asked for an immediate stop to the siege. BLITZER: Christiane, stand by for a moment.

Nic Robertson is on the border between Israel and Gaza right now.

What are you hearing, Nick, and what are you seeing? It's just after 4:00 local time.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are hearing huge explosions. We are hearing heavy machine gunfire, such as that fired from helicopters over and above the area. Heavy machine gun fire on the ground. Many, many detonations.

If you look over my shoulder here, we heard what sounded possibly like exchanges of heavy machine gunfire from a lot of guns. What we are seeing is a sky light up with huge explosions. It will die down for a few minutes and then really become very forceful and strong again.

But another thing that we have seen from our vantage point overlooking the Gaza Strip here is say lots of lights in the area go off. Within a half hour, the area behind me that had been very well illuminated, illuminations from a lot of houses, went off. Small pockets of light there now.

The intensification of the battle seems to be sporadic. It seems to be quite an intense phase right now. It does seems to be over a wide range of areas. From the north of Gaza here, we are hearing explosions all the way down towards Gaza City, and in this direction. The sky lighting up down there as well. The explosions, most of the ones that I'm hearing, are down in that area. A few minutes ago, it was up here, Wolf. This battle is over a big front and it's intense -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Nic.

Karl Penhall is on the other Gaza border. That would be the Gaza border with Egypt right now. This is an area where I assume, Karl, a lot of Palestinians living in Gaza would like to cross over into Egypt. That's easier said than done.

KARL PENHALL, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, easier said than done, Wolf, because the Egyptian government is not throwing this border open to allow able-bodied Palestinians to come across. We have, though, over the last few days, seen a trickle of wounded Palestinians being admitted to Egypt for medical treatment. But I can tell you, over the last few moments, the last few hours, in fact, very clear signs that the ground incursion is also underway in this part of Gaza, which is just across the border here in Egypt.

In the last few moments, there have been loud explosions, which I presume are from missiles being fired from helicopters that have slammed into positions probably no more than 400 yards away. We've also heard ground fire. We've heard heavy machine guns. And we've also heard the crack of assault rifles that may indicate that Hamas militants and Israeli forces are in fairly close proximity, Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by, Karl. I want to go back to Christiane.

Christiane, the stated objective of the Israeli military, the Israeli government is to stop the Hamas rockets and missiles from being launched from Gaza into southern Israel, but there are some who suggest that the unstated objective would be regime change or getting rid of Hamas in Gaza and replacing it with the more moderate Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas. What are you hearing on that front?

AMANPOUR: Certainly, that is something that would be very beneficial to Israel and to the Palestinian Authority. There has been this civil war between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas. And of course, Hamas now controls Gaza.

However, that is not the stated objective of the Israeli government at the moment. We asked the spokesman, Mark Raga, who he will be talking to in a moment, and I asked him early into this planned incursion, what was the aim? He said it was not regime change. It was not, at this point, designed to get Hamas out of Gaza. It was designed to get Hamas to stop using their rockets into Israel.

So the goal right now is to really hit them hard and to let them know that this is going to happen unless they stop using those rockets.

Before anybody gets too excited about regime change, it's worth remembering that that is not as easily done as some would like it. Back in 2006, during the Israeli-Hezbollah war, the government of Israel kept saying they wanted to smash a final blow to Hezbollah. They didn't. And Hezbollah is still there. And it is, by all accounts, in a stronger position than ever in terms of politically and within the Lebanese government.

So this is not an easy task. And right now, they are setting the goal to be not one of reoccupying Gaza, not one of getting Hamas out of there, but of stopping and neutralizing the rocket fire.

BLITZER: Hezbollah, as you say, is, indeed, actually part of a Lebanese government right now.

I want all of our reporters to stand by.

We will take a quick break. The breaking news here on "LARRY KING LIVE" continues. Coming up, we will speak with a spokeswoman for the Israeli defense forces. That's right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back. The breaking news continues out of the Mideast. Israeli forces have entered Gaza on the ground over the past several days. The Israelis were using air and naval power, but there is a ground operation underway. Let's get an Israeli military reaction for this.

We are joined by Major Avital Leibovich. She's a spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Forces. She's joining us from Jerusalem. Major, thanks very much. What exactly is your objective in this military operation?

MAJOR AVITAL LEIBOVICH, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCE SPOKEWOMAN: We started the second stage of the operation. The objective is very simple, to take over the launching sites from which rockets have been launched for many years towards Israeli civilians. A numerous number of rockets. We are talking about thousands of rockets.

BLITZER: What about regime change or getting rid of Hamas in Gaza and replacing it with a more moderate Palestinian government?

LEIBOVICH: This is not the object of the operation. Our goal is to return a sense of peace and quiet and security to nearly one million Israelis that are constantly under a live and death situation with the launching of the rockets.

In this operation, we have a variety of soldiers, troops, infantry. We have artillery. We have engineering, intelligence, all with the support of the air force and the navy. We are continuing the operation as planned.

BLITZER: How long do you think this operation will continue?

LEIBOVICH: I think it's going to be long. The reason for this is that Hamas for the past two years has invested a lot of time, money and efforts in building its infrastructure, namely digging hundreds of tunnels for smuggling weaponry, and building training facilities and building storages for rockets and so on. Therefore Hamas has provided us with hundreds of rockets. Up until now, we have attacked over 500 rockets. We are still at it. It's a long operation.

BLITZER: So when you say very long, are you talking weeks or maybe even months?

LEIBOVICH: I would rather not get into the specifics. We have operational assessments every day, but we are just in the beginning. I think there is a lot to do to remove the threats. I suggest we will be patient and wait for the next days.

BLITZER: Is Israel prepared to reoccupy Gaza? As you know, and as our viewers know, Israel withdrew from Gaza back in 2005.

LEIBOVICH: We have no intention whatever to reoccupy Gaza. We did leave Gaza three years ago. We gave the Palestinians a chance for peace. However they chose Hamas. and Hamas shows the path of terror. This is an unrealistic security situation for us. We cannot continue this way. and that's why we are doing this operation, to remove the threat. We have no intention whatsoever to conquer Gaza.

BLITZER: Major Avital Leibovich is the spokeswoman for the Israeli Defense Forces.

Major, thanks very much for coming in.

We will take another quick break. When we come back, we will get a different perspective on this humanitarian crisis. Jordan's former Queen Noor is standing by live. She's here on "LARRY KING LIVE".


BLITZER: Joining us now, Queen Noor, of Jordan, the widow of the late King Hussein. She's here in Washington.

These pictures we are seeing, your majesty, they are devastating and I know you are deeply, deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis that erupted in Gaza.

QUEEN NOOR OF JORDAN: It has been a humanitarian catastrophe, according to the U.N. and others, now for years, particularly during the last total 18 months of the near-total blockade. You have 80 percent of the people in Gaza, before this military action began, living on aid, living on food aid; 50 percent unemployed. Half the population are children. When a military operation like this takes place, it is impossible to avoid civilian casualties. So there are an enormous number of...


BLITZER: Who do you blame? Who do you blame for this?

QUEEN NOOR: May I refer to something the major said earlier. They wanted to restore the sense of peace and security for the Israeli population. The sense of peace and security of the people of Gaza is something that they haven't known for an extraordinary long period of time. They are living in a virtual prison. Before the blockade began 18 months ago, Gaza was a virtual prison.

Israel is in occupation of Gaza. Their forces left, until today. But they control the air, land, sea routes in and out. They control electricity and gas works. They control every aspect virtually of the lives of the people of Gaza. They have no economic life. They have no choices of access for travel inside or outside of the region

BLITZER: The Egyptians -- the Egyptians...

QUEEN NOOR: And they are living in absolute destitute...


BLITZER: But the Egyptians basically treat the Palestinians in Gaza with disdain as well.

QUEEN: I can't answer for how the Egyptians treat them. I can only say that what we are seeing is a people who are suffering. And that suffering today is empowering radicals. It is weakening moderates. It is mobilizing most of the world community to begin to view these people and Hamas as resistance fighters. and it is diminishing -- it's not in Israel's interest.


BLITZER: But what should the Israelis do if Hamas is raining rockets and missiles on southern Israelis and a million Israeli citizens are living in terror?

QUEEN NOOR: Because, as I said before, you have to take into account the larger context. Palestinians are also living under deplorable conditions. And Israel should not use disproportionate force. There should be a cease-fire.

This looks so much like 2006 where Israel's use of force achieved no objective. In Israel's interest, it was a lose-lose proposition.

Here, again, we see military force being used when the only solution to this conflict is political. And it has to be based on human rights and international law. That is where you will find a solution.

Israel will not find a solution through military force. We have seen that time and time again. And the violence would stop on both sides, on both sides.

BLITZER: You are not justifying -- you're not justifying the rockets going in Israel?

QUEEN NOOR: No, I'm saying the violence must stop on both side. And the killing of innocent civilians on both sides is unacceptable.

BLITZER: If the Palestinians of Hamas -- and there is a difference between Hamas and the authority on the West Bank of President Mahmoud Abbas. They are obviously rivals right now. But if Hamas were to stop launching on Israel, the Israelis would not be launching military action against Palestinians in Gaza.

QUEEN NOOR: During this truce that took place, both sides broke the truce actually. Israel broke the truce and went into Gaza on several occasions, killed some Palestinians. Hamas also broke the truce. They didn't kill Israelis, but broke the truce as well.

So it was not a perfect truce, but it was a period of time during which you had a breathing space where a political process could have and should have taken off.

One can't look at Gaza in isolation of what is taking place on the West Bank as well. You have to look at a political process, the outlines of which exist already today. The Clinton parameters and the last days of the Clinton administration, the Arab peace initiative and the Geneva accord that was created by statesmen from Israel and the Palestinians, these are frameworks for peace that are accepted by a consensus of people as forming the outlines for peace between Arabs and Israelis. We need the political will to move that political process forward, to diminish the violence. and military solutions have proven never to work.

BLITZER: Queen Noor is going to join us tomorrow on "Late Edition" as well, so stand by for that. We will continue the conversation.

Queen Noor or Jordan, thank you.

QUEEN NOOR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, we will get official reaction from the Israeli government and from a Palestinian parliament member. Much more coverage of breaking news coming up here on this special "LARRY KING LIVE".


BLITZER: These are live pictures from Gaza where fighting continuing right now. Israeli ground forces have moved in, backed by continuing air and naval power.

Let's get a reaction from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

Joining us now from Jerusalem is the Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev. Then joining us form Ramallah, on the phone, on the West Bank, Mustafa Barghouti. He's a Palestinian parliamentarian.

Mark Regev, first to you. What does Israel need to stop this incursion into Gaza and stop the fighting?

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT: SPOKESMAN: It's very simple, Wolf. When we can understand that those hundreds of thousands of Israelis, who live in the southern part of my country, will no longer be on the receiving end of those deadly Hamas rockets, when that can be achieved, when we can have quiet for the people of southern Israel, then this is all over. I would say that quiet in the south is not just an Israeli goal, but it's also good for the Palestinian people in Gaza, who deserve better than the violence that Hamas offers them.

BLITZER: What about that, Mustafa Barghouti? Can Hamas realistically stop the launching of the rockets and missiles into southern Israel?

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, PALESTINIAN PARLAMENTARIAM: This is not the issue because there were no missiles before Israel stated this operation. Israel provoked this situation.

But let me remind Mark, who seems not to consider Palestinians equal human beings, that 80 percent of the people in Gaza are refugees who are dispossessed by Israel in 1948. 1956, Israel occupied them in a war and killed many of them. In 1967, they reoccupied them one more time. And now in 2008 and 2009, they are conducting this terrible war not on Hamas, but on Palestinian civilians.

So far, 500 people have been killed, including 100 children. 2750 have been injured, including 1,000 Palestinian children. Israel is destroying hospitals, schools, universities. Even our parliament building was destroyed by Israel. This is a war on everybody, not on Hamas.

BLITZER: All right.

Go ahead, Mark Regev, what do you say to that? REGEV: I'd say that our enemy is not the Palestinian people. On the contrary, we seek reconciliation with the Palestinian people. We want to negotiate a solution as was outlined in Annapolis. We want to keep going forward in a process of historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. We understand that the only real solution is political. I think everyone with logic in their minds knows that Hamas is an extremist organization opposed to all the goals I just out laid.

BLITZER: What about -- Mark Regev --


REGEV: Hamas has no cities. Hamas has no reconciliation.

BLITZER: What about the argument that a lot of people is, yes, Israel is justified in defending its people in southern Israel, but the response has been disproportionate. How do you respond to them?

REGEV: Wolf, what would a proportionate response be? Hamas is shooting indiscriminately rockets and missiles into Israeli cities, townships and rural communities. Would a proportionate response be to shoot indiscriminately into communities into Gaza trying to kill as many civilians as we can, as Hamas is trying to do when they shoot at us? No. We are trying too be as surgical as we can in very difficult circumstances.

I'd also remind you that since this crisis started on Set day, we have been working very energetically with the international community to make sure food aid, medicines and so forth are entering the Gaza Strip. We have had more than 100 trucks everyday since this crisis started. We are committed to working with the international community to alleviate any humanitarian problems in the Gaza Strip.

The civilians in Gaza, we see them as victims of the regime. They are victims of their terrible Hamas regime.

BLITZER: Mustafa Barghouti, you're government, the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, does not support Hamas, has been at odds with Hamas and doesn't support the use of rockets and missiles being launched from Gaza into Israel.

BARGHOUTI: Neither do I. But we are all hearing about our own people. and what Israel is doing is slaughtering the Palestinian people. It's using this blood bath for the political competition in their election campaign. Their generals are using Gaza for a field for experimenting their military equipment, making Israel the fourth largest importer of military equipment.

These surgical operations he speaks about, are terrible. They destroyed a mosque with people praying in it and killed 18 people, including four children. The fact of they call the death of children collateral damage shows you how inhuman the situation is.

I want to say that this whole conflict is because of occupation. I was 13 years old when the occupation happened to us 41 years ago. I lived my life under occupation. I've never seen peace. We have been trying to find peace. Israel has a chance to negotiation with President Abbas, whom they say is a moderate. But they have not accepted unoccupation. And they will not accept to end occupation after now.

So the question is, why do they transfer occupation into the upper side and now conduct one war after another instead of this ending this terrible occupation which has taken away the lives of so many people.

BLITZER: Is Israel open, Mark Regev, to an immediate ceasefire?

REGEV: Wolf, we don't want to see a band-aid solution and then everything will explode in our faces a week or month from now. That does no one any good, not the Palestinians, not the Israelis.

Like the international community, we seek a solution that will be durable and viable and sustained. We want to see peace return to the southern part of Israel. That's a positive goal.

We didn't want to see the calm arrangements, the quiet that was negotiated through Egypt thrown out. That was Hamas's choice. They announced publicly two weeks ago that the calm agreement was off. They led to these escalations unfortunately when they opened rocket borages on cities that reached a crescendo on Christmas day when, in one single day, we had 80 rockets, missiles and mortal shells coming into Israel.

You have got now maybe one million Israelis living in the danger zone and half are children. Obviously, any country has to defend its citizens. And those Israelis who live in the southern part of my country are entitled to normal lives as are the Palestinians in Gaza.


BLITZER: These are live pictures.

REGEV: I will just say, Hamas is holding.

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.

REGEV: I was just going to say, Hamas is holding hostage not just the Israeli civilian population in the south of my country. They are holding hostage also the civilians in Gaza to the hateful and extreme agenda. They serve no one's purpose. Their agenda, I think, is ultimately nihilistic.

BLITZER: Well, we're going to continue this conversation.

But I want to point out that those are live pictures you are seeing of fire of the rockets coming in. And Israeli ground troops are there in Gaza. And we are watching this live here on "LARRY KING LIVE".

I want to thank you Mark Regev and Mustafa Barghouti for coming in and joining us on the breaking news we are watching. Israeli ground forces are now deep inside Gaza.

We are continuing special coverage. Much more right after this.


BLITZER: Calling it a crisis in the Mideast but very much looks like a war underway right now in Gaza as Israeli ground forces have now moved in. We have extensive coverage here on "LARRY KING LIVE".

I'm Wolf Blitzer, sitting in for Larry King.

Christiane Amanpour is in Jerusalem. Nic Robertson is on the border between Israel and Gaza.

And joining us now in the studios is Hisham Melhem. He's the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for Al-Arabiya Television, and Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Martin, I know you advised the Obama campaign -- you're not formally advising the transition right now. What should the U.S. be doing in the midst of the crisis unfolding right now?

MARTIN INDYK, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISREAL: I think the most important thing is to be achieved diplomatically in trying to achieve a cease-fire. That's will be priority for, I think, President Obama and Secretary-designate Clinton.

BLITZER: You are assuming this crisis in Gaza will go well beyond January 20th when he's inaugurated.

INDYK: One hopes not. The Security Council will be meeting over the weekend. They will be moves during the next week to try to get a resolution calling for a ceasefire. But my own experience in the Middle East is that it always takes a lot longer than one expects.

BLITZER: The United States, as you know, Hisham, has veto power at the United Nation's Security Council. And if they, the U.S., doesn't like the resolution that's being drafted, it will be vetoed?

HISHAM MELHEM, D.C. BUREAU CHIEF, AL ARABIYA TV: Absolutely. When we talk about the international community, that doesn't mean much, as long as the U.S. is not in the leading position. The United States is still the indispensable power. And if the United States doesn't show the will to stop the fighting right now, and then try to revive a peace process, nothing will happen. And President Obama will inherit a huge mess in the Mideast. Not only does he has to deal with the usual perennial problems from that arc crisis, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and all the way to Pakistan, he will deal with a hot issue in Gaza. The ramifications of Gaza are going to be hanging over the Obama administration for the next few months of his administration.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson, you are on the border between Israel and Gaza. Only in the past several moments, we have heard loud explosions coming in. Update our viewers on what we know. NIC ROBERTSON, CNN NEW CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the tempo of the battle behind me does seem to change almost by the minute. A few loud explosions over the last few minutes. Ten minutes before, we could hear heavy fire. There were many more explosions, explosions to the south down here, more south along the Gaza Strip.

The north of the Gaza Strip is behind me here. A few hours ago, we were looking down on an area of housing that was very well illuminated during the battles taking place down there. The power appears to have been cut to many of those houses. It was not clear if it was cut by defense forces or Hamas, but it's a very, very fluid situation, at times with many, many explosions every minute. Some of them hugely intense being fired, as far as we know, from helicopters and aircraft and ground artillery. Also, Israel's navy involved. Exchanges of gunfire giving the indication -- and we can't tell form our vantage point, but it gives the indication that the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas may be facing off quite close range in some locations, Wolf.

BLITZER: Christiane, do you get any indication that Arab leaders, whether in Egypt or Jordan or Saudi Arabia or elsewhere are putting some pressure on Hamas to accept what Israel and the U.S., for that matter, would require for a cease-fire?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: At the moment, the president of Egypt, Hosny Mubarak, is still standing firm and refusing to let the pressure off by opening the intro -- the gates between Rafah and Gaza. In other words, the Gaza-Egyptian border remains closed. And some have interpreted that as Hosny Mubarak refusing to come to the assistance of Hamas.

There is also an attempt to get some kind of political framework going to try to bring to this an end. An international diplomat who has got close ties to this situation said that whatever happens, there must be monitoring to make sure that these kinds of military emplacements don't get put up, these kinds of rocket areas and rocket emplacements, et cetera.

But the thing that's going to happen now is, in the early days, this military campaign is going to continue and there's going to be the battle on the ground, there's going to be the war of words. There will be propaganda war over the pictures and the images and the casualties that are under way. And we have seen this happen before. We say it in 2006 between Hezbollah and Israel back at that time.

Many Palestinians have been bitterly complaining about Israel -- what they call its disproportionate use of force. Tzipi Livni, the foreign minster, was talking about the whole issue on Israeli television earlier this evening, before the ground attack was officially launched. She was saying that, look, this is an attempt to go beyond a proportionate response because whenever we have given a proportionate response or barely responded at all, the rockets have continued. She implicitly basically saying that this is an overwhelming response and the aim is to get those rockets silenced.

BLITZER: It looks like the Israelis are trying to do as much damage on Hamas as possible right now.

These are live pictures that we are seeing from Gaza as we speak.

We will take a quick break. We'll continue with our panel right after this.


BLITZER: Ambassador Martin Indyk is still with us from the Savon (ph) Center at the Brookings Institution.

Martin, a lot of people are suspicious of what the Israelis are doing. They point to politics, elections scheduled for the end of February and Israel. And the defense minster, Ehud Barak, the former prime minister, is running, as is Tzipi Livni, the foreign minster. What's going on there, as a former U.S. ambassador to Israel?

INDYK: Let's remember that Hamas was the one who decided to break the cease-fire. I think Barak has been carefully planning for that moment. He was doing very badly in the polls. The Labor Party has come up by as many as six in the last poll taken a couple of days ago.

I think he is very much aware, as a man who has deep experience in military operations and a former chief of staff and defense minister and prime minister that the way that Ehud Barak operates is he calculates these very fully in terms of timing. I think he has two dates in mind. One is January 20th when President Obama takes over. The other is February 10th when he goes before the Israeli electorate. I think that what I would conclude from this -- I'm not privy to his thinking -- is he needs to get this over with minimal Israeli casualties before Obama comes in and before he faces the Israeli electorate.

So he wants to show that he has dealt Hamas a severe blow, that he has ended the rocket attacks through some sort of cease-fire. As John mentioned, monitoring, some control of the passages, perhaps a reintroduction of Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. He has already starting to broach those kinds of elements so that he can come out of this and go into the election showing that he did it right, as compared with Olmert, the prime minister, in the summer of 2006.

BLITZER: Hisham, you understand Israeli politics as well. All the polls showed that the opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, was doing really well.

MELHEM: Absolutely. Ahead of Livni and ahead of Ehud Barak. It's true. I agree with Martin. This operation has been in the making for more than a year probably. And I think Barak would like to create new facts on the ground for the new administration. They knew that the Bush administration would support them. And we've seen that the Bush administration gave them unqualified support for Israel. This is like a knee jerk approach from the president of the United States.

They believe that Obama will be sympathetic, but they really don't know how he will deal with the issue. He will probably look at the whole issue differently than George Bush definitely.


BLITZER: What do you think about that? Will the Obama administration, when it comes to Israel, be different than the Bush administration has been?

INDYKE: Well, we will have to see. Obama made very clear he is sympathetic to Israel on this particular issue of rocket attacks from Hamas. But unlike the Bush administration, which for seven years really took a back seat when it came to trying to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli problem, he will take it up from day one.

Now he will have to take it up from day one because this process has forced it on his agenda. But he intended to be trying to seek a solution. And this crisis may create an opportunity for him after the Israeli elections to promote a new initiative. And he will have a need to do it because all those interested in peace in the Arab world will be weakened by what has happened here. They will look to the United States to launch that kind of mission.

BLITZER: Very quickly.

HELHEM: There is a chance this will be in replay of 2006 in the sense that this will be embolden the radicals not only in Hamas and Hezbollah, but also in Syria and Iran, in particular. Iran is the rising power now. Iran is already a Mediterranean power.

If Hamas survives politically, in their own definition, this will be seen as victory. If Barack Obama, as he said, is interested in presenting a new initiative to the Muslim world, he should realize that the Palestine issue, Jerusalem, is still central through the whole Muslim world. And therefore, he has to change the paradigm. He has to come up with a new paradigm, not to look at the Mideast in the way as only Israel centric, but region centric. You have now another peace initiative in which the Arabs are saying an equitable, just peace with the Palestinians. We need normalization between the whole Muslim world and Israel. And I think Barack Obama is intellectually capable of dealing with this much more than George Bush.

BLITZER: Hisham Melhem is the Washington bureau chief for Al- Arabiya TV. Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, has a new book coming out next week, "Innocent Abroad, An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East." Simon and Schuster, the publisher.

We'll have you back to talk about that, Martin.

Thanks to both of you for coming in.

Coming up, we go to the United Nations and see what's going on. The U.N. Security Council is meeting right now.

And later, Jim Zogby and Alan Dershowitz, very different views on what's going on. They're standing by live. They will debates right here on this special "LARRY KING LIVE." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The United Nations Security Council meeting right now, an emergency session.

Richard Roth, our man at the U.N., is standing by.

What's going on, Richard?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right now, it's football season. If you had to do the lineup, inside the Security Council closed-door chamber, it's the world, 14, and the U.S., one. It's the United States holding out on any formal council, Security Council reaction to the Israeli ground offensive.

There has been a statement circulated that calls for immediate access fire, cessation of hostilities, but the U.S. doesn't think now is the time. It wants something more formal that would look for an overall comprehensive peace.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, of the U.N., has strongly criticized the Israeli action -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Richard Roth, will stand by at the U.N. Thank you.

James Zogby and Alan Dershowitz, they're standing stand by live. We will go to them right after this.


BLITZER: So what should the United States be doing right now?

Joining us, two special quests, the Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz. His new book is entitled "The Case of Against Israel's Enemies. Its publisher is Wylie (ph).

Also joining us here in Washington is James Zogby, the president of the Arab-American Institute.

Jim, what should the outgoing Bush administration and the incoming Obama administration be doing right now?

JAMES ZOGBY, PRESIDENT, ARAB-AMERIAN INSTITUTE: Most certainly, what the Bush administration should do is learn the lessons of the past. Their own past, actually. A cease-fire immediately is what's in order. This is going nowhere, but actually bringing everybody into hell. It's going to be Lebanon all over again. Moderates are going to be weakened, extremists strengthened. Hamas will be hurt, but extremism in the region will be aided by this venture.

And, you know, the Israelis are doing it in order to win an election, but at what cost. The cost will be an enormous setback for them in the broader region.

If America were a friend of Israel, it would call for an end now. What you do in the long term is, you've got to end the occupation. This is getting us nowhere, getting Israel in deeper and hurting the Palestinians more.

BLITZER: Alan Dershowitz, you're looking at the live pictures from Gaza. You see the plumes of smoke coming up. This fighting clearly escalating, intensifying even as we speak. What should the outgoing Bush administration and the incoming Obama administration be doing?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, LAW PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: It's should recognize that Hamas and other terrorist groups have created a terrible dilemma for democracies by firing rockets at citizens, one million of them. One recently hit kindergarten students. Could have killed 50 or 60 young Israeli children. And then hiding behind civilians and having the rockets come from civilians, they put democracy to a terrible choice. Either do nothing and let your own civilians be killed, which no democracy could do, or respond and be accused of disproportionately, because whenever you respond effectively to that kind of tactic, it will involve civilian deaths.

Look, let's think of an analogy. If a bank robber holds a hostage, and starts shooting from behind the hostage, and a policeman, in an effort to stop the shooting by the bank robber, shoots and kills the hostage, under the law of every country, it's the bank robber who's guilty of murder, not the policeman. That's what's going on. That's what's going on.

BLITZER: Hold on...

DERSHOWITZ: Unless you learn that lesson, this tactic will persist.

BLITZER: I want to point out the live pictures you're seeing. Take a look at that. You're seeing these live pictures coming in from Gaza right now. We don't know what's causing those plumes of smoke to go up there, but it clearly looks like this fighting is intensifying.

Jim Zogby, go ahead.

ZOGBY: Alan, this isn't a bank robbery.

The reality here, Wolf, is these bombs are falling on Gaza, terrorizing young children in Gaza. And the fact is that the trauma that this creates will play itself out in the long term, as it has been playing itself out since this all began, when the occupation started some 40-something years ago. We have to find a way to get out of this hole.

And what Alan proposes and what the Israeli government is doing has no end game. The fact here is that there are pathologies playing out on both sides. What they've need is adult supervision. And the United States has been absent.

So you ask what needs to be done. Alan says nothing.

DERSHOWITZ: No, I don't say nothing.

ZOGBY: Let the Israelis play it out. I say, no, stop it now. And begin to find, as the Bush administration has not done, a political way out of this.

We did have an opportunity, some few years ago, when the Saudi Arabians organized and helped create a Mecca accord. Israel didn't honor it. And the U.S. wouldn't support it.

BLITZER: Alan Dershowitz, you said the U.S. should be doing something. What should be the U.S. Be doing?

DERSHOWITZ: They should be doing what they did under Bill Clinton, and that is offer the Palestinian a two-state solution. Hamas has repeatedly rejected that. The problem is, you can't try to start with the Saudi initiatives or any of the other initiatives when Hamas, which controls Gaza, simply won't recognize Israel's right to exist.

Hamas is not concerned about the occupation since '67. Jim and I agree that the occupation should be ended. They believe all of Israel is occupied. They talk about a 60-year occupation, not a 41-year occupation.

So Israel has to, in order to make peace, make sure that Hamas is not in control of the Gaza and can't scuttle any peace effort by rockets. If it can defeat and destroy Hamas in the Gaza, that will be a very important step toward peace. It could then make peace with the Palestinians.

BLITZER: All right, Alan Dershowitz and Jim Zogby, they're both standing by. We're going to continue this discussion.

And we'll take a quick break. But look at these live pictures coming in from Gaza right now where the fighting is escalating.


BLITZER: These are live pictures you're seeing right now from Gaza. You can see on the left part of your screen, that looks like a mosque with a minarets going up there.

Jim Zogby, as you see these pictures, and these are incredible, what goes through your mind?

ZOGBY: I've been there. I've been to Jambalaya. I've been to Gaza City.

BLITZER: Before the refugee camps?

ZOGBY: I've been to Gaza City. It is the most densely populated place on earth. What, with Ron Brown, he said there was no place poorer. He called it worse than Suedo (ph).

The fact is you have 1.5 million people, more than half little children, playing, for the most, part in open sewage, because it is desperately poor. And Israel provided no infrastructure. Now they're being terrorized this way.

We have learned from the past that wars of this sort do not defeat the enemy. What they end up doing is creating a greater sense of solidarity.

So what is going to happen here is what happened when Alan and I debated in 2006. And he said they were going to eliminate Hezbollah, Hamas. and the extremist currents will be strengthened. People will be angry. Every one of those people who died, their family, and they will never forgive Israel or the united states for this.

The point is that Israel doesn't understand. There's no end game here. And so their pathologies are no different than the pathologies of the other side. They need to be stopped and restrained. And America has to help.

BLITZER: Alan Dershowitz, when you see these pictures, what goes through your mind?

DERSHOWITZ: I've been there too. I've been to Sterote (ph). I was there one night when a rocket hit.

BLITZER: Sterote (ph) is in southern Israel.

DERSHOWITZ: Right. I saw the thousands of rockets. Barack Obama went there as well. And he said what I said, and that is, if my children were being exposed to rocket fire every night, I would understand what Israel has to do to stop it.

My question to your audience, and even to Jim, is what would you do if rockets were raining down on you? You would have to put an end to it. If a cease-fire will put an end to it, fine. If a political situation puts an end to it, fine. When you have Hamas, that broke the cease-fire, that said we will not respect the cease-fire, that will use a temporary cease-fire to simply rearm, you have to ask yourself what would you do.

ZOGBY: Alan, I'm not going to shill for Hamas. They are wrong and they have been wrong. Even before this all began they've been wrong. But the Israeli government is not right either. And America has to help...

DERSHOWITZ: What should Israel do?

ZOGBY: Unfortunately, Israel apparently can't help itself because it keeps making the wrong choices.

DERSHOWITZ: What would you do? What would you do if...

ZOGBY: I would ask America to help provide restraint and to help create a condition for Israel and the Palestinians.

DERSHOWITZ: I agree. I agree.

BLITZER: Guys, we have to wrap it up right there. But our coverage will continue.

Jim Zogby, Alan Dershowitz, thanks to both of you.

Our coverage continues right now here on CNN with Don Lemon. He's in the CNN NEWSROOM.