Return to Transcripts main page

Erin Burnett Outfront

Hamas Militants Launch Surprise Attack On Israel; Dramatic Footage Shows Israelis Being Taken Hostage; Man Who Says His Wife, Kids were Taken Captive Speaks Out; Israel Intercepting Rockets Near Gaza; Interview With Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA). Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 07, 2023 - 19:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Come under attack by air, land and sea. Hamas militants killing at least -- this is the new number -- at least 300 Israelis and wounding over a thousand more. This according to Israeli officials.

Tomorrow the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will join my friend and colleague Dana Bash on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." That's at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern. And I'll be back in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow evening 6:00 p.m. Eastern for our special coverage of Israel at war.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. CNN special breaking news coverage continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."

ANNOUNCER: CNN Breaking News.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. Welcome to a special edition of OUTFRONT.

Israel at war. The breaking developments at this hour, the death toll rising as the sound of sirens and explosions can be heard across southern and central Israel after a surprise attack by Hamas. An Israeli official says at least 300 Israelis have been killed. The former prime minister of Israel Naftali Bennett telling me that the ultimate death toll will be, quote, "much higher." And tonight there are reports that gun battles are still taking place nearly 24 hours after militants first entered Israel by land and sea and air, firing 2200 rockets according to Israel.

And this new video, which I'm going to show you right now shows heavily armed Hamas fighters moving through one neighborhood. You can hear the sound of gunfire and scream as militants try to force their way into homes. These are just people at home. Militants just forcing their way in. I mean, the terror is hard to even comprehend.

And tonight there are other horrific scenes emerging of Israelis being kidnapped off the streets. In this video you see a woman. Her face covered in blood as she's taken from the trunk of a jeep and shoved into the back seat. Her arms also appeared to be zip-tied. Now according to Hamas, those captured are, quote, "present" in all axis in the Gaza Strip. What happens to the people of the Gaza Strip will happen to them, and beware of miscalculation.

Well, of course, the hostage issue complicates Israel's efforts to respond. This enormous and highly coordinated assault was a catastrophic failure of intelligence, and in the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, what happened today has never been seen in Israel.

And tonight the situation on the verge of exploding into an even deadlier conflict. The military wing of Hamas warning Israel of a, quote, "earth shattering response" after Israel responded to this attack, air strikes hitting a group of high rises in Gaza. The buildings as you can see collapsing. Palestinians say at least 230 of their people have been killed since Israel returned fire.

Tonight at the White House, President Biden and his administration are closely monitoring the situation and our team of reporters is standing by. Nic Robertson and Hadas Gold are OUTFRONT live in Israel tonight. Kayla Tausche is at the White House and Oren Lieberman is in Washington tonight.

I want to begin, though, with Nic just over a mile from the Gaza border.

And Nic, obviously, we're 24 hours into this now. You are in the wee hours of the morning here. What is the latest there right now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, we're hearing fighter jets overhead. We're hearing explosions in the vicinity of Gaza. There are -- if we look up here, you can see there are these illumination flares that are being put up in the sky by the Israeli military because just over the hill, just below that flare, that's a beach area and the Hamas militants were trying to land on that beach as recently as this evening, we've been told.

But that zone behind me here, more flares in the sky above it there, that is looking down towards Gaza. That is the area below those flares where it is an active military ongoing situation with Israeli Defense Forces, trying to round up over Hamas militants that have gotten into Israel today. The fight is still going on. We're seeing military traffic coming and going up and down this road.

Helicopter gunships as well. We're hearing there are heavy machine guns firing into that area. But all of this began unraveling, unfolding in an utterly unexpected way for Israeli citizens just less than 24 hours ago, early hours of Saturday morning.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): In the early hours of Saturday, Israelis woke to a sudden assault from Gaza militants. The surprise attack claimed by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, a complex and massive operation marking a steep escalation of hostilities. The attack began with a huge barrage of missiles fired from Gaza. Thousands of rockets, some making direct hits on targets across southern Israel.

Under the cover of the missiles, a large-scale infiltration began as Hamas militants crossed by land, sea and air, even using paragliders to cross into Israel.


Videos from border crossing stations show Hamas fighters storming into Israeli territory. A few miles away in the border town of Sderot, Hamas was seen driving and opening fire at civilians. The gunmen tore through the streets, leaving a trail of casualties behind.

The full extent of the casualties is unclear. But hundreds have been killed and more than 1,000 injured on both sides. A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Force gave a frank assessment of the situation.

LT. COL. RICHARD HECHT, INTERNATIONAL IDF SPOKESPERSON: A very severe morning here in Israel. And combined offensive by Hamas, ground, air and sea. The numbers still are not clear. We're not going to talk about the numbers as we speak, but the numbers are substantial. A very severe morning. We are very much now focused on sending forces to these locations where there is ongoing fighting as we speak.

ROBERTSON: During the raid, some fighters also took Israelis as hostages and prisoners of war. The Israeli military said videos geolocated by CNN show militants taking civilians captive in southern Israel. In Gaza a woman is seen forced out of her car and into the custody of Hamas.

Israel quickly retaliated hitting multiple targets along the Gaza Strip. In Gaza City, two high-rise buildings collapsed after an air strike. The unrest continuing late into the night with both sides trading rocket fire. As we touched down at Ben Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv, air traffic was halted as sirens wailed and travelers took cover.

(On-camera): We literally just got off the plane here at Ben Gurion Airport. The sirens have gone off. People are taking cover. We got off the bus, people are taking cover, and you can hear the intercept missiles banging in the air. Nothing incoming here. But everyone is taking cover. They got down. A lot of concern about what's going to happen here this night.

(Voice-over): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been unwavering in his message that Israel is at war with Hamas. Now Israel rushes to regroup with its allies.

Despite the intelligence failure that appeared to lead to the attack, it is clear that the true force of the Israeli government's response is yet to come.


ROBERTSON: And that's what we're seeing building up through the night here. As we've been standing here on this road for the past two or three or four hours maybe now, we've been able to hear an increase in the fighter jet activity, an increase in the number of impacts coming from the Gaza area, an increase in the flashes on the sky. But it's just not clear. We're just going to turn the camera, John, I think if you point the

camera over there to that light on the horizon, that is probably, maybe five or six miles away, that is Sderot. That is one of the areas that the Hamas militants stormed into earlier today and it's still not entirely clear to us if the Israeli Defense Forces still have full control of that area.

So the hits going and coming down. Israeli hits coming down on Gaza. But at the same time, Israeli Defense Forces still trying to get back control of all of their own territory.

BURNETT: All right, Nic, thank you very much. And we're going to be speaking to a spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces in just a moment.

I want to go to the White House first, though. Kayla Tausche is there.

Kayla, obviously the White House was very clearly caught off guard by this as well. What is the response from there tonight?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, senior officials have raised concerns about the surprise nature of this ambush with one intelligence official telling CNN that there will need to be an after-action report to determine whether there was intelligence that this was coming and it was simply missed or whether there was just a massive blind spot.

Tonight, a senior administration official denying that there was a warning from a third country such as Egypt that this attack was coming and saying that the focus at this moment is on keeping the violence contained and figuring out how best the U.S. can support Israel.

To that end, the White House is acknowledging tonight that there are unique challenges here in Washington posed by the lack of a current speaker of the House of Representatives, as well as the lack of a permanent ambassador from the U.S. to Israel, and said that there are conversations up and down the military chain to figure out how to get some of that aid in a quick, full-some and timely manner to Israel, and that there could be an announcement as soon as tomorrow.

President Biden says that support will be unwavering and rock solid, and he had a warning to any party hostile to Israel not to exploit these attacks.


To that end, Erin, the White House and senior officials have said that it is too early to determine whether Iran had any involvement in the attacks overnight but suggested that Iran is a long-time benefactor of Hamas cannot be denied that it was indirectly involved at the very least -- Erin.

BURNETT: Yes. At the very least. All right, thank you very much, Kayla, at the White House tonight.

And OUTFRONT now, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus. He is the international spokesperson of the Israel Defense Forces.

And, Colonel, I appreciate your time. I'm very sorry to be speaking to you tonight and I know you are sleepless again as you work through the night.


BURNETT: Nic Robertson was five or six miles from Sderot. He was saying that it was unclear whether the IDF had full control of that area or full control of all Israeli territory at this time. Are you able to answer that question? Does Israel have full control?

CONRICUS: At this time, unfortunately, I cannot yet say that we have regained full control over all of our communities and all of our sovereign territory. There is still fighting ongoing in southern Israel. We are still -- our forces, special forces and reserve forces, are going door to door, house to house, reaching out to all of the Israeli civilians that were holed up there during the day, and rescuing hostages.

One such situation just ended positively in a kibbutz called Be'eri where Israeli hostages were released by Israeli troops and they were held by terrorists. The terrorists were killed. But there is still fighting ongoing and I don't think that we'll be able to say with confidence that we have regained full control of the area until the crack of dawn tomorrow.

It is an unprecedented situation here in Israel. The unprecedented attack, the sheer brutality of the violence against our civilians. The fact that they have paraded women, elderly, children, and men as well into Gaza. That they have taken such a significant number of Israelis into Gaza and are holding them captive. It's something that we have not faced before. And in an unprecedented attack will call for an unprecedented response against Hamas.

BURNETT: You talk about a significant number of hostages and you were just saying there, thank goodness, that there has been one situation that has ended positively. The Hamas militants were killed by members of the IDF in that. How many Israeli hostages were rescued? And how many more do you think are out there? And I know it may be obviously hard for you to be specific. But are we talking hundreds of people? Are we talking dozens of people?

CONRICUS: We are most likely talking dozens of people at this time but numbers are very dynamic. And I'm sure you're familiar with the term the fog of war. This is an extremely foggy situation. We have today -- during today there were more than 25 active fighting events inside Israel. Locations like communities, IDF bases, and places of gatherings where there were active terrorists fighting. Either taking hostages or running crazy on the streets, killing Israeli civilians.

And now we're down to a significantly lower number but not yet over. The bigger and most important figure, I think, is unfortunately the number of Israelis held in Gaza. I cannot say how many but I can say that it is a substantial number of civilians, as well as military personnel. Some are presumed alive, according to video footage, and some are presumed not to be alive. But it's an extremely delicate situation.

I think that will influence future decision-making in Israel or how we continue here. And it's something that we haven't faced before but that we are determined to put a swift end to.

BURNETT: Yes, absolutely. And obviously that, when you talk about an unprecedented response, the hostage situation plays a crucial role in that. Are there any communications at all right now, Colonel, going on between Israel and Hamas, directly or through any intermediaries to try and get the Israeli citizens and civilians back?

CONRICUS: Even if there were, I'm not sure that I would be aware of them. But based on previous situations, that is not how Hamas operates. They launched this attack into Israel in order to abduct Israeli civilians and soldiers, in order to kill as many as possible Israelis. That's why they launched this outstanding operation that they did.


Something that we've never seen before. I don't think that they would try to negotiate so soon but that is, I think, besides the point. What we are focusing on now is making sure that the border is shut and defended, and that there are no further attacks into Israel. And we have already started striking military targets in Gaza. And it's important at this time, and this is really an important message for me.

This is how it started. We're in the first day of the war in Israel. This is how it started. And there will be images in the coming days and weeks of a difficult situation inside Gaza. But by then we urge people to remember, this is how it started. It started with a Hamas attack into Israel, unprovoked and unprecedented. And this is why we are responding and we will respond with tremendous force.

BURNETT: Colonel, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much. I know, sir, you have obviously not slept and you're in the middle of this, and you will continue to work in these early hours until dawn. Thank you.

CONRICUS: Thank you.

BURNETT: And our breaking news coverage continues here. We're going to go back to the ground in Israel where Palestinian militants have fired more rockets. People nearby rushing to nearby bomb shelters. Plus, Hamas claiming dozens of Israelis are taken as hostages and you just heard the colonel talking about this situation.

Our next guest says that his wife and two daughters were taken hostage. And the moment that it happened was caught on camera.


[19:20:45] BURNETT: And new video into CNN coming in right now. Scary moments as this attack unfolded. Hundreds of people running from gunfire at a festival.

This as several images are coming out of innocent civilians being captured as Hamas launches this attack on Israel. Those are the people running, as you can see from the festival. And then the hostages still being held by Hamas, as far as we know. You just heard the spokesperson for the IDF talking about dozens of hostages.

And we want to show you some video that we have here of a woman -- it appears to show a woman being pulled from the trunk of a jeep at gunpoint. Her wrists appear to be tied behind her back. She's then forced to the backseat of this car. And several men are yelling out. This all caught on camera.

One man also sharing this video with OUTFRONT, saying that it shows his wife and two young children, his young daughters, who are 5 and 3 years old, being taken to Gaza. Now CNN hasn't been able to independently verify this video but we are going to speak to him in just a moment. Those are his wife and children.

But first, Hadas Gold is OUTFRONT. She's in Jerusalem at this hour.

And Hadas, what are Israeli officials saying about the hostages? And it sounds like even talking to the spokesperson for the IDF just a few moments ago, this is very dynamic situation. They don't seem to even know full numbers.

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that, Erin, probably at this point, they do have at least a sense of the numbers. But they are being very cagey about the details and they are still working out exactly who was where and what happened. But they have confirmed that both Israeli soldiers and civilians have been taken as what they call prisoners of war.

Erin, this is in addition to people who are being held hostage in southern Israel, who had been managed to be taken from Israeli territory into Gaza. We know of at least one hostage situation in Be'eri that reportedly had just been resolved in the last few hours, although we know firefights are still continuing in southern Israel. Again, we don't have numbers but I know that these numbers in terms of prisoners of war taken by Hamas, they are said to be in the dozens.

We're not talking about one or two, we're not talking about even five. Keep in mind that in previous situations, a single Israeli prisoner of war has launched wars, has caused massive prisoner exchange, has been a major, major issue. So now we are talking about dozens. And again, these are not just soldiers.

As we've been seeing from these videos, as we've been seeing from accounts from Israeli families, these are civilians including children, including some of whom have been taken from the streets, from their homes, because Israeli militants had -- or Hamas militants had infiltrated Israeli towns and were going house by house and trying to get into these houses and take people out. This is an incredible situation that Israel has never been in before.

It is being likened to Israel's Pearl Harbor or potentially even worse. As of right now an Israeli official telling me that there 300 Israelis who have been killed. We know of more than 1500 who have been injured. These numbers are likely to rise because there are still towns in southern Israel that have not been completely cleared of militant activity.

And the rockets are continuing as we speak. I'm still getting notifications of red alert sirens going off in southern Israel. Now it's been quieter for the rest of the country here in Jerusalem. We had our own fair share of sirens and rockets targeting Jerusalem earlier today. Tel Aviv had a barrage a few hours ago. Those have since quieted down for now but they are continuing. This is a very tense and unfolding situation.

The Israeli military is attacking the Gaza Strip with air strikes. So far it's only been air strikes. It has not been a ground invasion yet. The Israel military just recently actually sending out a warning to civilians in Gaza telling them to leave certain safe areas, to go to certain safe areas as they are calling them, where they should evacuate to, indicating they are expecting a largescale attack.

But now, Erin, the situation is very complicated there because whatever sort of air strikes attacks, that the Israeli military may want to undertake in the Gaza Strip, they also have to keep in mind the number of hostages. And Hamas has said they have taken some of these prisoners of war to strategic places throughout the Gaza Strip, obviously trying to use them as shields of some kind. This is an incredibly tricky and very dangerous situation for this entire region.


BURNETT: Yes. Absolutely. Hadas, thank you very much. Hadas is live in Jerusalem tonight.

And I want to go now to Yoni Asher, who is in Israel desperately looking for his wife and his children after he saw them in this viral video. As he saw this video, and that's when he found out that they appear to be taken hostage near the Gaza Strip.

And Yoni, I am so sorry for what you are suffering through. I don't think any parent can truly comprehend, your daughters, your wife. I know your daughters are very young, 5 and 4 years old. Do you have any idea, any idea, Yoni, where they are?

YONI ASHER, WIFE, DAUGHTERS, MOTHER-IN-LAW TAKEN CAPTIVE BY HAMAS: I have no idea where they are right now. But earlier this morning, they were visited in kibbutz Nir Oz, in my mother-in-law's house on the kibbutz. And they were taken by Hamas to Gaza Strip. My mother-in-law, my wife, my two daughters, which are 5-year-old and 3-year-old, and I lost contact with them about 11:00 a.m.

When my wife with me on the phone, she told me that the terrorists of Hamas entered the house. And later on the conversation was disconnected. Later on I managed to track her mobile phone by using Google, and I tracked her mobile phone and I saw that the location is in Gaza Strip, in Gaza, in Khan Yunis. And later on, I saw the video which confirmed that my wife and my daughters were taken, like you see in the video, that is on social media, that everyone saw.

And all day long, I talked to press and I tried to talk to officials from the state but no one talked to me yet. I don't even know what is the situation regarding the hostages and the situation is not looking good. My wife and mother-in-law also have German citizenship. So with your permission, I would like to approach the German government, the German prime minister, dear Mr. Olaf Schultz, and the German ambassador, Mr. Steffen Seibert, my wife, Doron, German citizen who was taken with her mother, a German citizen, today by Hamas terrorists to Gaza.

I beg you, if you can please help us, we are begging for your help, if you can do something to succeed to take my kids and my wife out of there as soon as possible.

BURNETT: Yoni, I truly cannot imagine what you are -- the fear that you have right now as you hope that they will be safe. When you first saw that video, and you're saying now that you have been able to see the tracker move to Gaza. So you knew something was wrong. Something had happened. Your call had been disconnected. But how did you even process this video when you actually saw these images?

It wasn't something that maybe you were afraid had happened or in your imagination. That this was real and there's video.

ASHER: As soon as I was disconnected with them, and the phone was located on Khan Yunis in in Gaza, I immediately suspected they were abducted. And later on when I saw the video, there was no doubt in my mind, I recognized them, surely my wife, my two daughters, my two little daughters that were on this (INAUDIBLE) so I know for sure that they were taken. And I have nothing to do but talking to the press and all day long I'm trying to send pictures of them and send details to reporters and --


ASHER: Trying to get to officials and I can't succeed.

BURNETT: Well, Yoni, I'm very glad I had the chance to speak to you. I hope that they hear it. And of course we are -- you are in our thoughts, and your wife and children. Thank you so much.


BURNETT: And here as we say good night to Yoni, you see on your screen these are live pictures from where our Nic Robertson is.

Nic, what are you seeing, hearing?

ROBERTSON: Literally what we've just witnessed. Here's another barrage of rockets. Look, you see the trace -- the Iron Dome missiles come up to intercept missiles coming from Gaza. You'll hear the explosions. This Iron Dome being fired up all around us right now. It's illuminating the sky here. The bangs the Iron Dome intersecting from rockets that are being fired from Gaza just a couple of miles away. Literally exploding in the sky above us here.

This is what we've been seeing happening over the past perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. I'm just going to go silent so you can listen to it.

And that's how it is as quickly as it begins, it is over. Those Iron Dome missiles, they are tracking and intercepting those rockets that come from Gaza. They are able to detect where the rockets are flying, then they're fired up, the Iron Dome missiles are fired up and they intercept them in the air.

You can just see where the impact bursts were in the sky above us now. Another one being fired up over there, John, if you could see it flying up here and behind us here above Gaza as well. They're flying up. There is another salvo coming in.

I'll go quiet. We can listen.

That's Israel's Iron Dome defensive system working to protect the people of Israel this evening. Those missiles are coming out of Gaza. Perhaps two-and-a-half -- well Gaza is two and a half miles away. The missiles coming from within Gaza there.

For the citizens, the Israeli civilians who live in the towns, Zikim, Ashkelon, Ashdod, who live along the coastline here, these Iron Dome rockets are protecting them and their families and this is very much how the situation is playing out this evening. It is very dynamic.

We've heard airstrikes going into Gaza. We've heard helicopter gunships supporting the Israeli Defense Forces on the ground. We saw a tank, an Israeli tank maneuvering down here just earlier on, and we saw what appeared to be a big column of Israeli Special Forces taking off up the highway here going someplace we don't know, but it is a very, very active night here right now.

BURNETT: Nic, you know watching you, I think it just -- you're literally watching the IDF as the Colonel was just saying. So, they can't say that they control -- Israel right now controls all of its own territory. There is still active fighting. And even now, you talk about 2,200 rockets. You're witnessing more attempts coming in even now.

ROBERTSON: And that's despite the fact that we know the IDF have been targeting areas within Gaza, Hamas militant areas within Gaza, where they believe rockets are manufactured. They've been targeting those through the day.

But it seems very clear, and not surprisingly, that in their planning, Hamas knew there would be responses by the Israeli Defense Force, when they began with that salvo of 2,200 missiles this morning. They clearly protect some of their missiles. They choose other launch positions for those missiles. They've been doing this for a long time and they continue to do it.

And despite the attacks going into Gaza this evening, Hamas still able to fire several salvos out, each time those Iron Dome defense systems kick in, that is in response to another salvo of missiles being fired from Gaza.

So I would say in the last 10, 15, 20 minutes, perhaps, we've had at least four significant salvos fired out in this area alone and we were able to see salvos being intercepted further south of us in the direction further down the Gaza Strip in that direction -- Erin.

BURNETT: And Nic, one other thing you mentioned that you saw as these rockets are coming in, the Iron Dome, of course, Israel's missile defense system, which they have already made clear that they are going to be seeking more support for from the United States. You mentioned that Israel Commandos, the Israeli Commandos that you saw going on in operation, also a reminder that what you're witnessing right now, live Commando operations, hostage rescue situations.

I mean, all of this is happening in real time and who knows where that particular group was going?

ROBERTSON: Absolutely. The checkpoint here is the limit of confirmed Israeli, a hundred percent control of their own territory.

When you go beyond there, you get very close to Gaza. You get to the area that was infiltrated. If you go over the hill to the side here and John is just pointing the camera over those electricity pylons, just over that hill is the sea.

We were told earlier this evening, Hamas militants tried to come in to Israeli territory from the sea over there. That was this evening.


So it is very active. It is happening in real time. Troops are moving by here. Tanks are moving by here. Iron Dome intercepts are happening literally over our heads, and just on the horizon there, one of those battles for -- a direct confrontation between the IDF and Hamas militants this evening, where you can see the light on the skyline, Sderot, in that vicinity, we understand there is still active operations ongoing or have been until very, very recently.

It is extremely fluid here right now.

BURNETT: All right, Nic, thank you very much and we'll continue to go to Nic as he witnesses more of what is a war and what is an operation where Israel is still right now struggling to retain and defend the limits of what is defined as its own territory, 24 hours after all this began.

Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling is with me. He is the former Army Commanding General of Europe and the Seventh Army. He was in Israel dozens of times providing air defense support to their army. He has visited their election collection headquarters as well. Robin Wright is with us, fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and Philip Smyth, former Soref fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

So I'm grateful very much, all of us are, to have all three of you.

General Hertling, you see what Nic is witnessing. These are live pictures from where he is about five to six miles away from Sderot. What do you make of this, General, that this is all happening now, and we are 24 hours into this and the IDF itself admits that they have still not yet been able to retain, to gain back control of all of their territory.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, a couple of things. First, I'd say what you're seeing and what Nic is seeing in very courageous reporting is a lot of rockets and artillery.

That is certainly not unusual coming out of the Gaza. That's what they have done since they established themselves back around early 2000s. What's interesting, though, to me when I woke up this morning when I got a call from CNN that this is happening, what was interesting to me was the other synchronized assaults.

Nic mentioned that the naval assault. There had been drones being used. The forces of Hamas going off in different directions, through their gates. The drones that they had been using, the denial of services from cyberattacks. This is a very pretty -- this is a very synchronized assault by Hamas.

This is an organization that in the past has only used rockets and artillery, as well as suicide bombers. They have never attacked the way they're attacking right now, capturing prisoners, killing soldiers, dropping drone bombs on tanks. This is very different than it's ever been before and it is going to have quite a different repercussion.

BURNETT: And Robin, you know, to that effect, the synchronized nature of this, the former Israeli prime minister was telling me earlier, this clearly took months to plan, right? This isn't just a small thing where -- the kind of ordinary rocket situation. This is unprecedented in its scale and in its scope, in land, air sea, the hostages -- all of it.

How surprised were you to see Hamas able to do this with whatever support they may have had, whatever help, whatever assistance? How surprised were you to see this?

ROBIN WRIGHT, FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: I think everyone was surprised by the sophistication of this attack, the multiple layers, and what's also striking is just how vulnerable Israel is.

This was not just an intelligence failure by Israel, but also by its closest allies, including the United States, that no one saw that this was a multiple layer, very sophisticated, far more advanced than anything any extremist militia among the Palestinians has been able to do.

So, as this plays out, I think there will be a lot of questions about how does Israel protect itself down the road? And can you actually eliminate Hamas as a threat? You may be able to behead it, eliminate some of its leaders, attack a lot or destroy a lot of its equipment, but how will Israel in the long term be able to deal with anything that at the end of the day is really political in nature, and there is no sign of any willingness by either side to compromise.

Does that mean that even if this one leads to a ceasefire and a cessation of hostilities, a return of hostages, that the issues that led to this attack are still out there and still dangerous for Israel.

BURNETT: Okay, out there, Philip in many ways, still metastasizing into that question, I want to show some images that we have out of Tehran tonight, and this shows Iranians celebrating Hamas.

So after the attacks today in Israel, there were celebrations on the streets in Tehran. What does this signal, these images, this response when we talk about what happened here, and who aided, abetted made it happen? What does it say to you, Philip?


PHILIP SMYTH, FORMER SOREF FELLOW, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: That a hundred percent, Iran was behind it, and I think it's a bit of a mischaracterization to say merely Hamas was behind this, a number of different factions that are controlled directly by the Iranians, new groups, too, were all active in this really cohesive operation.

And the Iranians are now really putting their feet down. Why is this? They have domestic tension in their own country. Beyond that, you have a lot of other issues with their proxy forces and a lot of their connections in Iraq, in Syria, Lebanon, and this is a great way to send the signal that Iran is really able and capable of projecting its power.

BURNETT: General Hertling, when you hear Israel, and we hear this from every single Israeli official, whether in the Defense forces in the government that that this is unprecedented, and that the response will be unprecedented in scale in return, that it will be tremendous, that it will be an onslaught.

We continue to hear that, General, but in light of what you're seeing here, the cohesive nature, right, of what we have witnessed and are still witnessing, when you hear Israel promising the response it is promising, what do you think that actually means?

HERTLING: Well, I'm bracing for it, Erin, to be honest with you. It is going to be devastating, and much worse than -- and I'm a student of the Israeli Army, but it's going to be much more devastating than they have ever done before in terms of putting down terrorists, whether it's Hezbollah, Hamas, the jihad, you know, they will go in and they won't be precise.

It will be a devastating attack inside of Gaza. Because of the capture and killing of Israeli citizens, I believe that there will be revenge taken by the Israeli soldiers going into the strike. We're already seeing the first phase of this with the Air Force, I think you're going to see an eventual -- a ground assault.

And because they don't have great intelligence about what predicted -- should have predicted this attack, it's going to be much more difficult for them to go through that area that has two million people in it, and have a lot of Israelis safe and secure areas.

BURNETT: Robin, you know, obviously the Israeli intelligence forces are known for being you know, among the world's very best, right, this is the creme de la creme, the most elite. The United States, also, two of the groups, which one would expect in any world that we thought we were living in would have known that this was coming.

I mean, something so big and so grand and involving so many people, and yet everyone seems to have been taken by surprise. I mean, what is the most likely explanation for what is frankly, such a shocking failure?

WRIGHT: Well, this is an indication --

HERTLING: And if I can --

BURNETT: Robin, go ahead first, and then General, jump in.


WRIGHT: No, I just think they didn't use the technology that we have today that they probably had runners who relayed messages that they went down to kind of primordial means of communication so that they wouldn't be tracked.

It is still shocking that given the human intelligence that Israel and Mossad have managed to accumulate over the years, that they still didn't have any inkling that this was about to happen.

BURNETT: General?

HERTLING: Yes, intelligence only works, Erin, if you focus that intelligence on a specific area. Now, the main enemy of Israel is Hamas. But yet the government of Israel has been primarily focused on the West Bank and the territories. So when you shift the focus from your main enemy to a secondary area, you're going to lose that and the United States has lost it too, because we coordinate with Israel. If they're not getting the intelligence, we're not going to get the intelligence either.

BURNETT: All right, all of you are going to be back with me in just a few moments, so I appreciate that and we'll see you again in a few moments.

And next we have the breaking news coverage continuing here, President Biden is saying that the United States is ready to offer all appropriate means of support to Israel. But what does that mean? How involved is the United States about to get?



BURNETT: We're back with a special edition of OUT FRONT: Israel of War, and the breaking news this hour, Israel's Navy just moments ago saying that it thwarted an attack by seven terrorists near Zikim Beach in southern Israel which is close to Gaza. That of course is where the massive terror operation originated.

The Israeli Defense Forces are continuing to fight and defend from Hamas and this is nearly 24 hours of course after Hamas first began its surprise coordinated assault.

Tom Foreman is OUT FRONT tonight and Tom, so can you walk us through step by step, right? I mean, we keep hearing about, you know, it's unprecedented. It's massive, it's cohesive, it's coordinated land, sea, air. How did it actually unfold?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It unfolded on a sleeping nation, 6:30 in the morning, that's when the rocket barrage began to be fired from Gaza down here into Israel.

I want you to notice something here. These three strike points here because these would roughly coincide with what we have typically known to be the rocket capability of Hamas down here. Their lowest level Qassam rockets, maybe six miles or so, they are mid-level rockets somewhere out here.

And when you start talking about rockets that can hit Tel Aviv with any kind of reliance, then you're talking much more about the possibility of something that would be Iranian technology, something like that, because those are more missiles than rockets if you appreciate the difference between the two.

In any event, the other thing to note in all of this was this was a true raining of fire upon Israel at that hour. Why would that matter so much? Think about what Nic was talking about a while ago, the whole Iron Dome system. One of the ideas, one of the theories of military defense and attack for a long time has been if somebody has a system that will stop a lot of your rockets, just fire a whole lot more, so we don't know how many were actually fired.


But as Nic noted, probably north of 2,000 at least, that puts a lot of pressure on the system and that also, that creates chaos, that creates the door for the second stage of this at 7:40, one hour and 10 minutes later, then we started to see the movement from all approaches on the ports on the land of actual troops in a sense, fighters moving out of Gaza in here, some by boats around here, some in the air with powered parachutes, and then some by knocking down barriers here and moving out.

And in fairly short order, that's when all accounts on the ground say this is the result. People with rocket launchers, rifles, guns running through the streets of Israel, and not just a few, substantial numbers -- Erin. BURNETT: So, all right, so you're walking through six thirty, seven forty, you know, which -- and that it does seem so coordinated, right, that each was a stage, a specific stage.

The prime minister, of course, Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the attacks orchestrated by Hamas were on a level that "has never been seen in Israel. " So once the militants breached that border, you know, you talked about at that point there being hostage situations. But what happened next?

FOREMAN: What happened next was a demonstration that they were not content with merely striking and retreating, like, has often been seen before. In this case, they started going into some of these military facilities around here, that shows a degree of not only coordination, but confidence. The notion that you're actually going after the areas in this country, that theoretically would be the most prepared to repel any kind of attack. And yet, that seems to be exactly what happened.

And then there were the raids on the towns. You were mentioning a little while ago, where in fact, we had these reports of people being taken hostage, people being shot at on the streets, civilian populations. All of this points to exactly what we've been talking about all day here, Erin, the idea that this represents a much more coordinated, deeper, well-planned assault than anybody would have expected in the past.

BURNETT: That's right. Thank you very much, Tom Foreman.

And I want to go now to Adam Smith, the Democratic congressman and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Chairman, I really appreciate your time. Obviously, you have been closely monitoring the situation, briefed as much as the information has been coming in.

President Biden is very clear, the United States is ready to offer all appropriate means of support. Israel hears that. They are making it very clear, they appreciate that. But what does that mean to you, Chairman? How involved will the United States get?

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Well, I think first of all, the intel sharing piece is the big thing that we'll be involved with upfront. And, you know, part of it is as your analysts have been doing a great job, you know, what went wrong here? How can we shore that up?

But then we will look at weapons systems, if there's something we can do to help Israel. This is a profound threat, not just Israel, but I think to US interests, but also to global stability.

Clearly, Iran played a role in this. This is an effort to ramp up conflict, to push the terrorists forward and to create a very, very dangerous situation. The US will stand with Israel in any way necessary. BURNETT: So Israel has promised a massive response. Residents in Gaza have been, you know, told to get out. Massive -- we've been told, you know, tremendous that it will be unprecedented in scale as this attack has been unprecedented.

For you, Chairman, and as Americans try to understand what's happening here, what the implications may be, is the United States going to back anything that Israel does in response? Does Israel have a blank cheque for lack of a better term from the United States, at least for anything it chooses to do?

SMITH: Well, there's a fundamental misunderstanding in that question. I mean, the US does not control what Israel does. And I think a lot of people misunderstand that. Israel will do what it feels like it needs to do to defend itself and protect its country and we don't have a veto over that.

And certainly, in this moment, we are not going to be communicating with Israel and telling them how they should engage in protecting themselves.

Now, look, I mean, in any conflict, we do not endorse, you know, any methods, you know, purposefully targeting civilians, a whole bunch of different things that we wouldn't endorse.

BURNETT: But that's -- I guess, that's what I'm getting at, because the spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces, Congress just a few moments ago, was making it very clear that because of what had happened, right, what happens to it has happened to Israeli civilians, right, that to prepare yourself for the images that you may see on your screens in Gaza in coming days, right? Very clearly, saying that civilians there may die and the images may be horrible.

But the world remember how this started, right? So they are giving that warning.

SMITH: Well, I think certainly in this case, Israel will not take the precautions that they frequently take to protect civilians, they won't strike targets. They will not target civilians, but if they believe militants are in an area, without question, given the nature of this attack, Israel will err on the side of taking out the militants and be willing to risk that and that's understandable given this attack and given the destruction that the terrorists have rained down on Israeli civilians.


BURNETT: All right, well, I appreciate your time. Congressman Adam Smith, thank you very much.

SMITH: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. And next, our breaking news continues. We'll take you back to the ground in Israel where our Nic Robertson was forced to hit the ground shortly after arriving. Explosions and sirens rang out overhead and of course right now at about 2:30 in the morning in Israel, again a barrage of rockets around where he is tonight.

Plus, Israel's former prime minister, Naftali Bennett joins me on his own family rushing to shelters today as the country was under attack, and how Israel's intelligence agency failed to see the attacks coming.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BURNETT: Good evening, I'm Erin Burnett.

Welcome to a Special Edition of OUT FRONT: Israel at War.

The breaking developments at this hour, Israel intercepting a number of rockets by Hamas just moments ago near the Gaza border. These incoming strikes around just coming after two to three here in the morning, coming after Hamas launched its most coordinated assault in decades.

Militants storming Israel's border, taking hostages and firing thousands of rockets.

Right now intense fighting is still taking place between Israeli Security Forces and Hamas fighters, as Israel is trying to regain control of all of its communities and bases. An Israeli official says at least 300 Israelis had been killed, but the former prime minister of Israel, Naftali Bennett tells me that number is much higher.

He'll be with me in a moment.

We do have gruesome video in though right now, which appears to show Palestinian militants opening fire on a civilian car. You hear the gunshots, the car crashes, and there are no signs of life inside.