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Interview with Congressman Peter King; Investigation Into Downed Malaysian Airliner Continues; Flights to Tel Aviv Banned; Israel: No Need for U.S. to Ban Tel Aviv Flights; Countries Voice Anger Over Ukraine Rebels' Behavior; FAA Bans U.S. Flights To and From Tel Aviv; Israel Targets Network of Tunnels in Gaza

Aired July 22, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report.

Breaking news tonight: all U.S. flights to and from Israel canceled. A new FAA ban is now in effect after a rocket attack and a dramatic in-flight diversion. Israel's top aviation official standing by to respond in an exclusive interview.

Plus, deadly new attacks on Gaza. We will get a live update from the scene, as U.S. attempts to promote a cease-fire go late into the night.

And the U.S. releases new intelligence in the downing of Malaysia Flight 17. There's more confusion at the crash site and growing outrage about reports of looting and evidence tampering.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And let's get right to the breaking news tonight. All U.S. flights to and from Israel grounded. It is a very rare order by the FAA and it is driving home the danger to civilians as Israeli forces battle Hamas militants.

Other countries are suspending flights to Israel as well. There is enormous concern right now about flying over war zones after the shoot-down of Malaysia Flight 17. We have our correspondents, analysts, newsmakers, they're all standing by. We are following all the new developments here in the Middle East and in the Ukraine crash.

First, more on the breaking news affecting thousands of travelers in the United States and around the world.


BLITZER (voice-over): Hamas has threatened to aim its rockets at Israel's main airport. And this time, one landed dangerously close, hitting a nearby town and damaging a home. That forced a Delta plane from New York to Tel Aviv to divert in midflight and land in Paris.

CNN's John Vause was on board.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Out of an abundance of caution, they have decided to reroute the plane, now heading back to Paris.

BLITZER: Now the FAA has banned all U.S. airlines some flying to and from Israel for at least 24 hours because of security concerns. Other international airlines also are canceling flights to Israel, including Lufthansa, KLM and Air France.

As Israel presses ahead with its assault on Hamas targets in Gaza, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Egyptian and Arab League officials in Cairo to push for a cease-fire.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The loss of lives and the humanitarian impact is really heartbreaking.

BLITZER: The death toll on both sides is rising. Most of Israel's casualties are troops, including a missing soldier, now believed to be dead after the ambush of an armored personnel carrier, according to Israeli media, and two Israeli-American soldiers killed during fighting in Gaza, one of them a Texas native. His funeral held in Israel, drawing thousands of mourners.

More funerals in Gaza as well. The United Nations says up to 80 percent of Palestinians killed in the fighting are civilians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pressure is mounting. And I hope this massacre will stop.

BLITZER: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and urged both sides to agree to a cease- fire.

BAN KI-MOON, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL: My message to Israelis and Palestinians is the same: Stop fighting. Start talking.

BLITZER: Prime Minister Netanyahu argued that ultimately there isn't much Israel can do to satisfy Hamas because he says they are terrorists who want to kill civilians and wipe out Israel.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Hamas is like ISIS. Hamas is like al Qaeda. Hamas is like Hezbollah. Hamas is like Boko Haram. In the face of such terror, Israel has no options but to defend itself.


BLITZER: The Palestinian death toll in Gaza now is up to 630. At least 30 Israelis have also died, 28 soldiers, two civilians.

Let's go live to Gaza right now for the very latest on the fighting there. Karl Penhaul is on the scene.

What are you seeing, Karl? What are you hearing? KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Wolf. That

debt toll continues to mount, now more than 630. That means effectively in the last 24 hours there have been around 80 deaths.

Of course, the United Nations still insisting that between 70 and 80 percent of the casualties are in fact civilians, noncombatants. But, tonight, now that night has fallen, we are once again hearing heavy artillery fire. And it looks to be coming just from the east of Gaza City. We have also seen some flares up in the sky. That in previous nights has tended to indicate that Israeli ground troops are on the move, difficult to see here exactly.

The reason they are putting those illumination flares into the sky is that a lot of the Israeli troops don't appear, at least from the night-vision scope video that we have seen, they don't seem to be operating with night-vision goggles. That's why in the last phases of maneuver, they are putting those illumination rounds up.

We have seen that tonight. Does that mean that Israeli ground forces are coming deeper into Gaza? Could well be. As I say, that's been backed at certain points throughout the evening with heavy artillery fire as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Looks like no end in sight, at least for now. Let's see if the cease-fire can be achieved in the coming days. Karl Penhaul in Gaza, thanks very much.

Let's get back now to the dramatic new development. The FAA back in Washington temporarily banning all U.S. flights to and from Israel's main airport -- that would be Ben Gurion International Airport -- after a Hamas rocket from Gaza landed not very far away.

Joining us now for an exclusive interview, the director of Israel's Civil Aviation Authority, Giora Romm.

Mr. Romm, thanks very much for joining us.

Your reaction to what the U.S. government has decided to at least for 24 hours ban all U.S. flights in and out of Israel?


Yes, there was a decision -- there is a decision, an FAA decision to hold all-American flights for the next 24 hours. We held a conference call with the FAA officials about an hour ago in which we gave them full analysis of the precautions that Israel has taken in the last 15 days, how we conducted full operational airport, the Ben Gurion Airport.

And we are awaiting their decision.

BLITZER: Well, they make the point -- and we just heard it again from the White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, who told, as the FAA said in their statement, that this rocket landed within a mile of the Ben Gurion International Airport. We showed our viewers the damage that was done to that home there.

Isn't it wise now to err on the side of caution, if rockets are getting so close to the airport? Maybe it would be smart to avoid flying into Ben Gurion, at least for the time being?

ROMM: Wolf, we are now about 2,200 rockets later and 15 days of fight and about 6,000 flights. And not even a single rocket landed in Ben Gurion.

And it is not a miracle and not a trick. We know how to defend Ben Gurion, period. And we know how to do it. We have prepared ourselves. We know how to conduct air traffic management. We know how to safeguard Ben Gurion.

And we know that that rocket was going to impact a point across the fence of Ben Gurion. And for different reasons, we let it impact that house in Yehud. But Ben Gurion itself has seen no single rocket. And I think the chances that it will see a rocket inside is extremely slim. And I expect the FAA to reconsider a decision.

BLITZER: Following the FAA decision, Mr. Romm, as you know, most of the European airlines, major ones like Lufthansa, KLM, they suspended flying in and out of Israel for 24 or 36 hours, some of the Asian airlines.

Except for El-Al, are there other commercial airlines still flying in and out of Israel?

ROMM: I had a very busy evening, so I don't have all of the information. I think British Airways is flying in and out of Israel. And there are others.

But, yes, Wolf, you are right. The Europeans were running immediately after the Americans. I don't know if they have judgment of their own. But I do hope that when the Americans will hopefully change their mind, the Europeans will do the same.

BLITZER: How big of a deal is this for Israel? Let's say there's no flights coming in except for El-Al and a few other smaller carriers. This could be a major, a major problem for Israel. This is a heavy tourism season. A lot of tourists have already canceled because of the fighting with Hamas. You are going to lose a lot of revenue for Israel, aren't you?

ROMM: Wolf, I will not hide it from you. This is a major setback from Israel, the unfortunate American decision and what followed later was the European decisions.

And it is a big hit to the Israeli economy and to our pride that we could have hold and maintain the area traffic to and from Israel. And as I said for the third time, we hope that the FAA will reconsider its decision after we gave the FAA a very thorough analysis of why we believe that Ben Gurion is a safe and secure airport and we will see Delta and U.S. Airways and United flying again to Israel.

BLITZER: When you spoke to the FAA, and you say you just got off a conference call with the FAA back in Washington, did they cite only this one rocket that landed about a mile away from Ben Gurion Airport, or did they site other factors as well?

I think -- Mr. Romm, can you still hear me or have we lost communications with you? Mr. Romm, can you hear me?

ROMM: As far as I understand, this is -- I can hear you loud and clear.

BLITZER: All right, go ahead.


BLITZER: Were there other reasons they offered other than this one rocket that landed near the airport? Did they say there were other factors as well?

ROMM: Absolutely not, Wolf.

The regulation, the FAA regulation said that if there is less than one mile hit on the rocket from the fence from the perimeter of the airport, activity of U.S. carriers is put on hold for about 24 hours. They didn't mention any other thing or any other activity which they feel uneasy about.

BLITZER: Giora Romm is the head of the Israeli Aviation Authority.

Mr. Romm, thanks very much for joining us. We will touch back with you, touch base with you tomorrow, to see where this situation is unfolding, Giora Romm of the Israel Aviation Authority.

Let's get an update now on the efforts to try to promote a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. A cease-fire if that were really to go into effect, presumably, the airport at Ben Gurion -- the flights in and out of Ben Gurion would resume as normal.

There have been ongoing talks in Cairo involving Secretary of State John Kerry.

Saeb Erekat is the chief Palestinian negotiator and he is joining us on the phone now from Jericho on the West Bank.

Saeb, thanks very much for joining us. What is the very latest? I know have you been working very hard with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to get a cease-fire. Where does it stand?

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Well, it is very, very critical, intensive efforts being exerted by Secretary Kerry, by President Abbas, by the Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, by Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, and by Mr. Khalid Attiyah, the foreign minister of Qatar.

I think there are parallel tracks trying to work out a balance between a cease-fire that would be accepted and then lifting the siege from Gaza. I cannot tell you at this particular moment, at this minute that we are close or we are far away. All I'm saying, it's the most serious efforts that we have seen in the

last 15 days being exerted now, with the focus on Secretary Kerry. I think he is now holding all the lines and he just was on the phone about 15 minutes ago with President Abbas. And maybe, maybe by the early hours of the morning, I'm not saying -- I don't want to raise expectations or raise hopes, but I hope that these efforts will culminate in reaching the balance between the cease-fire and lifting the siege and beginning the negotiations under the umbrella of the Egyptians.

BLITZER: Because when I spoke to Osama Hamdan of Hamas, he was in Doha, Qatar, in the last hour, he seemed to think there was a good chance there could a cease-fire as well. Here's the question. The last time there was a serious Egyptian proposal, as you know, the Israelis accepted it, the Palestinian Authority accepted it, the Arab League accepted it. Hamas rejected it because they said they weren't actually presented formally that proposal.

Are you confident that Hamas, this time around, will in fact accept a cease-fire?

EREKAT: Well, as you know Wolf, yesterday, President Abbas spent almost three hours with Mr. Khaled Meshaal and Hamas politburo, and I know that Mr. Khalid Attiyah, the foreign minister of Qatar, is spending last night and tonight also a lot of meetings with Hamas leadership.

And I'm telling you the parallel tracks with Sameh Shoukry, the foreign minister of Egypt, with our guys also in Cairo, and with Mr. Kerry being the focal point of all these contacts, I'm crossing my fingers, Wolf. I don't want to raise anybody's expectations, but I think if we can create the balance, and it's doable, between the cease-fire and lifting the siege and both sides getting their obligation, of course, at the end of the day, we have a national consensus government, Palestinian national consensus government that would be fully in charge of the implementation, whether opening the passages, whether the sea, with the prisoner issues, and the humanitarian aid and the reconstruction of Gaza.

So let's hope that by tomorrow morning -- or tomorrow night when you speak to me, I will be explaining the details of how it was reached and was agreed. I'm really hoping that we can succeed. But I'm not giving you anything concrete tonight because I don't want to raise anyone's expectations. I have been there before. I don't want to raise anyone's expectations. All I can say, it's the most intensive efforts that are being exerted the minute I'm speaking to you now, Wolf.

BLITZER: That does sound somewhat encouraging. But you're absolutely right, it's not a deal until it is a done deal. Even if it is a signed deal, then you have to implement it. And there can easily be violations, as we all know.

The last time the Egyptians put this proposal forward, they said a cease-fire right away. As I pointed out earlier, the Israelis accepted. This time around, would it be a cease-fire and then all of the other issues would be discussed and negotiated or are some of those other issues that, for example, Hamas wants included in this deal right now, are they going to be implemented right away, presuming the Israelis would accept?

EREKAT: I think the approach now is not the sequential approach, what is first and what is second and what is third.

I think now we're working in parallel tracks. We're working on a track called the cease-fire track, called the implementation of obligations, lifting the siege, lifting the closure. So, I think it's parallelism now, not sequential.

And I think what you said about there is no done deal. Even if it is a done deal, it may be complicated. I think you know the Middle East very well, Wolf, so let's hope and pray we can have an agreement that can be implemented as of tomorrow.

BLITZER: Let's hope indeed. We will touch base with you same time same place tomorrow.

Saeb Erekat joining us from Jericho on the West Bank, let's hope this fighting stops and people can go back to their lives and hopefully, hopefully emerging out of this. We can only hope and pray that there can be a resumption of the peace process eventually leading to real peace, two-state solution, as it's called, Israel and Palestine living side by side. Let's see if that can be achieved. It's a dream right now, and it's seems unlikely. But maybe something good in the end can yet emerge from this disaster.

Saeb Erekat, thanks very much.

Still ahead, we will have more on the breaking story we are following. The new U.S. ban on flights to and from Israel and growing fears about planes flying near an active combat zone.

Congressman Peter King is standing by. He's on the Homeland Security Committee, on the Intelligence Committee. He has good inside information. He will tell us what we all need to know about flight dangers around the world.


BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures of JFK Airport in New York City. Planes coming and going as normal, except those going to Israel tonight.

Here in Jerusalem Israeli officials are telling me that new U.S. ban on flights to and from Israel was not needed. The FAA clearly, they feel, overreacted. FAA felt otherwise, taking this rare action after a rocket fell not far from Ben Gurion International Airport, about a mile or so away.

Let's bring in our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh.

Rene, what is the latest there you are hearing from aviation authorities? RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: I tell you this, Wolf, the

FAA is making a rare move, and it's a decision that has angered the U.S. ally Israel.


MARSH (voice-over): All U.S. airline flights in and out of Israel canceled. One Delta flight turned around midair. The flight path shows the plane bored for Tel Aviv with 290 passengers and crew on board was diverted to Paris.

The U.S. government taking no chances after last week's deadly missile attack on Malaysia Flight 17 and after this, rocket remnants found in a demolished house just one mile from Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. The FAA alerting airlines even before it could send out a 24-hour ban on flights, and jittery carriers responding immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A super-sensitive reaction to what happened on Monday over the Ukraine by the U.S. carriers.

MARSH: Other airlines following suit, United, U.S. Air and some international carriers, including Lufthansa, KLM and Norwegian. But Israel is pushing back, trying to reassure airlines it is safe to fly to and from its main airport.

An angry Israeli transport minister called the U.S. move a "prize to terror." The country's own airline, El-Al, continues to fly. Currently, the FAA prohibits U.S. airlines from flying over Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, North Korea, Northern Ethiopia and Libya. U.S. planes can fly over Iraq, but only above 20,000 feet.

And the FAA warns of dangers, including missiles and small arms fire, for airlines flying over eight countries, including Syria and Afghanistan. But it's up to the individual airline to heed the warning. Some critics say security decisions belong solely with government and said FAA warnings urging airlines to use "extreme caution" is too vague.

JIM HALL, FORMER CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: I have no idea what extreme caution means at 33,000 feet in a commercial airliner that has no protection against any ground missiles. I don't know what FAA is saying there.


MARSH: Well, 11 days ago, the military arm of Hamas threatened an attack on the airport. But to be clear, that did not prompt the FAA ban on flights. It's today's rocket attack that did it. The FAA will reassess the ban in 24 hours, but the question remains, when it does lift this ban, will that reassure airlines to resume flights or will they need a cease-fire, Wolf?

BLITZER: Rene Marsh reporting for us, thanks, Rene.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. Congressman Peter King, Republican of New York, is joining us. He's a key member of the House Homeland Security Committee and the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, I spoke with Mark Regev. He's the spokesman for the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He insists, as other Israeli officials insist, there is no real danger flying in and out of Ben Gurion Airport. Do you agree or disagree?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: No, I certainly understand where Israel is coming from. I understand their disappointment. I can even understand their anger.

But, again, the FAA has to put American interests first. And I believe that the security analysis is the best thing to do. I regret that it has to be done. And if anything it should show us how dangerous Hamas is and why we should not be getting in the way of Israel when it attempts to go after Hamas and finish what they have to do.

Again, I understand Israel's anger at this, but again we have to protect Americans. I think the president and the administration have to make it clear as this does go forward that is not in any way going to be used as a wedge against Israel.

So, John Kerry has to watch what he says. The president has to make it clear that he is not showing any equivalency here between Israel and Hamas, because that, I think, puts the good faith of the United States in question. But at the moment, I believe the FAA has the obligation to make sure that Americans are safe, in view of the fact that that rocket did come so close to the airport.

BLITZER: Well, here is a question, though. Based on what you know -- and you're privy to a lot of sensitive information -- was the FAA's decision based strictly on that one rocket getting through Israel's Iron Dome system and landing about a mile or so away from Ben Gurion Airport and destroying that home? Or are there other threats out there that we may not necessarily know about that influence the FAA?

KING: Wolf, I have not received a briefing on it.

But I would say it probably the accumulation of events, particularly culminating in the rocket attack that fell short. But, again, considering how vicious the fighting is getting in the Middle East and looking back at what happened in Ukraine, I think the FAA decided it was better to be safe than sorry.

But, again, I would hope that the security report is done, security analysis is done. And if it does conclude that the airport is safe, that flights can resume, because we can't allow Hamas and other terrorists to score these type of victories.

Again, we have to look out for American safety and security, but we have to also make sure that we aren't giving any unintended or unnecessary victory to Hamas. And also again I can't emphasize enough how important it is that we not try to hold Israel back as it goes forward against Hamas.

And I really disagree with the administration's people, such as Ben Rhodes, who say that Israel hasn't done enough to protect civilians. Considering the nature of that war, considering what is going an and considering what happens in any war, I think Israel has gone above and beyond what has to be done. And we should not be undermining Prime Minister Netanyahu as he goes forward.

BLITZER: On that whole point about Israel going too far, we heard that earlier today from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She said that there was a question of proportionality. Now Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for the president, he told me just a little while ago that the Israelis can do better in pinpointing, if you will, what they are doing.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: You are saying you are satisfied with the actions Israel has taken. Is that what you are saying?

KING: I am. I'm satisfied with the actions Israel is taking. I'm very, very disappointed in the words coming from the administration to have Ben Rhodes basically undermining -- undermining Israel in the midst of its war.

On the one hand they're saying Israel has the right to defend itself, but on the other hand they're effectively saying they're going too far. That's wrong. They're doing what they have to do. and I would hope these statements from Madeline Albright and Ben Rhodes are not part of a concerted effort to undermine Israel to weaken their position and get them to the bargaining table. Israel should be allowed to do what it has to do to protect itself. If we were being attacked from Mexico and Canada, we certainly wouldn't want third parties coming in and telling us not to.

BLITZER: All right. Peter King, the member of the homeland security committee, the intelligence committee. Thanks very much for joining us.

KING: Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll have the latest on the investigation into the downing of Malaysia Flight 17, including growing international anger over what one world leader calls evidence tampering on an industrial scale.

Also, a closer look at the pro-Russian rebels, their mysterious leader, and where they're getting their arsenal of heavy weapons.


BLITZER: We're live here in Jerusalem. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting. We've got breaking news. Let's go right to Washington. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, you're learning some details about that conversation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had with Secretary of State John Kerry. What are you learning? JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

I'm told by an Israeli official, Wolf, Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear to Secretary of State John Kerry that there is no reason to suspend flights to Israel. So you're seeing a strong pushback now from Israeli officials to American officials.

I heard from the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. earlier today making the same point that we can -- the Israelis saying, in effect, we can keep Tel Aviv airport safe. There's no reason for the FAA and for U.S. airlines to take this step. Just again, repeating an Israeli official confirming to CNN that Prime Minister Netanyahu, in the words of this Israeli official, made clear to Secretary Kerry there is no reason to suspend flights to Israel. That's the Israeli position.

On the other international story we've been covering, Wolf, of course, the crash of MH-17 in Eastern Ukraine, I've been following the response today from European leaders. And you hear today the French president saying that France will go ahead with the sale of advanced warships to Russia. This over U.S. objections, and even as Russia continues to arm the rebels in Ukraine, however. European Union leaders announced today that they are considering a new round of economic sanctions against Russia. At first step some hope towards more severe penalties.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): From leaders in Australia --

TONY ABBOTT, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: What we have seen is evidence tampering on an industrial style.

SCIUTTO: -- to the U.K. --

DAVID CAMERON, PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: Compounded by sickening reports and looting of victims' possessions and interference with the evidence.

SCIUTTO: -- to the Ukraine, where MH-17 now lies scattered in pieces --

PETRO POROSHENKO, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: This is the terrorist style (ph).

SCIUTTO: -- international outrage is mounting fury at the thought of a commercial airliner being shot out of the sky and at the pro- Russian rebels now lording over the wreckage.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What exactly are they trying to hide?

SCIUTTO: So far, though, aside from voicing anger, no country is taking significant action to wrest control of the site from the rebels.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are not only outraged at the attack itself. We are horrified and enraged by what has happened since. SCIUTTO: The U.N. Security Council has unanimously demanded access to

the site. But trying to take control of a crime scene from the rebels suspected of the crime is not without its challenges.

Rebels released victims' bodies to international investigators just yesterday. And made a media spectacle of the simple task of handing over the plane's flight recorders.

Crews as to what happened here are still infuriatingly muddled by mismanagement and interference. Those trying to collect evidence are returning with little more than photographs and anecdotes.

DANIEL BAER, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE TO OSCE: The first day in particular, they showed up had really terrible treatment. People were visibly drunk on the scene, and they weren't allowed to see much of anything.

SCIUTTO: The leader of the pro-Russian rebels, a suspect now in this crime, seems defensive, even amused by it all, rolling his eyes at the question of accountability.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Why weren't the bodies taken care of and given dignity sooner?

ALEXANDER BORODAI PRO-RUSSIAN REBEL LEADER (through translator): You know, it is a fantastic story. The thing is that as soon as members of OSCE arrived, they notified us that, if we start moving the bodies, then we would be responsible.

SCIUTTO: So now, as the victims' bodies move one step closer to home, this question: When will the international community finally gain control of the scene where they perished?


SCIUTTO: While investigators have been largely banned from the site, a photo of the wreckage reveals what could be a damning clue. Experts at JANES (ph) tell me the pockmarks visible in these photos, captured first by the "New York Times," are consistent with the blast of an SA- 11 or Buk fragmentation warhead. Both the size and pattern of these holes indicating, as other U.S. intelligence found, that it was a Russian-made system, Wolf, that brought this plane down.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting for us. Jim, thanks very much.

All of this as U.S. intelligence officials confirmed the transfer of Russian equipment across the border. We're getting a clearer picture of the pro-Russian rebels who have essentially had control of the crash site in Eastern Ukraine. Among them, the enigmatic man who has emerged as their new leader. Who is he? How strong are his ties to Moscow, and where are they getting their firepower?

CNN's Brian Todd has been looking for answers. Brian is joining us now from Washington. What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have new sourced information tonight from U.S. government sources about this strange shadowy character who leads pro-Russian rebels in that area of Ukraine where the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down.

Despite his irreverent, bizarre interview with CNN and a teenager's attitude, we're learning he's got strong ties to the Kremlin.


TODD (voice-over): The jean jacket, black T-shirt, the roll of the eyes. He comes across like a 16-year-old being lectured by a parent. But this is the self-described prime minister of a key group of pro- Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine, a man named Alexander Borodai.

CNN's Chris Cuomo confronted him about intercepted conversations linking the rebels to the attack.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: How do you deny that it was your forces that brought down the plane?

BORODAI (through translator): It is very simple to disprove it. All of the information that comes through the Internet, in my opinion, is practically all lies.

TODD: By many accounts, this is the man who, until very recently, had control of the bodies of many victims and the black boxes from the Malaysia Airlines plane. Borodai called this crime scene an object of, quote, "black humor."

Before becoming leader of the Donetsk People's Republic in the spring, Borodai, a Russian citizens, claims to have been a political consultant back in Russia. Not much else is known about this 41-year- old, and there could be good reason for that.

ANDREW KUCHINS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: There were rumors that he was made a general in the FSB, the successor organization to KGB, back in 2002. Borodai has denied them.

TODD: A U.S. official tells CNN rumors that Borodai is a Russian intelligence agent are speculative, but he, quote, "clearly has ties to the regime in Moscow."

Borodai has claimed his forces didn't have weapons capable of striking an aircraft at such a high altitude. But A Buk missile launcher with that range was spotted inside rebel-held territory before the shoot down. It could have come from a rebel raid on a Ukrainian base in June.

But U.S. intelligence has a working theory that Russians supplied the rebels with the Buk launcher. Analysts say the rebels also got tanks, armored personnel carriers, multiple rocket launchers from the Russians in recent weeks.

The build-up of the rebels' arsenal, the events leading to the downing of the plane, could any of it have happened without some Russian involvement? IRENA CHALUPA, THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: I don't believe so. They have

relied on Russian support and Russian involvement throughout this entire exercise.


TODD: Analysts say the Buk missile launcher that downed that plane would likely have been operated with Russian expertise. Either Russian operatives or through instruction. Ukrainian defectors could have run the launcher. They deny any equipment in service with the Russian military crossed into the border into Ukraine -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thanks very much.

I want to quickly go back to Jim Sciutto, our chief national security correspondent.

Jim, I understand now we're getting an on-the-record statement about that phone conversation between Prime Minister Netanyahu and secretary of state John Kerry. Including the element about the decision by the FAA to shut down U.S. Carriers from flying in and out of Ben Gurion Airport outside of Tel Aviv.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Well, just a few moments ago, we heard from an Israeli official that Prime Minister Netanyahu in this phone call, in effect lobbies Secretary Kerry to end the FAA band, saying there is no reason to do that.

Now we hear the State Department characterization, confirming that the FAA ban came up during the conversation but also showing here wolf that U.S. Officials really at least at this point are unbending in this decision State Department spokesperson saying the only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens. FAA continues to monitor and evaluation this situation and will issue updated guidelines no later than 24 hours from the time that this notice went into force. So at least opening up the window that they might reevaluate and make a different decision.

BLITZER: We will see what they do. Very, very critical decision for Israel right now. Critical decision potentially there for passengers flying in and out of Israel, we well. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Still ahead, Tel Aviv bustles. But a growing list of no-fly zones added, at least temporarily for a growing list of commercial airliners. We're taking a closer look at some of the most dangerous places to fly.


BLITZER: Still ahead, Tel Aviv bustles. But new warnings added at least temporary to a growing list of no-fly zones for commercial airliners. We are taking a closer look of some of the most dangerous places to fly.


BLITZER: We're back live from Jerusalem.

There's huge concern right now about flights over war zones after the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine.

Tom Foreman is taking a closer look at some of the most dangerous places to fly.

Tom, what are you seeing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, look at flight patterns all around the world right now, and now, look at the places that the FAA says that U.S. carriers either should not fly or should have extreme caution about flying.

And there are two key reasons why. The first has to do with what we just saw in Ukraine. Great, big, robust missile systems that are capable of hurting planes that are flying way up their cruising altitude of 30,000 feet. In that case, you're talking about something like the BUK system, which is so powerful and so well-targeted, it can reach all the way up there and take out almost anything.

So, look at the range of that. It can be tremendously destructive. It has, interestingly enough, some limitations for all its strength. A system like this really has to have a government to buy it, support it and make it operate. Secondly, the troops running it have to have a high degree of training. And, thirdly, all of that makes tracking possible.

We're watching it right now. When you fire something as powerful as this, it is tracked around the world and other governments weigh in and they want answers.

Which bring us to the second threat that aviation experts are worried about -- the smaller manned portable air defense systems or MANPADs as they're called. This can't reach nearly as high. They can only reach two or three miles up. You would think that that makes this plane safe.

But every plane in the world has to take off and land and that brings them into this area. And this system may scare them more than the big systems, Wolf, aviation experts out there, because it's highly portable, weighing only 30 or 40 pounds. It can be concealed and moved quickly.

The targeting on these shoulder-fired rockets has vastly improved over the past 15 years, and the groups working them are more organized. Think about ISIS out there. Those groups can send out platoons of people with missiles like this.

And in the wake of what happened in Ukraine, this is why aviation security analysts all over the world are saying, is there something we're missing? Are those twin threats somehow threatening more passengers, more flights and especially American flights out there for the American government? Wolf?

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much. Let's bring in our aviation analyst, Peter Goelz, and our law

enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes.

Peter, when you heard that the FAA and now, the Europeans following the FAA, decided to ban commercial airliner flights in and out of Tel Aviv over the next 24 to 36 hours. What was your immediate reaction? And you're an expert.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I found it to be completely understandable. I mean, there you have an active war going on. You've got an international airport where planes are coming in to land and take off.

As we just saw, you don't need more than 10,000 or 12,000 feet for a MANPAD to be very effective. I think it was the right thing to do. The insurance liability of flying in there over this ban is simply too great.

BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, what did you think?


And I'd like to add, what Tom Foreman just said I don't think has gotten enough attention. I've heard Bob Baer talk about this many times. These shoulder-held weapons can be taken anywhere. You can put them in the back of a station wagon or a minivan and drive them wherever you want. Hamas could go through one of their tunnels, carry one of these into there, get in a station wagon and sit outside of Ben-Gurion Airport and certainly shoot an incoming or outgoing airplane almost at their pleasure.

Those missiles are heat seeking. They go up to 14,000, 15,000 feet. An airplane can't take off fast enough or land fast enough to avoid it.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens tomorrow. We'll follow the breaking news.

Peter and Tom, guys, thanks very, very much.

Still to come, we've got a lot more news on the Israeli military in a seek-and-destroy mission targeting a tunnel network threatening to bring the fight with Hamas on to home soil.


BLITZER: The Israel military says a major objective of its current operation is to take out an intricate network of tunnels. It says the underground web is taking the fight beyond Gaza and on to Israel's own home turf.

CNN's Martin Savidge has details.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The same thing that has challenged and slowed Israeli soldiers in Gaza is now spilling the war out of Gaza into Israel. Tunnels.

Early Monday, Israel defense forces say two terror squads of Hamas militants used tunnels to infiltrate from northern Gaza into Israel near the town of Sderot, possibly intending to launch an attack on civilians.

This Israeli military video is said to show five of those Hamas fighters first crouching in the brush then firing on nearby Israeli soldiers, their rifles raised and recoiling after each shot. At one point, one of the men can be seen reloading. The militants appear to retreat back to their tunnel when an Israeli air strike hits.

The incident forced area roads to closed, residents to shelter in their homes and tied up security forces for hours. The military says 10 Hamas militants were killed and a number of Israeli soldiers wounded.

Inside Gaza, the IDF says a well-organized and deeply entrenched network of tunnels has hampered Israeli movement, allowing militants to pop up unexpectedly, firing on soldiers or tossing grenades before dropping back out of sight.

Israeli military officials refer to the underground works as lower Gaza and suggest at least some of the war is being waged underground. Engineers methodically work to destroy them using heavy earth moving equipment or explosives.

Israel believes there are many more tunnels yet to be found and as soldiers battle through Gaza's streets, another danger lurks just beneath their feet.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Jerusalem.


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