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White House gives Update on Attacks in Israel; Main Electrical Power Supply to Gaza has Run Out; Sirens Sound in Northern Israel Near Lebanese Border; State Department: At Least 22 U.S. Citizens have Died in Israel. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 11, 2023 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, blackness and bombs. As we come on air right now it is just afternoon here in Washington. It is just after seven in the evening in Israel and in Gaza. On the Israeli side of the border sirens are sounding on the Gaza side the power supply is gone as pock marks of black smoke show the steadily sharpening IDF response.

CNN Correspondents are on the front lines of these war just miles from the Gaza border. That's where CNN's Nic Robertson is right now. Nic, what are you seeing there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, we're hearing heavy detonations just across the fence line in Gaza from artillery rounds that are being fired. We've seen heavy artillery and placements, just a few miles from here earlier on in the day. They weren't there yesterday.

They're there now. And these heavy artillery rounds appear to be sort of targeting the places where Hamas might be trying to fire their rockets from. But we're also hearing drone activity we've seen just round the hill behind me there. What you heard there was another of those artillery rounds impacting in Gaza.

BASH: Sorry to interrupt. Nic we're going to come back to you. We just have to get to the President of the United States who is speaking we'll be right there.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: -- Jewish American leaders. This attack has brought to the surface the painful memories and scars left by millennia of anti-Semitism and genocide against the Jewish people.

And this moment, we have to be crystal clear. There is no justification for terrorism, no excuse. And the type of terrorism was exhibited here was just beyond the pale beyond the pale. As I said yesterday, my commitment Israel security and the safety of the Jewish people is unshakable.

The United States has Israel's back. And we're going to be working on this all through today and beyond. But again, I apologize for keeping you waiting. Thank you, Becky, for that introduction. And for sharing your story that's familiar to so many families. This gets down to a basic problem, a basic circumstance, just about fairness, just about simple fairness. You know, folks have been tired of being --

BASH: Listening to President Biden who opened a discussion there at the White House by making clear and his words there is no excuse for terrorism, and that the U.S. is and he in particular is committed to the safety of Israel and noteworthy he used the term Jewish people.

I want to go back to Nic. Nic, I know that you are in a very dangerous and precarious situation I'm so sorry for interrupting you. Please continue with what you are reporting on what you're seeing there.

ROBERTSON: We were seeing some tank fire down behind me -- behind me it's sort of in the dark now. You can't really see it. But it's sort of wide open, rolling hills, dusty fields, if you will, and sand down towards the fence of the border with Gaza.

And we've heard over the past 24 hours, tanks operating maneuvering in that area. And we've seen -- we saw two rounds fired by a tank we don't know why? We don't know what the purpose of that fire was? But we do know from our vantage point here that's something new.


We know that there are more troops around here. There are more troops in this town, more troops deployed around this region. We've been driving a lot along the border with Gaza tonight; we may have another loud explosion behind me in a second. It may happen. That thanks to John who can see the flashes, John.

I can really you can see the flashes in the horizon behind me there's Gaza. When he sees that flash, it's normally about four seconds or so. There's another one he was telling me a few seconds or so before you hear that huge explosion. Some of those explosions have been so big; they rattle the windows of this building that we're in right here.

So that's -- the dynamic is an increased military presence. We've seen more troops deployed close to the border here more heavy armored fighting vehicles. There that's another one of the explosions just such a heavy thud and impact there on the ground inside Gaza.

But you get the sense here that the tempo is moving up. There are more troops here, more troops patrolling the streets here, more troops deployed in the countryside close to the border. Where that -- where the next piece of this puzzle about for the Prime Minister about what to do next for the military how to execute those orders?

We don't have sight on them. But I can say what we do have sight on is just a building and building and strengthening military presence here, Dana.

BASH: OK, Nic. Stay safe, as safe as you can. Thanks to you and your team for being out there and telling us what is coming? The tempo is moving up. That is certainly an important sentence. One of many important sentences that you just uttered, Nic, thank you.

And I want to now go to news that is just coming into CNN the IDF says they've received reports of infiltrators crossing the border from Lebanon into Israeli airspace. I want to get straight to CNN's Hadas Gold in Jerusalem. I was just talking to Nic, who was on the border with Gaza. You were talking about a different front in the North of Israel?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana. And this is also the front that so worries people because of Hezbollah's presence there. So we are just now receiving information from the Israeli military, that sirens have been going off across all of Northern Israel, I want to show you this image just off my phone.

This is an app that shows you where there are alerts. And you might just be able to see that kind of bunch of red because that's the entire northern part of Israel. These are cities like Haifa. These are cities like the Upper Galilee (ph) that -- they have been complete -- almost all of them have received sirens of some kind.

Now, from what we understand the Israeli military other thing is suspected infiltration from Lebanon, into Israeli airspace. We are not clear whether these are gliders, drones, or something like that Israeli media is reporting that there have been some sightings of some sort of aircrafts. And I have also received another alert of there's a suspected terrorist infiltration, they say in one of these towns in the North.

The biggest fear right now, of course, is not only Hezbollah's involvement, but if these are the sort of paragliders we saw from Hamas in the south, if they are -- if they have militants on them that might be landing and then trying to infiltrate communities in the north.

Now, most of the communities in the north are well aware, of course of what's been happening in Gaza, they are being advised to not only go into their safe rooms, but now to lock if they can lock their doors, go inside, lock your doors, and stay inside of a safe room.

If I mean, just based off of the number of sirens that went off, it could be a big number. But it's not clear whether this is just a bunch of drones being sent up to sort of cause these alerts to go out and cause panic, or whether these are actually manned aircraft with militants on them trying to seek to harm Israeli civil civilians in the north.

And of course, the biggest question, who is behind this? Hamas does have a presence in Southern Lebanon. But of course Hezbollah controls southern Lebanon. And then of course, what will the response be? This has been the biggest fear is that the north will blow up because of Hezbollah gets involved in this war.

This raises this war to an entirely different level. Hezbollah is one of the reasons why you see that American aircraft carrier off the coast of Israel, not so much Hamas. It's because of actors like Hezbollah. BASH: Can I just ask you one follow up question Hadas? It was a little bit hard to see your phone. So if you could just explain to people who aren't familiar with the systems that are there in place for people? And as I'm asking you this question, we have a map that can sort of better allow viewers to understand what we're talking about when we speak of the north, the northern part of Israel and we're talking about the border with Lebanon.

So number one, if you can explain again what the red dots on your alert system on your phone showed? And also if you can also put our -- explain to our viewers what we're talking about? We don't know as you said very clearly and we should underscore.


We do not know what is in the sky. But we do know -- we believe what capability when it comes to guided missiles that Hezbollah has in Southern Lebanon.

GOLD: Yes, Dana. So first off this, Israel is blanketed in a system that can alert people ahead of time, whether there are rockets in coming or other things could be coming in, in the sky? And it's each part of Israel is, is broken up into very, very specific areas.

So that's why if a siren actually goes off, because this radar recognizes that a missile is likely to land, for example, south of where I am in Southern Jerusalem, the alarm will only go off in Southern Jerusalem, the alarm for me will not necessarily go off. And so I might not have to go into the safe room.

And so that's why it's incredible to see that entire -- essentially the entire of the north is being told that sirens are going off, and they need to go into protected space. Because normally, when you have these rockets, it's can be rather specific, you might be able to hear the sirens, you might know that something's happening, you can often -- to actually hear the explosions.

But this is why all of those red dots represent a separate specific area that can have sirens go off just for that little area to advise residents to go into a protected space. And that's why it's so worrying to see literally the entire northern part of the country blanketed in these red dots.

BASH: Hadas, thank you so much. We will get back to you. As you see and hear more. I want to go back to Nic Robertson, who is on the border with Gaza. Nic, what are you seeing there in the night sky?

ROBERTSON: We've seen tracer rounds or chaff, if you will, from the fighter jets that are sort of trying to put out a signal that confuses any anti-aircraft systems or a surface to air missile or something that might be fired out. And we saw that we've seen more tank rounds in the last few minutes.

Indeed, while I was speaking to you before, apparently, some tank rounds were fired off behind me and a barrage of smaller artillery in the last few minutes while Hadas has been speaking. So again, it's that tempo, it's the continual pushing and pushing and pushing on Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces as they bring more and more firepower into place.

They can hope at least begin to suppress some of that rocket fire that's been -- that's been -- that's been outgoing. I'll pause for a second; I may not be able to hear your question. So as I just tried to -- just try to reconnect to you here.

BASH: Nic, I'm not sure if you can hear me? I understand as I said, before you are in. You're in a war zone. And comms are quite precarious. Can you hear me now?


BASH: Please continue.

ROBERTSON: The phone lines do occasionally go down here. Yes. And the phone lines do go down here. I mean, this is it. Yes. And the electricity goes off. And then you can have -- you can have a phone connection, but not an internet connection.

And I think some part of that that we see here on the ground is when there's a Hamas cell detected, or infiltrators detected, and very quickly, the security forces move on, move into that area. But the things are done to isolate them, like perhaps switch off the power light, perhaps, you know, deny internet access through the phone.

These sorts of things, these sorts of techniques but it are a volatile situation is probably an understatement. And when you move out of here, as we have done today, out of this town of -- and you move further around the countryside, and I was mentioning before about the security on the roads, and the government has put a very, very big security cordon if you will, around many, many miles beyond the Gaza border.

So it's creating this large buffer zone now that not only has the troops inside of it and there are police force inside of it, but an area that civilians will find it hard to get into as well.

BASH: Nic, thank you so much to you and to your team. Really appreciate it. And here to talk about what we just heard from our excellent reporters inside Israel is Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Retired General Philip Breedlove and Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Thank you both for being here.

Director Clapper, I'll start with you about what we heard from Hadas Gold, about the alerts that they are getting all over the north in Israel about incursions possible incursion from Lebanon?


JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, this is not obviously a good development at all. The last thing Israelis needed in this situation is a two front confrontation with Hamas in the Gaza and Hezbollah, out of Lebanon. So, you know, first reports never quite fully accurate. So we need to see what I think we need more information and know what's actually going on. I'm quite sure that whatever efforts can be made to prevail upon first Lebanese government, which probably not going to get much out of that, or the Iranians to suppress Hezbollah and stop the violence there.

But again, it's a little early to know just what's going on, obviously, Israelis a little better positioned to react, and in fact, they already have, since they were caught by surprise, in Gaza. So from my part as Intel guy, I think we need more information.

BASH: Yes, absolutely. General Breedlove, your thoughts on what you heard from our reporters on the ground?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): I don't think it's surprising. I'll pile on to something Director Clapper said, I mean, a two front war is a bigger problem and something we had hoped to avoid, I believe. But I think we have to recognize that Iran is pulling the strings here in Iran understands that a two front war is going to cause Israel much more problems. And so I've expected this, from the beginning, as many others have.

BASH: Director Clapper staying on the topic of Iran sources continue to tell CNN that the U.S. has collected specific intelligence that Iran did not play a direct role in the Hamas terror attack. First of all, how can the intelligence agencies be so sure, about a negative? Meaning, how can they be so sure that Iran didn't?

And I should say, as I asked you that question, we should make sure our viewers understand that Iran has been very active for years in financing Hamas and Hezbollah. But in this case, the question is taking a role in actually planning the attack.

CLAPPER: Right. I don't have any inside baseball here, Dana, on what has led to the reporting apparently that the U.S. intelligence community has positive information that the Iranians weren't aware unnecessarily of the attack, or it or more probably its timing. That said Iran, as General Breedlove has indicated is clearly influential here they have provided weapons in training to the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, in Yemen, et cetera.

Now as to what led to that, if it's accurate and valid? What led to that it could have been any number of things that has led the community to come to that conclusion to include, perhaps a signal intelligence or some other indirect intelligence, human intelligence has led them to that conclusion.

I will say, finally, though, historically, Hamas and Iran have not had a real intimate relationship. It's much different between Iran and Hezbollah.

BASH: That's really interesting historic point of reference. General Breedlove going back to what we heard from our Nic Robertson, close to the border with Gaza, he talked about and he's been there since it started on Saturday. He talked about the tempo increasing with the feeling that he has near the border of the IDF moving in and moving closer to the border. What does that tell you?

BREEDLOVE: Well, we're all anticipating the eventual push into Gaza. And I would expect that as they get closer to that push, they're going to start trying to affect those close-in targets that would be the first threats that their forces would face as they go over the berms and over the knocked down portions of the wall, et cetera, that they'll have to do to get into Gaza and so as we have talked about many times in the last two or three days, this business of attacking into a densely packed urban area dense in buildings and structures and dense in people.


This is a hard job, the very best of our militaries worry about this job. It's not something that is taken lightly by anyone. And when it happens, both sides are going to take casualties. And so Israel will be doing the preparatory fires. We call it setting the scene or setting the conditions for that initial entry, which will be one of the most dangerous portions of the mission.

BASH: No question about that. And what you were alluding to is the fact that you have more than 2 million people in a very densely populated, small area, I should say, in Gaza, a lot of civilians there. Thank you both. Incredible to have both of you, Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Retired General Philip Breedlove, and Former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, thank you so much to both of you.

And up next, a member of the House Intelligence Committee will be here to tell us what he's hearing about the possibility of Iran's involvement in these Hamas terror attacks. Stay with us.



BASH: You were looking at images from moments ago that is Haifa. That is a town that is in the north of Israel, but not that far north. And this helps to describe what Hadas Gold was explaining that she saw on her phone as part of the alert system that Israel has, that sirens go off. And it is a signal for people to take cover to go into safe rooms and spaces.

And this is the scene moments ago, in the town of Haifa. We still do not know the specifics of what prompted these emergency alerts to go off again according to Hadas Gold all across the north of Israel and looking at a map which we'll show you shortly.

It goes down to Haifa, which is not that far north when you talk about the north of Israel. There you go. So that is happening. And right now the scary unknown at the Biden Administration is trying to figure out what is happening with American families with missing loved ones in Israel, whether their relatives are dead or alive. MJ Lee joins me now from the White House with new reporting. MJ what are you learning?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dana, what I'm being told by a U.S. official is that the Biden Administration still does not know anything about the condition of American hostages that have been taken by Hamas.

As you will remember yesterday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that they estimate that there are some 20 Americans that are currently missing an account unaccounted for, but they don't know how many of them have been taken hostage.

That number I am told would be revised down if anyone in that group is determined to have been killed. And this is a very grim possibility. I'm told that the administration is very much bracing for I should tell you also that there is this sort of cross government effort that is currently underway to try to get a better handle on the American hostages situation.

I'm told that there are phone calls that are coming in to the U.S. Embassy in Israel, the FBI, the White House as well from family members and friends who believe they have information about somebody they know who has been taken hostage or is missing.

But a part of the complication Dana is that we are talking about eyewitness accounts, and some of them are secondhand accounts. So really, there is a real challenge in trying to verify the information that these various agencies are getting. As for the U.S. Special Ops that have been deployed to lend their hostage expertise to this issue, I am told that it is not an extraction mission.

In other words, there is not some physical effort underway. Certainly there are no U.S. troops on the ground to try to physically get out the U.S., the American hostages that are believed to be in Gaza. So this is sort of a bit of a color and an effort to show you what the furious efforts are underway right now by the administration to try to get a better handle on the hostage situation, which obviously is a top priority for the President. I should quickly note that he did just speak again for the fourth time with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Dana.

BASH: MJ, thank you so much for that reporting. And I should say as MJ was reporting on the unaccounted for Americans, we got new information from the State Department that at least 22 U.S. citizens have died in Israel, at least 22 U.S. citizens have died in Israel.

With that, I want to bring in Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, thank you so much for joining me. Let's start with what we just heard from MJ about the unaccounted for Americans. Is there anything that you can tell us as somebody who has been briefed with the information as much information as the U.S. government knows?

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Well Dana, this is horrific. It's barbaric. As we learn more about these attacks, the more sickening it becomes, and there's no doubt that Hamas must be destroyed. There's no way both for the Israeli people and for the Palestinian people, who also are victims of Hamas that they can be allowed to continue to operate and exist and have any military capacity. The challenge with identifying U.S. citizens is there's a lot of dual citizens, dual U.S. Israeli citizens that are a part of that number. But the United States government never requires Americans to tell the U.S. government when they're traveling, where they're traveling and where they're going to?

We are a democracy. We are a free and open society so Americans can travel and it's very hard for the State Department and any administration ever keep tabs on folks. So it takes some time to actually get those numbers but the administration has been very transparent about it.

BASH: Let's turn to Iran and questions that everybody is asking.