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Secretary of State Blinken in Israel to Meet with Netanyahu; IDF: Hostages Could be "Underground in Scattered Locations"; IDF Targeting Hamas Leader Known as "The Guest". Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 12, 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 Thursday, October 12, 5:00 a.m. here in Washington and noon in Tel Aviv, where Secretary of State Antony Blinken has just arrived and is due to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at this hour.

Israel is pounding Hamas targets with what it calls -- its military calls a large scale strike. And the Israel defense forces massed 300,000 troops on the border with Gaza ahead of a potential invasion. The IDF now says at least 1,200 people were killed in Israel, in Hamas' terror attack. Palestinian officials say nearly the same number have been killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

Hamas militants are holding as many as 150 hostages in Gaza, including an unknown number of Americans. President Biden says he is focused on getting them out.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The press are going to shout to me, and many of you are, that, you know, what are you doing to bring these -- get these folks home? If I told you, I wouldn't be able to get them home.

Folks, there's a lot we're doing. A lot we're doing. I have not given up hope of bringing these folks home. But the idea that I'm going to stand here before you and tell you what I'm doing is bizarre.


HUNT: And Blinken brought a top State Department hostage envoy with him to Israel. But Hamas says it's not ready to talk about a hostage exchange while Israel is still pounding Gaza from the air.

CNN's Rafael Romo is live for us in Tel Aviv.

Rafael, good morning, good afternoon to you.

What is Blinken's mission this morning?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kasie, good morning, good afternoon from Tel Aviv.

Before departing for Israel, Blinken said discussions about establishing a humanitarian corridor are ongoing. He also said he's talking to partners in the region, countries like Egypt, although he acknowledged it's a rather complicated mission.

Israel is stepping up its offensive in Gaza. Israeli jets have continued to pound the densely populated enclave in response to Hamas brutal terror attacks. There are multiple developments to tell you about this morning on the sixth day of fighting. Israel is conducting a large scale strike on Hamas, targets in Gaza, that's what the Israeli military said earlier today, Kasie.

The death toll continues to climb on both sides. Israeli officials say 1,200 have died as a result of the Hamas attacks and while the Palestinian ministry of health increased the figure in Gaza to more than 1,200 earlier today. The U.N. said a few hours ago that more than 330,000 people have been displaced there since Israel began its bombardment.

Another 27 people have died on the West Bank, Kasie. And in another sign that Israel is united in its effort to annihilate Hamas militants, the country's leadership has formed an emergency government and war management cabinet. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a national unity party leader Benny Gantz jointly made the announcement Wednesday.

But again, what we see on the ground is still a lot of fighting going on, bombarded, even here in Tel Aviv, we've heard multiple blasts over the last several days, Kasie.

HUNT: Yeah. Rafael, and it was just announced a few hours ago that the PLO says that the Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet on Friday with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. And, of course, the Palestinian authority runs the West Bank, but they don't hold power in Gaza. What's that meeting going to be about?

ROMO: Based on what Secretary Blinken said before departing, he's trying to approach anybody he can really to try to solve the crisis. He also mentioned that Egypt, another country in the region that he has been holding talks with.


And also, we know that Qatar, the country of Qatar, is involved in negotiating to try to find a solution to liberate the -- as many as 150 hostages that are still being held by Hamas. So, different approaches that the secretary is trying to go through to try to bring a solution to this very, very complicated problem here in Israel.

HUNT: Yeah, centuries, a long problem.

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

And coming up here, a hostage crisis in a warzone with so many unknowns, making a difficult rescue mission all the more challenging. Plus, Israel's bin Laden. We're going to take a closer look at the

mysterious Hamas commander behind the attacks.

Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hamas, since they've planned to launch this attack and they planned to take these people hostages, reason dictates that they planned in advance locations to hide these hostages and keep them safe from Israeli intelligence and efforts to get them out.


So, one could guess that they are underground, scattered in various locations.


HUNT: The Israel Defense Forces now facing an incredibly daunting mission, the rescue of up to 150 hostages from an urban warzone.

The U.S. has already moved FBI and Pentagon personnel in to help.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We're casting a wide net. We're also keeping the options wide open right now as we get more information. But we just don't have enough granularity to be able to fine tune those options.


HUNT: All right. Let's bring in retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Steve Anderson.

General Anderson, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

There are just so many unanswered questions here. And, obviously, they raise the specter there of these hostages potentially having been moved about. What do you think is the most likely location for this move to Egypt? And what's the starting point?

BRIG. GEN. STEVE ANDERSON, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, thank you, Kasie, for asking me to join you. I would say that I don't think that they -- no doubt these hostages have been moved. They're probably being moved all the time, but the problem right now is the lack of human intelligence on the ground in Gaza. I mean, that's the reason is the attack occurred in the first place, is that there was too much focus on signal and electronic intelligence and not enough human intelligence.

What they need to do is they need to continue the blockade. They need to crank down on the blockade and then wait for human intelligence to emerge. I mean, things are going to start happening when these people can't get their medicines and can't get food and water. You're going to see human intelligence, assets who will probably come up on the net, and allow us to find out where these best chance to locate them, find (AUDIO GAP).

HUNT: Yeah. So, for our viewers that are with us, and, General, you may not be able to see this, but we're watching a massive gray cloud of smoke rising over Gaza City right now. These are live pictures that you are looking at.

I think -- I guess my question is, we've talked about the State Department. Antony Blinken is obviously on the ground in Israel. And they say they brought a hostage official with him and we also know that there are FBI personnel involved.

Can you talk a little bit about what that means, like who is the hostage official with the State Department and the FBI, and what are they going to be doing on the ground?

ANDERSON: Well, they're going to be talking to the people and trying to negotiate as best they can to get the release of these hostages, you know? Maybe they can relieve some of the pressure that's being applied by this blockade and use that as a bargaining chip. But it's very difficult to negotiate in this kind of situation.

I think that they should negotiate from a position of power, and the way to do that is to enable this blockade, crank down on the blockade, put the pressure on internally within Hamas, have the people complaining that, hey, what's going on here, I can't get my food and water, my children can't get their medicines. That's going to increase the pressure internally and it's going to make negotiation opportunities much more fruitful.

HUNT: What can you tell us about what kind of support the U.S. military could provide for any eventual incursion operation? Obviously, the idea of putting American boots on the ground is a very sensitive one. But we do know that the U.S. military and the IDF work very closely together. How do you see that playing out?

ANDERSON: Well, first of all, we've got those carrier battle groups heading that way. So, that's going to be a great news, great support. But that's sending the message to the Hamas and, of course, to Israel, that we're here to support them and rest of the world stay out of this fight.

But we can provide intelligence, we can provide logistic support. As the president mentioned yesterday, we're going to help them replenish some of their Iron Dome missiles. And that's very, very important, repair parts, those kind of things, logistic support.

And I think that we can also help them out with air defense. They have the iron dome, but we have systems in Afghanistan that I have personally experienced with CRAM, counter rocket artillery and mortar, that were incredibly effective. We have a number of these systems that are available that are no longer used in Afghanistan. I submit that we need to put those on the ground in Israel immediately. Because it is very important that the United States step up and support Israel every single way we can.

HUNT: All right. Brigadier General Steve Anderson, thank you very much for being with us this morning. I really appreciate your time, sir.

ANDERSON: Thank you, Kasie.

HUNT: And coming up here, who is the guest? A shadowy figure credited with masterminding the attacks in Israel.



HUNT: Welcome back.

If the Hamas surprise attack is Israel's 9/11, then a mysterious man known as "The Guest" is their bin Laden.

CNN's Sam Kiley has more on Israel's most wanted terrorist.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A brazen political move. Hamas demands that the U.S. negotiate the release of American hostages on Russian TV.

ALI BARAKA, SENIOR HAMAS OFFICIAL (through translator): There are also prisoners in the U.S. We want them, of course. There are Hamas members sentenced to life in the U.S. We demand that the U.S. frees our sons from their prisons.


The U.S. conducts prisoner swaps. Only recently, it did one with Iran. Why wouldn't they conduct one with us?

KILEY: Confirmation of part of the intent behind the Hamas' assaults in Israeli. They were enabled by a failure of Israeli intelligence, (AUDIO GAP) Hamas officer they call al Deif, "The Guest". Only two photographs exist of Mohammed Deif Ibrahim al Masri who is nearly 60. He is known as Al Deif because he is a guest in a different location every night. He is the mastermind or monster behind the murder of more than 1,000 in Israel, and the kidnapping of about 150 hostages.

MIKHAIMAR ABUSADA, CHAIRMAN, POLITICAL SCIENCE DEPARTMENT, AL-AZHAR UNIVERSITY IN GAZA: From the beginning of his life, he was very much interested in the fighting the Israeli occupation.

KILEY: In the mid-1990s, he was believed to be behind a wave atrocities in Israel And in 2014, he is believed to have lost an arm and leg in an Israeli airstrike aimed at him that killed his wife and daughter. For the last two years, though, Hamas has pretended to focus on welfare, not warfare.

BARAKA: All the while, under the table, Hamas was preparing this big attack.

KILEY: Israel meanwhile invested in automation and sensors (AUDIO GAP) Gaza and focused forces on the West Bank. Under Deif, Hamas encouraged Israeli complacency.

And last weekend, it hit hard, attacking communication towers and automated machine guns with drones, overrunning command and control centers, killing senior officers among them, three colonels, and unleashing terror on thousands of civilians.

The Israel Defense Forces found Hamas anti-tank mines and other heavy weapons, a sign they may have planned for a longer stay. The shock infantry attack is either deliberately brutal from the start or degenerated into a massacre as Israeli defenses collapsed.

It shifted attention and power to Hamas.

ABUSADA: He has become like a god to some of the Palestinians because of what he has done.

KILEY: Many Palestinians are dismayed by the massacre and the bloodshed that's followed. But with the lives of hostages in his hands, the guest now has an unwelcome place in America's mind.

Sam Kiley, CNN.


HUNT: Wow.

CNN's Max Foster live in London with more.

Max, just absolutely fascinating from our colleague Sam Kiley. And, you know, there is also this, we've got a Hamas official who is saying that the group prepared for this attack for two years. He says, quote, we've been preparing for this for two years. We manufactured a lot. We have local factories for everything. None of our factions and even our allies did not know about the zero hour of the attack in order to preserve the secrecy of the battle.

It's really starting to look as, though, you know, the Israelis were just looking in the wrong direction here.

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: I mean, we talked about it before, haven't we? This is the picture that we're gradually seeing being built, that Hamas were preparing, and they have spoken to it themselves as well, that Israel was distracted by events in the West Bank and also within their own legal system and the domestic battle.

And so, this big operation was being built over two years, extraordinary to think that the Israelis didn't pick up on this intelligence or indeed the Americans. But also I thought what was interesting about that quote that you brought up there, is that none of our allies knew about the zero hour. So it does shed light on this idea that Iran didn't know this was happening. Although in the same interview, this member of Hamas, who is Hamas in

Lebanon, by the way, which is separate from Hamas in Gaza, but he clearly seems to know what he is talking about, saying that they had the permission of the Russians. But in terms of the zero hour, they weren't told when that would be, the Iranians effectively, but we were also told by them that they were supplying a lot of these weapons along with Hezbollah and also with the permission of Russia.

So, clearly, Iran knew something might be up. They just didn't know when it was happening. So that explains a bit of the language we've had recently.

HUNT: Yeah, it does. I mean, usually, the phrase zero hour and the specificity around, they didn't know when that was. I mean, I guess it gives them a little bit of plausible deniability around --


HUNT: -- this exact moment.

But if it's a two-year attack, you know, they can't -- they can't do that on their own. I mean, you know, I was reading about -- I was a little astonished to learn that they are basically saying we have all these factories in Gaza, we're making bullets for Kalashnikovs, et cetera. That's really more capability than I realized that they had in Gaza.


But let's talk about the Russians for a second because if this does kind of -- if this thread plays out, Vladimir Putin currently taking his first international trip since the warrant was put out for his arrest by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, if he is found to be, you know, having tacitly approved this, I mean, what does that do to relationships between Russia and Israel, and Russia and the West? I mean, Putin has been pretty careful to try to preserve security relationships anyway with Israel.

FOSTER: Yeah. I think -- I think what was really interesting, we talked about it a bit on CNN but not a big way. But there was this call between president of Iran and the Saudi crown prince. They have talked about this incident, this clash, and what they're going to do about it.

I think, obviously, Saudi Arabia is becoming this conduit. You know, the U.S. has strong relations with Saudi Arabia. So does Iran. I think what would be very interesting is finding out what happened in that conversation because Russia folds into all of that basically because Russia has got this relationship with Iran.

So it's what Saudi Arabia can do in terms of stabilizing the situation in the Middle East. Continuing that relation with Iran, but also continuing the relationship with the U.S. So I think Saudi Arabia is absolutely central to all of this now and a huge part of U.S. foreign policy. HUNT: Right, one, of course, a lot of questions about whether this attack was aimed at disrupting that normalization pact between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which has been brokered by the U.S.

FOSTER: Absolutely.

HUNT: Max Foster, (AUDIO GAP) for being with us this morning.

FOSTER: Thank you.

HUNT: President Biden has dispatched (AUDIO GAP). Who he is meeting and what he is doing there, up next.