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World Central Kitchen Aid Workers Killed in Israeli Strike; Blinken in Paris, Confirms Support for Ukraine; Iran Vows Decisive Response to Consulate Attack in Syria; Arab Voters Turn from Biden on Israel Support; Caitlin Clark and Iowa Return to Final Four; "Oppenheimer" Opens in Japan. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired April 02, 2024 - 10:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Abu Dhabi, this is CONNECT THE WORLD.

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Welcome to our second hour of CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Eleni Giokos, live in Abu Dhabi.


Now we've got fresh outrage today around the world after the deaths of seven aid workers in Gaza. World Central Kitchen says their cars were hit

by Israeli strikes after they unloaded food at a warehouse in central Gaza, calling the attack, "unforgivable."

The group is temporarily halting its work in Gaza. And that is a major blow to the 2 million people there who are hungry, many of them who are nearing


A short time ago, we heard from Israel's prime minister. Take a listen.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): Unfortunately in the last day, there was a tragic incident, where our

forces unintentionally struck innocent people in the Gaza Strip. It happens in war. And we are thoroughly investigating it.

We are in contact with the governments and will do everything to prevent such occurrences in the future.


GIOKOS: The White House says it is heartbroken and deeply troubled by the killings. This, sources say, the Biden administration is set to approve the

sale of as many as 50 American-made fighter jets to Israel. CNN's Melissa Bell is standing by for us in Jerusalem. We've also got Natasha Bertrand at

the Pentagon.

Melissa, I want to start off with you; we just heard Benjamin Netanyahu saying unintentionally struck innocent civilians. As we're seeing this

outrage coming through from NGOs, from world leaders as well, take us through the latest.

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Outrage, questions, sadness coming from many different countries. Of course, there

were so many different nationalities involved in this latest tragedy, Eleni.

But also urgent questions coming up from the many aid organizations that have been trying to get help to the more than half the Gazan population

that is currently facing famine, according to the United Nations.

And it is in that context, I think, that you have to bear in mind the response that we've had from Israeli authorities so far, not just Benjamin

Netanyahu that you heard there but also the IDF, that has said that it is not only investigate -- will be investigating this at the highest level.

But it is a top general who will be reviewing the information as it comes in. This was, according to the World Central Kitchen, a deconflicted zone.

Their car, when you look at the aftermath of that strike, was clearly marked with its logo on it.

It had, it says, coordinated with the IDF, the movement, the delivery of this hundred tons of aid to this warehouse. And it was nonetheless hit,

that convoy, as it headed off. So that is a subject to review.

And those questions that are now urgently being put by so many different parties in the world and the U.N. agencies also working in Gaza urgently

will have to be answered relatively quickly.

All the more so that Israeli officials have repeatedly claimed over the last few months that they're working closely with the aid organizations and

they're getting relief to the people of Gaza is amongst their top priorities.

GIOKOS: All right. I want to go now to Natasha Bertrand.

And I want to talk about these F-15 fighter jets that we understand the U.S. will be giving Israel. We know the delivery date is still years away.

But how significant is this announcement?

Well, we haven't seen announcement per se but how significant is this news?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's very significant. This is the largest military sale that the U.S. has basically

approved since October 7th. And surely the largest that we have seen in several years.

And they are expected to greenlight this we're told after the informal review process in Congress is over. We are told that some Republican

lawmakers, two of them, have already approved the sale. But they're still waiting basically on the Democratic lawmakers to approve it.

But once this informal process is over it'll go to the Congress, the full Congress, and they only have 30 days to come up with a joint resolution of

disapproval in order to block the sale, something that has an extremely high bar and is unlikely to succeed.

So we're likely to see this massive, massive sale of F-15s as well as precision-guided munition kits, as well as a lot of technology -- radars,

guns for these -- for these aircraft -- go forward here.

And it really comes at a very delicate time in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, particularly when there's so much scrutiny right now on

President Biden's policy when it comes to supporting this war in Gaza.

A lot of critics asking why would you greenlight this massive sale now, instead of using it potentially as leverage and conditioning it on Israel

reining in its operations in Gaza and taking more -- taking more efforts to protect civilians there?

And that is something that we expect to see play out as this sale makes its way through the more formal notification process to Congress. We do expect,

even though it is unlikely that they will block the sale, for there to be significant debate on this package because it is just so large.


And we have seen the administration continue to provide weapons, munitions, aircraft to the Israelis over the last several months because they say that

they do still support Israel's right to defend itself.

However, growing calls on Capitol Hill from President Biden's critics, to condition and restrict this military aid until Israel does more to protect

civilians and get more humanitarian aid into the enclave. However, what our reporting shows is that there is simply no appetite in the administration

to do that right now, Eleni.

GIOKOS: Yes. This news, of course, comes on the news of the seven aid workers that have been killed.

And, Melissa, just back to you. We are monitoring secretary of state Antony Blinken, who is in Paris right now, meeting with his counterparts and

Macron. We're waiting to see whether he's going to touch on this topic. Of course, Gaza very much high on the agenda.

But overall, you've -- we've seen a big change in the way the U.S. has been dealing and talking about Gaza, specifically the criticism toward Israel.

All right. We're going to go straight to Antony Blinken, who is in Paris right now. Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: As I just said, it's always wonderful to be back in Paris but I especially wanted to thank my colleague

and friend, Stephane (ph) for the incredibly warm welcome but also the quality of the conversation that we had.

He covered most of what we talked about. Let me just add a couple of quick points of emphasis on Ukraine.

We discussed the imperative of continuing to support Ukraine so that it can effectively defend itself against the ongoing Russian aggression. That's

for today.

But also to make sure, through the work that we're doing, to help Ukraine build a strong military for the future to attract private sector investment

so that it builds up its economy and to continue to strengthen its democracy, in particular, by moving down the accession paths toward the


We are ensuring that we will have a Ukraine that stands strongly on its own feet, militarily, economically, democratically. And that's the single best

response to Putin's aggression.

France has been a remarkable leader in this effort, both in making sure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself and also working to set it

up for the long term. It's been a leader in burden-sharing, billions donated in military and economic assistance to Ukraine but also rallying

other countries, using its leadership to bring others along.

We also see this leadership in the enforcement of sanctions and export controls to limit Putin's war machine. We are working day in, day out, to

effectively prevent the transfer of weapons and materiel to Russia, to fuel that war machine, to fuel its defense industrial base.

Including from around from North Korea and from China, something that we discussed today. This is not only a threat to Ukraine; it's actually a

threat to European security as a whole.

And so there's a strong interest on the part of France, on the part of all European countries, to do everything we can to prevent the ongoing

bolstering of Russia's war machine.

Part of our shared challenge, too, is making sure that we are continuing to build up and energize our defense industrial base. Earlier today, I had a

chance to tour a factory where munitions are being produced.

These munitions -- French munitions, American munitions, munitions coming from other parts of Europe and well beyond -- have been absolutely

essential in ensuring that Ukraine could stand up against the Russian onslaught.

We have to build a stronger allied defense industrial base that's capable of meeting the challenges of today but also future challenges. And that's

also one of the reasons why it is essential that the United States Congress pass President Biden's supplemental budget request as soon as possible,

indeed, when it returns from recess.

That would further turbocharge our own defense industrial base while creating more good jobs in the United States. As Stephane (ph) said, we

also spent some time talking about the Middle East.

We've been grateful for France's partnership on the crisis in the Middle East and, indeed, working together to prevent the conflict that we see in

Gaza from spreading to other parts of the region.

All of us agree on the need to get to the quickest possible cease-fire, to allow the release of hostages, to enable the surge and sustainment of

humanitarian assistance.


As I mentioned, we're coordinating closely when it comes to Lebanon and trying to prevent any spread of the conflict there, finding a diplomatic

way forward. We're also working together on creating a path to a more durable and lasting peace with security guarantees and political guarantees

for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Let me also reiterate what Stephane (ph) said about the attack on the world food kitchen members -- World Central Kitchen, excuse me.

First, I can only say that, for so many of us, we extend our condolences to the loved ones, to the families, the friends, the colleagues of those who

lost their lives, as well as those who were injured. I spoke to Jose Andres just about a week ago, about the efforts that World Central Kitchen is

engaged in in Gaza, as it is in many other conflict zones around the world, including in Ukraine.

They have been doing extraordinary, brave work, day in, day out, and critical work to try to make sure that people in need get what they need,

starting with the most basic thing of all, food to survive.

The victims of yesterday's strike join a record number of humanitarian workers who have been killed in this particular conflict. These people are


They run into the fire, not away from it. They show the best of what humanity has to offer when the going really gets tough. They have to be

protected. We shouldn't have a situation, where people, who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings, are themselves at grave risk.

We've spoken directly to the Israeli government about this particular incident. We've urged a swift, thorough and impartial investigation to

understand exactly what happened.

And as we have, throughout this conflict, we've impressed upon the Israelis the absolute imperative of doing more to protect innocent civilian lives,

be they Palestinian children, women and men or be they aid workers as well as to get more humanitarian assistance to more people, more effectively.

Finally, let me just say that, as you heard from Stephane (ph), we touched on a number of other issues. I think what we see is an extraordinary

convergence between France and the United States on the major challenges of our time.

We're cooperating together to try to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific. That means a region where countries are free to choose their own path and

their own partners, where problems are dealt with openly, where rules are reached transparently and applied fairly for goods, ideas, people flow

freely and lawfully.

We're proud partners in the Paris climate summit, including joint efforts to advance civil nuclear energy as a greener alternative.

Finally let me just say how grateful we are as well to President Macron for his longstanding leadership on some of the most important cutting-edge

issues of the day. For example, all of the issues attendant to cyberspace, uniting governments, private sector, civil society around rules of the road

that reflect our shared values and our shared interests.

It is, I think, very fitting that we are celebrating two landmark anniversaries this year, the 80th anniversary of the liberation that

Stephane (ph) alluded to as well as the 75th anniversary of NATO, the alliance, the defensive alliance, that joins us together.

In fact, the 80th anniversary of the liberation is a good reminder of why we decided, a few years after the end of World War II, to come together in

that defensive alliance, to help ensure that something like World War II would never happen again.

To make clear that countries in the transatlantic space would look out for each other, have each others' backs and, in so doing, make it less likely

that aggression would occur. So there's a lot to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead, even as we deal with the challenges of this moment.

And I look forward to being back in France to do that.


GIOKOS: All right. You're hearing Antony Blinken there, the U.S. secretary of state, in Paris, also meeting with his French counterparts to fund

sojourn (ph) and basically going through a lot that was discussed; of course, Ukraine, the big focal point and continuing to support Ukraine.

But then importantly, they also discussed the growing concerns in the Middle East, specifically this Israeli strike on that World Central Kitchen

convoy, where seven aid workers died. Mr. Blinken went on to say that most of the aid workers that have died are taking huge risks at any time in Gaza

while trying to administer lifesaving support.

Specifically, the most basic of needs and that being food. He said that he spoke to the Israeli government and they've called for a swift and

impartial investigation into the strike.

He made no mention of the consequences but he did say that they impressed on the Israeli government, as they always have, to protect civilians, to

protect aid workers and more aid into Gaza.

I want to take you back now as Antony Blinken is answering questions.


QUESTION: -- replacing these facilities is the right strategic approach for Ukraine.

BLINKEN: Thank you, John. Let me take the second question first.

It has been our view and policy from day one, when it comes to Ukraine, to do everything we possibly can to help Ukraine defend itself against this

Russian aggression.

At the same time, we have neither supported nor enabled strikes by Ukraine outside of its territory.

With regard to arms transfers, look, I think it's very important to put this in its proper perspective and understand what we're talking about.

First, we have a longstanding commitment to Israel's security and to helping ensure its ability to defend itself.

That's been a policy from administration to administration -- Republican, Democrat -- back and forth.

And, indeed, that policy developed over many years, developed into successive agreements between the United States and Israel, long-duration

agreements -- 10 years, in this case -- to provide military assistance over that timeframe to about $3 billion a year. That's the system that's in

place and has long been in place.

These arms transfers, every single one happens consistent with statutory and policy requirements. That includes both informal and formal

notifications to Congress. And it's what we do with every country with whom we have a defense relationship that involves the sale or transfer of arms.

Now the other important piece of context is this: with Israel -- and this is also true with other countries -- there are a number of open cases, open

requests of previously notified cases, which have not been fully fulfilled or completed.

In the case of Israel, for example, there are many requests that were made and were notified to Congress and agreed to that go back a decade or more.

And it takes time often to produce the materiel or the weapons in question, the parts, et cetera.

These complex systems, simply put, can take years to actually allow us to fulfill the request and the agreement.

So many of the cases that you occasionally report on now underwent congressional review years ago and were notified years ago, well before the

conflict in Gaza started.


BLINKEN: Well --


BLINKEN: -- let me -- let me come to that, because, again, all of this context is very, very important.

We, of course, also go out of our way to make sure that we're actually going above and beyond the law in what's required in briefing Congress.

We go to the relevant Oversight Committees. We make sure that they're aware of ongoing transfers above the statutory threshold, even ones that they've

approved a long time ago and even when there's no requirement that there be additional notice or additional approval of any kind.


Now we've been focused on trying to make sure that October 7th can never happen again. But having said that, the security relationship we have with

Israel is not just about Gaza, Hamas, October 7th.

It's also about the threats posed to Israel by Hezbollah, by Iran, by various other actors in the region, each one of which has vowed, one way or

another, to try to destroy Israel. So the weapons, the systems that Israel has sought to acquire -- and, as I said, have been contracted in many cases

over many, many years -- go to self-defense.

They go to deterrence, trying to avoid more conflicts. They go to replenishment of their supplies and their stocks. So that's the system

that's in place, has been in place for a long time and one that continues.

Now, as to the conflict in Gaza, from day one, we have worked to impress upon Israel the imperative of protecting civilians, of adhering fully to

international humanitarian law --


GIOKOS: -- All right, to your secretary of state Antony Blinken there, giving context about the long-standing relationship in terms of military

support for Israel. I've still got Natasha Bertrand with us to give us a bit of context in terms of what you've been hearing.

And importantly, you heard Mr. Blinken there sort of lay out that these are longstanding, long duration policy agreements with Israel. And, of course,

backing up why the U.S. continues to supply arms to Israel at this juncture.

What stands out for you, Natasha?

BERTRAND: Yes. So the secretary of state is making a distinction there between sales that have been notified previously -- in some instances,

many, many years ago -- and of course, it takes some the time for the equipment and the weaponry that are sold in those instances to actually be


And so part of what you're seeing now is those sales actually being fulfilled, right, those -- that equipment is now produced, it is now going

to be sent to Israel under previous contracts.

And he says that that is basically something that the U.S. is not willing to compromise on because they are -- they're part of the U.S.' long

security relationship with the Israelis. But then there is what we have reported on, which are new sales, sales such as the F-15 case, worth $18

billion, that the U.S. is only entering into with Israel now.

These are not previous cases that have already been notified to Congress.

These are brand new that the administration is choosing to enter into with Israel at this moment when there is all of this, of course, spotlight on

the way that Israel is carrying out its campaign in Gaza and how they are not doing enough, according to the U.S., to protect civilians.

And so while Antony Blinken is making a case that they have to honor previous commitments, he is not necessarily laying out here just why the

U.S. feels like it has to enter into these new relationships and new contracts with the Israelis.

To provide them with equipment, including 50 F-15s that many critics say the Israelis don't necessarily need at this moment to fight this particular


And it remains to be seen whether or not they will in the next four to five years. And so the question now, of course, becomes whether the U.S. is

going to do more to restrict or limit aid to Israel in light, of course, of that WCK strike, in light of the other things that the Israelis have been

doing in Gaza.

It does not seem at this moment, according to Secretary Blinken's answer there, like they're willing to do that.

GIOKOS: All right, Natasha Bertrand, thank you very much for that update, great to see you.

We're going to go to a very short break. I'll be back right after this. Stay with CNN.





GIOKOS: The U.S. national security adviser will travel to Saudi Arabia this week, continuing talks with -- over an Israeli-Saudi normalization

deal. Jake Sullivan will meet with crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Many view the deal as too challenging to pull off and no major breakthroughs are expected out of the meeting.

Saudi Arabia is one of many countries condemning the targeting of Iran's consulate in Damascus. The country's foreign ministry called it a violation

of international diplomatic laws. Iran is promising a decisive response.

The Iranian ambassador to Damascus says Israeli warplanes targeted the building, totally destroying it. An Israeli military spokesperson wouldn't

comment but said the building was not a consulate or embassy but a military building of Iran's Quds Forces.

The U.S. says it had no involvement or advance knowledge of this attack. Iran says at least 13 people were killed in the strike, including seven

members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

We've got CNN's Fred Pleitgen joining us now. He's been inside this building in Damascus.

Fred, great to see you. The Vienna Conventions are supposed to protect diplomatic compounds. Israel called it a military building of Quds Forces

and not an embassy. But you've been there. So tell me about this building.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly is part of the Iranian embassy in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

That embassy, though, is a very large compound. It has a very large main embassy building and then several annexes as well.

And it seems as though what the Israelis hit seems to be one of those annex buildings that appears to be close to the consular section but then also

part of the rest of that very large compound as well.

And you're absolutely right, the Israelis have come out and said they don't consider basically the entire embassy compound but certainly that building

to be part of the diplomatic mission of Iran to Damascus but rather a base for Iran's Quds Force, which, of course, is the foreign operations wing of

the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

And, of course, we do know that several -- as the -- as the Iranians put it -- military advisers were killed in that strike, including at least two

very senior generals who were very important to Iran's operations in that part of the Middle East.

But officially, of course, this is very much of Iran's diplomatic compound really right in the heart of the Syrian capital. This is right on the main

highway that leads exactly into the center of Damascus. So certainly a very bold strike if indeed the Israelis were behind it.

They, of course, have not claimed responsibility yet. It also seems to be one that was conducted fairly precisely. What we do see is the main embassy

building seems to be almost untouched but then the building next to it, the one that got hit, absolutely flattened by what appear to be several

munitions -- Eleni.

GIOKOS: Yes, it was. I want to talk about Iran's response and the supreme leader said, and I quote, "The evil regime will be punished by the hands of

our brave men, by God's will we will make them regret this crime and other ones like it."

So what is Iran's potential reaction to this?

PLEITGEN: I think there's a number of things that the Iranians could do. I mean, one of the things that we need to understand is that the Iranians

certainly have their own Revolutionary Guard Quds Force in that part of the Middle East.

But they also have a lot of affiliated militias. Of course, the most prominent one probably being, for instance, Hezbollah inside Lebanon. But

also if you look inside Syria, there's a lot of other militias that are affiliate with -- affiliated with the Iranians as well. So they certainly

do have a lot of options on the table.

But, of course, the repercussions of any sort of answer by the Iranians could be pretty big as well. And we saw something very similar when the

U.S. killed general Qasem Soleimani of the Iranians in early 2020, where the Iranians then opted for a limited response, where they fired some

ballistic missiles at a U.S. base inside Iraq.

And said, look, it could end there.


It depends on what the answer of the Americans will then be. What we've seen now so far though, I think it's pretty interesting as we've heard the

supreme leader as you've put it but also Iran's foreign minister, for instance, holding the U.S. accountable as well.

And the foreign ministry just put out another statement saying that there will be an answer by the Iranians. Certainly it seems as though something

will be coming from the Iranians. It's difficult to ascertain at this point in time what exactly it's going to be, how wide ranging it is going to be.

But certainly the Iranians have means at their disposal with which they could try to inflict damage on the Israelis. What we've heard from the

Iranian foreign ministry is, they say that there will be some form of punishment but again, impossible to say right now what exactly that is

going to be.

GIOKOS: Fred, great to have your expertise on the story. Thank you so much for joining us.

And still to come as voters in the U.S. presidential primaries get another chance to send a message about America's policy toward Israel, we will talk

about what that might mean for Joe Biden.




GIOKOS: Welcome back to CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Eleni Giokos.

World Central Kitchen says it is pausing its operations in Gaza after at least seven of its aid workers were killed in an attack, it says, as,

quote, "unforgivable."

The White House said Monday it is deeply troubled by the killings and urged Israel to swiftly investigate. A few hours ago, Israeli prime minister

admitted that Israeli forces had unintentionally struck innocent people.

And an IDF spokesperson says they are reviewing the incident at the highest levels. In the meantime, anti-Muslim bias incidents are on a steep rise in

the U.S. A new report from the Council on American-Islamic Relations says it saw more than 8,000 complaints last year.

That is 56 percent increase, accounting for the highest numbers since CAIR began tracking hate 28 years. And just over 44 percent of the total

complaints were made after the war in Gaza began.


Now the troubles in the Middle East are also causing President Joe Biden problems at home. Five more states are voting in presidential primaries

today, where there's been a push from Arab Democrats to vote for uncommitted in protest at the administration's support for Israel.

The president will also host a small iftar dinner at the White House today, commemorating the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. But sources have told CNN

several of those invited have declined.

For more on this. I'm going to bring in our White House correspondent Arlette Saenz.

Arlette, this year's iftar overshadowed by what we've been seeing in Gaza, take us through the latest and how the White House plans to host this


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House is holding a scaled back of version of an iftar dinner today to commemorate the holy --

Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

But several of those who were invited to attend told CNN that they declined the invitation amid frustrations with President Biden's support for Israel,

amid the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Now last year, the White House did not hold this event but they did hold a celebration marking the end of Ramadan for about 350 people here at the

White House. But this dinner will be quite small with President Biden, Vice President Harris and other top White House aides attending along with fewer

than a dozen invited guests.

Now the officials said that they hope that this dinner will give those guests an opportunity to share some of their concerns and speak with

President Biden directly.

The White House and the Biden campaign have acknowledged that there is more work that they need to do with the Muslim American community, especially,

as they've seen this frustration with the president's approach when it comes to Gaza.

But it's not just Muslim Americans; Arab Americans and young Americans have also expressed frustration with the way the president has handled this

conflict. And we've seen that play out at the ballot box as well.

There could be a key test today in the battleground state of Wisconsin, which is set to hold its primaries a little bit later this evening. There

is a campaign for voters to vote uninstructed.

That is similar to the campaigns that were conducted in states like Michigan as well as Minnesota to urge voters to not -- to vote uncommitted

and uninstructed in the Democratic primaries as a sign of discontent with President Biden's handling of Gaza.

So there's this organization has been pushing this campaign also in Wisconsin. The president, of course, is expected to win the Democratic

presidential primary but everyone will be watching to see how many people vote for uninstructed.

Over in the battleground state of Michigan, they got more than 100,000 votes for uncommitted back in their primary at the end of February. And

that comes at a time when every single vote in those battleground states is going to count.

Michigan and Wisconsin were two states that Biden narrowly won against Trump in -- back during the 2020 campaign. So the White House and the Biden

campaign have acknowledged that they still have a lot of work to do.

But so much for the president is trying to hear directly from people about their concerns and officials are hoping that, at this iftar dinner tonight,

he will be able to hear a little bit about how people are feeling about what he has done with his approach in Gaza.

GIOKOS: All right. Arlette Saenz, thank you.

Iran is vowing to respond to after Israeli airstrikes destroyed the Iranian consulate in Damascus on Monday. At least 13 people were killed in the

attack, including some members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

A U.S. official says the U.S. had no involvement or advance knowledge of the attack. Iran's ambassador to Damascus said this is likely the first

time Israel directly targeted and an Iranian diplomatic building.

Now my next guest is a senior research associate at The Geneva Graduate Institute. Dr. Farzan Sabet joins me now from Bern, Switzerland.

Great to have you with us. I just want to talk about are how different this attack is because of the target itself. We're talking about a consulate,

some kind of diplomatic mission area within Syria, and whether this now means direct escalation.

How would you characterize this?

FARZAN SABET, SENIOR RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, THE GENEVA GRADUATE INSTITUTE: Hi, Eleni, very good to join you. I would absolutely portray this as a

major escalation in the conflict between Iran and Israel.

In the past, Israel has consistently, I think since 2013, targeted Iranian senior personnel and regular personnel as well as military assets, often in

nondescript buildings. But this was the first time that it's gone after a formal diplomatic facility.

So both in terms of the individuals targeted, a very senior commander, who held the uppermost position for the IRGC Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria.


But also in terms of the nature of the facility, it's a major escalation.

GIOKOS: Yes. I mean, look, overall number, from what we understand, 13 people. But two generals, General Zahedi as well as General Hajriahimi.

How significant are these generals?

And what kind of blow are we talking about here to Iran?

SABET: Absolutely. So there's two dimensions of this. First of all, after -- this is the -- potentially the 18th death of Iranian officials and Quds

Force officials in Syria since the outbreak of the war in October.

And so it represents a continuing effort by Israel to disrupt Quds Force operations, not only in Syria but of the broader axis of resistance. So on

one level, it's a disruption of Iran's activities in the region and its coordination of the extra resistance.

Looking at it a bit more broadly, General Zahedi is part of this old network of IRGC commanders, going back to the period of the war. He served

as a mid-level position -- in mid-level command position during the Iran- Iraq war and was really part of the inner circle of the IRGC.

So putting aside the death of Qasem Soleimani in 2020, this is potentially the most senior IRGC commander killed outside of -- outside of Iran, since

Qasem Soleimani.

GIOKOS: So let's talk about what Iran's potential reaction could be. Iran president Ebrahim Raisi says, the attack will not go unanswered. So

interesting language there but the supreme leader said first in response, "The evil regime will be punished by the hands of our brave men, by God's

will. We will make them regret this crime and other ones like it."

So are we talking about restraint in reaction?

Are we talking about something serious?

Because we know Iran doesn't want to get into a direct conflict with Israel at the end of the day.

SABET: Absolutely.

So I think there's a number of ways that Iran could respond, which would perhaps remain below the threshold of escalation. One would be to do what

it has been doing since the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza, which is to support acts of resistance forces, whether that's (INAUDIBLE) Hezbollah,

Ansarullah (ph) in Yemen or the so-called Islamic Resistance in Iraq to strike at Israel.

And often, oftentimes this is the way that Iran has responded. In other instances, Iran has tried to directly strike, assassinate or kidnap

Israelis around the world, although in the overwhelming majority of cases, those have been failures.

Given the nature of the strike, killing a very, very senior IRGC Quds Force commander, as well as openly attacking an Iranian diplomatic facility,

Iranian leaders may feel that a further escalation is called for.

And so they could choose from a number of options. For example, they could go after Israeli diplomatic facilities, whether it's in the Middle East or

potentially even in the Caucasus. We've heard certain Iranian officials talk about that.

They could also attempt and disrupt basically economic diversionary trade that's been going through certain Middle Eastern countries to aid Israel

during the war.

And finally, they could, as it appears they are doing, strike at U.S. personnel and U.S. facilities in order to pressure the United States to

pressure Israel to stop its attacks.

GIOKOS: All right, Dr. Farzan Sabet, great to have you on. Thank you very much for that analysis.

And still to come, how college basketball star Caitlin Clark led her team to its second consecutive trip to the Final Four. We're live from Albany,

New York. That is coming up next.





GIOKOS: Welcome back and the University of Iowa and Caitlin Clark are on their way to the women's NCAA Final Four basketball matchup in Cleveland.

They defeated last year's champion, LSU, 94 to 87 on Monday to advance in the tournament.

The game was a rematch of last year's championship title game, which LSU won. But Clark refused to lose this time. She had 41 points and 12 assists

to help Iowa win. CNN's Brynn Gingras joins us now from Albany, New York, where Iowa and LSU faced off.

Very exciting and fantastic game. And she's just such a superstar, isn't she, but I'm also just curious in terms of support, how many people came to

watch, and of course, how many people tuned in.

This is incredible for women's basketball.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is. And listen, even before the game started, they were drawing a lot of comparisons to last year's

national championship game between these two teams.

And there was just a lot of talk about this rivalry and it truly did not disappoint. Everyone kept saying that this game that would -- which

basically sends Iowa to the Final Four, it felt like a national championship game.

You could just feel that energy as all these players stepped on the court. And it also had all the drama that people have really loved since last year

between Caitlin Clark at Iowa and LSU's Angel Reese.

Before the game even started, Angel Reese had a crown because, of course, they won last year. She put it on the bench while Caitlin Clark was warming

up. When Caitlin Clark would hit one of those big threes, which she did several times over, she would point at Angel Reese or point at those


So there's also all that sort of rivalry that was on the court as well. But like you said, they are now advancing for the third time in program

history. I was going to the Final Four in Cleveland. It's going to be quite a match.

And honestly, if you just sort of take in the moment that women's sports is having, thanks to these standout players like Angel Reese at LSU, like

Caitlin Clark at Iowa, like Paige Bueckers at UConn, it really is elevating women's sports.

And I think that you -- that is very clear. When you're in those stands, the number of people that are in the stands, the number of people that are

tuning in, all different ages, all different races, all different genders are there to watch women's basketball.

And that's something to be said. Jason Sudeikis, Ted Lasso himself, if you're a fan of that show, he was in the stands last night, wearing a T-

shirt that says, "Everyone watches women's sports."

So I think that puts a big exclamation point on what this means right now with these, with these amazing athletes competing against each other.

GIOKOS: Brynn, as one does when we're talking about basketball, I'm going to quote Ice Cube. You know, he owns -- he is co-owner of the Big Three

basketball league.

He says, "Caitlin is a generational athlete. I know they're offering her millions of dollars to come and join the Big Three as well."

But he makes some really good points because he talks about the salary capital WNBA, which is just $1.5 million per season. And we see so many

woman having to leave and go outside of the U.S. to make extra money.


Yes. That's right. And listen, Caitlin Clark has even had opportunities to be trying out for the Olympic team. But she has said she's going to focus

right now on what is right in front of her, which is the next game for the Final Four.

But it is interesting. Everyone's sort of, of course, being Caitlin Clark, actually leaving because she technically with the new NIL rules that she

could make more money as a college player.

But you know, it's going to be interesting to see how her career progresses, certainly going into the WNBA. But I think that, no matter

where she goes, whichever league she goes to, I think she's going to have a lot of fans.

I can't describe to you the number of little girls and boys who were waiting there for hours, waiting to get her autograph. I mean, it was

seeing a celebrity right in front of you. It's pretty incredible.


GIOKOS: That's pretty cool, Brynn. I'm glad that you're able to share those insights with us. Great to see you.

All right, I want to get you up to speed on some other stories that on our radar right now.


GIOKOS (voice-over): A 12-year-old student was killed in Finland earlier today in a school shooting near Helsinki. Two other students were seriously

injured. The suspect, also just 12, is under arrest. Authorities say they'll investigate the case as murder and attempted murder.

Arrest warrants have been issued for five people in connection with a deadly fire in Istanbul. The early morning fire broke out at an underground

night club during renovations that killed 29 construction workers. Three of the warrants are for club management. Another is for the person overseeing

the renovation.

The World Health Organization says Gaza's largest hospital is no longer able to function as a hospital, in, quote, "any way, shape or form." Al-

Shifa was left in ruins Monday after the IDF withdrew following a two-week siege. Medical crews said they were working to recover hundreds of bodies

scattered around the complex.

And still to come, audiences in places like Hiroshima, Japan, are finally getting to see Best Picture Oscar winner, "Oppenheimer," eight months after

its summer release. Why its opening was delayed in Japan. That's coming up right after this.




GIOKOS: After an eight-month wait, moviegoers in Japan can finally see Best Picture Oscar winner "Oppenheimer." Universal Pictures initially

decided not to release during its global roll-out in July over concern about how it might be received by the only country to experience the

horrors of nuclear warfare.

CNN's Hanako Montgomery has the details.


HANAKO MONTGOMERY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After months of delay, the father of the atomic bomb's life story finally took to the big screens in Japan, the

very country where his invention wreaked terrifying devastation. The film, highly-praised globally, was met with favorable reaction from some Japanese


KUMIKO FUKUDA, JAPANESE MOVIEGOER (through translator): I was interested in this movie because it shows the expressions and emotions hidden behind

the eyes of both American and the Japanese who saw the atomic bombs. It doesn't just show the tragic story, which I think is easier to depict.

MONTGOMERY: But left others with a bitter aftertaste.

MR. KAWAL, JAPANESE MOVIEGOER (through translator): Of course, this is an amazing film which deserves to win the Academy Awards in the United States.

But the film also depicts the atomic bomb in a way that seems to praise it.

And as a person with roots in Hiroshima, I found it difficult to watch. I'm not sure this is a movie that Japanese people should make a special effort

to watch.

MONTGOMERY: Omitting images of the ghastly wreckage caused to Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the atomic bombs, lethal weapons that killed over 200,000

people, was a conscious decision from director Christopher Nolan.

At a New York film screening, Nolan said that he didn't include those images because Oppenheimer himself didn't fully see how his invention

incinerated whole neighborhoods and people.

The film took eight months to release in Japan amid controversy over an unofficial marketing campaign that critics said trivialized the 1945

nuclear attacks. But the criticism hasn't deterred viewers entirely.


During opening weekend in Japan, the movie grossed $2.5 million U.S. Abroad, the highly-lauded film won seven Oscars this year, including the

coveted Best Picture and Best Actor Awards.

Christopher Nolan, who also took home Best Director, will receive a knighthood in Britain for his services to film.

But despite the film's global accolades, Japanese viewers tread lightly, wary of how the West remembers and depicts history from 78 years ago, a

past far from forgotten in Japan -- Hanako Montgomery, CNN, Tokyo.


GIOKOS: Well, thanks so much for joining us today. That is it for CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Eleni Giokos and I'll see you tomorrow. Stay with CNN.

NEWSROOM is up next.