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Israel War Cabinet Meeting Ends Without Decision On Iran Attack Response; Iran To Respond Directly If Israel Retaliates; Congressional Leaders Hold Call With Biden About Situation In The Middle East; Congressional Leaders At Odds Over Next Steps For Israel Aid; Trump's Historic Hush Money Trial Monday; Trump's Criminal Trial; Israel War Cabinet Meeting. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired April 14, 2024 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to her viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. And we start with breaking news once again.

Any moment now, the United Nations Security Council is convening in New York for an emergency meeting discussing the very volatile situation right now in the Middle East. There is growing worry around the world after Iran launched an unprecedented attack on Israel, Iran's first ever direct assault on Israeli territory from directly inside Iran. Israel Defense Forces say they shut down almost all of the 350 rockets and missiles fired at the country overnight. Many of those rockets and missiles were shot down by the U.S. and the U.K.

We're getting a first look at the destruction, though. Take a look at this. This is from Israel's Nevatim Airbase. A senior U.S. military official says there was no significant damage throughout the country as a result of the air defense system in Israel. President Biden holding talks with the congressional leaders this afternoon. He also held a virtual meeting with leaders of the G7.

CNN is covering all of these major developments. Our correspondents around the world are standing by. Let's start in Jerusalem right now where CNN's Jeremy Diamond is standing by,

Jeremy, the Israeli war cabinet I take it met for hours today. What decisions if any did officials there make about a possible Israeli military response to Iran's attack?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Nearly five hours of meetings between Israel's top officials, including Israel's prime minister, the top general in the country, the intelligence chief and other members of Israel's war cabinet. And yet after nearly five hours of debate and deliberations, no decision was made on exactly how and when to carry out a response, likely a military response, to this large scale and unprecedented attack that Iran launched against Israel in the early hours of this morning. My understanding from speaking with an Israeli official familiar with

this meeting is that one of the key considerations is exactly when, how quickly to respond to Iran and also how big that response should be. Will this be the kind of response that could potentially lead to an all-out war between Israel and Iran, or will it be a measured response intended to cool down the situation rather than inflame it further.

That much remains to be determined and a number of considerations are playing part, including the prospects of a full-blown war between Iran and Israel, but also of course Israel's ongoing war in Gaza and plans for a major ground offensive into Rafah, which Prime Minister Netanyahu has described as Hamas' last bastion. Amid all of this, we are getting the first images of some of the damage from the few ballistic missiles that did indeed make it through Israel's air defense system.

The 1 percent of those projectiles that made it through that air defense system one of them hit a road in the Hermon Region, which is in the Golan Heights near an Israeli military facility that Iran was targeting there. The other fell at the Nevatim Airbase in southern Israel. And you can see the damage is not enormous and it appears that Israeli is working to repair it quite quickly. In particular, at the Nevatim airbase, you can see in this footage Israeli military crews working to repaved a section of what looks like an airstrip that appears to have been hit by one of those missiles.

These are of course the images that the Israeli military themselves are verifying -- are releasing. We haven't actually been there to verify this ourself, but, certainly, Wolf, this is a moment of extreme tension and extreme uncertainty about what the next steps for this region may be.

BLITZER: Yes. Very, very nervous situation unfolding right now.

Jeremy, stand by. I want to bring in CNN's Jomana Karadsheh who's joining us from London right now.

Jomana, there is growing concern that this attack, Iran, and an Israeli response could spiral into an all-out war between these two countries.


What's the feeling around the Middle East right now? What are you hearing?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, this entire region has been on edge since October. There have always been the fears that as Iranian proxies around the region have stepped up their attacks, especially targeting U.S. forces, there was always this fear of any sort of miscalculation that could drive the region into a wider conflict.

But what we have seen unfold over the last 24 hours has been the worst case scenario, and not just since October, something that so many in the region have been fearing for a very, very long time, what some have described in the past as this doomsday scenario where you have a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran.

And right now, people are on edge as they are waiting, as you heard from Jeremy there. The Israelis haven't decided how and when they're going to respond, the scale of the Israeli response. And this is putting so many people on edge especially as they've heard from the Iranian regime saying that if there was to be any sort of Israeli response, that they too will respond and it was going to be a much bigger attack, that they will respond in a much fiercer way if Israel targets Iran.

They also had the warning, Wolf, to the United States saying that if it cooperated, if it supported Israel in any possible attack on Iran, that this means that its forces in the region will be under threat, that they will no longer be -- that they will not be safe, very much threatening that there will be attacks on U.S. forces.

And this has put, Wolf, so many people across the region in different countries where you have U.S. military bases and presence, whether it's Jordan, Iraq, Syria, elsewhere, has really put them on edge right now. The fears that this really could get out of control, spiral out of control, and widen across the region. And these are the warnings that President Biden is hearing today from King Abdullah of Jordan saying that there must be no escalation by the Israelis.

And once again saying that the only way to get to a de-escalation, to stop this from escalating into a regional war is for an end to the war in Gaza, something that he and other leaders in the region have been saying and warning since October.

BLITZER: Yes, this situation could clearly explode.

Jomana Karadsheh, thank you very much. Jeremy Diamond, thanks to you as well.

President Biden has been holding talks throughout the day including with congressional leaders and G7 leaders as well.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez and Natasha Bertrand are joining me right now.

Natasha, President Biden made it clear the U.S. will not help Israel with an offensive against Iran, right? But what are officials saying about U.S. support for defensive maneuvers?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this has really never been a negotiable aspect of the U.S.' relationship with Israel. Even amid all of the disagreements and all of the confrontations, the U.S. and Israel have had over how it is conducting the war in Gaza, the fact that the U.S. was always going to support and defend Israel militarily against threats from Iran and Iran-backed groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah, that has always been consistent U.S. policy, and it's why we have seen the U.S., of course, continue to provide offensive and defensive weaponry and military equipment to the Israelis. And so reiterating today just how solid and ironclad is the word that

they continue to use that relationship is, a senior administration official told reporters that the U.S. is always going to help Israel defend itself militarily, even if the U.S. does not actively engage in a strike on Iran, or a strike in retaliation for the attacks that we saw last night in conjunction with the Israelis, because the bottom line here is that while the U.S. wants to give the Israelis the tools that it needs to defend itself, and while the U.S. wants to help any way it can, including with these fighter jets and with these, you know, Navy destroyers that helps shoot down all of these ballistic missiles, it does not want to participate in a strike that could then widen the conflict even further.

So the message from President Biden to the Israelis over the last several hours has been take this as a win, sit back and think very strategically about how you're going to proceed because we are not going to help you launch any kind of offensive attack on Iran, even though we will help you defend yourselves.

BLITZER: Important points you're making. Thank you very much.

I want to go over to the White House right now. Priscilla Alvarez is on the scene for us.

What else are you hearing? What other messages are coming out of the White House following Iran's attack against Israel?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no doubt, Wolf, that the resounding message continues to be that they do not want this to escalate. That has been the focus here at the White House for months is making sure that there isn't a wider regional conflict and a lot of what the efforts have been since yesterday has been trying to contain the risk of this growing any wider.

Now, as you heard there from Natasha, President Biden himself told the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. will not participate in any offensive action against Iran, telling him to think carefully and strategically about his next steps.


And that was also part of the discussion today that the president had with G7 leaders. They met virtually this morning and discuss diplomatic moves forward, essentially putting an emphasis on non- military actions because they all believed that they don't want to see this conflict escalate in the region.

Now part of the reason for this is that the U.S. assessment here is that Israel was largely successful. They want them to take the win here. There was no major damage to infrastructure and they were also able to defend themselves from multiple missiles.

Now listen to what National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby had to say about all of this.



KIRBY: Several hundred drones and missiles over the course of a few hours. And what damage did they cause? Not very much. I mean, it was an incredible effort by Israel, but also it shows that Iran is not the military power weight that they claimed to be.


ALVAREZ: So you can see there the White House argument that Israel, again, was largely successful here and needs to think critically about its next steps. Of course, Israel has told the U.S. that it also doesn't want to see escalation in the region. That according to a senior administration official, but all the same, still very much an open question how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decides to move forward here, and whether he does take the president's advice. All of this really an open question at this hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, lots of uncertainty unfolding right now.

Priscilla Alvarez, at the White House, Natasha Bertrand, to both of you, thank you very much.

Let's get some perspective on all of this from Trita Parsi, he's the executive vice president over at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He's also the author of an important book entitled "Losing an Enemy."

And Trita, you wrote yesterday that Iran's retaliatory attack was immensely risky. What are the biggest risks right now for Iran?

TRITA PARSI, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, THE QUINCY INSTITUTE FOR RESPONSIBLE STATECRAFT: The biggest risk for the Iranians, of course, is that their objective was to make sure that they restored what they consider to be their deterrence and to be able to create what they call a new equation that in the future Israel will not be able to target Iranian embassies or Iranian personnel without getting retaliation from the Iranians. However, there's a huge flaw in this reasoning because if Netanyahu decides that he wants to escalate further by attacking Iran in response to the Iranian attack, then at that point, the Iranians are going to get dragged into a major war that they don't seem to want, certainly the United States doesn't want.

But Netanyahu was in a different seat here. He knows very well that if this war ends in Gaza not only will it be the end of his political career, it will also likely to be the beginning of his prison sentence. So he has a different incentive when it comes to escalation than both the Iranians do and President Biden does.

BLITZER: He's got domestic political considerations. He really wants to remain the prime minister of Israel. PARSI: Exactly.

BLITZER: Israel's war cabinet they met for several hours today. The prime minister was there, of course, as well. What do you expect the Israeli response to be?

PARSI: I expect that if President Biden is very firm and makes clear that this is not just about offensive-defensive, those terms become somewhat meaningless once the war actually begins. But if President Biden is really firm and says we do not want to see an escalation that drags the United States into the war, and that's the most crucial thing for the U.S., at that point, I suspect that Netanyahu will shift and he will have a retaliation against Iran, but it will be cyber, it will be other things. It will not be an all-out military confrontation.

BLITZER: Trita, the United Nations Security Council is meeting in New York right now on this issue. What do you hope to see emerge from that meeting?

PARSI: I think what we will see is a choreographed show. The United States and his allies are going to strongly condemned Iran, several other countries will do so as well. It will be interesting to see if the Chinese and the Russians do the same thing as the U.S. and the U.K. that a couple of days ago when there was a question of condemning the Israeli attack against Iranian embassy. The U.S., the U.K., and France refused to do so on as a result the Security Council could not unify along one statement.

I suspect that the Chinese and the Russians will do the same thing this time around. They will have some criticism of the Iranians but they will likely not agree to a presidential statement that condemns Iran for this.

BLITZER: How much sway right now does President Biden have on the Israeli government or Prime Minister Netanyahu?

PARSI: I think throughout all of this, Biden has underestimated the amount of leverage he has. Just take a look at what happened in the last couple of hours. The United States played a critical role in shooting down those drones and those missiles. Had it not been an attack that had been telegraphed 72 hours before, the Iranians informed regional countries that Iran was going to attack Israel, those countries, of course, immediately informed the U.S. which informed the Israelis.


If that was not telegraphed so early and had the United States not played a critical role in making sure that all of those different missiles were shot down, Israel may be in a very different position, right now. So as a result, if Biden truly wants to end this war and go to the root of it, which is to have a ceasefire in Gaza, he does have the leverage. Whether he wants to use it or not is a different story.

BLITZER: Because you've said and written that President Biden had a chance to pre-empt this entire escalation but clearly failed to do so. What was your analysis?

PARSI: Well, it's not entirely certain that he could have, but there is a very interesting parallel that happened about 25 years ago. The Taliban in Afghanistan had taken the city of Mazar-I-Sharif, executed tons of people there but also taking the Iranian consulate and executed 11 Iranian diplomats. The Iranians mobilized. They didn't want to go to war but nevertheless they had to respond to this attack. They went to the Security Council, they asked for a very strong condemnation by the international community of what the Taliban had done. That was given and as a result, they used that as a pretext not to go to war with the Taliban.

This was a somewhat similar situation, an attack against the consulate, the Iranians didn't want to go to war, but had they received a strong condemnation perhaps they would have refrained from the attack that we just saw.

BLITZER: Trita Parsi, thank you very much for coming in. Let me put the book cover of your book, there you see it, "Losing an Enemy," an important book, which we recommend. Thanks very much, Trita, for coming in.

PARSI: Thank you so much.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

Still to come leaders in Congress were quick to condemn Iran's strikes on Israel. Now the pressure to pass additional funding for Israel is mounting on House Speaker Mike Johnson.



BLITZER: More now on our breaking story. Iran's overnight strikes on Israel, quickly condemned by both sides of the aisle here in Washington. Yet Congress has still at odds, major odds over additional funding for Israel and other countries, including Ukraine and Taiwan.

We're also learning that President Joe Biden had a phone conversation with congressional leaders from both the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans. And aide to Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer says they discussed the ongoing situation in the Middle East.

Our Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona following all these developments for us. Melanie is here with me in the CNN NEWSROOM.

The big question right now, Melanie, is what's happening to this aid? Is the House and the Senate going to finally pass this legislation to appropriate funds, additional funds for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan? Will they be separate packages? Or are they just be a bundle?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Congress is really divided over that very question right now about whether to tie Ukraine to Israel. This is a question that House Republican leaders were already grappling with, but it is taking on renewed sense of urgency and significance in light of Iran's attack on Israel.

Now Speaker Mike Johnson did go on FOX this morning and said he will be putting a bill on the floor this upcoming week to address aid to Israel. But he said the details are still not yet finalized and that is because he is facing competing pressure over what to do. In one corner, there are bipartisan calls from both Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, even some of his own Republican committee chairmen, to just put the Senate passed version of this aid package on the floor arguing this is the fastest way to get aid to Israel. As a reminder, that includes aid for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan.

But in the other corner, you have hardline conservatives warning Johnson against tying Ukraine to Israel, and that includes hard-liners like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has threatened to potentially remove Johnson from the speakership if he moves ahead with funding for Ukraine. So Speaker Mike Johnson has some very big decisions to make in the coming days.

I will say, Wolf, though, that he has been trying to find a path forward on Ukraine. He went down to Mar-a-Lago on Friday to do a joint press conference with Donald Trump. I'm told that part of the mission when he went down there was to see if he could feel out Trump on a potential aid package and try to get his buy-in and Trump did say he was open to the idea of structuring Ukraine aid as a loan instead of doing a straight form of aid.

So potentially there could be a path, but at this moment still really uncertain how they're going to address all of that.

BLITZER: So if they just passed the Senate version, which has already passed, and they pass it at the House, it can go right to the White House? The president could sign it into law.

ZANONA: Exactly.

BLITZER: And that's that. If they start making changes to the Senate version, it's got to go back to the Senate then they got to negotiate some sort of deal.

ZANONA: Right.

BLITZER: But that could take a while.

ZANONA: And therein lies the problem and that's why Johnson is in such a conundrum because if they pass their own version, it's going to have to ping-pong back and forth. There's no guarantee that it would even pass in the Senate. But if he puts that Senate passed version on the floor, that would almost certain that Marjorie Taylor Greene would move a motion to vacate. It would definitely ire his right flank, so that is why Johnson is trying craft their own version of whatever they're trying to do.

BLITZER: All right. Look, it's very complicated, very important. Good to see you here in the newsroom. Normally I see you at Statuary Hall up on Capitol Hill.


BLITZER: It will be a historic day in New City tomorrow as Donald Trump's first criminal trial begins. We have details of what we should expect to see in court. That's next.



BLITZER: We're less than 24 hours away from Donald Trump's first criminal trial. A truly historic moment for a former U.S. president. First time in American history a former president will face a criminal trial.

Trump's lawyers are using tomorrow's hush money trial in New York City to delay his classified documents case down in Florida, citing Trump's packed courtroom schedule.

Let's bring in former federal prosecutor, Michael Zeldin, to discuss.

First of all, security is going to be intense around that courthouse tomorrow. Give us a little perspective.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they are facing a defendant who keeps attacking witnesses, prospective jurors, courtroom personnel, and they've got to make sure that the hordes of people who support Trump and his position are held safely away from the courthouse. So it's a real risk.

BLITZER: The prosecution has to connect the hush money issue to the 2016 presidential election in order to win this case, right?

ZELDIN: Right.

BLITZER: Give us the analysis.

ZELDIN: So the argument is they paid her money to keep her quiet. They repaid circuitously through Michael Cohen this money, and they did that with the intent to interfere with the election.


BLITZER: You're talking about Stormy Daniels.

ZELDIN: Stormy Daniels. The effort here is, hide the money on the books. Defeat the effort to tarnish his election and then win. And they have to just prove, did he put the records on his books fraudulently with the intent to impact the outcome of the election? And I think that's pretty straight forward.

BLITZER: How strong of a case -- how strong of a case does the prosecution have against Trump?

ZELDIN: I think, factually, they have a very strong case. There's some legal issues that the judge decided, pretrial, they'll be appealed. But on the question of the facts, it's pretty straightforward. They paid Stormy Daniels through Michael Cohen. They repaid Cohen, pretending it was a legal fee. They misrepresented it on the books. It was all done with the intent to interfere with the election. Pretty basic blocking and tackling --

BLITZER: Michael Cohen will testify for the prosecution?

ZELDIN: Cohen will testify. Pecker of "National Enquirer" fame, who did other catch and kill types of cases which this is what this is, will testify. Hope Hicks will testify to conversations she had with Michael Cohen.

So, there are a lot of witnesses who are going to say this was the scheme. This was the plan. It was a purposeful effort. Because after the Access Hollywood tape, they knew that they had to prevent additional stuff. Much like when we covered this with Clinton and these so-called bimbo eruptions. They needed to suppress this. This was their plan.

BLITZER: How complicated well the jury selection process, which begins tomorrow morning, be? That could go on for days.

ZELDIN: It could go on for weeks. This is, I think, as critical a part of the trial as the introduction of the evidence itself. They need to find jurors who will listen to the evidence and decide on the facts. And not be swayed by their pre, you know, positions on politics.

Because in a criminal trial, you need unanimity. And so, if you get one juror who says, you know what? I like Donald Trump. I don't want to vote for him. Or I don't like Donald Trump. I'm not going to vote to acquit.

It hangs the whole jury and they're going to do it all over again. So, this is really, really important, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Michael Zeldin, as usual, thank you very much for joining us.

New York City, understandably, is under increasing security for this trial. The NYPD will have access to 50,000, yes, 50,000 cameras across the city. And will deploy more officers to monitor potential protests and online threats.

And joining us now, CNN Correspondent Polo Sandoval who's covering all this for us. What more can you tell us about the extra security measures that law enforcement will be taking, before Trump arrives at the courthouse tomorrow?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. So, we clearly remember the security presence that was dedicated to the former president, during his civil fraud trial. Also, during previous criminal court appearances here. Think of that as, sort of, the precursor to what we'll be seeing here starting tomorrow. With a significantly larger police presence and multi-agency approach here. Let me, sort of, show you around here, Lower Manhattan. This is going

to look very similar -- very different, I should say, starting tomorrow.

Let's start with NYPD. They're going to be relying not just on increased staffing, with the technology, but also frozen zones. Basically locking down the areas around the courthouse throughout the motorcade route, and then certainly, about six miles north of here, Trump Tower.

Any potential Trump supporters or -- and-or protesters, they will be really (ph) get into this particular park here, essentially creating sort of a safety zone between some members of public and the structure.

Let's talk secret service. Their main priority, obviously, will be dedicated to the safety of the former president. They will also be the ones to decide the exact route, which one law enforcement source told my colleague, Mark Morales, will vary from day to day.

And then, finally, court officers. Their responsibility will mainly be behind these walls. They'll be responsible for the movement of the former president. While inside this building we're told by a law enforcement official that they also have a dedicated elevator that will be exclusively used for Donald Trump as he goes up and down from the 15th floor where these court hearings will be held.

But look, Wolf, NYPD, court officers, secret service, this is a dance that they're very, very used to already. But there is a differentiating factor, according to law enforcement sources. And, of course, we all know this.

This is not necessarily going to be just a former president as a defendant. The defendant will be a former president that is running for president. And that's really a potential game changer. And that's why the security presence at were expecting here, starting tomorrow for the next several weeks, will be something that we haven't seen before.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Polo Sandoval on the scene for us in New York, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, you can watch CNN for special, live coverage of Trump's hush money trial.


BLITZER: Our special coverage starts tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN and streaming on Max.

When we come back, the Israeli president is calling on the world to stand up to Iran.


ISAAC HERZOG, PRESIDENT, ISRAEL: The world has to understand that this is another development in the war which Iran is waging against the free world.


BLITZER: More from our exclusive interview with Israeli president, Isaac Herzog. That's coming up next.



BLITZER: Welcome back. We continue now with our special coverage of Iran's attack on Israel. This is the first time Iran has launched a direct assault on Israeli soil. Earlier today, the IDF said 350 rockets and missiles by Iran had been fired toward Israel during this attack. But the vast majority of them were intercepted.

Right now, the United Nations Security Council is holding an emergency meeting in New York about the assault. The Israeli war cabinet, by the way, just wrapped up its meeting, as it weighs its military response. No decision was made. But Israel has told United States that it's not looking for a significant escalation with Iran.

President Biden, meanwhile, pledging what he calls ironclad U.S. support for Israel. But he also warned that the U.W. will not participate in any counter strike against Iran.

Just a short time ago, I spoke exclusively with the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog. In our interview, I asked him about his response to Iran's unprecedented attack on Israel and how his country plans to react.


BLITZER (on camera): You've called what Iran did a declaration of war. But Iran seems to have telegraphed what it was going to be doing. Do you assess Iran really wants to spark a wider war, a conflict with Israel, or are they more interested in narrowly responding to that deadly attack on Iran's consulate in Damascus, Syria?

HERZOG: So, I would say, of course, that what I meant was that, in terms of the size and scope. All right (ph), we're talking over 500 drones and missiles and, you know, ballistic missiles, et cetera. This was a very aggressive and brutal attack, which looks like a declaration of war.

But I also added, immediately, to say that we are not seeking war. We are seeking always peace. We want to reach peace in the region. That's what we are striving for throughout the years. And we were met by a horrific massacre by Hamas and it's -- another proxy of Iran on October Seventh.

Iran has been holding war against us for decades with its proxies. And if you look at one small example which exemplifies the entire story. Iran took over a tribe called the Houthis in Yemen, 50,000 people made it its proxy because they are Shiites. Fed it up to its neck with armament of an empire, cruise missiles, drones, and ballistic missiles, to a tribe of 50,000 people blocking the high seas. And, of course, elevating the cost of living of every family in the world. That's the story. That's what we are meeting.

We are meeting an empire of evil which wants to eradicate all values of the free world. That's why their drones are killing all over the place in Ukraine. Their drones are killing in other places. And it's about time the world stands up to them and says, no, we won't let you. Don't. As President Biden said, don't.

And, therefore, because he says, don't, and we all say, don't, that's why they were met with a very strong response last night. But I think the world has to understand that this is another development in the war which Iran is waging against the free world and has to be met accordingly.

BLITZER: As you know, Mr. President, some of the far-right political voices in Israel are pushing for a very harsh Israeli response. The National Security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, says Israel needs to quote, "go crazy."

Does this attack, in your perspective, require a harsh Israeli response? How forceful of a response should it be? And would that risk a major regional escalation?

HERZOG: So, as I said, we don't seek war. And I think that we all understand the balance that is needed in this situation. We are holding a very intimate dialogue with our allies, and I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is talking to many world leaders. He had a call with President Biden last night.

In addition, of course, to our allies, other countries such as Britain, France, and others in the region as well. We are considering it all. We are acting cool headedly and lucidly. I think the cabinet now is convening exactly to discuss it.

So, of course, we have it as a democracy, the only democracy in the region. We have a multitude of voices. But if we look at it objectively, I think we're operating in a very focused way and a very responsible way.


HERZOG: And I'm sure there will be a decision accordingly, that will make sure that we protect and defend the people of Israel. And, of course, serve the idea of this coalition that has emanated, all of a sudden in front of our eyes, in opposing the aggressive acts and the -- and the operations of Iran in the region for so many years.


BLITZER (live): That was the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, speaking with me from Jerusalem.

Up next, the IDF says the rockets fired toward Israel were launched from inside Iran. Also, they were coming from Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon's Hizballah. They are now weighing how to respond to this unprecedented Iranian attack. We'll discuss that more when we come back.



BLITZER: Former President Donald Trump will become -- will be facing a criminal trial tomorrow morning. This is the hush-money case, involving payments to the former porn star and director, Stormy Daniels.

Trump, in the meantime, is lashing out at prosecutors, the judges, the Justice Department. And President Biden gives us a glimpse of what another Trump term might look like right now.

As CNN's is Phil Mattingly reports, one word might sum it up best, and that's what we're talking about, vengeance. Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a disgraceful thing. This is a third-world country.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just days before Donald Trump becomes the first former president to go on criminal trial.

TRUMP: It's all coming out of the DOJ. A thing like this has never happened before.

MATTINGLY: His unyielding and fact-challenge rhetorical defense on the campaign trail obscured a stark reality.

TRUMP: These radical left lunatics want to interfere with our elections by using law enforcement.

MATTINGLY: What he alleges is the exact authority Trump plans to claim in a second term, according to a CNN review of campaign policy proposals and conversations with advisors and allies. The threats leveled at his opponents.

TRUMP: I will appoint a real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the United States of America, Joe Biden.

MATTINGLY: Ready to be acted out, if voters return him to the Oval Office. As one Washington Republican, who talks to the Trump campaign, framed it, Democrats hit first. We are going to hit back harder.

When confronted with the lack of any evidence of White House involvement, Republicans said, that's what he believes. That's what his people believe. And, unlike last time, this is his party now and many voters don't seem to mind.

Trump has repeatedly attacked prosecutors and judges, their families, their relationships, former officials and his political opponents. He called for former GOP Congresswoman Liz Cheney and the rest of the January Sixth committee to be jailed.

He's even floated execution of the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The guy accused the president of being on cocaine last week and nobody even blinked, one Biden campaign official said, when asked about Trump's strength in the polls. After all, this animating feature of Trump's 2016 campaign never actually came to fruition. And know (ph) Trump's affinity for vengeance existed long before that first campaign.

TRUMP: If given the opportunity, I will get even with some people that were disloyal to me.

MATTINGLY: And was often raised in his first term.

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECRITY ADVISOR: One of my favorite preoccupations during my time is national security adviser was counting how many times Trump said John Kerry should be prosecuted.

MATTINGLY: It ran headlong into advisors, Congress, and the courts loathe to bend to his will.

TRUMP: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. I am your retribution.

MATTINGLY: This time is different. Four indictments and 88 felony charges have sharpened Trump's privately raised desire for revenge.

TRUMP: If they do this -- and they've already done it. But if they want to follow through on this, yes, it could certainly happen in reverse.

MATTINGLY: Congressional Republicans who pushed back on Trump are gone or on their way out. Almost always replaced by loyalists who owe their election to Trump's endorsement. Federal courts blocked or forced withdrawal of an unprecedented number of Trump rules.

They are now stocked with hundreds of young and sharply conservative Trump appointees. At the same moment, Trump and his advisers embrace a maximalist theory on his presidential authority. The advisers who blocked Trump's wishes replaced by Trump devotees.

TRUMP: I put great people in, but I also put people that I made a mistake with.

MATTINGLY: From the backbone of expansive policy proposals, targeting Justice Department, national security and intelligence officials, laying the groundwork to terminate career government officials deemed insufficiently loyal.

TRUMP: We need to make it much easier to fire rogue bureaucrats who are deliberately undermining democracy.

MATTINGLY: And with Trump escalating his rhetorical warfare and advance of his trial next week on charges brought by the New York District Attorney, it should be noted, there's a policy proposal for that too.

TRUMP: I will direct a completely overhaul DOJ to investigate every radical D.A. and A.G. in America for their illegal races in reverse enforcement of the law.


BLITZER: Thanks to Phil Mattingly for that report. And to our viewers, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Our special coverage in the CNN NEWSROOM continues now with Jim Sciutto, and that will begin in just a moment.