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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Israel Calls on civilians in Gaza City to Move "Southwards" Today; Hamas Calls for "Day of Rage" Today; Scalise Drops Out of Speaker's Race; House Republicans Scrambling in Search for a Speaker; Interview with Republican Strategist and Former RNC Communications Director Doug Heye, Israel's Major Intel Failure; Hamas Trained for Attacks; Interview with Representative Pat Ryan (D-NY); Israel Warns Gaza Citizens to Get Out; Interview with Journalist and Author Yossi Melman. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 13, 2023 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thank you for being with us. I'm Kasie Hunt.

Breaking news. Israel's military is warning all civilians in Gaza City to leave their homes and head south. It is the surest sign yet that the IDF plans to intensify its military operations in Gaza after Hamas attacks on Israel, left 1,300 people dead, 27 of them Americans, and took more than 150 people hostage. Hamas militants are telling Palestinians not to leave their homes. The U.N. calls the mass evacuation an impossible task.

And new this hour, Hamas now says 13 Israeli hostages held in Gaza have been killed by random Israeli bombings on parts of Gaza over the past 24 hours. The Israel Defense Forces said it could not confirm or deny that claim.

CNN's Becky Anderson is live in Jerusalem with more. Becky, what do we know about this?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR AND MANAGING EDITOR, ABU DHABI: Yes, nor can we verify that claim, of course, but we are doing our utmost with the teams on the ground to do so. So, that is coming from Hamas purely at present. Neither the IDF nor CNN with its teams on the ground sourcing information are able to verify that.

But I mean, I think, you know, what you've just delineated speaks the enormity of what's going on here now. And I'll explain why I'm in Jerusalem here overlooking what is the most contentious site here, that of Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif in a moment.

But what we do know is that there are ground forces, 300, 000 mobilized Israeli soldiers down on that southern border of the Israel Gaza border. And the expectation, of course, is that they are building -- they've saturated -- as described to me by the IDF, they've saturated that border building for what is expected to be a massive ground assault.

But again, we are not privy to the planning, nor do we understand when and if that ground assault will happen. What we do know is what is going on behind the scenes, talking to all of my sources around this region and watching Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, doing the rounds here yesterday, and we were reporting the images of Antony Blinken here yesterday. He then went to Jordan to meet King Abdullah and the Palestinian president, the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas. He is now on his way to Qatar, to the UAE, to Saudi, to Egypt.

What he is trying to do is get sort of this region on board to find what, at the moment, quite frankly, would be a very, very, very short- term solution for some sort of fix and some sort of advice to the Israelis, I guess, about what happens next with regard to Gaza.

I mean, there's real fear now that what is happening in Gaza, what has happened in the last seven days, the monstrous attack by Hamas on innocent civilians inside Israel there's real, real concern that this could escalate. And nobody around this region, despite the fact that they've been warning of this for a long time, nobody wants to see this escalate.

Let me just explain where we are here. The courtyard that you see on this site, this Temple Mount site, would normally be filled with Muslim worshippers. Prayer started about 20 minutes ago. You are looking at Islam's third holiest site on this compound, Al-Aqsa. It is also the holiest site for Judaism and revered by Christians.

Back -- and there's -- I can only describe as a very delicate status quo about what happens on this site. Back in 1967, the Israelis captured the old city of Jerusalem from the Jordanians. And since then, there's been this delicate status quo whereby everybody is allowed to visit this site of whatever sort of denomination you are, but only Muslims can pray here.

And it has been, as I say, the most contentious site behind this conflict because you've seen, over the years, Israeli soldiers storming this compound, getting into clashes with Palestinians here who see this as sort of at the heart of their grievances --

HUNT: Yes.


ANDERSON: -- for both Palestinians from the West Bank and from East Jerusalem. And so, herein lies the heart of what is going on. Hamas has called for a day of rage and they have said it's the desecration of this site, as they describe it, which is behind their recent attacks and this call for a day of rage. They've called their operation, Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.

So, you know, we really, you know, just wait to see what happens here. We hope that we don't see the sort of clashes we've seen in the past and that, you know, this remains a quiet city, but one can only hope at this point, Kasie.

HUNT: One can only hope. And we can hear those prayers behind you. Becky Anderson, thank you very much for that.

All right. Let's go now to the other breaking news overnight, because House Republicans are scrambling again in their search for a speaker this morning after Majority Leader Steve Scalise dropped out of the race last night.


REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): If you look at where our conference is, there's still work to be done. Our conference still has to come together, and is not there. There are still some people that have their own agendas. And I was very clear, we have to have everybody put their agendas on the side and focus on what this country needs. This country is counting on us to come back together. This House of Representatives needs a speaker, and we need to open up the house again.


HUNT: Scalise withdrew just 24 hours after he was nominated, after he realized he didn't have the support, couldn't get the 217 votes he needs on the floor. The Republican conference meets at 10:00 a.m. this morning to discuss a path forward.

Joining me now is CNN political commentator, former Ted Cruz communications director, Alice Stewart. And Republican strategist and former RNC communications director, Doug High. Thank you both for being here.

Doug, you, of course, have deep experience in the House Republican Conference as well. I want to play a little bit of what Kevin McCarthy had to say yesterday as this was all unfolding, just because I think it gives you some -- it gives some texture to it that I think you can help us understand. Take a look at what McCarthy had to say.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I just think the conference as a whole has to figure out their problems, solve it, and select a leader.


HUNT: Doug, what's going on here?

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Things are a mess, to put it bluntly. And what we're going to see this morning is what we call an organizational meeting. So, look, there'll be airing of grievances and things like that. But it is also about setting up a structure for the next election for speaker, if there's a next election.

So, they're going to consider the Chip Roy move and potentially amend it for 217 or 218 votes that if you pass and you're the Republican choice, we know that you will have a majority going on the floor. That's the first and foremost thing that they want to avoid. But there is no idea internally right now if they can get to that point. And if they can't, then there's no idea internally as to who the next person may be, whether that's internally within the conference or externally bringing it to the House floor. They are ungovernable right now and their members know it.

The second problem they have is a lot of members left town last night. So, they're scrambling not just because of what we've all seen on TV, they're scrambling to get their members back so they can have full representation and consider this in what they call family meetings.

HUNT: Right. Because obviously, if you're going to require 217 votes, you can only use -- lose four on the floor, you need everybody in town, I mean it's, very basic.

Alice, I -- you know, I think that there is some recognition inside the conference of just how dire this is because here was Congressman Austin Scott yesterday night. Take a look.


REP. AUSTIN SCOTT (R-GA): There are people in there that are honorably trying to get to the right place and then there are people in there, as you know, that like to go on the TV and are not necessarily negotiating for anything other than TV time.


SCOTT: It makes us look like a bunch of idiots.

RAJU: Thanks.


HUNT: A bunch of idiots, Alice.

ALICE, STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND FORMER TED CRUZ COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, that's true. And many will not disagree with that. What we have going on there in the House is the tyranny of the vocal minority, and they are determined to work towards their agenda regardless of what is the best interest of the House and let alone the country.

And many of them are perfectly fine instead of agreeing to come together and compromise within the Republican caucus, we're not talking about working with Democrats, we're talking about your Republican colleagues, and they're -- they would -- instead of having the opportunity to get 80 percent of something, they would rather have 100 percent of nothing, which is exactly what we're going to have.

And look, the world is watching. They're looking at America. We are in complete disarray. The House cannot do the work of the will of the people, and that does not send a good signal to our allies or enemies abroad. HUNT: Right.

STEWART: And Steve Scalise at least had the class enough to step down so we wouldn't have this infighting on the public stage. But the ones that I speak with say they are frustrated. They want to get back to what they need to do, important work. How are they going to get aid to Israel? How are they going to continue package to Ukraine? How are they going to avoid another government shutdown on November 17th?


HUNT: Right.

STEWART: That's what they need to be talking about, not this food fight between who's going to be the next speaker.

HUNT: Doug, you know, the problem is, it's not clear, and you know, we -- you and I talked quite a bit about this when they were deposing Kevin McCarthy, right, that you can't beat somebody with nobody. Now, it's very clear that there is -- I mean, Scalise has long been the most viable alternative to Kevin McCarthy. He is now out of the running. Clearly, he couldn't get the support. I'm not clear that anybody can.

There's now this push to give McHenry additional power so that they can kind of function. I've been around this town long enough to know that if you remove pressure, it's less likely that something gets done, which I think is why McHenry is saying, absolutely not, I don't want to do that But, I mean, I am really at a loss as to how -- like, where they go from here. I mean, is there a dark horse that could emerge? Like, what do you think?

HEYE: Yes, you know, I remember -- unfortunately, I'm old enough to remember when Dennis Hastert emerged out of nowhere to become the speaker in 1998 -- after the 1998 elections. And, you know, what we saw is, we thought we had an heir apparent in Congressman Bob Livingston, who would have been a fantastic speaker, and that fell apart, and it then very quickly went to Denny Hastert, was on no one's radar screen.

There are several scenarios that can come out here, whether you're talking about working with Democrats, whether it's increasing powers or just making Patrick McHenry the speaker. I don't think anybody would be better suited than Patrick McHenry for this role, but you still have to get to 218 votes. And if that doesn't happen, we're going to have chaos to where Republicans aren't going to know what they want to do and dark horses will emerge. And they won't just emerge for speaker. If this happens, we could very well be looking at a new majority leader, a new majority whip.

And it comes down to in the sound what you played earlier, there is no trust with House Republicans right now within their own conference. And if that continues, we're going to be in this stalemate, I think, for a while. And that's where names that are on nobody's radar screen might be able to merge. We've been there before.

HUNT: Doug, do you think there's any world where they do work with Democrats?

STEWART: And, Kasie --

HUNT: Yes. I'm sorry, Alice, go ahead, quick last word.

STEWART: No, just -- you know, there's been so many spaghetti pieces thrown at the wall to see what's six. There was even a suggestion to have Scalise and Jordan sort of work together on a ticket together to bring everyone on the same page. But there's so many people that are just hell-bent on no with Scalise or Jordan. They're not moving. And it certainly doesn't help that Donald Trump has weighed in and thrown his support behind Jordan and even made a suggestion yesterday that Scalise, and he's concerned about his health.

HUNT: Right.

STEWART: So, Trump still has an impact in what's going on.

HUNT: Yes. No, when I woke up to that news, I definitely thought so. I mean, Doug, very briefly, any chance they work with Democrats?

HEYE: I'd say there's a 1 percent chance. You can't say that it's impossible because of all the improbable things that we've seen in Congress just in the past few weeks.

HUNT: I know. I've -- I'm past the point of saying, oh, that could never happen, because, hey, look, here we are, there's no speaker of the house for, you know, almost a week now.

HEYE: Who thought 15 votes would happen?

HUNT: Yes, exactly. Doug Heye, Alice Stewart --

STEWART: Right, right.

HUNT: -- thank you guys very much for being here. I really appreciate your time.

And analysis shows Hamas fighters trained for the surprise attacks on Israel less than a mile from the most patrolled section of the Gaza Israel border. New questions on this major intelligence failure coming up next.



HUNT: All right. Welcome back. A CNN investigation has found that Hamas repeatedly trained for their attack on Israel last week in at least six sites across Gaza, two of them less than two kilometers from the fortified and patrolled section of the Gaza Israel border.

With me now, New York Democratic Congressman Pat Ryan. He is an army vet who served two combat tours in Iraq as an intelligence officer. Congressman, good morning. I'm very grateful to have you here today. Let's start with this, you know, massive intelligence failure. I mean, I've talked to some intelligence officials and national security folks who say that this was a political failure as much as an intelligence one. That the political people have to want to look where the intelligence, you know, professionals are actually looking. But this is -- I mean, this is massive. If they were training for this attack less than a mile from this border?

REP. PAT RYAN (D-NY), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Certainly. And when we would complete any mission, any operation, we would have an absolutely tough, brutal, self-reflective after-action review, AAR, and really figure out what went wrong, what failed, what went well, and there is a time for that. This is not the time for that, though. And I think it's really critical that we understand what's happened, but also what's to come.

This is one of the -- if not the toughest fights wars Israel's ever been in, and that the time for us to focus on what happened in the past will come. What I think is critical right now, looking forward, is what gaps in the intel picture can we fill and must we fill now going forward?

HUNT: Right.

RYAN: It's clear there were some gaps. And now, those need to be filled, both for the Israeli services but also for our own as well.

HUNT: Right. So, I mean, that is really my question because what I have heard over and over again, and please correct me if you disagree with this, but basically, that the Israelis were relying too much on signals intelligence, which for people outside the field, it just means electronics, right? Cameras, sensors, things like that, and not enough on human intelligence. So, not enough on building relationships with people on the ground who were able to, you know, be the eyes and ears for the Israelis and learn about what's going on.

It seems to me that that kind of human intelligence is absolutely necessary if you're going to try and wage urban warfare on the ground in Gaza. How does Israel, you know, create that from -- I mean, it seems like they didn't have that at all here.

RYAN: Well, and again, it's too early to tell exactly what went into this, and there won't be a simple explanation. But you're right, when you rely on any single source of intelligence, signals intelligence, human intelligence, imagery intelligence, when you're just relying on a single source, it creates huge risk. And if that picture is wrong, then you can have a significant gap, and that seems to be what happened here.

The Israeli services are incredibly capable and competent, our services are as well. So, I know we're working 24/7 to fill those gaps. I was actually on the ground just two months ago, literally on the Gaza border as part of a congressional delegation where we focus on this issue. We were briefed on this issue. And it certainly hasn't been lost on me that at that time they were probably quite literally reconning that site when we were there. So, this is serious and it needs to be addressed and fixed. But I do have full confidence that it will be fixed. And we need to stand strongly, clearly with our allies, our staunchest allies in Israel, make sure they have what they need. And with Congress, where we are right now, with the MAGA chaos that we've had, that's hard to do. And so, that's certainly what I'm focused on is, how do we come together, not as partisans but as patriots, and support our allies in the intelligence realm, in the defense realm, on the armed and on the armed services committee? That's the work that I'm focused on as we go forward here.


HUNT: Sure. So, speaking of that, you posted on Wednesday talking about Senator Tuberville, who, of course, has been holding up military nominations. "It's time to end your maggot culture war, our staunchest ally, Israel's fighting, in a real war for their very survival, we much -- we must stand with them, drop your nomination, hold the safety of U.S. troops and Israeli families depends on it."

Obviously, Tuberville is holding up massive numbers of promotions. Can you help us understand, as someone who served, what impact this hold is actually having and why it matters in the context of Israel?

RYAN: Yes, when I talk to my friends that have served across the board, we are just out. We've been outraged. But now, in the moment that we're in, in an existential fight for our closest ally, it is just infuriating to see this partisan extremism putting at risk, not only Israeli citizens, those Palestinians in Gaza, but also our own troops.

When you have the Fifth Fleet now deployed in a very volatile risky situation without an actual Senate confirmed commander, when you have the number two for the entire Central Command not confirmed, when you have two service chiefs in the Navy and the Air Force not confirmed, there are real operational impacts that create significant risk.

It's not that different than when you talk about the intelligence situation where if you allow these systemic risks to grow and not be addressed, you don't know exactly how it's going to manifest, but when you have a commander doing two jobs that are incredibly intense, which is happening in over 300 key command positions right now, that puts us at grave risk. So, he needs to get his act together, stop being a politician, and start acting like a patriot.

HUNT: All right. Congressman Pat Ryan, thank you very much for your time this morning, sir. I hope you'll come back.

RYAN: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Hamas telling Gaza citizens to stay home as Israel tells them to get out, we're going to have much more live from Israel up next.



HUNT: Welcome back. This morning, a stark warning to residents of Gaza City, get out.


LT. COL. JONATHAN CONRICUS, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES INTERNATIONAL SPOKESMAN: The IDF calls for the evacuation of all civilians from Gaza City. I can -- I'll zoom in in a second. From Gaza City from their homes southwards for their own safety and protection, and to move to the area south of Wadi Gaza, the river Gaza, as shown on the map.


HUNT: All right. Let's bring in Israeli author and journalist Yossi Melman. Sir, good morning. Thank you very much for being with us.

This is a pretty stark order from the Israelis. Can you help explain it? Because my understanding is basically, they want to clear out civilians if they're going to go in to try to avoid a situation where Hamas is using civilians as cover. What do you think is the solution here? Hamas is saying don't go anywhere.

YOSSI MELMAN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, I think the purpose of that call to evacuate the area, already 400,000 people have been displaced. And now, Israel has called to evacuate another half a million. So, it practically would be half of the Palestinian population in Gaza.

Now, the aim is -- I think there are three stages there. First, it's maybe a psychological kind of attempt to maybe, maybe to trigger chain reaction in which eventually would lead to the people of Gaza to turn against the Hamas government, which is very unlikely.

The second aim is maybe to evacuate the area in order that Israel would create a security, a buffer zone between the Israeli border and Gaza and extend it to a two, three kilometers. Gaza is a very small area anyway. And the third purpose is if all these two measures don't work, then Israel will invade. No doubt about it.

HUNT: Right. So, sir, what is your view of what the Egyptians should be doing right now in this situation? They also share a border with Gaza.

MELMAN: Well, the Egyptians have the only outside access to the outer world. There is a crossing border with Egypt, the South of Gaza. The Egyptian can open the border and create a humanitarian corridor, which would allow people to leave for Sinai at least temporarily.

However, I'm not sure that the Egyptians are very, very keen to allowed it. They fear that it will be a Palestinian kind of inventions on their own borders. The Egyptians are a key player. They can broker any future solution. But I'm not sure that at this stage they have a great deal of leverage on the -- on Hamas. And the Hamas leadership is underground, is hiding. And I'm not sure there are good, clear communication lines between the Hamas leaders themselves and between them and the outside world. And that's one of the problems. For example, to negotiate the future of the hostages.

HUNT: Right. To negotiate the future of the hostages. And that, of course, a critical piece of all of this. Yossi Melman, thank you very much for your time this morning.

And of course, as we have been on the air today, Hamas is claiming 13 of those hostages have been killed in the course of Israeli airstrikes. CNN is trying to confirm that.

But in the meantime, thank you all for joining us. I am Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. "CNN This Morning" starts right now.