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Inside Politics

Secretary Of State Blinken Speaks In Qatar; Israeli Tanks On The Move Near Gaza Border; Israel Orders Northern Gaza Evacuation; Hamas Tells People To Stay; House Republicans Meeting This Morning To Discuss Path Forward; Jim Jordan Throws His Hat In The Ring For GOP Speaker Bid; IDF: In Past 24 Hours There Have Been Local Raids In Gaza Strip; Biden Calls Families Of Hamas Hostages. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 13, 2023 - 12:00   ET



ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: And I think any country faced with what Israel has suffered would likely do the same thing. Imagine if this had happened in the United States. So, that's what is happening. Of course, it's important to think about, as one might put it, the day after and where this goes. And I believe that is very much part of Israel's thinking as well as our own and the thinking of many other countries in the region, because one thing is for sure.

We can't go back to the status quo that allowed this to happen in the first place. So that has to be part of the thinking and it is. But the immediate focus, again, is on making sure that Israelis are protected, defended, and that, again, this can't be allowed to be repeated.

With regard to a second front, you put it. Yes, this is something that that we're very focused on. We have been from day one. We want to make sure that no other country or entity how to take advantage of the situation.

President has been very, very clear about that. He said very starkly that any state or non-state actor considering that should not, don't do it. And he's backed that up in a number of ways, including, as I mentioned the other day and is known, deploying our largest aircraft carrier battle group to the world that's really designed to help ensure that anyone contemplating getting engaged, doesn't do it.

But beyond that, a big part of my own conversations here throughout this trip, including today, following up the next couple of days is working with other countries to make sure that they're using their own influence, their own relationship to make that case.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to Inside Politics. We've been listening to the U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken in Hamas's backyard. He is in Qatar, and he called Hamas's actions unconscionable and warned any country against offering them safe harbor. Talk about that in a minute, particularly given where the secretary of state is right now.

But also today, we are seeing Israeli tanks on the move. Busses of troops are getting closer to the Gaza border as strikes intensify. This just hours after the IDF warning to more than one million civilians leave northern Gaza now, so they can "deal with Hamas terrorists."

Now, even though Hamas told everyone to stay, some are listening. But then the U.N. is warning that getting everyone out is an impossible task that could have dire consequences. And open question is where are Gaza's Arab neighbors? Many of them quite wealthy when it comes to the safe passage and assistance for innocent Palestinians.

We're going to start our coverage in Israel with CNN's Nic Robertson in Sderot. Nic, I wanted you to talk about obviously what you're seeing there. But as you do, I also curious, I know you were listening to the secretary of state, the U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken.

Very interesting words that he had, while in Qatar, about being very, very deliberate about Hamas, and the actions, the terrorism that Hamas terrorists took last Saturday and beyond inside Israel and trying to do a very delicate diplomatic dance there.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. On the one hand, essentially telling Qatar politely, but directly that they need to rebuke at the very least Hamas who they give a political space to operate in Qatar. I've been to Qatar a couple of times, specifically, to interview the leaders of Hamas, because that's where they're allowed to reside. That's where they're allowed to give, you know, their messages if you will.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday said that all these political offices that Hamas have around the world should be shut down. And Secretary Blinken, in part is carrying part of that message that this is a way by shutting down those offices of that signaling to Hamas that they have crossed the line, that they are going to be penalized and punished for this.

But on the other hand, he's also speaking to the Qatar is in their capacity, because they host Hamas, of having a dialogue with Hamas about releasing the hostages. So, Qatar can play several roles there and it's played roles in the past when there have been previous contacts. It is Egypt to that gets involved diplomatically to help find ways to reduce the tensions and the conflict.


But it is often Qatar that comes in through its relationship, the relationship it chooses to have with Hamas to help put money into Gaza that will alleviate some of the social hardships in essence that perhaps undermine Hamas, but Hamas has access to that money, uses it for the projects that it wants Palestinian civilians given the right to come and work inside of Israel, you know, up to about 20,000.

So, Qatar has been played this important role across all facets of defusing the situation. And the hostage issue is on a very fine timeline because Israel is getting ready for a ground incursion, which puts the hostages in a very immediate in greater jeopardy.

BASH: So complicated, so nuanced, and we're so lucky to have you here to explain because that context is critical. Nic, you are standing there near the border with Gaza. You have been reporting on, what the IDF, the Israeli military is doing to prepare for a possible ground invasion. What are you seeing at this hour as night has now fallen there?

ROBERTSON: More artillery strikes on the northern end of Gaza. The area that the IDF has told Gaza's residents to move out of. It's not at a very high tempo right now, but it's started up. We've seen a few rockets come out of Gaza today, but not as many as before.

And noticeably last night, which was the heaviest barrage of missile and artillery fire on Gaza that we've seen so far. No rockets coming out of Gaza, which I think tells its own accounting of how to stop the rockets coming out when there's heavy fire going into Gaza. Hamas, the other groups cannot operate and get their rockets out.

But there's tempo of build-up and build-up and the request to civilians to move out of the way for safety. This is all instructive about how close we may be getting to a possible ground incursion, perhaps not tonight, perhaps not tomorrow. But I think after that, the expectations are that it becomes a very real life possibility, when Israel gets the information intelligence, actionable, real time that will help it achieve its goals.

BASH: Nic Robertson, thank you so much for that fantastic reporting. And here with me to share their insights based on their years of experience, retired Air Force Intelligence Officer, Colonel Cedric Leighton, and former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Beth Sanner.

You were sitting with me at for the end of the U.S. secretary of state and his comments. You were sort of nodding your head when you were listening to -- both of you, when you were listening to Nic, explain the goal that Tony Blinken has as he has multiple goals, when he is dealing with the Qataris and other stops that he's going to have along the way in the Arab world.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: He certainly does, Dana, and you know, the key thing about this is to think of Qatar as kind of a Switzerland or you want to be Switzerland in the Middle East. What they're trying to do is they're trying to bridge the gap between several different major players in the Middle East, one of them being Hamas, the other being Israel. And another one being Iran.

Plus, of course, have to deal with the Saudis, which they haven't been very successful with in the past in some instances. And they also, of course, have a major American presence in their country in the form of military bases there. So that becomes, in essence, the jumping off point for discussions on the diplomatic front. And that's why contour is so important to the secretary of state on his trip right now.

BASH: And Beth, let's talk about the Israeli order to evacuate Gaza, or at least part of Gaza. My question for you is well multiple. One is the obvious, how are they supposed to do that? Without, let's just take one example, the U.N. working with Israel to allow the refugees out to find a corridor out. Egypt, the neighbor there, allowing a corridor out, or I don't know, some of the wealthy Arab countries, including Qatar, where the secretary of state is right now helping, whether it is financially or in any other way. Their fellow Arabs inside the -- inside Gaza.

BETH SANNER, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I have heard this kind of horrible, cynical phrase that a lot of Middle East experts have said over many years that the Arab states are willing to fight Israel to the last Palestinian. And it kind of tells you a lot about, you know, kind of where we're coming from, what the history has been here.


And so, you know, on the one hand, too, you have just so much pressure from Israel saying no, that they are not going to let up this siege until the hostages are released. Then there's a complication of people moving south, are there going to be fighters mixed in with that.

BASH: Yes. And as you're talking, I should say that we're putting up on the screen a map that kind of gives you a sense of the other Arab countries in the neighborhood. And then of course, you saw where Gaza is vis-a-vis.

SANNER: Exactly. So, when Blinken goes to these countries, these are exactly the things he's talking. He's talking about, you know, basically three things. One is in Qatar and included a very much so included is Iran, preventing this escalation from escalating and Qatar is one of our main conduits to Iran, just like they were with the Taliban, they hosted the Taliban negotiations for us.

So, they have a long role in that. But the hostages, and then the refugee situation that's going to become very important in Egypt. Very important. We give them a lot of money, Dana. So, I mean, you know, I think that a lot of pressure has to come to bear, give you a lot of money, the Egypt, Egypt.

You know, Qatar is under a lot of pressure right now, the Emir was in Germany yesterday, and talking about this LNG, liquefied natural gas deal that they are just doing. And many people in Germany are saying, you know what, maybe we shouldn't be given that deal to them.

BASH: So, this is a conversation about well, multifold, but primarily is what happens to the innocent Palestinian civilians. You are both intelligence experts and have a lot of experience. What about the hostages? And do you have any hope that they -- that there was real insight into where they are inside the intelligence communities in the U.S. and in Israel?

LEIGHTON: More in Israel, perhaps because they are more tactically focused right now than in the U.S., although the U.S. can provide some data that can help with something like this. I do have some hope that some of the hostages can be freed based on historical precedent, based on the capabilities of the Israeli forces, and perhaps based on a potential success in negotiations, even a partial success. But it's a tenuous hope. And it's something that I think would take some time to realize, and I don't know how much time we really have, I think it's pretty limited.

SANNER: Hamas says that 13 have already been killed in airstrikes. We don't know if that's true or not. We know that they're probably spread out in tunnels, very hard to locate. We don't have complete. I don't think the Israelis have a complete understanding of that. There is hope that the Qataris will be able to get out, women and children maybe in exchange. But I think we also need to prepare ourselves mentally for not a good outcome in the hostages.

BASH: It's a big statement. But a realistic one, obviously. Real quick, there are massive protests around the globe today. How high is the threat level? Should the threat level be right now globally, and here in the U.S.?

SANNER: Well, I think one of the things we have to look for, it is a ring, right, concentric rings. So, we have schools closed down in Europe, because they're worried about threats. Here in the United States, we have to worry about Jewish places of worship. But in places like Iraq and Syria in particular, where we have these proxy groups with a lot of deniability, but links to Iran, I really think are up on very high alert there.

LEIGHTON: Yes, I agree. I think, you know, you look at what's happening in Iraq, big protests in Baghdad. You look what's happening in Yemen. Big protests in Sanaa and several other cities. In several other places in the Middle East, it's pretty clear that the fuse is about to be lit. And we have to be very, very careful with this. So, if I were, you know, working a warning system or the terrorist alert levels, I would have to say that you definitely have to be possibly raised, it should be high at this point.

BASH: All right. Well, thank you both for that incredibly important to talk about the view, given how long you both works in intelligence. We're going to continue to cover all of the latest developments out of Israel and Gaza.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, Republican chaos like we have never seen before in Congress, and that is saying something. They have no idea who the next House speaker will be. We'll talk about that next.




BASH: Welcome back to Inside Politics. House Republicans will try again at 1pm eastern, so 40 minutes from now to vote on a new speaker nominee. It is not clear if anyone in the Republican conference can get the 217 votes, they would need to win on the House floor. Congress has been paralyzed for nearly two weeks now with no speaker and the way forward is very, very unclear.

CNN's Melanie Zanona joins me now. Melanie, I was saying before the last break. I've seen a lot on Capitol Hill. This none of that comes close to the dysfunction that is happening inside the house, Republican conference right now.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. You're absolutely right. I mean, the sudden collapse of Steve Scalise speakership bid last night, has really plunged the GOP into further chaos and really heightened to this leadership crisis that they are facing. They are back at square one and there are serious questions about if and how they are going to move forward, which is just a kind of crazy thing to say, but it is absolutely the reality right now.

Now, the current plan, as you mentioned is that they are going to huddle at 1pm. They're going to have another candidate forum where they're going to try to rally around a new speaker. As of right now there are two candidates who are in the race. That's Jim Jordan, who tried to run against Steve Scalise and nearly came up short earlier this week.

And now we have a new candidate that I'm told just deciding to get into the race. That is Austin Scott. He's a Georgia Republican and he is against Jim Jordan. So, really think about this in the terms of he's just running as the anti-Jordan alternative.


And I will tell you there is a lot of sentiment in the party right now that they do not want to just get behind Jim Jordan. They're burned by how this whole process went down and a lot of people in the more middle of the party are deeply concerned with the idea of a Jim Jordan speakership. Let's take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, is the conference ready to elect Jim Jordan.

REP. TIM BURCHETT, (R-TN): Very close, very close. But there's still some holdouts that I understand, and they need to be talked to individually.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What is your level of concern about Jim Jordan?

REP. ANN WAGNER, (R-MO): I think, I laid that out yesterday.

RAJU: Has that changed at all?

WAGNER: Not overnight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think, you said you'll get (Ph) 217 votes?

BURCHETT: That's a mystery that wrapped in an enigma.


ZANONA: So, the big picture here is that Jim Jordan is going to face an equally difficult time, trying to get those 217 votes, that he's going to need on the House floor. So, after the candidate forum, they will have at some point another election where they get behind closed doors, do a secret ballot elect someone new, and then they still have to go to the floor.

And meanwhile, they're also dealing with attendance issues now, because a number of frustrated lawmakers decided to skip town and didn't want to stick around. But as of right now down to no consensus, no speaker and no ability to govern.

BASH: No, I've got to keep it clean. Thank you so much, Melanie, I appreciate it. I actually want to go back. We're going to have a discussion about this in a minute. I want to go back to Israel, CNN's Nic Robertson is live there. Nic, what are you learning?

ROBERTSON: Well, we've just learned from the Israeli Defense Force that they have put some troops across the border into Gaza in the past 24 hours. They call it a local, a local -- looking for the language here exactly a local raid. And so, a limited incursion, a local raid is a language they use to describe the troops that they've sent across into Gaza.

It's not clear how many they've sent across. It's not clear yet what their mission was. It's not clear yet if their mission was successful. It's not clear yet if they had any casualties. But this is the first time since the weekend, since this big buildup of forces that we've heard from the IDF that they have, in fact, sent troops inside the Gaza Strip.

This they say was over the past 24 hours, the indication seems to be that this was limited. And the indication seems to be that it is over now that those troops are out. And that would perhaps be within the sort of expected operational parameters for something like this, that the IDF would not announce something like this. Well, they had forces over the border inside of Gaza itself.

BASH: It really is interesting that they did make this public. And you said very clearly that, we don't know what the mission is right now. I mean, you would think it might be twofold. One is to try to get hostages. Another is that they located some of the terrorists or some of the higher-ranking officials in Hamas they are looking for. But what does it tell you that we know this information right now.

ROBERTSON: There's another thing to add to that mix of what it might be as well. It might be going in to recover bodies. It might be going into recover soldiers who died over the weekend and have been on the other side of the fence. It could be as simple as that.

But what it speaks to is that Israel is more and more on a footing where it can go into this very dangerous area for troops and be ready to protect itself and carry out a mission. And it's indicative that there will be more missions like this to come. I think until we get the details of precisely what it was, it was more than just, let's say, a body recovery, then that will tell us that they're really on a forward footing at the moment.

BASH: Thank you so much for that, Nic. I want to bring back Colonel Cedric Leighton, who will hopefully continue to give us a bit of perspective on what Nic just reported. What are your thoughts? LEIGHTON: So, Dana, the key indicator here is that this was a series of small raids in every single one of the options you talked about, you know, possibly a hostage recovery mission, possibly the business about going after the senior leadership of Hamas, and or the recovery of the remains of dead Israeli soldiers. All of those are possibilities.

I am thinking it's either number one or two at this point. In essence, what they're looking for is would be a perfect thing for Israeli intelligence to recover. Its lost luster in the wake of the debacle on the strategic front if they have a good tactical intelligence success where their special operations forces come in. And they actually have a successful mission, of course we don't know yet whether or not the mission has been successful.


We have no idea, you know, what the actual targets were. But it seems as if this is the kind of mission where special operations forces would go in and have very fine targets -- finite targets that would go in and they would be able to take actions on them and meet limited objectives in that way.

BASH: Colonel, I'm just being told in my ear that the IDF says that they were in fact, searching for hostages as part of this raid and we do not know if that was successful. Again, what does that tell you as a former intelligence officer?

LEIGHTON: So, the likelihood is very high that we might be disappointed with the outcome of the stain of because of the way in which Hamas operates. But we could see, hopefully, some success, but I don't want to give anybody any false hope at this point in time.

It's very early in this, the IDF if things are successful, at some point, the IDF is clearly going to announce that they have rescued hostages. And of course, that would be a big political as well as military victory for the Israelis. And it would also clear the way for further incursions from an operational standpoint on the military side, further incursions of a more conventional nature if they choose to do them into Gaza.

So that, you know, we're kind of in this environment now. So, if this was a hostage rescue mission or trying to find out where the hostages are, that would be a classic special operations mission. And it would be something that would have a high payoff for the Israeli political and military leadership.

BASH: Thank you so much for jumping on and helping us to make sense of this breaking news, fascinating and important breaking news. We are now also getting information from the White House that the president was just on a call with the families of missing Americans, Americans, presumably held by Hamas terrorists.

I want to talk about this and more with our panel, CNN's Audie Cornish, PBS NewsHour, White House correspondent Laura Barron-Lopez, and Amy Walter, the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Cook Political Report.

Let's just stay on President Biden, and the way that he and his administration have been handling what's going on there. And what we just heard from the White House minutes ago, which is that the president is talking to families of Americans presumed, we don't know for sure, but presumed to be held hostage by Hamas.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I think the president is doing what he's supposed to in this moment, right? As opposed to what we are seeing in the House and with House Republicans. I think that there is nothing more to be done than to be very, very direct and clear about what your position is. And he has done that through his speeches and actions.

And the truth is, on the other side of the ledger, so to speak, the alleged front runner for Republicans is not having any kind of conversation like that, has not been able to articulate in any way where he stands, what he thinks should be done. And so, you know, for all the people who have been concerned about Joe Biden, as a president, we are going to have a lot of performance here to judge going forward.

BASH: I should add, Laura, that we are told that there were 14 families who were represented on this call, that call lasted for over an hour. And it included not just President Biden, but also his National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and Roger Carstens, who is his ambassador or Trump holdover, I should note, and his ambassador who helps negotiate the release of hostages globally.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS HEWSHOUR: Yes, I think that right now and this woman, I was just talking to a source earlier this morning, who's close to President Biden, who's known him for a very long time.

And who said that in this moment, you know, President Biden is pretty comfortable that this is thing, his experience, whether it be in the Senate, or is vice president, he has -- right and he has been in these positions for a very long time has a relationship going back to the 80s, with Benjamin Netanyahu the Prime Minister of Israel.

And on foreign policy, he's incredibly comfortable. And this is something that we're seeing right now in real time that he came out and made a very forceful and direct speech, as Audie said, and has stuck to essentially what he believes in terms of his forceful support of Israel. But also trying to explicitly state that his administration, one of their main priorities is to keep this as confined as possible, and to make sure that it doesn't expand.

BASH: It's a great point.

AMY WALTER, PUBLISHER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: You know, and then we move to the next question, which is a president. I think, I agree with both of you. This is a stage on which he is incredibly comfortable.