Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Blinken Back in Israel as Civilian Deaths and Suffering Mount in Gaza; Flares and Explosions Light Up Northern Gaza Skies; Democrats Encounter Voter Frustration in Battleground Wisconsin. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired November 03, 2023 - 07:00   ET


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Next week, because it's a state where Republicans now have a big lead on who can handle the economy, a big lead on who can handle crime and normally would be in position to win that unified control of the state legislature for the governor, Glenn Youngkin, is seeking, but abortion rights are a huge hurdle and headwind for them.


And Democrats are actually confident they will at least hold the state senate and maybe take back the statehouse almost entirely around that issue.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: It has been interesting to pick up on some of that confidence which you're nailing. Ron Brownstein, as always, we appreciate it, thank you.

And CNN This Morning continues right now.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: An extraordinary new Israeli offensive in the skies of Gaza.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're probably going to see a significant reinforcement of Israeli ground forces did occur.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Israeli officials saying that they have encircled Gaza City.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fears of a second war along Israel's northern border intensifying. The leader of Hezbollah is expected to break his silence.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Hezbollah fighters saying their fingers are on the trigger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have Secretary of State Antony Blinken is back in Israel. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can the United States tell its ally how to fight a war?

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: How we can set the conditions for a durable, sustainable peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There are just weeks before the public calls for a ceasefire becomes untenable.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): We can get the hostages out. We can get humanitarian aid in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This hospital will turn into a mass grave. There's nothing for this place other than a place to come and die.


MATTINGLY: Good morning and welcome. I'm Phil Mattingly with Erica Hill in New York, Poppy is off today.

Right now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is back in a war zone in Israel as civilian deaths and destruction mount in Gaza. He's already met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been meeting with Israel's war cabinet this morning.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Blinken's trip comes after one of the most intense nights we have seen yet in Gaza. We actually watched Israeli rockets and missiles rain down live here on CNN as flares lit up the night sky fighting rage on the ground.

CNN is learning that Blinken, President Biden and his top advisers are all warning Israel that the human suffering in Gaza is eroding public support for the war, and that outcry for a ceasefire could reach a tipping point.

MATTINGLY: All as the Israeli military skies troops and tanks completely encircled Gaza City. This right now is the latest video you're seeing from the ground and those ground operations. Casualties, they are rising on both sides. The IDF says 23 Israeli soldiers have now been killed since they launched the ground assault into Gaza.

Ed Lavandera is live for us this morning in Tel Aviv. Ed, I want to start with the diplomatic side of things right now. The secretary of state on the ground meeting with the war cabinet amid very real U.S. concerns. What are the outcomes we expect today?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're still waiting to see exactly what those outcomes are going to be heading into these meetings. The secretary of state did not commit to any kind of specifics other than saying that they would be making concrete requests of the Israeli government to show restraint in the military offensive there inside of Gaza.

As you mentioned here off the top, the Israeli response has been quite controversial around the world, as you've seen the toll that it has taken on civilians there inside of Gaza. There's also a great deal of concern for the 242 hostages that are there as well on the ground, and who presumably could very well be in danger of all of this.

So, that is why today's visit by the secretary of state extremely crucial. The secretary of state is expected to meet with reporters in about an hour, so perhaps we learn more details about how these meetings went this morning. But the secretary of state met for about an hour with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and as you mentioned is wrapping up a meeting at this point with the Israeli war cabinet.

But, Erica and Phil, also a crucial day because later today, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon is expected to make his first remarks since the October 7th attacks, so this is very crucial, exactly what kind of message the Hezbollah leader is going to take because the U.S. is also very concerned that this is a conflict that could widen. And Hezbollah has much more military capability than Hamas. So, this could be a very -- you know, unfold into a very -- a much more treacherous situation than it already is.

HILL: Yes, certainly a lot of eyes on that speech later today, waiting to see what, in fact, will be said. And when we talk about, and we had spoken with one of the IDF spokespeople earlier this morning talking about how Gaza City is encircled, that there has been some face-to-face combat, as we were told, although no specific numbers on how widespread it is.

There is also, as you noted, and as we noted off the top, increasing concern about civilian casualties. What are you hearing from the Israeli government this morning?

LAVANDERA: Well, look, the Israeli government, as they have been talking about the offensive and the ground operation inside of Gaza, they don't appear to be sending any signals that they're going to change what they're doing on the ground there.


They insist that the Hamas military operation is operating from tunnels that exist under the civilian operation and the elaborate tunnel system, dozens of miles of tunnel systems that is giving the Hamas military fighters the chance to fire off rockets towards Israel, that is their concern.

Netanyahu said yesterday that nothing will stop us, and military officials are also saying that they will continue to put maximum pressure on Hamas military officials there on the ground to stop those missiles from coming toward Israel.

And, you know, those tunnels are their main concern. Hezbollah has put out some propaganda video showing just exactly how crucial those tunnel systems have been to their military operations.


LAVANDERA (voice over): The Hamas soldier stalking an Israeli tank running up next to it and placing an explosive device on the machinery, then running away. Seconds later, the device detonates. The Hamas fighter then disappears into the ground through a trap door.


LAVANDERA: So, Israeli military officials really bent on trying to limit the capability of those fighters operating underground, and that requires, in their view, going on the ground and trying to dismantle all of that.

So, clearly, all that has come at a great cost for the civilian population in Gaza but it has also sparked a great deal of protest and criticism of Israel around the world.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Ed Lavandera, thank you for the latest. It's the protests and the criticism, I think, that has been driving the U.S. to start to shift its posture, recognizing they need the support of allies in the region for Israel to continue.

Actually, we just have some reporting, U.S. secretary of state will push Israel for, quote, a pause in airstrikes on Gaza to allow for mediation. That's according to a diplomatic source to our Becky Anderson. So, we will keep an eye on that. We will see what, if anything, the secretary of state is able to secure.

HILL: Absolutely. In the meantime, as we watch this situation evolving overnight, CNN cameras did capture those intense bombardments over Northern Gaza, some of that here, flares and explosions illuminating the skies in the region. All of this as the Israeli military announced yesterday it was surrounding Gaza city from, quote, several directions.

CNN Military Analyst, retired Colonel Cedric Leighton is with us now. So, we have those videos, we saw some of this happening live on the air last night. Walk us through what you're seeing over the last 24 hours and what it tells you, Colonel, about Israel's strategy at this point.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Erica, good morning. There are a lot of things going on here, obviously. So just to orient everybody, this is Israel, this is Gaza right here. The very fact that we have all of these different areas here in the northern part of Gaza, this is where we saw all those videos, especially around the town of Beit Hanoun, which is in Northeastern Gaza. This is the area of main concentration that the Israelis were working on in this particular moment in time, and then they're moving south into Gaza City. So, this is where they'll be going, and this is where that grand encirclement is taking place right here. So, that's where that is.

And so you have all these troops that have come in from the north around Beit Hanoun. They've come in also around Jabalya, and then they're moving into Gaza City. And they're doing this in several different directions where you can see that they're actually using all of this territory not only to maneuver but they're also coming in, in a way that it will allow them to stop, gain, hold territory, then move forward into different areas. So, that's the kind of thing that we're seeing, and this is the kind of movement that we can expect the Israelis to do as they try to gain as much territory as possible before there's any type of diplomatic pause.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Colonel Leighton, we've been seeing this new video of some of Israel's ground forces in the midst of the operation coming from the IDF, and it said that some of the combat has been face-to- face, expected for an urban operation, and yet that has still kind of underscores the significance here. What does it tell you?

LEIGHTON: So, what it tells me right here as you look at this video, Phil, is that these kinds of things that are happening are really quite intense. You see the firing of the tanks as they move in, you see the soldiers moving into areas that are pretty narrow, and bringing in dogs as well to do some searches throughout the tunnel areas. You see the bulldozers working right in front of the infantry troops and you see them blowing up all these different areas.

What it tells me, is intense combat in very narrow areas. This type of thing, Phil and Erica, is going to really characterize the Israeli operation as it moves forward in the next 24, 48 hours, and maybe even 72 hours.

HILL: If we look further north at the border there, a spokesman for the IDF warned Hezbollah yesterday that Israel will respond with actions, not words, should there be an escalation at the northern border.


We are, of course, waiting to hear from Hezbollah's leader later today. How likely do you think an escalation is at this point?

LEIGHTON: I think it's not unlikely. So, I think there is a chance that in the northern border area you could see some of the Hezbollah fighters trying to make more incursions into Israel right along this area right here.

What that does then is that gives Israel the possibility of a two- front war because they'll be active in this area, of course, around Gaza, and then with Hezbollah here, that could potentially create some trouble for the Israelis. However, they're preparing for a two-front war, but they also have to consider what might possibly be happening on the West Bank as well.

HILL: A lot happening, just across the region. And, Colonel Leighton, I appreciate your insight. Thank you.

LEIGHTON: You bet.

MATTINGLY: And we're continuing to follow Antony Blinken, the secretary of state's high-stakes trip in Israel. He's meeting with Israeli officials, pushing for a humanitarian pause as civilian deaths and destruction mount in Gaza.

HILL: Also pressure from Washington lawmakers, 13 Democrats in the Senate now calling for a short-term cessation of hostilities, those were their words, to allow for more aid.



HILL: Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Israel right now, and he's actually expected to speak any moment with Israeli President Herzog. We are also learning -- we just learned that Blinken will reportedly push Israel for a pause in airstrikes to allow for mediation. That's according to a diplomatic source familiar with the negotiations.

Joining us now, as we wait for those remarks, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel as well as to Egypt, Daniel Krutzer. Mr. Ambassador, good to have you with us this morning.

This sort of, I guess, uptick in some ways in the language -- oh, actually, let's listen in.

ISAAC HERZOG, ISRAELI PRESIDENT: Welcome, Mr. Secretary. You're a great friend and we appreciate it, and we respect it, and I want to commend you wholeheartedly on behalf of the people of Israel for your moral character, for your incredible speeches, especially the one in the Senate, which gave the clear picture and the real truth as to the fate of the hostages, as to the tragedy that has befallen on our people and, of course, as to the inherent right of the Israelis to defend themselves.

And we are hearing from the outside demonstration on the families, our heart goes out to them. We understand it. We want their immediate release.

And, finally, I want to say something with respect to the humanitarian and the international law-abiding by the state of Israel. So, this is a leaflet, which we are sending over, 1,000,200 leaflets, to the citizens of Gaza. We've carried out 6 million text messages and 4 million phone calls to the citizens of Gaza.

According to the rules of international law where we alert the citizens in advance, including before the Jabalya attack, please move out, because as we have the right to self-defense, we want you to go out of the premises from where missiles and guns and bombs and mortars are shelled at our people, and from where the horrendous atrocious attacks went out. So, you move out so we can go in, according to international law, and defend our people.

6 million text messages and 4 million phone calls, and 1.2 million pamphlets, and phone calls in addition to all of that speaks for itself as we protect the civilians moving out to a safe zone, giving them the right to necessary humanitarian aid and enabling ourselves to defend ourselves. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

BLINKEN: Well, thank you, Mr. President. And it's always good to be back in Israel. These are difficult days, but we're here, as we've been, as we'll remain in solidarity with Israel.

We stand strongly for the proposition that Israel has not only the right but the obligation to defend itself and to do everything possible to make sure that this October 7th can never happen again.

At the same time, as you've just made clear, how Israel does this matters and it is very important that when it comes to the protection of civilians who are caught in the crossfire of Hamas' making, that everything be done to protect them and bring assistance to those who so desperately need it who were not in any way responsible for what happened on October 7th.

So, we're working on all of that together but we have a shared determination, and that determination will not wane. We also are thinking every single moment about our hostages, so many Israelis, Americans, other nationals. And we are determined to do everything that we can to bring them back safely, to bring them back to be with their families and loved ones. Thank you.

HERZOG: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we have a handshake?



MATTINGLY: You have just been watching the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, Israeli President Isaac Herzog speaking in the midst of Blinken's visit to Tel Aviv. He is expected to give a press conference after he's done with meetings, already met with the prime minister.

It was very notable when you watched what the Israeli president did there, making very clear the sensitivities and, I think, recognition of where U.S. officials are, talking about the number of text messages, calls and pamphlets warning Gazan civilians about looming attacks or incoming attacks, saying that those should speak for itself, a clear recognition, I think, to some degree, of an understating of what Blinken's message was going to be, and is going to be throughout the course of these meetings.

I want to bring in Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer.


Sir, I think when you watch these sprays, they are meant for public consumption, behind the scenes, what did what you just saw tell you about what's happening?

DANIEL KURTZER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL AND EGYPT: Well, since the start of this crisis, the president and the secretary have tried to navigate a very challenging diplomatic and political course, on the one hand indicating publicly our support for Israel, its right of self-defense, and our concern over the rise in terrorism.

But the private messages clearly are getting a bit tougher. The president from the outset made clear that he expected some degree of caution on the part of what Israel was going to do, and you can see from his words and from the way Secretary Blinken is now handling this in the field that we want to see Israel moderate what it is doing in order to prevent more humanitarian distress, more civilian casualties and to provide time for the diplomacy that deals with the hostages.

HILL: What do you think the chances are that that will happen, that, in fact, Israel will listen intently to what they are hearing from U.S. officials and others and, in fact, take some sort of a pause?

KURTZER: Well, they have to pay attention to what the United States is saying since the number of countries supporting what they're doing is rather minimal. On the other hand, it's a race against time. They're trying, as Colonel Leighton indicated, to encircle Gaza city as much as possible. And I think if they can accomplish that purpose in the next few days, they will be more amenable to these humanitarian pauses to allow more supplies to come in.

But they're in a conundrum. How quickly can they achieve their military objectives while under the gun, both of the international community, but now some increasing private pressure from the United States?

MATTINGLY: How much does where regional -- I guess you could say, historical allies, the public commentaries, a little bit difficult to define at this point, but you have the Jordanian foreign minister saying that they're going to make clear to Blinken when he goes there the war should end and that should be a message that he should pass on to the Israelis,

I understand that there's a difference between what's said publicly sometimes by those regional leaders and their allies than what's said privately, but where are they right now on this? How much longer can they continue their current posture?

KURTZER: Well, the region is shivering right now because many leaders are probably sending private messages to Israel saying, we don't like Hamas anymore than you do. But you look at the public demonstrations about what's happening, and that raises internal stability concerns in various countries.

And so the leadership in surrounding Arab countries and others are really quite concerned that this war will spill over into challenges to their own regimes. The Jordanians, in fact, have suggested that the Israeli ambassador will not be welcomed back to Amman, and they have pulled their ambassador from Israel.

Now, that's short of breaking diplomatic relations, but it sends a very important signal that time, diplomatic time, is running out for Israel's operation.

HILL: There's also a lot of attention on what will or will not be said later today by the leader of Hezbollah.

Really quickly, you wrote an op-ed for Foreign Policy Magazine. And what struck me, as you talk about these diplomatic relations, is you noted the war in Gaza will end eventually, but when it does, you write, Israelis and Palestinians will have no political horizon to look for, no peace process to rekindle, little hope for a better future. How much do you think Israel at this point is actually weighing what comes after? KURTZER: Well, today, I think there's probably little attention being paid to that, but they ought to be paying attention to it. Because, at some point, the guns will fall silent, and then people will focus on the reconstruction of Gaza, but that will only get us back to a status quo ante at a very high price. And we will be fated to run into a problem again in a couple of years. There have been several very significant wars since 2006. The last time, there was an Israel- Hezbollah War.

So, you know, it's shortsighted to think that even if you can deal Hamas a significant blow that that solves the problem. And it's quite extraordinary that while this war in Gaza is going on, there are some ministers in Israel that are punishing the Palestinian authority in the West Bank by withholding funding. So, I think there has to be some consideration in Israel given to what happens on the day after, and that means empowering the Palestinian authority even as it weakens Hamas.

MATTINGLY: Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, we really appreciate your time. Thank you.


KURTZER: Thank you.

HILL: Just a short time from now, the leader of Hezbollah will speak for the first time since Hamas' attack on Israel. Those anticipated remarks also come as the group is exchanging fire with Israel on its northern border.

MATTINGLY: And later today, President Biden and the first lady on a domestic front will travel to Lewiston, Maine, to pay their respects to the families of the 18 people killed in last week's mass shootings.

Stay with us.


MATTINGLY: CNN's John King has been talking to voters in battleground states around the country about the issues that really matter to them ahead of next year's presidential race. This time around, he traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where high turnout is critical for Democrats in the state's largest city.

HILL: Nearly 40 percent of Milwaukee's population is black, a crucial voting bloc, but voter frustration could be a real problem for the Biden camp.

CNN's John King is with us now. Could be a big problem or is a big problem at this point.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Is a big problem, is a huge problem, actually. We were stunned by what we found four days in Milwaukee now every year to the election. The Biden campaign says there's plenty of time to turn it around. But remember how important black voters where they rescued his campaign in the primaries in South Carolina. He won more than nine in ten black votes. And in just about every of the big battleground states, that constituency is a foundational element of his coalition.


And watch this, come to the streets of Milwaukee with us, he has a giant problem.