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Obama Administration Levels Criticism at Israel; Continuing Aid to Israel; Toledo Mayor Announces Lift of No-Drink Advisory; Multiple Militant Groups in Gaza; Second Suspect Featured on CNN's "The Hunt" Found Dead

Aired August 4, 2014 - 09:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

The Obama administration is leveling some of the strongest criticism yet of Israel in the wake of a weekend shelling near another U.N. school. The State Department slamming the act as, quote, "disgraceful," saying Israel must do more to avoid civilian casualties. Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, joins us now.

Elise, tell us more.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, inevitably, in every conflict with Israel and the Palestinians or in 2006 the Lebanese, there comes this point where the United States' long-standing position that Israel has the right to defend itself comes up against the pictures that you see on television and all the civilian casualties that come across because of Israel's, you know, a- symmetrical role in the conflict and the heavy fire power. Take a listen to State Department spokesman Jen Psaki this morning on "New Day" talking about this very dilemma.


JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: It's no secret to anyone in the world that the United States and Israel have a strong security relationship. And that includes providing them with equipment and supplies when it's need. That's been ongoing. We also do an enormous amount of funding for the Iron Dome. We worked with them and with their military. But that does not change the fact that when you have a situation where innocent civilians are killed in Gaza, there's more that Israel can do to hold themselves to their own standard.


LABOTT: And there Jen Psaki talking about the criticism that the U.S. is facing because a lot of the ammunition and weapons, Carol, are American-made weapons. And I'm told that obviously the U.S. still feels that Hamas is to blame and Israel has a right to defend itself from these attacks, as everyone has said. But at the same time, I think there's a feeling from officials and diplomats that I'm speaking to that enough is enough. It's time to end this because it doesn't justify so many civilian deaths.


COSTELLO: All right, Elise Labott reporting live for us this morning.

And as Elise said, despite U.S. concern over civilian casualties, America continues to pump billions and billions of dollars into Israel so it can keep on bombing Gaza. Since World War II, the U.S. has given Israel about $121 billion in foreign assistance, almost all of it in the form of military aid. And just last week, Congress authorized another $225 million for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system. Joining me now Ross Douthat, CNN political commentator and "New York Times" op-ed columnist, and Marc Lamont Hill, CNN political commentator and host of "HuffPost Live."

Welcome, gentlemen.



COSTELLO: Good morning.

So, Marc, why complain about civilian casualties if the United States is handing Israel the money to launch the air strikes after the fact?

HILL: It's a -- that's a great question. That's a question that many of us have been asking for many, many years. I'm pleased to see the United States finally joining the international community and condemning Israel for this reckless assault on innocent lives. But it's hard to condemn Israel when you fund them with so much of the money, so many of the weapons.

Now, the United States will reasonably say that the Iron Dome funding was necessary on Friday, $225 million, because they want Israel to defend themselves from rocket fire. But if that's your position, then you have to have some sort of caveat, some sort of demand, some sort of imposition of peace. You can't simply say, oh, we're going to keep funding an Iron Dome in such a disproportionate attack on the people of Gaza.

COSTELLO: So, Ross, is the United States trying to have it both ways?

DOUTHAT: Well, I mean, these kind of situations aren't actually new. And to sort of focus on Israel in this particular way I think tends to obscure the fact that the United States has sent military aid to a lot of countries over the years, including Israel's neighbor Egypt, for a long time when Egypt was a military dictatorship engaged in far worse overall than anything that Israel has done in this conflict. So I don't think there's any inherent tension in the idea the United States having allies who, I mean, one, we've had allies who are not democracies like Israel and, you know, who are not attempting overall to avoid civilian casualties. And, two, in this particular case, I don't think there's any inherent

tension in the U.S. saying, we support Israel's right to defend itself. We believe that this is a just war overall, but we're criticizing certain elements of the excuse here. That is I don't actually think there's a necessary hypocrisy here.

COSTELLO: Really, Marc, there's no hypocrisy there?

DOUTHAT: I think it's entirely possible. I mean, look, the United States government runs its own military, right? And the United States government starts wars and sometimes in those wars we do things wrong. And, you know, there's a distinction between the justice of the war overall and the justice with specific actions. And nobody would say, oh, it's hypocritical for the U.S. to continue funding military operations in Afghanistan after we apologized for, you know, accidentally dropping a bomb on a wedding party or one of the various terrible things that happened in our own wars.

HILL: Yes, Ross --

DOUTHAT: So I don't think it's necessarily unreasonable to have the same sort of double -- double effect in Israel.

HILL: All right, here's the thing.


HILL: No, I was just going to say, Ross -- I mean I agree with Ross to some extent. I mean as an exercise in logic, surely one could, at the same time, agree with the war going on, with the battle going on and still have a critique of Israel. That is entirely possible.

I think, Ross, for me, where the contradiction comes in, is when the United States is in a position to dictate the terms of the assault, the terms of the war. The United States, if it does not fund the Iron Dome, places Israel in an entirely different position. The United States, if it does not fund F-16s, is in an entirely different position. So what the United States could do and where the moral contradiction comes in, is when the United States refunds -- to the tune of $225 million on Friday, the Iron Dome program, without making any demands, without making any requests or requirements for the terms of the funding, to me, that's where the problem comes in because now the United States is throwing rocks and hiding its hands. It's suggesting that there's an unjust war going on that innocent civilians are being killed and U.N. schools and other safe havens and yet they're doing nothing to stop it from happening. They could control this war at this point. They could end this right now if they want to.

COSTELLO: And -- and certainly, Ross, Benjamin Netanyahu --

DOUTHAT: I actually don't --

COSTELLO: Knows that because he reportedly told the Obama administration to, quote, "never second guess him again" and not to force him to make any sort of truce with Hamas. And then he said, oh, yes, thanks for the money. It seems like Mr. Netanyahu is actually holding all the cards and the Obama administration is stuck on the sidelines.

DOUTHAT: But will the -- but part of the -- all right, but part of the reality here too is that Israel is an -- I mean, look, there's a very good argument that the U.S. should not be sending military aid to Israel any more. And it's an argument that some Israelis make, it's an argument that some supporters of Israel, supporters much more hawkish than myself frankly make domestically because Israel is a very wealthy country and is capable, in the long run, of defending itself without U.S. aid. So there's certainly an argument to be made that we shouldn't be funding them militarily overall.

The question is, once you're funding a country militarily, and once they're engaged in a war that overall you think that they have the right to engage in and that you think is potentially a just war, does it make sense to start threatening to cut off aid for the Iron Dome system, which has -- whose only purpose is protecting civilians in the middle of a conflict? And I think that that's a more debatable proposition. Again, stepping back, yes, there is a case that the U.S. shouldn't be funding Israel militarily because Israel doesn't actually need the money in the long run.


HILL: I think, though -- I think -- I think, though, the challenge here is that -- because if you look at the Iron Dome in isolation and, yes, Ross, I agree with you 100 percent, because the Iron Dome is exclusively a defensive mechanism. But what the Iron Dome does is it also takes away all of Hamas' military leverage, which is very different than saying 10 years ago or 15 years ago in other wars like Lebanon, et cetera. As a result, it allows -- it not only serves a defensive purpose, but the fact though it serves an offensive purpose. It allows Israel to essentially assault and siege Gaza without any retribution or response on the other side. So again, to some extent, they are not just funding defense, they are funding an offensive war and ultimately an occupation. That, for me, is the problem.

COSTELLO: All right, I'll leave it there. Ross Douthat, Marc Lamont Hill, thanks so much.

DOUTHAT: Thank you, Carol.

COSTELLO: I'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

COSTELLO: All right, a bit of great news for the people of Toledo, Ohio, including my in-laws, who I've been hearing from all weekend long. No one in Toledo, all 400,000 people who live in that city, have been able to drink their tap water because a huge algae bloom on Lake Erie. That's where the city of Toledo gets their water supply. The mayor just came out and held a news conference and, yes, you can drink your water. Again, the ban has been lifted. Listen.

(BEGIN LIVE FEED) MAYOR D. MICHAEL COLLINS, TOLEDO: The decisions that we made in the early morning hours of this day to return to the two specific neighborhoods and do random samplings in order to establish whether or not we had an issue within these neighborhoods has now been resolved. All six test results come back with no problems whatsoever. There's no discernable microsystems within these systems. So this entire city, at this moment in time, we have -- we are lifting, in conjunction with the Ohio EPA, the no drink -- no drink advisory. Our water is safe.

REPORTER: So how do we flush the system, Mike? How quickly can people go online?

COLLINS: OK, what I'm going to do is I'm going to have our health department speak to this issue rather than me give you a layman's opinion as to what flushing is and how it is required.

REPORTER: And can you tell us what the levels were last night that had you concerned and where they sit this morning?

COLLINS: Yes, I can. The levels that we sit -- you might as well ask what neighborhoods they were in, too.

REPORTER: Mike, can you tell us that as well?


COLLINS: OK, the neighborhoods were East Toledo and Point Place. The issues that we looked at in East Toledo was a level of 1.037. The issue at Point Place was 0.803. These numbers are all going to be available to you this afternoon at our council, the whole meeting. And so therefore the 1.037 is very, very close. It is very close, and it's less than 10 percent of going in to the range which would create for us the major concern. And it was inconsistent with the rest of these, by the way.

But let me just pose this question to you -- what would you say if you were the major? Because the mayor has to make a decision. What would you say if you were the mayor and then I asked you the question as a journalist?

Define for me the reasons why you say that Point Place and East Toledo has a variance when the water is coming out of the same plant, going through the same system, and using the same science. Now how would you answer that if I asked you that question? The answer is probably the same as mine last night. I'm not satisfied and I'm not moving until we can say that we have, with some sense of certainty, that our system is safe. And now therefore this morning as a result of the test --


COSTELLO: All right, we are going to break out of this. As you heard the mayor of Toledo saying, the water is now safe to drink. He was talking about criticism levied at him by the people of Toledo, saying there was a huge overreaction to this problem. But as you heard the mayor say, it's better to be safe than sorry. He also said, before you drink your tap water, you should do a few

things. I'm going to run down the list. You should flush your system. You should run your tap water for a few minutes before you drink it. And, of course, you should clean the filter in your ice makers just to make sure all that stuff is out of there.

And, again, it was because of this huge algae bloom on Lake Erie caused in part by farm runoff, fertilizer in the lake, and also by global warming. The mayor also went into those reasons, that very touchy subject in that part of the country. You can see what the water looked like; it looked like pea soup, right?

So you can drink your tap water again, but of course the crisis is not over because the mayor says it will likely happen again. We'll keep you posted.

Still to come on the NEWSROOM, the conflict in Gaza has focused on just two sides, Israel and Hamas. But the truth is, there are many other militant groups within Gaza all vying for control. The exact balance of power unclear and Israel's next move critically important. We'll talk about that, next.


COSTELLO: Just before the start of Israel's humanitarian cease-fire today, an IDF, Israeli Defense Forces, air strike in Gaza killed a militant leader, but it was not a Hamas leader. This militant was a commander for a group called Islamic Jihad. You see, Hamas is only part of the problem in Gaza.

CNN's Paula Hancocks has more for you.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what Israel is up against -- a secretive group of well trained killers who will stop at nothing to destroy a state they believe should not exist.

But this is not Hamas. This is the al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades, one of more than half a dozen different militant groups in Gaza. This group says it helped kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit back in 2006. They have been training to kidnap more -- a perfect example of why Israel and its allies should be worried by far more than just Hamas.

Hamas political leadership is not even in Gaza. It's based in Qatar. They say the occupation prevents them from going home. The reality is Israel would likely target them if they did.

Leader Khaled Mashaal has only been to Gaza once back in 2012. To effectively run Gaza, you have to be in Gaza.

Another problem for Hamas -- logistics. Imagine an area the size of Detroit, no power, little water, 1.8 million residents who can't leave, being run by a group that's a shadow of it its former self with a military wing worried about using cell phones that can be tracked by Israel.

KHALED ELGINDY, FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: Internal communication within Hamas has been disrupted, and so they have a hard time even getting on the same page internally, much less bringing outside groups into line. .

HANCOCKS: Despite this, Israel says Hamas rules the strip with an iron fist so whoever breaks the ceasefire, Hamas is accountable. But the reality is more complex. Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, Army of Islam, just a few of the better known groups. Te question is how many more splinter groups are there that, until now, may have been operating under the radar?

ELGINDY: We know that there are jihadi groups in the Gaza Strip. This is the sort of environment that jihadi groups tend to thrive in.

HANCOCKS: Israel blames Hamas for sparking this latest conflict perhaps to try and force concessions. The longer this lasts, the more this becomes a life or death battle for Hamas as well as the people of Gaza.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, New York.


COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, for the second time in two weeks, police catch up to a suspect just profiled on CNN's "THE HUNT." We'll tell you about that next.


COSTELLO: Checking some top stories for you at 58 minute past the hour. A U.S. marine jailed in Mexico since March is due back in court today. Andrew Tahmooressi is being held on weapons charges. He admits to driving into Mexico, where authorities say they found a pistol, shotgun, and rifle in his truck. Tahmooressi says he took a wrong turn from California -- from the California side of the border and inadvertently went into Tijuana.

Tropical Storm Bertha is expected to strengthen to a Category 1 hurricane today or tomorrow. But, as of now, there's no threat to the United States. Forecast track takes Bertha betweens Bermuda and the United States on Tuesday.

The suspect in the killings of his wife and two young children has been found dead. Shane Miller was profiled on the first episode of CNN's "THE HUNT WITH JOHN WALSH". Miller had been missing for more than a year following the deaths of his family in Northern California. His remains, confirmed by dental records were found on Friday, not far from where he ditched his truck.

This is a second death in a suspect profiled on the CNN series. Charles Mozdir was killed in a shootout with a New York City police detective last week. You can see all new episodes of "THE HUNT WITH JOHN WALSH" right here on CNN Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts now.