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Erin Burnett Outfront

Netanyahu Warns Strikes On Gaza Are Just "Beginning"; Hamas Says It Is Holding 100+ People Hostage, Warns They Will Be Executed If Gaza Attacks Continue Without Warning; House GOP Scrambling Votes For Speaker Amid Strikes In Gaza. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 09, 2023 - 19:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, breaking news we're following. Israel now warning it's, quote, only begun to strike Gaza after Hamas launched its deadly terror attacks against Israel, killing more than 900 people, and kidnapping more than 100 others. How imminent is a potential Israeli invasion of Gaza and just how deadly could that be?

Plus, the tragic toll. Former U.S. Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, a frequent guest on this program, just revealing his nephew was killed by militants as he was trying to rescue hostages. He's my guest this hour.

And caught in the crosshairs. I'll talk to an American doctor who is right now stuck in Gaza, the deafening sounds of explosions now surround her. What is the U.S. doing to get her out?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening and welcome to the special edition of OUTFRONT. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington, in for Erin Burnett, who is on assignment right now on her way to Israel where at this hour, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promising massive retaliation after Palestinian terrorists lost a surprise innovation, killing at least 900 Israelis and holding dozens more, possibly more than 100 people, more than 100 people hostage, taken to Gaza.

Prime Minister Netanyahu warning the Israelis are just getting started. Listen.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We have begun and I emphasize we have only begun to strike at Hamas. What we will do to our enemies in the coming days will resonate with them for generations.


BLITZER: The Israeli airstrikes are just beginning we are told in that suggests Israel may be getting ready to launch a ground invasion of Gaza very soon. And that could mean a very bloody battle with both sides, suffering significant deaths. Fears the situation could be about to get even worse as the death toll continues to rise. Eleven of the 900 killed so far are confirmed to be U.S. citizens according to President Biden.

Take a look at this. These are live pictures from Gaza where it's now 2:00 a.m. Earlier, you could see if smoke and flames in the background after Israel's defense minister ordered a, quote, complete siege of Gaza. No electricity, no food or fuel allowed in. Hundreds of continuous Israeli airstrikes also targeting what Israel calls strategic centers that house Hamas terrorists.

Parts of Gaza flatten. One strike tearing through a marketplace. The Palestinian health ministry says nearly 700 Palestinians have been killed, 3,700 injured.

And tonight, Hamas is leveling what is a chilling ultimatum, threatening to execute its hostages if Israel targets people and Gaza without warning. Israeli authorities have not said how many people were kidnapped, but Hamas claims it's over 100, which includes many children and the elderly.

And President Biden now saying it's likely Americans may be among those being held by Hamas in Gaza right now.

We have a team of reporters standing by including our Nic Robertson and Jeremy Diamond who are both in Israel tonight. Oren Liebermann is over at the Pentagon.

But let's start with Nic.

I know, Nic, activities just picked up where you are. Tell us what's happening, what you're seeing, what you are hearing.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTENATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yeah, Wolf, when we were talking an hour or so ago, things had just been calm-ish for the last couple of hours in the last 10, 15 minutes here, we've seen multiple explosions over the horizon behind me. Big flashes in the sky, heard the sound a very, very heavy impact. That's Gaza coming from Gaza.

Literally some of the big detonations are really reverberating. So it does appear that perhaps air strikes have picked up again. We were hearing fighter jets in the skies. Above us, there's been a lot of drone activity, there's been a helicopter buzzing along close to the line with Gaza that I'm hearing. Another fighter jet in the sky then.

So the activity, the strikes do seem to have picked up over the past 15 minutes. What does it mean? Will it continue with this level? Will ease off again?

But, certainly, an indication that the Israeli air force is targeting Hamas positions again inside of Gaza tonight with an intensity -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Earlier, Nic, you saw this convoy entering Gaza. Tell our viewers what was going on? ROBERTSON: Yeah, we saw a large military convoy passed down the road

here, take a left-hand turn just a little down the road from where we are and that road goes to one place only.


It will lead you to the Gaza border fence. There's a couple of small kibbutzes, a couple of small communities down there as well. These are the kibbutzes where Hamas went in and killed a lot of the residents there.

But we are seeing a number of armored convoys, armored personnel carriers going in there, carrying a lot of troops with equipment, with stores and provisions clearly going and planning to stay for sometime. We have seen heavy howitzer type equipment, heavy tanks moving up and down this road as well. It doesn't mean the equipment in the men that we are seeing in the women the female soldiers as well, doesn't mean that they are all going into Gaza. But what it does mean that they are moving closer to that fence, securing that fence making sure that no one else can get back into Israel.

BLITZER: All right. Nic, stand by. I want to go to Jeremy Diamond. He's OUTFRONT on the ground in Jerusalem for us tonight.

Jeremy, you spent the day at a hospital I understand, talking to people who survive this heinous terror attack. What did you hear from them?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right, Wolf. Hadassah Hospital here in Jerusalem received about 60 patients on Saturday alone. That was the day that deadly terrorist attack took place at the Nova Festival in Southern Israel. The hospital also received soldiers, policeman and others who were dealing with that this violence.

But one person, Michal Ohana, she is a 27-year old who believes it is a miracle that she's even alive. She was shot in the leg. She received shrapnel wounds to her stomach and through it all, she came face to face multiple times with Hamas gunman. She at one point went from car to another car and eventually began running. When they came face to face with at least three or four pickup trucks in which she said there were about 20 Hamas terrorists in each of those vehicles.

As the shots rang out wolf, Michal ran for cover and at one point she made her way behind a tank. This is her describing that scene.


MICHAL OHANA, 27-YEAR-OLD VICTIM (through translator): We just opened the doors of the car and started running to the fields. Everyone ran to another direction. I went to the right because I saw in the distance, I saw a tank of the army and thought maybe that would be the safest place to go to.

They were throwing a grenade and in that time, we couldn't see anything. They were taken. Some people were taken. I lied under the tag because they surrounded us from every direction. They saw the people on the tank, and the more of us there were it, was

getting worse, because a large group that could just shoot at us. Those of us who could go underneath it and I did. And I thought I will survive their, but this is where I got shot in the leg, and I didn't even know where it was from because everybody had blood on them and I was covered with blood.

DIAMOND (translated): How do you think that you came out of this alive?

OHANA (through translator): I really don't know. It's a miracle. It's miracle -- miracle because people who are next to me did not get out alive.


DIAMOND: And Michal told me that multiple times during that incident, she thought that she was dead. She thought that she was going to die. But she still took the time today sitting in her hospital bed remembering her friends who died and were also abducted.

One friend El Khanna (ph) she said was abducted after he first got out, got away from the music festival. But he returned to try and help his friends and he has not been seen since -- Wolf.

BLITZER: These stories are so, so heartbreaking. Jeremy, thank you very much for that report.

OUTFRONT now, Major -- Israeli Major Ben Wahlhaus. He's the Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson.

Major, thank you so much for joining us. What's the latest on the ground right now?


The situation now that we have secured the south. We no longer have hundreds of terrorists streaming across the border, trying to kill our civilians. We still have forces that are going house by house, making sure that none of them are left. Hundreds got across the border two days ago and entered into 20 towns and cities, so our forces are still going house by house to make sure that none of them are left.

At the same time, as your viewers know, we are undergoing continuous rocket firing to our cities, indiscriminate and that's the kind of situation.

BLITZER: So is it true that Israel is now in full control of all of its land at this hour?

WAHLHAUS: Yes, that is correct. We have fortified the border fence in Gaza as well. We have strength forces down there and they're working to make sure that the entire south is safe and secure.

BLITZER: President Minister Netanyahu, as you well know, said today as you know that the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza in his words are only the beginning. Are we looking right now at a ground war here as well?


WAHLHAUS: Well, Hamas' acts are continuing. The rocket fire is continuous. I'm sitting here in Tel Aviv, at my house in Tel Aviv, and my children are continuously going from upstairs to the basement to the bomb shelter, sirens all throughout Israel.

So the IDF has been directed by the government to stop those attacks, we will do what needed to stop those attacks, to make sure that Hamas doesn't have the capability to renew them.

BLITZER: So you're clearly leaving open the opportunity to major Israeli ground invasion into Gaza to deal with that?

WAHLHAUS: The IDF has many capabilities and we're going to employ them all in order to stop Hamas's ability to keep attacking our civilians.

BLITZER: As you know, Major, Hamas is saying it will start executing the civilian hostages taken from Israel into Gaza and broadcasting it if Israel targets people in Gaza without warning. Will that change Israel's response at all?

WAHLHAUS: That shouldn't surprise anyone. Hamas's war here is a war on civilians. It started with a massacre of women, children, elderly, entire families. They kidnapped tens of families, and people and young people, toddlers, elderly women. They are continuously firing rockets at our civilians and at the same time, they are hiding behind their civilians in Gaza to try and avoid attack from us and cause more civilian casualties.

So it's not surprising that they would say something like that and our priority is to make sure the Hamas cannot carry any of that out and cannot continue attacking us.

BLITZER: Do you believe, Major, that some of the hostages may already be dead?

WAHLHAUS: I don't have the information to give you that now, also for operational reasons, but, obviously, our highest priorities to protect our people at home and also protect those people in Gaza, and that's what our forces are doing, in the land, sea and air.

BLITZER: Major Ban Wahlhaus, the Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson, thanks very much for joining us.

WAHLHAUS: Thank you.

BLITZER: And the war has tragically had very close to home for my next guest, a man who has been on our network many times over the years. Marc Ginsberg, the former U.S. ambassador to Morocco, former White House advisor on Middle East policy as well. He just announced the death of his nephew, Elie Ginsberg, a lieutenant commander for Israel.

Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us. You and I have known each other for many years. We are so, so sorry for the loss this -- your loss this evening.

What do you know so far about what happened to your nephew?

MARC GINSBERG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MOROCCO: Elie was a lieutenant commander and a navy seal in Israel and he had just retired from serving as an operational commander from Mossad three weeks ago and was called up to lead his unit into kibbutz Re'im where the music festival was taking place to rescue hostages there that were being held by Hamas.

And during one of the efforts to break down one of the apartment buildings, he was shot and killed by a Hamas terrorist. I found that out for my sister-in-law this morning. I'm here in Morocco doing (AUDIO GAP) work, so it's been a terrible day for my family and I.

BLITZER: Our hearts go out to you. Give us a little bit more about your nephew ambassador. What was he like?

GINSBERG: Elie -- he was -- he was the oldest of my three nephews who was raised on the kibbutz Misgav-Am. My brother Mike had been killed up there in 2006. So, Elie had lost his father to Hezbollah, and a Hezbollah attack in the war. And I -- he was raised as someone dedicated to Israel's military prowess. I mean, the fact that he became not only a Navy SEAL but the lieutenant commander for the Navy SEALs and then trained in the United States at the U.S. Naval Academy in order to develop his skills to train Israelis and special command operations.

I mean, his work in the last year was pretty secret, Wolf, but for those of us and I particularly I guess substitute father, we were so proud of him. He leaves a beautiful wife in a kibbutz and four children, as well as two brothers and my sister in law.

We are all mourning. I can't make it unfortunately to the funeral tomorrow because the flights are extraordinarily hard, but I'll make it to Israel to be with my family as soon as I can.


BLITZER: And when you do, please pass along our deepest, deepest condolences to your family.

As you know, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned there will be difficult days ahead and that Israel will go on offense against Hamas, in his words, like never before. What do you think that looks like specifically over the next 24 to 48 hours?

GINSBERG: Well, I've listened, Wolf. You and I know I've spent an enormous amount of time in Israel as well as in Gaza. I've watched the successive efforts by Israel to try to quell Hamas. But I will tell you, Wolf, my biggest fear based on the fact that my family lives up on kibbutz Misgav-Am on the Lebanese border is that diabolically given my own view and hatred for Hezbollah and Hamas, it's very conceivable the part of the scheme here directed by Iran's to exhaust Israel's supply of Iron Dome missiles.

Because Hezbollah as you well know, Wolf, and you are an expert on this, if Hamas fired 2,000 to 3,000 missiles at Israel in a matter of two days, Hezbollah has 150,000 guided missiles, and no Iron Dome system that Israel currently has and that is already badly depleted can withstand that type of attack.

BLITZER: Yeah, it's a serious -- very serious situation as I continue to say. And I hope I'm wrong, this war is only just beginning.

Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, our deepest, deepest condolences to you and your family. Thank you very much for joining us.

GINSBERG: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you very much.

OUTFRONT next. Our breaking news continues. We are going to take you back to the ground. Our Ben Wedeman is standing by as Israel inches closer and closer to potential ground invasion after suffering its most devastating attack in decades.

Plus, I'll talk to an American doctor who is right now stuck in Gaza, fearing for her life as she is now surrounded by the sound of explosions. What is the U.S. doing to try to get her out?

And new details coming in right now from the Pentagon and what the U.S. is now doing to help Israel in the hostage rescue effort.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We're following more breaking news right now. New strikes in Gaza happening at this moment which raises the question, is an Israeli ground evasion of Gaza imminent?

President Netanyahu promising to hit Hamas and I'm quoting him right now, like never before. Israel's defense minister is calling for complete siege of Gaza with another top Israeli officials saying a ground war there is not off the table.

But with some two million people crowded together in a 140 square mile piece of land in Gaza, what kind of fighting would unfold and one of the densely packed areas on earth?

Ben Wedeman is OUTFRONT in Jerusalem for us.

Ben, I know you've spent a lot of time reporting from Gaza. You know how difficult that terrain is over there with urban areas, very crowded urban areas that lend themselves potentially to guerrilla warfare. And underground tunnels as well that could be booby trapped.

What could the IDF forces be facing there?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's going to be a huge challenge, Wolf, because the assumption is they are going to go into Gaza in ways we haven't seen in the past. I was there in 2009 when the Israelis made a massive incursion into Gaza. They basically cut the strip in three parts, but they avoided the most heavily populated areas.

Now, the assumption is if they're going to go in and try to for instance rescue the captives, the assumption is that Hamas is keeping them in areas that are heavily populated, for instance, like the Shati refugee camp, the beach camp, which is one of the most densely populated of Gaza's eight refugee camps.

That refugee camp is composed of streets that are extremely narrow, so it's going to be difficult for armor to get in. And, of course, it's so full of people. It is inevitable that civilians will be killed. And, of course, everyone knows there are no bomb shelters for civilians in Gaza. So, this is going to be a very difficult, very violent operation.

And, of course, Hamas as we have seen, this operation, this attack that they launched on Saturday was very well-prepared. They clearly studied this operation long in advance, and taking captives was clearly one of the essential parts of that operation. Their assumption is probably that they have planned for the Israeli counterattack, the Israeli invasion inside of Gaza. So we have seen their capabilities are much greater than they have been in the past speaking of Hamas.

And therefore, the Israelis are probably going to be facing perhaps the most difficult ground operation they have done at least since their incursion into South Lebanon in 2006 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, I've been to Gaza, reported from Gaza, and can confirm everything is safe. Ben Wedeman, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT now, Dr. Barbara Zind. She's an American pediatrician who is stuck in Gaza right now. She was there on a medical mission to treat children when Hamas launched its terror attack on Israel.

Dr. Zind, thank you so much for joining us.

I know you are hearing these air strikes that are going on in Gaza right now. It must be very, very scary. What have you been experiencing?

DR. BARBARA ZIND, AMERICAN DOTOR TRAPPED IN GAZA CITY: Well, I was -- I happened to be walking on the beach with the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund and working with -- was walking with one of their employees and his daughter on the beach when things started. We went for a walk at 6:00 and about 6:30 could see some missiles and Iron Dome missiles and countering them.

And, yeah, since then we were told to stay at the hotel. There are two of us here, and we are just waiting to leave really.


BLITZER: As you know, Israel has been striking various targets in Gaza throughout the day in response to the Hamas terror attacks that have been going on against Israel.

You were there on a routine mission, a very important mission to take care of children. Were you prepared at all for this?

ZIND: Well, whenever you go to Gaza, you always know that there is danger of some violence while you are there, but no, I wasn't. (AUDIO GAP) prepared for this.

BLTIZER: Let us know if you need to go into some sort of bomb shelter or whatever because I can hear those explosions going off right near you.

ZIND: There are no bomb shelters here.

BLITZER: Is there any safe area that you can go to?

ZIND: Yeah, actually, I have a sister law who's Palestinian. She tells me to stay away from the windows. I'm away from the window, stay by corners of walls that are more fortified and open your mouth so your eardrums don't break if there's a lot of pressure. I am following her advice and I'm in a safe part of the room.

BLITZER: I don't know if you heard but the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Doctor, is warning that his role will go after Hamas and I'm quoting now, like never before. There's been calls for a complete siege of Gaza. A ground invasion is not off the table either.

How worried are you right now for your own safety?

ZIND: Well, we are doing what we can to try and get evacuated. The organization I'm volunteered with, Palestinian Children's Relief Fund is working hard and we're developing plan to go down to the Rafah border, so we are going as fast as we can to enact that.

BLITZER: You are trying to leave that southern border of Gaza into Egypt, is that right?

ZIND: Right, right. So, we have to get a visa into Egypt so we are waiting for the permission from the Egyptian government. Our state government is helping a little bit with that. And the biggest concern is that it's about an hour, 45 minutes to an hour to drive from Gaza City down to Rafah. So the worry is that the Israelis will bomb the vehicle that we are in. So, we're working on trying to get some cooperation with them.

BLITZER: As far as your discussions with the State Department about evacuating, what are they telling you tonight? What are they saying? Stay put, shelter in place or try to get into a car and drive to the border with Egypt?

ZIND: They are not really giving us advice, they are telling us what is open and, yeah, they are going to help us get the visa. But they are not giving us advice on how to get to the border anything at this point. I don't know that they could.

BLITZER: And just before I let you go, Dr. Zind, I know that you've got a lot going on. Just a few moments ago, we heard -- we heard that huge explosion over your head. What was it like hearing that?

ZIND: Well, I get startled by them. There are not directives to my hotel, and I feel that my hotel is safe, but they are startling and I worry of them and I just take the precautions that I describe them for.

BLITZER: Well, Dr. Zind, good luck to you. Thank you so much for joining us.

ZIND: Okay, thank you.

BLITZER: OUTFRONT next: our breaking news continues. President Biden says it is likely Americans are among the more than 100 people taken hostage by Hamas and taken to Gaza. We have new details from the Pentagon on what the U.S. is now doing behind the scenes to help with the rescues.

Plus, so far, the U.S. is refusing to say that Iran is directly involved in this attack on Israel. But is there any way Hamas could've done without Iran's health?

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Back with our breaking news right now, "Israel at War". This is a special edition of OUTFRONT. I'm Wolf Blitzer in for Erin Burnett was on her way to the region right now.

Just moments ago, live here on CNN, this moment, an explosion in Gaza happen as we were talking to our guest an American doctor who is now stuck in Gaza. This as a U.S. defense official is now telling CNN that the U.S. is offering Israel special operations planning and intelligence support as part of the effort to rescue hostages taken by Hamas into Gaza.

Earlier today, President Biden said Americans are likely among those hostages as well.

I want to get straight to Oren Liebermann over at the Pentagon for us.

Oren, what is the latest you are learning from your sources there?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've seen President Joe Biden and, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin promised any sort of assistance to Israel and this is very much part of that. According to U.S. defense official, U.S. special operations forces are offering their support and assistance in the planning an intelligence of the hostage rescue effort.

Now, it's important to point out this does not mean U.S. special operations are going into Israel or into Gaza. Instead, this is an offer of assistance of ISR, Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance. It is a critical effort by both Israel and the United States, as well

as perhaps others around the world to try and figure at how many hostages there are and where these hostages have come from. The U.S. has said they are working literally every hour to try and learn more about the hostages and the question what to do, how to get them out is that even possible? So, U.S. trying to offer Israel its assistance in the planning part of this, and that assistance comes both from the U.S. Central Command as well as special operations command and joint special operations command.

So you are seeing all of this effort to try to get Israel the help it needs. And, Wolf, this comes on top of the U.S. assets headed into the region, a carrier strike group, that was announced by DOD over the weekend, and more fighter squadrons, those aren't planning on taking part in any is really operation, but it is a message of deterrence to Iran as the U.S. carefully watching whether the fighting in Israel spreads beyond the borders of the country.

BLITZER: And it's a message of deterrence to Hezbollah in south Lebanon as well, they have any ideas about a second front in this war.

Oren Liebermann, thank you very, very much.

OUTFRONT, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides. We should disclose that he is married to CNN executive vice president Virginia Moseley.

Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.

Have you been talking to your former colleagues on the ground? What's the latest you're been learning?

TOM NIDES, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: Wolf, first of all, thank you for having me, Wolf. I've been talking to them all day. You know, remember, we have hundreds and hundreds of U.S. State Department officials that are on the ground.


Their families are there. We have local people, local employees that we have. We have a fantastic operation in Israel but they are scared, too.

They are trying to do two things. They're trying to make sure they are doing their jobs, you know, protecting the people that are on the ground. Make sure to make arrangements, but also, they're worried about their own families.

So this has become a tragedy which has -- is -- you know, when people talk about Israel's 9/11, this is beyond 9/11. This is the equivalent of 40,000 or 50,000 Americans dying for a country of 9 million people. It's -- words can't describe the atrocities that have occurred here and I'm -- my former colleagues, they are emotionally connected with this. They are feeling it every day. And it's -- they are also trying to do the job. So, yeah, I'm in constant contact with people. Hourly in my heart breaks for them, and it breaks for the families, the victims and the hostages. It's senseless, these people are. These Hamas is -- are mad men and doing things that God only knows why and how they thought this was something they could accomplish.

BLITZER: I keep hearing the same thing in my phone conversations with Israelis, and I speak to a lot of them almost every day now. We know ambassador the at least 11 U.S. citizens were killed. President Biden said today there are Americans likely being held hostage by Hamas and Gaza as well.

Does any this mean that the U.S. would or could get more directly involved in this -- in this war?

NIDES: Listen, I think it's been very clear. The president has been abundantly clear that we stand by the state of Israel, that we stand by the state of Israel. We have Israel's back. And two things, providing them the resources they need to get these hostages out, to protect the citizens of Israel, both Americans and Israelis.

He has been quite forceful in making sure that the enemies in the region -- listen, Hamas's goal here is to get the region involved. Hamas doesn't speak for the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people inside Gaza don't like Hamas. In fact, they hate Hamas. And people need to recognize that.

Their objective is one objective, which is to destroy the state of Israel. Their objective is to pull the rest of the region into this. And President Biden and Vice President Harris have made it very clear, as Secretary Austin has, do not question the United States will hear. The rest of the countries in the region, Hezbollah and Iran, we are watching very closely to make sure that you don't get involved in this action.

BLITZER: As you well know, how masses long been tied to Iran. It's gets a lot of financial support from Iran, and according to the Wall Street Journal, I'm sure you saw the article, Iranian security officials helped Hamas planned the attack against Israel. How involved do you think Iran was?

NIDES: Again, I think the administration has said there is no clear evidence from their perspective that Iran was directly involved. Listen, don't -- none of us should be under any illusions here. Much of the funding that Hamas gets does come in directly or sometimes directly from Iran.

But again, our view, this is America's view has been very clearly, do not get involved in this at your peril. I think the president has been very clear that we have Israel's back on this and they should be quite focused on that.

BLITZER: We are showing our viewers, Ambassador, live pictures coming out of Gaza. We are hearing the explosions, more strikes going on right now. Israel clearly is continuing its operation there. On another issue, while I have you, Ambassador, with hindsight, wasn't

a mistake for the Biden administration to unfreeze some six billion dollars in Iranian money for humanitarian purposes?

NIDES: First of all, it's, without question, one of the more ridiculous things I've heard. Given one I think the administration said none of that money is going out yet. But more probably, I was there for two years where Hamas shooting off rockets. I was there three months ago when 800 or 900 rockets were sent into southern Israel and to Tel Aviv.

This has been going on -- this idea of provoking Israel and poking Israel constantly has been Hamas's game plan from the beginning. They don't speak for the Palestinian people. Their goal is to see exactly what is going on in Gaza.

They don't care about the Palestinian people in Gaza. What they want is to create chaos. They want to create what is going on now. This is what they are trying to be successful at doing.

So, my view of this is, that the president has been very clear by his statements. As you know, Wolf, better than most, you know, this president has been as pro-Israel as anyone can get.


And his comments when he said multiple times, you don't have to be a Zionist him to care about -- or a Jew to care about and to be a Zionist. And that's clearly what the president has said over and over again. In fact, just an hour ago, the vice president called me to express her, you know, views about what's going on and she's heavily engaged in this.

The whole White House is fixated on making sure that they are looking towards and focusing on the state of Israel and the Israeli people and the Americans that are obviously involved in this as well. There is a strong commitment on behalf of this administration.

BLITZER: Yeah. I've covered him over many years and he said you don't have to be Jewish to be a Zionist.

Ambassador Tom Nides, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all your service to our country.

NIDES: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: OUTFRONT next, Israel's prime minister says Israel will retaliate against Hamas like never before in his own words. So what should the world expect in the coming hours?

Also breaking this hour, the House of Representatives -- they've been paralyzed as Republicans have been struggling to select a new speaker. The war in Israel now adding new pressure to their search. We'll update you when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're continuing to follow the breaking news right now. Take a look at these live pictures just out of Gaza.


A new round of strikes taking place there just hours after the Israeli prime minister warned that his country's response to Hamas' unprecedented terror attacks against Israel was just beginning.

This as one of the president's top advisers, John Kirby, says there is currently no intention for U.S. boots on the ground in Israel.

OUTFRONT now, our analyst and our guest, Seth Jones, is joining us. He is the director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and just returned from a trip to Israel where he met with senior IDF officials.

Also with us, Evelyn Farkas, the former U.S. deputy assistant defense secretary and executive director now of the McCain Institute.

And retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, former commanding of the U.S. Army Europe, which included working very closely in those days with the Israeli Army, when it was part of the European Command. Now, the Israelis are part of the U.S. military's Central Command.

Seth, let me start with you. Prime Minister Netanyahu says Israel will go on offense against Hamas like never before, his words.

You talked to IDF officials during your recent trip there about how they would respond to an attack by Hamas. So what should the world expect now to see in the immediate days ahead?

SETH JONES, DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM AT CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, Wolf, I think what I would expect to see and what some IDF officials said to me was something along these lines but I don't think they expected anything quite like this, is a ground invasion of Gaza.

And that will include dismounted infantry. We've already seen the tanks being moved close to Gaza. Armored personnel carriers because they're going to need to bring in soldiers into Gaza, backed by -- they've got F-15s and F-16s and Apaches.

So, this will be -- they've used bulldozers in these operations. I've seen them in action in several of the refugee camps including in the West Bank. So, I think this is going to be a brutal ground assault into -- into Gaza right now. And I think the hope for the Israelis is it doesn't spread much into the West Bank, and then, obviously, up north to Lebanon and then Syria. That's a worry.

BLITZER: Yeah, that's a good point.

General Hodges, how prepared do you think Hamas is for this type of response from Israel?

LT. GEN. BEN HODGES, FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL OF U.S. ARMY EUROPE: Well, I think this is exactly what they expect. And some people even speculate that's what Hamas is hoping for to draw in Israeli ground forces in the way that Seth described it. I mean, it will be extremely difficult, and it would be a chance for Hamas to inflict casualties in an environment that's suited to their purpose.

If I'm the Israeli commander, the question in the front of my mind is what is my objective, what am I supposed to accomplish not just going in there to, as we say, to mow the grass. I mean, there has to be some end state that's clear to the commanders on the ground so that they can plan how they're going to do this.

BLITZER: Evelyn, as Prime Minister Netanyahu is warning, he's warning that the Israeli response in Gaza is just getting started. Hamas is warning it will execute civilian hostages if Israel continues to attack Gaza without warning. What does this mean for how long this war may go on, and how much more bloodshed there could be before there is any hope at all for peace?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA: Yeah, I mean, I tend to agree with Seth. Everything that we're hearing coming out of Israel right now indicates that the government is prepared to go in to Gaza to, essentially, perhaps try to rescue the hostages, but definitely try to root out the Hamas militants. And that could take months, and it's -- they do it at great peril to themselves, you know, to themselves, it's not an easy operation.

Ideally, you actually want a negotiation, and some kind of prisoner swap. But it's unclear what Hamas' goals are.

BLITZER: Seth, do you think it's possible that Hamas has already started to kill some of their hostages?

JONES: Yes, that's what I'm hearing from Israeli officials right now. They clearly do not want to make public announcements about any numbers. But I would not be surprised if some of them were actually dead initially from the immediate Hamas operation. Some may have been executed already.

So -- I mean, I -- it's not entirely clear, Wolf. We don't have full information. But I would not be surprised based on what I'm hearing.

BLITZER: What do you think, General Hodges?

HODGES: Well, I mean, Hamas is not known for any humanitarian sentiment. So, they'll do exactly what they want to do without regard for what it does to these people. The Israelis, of course, will have thought very hard about their operation doing what they can to save and protect as many of them as possible.


That'll be in the front of their mind, I imagine. But, again, this is what Hamas, I think, they expect. They know that the IDF, Israeli Defense Forces, probably the best in the world in terms of being able to do this kind of fighting. They are built and equipped and trained to do this. They just called up 300,000 reservists. That is a lot of soldiers. So,

clearly, the Israelis are thinking, this is going to be long-term. This is going to be intensive. But it's not going to be, like, a lightning strike kind of thing.

This is going to be a grinding and it will be -- by the way, it'll be difficult to use the air power that Seth referenced. I mean, that's always been an advantage for the Israelis. But in this kind of environment, for -- it'll be a little bit more difficult to use air power.

BLITZER: Yeah. That's an important point as well.

Evelyn, if there is direct, direct evidence or intelligence that emerges connecting Iran to this Hamas attack against Israel, what will that mean for Iran?

FARKAS: Well, I think it will mean some kind of retaliation from Israel. It makes me think back on when Israel launched the attack on the nuclear weapons facility that was being constructed in Syria. In that case, Israel launched the attack, took out the facility, gave some warning to the United States.

At the time I was in the U.S. Senate as a senior staffer. And it actually, kind of, was enough to prevent any further escalation, meaning Israel gave its response. And we were able to ensure that it didn't result in any further war.

So, Israel could respond with some kind of strike, but then the Iranians and the Israelis would understand, okay, we don't want an all-out war. But it's a very, very dangerous situation. I have to say, it's highly conceivable that the Iranians were involved in training Hamas. Clearly they support them. And I also wonder whether the Iranians gave some advanced notice to the Russian government.

BLITZER: Yeah, it's interesting because everybody who knows the Israeli air force knows they certainly do have the air capability to strike various targets in Iran if in fact that should happen.

Guys, thank you very much for that excellent, excellent analysis.

OUTFRONT next, our breaking news continues. Our Manu Raju just emerging now from a crucial closed door meeting on Capitol Hill. How much is the situation in Israel adding to the urgency for the House of Representatives to get a new speaker?



BLITZER: Breaking news we're following, Republicans meeting behind closed doors tonight, as the House of Representatives remains paralyzed without a speaker, six days after a group of rebel Republicans ousted Kevin McCarthy.

The GOP now facing growing and growing calls to unite behind one speaker candidate to make sure the U.S. is able to support Israel in its war against Hamas.

But there is no sign at all Republicans are ready at least yet to rally behind one candidate. And some are even pushing re-electing Kevin McCarthy speaker, which he did not necessarily rule out.

CNN's Manu Raju is OUFRONT on Capitol Hill for us.

Manu, I understand you just emerged from this closed door meeting in the House. So, what is going on behind the scenes?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is an ongoing session happening right now behind closed doors, where House Republicans are venting their concerns, their frustrations about the historic ouster of Kevin McCarthy last week. A number of McCarthy supporters going to the mics criticizing their colleagues who pushed for the ouster of McCarthy. It was eight Republicans joining with Democrats on the side, getting a lot of criticism from those members, calling for some punishment directed towards them.

Wolf, there is a real fear tonight among Republicans that this could drag out, that Republicans may not coalesce behind one candidate, if that one candidate may not get the votes to be elected speaker, and this could drag on, paralyzing the House for some time to come. This as Republicans are directing their ire at those Republicans, who led McCarthy's ouster, namely Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida.


REP. MIKE LAWLER (R-NY): Matt Gaetz is frankly a vile person, all right? He's not somebody who's willing to work as a team. He stands up there, he grandstands. He lies directly to folks.

REP. DERRICK VAN ORDEN (R-WI): I'm not backing anyone until we deal with the fact that we have people in our conference who'd shut this house down on a whim again.

REP. DON BACON (R-NE): We're not here to accommodate eight people who just kicked us in the shins. They don't support our party in a sense. It's all about media clicks.


RAJU: So, at the moment, Wolf, there are two candidates for speaker, Steve Scalise, the House majority leader, and Jim Jordan, the House Judiciary Committee chairman.

But the question is, can they get enough votes to be elected speaker of the House, which would require 217 votes, meaning they could only afford to lose four Republicans on such a vote. And, Wolf, it is still an open question about whether they can get there or whether another candidate emerges, these two candidates deadlocked in the days ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: One thing almost all of these Republicans agree on -- correct me if I'm wrong, Manu -- is that the U.S. has to continue to support Israel in this war against Hamas. How much of a factor is that in putting pressure on these Republicans to come up with a speaker?

RAJU: Yeah, Republican after Republican that I have spoken to recognize that there needs to be a U.S. response to deal with what's happening in Israel. But the House cannot act unless they elect a speaker. And there's a question about how much money that the U.S. will request to give to Israel. That will take some time to play out.

But, Wolf, if this persists into next week and beyond, then the questions will be how quickly can they move on this new aid package for Israel, because, Wolf, other issues are still waiting as well, including aid to Ukraine, funding the federal government by mid November, all huge questions looming over this divided House Republican conference, as they struggle with their way forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu Raju, thanks very much.

"AC360" with Anderson Cooper live from Israel starts right now.