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Tropical Storm Dorian Heading For Puerto Rico; Political Feud Hampering Effort To Fight Fires; Opposition Parties Discuss Ways To Prevent No-Deal; Hezbollah Promises Revenge after Israeli Strikes in Syria; Smuggling in Africa and Middle East Threatens Cheetahs; KFC Minus the Chicken with Plant-Based Nuggets, Wings.. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 01:00   ET



[01:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello everybody! Thank you for joining us. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Ahead this hour, with a powerful tropical storm taking direct aim at Puerto Rico, the island is facing its first big test since the devastation of Hurricane Maria and Irma two years ago.

How to buy a cheetah online? A CNN investigation exposes how these endangered animals are being stolen from the wild and sold as pets, a vanity project for the rich and shameless which could end with extinction.

Now comes with chickenless chicken. A plant-based alternative being trialed by KFC, and judging by a frenzy to the store, it's finger- licking good. But is it healthy and will it help the planet?

Nearly two years after hurricanes Maria and Irma devastated Puerto Rico, a powerful tropical storm is churning through the Western Caribbean and on track for a direct hit on the U.S. territory. Here's Dorian's location at this hour. The storms impact has already been felt by Eastern Caribbean islands and is expected to be near hurricane strength when it hits Puerto Rico the coming hours.

Millions are bracing for the worst but hoping the island has done enough to avoid another deadly natural disaster. Puerto Rico's government -- governor says they're ready.


GOV. WANDA VAZQUEZ GARCED, PUERTO RICO (through translator): Puerto Rico has been through worse situations. I trust in the people of Puerto Rico. We are ready. We are going forward. We're going to wait and see how this emergency unfolds and we are going to be better prepared. We are much better prepared to cater to the needs you may have during this event.


VAUSE: We hope they are. For the very latest on Dorian, turn to Meteorologist a. You know, they're saying the power grid is going to be much better this time, these telephone lines are much better prepared. The only way I guess we'll find out is in the coming hours.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. You know, and this is a not a significant wind maker of a storm system here. Of course, it has really struggled in recent days to maintain intensity to gain a significant strength which is all great news but it is going to be the first real test here of the infrastructure across Puerto Rico.

An 85 kilometer per hour winds, a very, very compact storm system so it's going to be susceptible to interaction with the islands in its path, in particular, Puerto Rico which rises to well over 2,000 meters across parts of the island. So it really going to be a significant threat here when it comes to the islands, when it comes to flooding, and of course direct landfall we think sometime in the afternoon hours of Wednesday across the island as a strong tropical storm and then rapid weakening once it does cross the on because of the interaction with land.

But we take a look, tropical storm watches have been issued. Hurricane -- troublesome warnings and hurricane watches have been issued across the islands here as the storm approaches the region. But really the main concern with this particular storm not again a wind-driven event, it's going to be the amount of rainfall that's slated across parts of the island as much as 250 to 300 millimeters on the southern tier of the island. And again this is just in a matter of a six to eight hour period.

Model guidance pretty confident on where the initial track is right over Puerto Rico and of course beyond that into an area that is conducive for further development. We're talking about water temperatures approaching 30 degrees Celsius, also wind shear is reduced, and the storm kind of tracks north of the Turks and Caicos beyond this potentially just north of the Bahamas impacting portions of the Bahamas. But model guides have kind of shifted south in recent runs and then back to the north in the most recent advisory coming in from the National Hurricane Center.

And you noticed northern Florida and also portions of southern Georgia, the most likelihood area for a landfall, a second landfall sometime on Sunday afternoon. But you take a look, this could potentially strengthened into a category one hurricane on approach towards the eastern of the United States, the eastern coast of the Florida, John.

So certainly a big story, especially for areas such as Puerto Rico that have been tested before and this, is going to be the first real test since Maria, and then a holiday weekend, Labor Day weekend across the United States with plenty of beachgoers potentially in the path of such a storm as well.

VAUSE: A couple of anxious hours ahead for millions of people, American citizens we should say in Puerto Rico as Dorian hits that way. Thanks, Pedram.

JAVAHERI: Thanks, John.

VAUSE: To Puerto Rico now and joining us on the line from the seaside resort town of Rincon is Krystle Rivera. Krystle, thanks for being with us.


VAUSE: I'm good. Well, how are you, I guess, is the question. What's it been like there over the past few days as everyone prepares for this storm. It must be an incredibly high level of anxiety right now. What of your neighbors, your friends, what are they doing to prepare for this storm?

Well, basically you know, we're all getting a lot of supply of water and gas for our generators because we're conscious that we're going to be a while without our electricity.

[01:05:12] VAUSE: So what are you definitely compared to two years ago before you know, Maria made landfall?

RIVERA: Well, we know that -- the way this system is working now it's not going to hold up for this type of -- even if it's like tropical storm. It's not -- we know we're going to be without our electricity for a while. And before Maria, it was noticeable too because the way the lines were set up. and there was no maintenance of the electrical system so you could tell.

VAUSE: OK. The new governor has been in the job for what, less than a month. On Tuesday she tweeted this. I urge citizen to activate their emergency plan with caution and peace of mind. Our priority as a government is to be ready to respond effectively to any emergency. For citizens who do not yet have safe roofs, we will have shelters ready.

You know, the government has been trying to reassure everyone that the island is in much better shape now compared to two years ago, especially she's talking about the power grid and the phone lines. So it sounds to me like you don't have a lot of confidence that the government has learned from Hurricane Maria and that the power grid will hold up any better than it did last time.

RIVERA: No. Well, there's already places that don't have electricity. Earlier today, I was without electricity from 8:00 in the morning until around 1:00 in the afternoon so it didn't make any real sense. There's no rain or something. Nothing really is happening now for us to not have electricity and there's already places and blackout.

VAUSE: So tell me, how -- what's your plan for the coming day or days? How do you plan to ride this out?

RIVERA: Well, you know, trying to fill up every windows and doors we have, making sure we have enough gas, at least that last a couple of days for our generator and making sure we have enough water to last for a couple of days because we know we won't be able to leave to go to a gas station or find water out, you know.

VAUSE: Yes. I mean, as far as the government response though, do you think they've learned anything? Do you think the response, you know, from the Puerto Rican government I guess is crucial here because they'll be the first responders? Do you think that they have learned and you know, have got any systems in place that may kind of trying to avert a disastrous situation?

RIVERA: I really can't say because they won't make public their plan. They still haven't made public their plan of emergency. They keep on saying they have a plan and this is the third or fourth one that they find but they haven't really made it public to anyone.

VAUSE: Yes, it's one thing to say you've got a plan, I guess it's another thing altogether if that plan works. Krystle, we wish you all the best. Thank you so much for joining us on the phone there. Stay safe.

RIVERA: OK. Thank you. Have a good night.

VAUSE: Thank you. The U.S. President seemed taken by surprise when Dorian's path shifted. And instead of brushing past the island, now it appears to be on a direct course to Puerto Rico. Wow, he tweeted, yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end? Congress approved $93 billion for Puerto Rico last year. An all-time record of any of its kind for anywhere.

Congress did not approve $92 billion for Puerto Rico. That's a rough estimate of how much storm-related aid the U.S. territory will need over the next two decades. As CNN reports, so far roughly $42 billion in federal disaster relief funding has been allocated to Puerto Rico but only about 12 billion has actually been spent.

And while the president continues to repeat that lie about the amount of federal assistance for Puerto Rico, there is also this reporting from CNN. The Trump administration plans to shift at least $155 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Relief Fund to support his policy of returning some migrants to Mexico.

So if Puerto Rico about to face another natural disaster, part of the relief fund which was set aside to help the island recover will instead be used to pay for a massive increase in detention beds and temporary courts because of a Trump policy which requires tens of thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed in the U.S. Funds from Puerto Rico to pay for jails for Mexicans, message received.

Moving on now, Brazil will accept foreign aid, after all, to help fight the fires in the Amazon. But there is one condition. A spokesman says the Brazilian government must have sole authority over how the money is spent. Earlier President Jair Bolsonaro seems to shrug off $20 million in aid from G7 countries because of a spat with the French president. Here's CNN's Nick Paton Walsh.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Vanity before humanity in the Earth's most urgent environmental crisis. Brazil's leader demanding an apology from French President Emmanuel Macron today threatening to reject $20 million to fight the Amazon rainforest fires, the very ones burning in his own backyard and destroying a vital habitat all because President Jair Bolsonaro says Macron crossed a line by calling him a liar on his commitment to the environment.

[01:10:12] JAIR BOLSONARO, PRESIDENT, BRAZIL (through translator): Mr. Macron should think two, three times before he attempts to get out of the complicated situation he is in.

WALSH: The Brazilian government initially turning down the offer of aid from the G7 alliance. Bolsonari adding he didn't trust the motivation behind the money telling reporters earlier this week, why do they have their eye on the Amazon? What do they want there? Then accusing France of treating them as if we were a colony or no-man's land.

The Brazilian president has touted himself as a protector and ally of the Amazon but critics say since he came into office he's just hurt it. Deforestation has risen 80 percent since 2018. And there 85 percent more fires than this time last year.

His fire brigade has seen the spike firsthand. Most of the fires they fight often by hand are deliberately lit by people they say. It is a tiring uphill struggle.

CARMEN CRISTINA DE SILVA, COORDINATOR, FIRE BRIGADE (through translator): Nowadays we feel sometimes even a bit powerless because we work so hard to get some reduction and thus far it is only increased even more.

WALSH: This team of 30 firefighters cover an enormous area in one of the worst affected states in the Amazon. But the $20 million the world's seven richest nations have pledged to fight this climate emergency and the Brazil may not even accept would only pay for 70 units of this size for one year across the whole of the Amazon.

Bolsonaro responded to the intense pressure this weekend vowing to send 43,000 troops to fight the fires. But it is a race against time and when it comes to world leaders against their pride too. Nick Paton Walsh, CNN Porto Belo, Brazil.


VAUSE: Well, the fire is raging across the rainforest could totally change the ecosystem with devastating results especially for the thousands of species indigenous to the region. Here's CNN's Shasta Darlington.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Amazon rainforest is a living, breathing treasure trove of life we're experts say ten percent of the Earth's creatures live. It's home to a multitude of species.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, at least 40,000 different types of plants, over 400 mammals, more than 300 reptiles and 3,000 species of freshwater fish. But with fires burning their habitats at record rates, what chances do any of them have of survival? DANIEL ARISTIZABAL, AMAZON CONSERVATION TEAM: Every year these fires

occur. This year has been bigger than the past but it's something that the wildlife is struggling with for the last decades. And we're just scared that this could be a tipping point.

DARLINGTON: Experts say it's possible that many animals will die either from the flames, heat, or smoke inhalation. Slower animals like sloths have slimmer chances of escape. Animals that can move quickly like Jaguars have better odds but with lasting consequences.

ROBERTO TROYA, WORLD WILDLIFE FUND: The Jaguar needs to move in very vast spaces. What will happen with those populations that they're going to migrate to "safer places" and they're going to leave. They're not going to be seen in the -- in the places that have been devastated.

DARLINGTON: In the long term it's a loss for all as the food chain will be dramatically diminished.

ARISTIZABAL: It's all connected. So what's really interesting is if you lose one species, you create a chain reaction where you start losing other species that feed on that species.

DARLINGTON: Even after the fires are out, the scars left on the land will be life-altering. Experts tell CNN the loss of tree canopies will change the ecosystems below shedding light on amphibians used to living in the shade and forcing some species into unfamiliar territory like the spider monkeys who live in the top of trees.

TROYA: You can have some species repopulating. You can have certain plants recovering and growing from up from the ashes. The diversity is what we're losing. We're losing species that science has not been able to identify.

DARLINGTON: A loss for the planet that could be felt for generations to come. Shasta Darlington CNN Sao Paulo.


VAUSE: Coming up, two months and three days before the Brexit deadline and Britain's opposition parties are taking a new approach, parliamentary cooperation to prevent the U.K. from crashing out of the E.U. but is it all just too late?

Also, Israel and Hezbollah are trading threats after Israeli airstrikes in Syria. How the standoff could be spreading to a number of countries in the region, coming up.


[01:15:00] VAUSE: A number of women have come forward to detail the sexual abuse they say they suffered at the hands of financier Jeffrey Epstein. Before he was found dead in his prison cell, Epstein was charged with sex trafficking on minors. The judge who was to preside over his trial allowed his accusers to speak in court. Among them a woman who says Epstein ordered her to have sex with Britain's Prince Andrew. She was 17 at the time. The prince in the palace continues to deny the allegation.


VIRGINIA GIUFFRE, ACCUSER OF JEFFREY EPSTEIN: He knows exactly what he's done and I hope he comes clean about it.

BRAD EDWARDS, ATTORNEY OF VIRGINIA GIUFFRE: If anyone wants to come over here and talk with us and answer real questions that the victims have and that we have on their behalf, we welcome that invitation. I personally extended that invitation to friends Andrew multiple times.


VAUSE: Many of these survivors complains that Epstein's death has denied them justice. They want officials to continue all the cases against anyone else who may have been involved. Meantime, Epstein's lawyers have questioned the medical examiner's ruling that his death was, in fact, a suicide and they're calling for an investigation.

With two months to go, British opposition parties have agreed on a new strategy to try and prevent a No-Deal Brexit. The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has agreed to delay a vote of no confidence. Instead, Labour is working with other opposition parties to pass a bill which would block leaving the European Union without an agreement in place.

Meantime, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been speaking with E.U. leaders trying to reach a new deal with Brussels. A spokeswoman says he set out alternatives to the Troublesome Irish backstop which has been a sticking point in these negotiations from the beginning. But the leader of the Brexit party says time is running out.


NIGEL FARAGE, LEADER, BRITISH BREXIT PARTY: Well, Boris, you talked about do-or-die about leaving the European Union on the 31st of October and I would say to you, deliver or politically die.


VAUSE: CNN European Affairs Commentator Dominic Thomas is with us now from Berlin. OK, Dom, I guess you know, for the opposition when it comes to a strategy to try and stop a no-deal Brexit, they've tried pretty much everything else. Why not give cooperation a go? Here's Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn.


JEREMY CORBYN, LEADER, LABOUR PARTY: I've written to all 116 MPs that voted against no deal to ask them if they will recognize the importance next week of supporting a legislative approach which would be an all-party approach to ensure that we don't crash out with all the problems that will create for existing jobs and businesses for supply chains in food processing industry, medicine supplies, and of course the future of our agriculture.


VAUSE: I mean, the very fact that there's anti-Brexit blocking parliament has actually agreed on any plan at all, at this point, it's a pretty good sign of progress.

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN European Affairs Commentator: Well, John, yes. I think that you know, it's what the British electorate want is finally for the opposition to start thinking about some kind of common position. The problem is that all along, the Labour Party has been unwilling to take a position as being unambiguously remain. In other words, supporting remaining in the European Union.

So this latest configuration of doing everything to fight against a No Deal still leaves the discussion of any kind of Brexit being there in the realm. And we know that since the 2017 snap election called by Theresa May that the configuration of Parliament, one could argue, no longer reflects the British electorate. The Liberal Democrats did extraordinarily well at the European elections by precisely backing a remain position.

And I personally think that until the opposition is able to take a position as just simply being four remain against the Conservative Party that they will remain a divided entity. And because of this change in configuration, it's going to be impossible for them to agree that Jeremy Corbyn is the best representative for that opposition. And I think that this works to the advantage therefore of the Conservative Party even though consultation is a step in the right direction.

[01:20:51] VAUSE: You know, these are clearly happy days for Nigel Farage, you know, the Brexit Party. The deadline now just three days and two months away. Listen to Farage.


FARAGE: What we've done already is we have completely reset the political agenda in this country so much so that a clean Brexit on the 31st of October is now by far the most popular option in this country.


VAUSE: And that is a lie. Poll after polls show the vast majority in Britain do not want a no-deal Brexit and yet Farage continues to throw out that falsehood. He has done it over and over and over again. What's to be gained by doing that?

THOMAS: Well, John, it's sort of the typical you know, saying you know, where there's a will there's a way. I mean, he's just simply -- you know, his entire life basically has been devoted to leading the European Union through the you know, U.K. Independence Party days all the way up to the -- to the Brexit Party. He desperately wants this to happen.

And he's essentially applying you know, maximum pressure here on Boris Johnson to absolutely relentlessly pursue this agenda of a No Deal Brexit to extricate themselves completely from the European Union. And the message is clear. Unless it's -- and it's obvious that you're going to do this. You will not count on the support of the Brexit Party. But nothing that he says, economically, politically, socially, none of these arguments are going to stand up to scrutiny.

All along it has been an emotionally driven argument, you know, a vision of Britain that simply you know, does not match up with the broader realities out there. It's just simply another falsehood that he is defending here.

VAUSE: Yes, the most famous falsehood of all of the leave campaign was their great big red bus driving around saying how much you know, the U.K. would no longer had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to the E.U. That could all go back to the National Health Service. That was bogus. And in fact, quite the opposite seems to be happening.

The economic Commissioner from the E.U. told our Radio 1, the British will have to settle their payments and their financial contributions in all circumstances regardless of whether there's a deal or a no- deal. He's referring to $47 billion Brexit divorce bill that the former prime minister agreed the U.K. would pay the E.U.

And that comes after Boris Johnson told ITV, if we come out without an agreement, it is certainly true that the 39 million pounds or $49 billion is no longer strictly speaking owed. I mean, what do you mean by that? It sounds like it doesn't get you ready to (INAUDIBLE) on the 30 billion pounds and that might help the U.K. weather the economic storm that a no-deal Brexit will bring.

THOMAS: Right. And of course, look, the European Union is the largest most important, most powerful single market in the world. It would be inconceivable for the United Kingdom to not try and gain access to that. And so of course, what we're talking about here is the divorce fail. And as we know, good luck out there if you don't -- if you refuse to make those payments.

So it's once again, it's another argument that's about the objects. It's about convincing the conservative electorate and the B.P. electorate that he is unambiguously committed to enacting a kind of Brexit that extricates them from the European Union and brings about you know, their own laws and control over money and borders, and this is just one other example of it.

Economically it makes absolutely no sense and there's no way that they're going to be able to leave the European Union without expecting all the rights and the opportunity of neglecting about paying or you know, getting a good deal out of this if they refuse to pay up these kinds of commitments. So it's all about the optics. It's all about sounding tough and committed to Brexit, yes.

VAUSE: You know, it's always amazing when a single event involving just two people can be described in strikingly contrasting terms. Here's the view from the E.U. Commissioner President Jean-Claude Juncker at a telephone conversation he had with Boris Johnson. President Juncker repeated his willingness to work constructively with

Prime Minister Johnson and to look at any concrete proposals he may have as long as they're compatible with the withdrawal agreement. I wonder what they agreed to. Juncker underlined that the EU27 support for Ireland is steadfast and that the E.U. continue to be very attentive to Ireland's interest. That's in regard to the backstop agreement.

This is part of the readout from Downing Street. The Prime Minister set out that the U.K. will be leaving the E.U. on October 31st whatever the circumstances and that we absolutely want to do so with a deal.

The Prime Minister was also clear however that unless the withdrawal agreement is reopened and the backstop abolished, there is no prospect of that deal. The Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, yada-yada-yada. It does beg the question, is Johnson actually listening to what Juncker was saying which has consistently been the E.U. position from the very start, and it seems that there is no way that Johnson is going to solve this backstop issue?

[01:25:35] THOMAS: No there is -- and the backstop is just one of the issues. You know, let's face it that the Brexiters are at the helm. All along they are not like this withdrawal agreement. They don't like the role of the European Court of Justice. They don't like the backstop. They don't like the divorce bill and so on and so forth.

What they want is a complete you know, severance of their ties with the European Union. And so Boris Johnson is trying to read into it whatever he can to keep this sort of hope alive, that he can get to the point of achieving you know Brexit, of achieving some kind of no deal. But the reality of it is that for him, the threats of prorogue in Parliament, the threats of not paying the divorce deal, all of these are about convincing the electorate that he is unambiguously for leaving the European Union.

And as long as the opposition is unable to take a kind of contrary position, in other words, of position of remain, he's going to be able to exploit those kinds of fractures. And the hope for him is that he goes into a general election, comes out of it with a substantial majority, and is essentially then able to use the legislative, the parliamentary system to deliver the kind of Brexit that the Brexiters have been pushing for all along.

And that may very well mean no longer relying on the DUP to keep his party with a majority. And we may then see that the whole concern that he has you know, in terms of his public appearance out of Ireland completely disappear. It's all about optics. It's all about convincing the electorate.

He's in a pre-campaign mode, and every statement that comes out of his mouth is aimed at that particular objective.

VAUSE: Again, the contrast with Donald Trump in the United States as president and everything being seen through this prism of the upcoming election, it is striking. Dominic, good to see you. thanks for being with us.

THOMAS: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: Well, according to Japanese intelligence, North Korea appears to be developing warheads to breach the defensive ballistic missile shield in Japan. And while Pyongyang continues to upgrade its first- strike capability, the U.S. president as recently as Monday continues to downplay the missile threat. Here's CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The torrent of North Korean short-range missile tests, ten launches over just one month are finally taking a toll. According to Reuters, Japan's defense minister now says his government believes Kim Jong-un's missiles and warheads are designed to penetrate Japan's ballistic missile shield.

THOMAS KARAKO, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: These are the kind of things that gives North Korea a bit more of complication to Japan's defense job.

TODD: A U.S. official tells CNN the U.S. assessment is that North Korea is working on missiles that have new maneuvering capabilities but Japan and the U.S. have the ability to deal with them. Both countries have destroyers in the Sea of Japan which have interceptor missiles designed to shoot down some of North Korea's missiles and warheads.

Analysts say Japan also plans to deploy two new land-based missile sites that could shoot down North Korean rockets. But they say the North Koreans are working on a missile which could possibly evade some current defenses.

KARAKO: It flies low and it's maneuvering all the way which means it's going back and forth, it's hard to predict exactly where it's going to go. That's the kind of thing designed to fly around or under our missile defenses.

TODD: But while the North Koreans keep perfecting this first strike capable missiles, President Trump keeps downplaying the threat as he did at the G7 Monday.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not happy about it, but again, he's not in violation of an agreement.

TODD: Experts say the launches may not be in violation of any agreement Trump and Kim made personally, but they do violate U.N. resolutions. Those international rules weren't the only thing the president confused about his relationship with Kim Jong-un while at the summit. He said his wife knew the dictator too.

TRUMP: The First Lady has gotten to know Kim Jong-un and I think she did agree with me. He is a man with a country that has tremendous potential.

TODD: But that's not true. There's no evidence that Melania Trump has ever met or spoken with Kim Jong-un.

DANA MILBANK, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: He says to himself, wouldn't it be nice if my wife could validate this, so, therefore, he just says it as if it were true. And he almost seems to believe it as he's saying it.

TODD: Late Monday, the White House spun the president's remark by saying that Mr. Trump confides details of their relationship with Melania and "While the First Lady hasn't met him, the president feels like she's gotten to know him too." It's that disconnect which concerns veteran diplomats as they worry that President Trump is thinking more about what he hopes Kim will do and not enough about what they say are the dictator's true intentions.


EVANS REVERE, FORMER U.S. DIPLOMAT IN SOUTH KOREA: Indeed he does not intend to denuclearize. so one of the central dangers is the danger of what I called self-delusion that the President may convince himself that something is happening that is not really happening.

TODD: The delusion is also part of what observers say leads to a dismissiveness on the part of the President as he continues to play down those short-range missile launches by the North Koreans. A dismissiveness that's dangerous, analysts say, because it's basically encouraged Kim Jong-un to keep developing those first strike capable weapons that can now threaten South Korea and U.S. forces there.

Brian Todd, CNN -- Washington.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: The Israeli military on alert as it trades threats with Iran and the militant group Hezbollah. And fears are growing that a low-level conflict could spread beyond Syria. Details and an explanation when we come back.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

Now in Puerto Rico, they're bracing for another possible natural disaster as Tropical Storm Dorian spins towards the (INAUDIBLE) island which is still recovering two years after a double hurricane punch.

Dorian should make landfall near the city of Ponce in the coming hours. Officials are warning of dangerous flooding and widespread power outages.

Brazil is willing now to accept aid to fight the fires in the Amazon, but there is a catch. The Brazilian government wants sole authority over how to spend the money, which is coming from international donors. Earlier President Jair Bolsonaro said he would only take $20 million from the G-7, if the French president Emmanuel Macron apologizes after saying mean things about him.

Two mysterious explosions in Gaza have killed at least three police officers. Hamas-linked officials say both blasts happened at or near police checkpoints. Another three people were hurt. Authorities are investigating the cause but the Israelis say it was not them.

But Israel is taking credit for airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria over the weekend that saw two Hezbollah members killed. They've been accused of attacks in both Lebanon and Iraq. The Lebanese prime minister has condemned what he says were Israeli airstrikes in the Beqaa Province. He's calling for calm but the Hezbollah militant Hassan Nasrallah has promised revenge.

That threat came after the Shia militants said two Israeli drones crashed in the suburbs of the capital Beirut.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Nasrallah to be quote, "careful with his words and be even more careful with his actions". Israel's military on the border is now alert.

For more now, Dalia Dassa Kaye, director at the RAND Corporation Center for Middle East Public Policy is with us from Los Angeles. Dalia -- thanks for coming in.


VAUSE: Here's the headline from Tuesday's "Wall Street Journal" and opinion piece. "The Iran-Israel war is here."

It seems like it's been here for a while in terms of proxy attacks. So you know, sort of below the radar stuff. But last month the Israelis really began to expand its air campaign. The airstrike on Iranian assets and allies in Syria as well as Iraq. So why? Can you explain the timing?

KAYE: Well, I think you have to look at this in the broader context of the U.S.-Iran escalation that's been ongoing, especially over the past year with the withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear agreement. The maximum pressure campaign and, of course, a really volatile summer in the Persian golf with sabotage attacks on tankers.

So I think this general tension between the U.S. and Iran over the nuclear agreement and U.S.-Iran relations is affecting this particular -- these particular incidents.

And I think, you know, obviously there is real security threats for Israel. This has been an ongoing issue but there is also the context of the Israeli elections coming up in a few weeks.

And there is no one in Israel who really opposes sending a strong message to Iran and Iranian-aligned assets in the region that could threaten Israel.

VAUSE: CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been reporting that U.S. military and intelligence officials are continuing to watch for specific indications that Iran may retaliate against Israel for recent Israeli attacks against weapons facilities in Iran and Iraq and Syria. That's according to multiple U.S. officials.

In the meantime, according to the Reuters news agency the Iran-backed Hezbollah is preparing a calculated strike on Israel. One source said it wouldn't lead to a war that neither Hezbollah nor Israel wants.

The assumption there seems to be that right now Israel and Hezbollah are, you know, ok with these sort of back and forth limited strikes. But it's another thing altogether for Iran to step out of the shadows and become directly involved.

Why is that? Explain the reasoning here. Why is one so much more serious than the other?

KAYE: Well, I think it's important, even though the Israelis look at all these those and all Iranian linked theater (ph). They are distinct. I think in the case of Lebanon the Israelis and Hezbollah have had rules of engagement that have held pretty much since the 2006 cease-fire. What is worrying is over the weekend, some of these actions maybe changing some of those rules.

So I think those threats of retaliation are real. I think the Israelis are bracing for it. And we could see some escalation there. I do -- it does sound like it will likely be calculated and controlled but, of course, the risk in the Middle East is these things can -- there can be accidents and miscalculations and things could escalate even if unintended.

Where I think the biggest distinction is in these recent incidents is the Iraqi theater (ph). And this is where it's not just a risk calculus for the Israelis but they're also a real issue and spillover for U.S. interest in the region.

The United States have 5,000 forces in Iraq. This is not a country where we view the leader as an adversary. We view the Iraqi government as a partner. We'd like stability there. We're still fighting a campaign against the Islamic state.

So I think the concern of escalation in Iraq is of high concern to the United States.

VAUSE: Yes. The last time Israel did any kind of strike in Iraq was 1981 -- at the nuclear reactor?

KAYE: Yes. That is -- according now again, the Israelis have not taken credit as they have in Syria, the airstrikes against Syria as you mentioned are no secret. They've been ongoing for years.

What's different is the Israelis are now taking credit for them but they are not claiming credit for the responsibility for the strikes in Iraq. But even reports are suggesting U.S. officials are acknowledging Israeli involvement.

And this would be a new front for combatting the Iranians because they have not struck inside that territory until quite recently over really the last months, possibly a strike earlier.

So I think there's a lot of concern, the Department of Defense issued a very strong, short statement reiterating the United States is not responsible for this attack. They're really trying to maintain good relations with the Iraqi government.

There's a lot of pressure in Iraq after these attacks to push U.S. forces out of the country. They feel that these attacks were a threat on their sovereignty. It's a real balancing act for the Iraqi leadership right now. And they're facing a lot of pressures domestically, so again, from extremists like the Islamic state.

So this is a new -- I think this is a situation really unlike what we have been seeing in the past few years where Israeli air strikes on Syria became commonplace. I think the intensity, the scale, the expansion of the fronts is really new and quite worrisome.

Dalia -- thank you so much.

KAYE: Yes.

VAUSE: Appreciate it.

KAYE: Thank you. Thanks.

VAUSE: Well, one of the fastest animals on earth is running out of time. Coming up an exclusive look at how demand for exotic pets is threatening the endangered cheetah.


VAUSE: There's nothing new about snatching one at the dwindling numbers of cheetahs from what's left of their natural habitat to catch as a pet. Egyptian and Persian royalty were the first to do it. These days, it's usually done by an overindulged man-child.

It is however shameless and despicable and on the rise. As CNN found out, you can even buy a cheetah online.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has traveled to the main thoroughfare of cheetah trafficking in East Africa and has more in this exclusive report.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Barely a couple of weeks old, Goals (ph) is clearly in desperate need of his mother but this orphaned cheetah is one of the lucky ones rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Across the Horn of Africa if the mothers aren't killed, the cubs are snatched from them, smuggled inside crates and cardboard boxes. By the time they get to the shelter, they are barely alive.

According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund some 300 cubs are smuggled out of this region every year and for every one that makes it into captivity another three die on the way. That valley down there is becoming known as the cheetah supermarket. That's because many of the trafficked cheetahs are being smuggled across this porous border with Ethiopia into Somaliland.

This breakaway state from Somalia is the main transit rout for the trafficked cat out of the Horn of Africa. Smuggled across the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Peninsula. The survivors of the rough journey become an exotic accessory like designer bling as rich gulf Arabs compete for social media clicks.

At least a thousand cheetahs are estimated to be in private hand sin Gulf states. According to experts most die within a year or two in captivity. Although private ownership and trading of wildlife is banned in most Gulf states, enforcement is lax.

Illegal online sales are starting to be policed but if you really want a cheetah, they're not hard to find. This is an online Saudi marketplace and when we search for cheetahs, several listings came up -- some advertising two to three year old cheetahs, others are selling young cubs.

This man in Saudi Arabia is eager to sell.

[01:45:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever cheetah you want. You want male, you want female, it's not an issue. From Africa. We import through a Web site with a guy and we have another Saudi trader. I got more than 80 from them.

KARADSHEH: $6,600 U.S. seems to be the starting online price in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government did not respond to CNN's repeated request for comment.

There are only 7,500 cheetahs left worldwide, half the number from just a decade ago.

LAURIE MARKER, AMERICAN BIOLOGIST: People who have a cheetah as a pet are causing the species to go extinct. It's leading the way towards extinction.

(INAUDIBLE) is one of the favorite toys that we found.

KARADSHEH: American biologist Laurie Marker and her cheetah conservation the funds are racing to save the species from extinction.

MARKER: This is not how a baby cheetah should be living. They need to be living out in the wild.

KARADSHEH: They set up a safe house in Somaliland for the rescues. It's bursting at the seam.

MARKER: Seeing them in here, it breaks my heart.

KARADSHEH: You can see why people call them cats that cry.

MARKER: It's our responsibility to give them the very best care that they can have and to try to save every single one of them. KARADSHEH: Ten month-old Kitty is in intensive care, the last

survivor of three sisters.

MARKER: She is not one of our healthiest cats. And it probably does have a lot to do with where she started in life.

KARADSHEH: Despite the team's efforts, Kitty didn't make it.

MARKER: These animals are a smaller population and a very rare population from that. Each one of them do carry a different genetic code. This one is a male.

KARADSHEH: Every cub gets microchipped, their DNA is recorded. Without a mother, they have to be caught, taught to hunt and survive in the wild.

MARKER: It takes sometimes months to try to get one cheetah to get on its feet.

KARADSHEH: (INAUDIBLE) a soon to be vet is their main caregiver.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love them so much. So I don't even see my mom once a week. She lives over there.

KARADSHEH: According to Marker there are only about 300 adults in unprotected areas in the Horn of Africa.

MARKER: If you do your math, the math kind of shows that it's only going to be a matter of a couple of years that we're not going to have any cheetahs from this region left.

Many have already been lost to conflict with humans. Somaliland wildlife authorities are busting traffickers. It's illegal here along with private ownership. But in the capital Hargeisa a popular restaurant advertises burgers and captive lions pacing in the background for selfies.

For three years, this cheetah on a short rope has been the star attraction for paying clients to pet, poke and pose with. The owner insist it's legal.

ABDIRASHIG AL MOHAMED, LION RESTAURANT OWNER: We have a license to keep this animal. And plus, this guy -- there's only one cheetah here and he has a lot of space to run around.

KARADSHEH: Why it was tolerated in plain sight went unanswered by the authorities.

More are hidden behind walls. Even as we are leaving Somaliland, two more cheetah have been confiscated from a house here in Hargeisa.

Three more were seized just a few days later. As long as there is a demand by the rich, creating a lucrative trade for the poor, the cheetah's future hangs in the balance. Time is not on their side.

Jomana Karadsheh CNN -- Hargeisa, Somaliland. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Think about that for a moment. We'll be back after this.



VAUSE: That was a KFC ad from the 1980s before be called KFC, KFC. It was almost like a declaration of inalienable rights for the fast food customers, not only do you have a right to chicken but chicken done right.

So what would Colonel Sanders think of this? Now this Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Atlanta on the Tuesday, the bowl with stripes were repainted green. And on the menu not chicken done right but beyond fried chicken -- a plant based substitute for chicken.

Customers were lined up for two city blocks. Ashley was among them. She tweeted, "Two-hour wait, line wrapped around the building at KFC's for this vegan chicken. Here in Atlanta y'all."

They cut off the drive through and will be sold out by 3 pm. #BeyondFriedChicken.

As it happens, plant-based chicken substitutes tastes like chicken.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just got some of the KFC beyond meat nuggets. They are good. These taste more like fried chicken than any of the other options that I have tried.


VAUSE: Joining us now from New York is Kate Cox, editor of the New Food Economy. Kate - -thanks for coming in.

KATE COX, EDITOR, NEW FOOD ECONOMY: Thank you for having me.

VAUSE: Ok. KFC is just the latest fast food chain to, you know, seriously look at this or embrace the meatless option, just like Burger King and the Impossible Meatless Whopper early this year.

This trial by KFC appears to be a huge success. So at this point, any issue issues -- anything which is holding KFC back from, you know, heading down this road, you know, full speed ahead?

COX: No, I think sudden consumer backlash or desire to go back to meat as we knew it might be the only thing that's stopping them. But they're certainly right to get in the game right now. The heat is very much on for these companies. There's lots of investor interest. There's tremendous public interest in plant-based alternatives.

VAUSE: You know, when Burger King embraced the Impossible Whopper, one reason why it tasted so good was because it was packed full of fat and salt and oil and sugar and crap that was, you know, basically unhealthy. Is Beyond Fried Chicken any healthier?

COX: I don't think we know that. I think that the verdict is still out. I do think plant-based food companies would like us to believe that they're healthier. But I think it's going to be a while before we have enough sort of empirical public, you know, health information to know that whether it's had a long term effect on our health as a culture.

VAUSE: Is it possible that the food that were getting from these fast food restaurants has been, you know, just sort of -- on a downhill run for such a so long. It's so bad the quality is so awful, it's so over-sauced and over-salted that basically anything would be an improvement?

COX: That's a really good question. You know, I will say this. There's no real sign that fast food is tanking. I mean McDonald's in the second quarter just posted, you know, unexpectedly higher earnings.

So the competition is still there, and we're eating more beef than we ever have. I think we like what's in fast. We like fat, we like salt, you know. We are wired to love those things.

VAUSE: Yes. Such to the point that when you hit your you're your taste buds are dead.

The other issue on this, of course, is that, you know, the plant-based folks want you to believe this is wonderful for the environment and green house emissions, we go through -- you know, that cattle produce a lot of greenhouse emissions. And if you don't have cattle then, you know, problem solved. But do we know that it's for certain at this point.

COX: We don't. We don't and I think it could be another decade before we really know that. We are certainly much more familiar with the environmental impact of industrial scale farming or conventional agriculture as we know it.

But, you know, these are processed foods and I think that's kind of a key thing to remember here. They require a lot of water to process, they certainly require machinery.

So, the illusion that they are somehow having less of an impact maybe something we start to question down the road.

VAUSE: Yes. And you know, because reducing the world's head of cattle, we're told, is important in terms of climate change. But with animal rights group PETA says, you know, with nine billion chickens slaughtered, you know, for their meat every year just in the United States alone, you know, they live these horrible short lives -- 35 days from birth to death. All that time spent in cages, they're growing up so quickly that their legs can't (INAUDIBLE) waste.

There this obviously antibiotics. Chicken farming is inhumane and it is and horrible and that's one reason at least for this client-based substitute to be embraced. [01:55:01] COX: Yes. And I think -- I think that either to do care

about welfare. If you ask people who buy organic products, for instance, or even all natural or cage-free, it's a concern.

And so that's part of the conversation. You certainly can feel better about that aspect of it. Though it does still take, you know, plenty of industrial scale processes to produce food that can be sold at fast foods or restaurants, that chain restaurant at that volume.

VAUSE: Yes. And with all this hype, you know, with the plant based substitute now, the meat industry, science seems to have done a work- up and it's not the plant-based substitute for coffee which would be coffee.

Here's part of the report from the "Washington Post".

"Plant-based meat goes from an afterthought, so a financial juggernaut, but aims to change how most people eat. The opposition has suddenly awakened. Many of the country's 800,000 cattle ranch that have declare word on newcomers, impossible truths and beyond meat.

In 2019, officials in nearly 30 seconds have proposed bills to prohibit companies from using words such as meat, burger, sausages, jerky or hot dogs.

Unless the part came from an animal that was born, raised and slaughtered in a traditional way.

I guess that last part was like, you know, France defending the use of the word campaign. But just in terms of environment and sustainability, are we looking at a situation here where the days of you know, meat and three vegetables for dinner are pretty much numbered?

COX: I think that that's what the plant-based food industry would like you to believe and that's part of the pitch, that's the sell on those product. But I don't see this disrupting American agriculture as we know it wholesale, for at least another decade.

Now, will it create ripples? Yes. And I think it has and that's partly why this issue has gotten so political and why certain states have actually packed legislation to prohibit use of the word meat if it's not -- born and raised in Florida conventionally. But I think these two worlds still in tandem.

-- for a couple minutes, I guess is what you're saying.

COX: Yes. Well, there's room for both certainly. There's enough eager interest for both and big and small are going to have to figure out how to be in the same food system together, ultimately.

VAUSE: The farmer and the cow hand can be friends.

COX: So they say. So they say.

VAUSE: Kate -- thank you.

COX: Thank you.

VAUSE: See you.

And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm John Vause. The news continues right here on CNN.


[02:00:05] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Puerto Rico braces for another hit. Tropical Storm Dorian.