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IDF: Over 200 Iranian Drones And Missiles Fired At Israel. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 13, 2024 - 21:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're following major breaking news over the skies of Israel. A wide scale aerial assault is going on right now with waves of drones and missiles streaming into Israel from Iran.

Our team is on the ground in Jerusalem. They've been hearing explosions, sirens going off as U.S. and Israeli forces have reported intercepting multiple Iranian attacks, but we still do not know what the ultimate impact of this barrage will be, not the immediate damage inside Israel, nor the response that it might bring next from the Israeli military.

Our reporters and analysts are covering all of this. We have them located all over the region as well as here in Washington.

I want to go to our chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward. She's joining us from Tel Aviv. First of all, right, now, we saw the sirens and the missiles being intercepted over Jerusalem. What are we seeing there in Tel Aviv?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We continue to hear wolf drones and jets overhead but the home front command is now telling people that they do not need to stay close to those shelters anymore in some of those key areas that had been under a state of high alert -- if you can hear that in the distance a jet pretty loud when I can see it up there.

So the sense is that for now, at least things are a little calmer, a little quieter, of course, that could change. You could see that alert return, people being told once again, to be near to a shelter. But for the moment, it seems that the majority of -- the vast majority I should say, of the according to IDF spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, 200 different the types of cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, drones, killer drones as he referred to them, have been intercepted, most of them outside of the country.

There was some damage according to the IDF to a base in southern Israel. We know of one seven year-old Bedouin girl who was injured in the Negev. She is receiving treatment for those injuries that as a result of those intercepts that we have seen going on throughout the night but certainly feels a little bit calmer and a little bit quieter here as people wait to see what else may unfold throughout the night, Wolf.

BLITZER: And the Admiral Hagari, the spokesman for the IDF, said, Israel is ready for any threat and they will continue to be ready. We'll see what the Israeli response will be.

Clarissa, thank you very much.

I want to go to Nic Robertson in Jerusalem right now.

I take things have quieted down a bit in Jerusalem. We're not hearing the sirens going off or the intercepting of the incoming drones or rockets or missiles. Is that right?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It feels much calmer, Wolf. We can still as Clarissa is hearing fighter jets, they're over Tel Aviv. We are still hearing them in the skies over here and given what the home -- the instructions now from the home command that people do not need to stay close to their shelters. It does this feel -- feel as if the situation is changing a little bit.

In fact, what were hearing in around here now, the birds waking up in the morning. So it's no longer there, sort of panic of people shouting on the street that intercepts in the skies, and the fight, and the noise of fighter jets. It does feel much, much quieter.

People in the city will not have expected to have seen so many intercepts overhead in such a -- such a densely populated area. So when they are waking up in a few hours time here, this is this new reality that they're going to be confronted with. Now, a very significant new reality for them, and, of course, as were now hearing that the prime ministers that the security cabinet has deferred to the prime ministers much smaller war cabinet to make a decision about how Israel should respond. So that perhaps will come in the coming hours.

But the impact of what's happened across the country on the psychology of the population is going to be something that's going to weigh on their decision, as well as the pressure and the conversation that will likely come from the United States and from that during that phone call from President Biden where Prime Minister Netanyahu, that is expected not to escalate this further.


But it's hard to tell at this stage the first phase of analysis by the IDF indicates very little damage of any significance that it is hard to estimate at the moment. The decision the prime minister will ultimately take.

BLITZER: But as you know, Nic, the Israeli military has done the math and they realized that those drones are relatively slow. It could take eight or nine, maybe even ten hours for one of those drones to get from Iran from a base in Iran all the way towards Israel going past Iraq and Syria, maybe Jordan, over towards Israel.

So these - these drones are as Admiral Hagari called them, these killer drones, they could be arriving in the next few hours as well. It hasn't -- it hasn't been nine or ten hours yet.

ROBERTSON: It hasn't been at all and I was struck by what General Hagari, rather Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in his press briefing that the -- there are still intercepts going on that that is still happening, that the fighter jets that were hearing in the sky are still involved in that. And as courses his said, ten cruise missiles and dozens of drones intercepted outside of Israeli air space.

And as we're not hearing the intercepts here are the moment perhaps they are going on over the borders before they get to, before they get to Israel. But the fact that the home command has effectively put people on notice that they can be a little bit more relaxed. They can, of course, turn that around in moments.

It is a very, very effective alert system here, not just with the sirens you here and here, another jet speeding through the sky that in a second one, directly above me speeding through the sky. It is a very sophisticated system that can pinpoint a thread, let the population in that area no very, very quickly over their cellular phones.

That jet is quite low that's heading off into the distance above me now. So, what we heard from Daniel Hagari may still be playing out despite the fact that the population has been put a little more at ease for the moment, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, he said that over 200 of these Iranian drones, he called them the killer drone have been intercepted successfully by the Israelis. We'll see what happens in the next few hours. This situation clearly is continuing right now.

Nic Robertson in Jerusalem, thank you.

I want to bring in Fred Pleitgen right now. He's done a lot of reporting from inside Iran. He's spoken to all the top Iranian officials over these past several years. There's a statement that just came out. I'm sure you saw it already Fred, from the Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Among other things, it said this, and I'm quoting now from the IRGC statement: Any threat by the terrorist state of America and the Zionist regime from any country will be followed by a reciprocal and proportional response from the Islamic Republic of Iran to the source of the threat. A clear -- a clear warning to the U.S. if it helps Israel, deal with these incoming rockets and missiles, the U.S. will -- will pay a price for that.

What's your assessment as someone who's been to Iran, you were just there are a few weeks ago, and you've spoken to these Iranian officials?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, I do think is there a direct threat towards the U.S. by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps? And I think one of the things the Iranians have been saying Wolf, is that the U.S. obviously needs to watch out, especially in the region there, in the Middle East with a U.S. bases that it has in that region, the Iranians obviously saying that they have their proxy forces on the ground.

And of course, tonight, they've also shown that they're pretty powerful in the air as well. Certainly one of the things that we've been hearing here as we've been talking about, all this in broadcasting and seeing some of the images is that not many people would have expected the Iranians to be able to launch that many projectiles towards Israel, talking about drones, and, of course, missiles as well, and especially for having so many of those actually reach Israeli airspace and penetrate very deep into Israel, then obviously being taken out by the Israeli forces, but, of course, the U.S. helping with that as well.

So the Iranians, I think it's a two-fold threat that were seeing from them, right now are coming from the Iranians. On the one hand, they are saying that the U.S., of course, they don't want them to help the Israelis at all. But I think the Iranians are already looking forward to what could happen next.

It's been quite interesting to see some of the messaging that we've been seeing out of Tehran. We've seen some from Iran's representative to the -- representation to the U.N., saying that the matter could be concluded here, that the matter could be deemed as being concluded obviously saying the Iranians believed that the Israelis struck them, struck the embassy, killed a bunch of Revolutionary Guard top personnel inside that embassy compound, even though the Israelis obviously didn't consider that to be in an embassy compound, the Iranians now saying, we've struck back and it can end here.


But then of course you also have that threat from the Iranians, telling the U.S. not to get involved in all of this. And, of course, Wolf, we've been reporting about this matter over the past -- a little over a week since it happened. And we have seen the Iranians on several occasions, be it the foreign minister, be it others telling the U.S. or urging the United States to stay out of this, to stay away. And that's the exact messaging that we're seeing tonight again.

One of the other things that we've also been picking up both was that the Iranian foreign ministry has put out a statement also in the middle of the night, which is quite unusual for them, calling their actions tonight, calling the strikes by the Iranians, calling their targeting of Israeli territory self-defense and saying they believe that its covered by the U.N. charter. I want to read you some of that statement of what the Iranians put out.

They say that if Israel strikes back -- and this is what they're referring to in that statement -- they're saying, quote, if necessary, the Islamic Republic of Iran will not hesitate to take more defensive measures. So they're calling all this a defensive measure to protect its legitimate interests against any aggressive military actions and illegal use of force. So, the Iranians are saying that they consider the attack on their embassy compound in Damascus, which of course Israel has not claimed responsibility for, that they consider that to be an aggressive act, and they consider this their retaliation. And again, the Iranians are saying it could end here. But, of course,

right now the messaging is, is that the ball is in the Israeli court at the same time, the Iranians are telling the U.S. to stay out of it, especially with the threats that the Iranians could make very real for the U.S. in the region. Of course, the U.S., a lot of military assets in the Middle East and the Iranians are saying, they have a lot of proxy forces near those military bases, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, and the statement that the IRGC, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps just put out. It said it would hold -- hold the United States responsible for what a term the evil actions of the Israeli government. So there are clearly warning the United States if the U.S. does get involved in helping Israel at all, the U.S. will pay a big price for this. Is that right?

PLEITGEN: Yeah, that's exactly what when I think they're saying. And its a threat that we've been seeing from the Iranians really over the past couple of years and a threat that they've also made make good on a couple of times. If we look, for instance, back towards the Trump administration and even the months before the U.S. assassinated the IRGC Quds forces top general Qassem Soleimani, you had some incidents between the us and Iran in the Persian gulf for the Iranians, then shot down a U.S. Global Hawk Drone. That, of course, a Hawk Drone.

That, of course, was the Iranians displaying that they are not to be messed with and that they also have military that is capable of hurting U.S. assets. There were very few people at the time who thought that Iran's own Iranian-made air defense systems would be capable of taking down U.S. assets. The Iranians proved otherwise.

Then afterwards, after Qassem Soleimani was assassinated, they struck a U.S. base, the Al-Asad Airbase in Iraq where very few people believed that Iran's ballistic missiles were as accurate as they turned out to be. And now tonight, the Iranians have once again demonstrated that they've made a lot of progress, it appears, as far as their cruise missiles are concerned, ballistic missiles are concerned, but also the drones as well.

And I think one of the things that we've seen in from the Iranians is that they've really put a lot of effort into that drone program. In fact, I was a couple of years ago at an Iranian drone show as part of one of their military days. And they were talking very openly about the fact that they believe that drones were one of those weapons that they could use to really take the fight especially to the U.S. in Middle East.

So, clearly, now threats from the Iranians -- again, the Iranians are saying, look, the U.S. bases are there, Iranian proxy forces are there as well. But of course, drones are a big threat to those U.S. assets in the Middle East as well, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yeah. It's a very, very tense moment right now.

Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much. We'll get back to you.

Jim Sciutto is with me here in Washington. We're watching all of this unfold, this whole situation could explode big time or it could -- it could come down.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No question. Listen, this is an escalation. It's Iranian attack attempts to strike Israel. The defenses largely worked it seems. That's why the damage assessments to date and show very little damage on the ground there and the IDF saying and intercepted the vast majority of --

BLITZER: At least so far.

SCIUTTO: At least so far, and there could be more to come.

But what we also do know that the U.S. did already participate, that it was shooting in down some of these drones and missiles before they got close to Israeli territory. We should also note there was some concern prior to this that Israeli proxies might target us forces in the region, and that does not appear to have happened.

BLITZER: The Iranian proxies.


SCIUTTO: Iranian proxies target U.S. forces in the region which they have done before multiple times. And as you know, is U.S. forces have died. They did not in this case, which was a deliberate decision by Iran. Certainly bold aggressive, blatant to attack Israel, but they chose in this circumstance, not to directly target us forces.

And there's an enormous number of U.S. forces, not just ground forces in the region, but, of course, U.S. assets that have moved into the region prior to this, which Iran did not strike. And that's a deliberate decision not to confront the U.S. directly now, despite the kind of rhetoric we're hearing from them.

And this warning the U.S. away, let's be clear, the U.S. is highly involved in Israel's defense tonight, they moved assets into the region ships, et cetera, to be able to scan the skies for threats exactly like this and help Israel take them out before they reached Israeli territory. And our understanding is that us assets did take down some of these drones prior to reaching Israel.

BLITZER: And I think it's significant that the commander of the U.S. military central command, which is responsible for the entire Middle East region, has spent the last several days and is real coordinating and projecting, you know, what the U.S. and the Israelis would do if Iran did launch this kind of a strike.

SCIUTTO: They were preparing for this. They were preposition beginning forces for this to help defend Israel and also to help make clear to Iran that the U.S. was in position and could strike back if the U.S. were to be targeted directly, which again, we should emphasize, Iran did not do here. They've done before. They did not do tonight. And that's a deliberate decision.

I think you can also say that those preparations from the Israeli side in conjunction with the U.S. and other partners in the region, Saudi Arabia involved largely worked, right, in this defense. That's not to minimize or downplay the severity of this attack, but those defenses held. And we should note, you know, folks I think are familiar with the Iron Dome, which is really the low altitude defense system for Israel --

BLITZER: Those drones are going to be intercepted by the Iron Dome.

SCIUTTO: Iron Dome, but some of the other threats that were intercepted by Arrow, which is a higher altitude defense system. You have the David's Sling, which is for medium range missiles. You have a multilayer defense with U.S. involved as well. And that multilayered defense appears to have worked tonight.

Now, Israel is going to retaliate. I've been speaking to Israeli officials. It's clear that they will. The question now is, what does that retaliation look like? And unlike with any attack like this, you're always concerned and about escalation ladders because one side attacks, you have this, what we presumed to be an Israeli strike in Damascus against the Iranian officials a number of weeks ago, you have this Iranian response, Israel response, and it's watching that escalation ladder to see how high each level goes, and that's the concern, right, is that that can easily accelerate.

BLITZER: This could explode into a full-scale war and who --

SCIUTTO: It could. But we also know -- there's been a relatively consistent assessment going back to October 7, even when there are a great uncertain about escalation beyond that as involved as Iran is, that the U.S. is assessed consistently. It does not want a direct war with the U.S.


SCIUTTO: Even Hezbollah does not -- the assessments have been, want a direct war now with Israel. So there are, there are assessments that they want to attack. They want to exact a price. They don't want it to escalate.

That doesn't mean it doesn't go there, right? Because these -- these attacks and escalation can have a momentum of their own but that's something to plug into the broader assessment as we look at next step.

BLITZER: Yeah, it's a very dangerous moment to be sure, we'll see what unfolds.

I want to go to our senior White House correspondent MJ Lee. She's over at the White House for us doing a lot of reporting.

How is the White House, MJ, assessing what is actually happening tonight?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'm actually just getting this reporting right now that President Biden is on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I know reported some while ago that they were expected to speak tonight, but again, our reporting right now from a source familiar is that the two leaders are now on the phone, so we will bring you that readout as soon as we get it.

This comes after the president actually reconvened his national security team for a second time in the Situation Room. That first meeting earlier in the evening had luck after some two hours and then given the fluidity of the situation that team was brought together again, in the Situation Room.

And, Wolf, what I'm being told by a U.S. official is that the U.S. is view broadly right now is that what we saw unfold over the last several hours, Iran's attacks on Israel were wholly disproportionate to the Israeli strikes in Damascus that prompted this retaliation, and that view by U.S. officials has been an important factor in all of the discussions that have been happening in the White House at tonight, both in terms of figuring out the U.S.'s calculations going forward.


And then importantly, of course how U.S. officials plan on advising their Israeli counterparts about potential next steps.

Now, to be clear, when I'm talking about U.S. official seeing what Iran did as being disproportionate, nobody here is claiming to know what the full scope and what the full assessment is of those attacks. That assessment, of course, is currently ongoing.

But what the recognition here at the White House tonight is that getting that full assessment is going to be a huge factor in the way that the U.S., again, potentially advisors their Israeli counterparts on what they might want to do next.

Now, as we keep in mind that the president is again currently on the phone with the Israeli prime minister, just remember that this is a tough juggling act for the president right now, as we saw from the White House's statement earlier in the evening, he is trying to reaffirm the us commitment to Israel's defense and security -- ironclad is the word that he has used over and over again. But at the same time as you were just talking about with Jim, the prevention of a broader regional conflict, that has been such an important goal for this admitted history, going back to October and something that they have been really sensitive to.

So you can certainly imagine that this is going to be a point of discussion for the two leaders. We're going to be really looking carefully at what language is used when we eventually get that readout from the two liters phone call to see if there are any clues as to which way the president may have sort of leans in terms of his conversation with Israeli prime minister about again Israel's potential next steps.

BLITZER: Yeah, those statements and the statement that will come out after the president's conversation, a phone conversation with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be important. But as they say, actions speak louder than words, and U.S. actions right now in supporting Israel have been very, very powerful and dramatic, especially the use of air defense systems to intercept incoming Iranian rockets and missiles and bombs heading towards Israel and destroying them in the skies even before they reach Israeli aerospace.

Very significant actions unfolding by the United States and certainly this has been in the works for several days as the U.S. and Israeli militaries have been coordinating potential reaction strategy in the face of an Iranian attack.

We're staying in close touch with you, M.J. We'll get back to you as soon as we get a former readout from the president's conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Much more in the meantime of our special live breaking news coverage after a quick break.



BLITZER: You see rockets and missiles, drone, armed drones coming in from Iran towards Israel, the Israeli air defense system intercepting a lot of them. This is a video from earlier tonight that was unfolding in Israel. We're watching all of this unfold.

I want to bring in the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. He was also President Trump's national security advisor.

As you know, Ambassador, Israel's ambassador is calling for the U.N. Security Council to immediately convene following these attacks. What's your assessment of what's going on right now?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Well, nothing's going to happen in the Security Council. That's for sure.

I mean, what we had tonight was a massive failure of Israeli and American deterrence, massive failure -- a 200 ballistic missile, cruise missile, drone failure. And I think notwithstanding that, there appears to be very little damage fingers crossed until we get the final assessment and thank God if the death toll is lower, or nonexistent, and while we're at it, let's thank George W. Bush for getting out of the ABM treaty of 1972, unleashing American missile defense capabilities.

But once we see what the damage is, I think its incumbent on Israel and the United States to re-establish deterrence in a major way. And I think that means by definition Israel's response and there should be a response, should not be proportionate. It should be far stronger because when deterrence fails to re-establish it, you have to teach the adversary that any gain they may help to get by any future attack will be more than outweighed by the damage that will be caused.

BLITZER: So, give us --


BOLTON: So, I hope President Biden isn't -- BLITZER: Well, I was just sorry for interrupting, but give us your

assessment of an appropriate Israeli response to what Iran has now done.

BOLTON: Well, what -- what is -- what Iran did tonight that I think was most significant was the firing of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles from its territory directly at Israel.

Almost certainly at this point, none of those missiles contained a nuclear warhead but you never can tell when the next firing, the next salvo of ballistic missiles might contain a nuclear warhead.

So I think among the many targets Israel should consider, this is the opportunity to destroy Iran's nuclear weapons program. And I hope President Biden is not trying to dissuade Prime Minister Netanyahu from doing that. And if he succeeds and if at some future point the ayatollahs are able to pull off what former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called a nuclear holocaust, history will know who to blame.

BLITZER: So, it was -- just to be precise, Ambassador Bolton. You're recommending that Israel launched an airstrike to try to destroy whatever nuclear capabilities the Iranians might have. Is that what I'm hearing?

BOLTON: Right. I think they should go after the nuclear fuel cycle activities that are well-known.


Their locations are well-known. And I think that would be the appropriate target because right now, Iran has demonstrated it is not restrained by any concern about a direct attack on Israeli territory from its attack. It has by its own admission, fired ballistic and cruise missiles, and the only -- the only thing that has saved Israel is this amazing technology. Next time, if the attacks come from a different location containing nuclear warheads, Israel might not be so lucky.

This is not time to play academic gains and message and signal. This is a question of power. People say they're concerned about a wider war. The wider war began on October the 7th. That was not an Israeli war against Arabs or Palestinians, are Gazans. It was Iran's attack on Israel using the ring of fire strategy.

That's the strategic environment Israel faces right now. And the main cause, the puppeteer, the puppet master, is Iran. And if you take away their nuclear capability, that would be a dramatic cut to the regime, may be enough to topple it.

BLITZER: Ambassador, my colleague Jim Sciutto is here with me in Washington. He has a question -- he has a follow-up question for you. Go ahead, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Ambassador Bolton, given and, you know, as well as we do, that Hezbollah and its enormous missile arsenal, many thousands of rockets and missiles is intended in part by Iran to be a pressure point if Israel were to strike Iranian nuclear facilities. And I wonder, given the size of that, an order of magnitude bigger than it was, say during the 2006 war, whether you believe Israel can today fight what would be a multi-front war, Gaza in the south, Hezbollah in the north, Iran to the east? And if you would then envision the U.S. directly involved in such a conflict?

BOLTON: Well, I think for the foreseeable future, Gaza is not going to be a principal battlefield and it's certainly not something that's going to engage full Israeli military power. I think Hezbollah put pressure on Iran. That's one reason why the Iranian counter-strike took almost two weeks after the Damascus strike by Israel to say you need to put skin in this game, Iran.

So I'm not at all sure what Hezbollah's response would be to Israel taking out a nuclear power that hasn't done a thing for Hezbollah. The Israelis clearly have thought about what to do to neutralize Hezbollah perhaps their response, which also would be a pretty big problem for Iran, would be to go after Hezbollah.

Now, my point is there are a number of steps Israel can take passivity at this point for Israel would be a big mistake. I mean, from, I think from the Israeli point of view, they should remember what Winston Churchill said in World War II. Without victory, there is no survival.

BLITZER: How close is around to actually having a nuclear bomb?

BOLTON: Well, I think about 72 hours that they can get if they send a wire transfer to the Central Bank of North Korea and Pyongyang, and give the North Koreans enough time to put a couple of warheads on an airplane and fly them to Tehran.

You know, there's a lot of talk about how close Iran is compared to how close they were four or five years ago or before the Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear deal, all of which assumes perfect knowledge of Iran's nuclear weapons program. I think we should have enough experience with faulty intelligence by now, not to be so sure, not to know how much of Iran's uranium enrichment program is really being conducted under a mountain in North Korea.

The fact is they're very close. The fact is the nuclear deal of 2015 was flawed from the start by allowing Iran any uranium enrichment capability, whatever.

BLITZER: Ambassador Bolton, thank you so much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation down the road.

BOLTON: Glad to be with you.

BLITZER: And we're going to have much more special coverage coming up from the region. We have live reporters on the scene.

Also, I'll be speaking with former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's got some strong thoughts on what's going on right now between Israel and Iran.

Much more of our special breaking news coverage right after this.



BLITZER: Those are the sirens going off in Jerusalem earlier tonight. Sirens going off as Iranian drones and rockets, missiles were flying over Jerusalem. We're watching all of this unfold in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and Haifa and other cities as well. The Iranians launching more than 200, what the Israelis called killer drones towards Israel. Most of them have been intercepted by Israeli air defense systems, and that system works to be well, right now.

I want to go to the Pentagon. Oren Liebermann is standing by. I understand you're getting some new information on the defense secretary's conversation with his Israeli counterpart?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Just a short time ago, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant. If you had been in regular communication over the past days, weeks, and months, but obviously this is a very different situation and they got off the phone just a couple of hours ago.

In that call, according to U.S. official familiar with the call, Austin asked Gallant to update the U.S. on what Israel's response would be to notify them how and what that response would look like. This is obviously important. The U.S. and Israel have gone to great lengths to make sure right now they are on the same page and Lloyd Austin trying to make sure it stays that way in terms of what happens ahead here with Israel's response to this Iranian attack.

The context here is that the U.S. was not given a tremendous amount of heads up, barely any at all in the Israeli strike on the compound in Damascus, that consular compound of Iran, which killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps generals, including one the more senior generals.


Israel, according to a U.S. official, effectively only gave the U.S. notice when the planes were already in the air. So that message couldn't really be passed around and make -- to make the U.S. government aware of what was about to come.

Here, the U.S. being much more forward and explicit, Austin telling his Israeli counterpart please notify us, give us a heads-up when you intend to carry out your response to this attack.

BLITZER: Interesting, very interesting. Did -- did the defense secretary get a specific answer from Gallant? Would Israel in fact give the U.S. advanced word on what it's planning on doing?

LIEBERMANN: That's an excellent question. I don't know the answer to that at this point, we will certainly learn in the hours perhaps days ahead more about what this relationship looks like right now. Again, the two speak regularly and given the level of coordination and

cooperation right now, especially for example, with General Erik Kurilla, the head of U.S. Central Command, not only in the region, but having spent a couple of days in Israel, it seems likely that Israel would notify an update the U.S. on its intentions here.


LIEBERMANN: Of course, the Biden administration is still trying to avoid a regional war in this certainly tense situation.

BLITZER: Very tense indeed, very dangerous situation. We'll see what happens, but I suspect you're right that the Israelis would give the U.S. advance word on what any military retaliatory strike would entail.

Oren, stand by. We're going to get back to you.

Right now, I want to bring in a CNN senior political commentator, the former U.S. congressman, Adam Kinzinger.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. First of all, give us your reaction to this direct attack from Iran against Israel.

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What -- Wolf, it's very serious. I mean, this is obviously a direct attack, as you mentioned. This is kind of unprecedented. It is unprecedented. But it was significant.

And I think this attack was intended to not just do damage, but to kill Israelis. What Iran didn't count on was frankly, how good Israel's air defense is. I mean, they shot a missile down in frigging space, you know? And we saw one of the Arrow missiles, there's video out there of it, which is incredible.

They did not count on the U.S. and Israel's allies, probably partaking as deeply as we did, been able to take out the drones that we have. But this was a significant attempt to kill Israelis. Israel has no option, but to respond and its important to keep in mind in all of this debate, too, because this is obviously happening today and something that were interested in.

This is what Ukraine has to deal with every night, every night, they get Shahed drone sent by Russia supplied by Iran and ballistic and cruise missiles shot by Russia, in many cases, given to them by Iran.

So that could also help to tell what Iran's or Israel's response should be to Iran. For instance, going after their capacity to make the Shahed drones

BLITZER: Congressman, Jim Sciutto is with me here in Washington. He has a question for you.

Go ahead, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Congressman, you may have heard Ambassador Bolton advocate for Israel to respond by striking Iranian nuclear facilities. I wonder if you agree and if you believe that if that were to take place, that the U.S. would be drawn into such a -- such a conflict.

KINZINGER: I mean, it's possible, look, I think the ambassador made solid points, which is Iran has shown a willingness and a capability to attack Israel. We know they're very close to a nuclear weapon.

And I remember all my time in Congress been promised by every administration that if Iran actually does get very close to a nuclear weapon, that will be prevented. Iran will never have a nuclear weapon. But we're at that moment now.

So while I'm not sitting here saying that maybe the right response on this is to attack the nuclear program. The question is, we are on the edge of that moment and we have to accept as a country, we will either have a nuclear armed Iran or we won't, and we may have to do something about that, us and Israel, probably largely on Israel.

So, is it the best response on this attack? I don't know. I'll leave that up to the Israelis, but I can tell you what certainly needs to happen. I think is going after Iran's -- but this is a very directly proportionate response is going after Iran's ability to make the exact drones they sent against Israel, and that they're supplying.

This is a side benefit that they're supplying to Russia to attack Ukraine with.

BLITZER: Standby for a moment, Adam.

Jeremy Diamond, our correspondent, is in northern Israel right now.

And there's some very intense developments unfolding where you are, Jeremy. Tell our viewers.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right, Wolf. We are in northern Israel and in just the past hour, there were 25 projectiles that were fired from Lebanon towards the Golan Heights. My team and I as we arrived here, we actually were able to hear what sounded like multiple interceptions of those projectiles. The Israeli military is not specifying whether those were drones or missiles in this case, but we do understand that these were fired from Lebanon.


Earlier this evening, of course, this area in northern Israel did get projectiles. Again, unclear if drones or missiles that were fired from Iran as part of that large-scale attack that Iran carried out on northern Israel as well as in southern Israel.

We also understand that Hezbollah claimed responsibility for firing multiple missiles multiple rockets earlier this evening in the direction of the Golan Heights as well.

And so this is what's critical about this part of northern Israel, is that this is really the intersection. Both of this proxy battle that Iran and Israel have been fighting for months now as Hezbollah and Israel I have been trading fire across the Israeli-Lebanese border for months now since the beginning of this war, but also now, the site of Iran's latest response, and Iran's first attack against Israeli soil.

Now, we do not have any reports of any of those drones or missiles that were fired by Iran actually hitting targets here in northern Israel. No reports of any hits on the ground. It appears that the majority of those projectiles were intercepted either here in Israeli airspace. We do have video of some of those intercepts happening over the Golan Heights, but also cross the border in Syria, there were also multiple interceptions that were reported there as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And those interceptions, I think, were largely done by the United States air defense system has been working together with the Israelis to prevent these Iranian drones, and these rockets and missiles, cruise missiles and others from coming into Israel, the U.S. is deeply involved in that.

Jim Sciutto has a follow-up question for you, Jeremy.

Go ahead, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jeremy, I wonder because that cross-border fire both from the Lebanese side of the border, of the Syria side of the border has been going on for some time, going back to October 7, in fact, predating October 7. Is the pace tonight at all increasing? Because, of course, the question has been, would Hezbollah get involved in any significant way open up a northern front in this war? Or is this more in line with what we've seen in recent weeks and months?

DIAMOND: Yeah. You know, Jim, it's a great question and it is really hard to tell at this point. I mean, you know, Hezbollah and Iran certainly do speak. They do coordinate their military activities. Hezbollah is one of Iran's most significant proxies in this region.

But whether or not the barrage over rockets that we saw from Hezbollah earlier was coordinated with this Iranian attack on Israel, is hard to tell and actually, I'm seeing what looked like some interceptions in the other direction here, not hearing any sirens or the sounds of that, but I did just see some flashes in the air.

And I would just note that this area -- I mean, they are used to having these interceptions now they are used to seeing these barrages of rockets coming from Lebanon over the course of the last several months. And they also are used to the sound of jets.

And as I can here, here, jets just continuously flying overhead. And yep, I just heard the booms from what I thought were potential interceptions and so the delay there I don't know if you can hear that on my microphone, but those definitely sound like interceptions. The light obviously travels faster than sound, so you can see those first. And I'm hearing that's the third boom that we just heard.

It must be at some distance, so there is a possibility that that could actually be intercepted in Syria rather than in the Golan Heights. We -- I'm just checking my phone to see up there were some siren alerts in northern Israel, in the Golan Heights indeed, not far from our -- not too far from our position actually, maybe a distance of ten kilometers or so.

So, what's also interesting is that the home front command here in Israel, actually before this latest barrage that we had over the past hour, they had actually told residents in both northern Israel as well as southern Israel who had earlier been instructed to stay near shelters that they could return to normal, indicating that that large- scale attack from Iran, that the threat for now at least was over. And yet, what we are seeing instead is more rockets being fired from Lebanon likely by Hezbollah, indicating that this is going to continue on as it has for months now as you were just mentioning, Jim.

BLITZER: So, it's Wolf again, Jeremy. I just want to be precise right now. So in addition to Iran launching all these drones and rockets and missiles towards Israel, it now looks like their proxy in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah is beginning to do the same thing. You say at least 25 projectiles have been fired from Lebanon by Hezbollah, not the Lebanese military or Lebanese government, Hezbollah forces, this Iranian proxy in southern Lebanon towards Israel.


So it looks like they're getting involved directly in this Iran attack against Israel. But as that what I understand?

DIAMOND: Yeah, and this was -- yeah, and this was not the only barrage that we saw coming from Lebanon tonight. Earlier in the day, Hezbollah said that it had fired multiple rockets in the direction of an Israeli military base in the Golan Heights, where it has directed rockets in the past as well.

Again, the question that Jim raises is a good one in terms of how much is this part of that Iranian response? How much of this is part of what we have seen over the course of months now, which is Hezbollah firing rockets into the Golan Heights, into northern Israel. That that part is what's tricky to distinguish here.

You know, there's no indication that even as Iran may, may suggest may have indicated earlier tonight that this was its response to those strikes in Syria, that the response was over as far as it was concerned. There's no indication that that means that Hezbollah is going to stop firing rockets into northern Israel, nor does it mean that Israel is going to stop conducting airstrikes into southern Lebanon, which we have also seen at a similar clip over the course of the last six months.

BLITZER: All right. Jeremy, just be careful over there. We'll stay in very close touch with you.

Jeremy Diamond is in northern Israel.

It looks like Hezbollah is beginning to launch a lot of rockets and missiles towards Israel from southern Lebanon. We'll watch that unfold. This is quickly escalating, not just Iran launching rockets and missiles and drones towards Israel, but now their ally, their proxy in south Lebanon, Hezbollah doing the same thing. So it's clearly escalating.

I want to bring in Republican Congressman Mike Lawler of New York right now. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee as well.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

How worried are you that this could explode into some sort of full- scale war?

REP. MIKE LAWLER (R-NY): Well, Wolf, the world is a tinderbox, as we've seen, China, Russia, and Iran had been working together and then unholy alliance to destabilize and undermine the United States, Israel, and the free world.

When you look at what is going on right now in the Middle East, Iran is the greatest state sponsor of terror. They have funded Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and other terrorist organizations as their proxies in their war against Israel.

They want to eradicate the state of Israel off the face of the earth and obviously with this direct attack tonight, we see that they are finally putting their own missiles and rockets and drones behind this effort and that is deeply alarming. It's why I have fought to get at Iran's funding by putting secondary sanctions in place on the purchase of Iranian petroleum, which is how they are funding so much of their war against Israel.

The biggest purchaser of Iranian petroleum is China. It's why we passed the SHIP Act through the House in November, and I'm calling on Senator Schumer to pass this through the Senate immediately. We have to crack down on their funding source.

$88 billion increase Iranian petroleum sales since Joe Biden took office because they have weakened the sanctions against Iran. We have to crack down on this. So I'm deeply concerned about how this entire situation couldn't explode and how Israel is going to defend itself on multiple fronts.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Congressman, before I let you go, what does it bigger threat to the population of Israel right now, these rockets, these missiles, these drones coming in from Iran or potentially what Hezbollah is doing, the thousands of rockets and missiles they have in south Lebanon, which could not only hit northern Israel, Haifa, but reached Tel Aviv and all the way down to Eilat.

What's a bigger threat to Israel right now, Hezbollah or the Iranians?

LAWLER: Well, frankly, Wolf, they're one and the same. Hezbollah is funded by Iran and obviously we need to be working with the Israelis to ensure they have all of the air defense capabilities at their disposal. And you see how important Iron Dome is.

But this multiple front war which is unfolding before our eyes obviously, is a great danger. And I listened intently to Ambassador Bolton, he is correct. We absolutely need to work with the Israelis to take out Iran's nuclear capabilities. This is a grave threat. The world is in the most precarious place since World War II.


We cannot be a bunch of Neville Chamberlains in this moment. We must be Winston Churchill, victory at all cost. Israel must defend themselves and to all of my colleagues and Congress who have been calling for ceasefire for the past many months that have been seeking regime change in Israel -- enough. Get behind the Israeli government, work together to ensure the free world is victorious, because if not, the consequences will be dire across the globe.

BLITZER: Congressman Lawler, my colleague and friend, Jim Sciutto, is here. He has a quick follow-up for you.

SCIUTTO: Congressman, as you know, Republican Speaker Johnson has delayed putting the supplemental to a vote on the floor, which includes aid both to Israel and to Ukraine. Do you call on him now to do so this week?

LAWLER: Look, I believe very strongly we need to get aid to Israel, to Ukraine, and to Taiwan. Its why I've introduced defending borders, defending democracies, which would provide 66 billion and lethal aid as well as border security here in the United States, we have to recognize the threat at our own southern border.

But let me be very clear about this. House Republicans passed aid to Israel back in November of last year. Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats sat on that for months, refusing to take up that supplemental aid package for Israel. We obviously have to work together to get this done.

So, yes, I'm calling on Speaker Johnson to bring a bill to the floor this week. I'm calling on Chuck Schumer and the White House to work with House Republicans.

We are in a divided government. We have to work together. There has to be compromised.

We need to help Israel. We need to help you Ukraine, we need to help Taiwan, and we need to secure our own borders. The world is under attack, and we all have a responsibility in an obligation to get this done.

BLITZER: Congressman Mark Lawler. Thank you so much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation down the road.

And well have more of our special coverage straight ahead.