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Israel Strikes 320 Targets In Gaza Overnight; Sources: U.S. Seeking To Delay Israeli Ground Offensive Into Gaza For More Hostage Talks; Defense Secretary Austin Says U.S. Is 'Concerned About Potential Escalation' In Middle East; Israeli-American Reservist Dies In Missile Attack; Israel Prepares For Possible Ground Invasion; Israel Plans Evacuations For More Northern Town; Nine Republicans Vie To Be Speaker. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 23, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on INSIDE POLITICS, panic, pain and fear of what's next. Israeli forces are ramping up airstrikes in response to Hamas terrorist attack, the barbaric attack in Israel just over two weeks ago. The IDF says, 320 quote terror targets were struck in Gaza overnight, including tunnels and operational command centers used by Hamas.

New video from Gaza city shows the aftermath of those strikes this morning, whole streets reduced to rubble. As the humanitarian crisis deepens, sources tell CNN the White House is pushing for a pause on any ground incursion into Gaza. A move they hope will allow time to get much needed aid to Gaza and more hostages freed.

Since Hamas released two American hostages on Friday, there is still hope that the 222 others kidnapped during the October 7 attack at Israel could go home too. The Biden administration is sidestepping questions about Israel's plans for the next phase against their war on Hamas. But they're working vigorously to try to stop it from spreading across the region.

I want to bring in my colleague Jake Tapper, who is now in Tel Aviv. Jake, I know you just arrived, but what is the feeling right now on the ground?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I'm in Tel Aviv, and it's just after 7 pm here, and I have to say it's very quiet. One of the reasons of course, is that fighting age men have been mobilized and are in the reserves and are around Gaza ready to invade, ready for that ground encouraging but encouraging.

But also, of course, there is still -- it's only been two weeks in change since that horrific terrorist attack of October 7. There is still a sense of mourning, a sense of sadness in Israel. And beyond that, of course, a sense of anxiety be about what is going to happen next.

How long is this ground incursion going to last? Will it be a matter of months? Will it be a matter of years? What will happen after that? Does this current government, the Netanyahu government that was in charge, of course on October 7. Do they have a strategy for the ground incursion and for what happens next? So, I would say it's quiet, it's more in full and a lot of anxiety. Dana?

BASH: Yes. I'm sure that quiet that you're feeling, and you can see it is quite eerie there, Jake. Standby because I want to bring in our colleague Jeremy Diamond, who is south of you in Ashkelon. Jeremy, what is the latest there on the ground?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Dana, yesterday we heard IDF officials say that they were going to be intensifying their strikes on Gaza. And today we are hearing and seeing the evidence of that. This evening, we have been hearing a steady thud pounding of the Gaza Strip in the background. The sounds of bombs hitting the Gaza Strip.

Last night, we know, that the IDF struck 320 targets overnight, which was a significant increase. Striking tunnels where they say there were fighters as well as operational command centers. They also struck missile and mortar positions of Hamas fighters inside the Gaza Strip.

Of course, there is a toll that comes along with that. And that toll is 436 people who were killed inside of Gaza last night that includes 182 children. As we know throughout this war, children have been too often, casualties in this war effort. More than a third of casualties in Gaza are children according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Now, I can tell you on the ground, we are still watching the preparations, the waiting perhaps of all these troops who are masks along the border with Gaza. As we drove along the Gaza Strip today, what we saw is hundreds of tanks, armored personnel carriers and these D9 bulldozers prepared to go into Gaza.

And we were there on Saturday seeing those same positions. There was clearly some movement in these last couple of days. But what is clear is that they are ready to go and there waiting for the order, an order that has been delayed in part by request from the United States, so that they can try and negotiate the release of more hostages. So, for now, at least, they are waiting for that order to come.


TAPPER: And Jeremy, what's the latest on that you're hearing on a possible Israeli ground invasion? When that time is actually going to happen?

DIAMOND: Well, look, it's clear that they have agreed so far to delay that invasion at the request of the Americans in order to allow for these Qatar led mediation efforts to try and get some of these civilian hostages out of the Gaza Strip. We know also that Hamas is clearly trying to delay a ground invasion by dangling that very possibility.

I think what's clear is that while the Israelis are certainly willing to wait a few more days, perhaps, to launch this ground invasion. They are not going to delay it inevitably. Whether you look at the comments of the defense minister Gallant, or those of the IDF chief of staff. What is clear is that they will be going into Gaza. It is simply a matter of when at this point.

TAPPER: All right, Jeremy. Thanks so much. I want to turn now to our colleague, Sara Sidner, who is in Jerusalem. And Sara, you've been covering what's happening in Gaza. What's the latest on the ground there, especially with the humanitarian crisis? How dire is that?

SARA SIDNER, ANCHOR, CNN NEWS CENTRAL: No. I mean, it couldn't be worse at this point. Although, there is a very small trickle of aid that is coming in. It's less than 4 percent of what normally comes into Gaza on a regular day when there is no official war that has been declared. So, it gives you some sense of what we would normally see.

We've seen a somewhere in the number of 40 to 50 trucks that have been let in over the past few days. I do want to talk to you, though, about something that I think is a bit underreported. We talk a lot, of course about those who have been killed more than 5,000 according to the Palestinian health ministry there in Gaza, and the injured. We're talking about thousands injured, more than 10,000.

But what we rarely hear from and talk about is the people who are caring from them, the doctors, the nurses. The doctors and nurses, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, who I spoke with overnight, told us that they are literally hungry that they don't have food.

And so, they had to take a very dangerous trip, sending people from the south to the north, to try and give them some bread and something to drink as they are trying to care for these patients. They are in the north in those hospitals where about 60 percent of the hospitals are because the patients cannot be evacuated, and the doctors are refusing to leave even though Israel has said that the north needs to be evacuated.

Now, I also talked to an Israeli spokesperson and ambassador who told me that Mark Regev, who told me that Israel would do its best to try not to impact, of course, the hospitals there. But there is a great amount of fear and exhaustion on the part of the doctors and nurses trying to care for so many people with some of the worst kinds of injuries from the airstrikes.

We also should note that there is so much going on both in the north and the south here, that there is a real fear that this is going to turn into a regional complication. But the prime minister of Israel warning Lebanon, that if it does strike Israel, it will be hit very, very hard. Jake?

TAPPER: Thank you so much. Appreciate it, Sara. And of course, we should always remind our viewers that the Palestinian Ministry of Health is controlled by Hamas, and anything they say Hamas is responsible and they were lying. Last Tuesday, when it came to their blaming of the hospital strike on the Israelis when it turned out, it was almost certainly caused by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Dana, back to you. BASH: It's important to note that, thanks for doing that. It's good to have you there, Jake. We're going to be back to you later in the program. For now, I want to go to the White House because President Biden did speak with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday.

As sources do tell CNN, his administration is working behind the scenes to delay a possible ground incursion in Gaza. CNN's MJ Lee is at the White House. MJ, what are you learning about this conversation, the latest one?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana. President Biden has really been in constant communication with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including this additional phone call that took place over the weekend. Coming at a moment when every indication seems to be that a ground invasion into Gaza appears to be imminent. But what we are learning is that the administration has been urging Israel to delay making such a move.

And there are a couple of things at play here, Dana. First and foremost, there is the issue of the hostages. We of course, saw those two Americans that were released on Friday. And U.S. officials have said that they believe there are additional American hostages being held by Hamas. And the president has made very clear that getting them out is the highest priority for him. So, that is one important factor.


And the other factor, of course, is allowing the humanitarian aid to continue flowing into Gaza. We saw the first convoys of these trucks carrying aid going in over the weekend. But we also happen to know based on all of our reporting, including what just Sara pointed out, that that really happens to be just a drop in the bucket when you take into account the incredible dire situation at hand.

Now, when the president himself was asked over the weekend by a reporter, whether he had been urging the Israelis to delay such a ground invasion, he didn't deny it. He simply said, I'm talking to the Israelis. But I should note that there is some resistance about this reporting coming from the Israeli side.

One Israeli official saying that that kind of pressure campaign is not in existence, that that is not a conversation that's going on. So, you can see that there are some sensitivities here on both sides. I will also note that U.S. officials have been careful, probably for that reason in pointing out that any military decision that is made on the ground that is entirely up to the Israelis.

BASH: Yes. It is very, very delicate. Thank you so much for that reporting, MJ. I want to go now to Alex Marquardt. Alex, I know you've been talking to sources about the very real concern about the conflict spreading much more broadly, regionally. And in fact, the defense secretary talked about it this weekend.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The very real concern, Dana, and certainly a growing concern. And I think what we heard from Secretary Defense Lloyd Austin was really emphasizing. What we've been hearing across this administration that there's a very real possibility that this war could expand beyond just Israel and Gaza, that other groups could get involved in or that other fronts could be opened up.

And it's not just -- that concern doesn't just come from the potential for Iran to essentially order its proxies across the region, to start carrying out strikes against U.S. and Israeli targets, but really a reflection of the string of strikes that we've already seen over the course of the past week.

In Iraq, in Syria, there was a missile attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility on Friday, that followed missiles and drones being launched by the Iranian backed Houthis in Yemen. Those were launched north in the direction of Israel. They had to be taken down by a U.S. destroyer. So, this is a very real fear at this point. This is what Secretary Austin had to say on Sunday.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're concerned about potential escalation. In fact, what we're seeing is the prospect of a significant escalation of attacks on our troops and our people throughout the region.


MARQUARDT: And, Dana, I think the most immediate fear might be Hezbollah to Israel's north, in Lebanon. They are one of the best funded, best equipped Iranian backed proxies. And they could very easily open up a second front, not just firing into Israel, but also at U.S. assets. We have those two strike carrier groups in the eastern Mediterranean, Dana?

BASH: Well, on that note, Alex, what are you hearing about the U.S. sending additional military resources to the region -- for lots of reasons, including to try to be a deterrent against that potential Hezbollah attack.

MARQUARDT: A deterrence to show Hezbollah, Iran, and others that the U.S. could -- that the U.S. is there and sending a warning signal. But also, that they would be very well equipped to respond if need be. So, we now have these two carrier strike groups in the eastern Mediterranean.

But what we also heard from the secretary there, was that they're sending more air defense batteries, including patriot missile batteries, to the region to help with air defense to help protect U.S. positions, U.S. troops in the region.

And Secretary Austin also said that more troops are being put on, what are called prepared to deploy orders. So, these are very significant moves by the Pentagon, as we wait for this imminent Israeli incursion, which could prompt a wider conflict, Dana?

BASH: Very scary indeed, to say the least. Thank you so much for that reporting, Alex. And coming up. As we heard from our reporters in Israel, that country is making clear a ground invasion is very much on the table. The question, of course, at this point is, when. I'm going to speak with a spokesperson for the Israeli defense forces next.




TAPPER: Dana, the loss of life both here in Israel and in Gaza. It's just unimaginable, thousands of innocent people killed in just over two weeks. And now one more name has been added to the list of the dead. His name is Omer Balva. The 22-year-old Israeli American was killed while serving for the Israel Defense Forces.

The IDF's Balva was killed on Israel's northern border by an antitank missile fired from the terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon. Balva left his home in Rockville, Maryland, after Israel called up more than 300,000 reservists. Dana, another family will just never be the same ever again.

BASH: No. Jake, it's heartbreaking. And it has been more than two weeks since the war started since Hamas went into Israel with this brutal terror attack. And now the question is what are the next steps in Israel's military offensive? The question is a possible ground invasion into Gaza. And of course, the tensions, or Jake was just talking about in the northern part of Israel at the Lebanon border where that American who left the United States to fight was already killed.

I want to go to our Colonel Cedric Leighton and he's a CNN military analyst. And let's start there, if you will, about the concern in the north. Obviously, the focus has been in the southern part of Israel on the border with Gaza. But there're very real concerns about what is going to happen in the north and that is something that we just heard in the last block that the defense secretary spoke about, just more broadly about what that would mean for a bigger regional conflict.


COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Dana. It's very true that the north is really a problem area for Israel. So basically, what it's forcing Israel to do from a military standpoint is divided forces. It has obviously moved a lot of troops into the south, right along the Gaza border and all those troops that Nic Robertson has been reporting on. They've been there, some of them have moved, obviously in recent days.

So, there's probably some kind of redeployment going on. Right now, as the Israelis try to get the right force mix that they need in order to go and prosecute whatever mission they're going to be undertaking in the next 24 to 48 or 72 hours.

As far as the north is concerned, the key thing there to think about is Hezbollah, the Party of God, as it's known, the Iranian backed group that is in southern Lebanon. 130,000 or so rockets to its name, reportedly. That group has a potent military force, that Israel has tangled with multiple times over the last few decades.

And that group can really up end things for the Israelis in the north. And it could potentially cause a lot of problems for the Israelis as they try to take care of their mission in the south, which was, of course, opposite Hamas. But with Hezbollah, the key thing, Dana, is the fact that Iran is behind Hezbollah. And if Hezbollah gets involved, then the Iranians are very likely to get involved one way or the other, maybe directly, maybe indirectly, but they'll be involved.

BASH: Yes. And as you well know, the Iranian regime is not only a backer of Hezbollah, but also of the Hamas terrorists, who are currently still in charge in Gaza, the ones who perpetrated the deadly attack more than two weeks ago. You've heard Alex Marquardt talking about U.S. resources, additional resources moving to the region.

Based on your experience, how much of a deterrent do you think that the mere presence of more U.S. military troops and so forth in the region will be for Hezbollah, and even for Iran which backs Hezbollah?

LEIGHTON: Right, it depends on exactly what the force posture is. I think the fact that there are two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups, one with the USS Ford, the other one with the USS Eisenhower, those two groups do send a significant message. And that is probably the principal power projection arm of the United States in this conflict, because it's something new that's been added to the dynamic of the force postures of the various nations that have bases in and around the middle east.

The other thing, of course, is the aerial component to the fact that we've got several more aircraft, fighter aircraft going in over the last few weeks, F-15, F-16, A-10s, being redeployed into the middle eastern region. And so that means that the combat power that is at our disposal has gone up considerably. And it should be a deterrent to anyone who's been at the receiving end of U.S. military power.

The other part, of course, Dana, is the air defense component. The fact that we've got two (Inaudible) patriots coming in, but also the high-altitude capability known as that, that is actually being deployed to various locations throughout the middle east. So that gives protection to U.S. forces as well as to Israel. And that is a key component, i.e., include limit the responses from Iran and Hezbollah.

BASH: Yes. In the sea and in the air. Thank you so much. Always great to get your perspective, Colonel Cedric Leighton. Thank you. And coming up, we're going to talk about what's going on here in the United States on Capitol Hill, maybe what's not going on. Jim Jordan is out. Who is going to be in? Nine candidates are now vying for that gavel, which has been ungettable for more than 20 days. We're live from Capitol Hill next.



BASH: 20 days after the GOP ousted speaker McCarthy, and the effort to elect a successor is back to square one. Nine different Republicans are set to pitch their colleagues on their push to be speaker, that's going to happen tonight as the House remains totally paralyzed.

CNN's Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill with a breakdown of the new race for the top job. Obviously, the question, which has been the question for 20 days is, who can get the 217, 216, depending on how many people are there in order to actually become speaker?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that is the question if any of them actually can at the moment and there's ample doubt that none of them can. It has been an all-out free for all. Since Jim Jordan became the second Republican to step aside amid this paralyzed House in the inability of Jordan and before him Steve Scalise to get the 217 votes, they needed to be elected speaker. Can any of these nine do just that?