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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Americans Point Finger at Putin for Downed Plane; Seven Israeli Soldiers Killed In Past 24 Hours; What Plane Strike Means For Terrorism; The Dutch Devastation

Aired July 21, 2014 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN GUEST HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto.

Ask the secretary of state and the evidence is, quote, "enormous". Ask the American people and 85 percent think that Russia was either directly or indirectly involved in the taking of the innocent lives aboard Flight 17, 298 of them. Seventy-eight percent of Americans now also have a negative opinion of Russia, a huge jump from a few months ago.

But ask Russian leader Vladimir Putin and he blames the Ukrainians, not only for the crash but for the entire civil war going so far as to say that Ukrainian officials, quote, "should acknowledge their responsibility both before their own people and before the people of those whose countries whose representatives were among the victims of this catastrophe."

I want to the bring in now, Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Senator, thank you very much for joining us.

You heard the results of the poll. Eighty-five percent of Americans believe that Russia is directly or indirectly responsible. But it's not just a poll, it is mounting evidence from U.S. intelligence agencies, from the Pentagon, that Russia was behind at least handing this missile system to the rebels and possibly training them. Is it time now to move past whether or not Putin was involved in this and to talk about consequences?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I think so. It's pretty obvious that Vladimir Putin has been supporting and enabling these Russian- backed separatists and he maybe didn't pull the trigger but he's certainly directly responsible for it. I think the world communities do rally around and declare the Russian-backed rebels pariahs and throw our full support behind President Poroshenko and do everything we can as a world community, make sure that Ukraine can secure its borders and reclaim control over eastern Ukraine and put Vladimir Putin on notice we're simply not going to tolerate his support for those rebels any further.

SCIUTTO: Now, in terms of consequences, all that's been talked about now is economic sanctions. The problem is to date, sanctions have been tried. They have not changed the behavior on the ground there. And short of military boots on the ground in eastern Ukraine, are there military options to be put on the table to pressure Vladimir Putin, whether it's military exercises or more troop deployments in the area or possibly -- and I'm speaking purely from a safety standpoint -- anti-missile systems to prevent this from happening again? Should there be military options on the table?

JOHNSON: Again, we should be very visible, very vocal, very overt in our support for Poroshenko and do whatever we need to do to strengthen his -- his military, rebuild it.

And we can also do things like the shifts that are French are going to deliver, supposedly to Russia; stop that delivery. NATO can collectively compensate France.

If, by the way, Russia has made a down payment on those ships, seize that down payment, use that to pay reparations to the victims. There's a number of things we can do.

There are 100 Russians that control 35 percent of the Russian economy, that control 35 percent of the Russian wealth. Those are the types of individuals who should be targeted for specific sanctions. And by the way, that's just a one-way street. That is painful to those individuals without causing compensating pain on west.

Now I would do those types of target sanctions that actually have a really good chance for success.

SCIUTTO: Now on the military front, to this point, U.S. officials have been reluctant and many other observers say you throw more missiles, more weapons into the conflict, it only makes the conflict worse. But is there military aid, lethal military aid that you think should be going to the Ukrainian military to be able to push back at the weapons that Russia has supplied the pro-Russian rebels?

JOHNSON: So much of this really has to be the signal we're going to send to Putin that we are going to support Poroshenko.

I mean, today we've provided some meals ready to eat, some first aid kits, some sleeping mats. You can just imagine Vladimir Putin shaking in his boots.

No, I think the world community has got to rally. Again, name those rebels as pariahs. Definitely talk about the way that we hold Vladimir Putin responsible for the actions of those pariahs, and the fact that they shot -- they blew a commercial airliner out of the sky, cost 300 individuals their lives.

We need to very visibly and very vocally claim our support for Poroshenko and help him get control of the situation.

SCIUTTO: How about this, Senator Johnson, just quickly before I let you go, how about a NATO-led response here? You have a number of European countries who lost nationals on that flight, NATO members, the Dutch among them, 189, 190-some-odd victims. Should NATO be getting involved? JOHNSON: That's what I'm talking about. Not only NATO but the entire

world community. This isn't a front. There were people from around the world that were killed in this despicable, this barbaric act.

And so no, the world community should rally, and we should be talking about the fact that, you know, Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum assuring the sovereignty of Ukraine. They're utterly violating it. They violated it when they took over Crimea. They're violating it right now as they destabilize eastern Ukraine.

This is all on Vladimir Putin's shoulders. We need to call him out. We need to be very clear on that. And the world -- the world's got to rally and say, "We are going to support Poroshenko, and we are going to do everything we can to get Ukraine back in control of its own borders."

SCIUTTO: Well, we're going to see now if the world does, indeed, rally in response to this. Thanks very much to Senator Ron Johnson for joining us.

JOHNSON: Good day.

SCIUTTO: Coming up just after this, a kindergarten is bombed in Israel. A hospital hit in Gaza. Both sides blaming each other for the increase in violence, but as the death toll mounts, there's another battle being waged online.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, filling in for Jake Tapper.

In world news, a short time ago Secretary of State John Kerry touched down in Cairo, Egypt, where he will spearhead the U.S. effort to broker a cease-fire in Gaza to end the flare-up of tensions between Israel and Hamas.

President Obama today said that Israel has the right to defend itself Obama said as rockets continued to fall from Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that controls Gaza. But he added too much blood has been spilled on both sides.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease- fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: On the Israeli side, a total of 25 Israeli soldiers have died, seven of them just today. Two of the men who died on the Israeli side were volunteers from here, in America, but about 550 Palestinians have been killed according to the Gaza health ministry.

The BBC reports that an Israeli strike killed at least 23 members of a single extended family in south Gaza. This, again, according to Palestinian officials, and five people died when Israeli shelling hit this hospital in central Gaza.

The United Nations has estimated that 70 percent of Palestinian casualties are civilian.

Israel accuses Hamas, which is labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S., of intentionally putting those civilians in harm's way.

Our international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is live in Gaza City with the latest.

Ben, you hear about attacks liking this hitting this hospital, whole families being killed in some of these strikes. The Israelis, of course, saying this is a pinpoint operation, that they do their best to avoid these casualties. In your experience, what you're seeing there, do you believe that's true?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a good question. What we're seeing is an awful lot of civilian casualties. Just a few hours ago, up the road from here an apartment building was hit in which 11 people were killed, four children and the target was not at all apparent. And this is in a very residential part of Gaza City.

In the case of that hospital -- it's south of here in a place where according to the Israeli army which told CNN there was a cache of rockets nearby, but they said nearby. They didn't say they were in the third floor at the hospital where one patient was killed and four people visiting relative inside that hospital were killed. You look at the case yesterday where by some estimates, more than 100 people were killed in that Israeli operation. Almost all of them civilians.

Now, the question is, I don't know if you can really call that pinpoint. I think the Secretary of State John Kerry himself expressed some doubt about that characterization of this Israeli operation: 550 people killed so far. And that's just the statistics before this building was hit up the road, according to the U.N., more than 70 percent of them civilians. More than 100 of them children. Not pinpoint.

SCIUTTO: Secretary Kerry just announced, Ben, that the U.S. is going to give $47 million in immediate aid to Gaza. I know you've been covering just the thousands of people fleeing the hardest hit areas there. Where does that money need to go there?

WEDEMAN:Probably it goes immediately to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees. The agency says they're suffering from a lack of funds. Number of people who have south refuge at the more than 60 U.N. Schools in Gaza basically doubled in the last 48 hours. Therefore, they need help desperately. So that's probably the first target for that money. But it may be just a drop in the bucket as that is number of people going into those schools seems to increase daily by the thousands -- Jim. SCIUTTO:Ben, as you've been speaking we've been seeing a lot of

pictures of the many children caught up in this. Guys, one of the most densely populated places in the world.

Ben Wedeman in Gaza, thanks very much and stay safe.

I want to bring in our own Wolf Blitzer now. He's been covering the region for years, for decades. He's in Jerusalem now.

Wolf, from the Israeli side, seven Israeli soldiers killed in the last 24 hours. There were 13 yesterday. How significant is that very high and I have to think unexpected death toll on the Israeli side?Does it affect the commitment to this operation?

BLITZER: It certainly does. From the Israeli perspective, they see right now 25 Israeli soldiers, a total over the past several days, have been killed and dozens have been injured.

And you know, the Israeli media, they focus on these soldiers. If you watch Israel television, you see the pictures of the soldiers who have been killed, their names, ages, their units. There's usually some somber music that plays. And so the country as a whole, they mourn for these soldiers, and they will -- it's a small country. So people know each other. So it does have an important impact.

Some people react and say you've got to go into Gaza and finish the job and send even more troops. Others say, you know what, this was a mistake, get out. Get a cease-fire. We don't want any more Israeli soldiers. So there's a significant debate going on in Israel about it, but there's no doubt that the Israeli military casualties play an important role in trying to shape attitudes of the folks at large, and they in turn have an impact on the government.

SCIUTTO: No question. Now we've learned two Americans among the Israeli soldiers killed.

Another facet of this you know better than anyone is the PR war, particularly from Israel, in defending attacks which have killed Palestinian civilians. I know you talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu. What did he tell you about how the world is viewing this conflict, particularly Israel's role?I know that from the Israeli side, they don't consider it fair.

BLITZER: Well, they take a look at it and they say you know what? Israel accepted that cease-fire. They accepted that cease-fire proposal that the Egyptians put forward. Hamas rejected it. They say a lot of these Palestinians would be alive right now if Hamas had accepted that cease-fire.

So Netanyahu and so many other Israeli officials, they put all of the blame directly on Hamas. They say if they're going to continue sending rockets and missiles into Israel, Israel like any other state, would respond and try to stop that threat.

But right now, I just say the biggest fear the Israelis have are those underground tunnels going from Gaza into Israel. Infiltrators could come in and kill Israelis so they are working on that. That's priority number one.

SCIUTTO: I think the Israelis saying some of the attacks that have killed Israeli soldiers resulted from attackers coming through those tunnels. Thanks very much to our Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem.

Coming up next here, it seemed impossible only days ago. A passenger plane flying higher than the clouds shot out of the sky. The question is, could it happen again. My next guest says yes, and the terrorists might already be working on it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In World News, the evidence is mounting, but whether pro-Russian rebels were really responsible for shooting a passenger jet out of the sky over Ukraine or not, what is to stop other terror groups from trying to pull off the same deadly stunt somewhere else?

I want to bring in national security analyst Bob Baer. He also a former CIA operative. But you know, you and I were talking over the weekend. The one thing that stuck with me was the idea that these long-range missile systems are not confined to Eastern Ukraine. They're in other countries like Syria. How possible is a copycat killing or shoot down rather like this to happen somewhere else?

BOB BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think the chances are good. You look at the terrorist groups. They're saying look at all the attention Ukraine is getting if we fired at an airplane and brought it down, we would get the same attention. They will do want attention. But for the intelligence community, the real fear is shoulder-fired weapons.

There's a bunch of them missing from Libya. They're going into Africa. Does Boca Haram have them? I don't know. And around Baghdad, ISIS is starting to move in on the airport putting that airport at vulnerability. They've been used in Egypt in the last six months. Cairo is another possibility. Anywhere you see conflict going on, you have the possibility of a shoot down of an airliner.

SCIUTTO: Does Syria, you've got the shoulder fired weapons and the surface-to-air missiles with the longer range. Does Syria have weapons like that and we should be concerned about a group like ISIS getting a hold of something like that with longer range, much higher altitude range?

BAER: Absolutely. Syria's got the SA-11. They've lost a lot of weaponry to ISIS and other Islamic groups. We can't trust the Syrians to tell us what's been lost. Has ISIS grabbed one of these and taken into Iraq or used it on the Turkish or the Jordanian border. We simply don't know. There is no way to verify this, but it's a real threat that we have to pay attention to.

SCIUTTO: You're a flyer. I'm a flyer. Many of our viewers are flyers, possibly going to Europe. Should Americans be worried about flying over war zones of which there are many now and change where they fly as a result of this threat? BAER: I wouldn't fly over a war zone. There's no way to protect these places. A stinger missile, a lot of them have been lost in Iraq, will go up to 20,000 feet. You can hit airports near conflict zones at a fairly far distance. So just avoid them. There is no way for civil authorities to protect airliners. They're easier to shoot down and anywhere there are loose missiles, don't go there.

SCIUTTO: The trouble now in some of those war zones are in regular flight paths whether it's in Afghanistan, and that's the trouble that regulators have to deal with now. Thanks very much to Bob Baer for joining us.

Coming up, a father devastated by the loss of had its only child. He wants Vladimir Putin to feel his pain. His angry letter to the Russian president right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto in for Jake Tapper. We've all heard the number so many times now and still the shock and horror don't go away. But for the Netherlands, it is especially devastating, 189 of the people on board Flight 17 were Dutch. And their loss leaves an entire country in mourning and families paralyzed by pain.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): The mother who purchased the tickets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To give them four weeks holiday.

SCIUTTO: Loved ones who said their last goodbyes. Here at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport the grim reality of the Flight MH17's fate has set in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's family from us were on plane. We lost them.

SCIUTTO: One hundred ninety three of the victims who now lie in these simple black body bags were from the Netherlands. It is a nation with fewer residents than the state of Florida and every loss, every child, every mother, every friend now gone reverberates with the Dutch in waves of unspeakable grief.

There is no closure with bodies still unrecovered just memorials flooding the doorsteps of the dead. The king and prime minister of the Netherlands met with victims' families this weekend. Marking their thoughts in a book of condolences. Among the lost a flower shop owner.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was a lovely girl.

SCIUTTO: A restaurateur.

HUCK CHUAN, VICTIMS' COUSIN: Lost someone, you never expect so there are no words for that. SCIUTTO: A promising young deejay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was one of the biggest talents in the Netherlands that was an upcoming deejay, producer.

SCIUTTO: Over the weekend, Dutch athletes wore black arm bands to commemorate their fallen countrymen. The flags stand at half-mast while newspaper headlines cry out, murderers in response to the many, many innocents lost high above a war zone. As for Russian President Vladimir Putin, there are words for him here, too.

The father of this 17-year-old passenger posted an open letter to the Russian leader on his Facebook page. "I hope you're proud to have shot her amongst other young lives in the future," he wrote. "And that you'll be able to look at yourself in the mirror." He signed it, Hans Deborst, from Monster, the Netherlands whose life is ruined.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Putin must take care of my son and daughter.

SCIUTTO: Back at Terminal 3 where so many Dutch began their final flight, there is one final request.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want -- they can have everything but I want the body. I want the body.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: It is heart breaking to watch. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer who is live from Jerusalem and he is in "THE SITUATION ROOM."