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Malaysian Officials Demanding Access to MH-17's Crash Site; Interview with Congressman Ed Royce of California; Crisis in the Middle East

Aired July 19, 2014 - 09:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Two major stories are dominating our day. Crowded passenger plane brought down in a war zone. Who did it and why?

Plus Israel goes into Gaza. Twice before, Israel has battled Hamas to eliminate the threat of rockets. Will this time be different? Those stories will be our focus this hour. We will have live reports from Ukraine and Israel and incomparable experts.

I'm Michael Smerconish. Let's get started.

New today, Malaysia is demanding full access to the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine. The country's transport minister says it is unhumane if investigators are not allowed into the site which is in the heart of a war zone. The bodies of 298 people including 80 children are still lying in fields patrolled by rebel gunmen.

So far, international monitors have only been allowed at the site by the gunmen for just 75 minutes. Malaysian officials will go to Ukraine's capital to make sure the bodies are retrieved so that they can be laid to rest. U.S. and Malaysian officials suspect pro-Russian rebels took down the aircraft using a missile launch system that may have come from Russia.

Our Ivan Watson joins me now from Kiev, Ukraine. Ivan, I understand you have spoken with the Ukrainian Prime Minister about the troubles that investigators are having at the crash site.

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I spoke with the Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and asked him if there are any negotiations going on right now between the Ukrainian government and the rebels to ensure safe access to the crash site. This is what he had to say.


ARSENIY YATSENYUK, UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER: The key problem is these Russian-led guerilla blocked the access to the crash site and we cannot hold an investigation. Even more, they have taken 38 bodies to an undetected spot. We need to recover the bodies and to start a full- fledged investigation, but Russian-led terrorists do not allow us to do this. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: Michael, in addition, the prime minister and other Ukrainian officials continue to make an arguably somewhat compelling case that the missile that is believed to brought down flight MH-17 was fired from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine. They are saying it was shot down by a Russian-made anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile system known as buk. And one, the head of the counter intelligence of the main intelligence agency here said there were three such systems on Ukrainian territory that had been brought from Russia in recent days and have since been taken back from Ukrainian territory to Russia. He went one step further, accusing Russians of firing the missile that brought down the plane. We can't confirm those allegations and the Russians and the rebels have denied them. Michael.

SMERCONISH: Ivan Watson, thank you for your report.

All signs point to pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine and to possible involvement by the Russian military in this tragedy. Was it a tragic mistake intended to strike a Ukrainian military plane or a calculate plan to attack a commercial airline? And what will investigators be able to determine from U.S. satellites?

My next guest will help take us through the story. Lieutenant Colonel Dan Hampton is a highly decorated fighter pilot whose job once was was to intentionally draw fire from surface-to-air missiles. He is the author of the book "Lords of the Sky." And Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling is the Army's former commanding general for Europe, a graduate of the air defense school and an expert on Ukraine.

General, let me begin with you. What would you expect us to be able to learn from the satellite information?

GEN. MARK HERTLING, FMR. COMMANDING GENERAL FOR EUROPE: Well, I'll start off, Michael, and say that it depends on where we were looking at the time. If a satellite is focused on an area, we certainly can gain a lot of intelligence. It is not an unblinking eye. It would have had to have been located in that vicinity to determine some of the specifics of the things we are looking for.

If it was, we will certainly see a heat signature from the missile launch. We could see trajectories potentially and of course, we might be able to see the explosion. There are reported from European command was that there were a few AWAKS in the sky over Poland at the time, but they don't think that could observe some of the things that are going on near the Ukraine border.

SMERCONISH: General, what level of sophistication is required to operate the buk weaponry? Obviously, what I'm trying to get to is whether there was direct Russian involvement here.

HERTLING: Yes, I think Dan will tell you a lot about that since he had to fight against that. But the SA-11 or the (INAUDIBLE), the NATO terminology for this weapon system is a tough system to operate. It is not a video game. It takes a look at altitude, bearing and speed of an aircraft. It is designed to shoot down cruise missiles and maneuvering fighter jet that might give off chaff or other kind of radar spoofs.

So when you're talking about shooting down an airplane over 30,000 feet in the sky, it is not that difficult. But it is difficult to maneuver this weapon system and shoot it. Interesting report recently saying that there were three of these in the area, if that is true, that is how they usually operate. In groups of threes. That is an air defense battery. It is usually associated with an radar system even though each one of these guns have radar on them. But they like to operate in groups of three because they give each other cover.

SMERCONISH: Colonel Hampton, you were part of the elite Wild Weasels. Your planes were the first that would be sent to enemy territory. Your mission was to draw enemy fire from this type of weapons systems. You're the perfect person for me to ask, what do you expect that the pilot of that commercial airliner would have known, would have felt, would have sensed, if anything, when that missile was headed in his direction?

COL. DAN HAMPTON, AUTHOR "LORD OF THE SKIES": Michael, my guess and again this is just my opinion, I don't think he ever saw it coming. He would not have been looking for it. The weather was kind of spotty. If you don't see it launch on the ground and you don't have the equipment on board that tells you that it launched, you probably are not going to see it.

Besides, he is a commercial airline pilot. He is not a military pilot. So he wasn't looking for it anyway. And the trajectory that thing flies up from below and it is designed to proximity fuse and explode beneath the aircraft and not necessarily hit it, probably came straight from underneath him. The visibility of the cockpit of a 777 downward in a way isn't very good. So he probably never knew what hit him.

SMERCONISH: And I take it, Colonel that even if he had known it was coming in his direction, unlike you in a military capacity, there would have be no evasive measures available to him.

HAMPTON: Yes, that's right. You're not going to maneuver an airliner the way that a fighter is. He has got no chaff. He's got no jamming pod, nothing like that that the general mentioned that could be used to decoy a missile. What as interesting though and just came out that you were discussing was the fact that they were talking about the three vehicles.

One of those vehicles in a battery is supposed to be an acquisition radar which looks at all the targets in the sky, decides what to target and then passes that information on to the target engagement radar with the missiles. I'd always suppose that they just gotten a hold of one of these self-contained missile vehicles that's called a telar. It has a radar on it and missiles. But it is not quite as discriminating as the big acquisition radar.

So if they are traveling around in groups of three and one of them was an acquisition radar, then the chance that they knew that this was not a military transport plane is probably pretty good. If it was just the target engagement radar that they were using, they probably would not have known which means they shot it down by mistake.

SMERCONISH: And general, to the colonel's point, I'm trying to understand what someone on the ground would have been able to discern, if anything, to the naked eye, for example, as to whether they were looking at a civilian or a military aircraft.

HERTLING: At 30,000 feet, you're going to see an airplane, Michael. We are talking a lot of conjecture here. But this is a very complex operation. As Dan said if this is just one vehicle that shooting based on its self-contained radar, all they're going to get is a target track after they paint with their radar. As he said, if it is true that there was a radar acquisition, they can tell a lot more about the type of airplane it is just by the size and the way it is flying.

That is a lot of conjecture right now. All we know and truthfully, we don't even know that this is what shot it down with 100 percent certainty. It certainly appears that way.

SMERCONISH: Colonel, the extent of the debris field would certainly suggest that it was shot out of the sky. In other words, this was not an impact and therefore limited in one geographic area.

HAMPTON: Yes, I think it would be a lot different if it had blown up at 33,000 feet. Everything that I've seen and we have not seen much indicates that it was hit by probably a single missile and came apart at 32,000 feet. Not necessarily exploding because some of the fuel tanks have come down relatively intact. And in my mind, I'm not really sure - I mean, it is important to find out who did it, but I'm more concerned about what happens next and whether Putin uses this as an excuse now to declare martial law and move into the Eastern Ukraine or if he declares a big, you know, peace initiative and acts like big man on campus, to sort of diffuse world opinion.

SMERCONISH: It's a good -

HAMPTON: In either case, I don't think we will get a traditional crash scene investigation out of this. They have no reason to cooperate until they sanitize it and get rid of whatever they want to get rid of there.

SMERCONISH: Colonel Dan Hampton and General Mark Hertling, thank you for your service and your expertise here.

We know flight MH=17 was shot out of the sky, but we don't know what happened during its final moments in the air. Coming up, what the plane's black box giving clues about the tragedy at home.


BILL CLINTON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: And all I can say about it now is what President Obama and our government said. We need to wait to make any definitive statements until we know exactly what happened, but it was sickening.




CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Well, we certainly do know is that this crime site is insecure and therefore already we don't know even know where the critical information, the flight recorders, the black boxes whatever you want to say is on the ground. We don't know where it has been taken, has it been taken to objective, not impartial investigators. We don't know what happened on the ground.


SMERCONISH: That was CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour discussing the unknown of those crucial pieces of information, the so-called black boxes.

There is worry today that the crash zone may be contaminated by rebel fighters in the area and that might make it harder for investigators.

My next guests are former inspector general for the Department of Transportation and CNN aviation analyst, Mary Schiavo. She also represents victims and families after airplane disasters, and Lt. Col. Ken Christensen with the U.S. Air Force Search Rescue Unit. He's also an airline crash investigator.

Mary, we're all conversant now with MH-370 and the importance of those black boxes which have not yet been located. Same here or in this case are they of less importance because of the other evidence that we do have?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, fortunately there is other evidence. And they will be able to find and identify exactly what happened from the evidence on the ground from the wreckage but in the shoot down of KL-007, the black boxes became a powerful football in a tug of war over the evidence and the black boxes here would eliminate any false stories. They would eliminate cover stories such as we tried to communicate with the aircraft and it didn't respond and it was squawking the wrong code, et cetera. The black boxes would rule all that out. Those kinds of stories did surface in KL-007. To have the Russians justify, the Soviet Union justify their actions.

SMERCONISH: Although it might stop the spread of disinformation relative to this crash.

SCHIAVO: Absolutely.

Lt. Christensen, I have a report that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to exert influence on the separatists and to allow crash investigators free access to that site. What is it we need to learn from the crash site itself?

LT. CHRISTENSEN: I think on the crash site, we pretty much, at this point, know it was causal in the aircraft crash and that was shoot down of the missiles. So post-forensic evidence on the ground, you'd want to look what would indicate that in fact, was confirmed the missile.

So you are looking for pieces of explosive material, high energy explosions that would hit the airplane, penetrate the airplane from the outside in. So you are looking for those marks to confirm that. And then probably some of the passengers inside will also have some of that embedded in the tissue of their bodies. A little gruesome, but that is what you are going to look for to confirm that.

SMERCONISH: Lieutenant, the buk firing system itself seems to me, is like a gun in any other murder case. After all, that is what apparently this is. What could we learn from the system if we were to have it in our possession, meaning law enforcement or investigators?

CHRISTENSEN: If you had the actual missile firing system, it is pretty well known how that operates just like any other firearm that the ATF was investigating. So we know how many missiles are on the launchers and we know what the missile parametrics are or how fast and high the missile goes, what type of high energy explosive is in that missile and how that takes down an aircraft with a proximity fuse.

All that is pretty well known. What is not well known is these systems tie into other systems. You will have a search radar, you will have an acquisition radar and targeting. But this particular system can do a stand alone shoot down by locking on to an aircraft and firing a missile and shooting it down. However, the identification of friend or foe is this a commercial airliner or is this a military-type aircraft probably wasn't discerned enough and that's why this happened.

SMERCONISH: Mary Schiavo, Ken Christensen, thank you so much.

A big question many people are asking, why was the plane even flying over Ukraine? The FAA warned U.S. carriers that many airlines around the world did not follow the lead.

And Israeli forces are plunging deeper into Gaza and the casualties are mounting.


SMERCONISH: I want to get right out to our Chris Cuomo. He is live at the crash site. What's the latest?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michael, how are you doing?

This, even in the worst of situations, you have a certain set of expectations of what will be done. They are not being met here. Right now, we have, who identifies himself as the local leader of the militia who is in charge of securing this area. He had been giving interviews.

Now he is walking around with a massive Russian machine gun called the PM-K. Raising it into the air and saying move back. They have been firing into the air. And you have to remember this is an unusual situation. It's an ongoing active civil conflict here. OK. There's fighting about 150 clicks away. You know, about 100 miles away from here. Which is very close in proximity. Within that conflict, Michael, you have what we have been talking about. This horrible tragedy of a plane probably being shot out of the air. The same people who are in the circle of suspicion for maybe having brought it out of the sky are in charge of taking care of the dignity of the loved ones. I have to tell you, to be honest, Michael, while It is not the most intelligent statement to make for our own safety, they are not doing a good job.

You can walk through here. They are just starting to collect the bodies. There are white ribbons all around us that are identify where the dead. Many of them are still in place. Some haven't been located. But you can see them with your plain eye. They're really not wanting to hear anything from you about that. And they're belongings, Michael. Assuming you don't get a body back in this situation like this. And as we know, we're told, all 298 on board perished.

Their things become very important to families. They have certainly been picked through. There is no question the scene has been corrupted. Anyone who says otherwise is misstating the facts. You can tell. They are opened and picked through. Some re-closed. Some of them shattered and broken and the luggage is now being put together. The personal effects.

This is a very raw scene. It is not being handled well. Even when they are allowing the international monitors in. The monitors are here to monitor the violence. They are not crash scene investigators, Michael. So the first thing I felt like doing when I came here was just getting down on my knees and saying a prayer for those who are gone. Because they are not getting the dignity that this situation deserves.

When I interviewed the local leader, Michael, he says it is a tragedy, of course, it's a tragedy but isn't it a tragedy what the Ukrainians are doing to us. It was an immediate parallel to their own situation and his belief that Ukraine did this. Ukraine shot this plane out of the sky. His reasons were rambling.

But that's the scene here right now. This man was just walking around with a massive machine gun saying "back up, please."

SMERCONISH: Chris, the prime minister told our own Ivan Watson that there are reports that some bodies had been removed by the rebels. Do you know anything of those reports?

CUOMO: I've heard those reports. All I can tell you is what I see. There is no question they're moving the bodies. There are men right now moving into the field on opposite sides of where I'm standing, collecting bodies. We are told - we've been told they were going to take them to (INAUDIBLE) which is where we drove from last night and they would identify them and they're going to do what they could. Let me tell, it's going to be hard to identify a lot of the bodies, based on what we're seeing, Michael. But in terms of them taking (INAUDIBLE) or stealing them, I don't know anything about that. They seem to be collecting them, putting them in bags and assembling them for transport.

SMERCONISH: Chris Cuomo, live at the crash site in Ukraine. Thank you very much and please stay safe.

Congressman Ed Royce is the chair of the House of Foreign Affairs committee. He's about to join us. And top GOP leaders are placing the blame for the flight MH-17 crash on one person and it's not who you might think.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And my concern is obviously that there's been a lot of misinformation generated in eastern Ukraine generally. This should snap everybody's heads to attention and make sure that we don't have time for propaganda. We don't have time for games. We need to know exactly what happened and everybody needs to make sure we are holding accountable who committed this outrage.


SMERCONISH: That was President Obama's take on the current crisis in eastern Ukraine.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman Ed Royce, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, yesterday, Ambassador Samantha Power told the U.N. Security Council that there was credible evidence that pro-Russian supporters and their Russian associates were responsible. What additional information if any can you add to that question?

REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, w know from General Breedlove, who's the supreme commander for the NATO forces, that the Russians were training separatists on this equipment. And we also know that in the last few weeks, a tremendous amount of heavy equipment came over the borders, especially tanks, especially anti-aircraft weaponry and so forth as the Russians step up their operations in the east. They are panicked to move quickly because Poroshenko has been consolidating support in the east.

And so, as people move towards the Ukrainian government, they are rather desperate to set back the advances being made by the Ukrainian elected government and I think this is unfortunately an unforeseen consequence of that.

SMERCONISH: So, to what extent then --


ROYCE: What we do know is they've shot down -- we know this because they've shot down several Ukrainian planes. And I think what's happened is a rather poorly trained separatist group here probably have inadvertently shot down an airliner and are now trying to cover this up and that's the part you see on the ground today.

SMERCONISH: To what extent does Vladimir Putin bear responsibility in light of what you've just told me?

ROYCE: Well, not only are the arms coming across the border, several generals or commanding officers are actually Russian. In the meantime, the prisoners that are taken, the Ukrainians, there was a Ukrainian pilot, a female pilot with a distinguished record, she is being held in jail in Russia.

So, you can see how it is being micro managed from Russia, the KGB agents or their current equivalent are on the ground in eastern Ukraine. I was in Ukraine and I -- in the neighboring state, and they told me about taking into custody Russians that were there to foment an uprising. But the governor there, the civil society groups, the women's groups, the different groups that we met with on the ground told us they wanted the Russians to butt out. That this was the Russian-speaking region, but they wanted to be part of Ukraine.

And, frankly, Poroshenko has now put forward a plan which will allow, you know, local autonomy. It's just not going to be part of Russia. That's the part that's unacceptable apparently to Putin. And that's why he is stepping up the activity here of pushing in the heavier equipment and volunteers coming in from Russia to fight.

SMERCONISH: What's the appropriate U.S. response?

ROYCE: Well, I think the entire international community will begin to move in tandem now. The degree of anger, you know, in East Asia and Europe and Central Asia towards the downing of the jetliner will probably consolidate the world opinion behind the peace plan put forward by President Poroshenko in Ukraine and put enormous pressure right now on the Russian government to back off.

If we can get a cease-fire there alone, that would help us enormously, because that could help lead us to the next step which Poroshenko was willing to meet with the separatists and give them this regional autonomy. There is obviously a ready solution to this. All this is required is that Russia quit putting arms into that region.

SMERCONISH: Congressman, this is already the stuff of the fodder for domestic debate here in the United States. Meaning, it's being used for political purposes by critics of President Obama.

Do you think that's appropriate?

ROYCE: Well, you know, I can remember the remarks of the former CIA director who was concerned that when we pulled out of Poland and the Czech Republic in terms of our intercept system that would defend that area against a launch from Iran and defend the United States, the criticism he had at the time is Putin will look at this and think we are weak and begin to take aggressive action.

Now, who knows what's going on in Putin's mind? But the reality is that looking at the situation on the ground right now, clearly we need leadership. We need a strong position and we need Europe to be with us on this, I think, after this event. And given Merkel's anger and anger of others in Europe, I think it will solidify more support. But I think the president needs to get out and lead the international community and let's get Putin to back down here. Let's get him to cease and desist on aiding and abetting. He is the only reason this situation even exists is the fact that Russian forces are ensconced right now in eastern Ukraine. They need to get out.

SMERCONISH: Congressman Ed Royce, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- thank you so much for your time.

Another breaking news story that we're following. The ground incursion in Gaza. Israeli troops on the ground, flares lighting up the sky. We'll check in with Wolf Blitzer live from Jerusalem, next.


SMERCONISH: The ominous sound of warning sirens going off in Israel as the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts rockets over Tel Aviv.

The Israeli ground offensive into Gaza continues. The military started the invasion two days ago looking for rocket sites and tunnels. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is warning he could expand the incursion. While Hamas says Israel will pay for the offensive.

Our Wolf Blitzer joins me from Israel.

Wolf, twice before, Israel has battled Hamas without eliminating the threat of rocket fire. What's the difference this time?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: They might not completely eliminate this time either. They say they are making significant progress in undermining of Hamas' ability to fire rockets and missiles into Israel. They say going into this latest exchange with Hamas, the Israeli military intelligence community believes Hamas had 10,000 rockets and missiles, a lot of them supplied from Iran. But they got some homemade stuff, as you know, as well.

They believe about 1,600 as we speak right now, Michael, have been sent into Israel. The Iron Dome, as you pointed out, has destroyed many of them. Others landed in relatively open fields, farmland if you will. But they believe in the last few days, as this Israeli military operation has intensified on the ground, from the air and the sea. They destroyed another 3,500.

So, they think there's about 5,000 leftover. They are trying to destroy as many as they can. They acknowledge by the time a cease- fire, if there is an end to this, they may not have completely destroyed Hamas' rocket and military capability, let alone its mortar shells and other kind of military hardware. So, they may not completely succeed this time either.

SMERCONISH: How do you know when the mission is concluded? Is the IDF doing it by numbers that when they reach a certain level of taken out Hamas rockets, it is at that point they shut it down?

BLITZER: What the IDF says is their mission is to destroy as much of Hamas military capability as possible. But specifically at least at this stage, to destroy their underground tunnels, tunnels they got from Gaza into Israel that can allow Hamas guys to come into Israel and kill people, if you will. So, they think they destroyed about 13 as of right now. But they think there are tens more. They won't be specific how many more.

This is a very difficult operation. You can't destroy the tunnels from the air or sea. You got to put boots on the ground, as you will. Israel has mobilized about 50,000 reservists and thousands of Israeli troops are now engaged in this operation.

They say the mission is to destroy those tunnels, to weaken Hamas military capability, then get out. They say there is no desire on the part of Israel to reoccupy Gaza. It's a small strip of land of almost 2 million people. Israel withdrew from Gaza back in 2000. No desire to reoccupy Gaza, but they want to cripple as much as they can Hamas.

SMERCONISH: Wolf Blitzer reporting from Jerusalem -- stay safe and thank you.

The U.S. is standing behind Israel in this conflict. But as the two sides continue to battle, is military action really the answer here?

Plus, politicians from both sides of the aisle here in the U.S. are rallying for Israel. Genuine or part of a political campaign?


SMERCONISH: Israel's decision to launch a ground defensive came after two failed cease-fires and more than 1,200 rockets being fired from Hamas. But on the other side, ten days of Israeli airstrikes killed nearly 300 Palestinians, mostly civilians.

Let me bring in Aaron David Miller, Middle East analyst, adviser, distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. He is also the author of the book, "The End of Greatness."

Aaron, you wrote for "Politico Magazine" this week and you said, you want the rockets stopped, either you put boots on the ground or Hamas agrees to do it. Perhaps a naive question, but where it seemed obvious that Israel was going to launch a ground incursion -- why wouldn't Hamas agree to a cease-fire?

AARON DAVID MILLER, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: No, Hamas went into this -- good morning, Michael, by the way.

Hamas went into the conflict weakened. You have a military -- former supreme commander of the Egyptian military -- now, the president of Egypt. The president of Egypt, former Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, is in prison, one of Hamas' key allies.

The reality is Hamas needs things before it's going to stop launching its high trajectory weapons. It needs to open up Gaza, it needs Rafah open, it needs prisoners released. It needs a host of economic and political benefits, and Israelis, frankly, are in no mood given the time and space that Iron Dome has provided them to secure the home front to essentially give them that victory.

So, as a consequence of that, you're going to have this confrontation continue. There is no solution to this. That's I think the tragedy particularly for the hundreds of Palestinians who have been killed and the thousands who have been wounded and for the Israelis who have been killed and wounded and terrorized by Hamas rockets.

There is no solution. There is only an outcome. We have seen the movie twice before, '08, '09, Cast Lead, 2012, Operation Pillar for Defense. The Israelis can damage, deter Hams to a degree, degrade its high trajectory weapons capacity. But unless the Israelis are going to re-occupy Gaza for a prolong period of time and extirpate the organization, kill its leaders, dismantle its national infrastructure and turn Gaza over to somebody who is prepared to take it, we're just biting our time frankly until the next round.

SMERCONISH: Is there any solution that could come from Washington?

MILLER: You know, we have a lot of influence with the Israelis. And we have been extremely supportive. I expect the president communicated and so has Secretary Kerry. They're deep concern about the implications of operating in densely populated areas, particularly from the air. But the reality is we have no influence with the other side with Hamas.

And if you want to end this, frankly, you need three things. You need urgency. Both sides need to be ready to stand down. They're not. You need a mediator trusted by both sides. Right now, you don't have one of those.

And finally, you need a deal. You will have to find a negotiated way out of this. Right now, what Israel wants and what Hamas needs are simply not compatible. So, this is going to go on, I'm afraid, with tragic consequences.

SMERCONISH: Aaron, thus far, who is winning the war for public opinion?

MILLER: You know, it's funny, because in '08-'09, the Israeli's lost it. No matter how effective military tactics in a asymmetrical military conflict, it's the politics, it's the image of war that counts. This time around the Israelis have more political time and space. Hamas has perceived to have rejected two cease-fires, the Egyptians are pressing Hamas, the Americans have been supportive. Even key Europeans wonder about why Hamas chose and continues to pursue a course of launching high trajectory weapons.

But all it takes, you've already got hundreds of Palestinians dead, and thousands wounded, and scores of thousands displaced. All it's going to take is one errant Israeli missile strike that kills scores of Palestinians in a single incident to fundamentally change the political, emotional and psychological contours of this conflict, and I'm afraid that the longer this goes on, the greater the possibilities that that, in fact, could happen.

SMERCONISH: And Israel certainly knows that. Aaron David Miller, thank you so much for your expertise.

As the death toll is rising in Gaza, now more and more of our politicians are rallying behind Israel. But is this just more chest thumping, or a compliment to help end the conflict? The domestic political side of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is next.



SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I've also been concerned by the way by moral equivalence going on in the press and some of the e-mails that I'm getting and some of the public statements I'm hearing some make in some quarter, not here in the Senate but in some other places. This idea that, well, both sides are to blame. That's an interesting concept but it isn't true. It is tragic, unfortunately, that civilians are dying in Gaza. But the reason why civilians are dying is 100 percent Hamas' fault.


SMERCONISH: That was Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, potential Republican presidential contender in 2016, weighing in on Israeli ground offensive, while putting the blame on Hamas. He also said the Obama administration is responsible for not being strong enough as a backer of Israel.

CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman is here. Maybe I shouldn't say potential after listening to those remarks. I said, well, he's in in 2016?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, this was an unsubtle move. Look, in keeping to some extent, anyway, where the rest of Congress has been. There's an overwhelming support --

SMERCONISH: Pretty resolute.

HABERMAN: Yes. There's overwhelming, across the board support from Congress. From the House, there was a unanimous resolution. From the Senate, there was a resolution that was almost entirely strongly supported.

But Rubio went further, as you noted. He went not just from saying there is a false equivalence here. And there are media reports, there's been a lot of media focus on the human tragedy that's going on in Gaza. You have children who are being killed. Regardless of who is to blame, those images are very upsetting for people.

But he went to what has been a very common refrain from Republicans -- some Republicans anyway -- over the last several years, that Obama is partly at fault, because he has not been strong enough. And I think you will hear more of that as we go along.

SMERCONISH: I read an analysis at "Salon" from Joan Walsh, talking about a metamorphosis that Rand Paul seems to have gone through vis-a- vis Israel?

HABERMAN: Yes. Well, he has been pretty clear in terms of a shift, right? I mean, he has been walking this line for a while of trying to seem less like he is boxed in a certain ideological corner. On the Senate resolution, for instance, the other day, he said he wanted to see more teeth in it. He wanted aid denied to certain quarters to show support for Israel. This is sort of different where he has been in terms of how he has gone about calling for an end to U.S. aid to foreign interests.

He has been more supportive of Israel over the last year than I think a lot of people expected him to be, but you are very much seeing this as a presidential proving ground for 2016.

SMERCONISH: Maggie, earlier in the week, Gallup released a survey, and it asked Americans, what do you think the most important problem facing the country is today? This was before Gaza. This was before MH17.

Foreign affairs came in at number 10. I talked about it on radio, and I said, boy, if you asked me, I'd say at least like two or three.

Has that just changed? In other words, might foreign affairs, foreign policy, play a dominant role in the midterm elections in a way that previously wasn't in the cards?

HABERMAN: It tends to be not what voters base their focus on, I think.


HABERMAN: Because they focus on what's affecting them personally. Pocketbook issues, jobs. Obamacare, even though it is perceived doing better, will still I suspect claim more of a role in terms of how people vote and as a driver of certain base voters on both sides.

However, there is a sense that this White House is being driven by events as opposed to sort of driving its own agenda and to the extent it adds to a sense that Obama is sort of, you know, adrift in an out- of-control world between the border crisis, between what you're seeing overseas -- that is another question.

SMERCONISH: In other words, it will be used to drive the GOP base in opposition to President Obama, this will all get laid off on him?

HABERMAN: Correct. And that is not a surprise, but this creates more of a focal point.

SMERCONISH: Right. Understood. Great analysis.

Maggie Haberman, thank you so much for being here.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Hey, that's it for me. I'll see you next Saturday. Until then, please, have a great weekend and a terrific week.