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U.S. Not Ruling Out Sending Troops To Save Americans; One-On- One With Israeli President Isaac Herzog; Israel Warns Of "Next Stages" Of The War; Israel Expected To Conduct "Significant Ground Operations" Soon In Gaza. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired October 15, 2023 - 13:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Hello, thanks for joining us. I'm Dana Bash in Washington.

SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST: And I'm Sara Sidner in Tel Aviv with CNN breaking news coverage of Israel at war.

BASH: Israel says it is gearing up for the next stage of its response to the unprecedented terror attack by Hamas eight days ago. Israeli officials say they see a strong flow of people leaving northern Gaza, this just a couple of days after it gave a stark warning to civilians living there to get out before it's too late. And we just learned that Israel is now working to set up a place to get aid to evacuees, once they arrived in the south.


MICHAEL HERZOG, ISRAEL AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Already 700,000 people left their homes. And we are in the process of establishing a humanitarian zone, a big humanitarian zone in the southern part of Gaza with the U.N. We're working very closely with U.N. agencies so that they will go there it will be a humanitarian zone and they will give -- get all the essential provisions like water, medicine, food and things like that.


BASH: Israeli defense forces say they are now preparing for a significant ground operation. Our vehicles are now amassing at the border with Gaza. Meantime, Israel is also exchanging fire along its northern border with Hezbollah. Early this morning Hezbollah launched nine rockets into Israel killing one Israeli citizen. Hezbollah said it is in response to the killing of a Reuters journalist during Israeli shelling there. Now Israel responded again with fighter jets striking Hezbollah's military infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is bolstering its defense posture in the Middle East and additional U.S. attack aircraft has just arrived there. And the White House is now not ruling out sending troops to the region to help free Americans held hostage by Hamas. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR: There's no plans or intentions to put U.S. troops on the ground to fight in this fight between Israel and Hamas. We are actively trying to find out exactly where they are. I mean, Shannon, we don't even know how many exactly. We saw a small handful. We know that there could be more than we know. What I won't do was rule anything in or out when it comes to getting our hostages home. We're working on this literally by the hour.


BASH: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading back to Israel tomorrow for more conversations with Israeli government leaders. The main focus continues to be freeing those American hostages that John Kirby was just talking about being held in Gaza, at least believed to be held in Gaza. Sara, I want to go back to you now in Tel Aviv?

SIDNER: Look, there is so many -- there are so many threads going on here because of the complexity of this conflict. That is a protracted conflict except this is different. It is different because Israel has officially declared war. It is different because of the surprise attack that Hamas bear down on Israel killing, you know, hundreds of people and kidnapping up to 150 people, including American citizens. There is a great deal of fear and concern by those who are in Gaza, first to the residents in Gaza who are terrified of what is to come.

It is looks imminent, that there will be a ground war at some point in time. There is preparation on the border with tanks amassing and 300,000 or so Israeli troops on the border. And then you have people here in Tel Aviv and the all of Israel concern because rocket attacks are just still streaming by on a regular basis. And Tel Aviv doesn't normally get that kind of a barrage of rocket attacks. But we have already seen some again today just a few moments ago and earlier this morning as well.

The situation very, very tense because there was a humanitarian crisis going on in Gaza right now. You can hear the sound of sirens going off in parts of Israel right now. The big -- there's another huge issue with Americans who are here in Israel who had been unable to get out of Israel as this war gets closer and closer to a ground incursion. The U.S. now has a plan that they are sharing to try and get people out by sea. So that will be an incredibly interesting and intricate maneuver by the United States.


Meanwhile, you've got all this happening on the southern border, you have all kinds of munitions and things coming over from the northern border with Lebanon and a back and forth there. Israel has two fronts that it is dealing with. One, they hope will settle down, but there is no chance that there will not be a ratcheting up of a warlike scenario on the ground in Gaza, Israel warning people to get out of the way. The U.N. saying, look, it is impossible for civilians and one of the most densely populated places on earth to actually get to safety. But there is some movement to try to get people out at the Rafah border with Egypt, a lot of players in this world. Jordan is starting to jump in talking to Spain about how to try and deal with Gaza and Israel. According to Jake Sullivan and the people he's been talking to in Israel, his counterpart, Israel's turned the water back on because there was a dire shortage of drinking water in Gaza because Israel has a blockade there, trying to snuff out Hamas and that is their ultimate goal.

But they have turned the water back on to civilians can -- once again have something to drink with, have something to wash with. Dana?

BASH: Very important news there. Thank you so much for setting the scene from your perch inside Israel, Sara. I am joined now here in Washington by CNN, Wolf Blitzer. Wolf, you just spoke with Israel's president, what did he tell you?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: It was a very, very passionate interview that we just taped. And we're going to show it to our viewers very substantive as well. He was very emotional in describing what's going on in Israel right now. We want to warn our viewers that some of the images he shared with us during the course of this interview are graphic.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the president of Israel, Isaac Herzog.

Mr. President, thank you so much for joining us.

I know it's been a horrendous few days. More than a week after the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust in fact. You're the leader of Israel, what is your message to the nation and to all Jewish people in mourning?

ISAAC HERZOG, PRESIDENT OF ISRAEL: And I think to entire humanity.

You know, I just got back from kibbutz Be'eri, the Be'eri kibbutz. The kibbutz, as you know, is an epitomization of socialism, equality, very pro-peace place.

You should know that in that kibbutz, they lost 10 percent of their members, from young to old.

I saw the most horrific scenes. I saw -- I saw the skull of the woman in which house I visited. The house totally destroyed, totally destroyed, and they just cut her head off. I saw a pool of blood in that house where the picture of the children is hanging and grandchildren are hanging on the wall, with the knives and the hatchets which they went in.

I saw the most horrific scenes possible. I saw bloodshed and I was thinking to myself, because in kibbutz Be'eri, there was a special fund to help their neighbors from Gaza. For years, they've been paying money to help their friends and neighbors in Gaza, because they advocated peace. And all of a sudden, life was shattered. And the same life was

shattered for the Israeli nation. My nation is bleeding. My nation is in pain. My nation is in sorrow. And we are faced with an extremely cruel, inhumane enemy which we have to uproot with no mercy.

I'll show you another example. This was found on one of the terrorists. This is a booklet, okay? This booklet is instruction guide how to go into a civilian premises, into a kibbutz, a city, a moshav, how to break in.

And first thing, what do you do when you find the citizens? You torture them.

This is the booklet. It says exactly how to torture them, how to abduct them, how to kidnap them.

So, therefore, the story is not Israel versus Palestinians, or Judaism versus Islam, God forbid. The story is about human, humanity. Are we with the good or are we with evil?

That's why (ph) humanity should stand, and the battle that we are carrying out now as a nation rising up as a lion is against evil. And we will uproot evil so that there will be good for the entire region and the world.

BLITZER: As you know, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, is vowing to eliminate Hamas. How does Israel define that? What are the biggest complications now to a successful, full scale Israeli ground invasion of northern Gaza?


HERZOG: So, one has to understand, what we have in Gaza. We have a whole army of terrorists, whole army of vultures, whole army of inhumane, cruel people, within civilian premises, within their own homes and families. They shoot the missiles at our children from their homes, from their shops, from their mosques, from their hospitals.

For years, they've been trying to do it. For years and years and years, ever since we withdrew from Gaza in 2005, we pulled back from Gaza. You, Wolf, covered that story, that was a very painful story for Israelis. We withdrew to the last iota, the last inch, and ever since, we're getting thousands of missiles and attacks and terror attacks.

But this one exceed them. This one has no comparison to anything. And when I stood up in front of the joint session of Congress, in July, I said to the House, the joint session, Senate and Congress, I said terror cannot be acceptable in any way or form.

This is the battleground. That's what we are fighting, and we are trying now to move the civilians so that they will not be hurt, and we want to go in and uproot that infrastructure of terror. Get the mob (ph) out from the inner city, that's what we are trying to do.

And, in fact, when you look at it carefully today, we are trying to help Palestinians in Gaza to go to a safe zone, while Hamas is trying to block them all the way through.

BLITZER: As you know, on top of all that, Israel currently is also facing an unprecedented hostage crisis, more than 120 Israelis and others estimated to have been taken as hostages by Hamas and brought to Gaza. What can you tell us, Mr. President, about Israel's efforts to bring them home? Is Israel open, for example, to any deal to negotiate for their release?

HERZOG: So, let's first understand what type of hostages. Who are these hostages? Babies, pregnant women, elderly people with dementia, even with their caretakers, families, innocent civilians with -- from 30 -- from 36 nations, people were killed or abducted from 36 nations, okay?

There's Natalie from Chicago who came with her mother, to spend the weekend of a holiday in Nahal Oz, in a kibbutz on the border -- incidentally, a kibbutz advocating peace all throughout its history. And she's there in Gaza, and nobody knows her whereabouts. And so many other Americans and so many other people.

And this -- this living in - in not knowing what's their whereabouts is hell. Actually, this paradise place turned into hell, and it is our obligation to move it from being hell to back to being paradise. And part of it is to bring back the hostages immediately with no conditions back to Israel.

There is incidentally a big international effort on that respect, and I must say that the American administration and President Biden has been incredibly supportive and we are utterly grateful to him, the American nation, and all our friends and supporters throughout the world.

BLITZER: So, how do you get those hostages out of there?

HERZOG: It's a complicated situation because you're dealing with people who have - do not obey any rules of international humanitarian law in any way or format. For years already, they've been holding Israeli soldiers, bodies, citizens from previous rounds, not even telling any information about their fate, whereabouts and how they're feeling.

Some of those hostages now need special medication, special treatment. They have -- they need their personal needs. Some of them are in extremely fragile medical situation. So, we are doing whatever we can to release them. We have met with the families of the hostages. It was an extremely painful meeting.

What can you say? What can you say to a newlywed whose wife was kidnapped and abducted and their 3 months old baby is at home not knowing anything surrounding her?

What are we saying to families who have grandparents, children, grandchildren are all abducted out there? What do you say to those families? Some members, six, seven, five members of the family, gone, all of a sudden, abducted to the centers (ph) of the enemy.


So, we are trying our best. We are trying our best, of course, to identify their exact fate through various sources, and we are demanding from the international community, unequivocal condemnation and demand for the release of the hostages immediately, with no conditions.

BLITZER: Israel is ordering, as you know, more than a million Palestinian residents of northern Gaza to immediately leave their homes and move south. But in the past 24 hours alone, some 300 people were killed, most of them women and children.

What do you say to your critics who insist that Israel should be doing much more to protect innocent civilians in Gaza?

HERZOG: So, let's talk about it for a moment. We are never indifferent to the pain of the other - sorry.

We are never, never indifferent to the pain of the -- of our Palestinian neighbors, and we always try to operate according to the basic guidelines of international law.

We are trying to move these citizens away from the war zone in order so that we can go in and uproot that infrastructure of terror. Incidentally, perhaps give hope also to the Palestinians out there so that they can run their life independently in an honor -- in an honorable way, live -- live and let live.

But right now, they are under the suppression of Hamas. And what we are trying to do is move them to another safe zone so that they won't be hurt. But Hamas is threatening them, stopping them.

Hamas has all the fuel, by the way. It's using the fuel to fight us and shoot at us. Hamas has all the water that they need. They're stopping it.

Hamas has clear instructions that they have given to their soldiers to basically torture the people in Gaza. That's what we are seeing.

And let me tell you another interesting fact. Hamas is the one that with their missiles broke all the electricity wires supplied to Gaza. We are not responsible for the electricity in Gaza. They are.

But since they're sending out fake news and libels (ph) and stories full of lies, our answer is very clear, we will do whatever it takes that civilians will not be hurt. We are working very closely with the United Nations and other agencies. We are talking to them; we are cooperating with them on the ground.

And we are taking our time, therefore, so that civilians will not be hurt.

BLITZER: Israel, of course, blames Hamas for the suffering of these Palestine civilians in Gaza. But as you know, Israel controls Gaza's borders and has been blockading the Gaza Strip since 2007 when it left Gaza. You say you want to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties, but at

the same time Israel has cut off food, electricity, water and fuel into Gaza. I understand, by the way, that water has been turned back to parts of Gaza earlier today.

But the United Nations put it this way, Gaza already is a -- in their words, a hellhole, and is now on the brink of collapse, their words.

Won't these latest moves increase the death toll of Palestinian civilians and children in Gaza?

HERZOG: So, we are monitoring the humanitarian situation in Gaza on an hourly basis. We are following all the facts. For example, 7 percent of the water only in Gaza are under Israel's response, and the responsibility lies fully with Hamas. There's a lot of distortion in the facts. Yes, I realized there's a lot of things.

But look -- let's look at the picture, honestly at the picture. Something terrible happened, unprecedented in human history in modern times. You mentioned it yourself, since the Holocaust, there hasn't been such a huge number of Jews being killed in one day. This cannot go on.

How would anybody continue to live side by side, how could anybody move to peace side by side when our homes are bombarded, our families are killed, when are tortured and abducted? How could we go on like that?

You have -- we have the full right for self-defense. That means going in, uprooting them out and enabling a new future for that region. For that, it takes a process that is painful but will be under supervision of all the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza.

Moreover than that, I repeat again and again, there is going to be a humanitarian safe zone for the people of Gaza. We are working with the U.N. agencies and everybody else. The ones who are stopping it all is Hamas, simply. And that's the real face of Hamas, which is part of a whole empire of evil which emanates, as you know, from Tehran, with its folks all over the region.


Wherever they are, there's havoc. In Syria, in Iran, in Iraq, in Yemen, in Lebanon, and definitely in Gaza. It's about time we change the equation. Israelis are fully mobilized. We didn't want to get there. We were living in peace. There was a nature festival with 3,000 young Israelis celebrating on the border, believing in peace.

For the last two years we enabled a huge economic growth in Gaza. For the first time we enabled tens of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza to work in Israel, to break bread, to enjoy life.

What happened? There's no justification. It is simply an ISIS-type ideology that wants to eliminate us off the ground. And therefore, they need to be eliminated off the ground. BLITZER: Mr. President, I want to play some comments you made at your

Thursday news conference and then get your reaction, a chance to explain what you meant. Listen to this.


HERZOG: It's an entire nation out there that is responsible. It's not true, this rhetoric about civilians not -- not aware, not involved, it's absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime.

There are many, many innocent Palestinians who don't agree to this. But unfortunately, in their homes there are missiles shooting at us, at my children.


BLITZER: Can you clarify your stance, President Herzog? Are you saying that all of Gaza's 2.3 million residents, almost half of them are children, by the way, are responsible for Hamas's terrorism because they did not rise up against Hamas?

HERZOG: No, I did not mean that or say that. I actually, in a follow- up sentence, explained it clearly. First of all, the truth of the matter is that the infrastructure of terror lies within people's homes. And we know it. And missiles, huge missiles are launched at our heads, at our children's, at our homes from those homes.

But what I meant was that I expect the Palestinian people to have risen and put the truth in front of their -- their people's face. This cannot go on, that every time Hamas carries a terror attack on us everybody claps and everybody celebrates. How is this justified?

For the last six months, Hamas has launched a terror campaign against us all around Israel and in the West Bank, not around Gaza. For the last six months, every day there was a terror attack. I said it to the U.S. Congress. It is impossible. Guys, let's understand, there's only one moral clarity, fighting the evil. We've suffered evil for a long time. And we were hurt badly, badly in the most atrocious way by evil, right now, last week.

And that's what I meant, that I expect the Palestinian people to say something about it, to say the truth, to admit that this is horrendous, that's what I meant.

BLITZER: Looking back, Mr. President, was this a political failure from multiple Israeli governments to let the status quo of the Hamas terrorist organization leading Gaza go on for so long?

HERZOG: Well, one has to understand, there was a huge international effort. There were a lot of efforts. Let's -- let's explain to your viewers. In 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to pull unilaterally out of Gaza. We uprooted settlements. We uprooted families. It was an extremely painful process.

We told our people that this will be the new Hong Kong of the Middle East. Within a year and a half, Hamas held a coup d'etat, killed their own cousins, brothers, and family members who were in Fatah, and shoved them out of Gaza, totally disconnecting themselves from the Palestinian Authority, which is in the West Bank. And they -- and they turned this place into an Iranian-supported platform of terror.

All the money that was spent on all these booklets, on all that ammunition, on all those knifes and hatchets and -- and war machines and guns and cars that broke into Israel a week ago, should have gone to the people of Gaza for their well-being. They should live -- should've lived in tranquility and peace with us as much as we want to live with them in peace.

But no. All the efforts was -- they exhausted from all the efforts towards a war machine. That's the issue here.

BLITZER: How close are you, Mr. President, to establishing, let's call it, a humanitarian corridor out of southern Gaza? You mentioned earlier Israel is working on it.


HERZOG: So these facts are being discussed right now. Tomorrow, Secretary of State Tony Blinken will return to Israel and the region. And I'm sure this will be a top priority in his meetings.

BLITZER: So you support allowing that southern Rafah border crossing to be open so folks could leave Gaza?

HERZOG: So I will say the following. As president, I'm a head of state, but this is an -- the powers are vested with the Israeli cabinet and government under Prime Minister Netanyahu and the new national unity emergency government. And it's in their hands.

But the entire effort is with a view to maintaining full humanitarian support for the people of Gaza.

BLITZER: "The New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman, a man you know and I know, obviously, he wrote in today's "New York Times" that Israel's security climate was weakened, weakened by its political divisions. Let me read a line from his article.

"Israel was recklessly being taken by its leadership to the brink of civil war for an ideological flight of fancy. These fractures were seen by Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah, and may have stirred their boldness."

What's your reaction to those words?

HERZOG: That in -- on -- on my national broadcast to the nation on February 12th, I already said that I saw in intelligence reports how our enemies are celebrating the internal strife in Israel. And clearly our enemies watched the internal situation in Israel.

But let me make it absolutely clear, there's no reason, directly or indirectly in any way, to think that that is the reason they waged war against Israel. This terror attack, this vulturous terror attack comes from an ideology of hate, of ISIS, it is just like ISIS. And -- and therefore that's the way we need to look at it and not now review what led to it, what were the circumstances.

We are now fighting to change reality. And after that, we will definitely have soul-searching and fact-searching.

BLITZER: A complete commission of inquiry to figure out exactly where Israel may have gone wrong and how this attack got -- got underway.

On top of all of this, and this is very concerning, Mr. President, Iran is now warning of what it calls far-reaching consequences if Israel continues its attacks on Gaza. How concerned are you, President Herzog, that this -- this entire war that's ongoing right now could actually be heading toward a much larger regional conflict?

HERZOG: Well, look, Iran is playing with terror all over the place. For years and years, we've been claiming it, it's rushing to the -- to a nuclear bomb on the one hand. It spreads hate and billions of dollars of terror all around the region, trying to overtake more and more spots in the region.

This is the strategic situation whereby a coalition of evil is faced with a coalition of decent nations who want to move to integration and peace in the region.

It's no secret. It has been told. And we are now -- we know -- we know the rhetoric. We are very much on alert. And we suggest to them not to fall into any mistake of thinking that Israel is weaker now or anything of that kind.

We actually are now fully mobilized in an iron fist.

BLITZER: But you think a war with Iran is possible?

HERZOG: And we don't want to get to any war with anybody, believe me. And we are very cautious and restrained. We have been attacked constantly from our northern border. We are retaliating and defending our people. But clearly, we are trying to be as cautious and as careful in order to prevent those situations.

But let there be no mistake, Israel -- Israel is at full alert. The Israel Defense Forces are extremely strong. And we are there to protect and defend our people.

BLITZER: President Herzog, thank you so much for joining us.

HERZOG: Thank you. Thank you. And as I've said today, in Kibbutz Be'eri, we will bring back the people of Be'eri and all the kibbutzim and all the towns and cities and villages from these dark, horrific moments, back to a future, a bright future, hopefully, of peace.

BLITZER: Well, that would be great if that could happen. Thank you so much, once again, we appreciate your time.

HERZOG: Thank you.


BLITZER: Very, very emotional, very powerful interview, Dana. I've interviewed a lot of Israeli leaders over the years and I've never seen an Israeli leader get as an emotional and discussing such detail, the enormity of what's going on right now.


BASH: It was such a good interview. You really got a lot in there. And we're going to talk a lot more about it after the break. But the way that he framed this as nothing more important than good versus evil what was really telling, I thought.

We're going to talk a lot more about that and much more after the break. Stay with us.


BASH: We just heard an extensive excellent interview that Wolf Blitzer did with Israeli President Isaac Herzog who said among many other things that Israel's plan for a ground operation into Gaza to uproot Hamas's infrastructure of terror and it is also quote, to get the mob out.

I want to bring in Wolf Blitzer who is still here to talk about this and more. Also joining us now is CNN national security analyst David Sanger and CNN military analyst, Colonel Cedric Leighton. Wolf, the, I mean, there's, again, so much to take away from this. What do you think having done interviews like this in very different situations many, many times, what struck you about what he said and didn't say?


BLITZER: What struck me was that over the past several months, the people of Israel were pretty much, and the political leadership of Israel we're pretty divided over various issues, including the Netanyahu government's call for judicial reform and all of that there were huge protests almost every Saturday night, and other nights of the week as well. Hundreds of thousands Israelis were protesting the country right now, based on everything I'm hearing and seeing is very united. They are determined to take action against Hamas.

And President Herzog at one point, he said, Israel is fully mobilized with an iron fist. And, you know, he's someone who was critical of some of these other decisions that were being taken by the Netanyahu government. And the country right now is fully mobilized. They've got hundreds of thousands of troops, 300,000 troops, maybe as many as 400,000 troops who are ready to move in.

And it sort of reminds me after 9/11, when al-Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center, the U.S. immediately got fully mobilized with an iron fist ready to take action, and went in and did to al-Qaeda, what the Israelis are planning on doing now to Hamas. And so, you know, all of us have lived through a period like this. And we'll see how this unfolds. BASH: No. And that's an important analogy, which the Israelis remind us over and over again, is quite different in many ways. The most important is that they're right on the border.


BASH: And Afghanistan is that tens of thousands of miles away.

BLITZER: Remember, when the U.S. went into destroy al-Qaeda, and later ISIS, there were a lot of battles, I was in Fallujah, and there were a lot of innocent civilians, unfortunately, who were killed and injured in those confrontations and the U.S. knew it as well.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf. And that's one of those areas where you really can't help it, you know, as much as you try to avoid civilian casualties. This becomes the critical imperative to avoid as many as possible. But no matter what you try to do in a situation where they're on top of each other, Hamas on top of civilians, civilians on top of Hamas, depending on the specific locale, you're going to have problems just like we had in Fallujah and other places.

BASH: And yet, President Herzog said to -- Herzog said to you, his brother, who is the ambassador to from Israel, to the United States, said to Jake, on State of the Union earlier today, that they are trying to establish humanitarian safe zones?

LEIGHTON: Yes, well, that's one part of it. But, you know, to have a safe zone that you can't get to if you're a Gaza civilian, that creates another problem. And there you are, you know, that you are going to be, in essence, you know, a very vulnerable in a very vulnerable place at that point.

DAVID SANGER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY & POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I thought it was fascinating interview that Wolf did and as fascinating for his non answers as for his answers. So, as Cedric has said, in this battle, it's going to be very hard to separate civilians and militants. And that's exactly the way Hamas wants it, right. They want to make sure that if there is a battle, particularly in the northern part of Gaza, that there are a lot of civilian casualties, and that the narrative shifts against Israel in that regard.

And what was missing I thought from President Herzog's otherwise very compelling argument is a plan for two steps of this. Let's say they are successful, and they get rid of the Hamas leadership, who then runs Gaza. They don't want to. They've been this and tried this before. And yet, it's not clear who would run it.

And secondly, it's not clear where all those people are going to go. I mean, to say that they should go to the southern part of the country, even if they could get there is not itself going to be a solution. And that's why I think it's pretty important that Secretary Blinken is, he is flying around the region, he's trying to get the gate opened that would let them go into Egypt. The Egyptians don't want them there.

The other Arab allies have not stepped up and said, OK, if they can get them into Egypt, we will take care of them here. And that's the two parts of the plan that are missing.

BASH: That is such a key point and one that I have been slightly obsessed with and harping on very much for the past several days and Wolf because I mean, you've all been involved either deployed or covered the region for so long. But Wolf, you were there and have covered this for decades. And you know that this is one of the longest stories, when it comes to the plight of the Palestinians in this region is, where are their Arab brethren? Where are they? And now the question is even more dire, maybe the most dire that it has ever been.


BLITZER: You know, it was interesting all this is happening right in the aftermath of this diplomatic effort to get Saudi Arabia to join what's called the Abraham accords and normalize relations with Israel. And they were moving the Israelis and the Saudis towards doing that. But obviously, what has happened now has set that back, big time.

One of the things that the Saudis kept telling me, and I interviewed several of them throughout this entire process is that in order to achieve a normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the Israelis have to do some significant things to help the Palestinians and to move what is called this two state solution, Israel living alongside a new state of Palestine. And the Saudis were actually trying to make that happen. And now all of that has gone away, given the Hamas attack on Israel.

BASH: Yes.

SANGER: It's the worst thing you could do to Hamas right now is go ahead with the deal because the essence of that deal is to have the country that is at the core of the Muslim world, actually recognize Israel as a real estate. And of course, that's what Hamas doesn't want to have happen. But it would be interesting to see if the Saudis would then step in and try to actually help the situation. The Saudis don't want Hamas around, either. But we don't see them stepping up or even publicly condemning it, because they're afraid of their own street.

BASH: I just want to go back to one of the things that you said, which is completely accurate, but it's worth not rushing over because it's critical. Hamas, you said, is OK with Palestinian civilians getting killed because it helps to keep the anger alive and well and keep it going towards Israel?

LEIGHTON: Absolutely.

BASH: But that, I mean, just think about that for a second. I mean, we know what Hamas is capable of, because we have seen what the terrorists did inside Israel. But in this conversation, we're talking about its own people.

LEIGHTON: Well, here's the problem, you have a group that is, yes, they were elected earlier, you know, decade or so ago. But the problem is that they don't look at their position of power, as being one in which they're responsible to the people that they are, in essence, governing, de facto governing. And the -- when you have a situation like this, where you have a bunch of people who are in charge, and the humans -- the human capital that they're responsible for is not being taken care of, it really creates this problem where they are not really part -- they don't see them as part of the solution.

In fact, they thrive on the crisis, they thrive on all of the things that can be done to the population, but not what can be done for the population. And that's a real problem. It's a crisis of governance basically.

BASH: It's a crisis of governance, big time, but it's also a case of where there's some serious misinformation. And one of the things that you were talking about, Wolf, with the Israeli president was about kind of the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people. And his argument over and over again was that the Palestinian civilians are sort of applauding some of the atrocities that Hamas waged inside Israel.

One of the things that he did not say is that many of these Palestinian civilians are not getting accurate information about what actually was done perhaps, maybe some of them are, but I would venture to guess many are not.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. That's one of the big problems is that they're not getting the full picture, the enormity of what's going on, and the atrocities that were occurring in Israel a week or so ago. And it's a good point that you make. One thing that David mentioned was that why a President Herzog was not explaining what the Israeli military operation was all about what they were going to do. One of the things that the Israelis have said to the IDF spokespeople and others and commanders have said, we don't want to advertise what we're going to do, because that could endanger the entire Israeli operation.

So we're not going to tell you precisely how this is going to unfold, when it's going to unfold. It's going to happen, but we're not going to give you details, because that endangers the operation, it endangers Israeli troops 300,000 or 400,000 troops who have now been activated or been mobilized to go into Gaza and God forbid elsewhere, as well. So they don't want to spell out all of their details, because it could compromise the operation.

BASH: The operation and of course, we cannot forget the hostages who are still believed to be inside Gaza, both Israeli and American hostages. Wolf, Colonel Leighton, David, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Fantastic interview.

BLITZER: Thank you.

BASH: And up next, the Israeli Defense Forces warn the Lebanese militant group Hamas -- excuse me, Hezbollah to quote watch very closely what is happening to Hamas after recent exchanges of fire along the Israeli-Lebanese border. We're going to go live to southern Lebanon, next.



SIDNER: To Israel south and Gaza, a ground incursion by the Israeli military is imminent. To Israel's north, now another potential battle as some small arms fire and rockets have been sent from Lebanon into Israel. The Israeli military says it is responding to fire from Lebanon and warning Hezbollah to quote, watch very closely what is happening to Hamas and their organization in Gaza, as we speak.

Earlier today as Israelis were killed -- after Hezbollah launched an attack on the town of Shtula. CNN's Ben Wedeman is in southern Lebanon for us. Ben, you've been there for a while watching all of this and hearing about all of this. What are you seeing and learning at this hour?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we've seen, Sara, is over the last two days, a fairly significant uptick in Hezbollah strikes on Israeli positions. Yesterday, they hit, according to Hezbollah, five today, it seems perhaps just as many if not more. They seem to be focusing on Israeli military positions, communications and surveillance, equipment. And they have also been firing inside of Israeli communities.

As you mentioned, one Israeli has been killed. Several others have been using -- but have been wounded. Now what it appears Hezbollah is using is guided missiles very precise. They're very good at putting out videos of their attacks. And these are not random rockets fired in the general direction of the Israelis. These have very precise targets.


Now, in the afternoon there was a salvo of rockets fired into Israel, the Iron Dome, intercepted most of those rockets. The rest, we assume fell in open ground. But it was not Hezbollah that fired them, it turned out it was the military wing of Hamas, based here in southern Lebanon, that claimed responsibility for those rockets attacks.

Now, the Israelis have repeatedly responded to these attacks with airstrikes and artillery strikes as well. Now, one of the rockets, now it's not clear fired by whom, hit the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. That's a peacekeeping force. It's been here for decades. I spoke to the spokesman for UNIFIL. He said the rocket landed near the helipad. Nobody was injured. But certainly this does represent sort of a broadening of this conflict to include a variety of new targets. Sara?

SIDNER: Yes, this really speaks to how Israeli see it as an existential threat. We will have to wait and see what happened. And of course, there was a humanitarian crisis happening in Gaza as we speak. Ben Wedeman, thank you so much there on the northern border between Lebanon and Israel. Dana?

BASH: Thanks, Sara. In Israel, as you just heard about, there is a lot going on to the north. But also, when you look at what is going on with the border with Gaza, significant ground operations are expected soon. That is according to sources who are looking at the -- what you're looking at right now Israeli troops amassing at the Gaza border. But the IDF says this will only happen when they see Palestinian civilians out of the area.

An IDF spokesperson tells CNN that they are seeing a strong flow of people leaving northern Gaza following Friday's urgent warning to evacuate. Joining me now is Eyal Hulata, who is the former Israeli national security adviser and former head of Israeli National Security Council. Thank you so much. It's an honor to have you here. First, I want to talk about what the Israeli President Isaac Herzog told CNN about the idea of establishing a humanitarian zone. What does that look like? How realistic is that?

EYAL HULATA, FORMER ISRAELI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: So first, we need to understand the goal of the government. I think the President was very clear in explaining that Israel has set a goal that when this was over, Hamas is no longer in control of Gaza. Israel is not at war with the Palestinians, not at war with the Gazans, their war was Hamas. And in order to be able to do this, we need the civilians to get out of the war zone.

For that, of course, this is why we gave this urgent message to tell them to leave. By the way, the way we evacuated our warzone, we evacuated to Sderot this morning. It's a town of 30,000 people and we will evacuate more and more and more. Usual understands, of course, that when the civilians evacuate to the south, they need basic humanitarian conditions to live their lives. And as President Herzog explained, this is very important. Israel will do its share in that.

But of course, this cannot be Israel responsibility, right. I mean, Hamas opened this war, we did not get an advance warning for our people to leave all of the communities around Gaza, Hamas came in and saw them. I don't remember, are we getting --

BASH: Well, because Israel is not -- you're not terrorists.

HULATA: Well, of course, because Israel does not act this way. And this is why we have and throughout these days, you know, there are, of course, already, unfortunately, civilian casualties in Gaza. Most of them are human shields, because Hamas put them there. Hamas also claimed that hostages of Israel have been killed by U.S. rates because they're using our hostages as human shields.

But Israel does not play it this way. Israel plays by the code. And there are codes in war, even in such dreadful circumstances. We call for the civilian population to evacuate where we need to operate.

BASH: OK. But the reality is, and you know, there's far better than I, that there, it's very difficult for the civilians in Gaza to evacuate, like if they're being told to go to the south of Gaza. But then they have -- they can't get out. And so the question is, and this is because of Israel, but it's also because of Egypt. So my question for you, given your experience inside the Israeli government dealing with not a situation like this, but dealing with the Egyptians, let's just take them for example, the U.S. Secretary of State was in Egypt and other Arab countries. How crucial is it for Egypt to allow these innocent Palestinian civilians to cross over into their land? HULATA: Right. So first, it's difficult for those people to go to the south because Hamas is blocking them. Let's, you know, let's first put the blame on who takes most of the blame. It's not in Hamas interest for the people to leave their houses. They want them there as human shields. But I agree, and this has been discussed throughout these days. And Secretary Blinken, has reported, was in Egypt for this cause.


Look, I mean, this cannot only be Israel's problem. The Arab countries around us, our old friends and our new friends need to step up for this. If they care so much about the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian in Gaza, they need to do something about it. They need to, of course, they need to open the crossing and temporarily allow the Gazans to go there and get whatever they need.

Israel does not have an intention to conquer Gaza. We do not have an intention to control Gaza. Again, we left in 2005. We left to the last inch -- to the last grave of our people that we took out of Gaza. This is not in Israel's intention, the Egyptians has a lot to do to assist the situation, especially when they claim that they feel so much for the population.

BASH: I want to -- I do not want to lose sight of the hostages who are in Israel, both mostly Israeli, but also American citizens.

HULATA: Yes. And other nationals.

BASH: And other nationals, thank you. I don't expect you to tell me what intelligence that Israel does have, but you have a lot of experience in intelligence. What are the chances that Israel actually knows where they are right now?

HULATA: So Israel embarked on an immense operation of collection for this, you know, we start in a very bad starting point, because clearly we were in the dark. We didn't see this coming. We didn't see the preparations. So it's not like we knew in advance where Hamas intend to put those. And, you know, it's very unfortunate that Hamas has already said, as I said before, that some of them has been killed because they use them as human shields.

So, of course, from Washington, I don't know what their situation and how many of them are still alive. But Israel has an obligation to release all of the hostages. And I think the international community should have an obligation to release all of the hostages, Hamas shouldn't have taken them in the first place.

BASH: But when you say Israel has an obligation to release, you mean to rescue.


BASH: Hamas has an obligation to release them.

HULATA: Well, Hamas needs, of course, yes. Israel has an obligation to rescue them, of course. Hamas needs to release them immediately. Hamas shouldn't have taken them, right? It should have been trivial that Hamas would give, I mean, their kids, their children, their babies, grandmothers in wheelchairs, among those. Why are they're still there? It's such an humanitarian disaster. And the international community to demand this from Hamas, not because Israel needs to give something in return, they need to release them.

BASH: Eyal Hulata, thank you so much for being here. Appreciate it. I really do. I hope you come back.

HULATA: Thank you Dana.

BASH: And coming up, what will this new humanitarian area that Israeli officials are telling CNN about in the last couple of hours. What would it mean? Our special coverage of the conflict continues after a quick break. Stay with us.