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At Least 1,200 Israelis Killed in Hamas Terror Attacks As Defense Minister Releases "All Restraints" on Troops; Questions Grow About Possible Israeli Ground Assault in Gaza; Putin Fails to Condemn Hamas Attack Despite 4 Russian Deaths. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 11, 2023 - 05:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good day to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Wednesday, October 11th, 5:00 a.m. in New York and here in Washington, noon in Israel where the IDF, Israel Defense Forces, are hammering Gaza with airstrikes, following Hamas' devastating surprise attack on southern Israel over the weekend.

Israel now says at least 1,200 people were killed in the terrorist assaults. The IDF says it hit more than 80 targets in the Beit Hanoun area and destroyed Hamas' advanced detection system for spotting aircraft over Gaza. Neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble.

Hamas says 950 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war. The U.N. says more than 263,000 people there have been displaced.

The Hamas controlled government says due to a lack of fuel coming in through the Israeli blockade, electricity will be cut off within hours. And with it, so will basic services.

The IDF was also busy last night hitting Hamas naval targets, which it claimed were being used to attack the Israeli coastline. Israel's defense minister told troops Tuesday that he has released all restraints in, quote, on their fight against Hamas. He said, quote, Hamas wanted a change in Gaza, it will change 180 degrees from what he thought. They will regret this moment. Gaza will never return to what it was.

President Biden standing squarely behind Israel in the fight on Tuesday, calling the Hamas attack sheer evil.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hamas offers nothing but terror and bloodshed with no regard at who pays the price. Let there be no doubt the United States has Israel's back. We'll make sure the Jewish and democratic state of Israel can defend itself today, tomorrow as we always have. It is as simple as that.


HUNT: The president also confirming 14 Americans killed. And some of the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza are American.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live in Ashdod, Jerusalem.

Jeremy, the way that the defense minister was talking about this, it does sound like Israeli troops going into Gaza is a foregone conclusion. What is the latest there?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly feels like that. When we were driving around yesterday, around towns like Ashdod, like Sderot, near Mefalsim, what we witnessed in these towns all around the Gaza Strip is a massive mobilization effort that is under way here in Israel. More than 300,000 reservists have already been called up. And we are also seeing a massing of tanks, of artillery and armored personnel carriers in key staging locations around the Gaza Strip.

This is all a signal that Israel is preparing for a possibly massive operation inside of Gaza, a possible ground invasion. But as of yet, we did not have that political decision, that official order that that been given by the Israeli prime minister. We have heard a lot of fire and brimstone from Bibi Netanyahu as well as the Defense Minister Yoav Gallant as you just mentioned.

But also, what's important to keep in mind is we don't know how long this staging could potentially last. The IDF knows that if Hamas carefully planned the surprise attack this past Saturday, then they also likely planned for what is coming next. They also likely planned for the possibility of a ground invasion. And that means booby traps, that means tunnels that Hamas built inside of Gaza and that means reinforced positions.

So the IDF is being very cautious, being very strategic as they prepare for those next steps. You know, yesterday, Kasie, we spent some time with some of the reservists who are being called up and one thing is clear, they are prepared for whatever comes next.

Many of them have been called up in previous conflicts before. But they don't know exactly what is coming next. They don't know as of yet, they are waiting for their orders. But they say that they are ready.

HUNT: Jeremy, obviously, an operation like this incredibly sensitive when you are trying to rescue hostages. Oftentimes hostages can be either accidentally killed by the rescuers or of course killed by those who are holding them captive.

What considerations are being made for that in this planning?

DIAMOND: There's no question that the hostages and the number of hostages, more than 100 hostages believed to be held by Hamas, inside the Gaza Strip, this certainly changes the equation for Israel in terms of its response going forward. We have already seen Hamas claimed that several of those Israeli hostages were killed in an Israeli airstrike.

And so, the IDF has to keep that in mind. [05:05:01]

You know, Israel is familiar with these types of hostage situations, but they have never seen anything on this kind of scale. I mean, you look back when Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier was captured and held by Hamas, he was ultimately exchanged for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

And so, to try negotiate the release of these hostages, something that Israel is not doing yet, that would be a massive undertaking and it would have enormous implications for whatever Hamas would demand and what Israel would be willing to provide.

What we do know though is that Israel is looking at other ways of getting the hostages back and they are still looking at going in with a potential ground invasion. We know that there is coordination between Israel defense minister, the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, they have been on the phone talking about ways of getting these hostages back.

We know that the United States is providing Israel with intelligence support and they are also special operations support to the Israelis.

So not clear exactly what will happen, how they will get the hostages back, but it is important to keep in mind the number of dual nationals who are believed to be among these civilian hostages in particular, it changes the equation. We know that there are several American Israelis among the hostages and other dual nationals as well.

So there are enormous international implications as well for whatever comes next -- Kasie.

HUNT: There are indeed.

All right. Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much. Stay safe, my friend.

And coming up here, chances of an all-out ground assault in Gaza are increasing as we were just discussing. We'll bring you up to speed.

Plus, House Republicans will meet today to discuss the two candidates for the speaker's job. Stay with us.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Israel's retaliation against Hamas now widely anticipated to take the form of an unprecedented incursion into Gaza. The Israeli military has mobilized 300,000 reservists and launched hundreds of punishing airstrikes on Gaza and this is just the initial phase of the war.

Now, questions are growing about a possible ground operation that could be far bloodier and more destructive. And with the hundreds of Israeli soldiers and civilians being held captive by Hamas, a ground operation could also come at a very high price. Let's bring in CNN military analyst, the retired Colonel Cedric


Colonel, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

Let's talk about what this could look like both in the immediate turn but also, I know you've spent a lot of time looking at these conflicts. Sometimes, Israel has moved quickly in something like this, fast and done, and other times they have had to fight for many years.

How do you think this plays out?


I think it's going to be one of the -- ones that last a lot longer. It will be something that if a ground incursion occurs and Israelis do move in at this particular point in time, it is going to be a bloody mess. And that's going to be a real problem because they really risk getting bogged down inside the warrens and the alleyways of Gaza. That's going to be a real problem for them because once you get mired into something like this, it is really hard to pull yourself out of this.

And I think that is the dilemma take that Israel faces. On the one hand, you want to free the hostages, you want to get them out, and you want to, you know, in essence, exercise retribution for what has happened. On the other, you want to make sure that you can serve your forces so that they can fight in an appropriate way at a time of your choosing. Not at adversary's choosing.

HUNT: Right. So, what effects, you know, these ground strikes, obviously, Israel needs to show that they are responding to what has happened, but in the -- as you consider the possibility of the ground incursion being next, what are the airstrikes accomplishing in that context?

LEIGHTON: So, what they are doing, Kasie, is the airstrikes are being used to soften up the target area. What you do first usually in a military campaign is you bring in air power and you use that to target certain areas to in essence weaken the adversary in a way that allows you to move more quickly into the territory and once you've moved into the territory, you can then achieve your goals much more quickly.

You look at how the United States conducted campaigns in the second Iraq War, for example. That was based first on an air campaign, which softened up the target and then you moved in with ground troops and you were able to occupy -- we were able to occupy the territory very quickly. Of course, what happened after that is a completely different story.

But that's the idea. It's to soften up the target area and make it possible for the ground forces to move into the area with less risk and with greater ability to achieve victory.

HUNT: Can we talk about the tactics that might be used to retrieve these hostages and the risks associated with that?

It seems like a diplomatic solution to freeing them is probably preferable because of the risks. But I was hoping -- you obvious understand it, if you could walk us through it.

LEIGHTON: Sure. Well, one the key things, these kind of operations involve special operations forces. And they require certain what are known was tactics, techniques and procedures. And they rely on detailed intelligence, things like which way a building is situated, which way the doors open, how the corridors and hallways are situated in a particular area.

And you also want to know things like the material of which buildings are made. So those great details, those very tactical, very precise details become really important. In many cases, you have a mockup of the area that you're going into. But in order to do that, you have to know exactly where the hostages are. And if the hostages are being moved, that presents another set of challenges. But it could also present a series of opportunities.


So while a diplomatic route is preferable, you have to have your military prepared to try to extricate the hostages and move in very quickly and get them out harm's way. And that's the real challenge because it requires precision, as well as the right kind of force.

And the Israelis have been able to do that going back to 1976. They really started this kind of commando work and these commando efforts. But it is one of those things where the tactics have evolved over time and the terrorists and other organizations that do this kind of thing have learned from experience as well in making it -- they make it much more difficult than it was before.

HUNT: Extraordinarily grim outlook here. But, Colonel Cedric Leighton, CNN military analyst, thank you very much for being with us this morning. See you soon, I hope.

LEIGHTON: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right.

Russia's Vladimir Putin breaks his silence on the Hamas attack on Israel. But the question remains, or does it, where do his loyalties lie?



HUNT: Questions are growing this morning about Russian President Vladimir Putin's tepid response to the Hamas attack on Israel that reportedly killed at least four Russian citizens. But Putin has criticized U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): After hundreds of Israelis were slaughtered by Hamas near Gaza, condemnation and condolences poured in from around the world, but not from Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Now in his first comments, instead of empathy, Putin blasting the U.S.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This is a clear example of the failure of the United States policy in the Middle East, which tried to monopolize any settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

PLEITGEN: Kremlin-controlled TV followed suit, mocking both America and Israel for allegedly being caught off guard by Hamas' attack.

OLGA SKABEEVA, RUSSIAN TV ANCHOR (through translator): Mossad and its famous counterintelligence as well as the U.S. and its CIA slept through Hamas' invasion. It's the biggest Israeli failure in security since 1973.

PLEITGEN: Russia has long been allied with Israel's staunchest adversaries and Hamas's most important backers, bombing Syrian rebels in support of pro-Iranian fighters battling on the side of Syrian President Bashar al Assad during Syria's civil war.

But Russia also maintained strong ties and security arrangements with Israel. Putin meeting Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on many occasions.

SERGEI RYABKOV, RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: We in no way underestimate importance of measures that would ensure very strong security of the state of Israel.

PLEITGEN: But since Putin launched his full-scale war against Ukraine, Tehran has become a key ally for Moscow at Israel's expense, fostering economic and military ties with Iran, while Tehran provides the Russian army with scores of Shahed drones the Russians used to hit Ukrainian cites and infrastructure, Kyiv says, even though Tehran denies it.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claiming Moscow's allegiance in the Middle East has shifted towards Tehran.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We see how Russian propagandists are gloating. We witness how Moscow's Iranian allies openly lend support to those who attacked Israel.


PLEITGEN (on camera): Now, the Kremlin has denied allegations by Volodymyr Zelenskyy that it's trying to inflame the situation between Israelis and Palestinians. However, the former chief rabbi of Moscow who, of course, fled that country two weeks after the full-on invasion of Ukraine, he said that he believes that the lack of a show of support of Russia for Israel is an ominous sign of deteriorating relations between those countries.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Kyiv.

HUNT: Let me thank Fred for his reporting.

Let's bring in CNN's Max Foster who joins us live now from London.

Max, good morning. Always good to see you.

This is a conundrum it seems for Vladimir Putin. It now seems as though he is caught between what had been as Fred outlined these strong particularly security based ties between Russia and Israel and the imperatives coming from Tehran.

It seems to me he's choosing a side when decides not to say anything or at least to be so lukewarm in what he says about Israel.

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yeah, I think we're in the position where he actually doesn't need to take sides, at least at the moment. He has never drawn a very clear view on Gaza, a public view. So he doesn't have to get involved in that unless he wants to.

You talked there about his relationship with Israel. He obviously sees that as worth protecting. As far as Iran is concerned, clearly, very close ties, but Iran denies having had anything to do with this attack and helping Hamas in this attack. And America and Israel haven't Iran, saying there's nothing to prove that they were involved. So, there's no reason for Putin to come in to support Iran right now.

What we're actually seeing is Putin attacking America for intervening in Israel in the same way as he has attacked America for intervening in Ukraine. So he is not having to draw a new position on this which is quite interesting. And he does, frankly, tap dance around these things quite effectively sometimes.


HUNT: He does tap dance. And, you know, I'm glad you mentioned the U.S. because we actually just have this just into CNN. Israel now says that the first shipment of U.S. munitions has arrived and there's video from Israel's ministry of defense. It arrived by a cargo plane, these weapons. So, obviously, the U.S. directly arming the Israelis right now.

Does Putin simply see this as an opportunity to sow additional chaos and another potential weak point for the United States? That does seem, as you outline to be, his ultimate goal.

FOSTER: Yeah, I mean, always trying to destabilize the West. And if the narrative is going that direction, he doesn't get involved in it, he likes to see the things sort of self destruction as you sees it in his eyes. And also, speaking to very senior analyst here in London earlier today, you know, all eyes are off Ukraine right now, aren't they?

So that is perhaps to Russia's benefit. Bigger concern here I think for Ukrainians is in Washington and that funding issue that we've talked a lot about on this show about whether or not Congress will approve funding to Ukraine, this is less likely to push more money towards Ukraine. So has a big impact there.

HUNT: Yeah. No, it is a really important question. I do think that there is a possibility they could get tied together. That's what the White House wants. They're trying to pose it as, hey, we can help Israel and Ukraine at the same time, but I do think that's still pretty tenuous and, obviously, there's no speaker of the House.

Max Foster, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

FOSTER: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: Hope to see you tomorrow.

All right. Just ahead, Israel is stepping up its offensive in Gaza. We're going to have a live report from inside Israel.

And House Republicans are about to gather behind closed doors later on this morning. We'll tell you what they're doing today even before picking a new speaker.