Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

Israel: At Least 300 Dead In Surprise Hamas Attack; CNN Team Witnesses Israel Intercept Incoming Rockets; "Significant" Number Of Israel Civilians, Soldiers Taken Captive; Netanyahu Vows Hamas Will Pay "Huge Price" For Attack; Hamas Raids Israel In Surprise Attack From Air, Land & Sea; Fighting Ongoing As Terrorism Storm Dozens Of Israeli Towns; Netanyahu Warns Palestinians Civilians To Leave Gaza Before Israel Turns "Hamas Hiding Places Into Rubble". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired October 07, 2023 - 21:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Jake Tapper and this is special coverage of Israel at war. America's closest ally in the Middle East and its only democracy is under attack as we speak in a highly coordinated stage terrorist attack by Hamas. An attack on Israeli civilians, unlike anything that Israel has ever seen, according to the Prime Minister of Israel.

Netanyahu, Prime Minister Netanyahu is vowing to take, quote, mighty vengeance. Thousands of rockets lighting up the skies over Gaza City.

The death toll has risen tonight to at least 300 Israelis killed, more than 1,500 injured after Hamas terrorists invaded several Israeli towns earlier today by air, land, and sea at daybreak. A surprise attack. Shooting at civilians, kidnapping many, along with Israeli soldiers.

The Israeli Defense Forces says the number of civilians captured by Hamas is, quote, a significant number, but they would not be more specific than that.

Tonight, most Israelis are likely holed up in their homes, while others in Gaza have been urged to get out of Gaza immediately for their safety. Warned by the Israeli government. The ongoing threat is so dire. Netanyahu and opposition parties have discussed forming an emergency coalition government as Israel faces war.

There is, of course, the looming question of how could an assault of this size and scale happen? How did Israel's intelligence fail to anticipate and stop this? We'll have much more on that ahead.

United States President Joe Biden has condemned these attacks, reiterating America's unwavering support for Israel. Tonight, U.S. officials say it is too early to say whether Iran was directly involved in this attack, but the U.S. government says it is looking into that question very closely. Let's go straight now to CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson, who is live in Israel for us, near the Gaza border. Nic, thanks so much for joining us. What is the latest at this hour?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: We're being able to hear fighter jets flying overhead, Jake. We've been used to hearing them flying overhead throughout this evening into the night. Generally followed by explosions coming from Gaza, which is about 2.5 miles from where we are.

The checkpoint behind me really is the limitation marker of where we are, area in Israel fully under Israeli control. And then beyond the checkpoint, that's areas that's still maybe Hamas militants operating that Israel's defense forces are still in contact with them in some areas. About 20 minutes ago, we're able to hear in the distance heavy machine gunfire.

We think fired from a helicopter -- we heard the helicopter before. That's something else we've heard throughout the evening. And also around that time, there was another salvo of rockets 20 minutes or so ago fired out of Gaza. The Iron Dome intercepts -- intercepting them over our heads here.

This appeared to be a smaller salvo than the salvos we've seen this evening, and appeared to be potentially shorter range falling or targeting Ashdod and Ashkelon along the coast, not reaching as far as Tel Aviv as they were earlier this evening, and then this morning in that big barrage. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Nic Robertson in Israel near the Gaza border. Thanks so much.

Let's get more insight right now from Israeli diplomat Tsach Saar. He is the deputy and acting consul general for Israel in New York. Mr. Saar, thanks for joining us. I cannot imagine how difficult and painful it must be to see your home now at war.


I think just to illustrate for viewers here in the United States and around the world, Israel has been in war before. Obviously, we have covered them, but there is something more significant about this attack, I believe, based on my conversations with Israelis today than in previous attacks.

This, I've heard it said, is something like Israel's 9/11 or Israel's Pearl Harbor this day. This attack on Israeli civilians, it was such a shock. Do I have that correct?

TSACH SAAR, DEPUTY & ACTING CONSUL GENERAL OF ISRAELI IN NEW YORK: Yes, definitely. And you showed some of the pictures and the footage coming from Israel this morning. This is -- it was a massacre, reminiscent of pogroms. And a very, very difficult day and night for Israel today. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad committed multiple war crimes, abducted innocent civilians from their homes, mothers, children, without even stopping for a moment and thinking about what they're doing.

You show the horrible pictures and the footage coming from there. So unhuman. And this is indeed a very, very difficult day to Israel and I think to the world.

TAPPER: And it is in addition to the Sabbath this morning, obviously. It is also a Jewish holiday. I believe it's Shemini Atzeret and it is also the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war. Another time when Israel had a sneak attack. And another time that there was a massive intelligence failure where there was a massive attack on Israel that was not anticipated.

What have you heard from Israeli officials and Israel -- Israeli citizens, people you know back home about what they're going through, what they're experiencing?

SAAR: So just imagine, as you mentioned, it's Saturday morning. It's a holiday, a very important Jewish holiday. Peaceful morning in Israel. And then suddenly, hundreds of militants infiltrate Israel with a barrage of 5,000 rockets and missiles shot over Israeli cities, and just committing a massacre. And you can imagine how we feel.

You mentioned earlier the other occasions, 50 years, Israel is dealing with several fronts at the same time. It's the Gaza Strip, it's the northern borders, and it's the axis that the Iranian are trying to build around Israel. This is very, very difficult. There's a lot of tasks for the IDF. And talking about Iran, there's definitely an Iranian footprint. Iran is funding, Iran is supporting with trainings, and with weapons, Hamas, the PIJ, and other terrorist organizations around us.

TAPPER: Yes. Hamas claims it has dozens of Israeli captives in addition to Israeli soldiers, civilians. Later in the broadcast, actually, we're going to be talking to a mom whose teenage kids were kidnapped by Hamas. We're going to be talking to her about what she's going through.

There are reports of Hamas taking some of these hostages down into tunnels. This must complicate Israel's response. Obviously you, you know, in terms of the military response, you don't want to hit any of your own people. And I don't know how many hostages Hamas has taken, but it sounds to me like it could be in the hundreds.

SAAR: So we're talking now about hundreds of hostages of Israeli civilians and soldiers that were kidnapped and abducted to the Gaza Strip. Around 300 official, this is the official death toll, around 300, but unfortunately, it's not the last number that we're going to see. Death toll is going to be unfortunately much higher.

Thousands of casualties. Now we're talking about 1,500. This number going to rise.


And as you show and with the footage next to my picture is that the barrage, the rockets, they are continuing. So we are still at war. This is an unprecedented and unparalleled moment. We are in a state of war, and I believe that also the Israeli reaction would be unpresented -- unprecedented, sorry.

TAPPER: Yes. Tsach Saar, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time this evening.

The Israeli Defense Forces says its main objective right now is to reestablish control and that the number of Israeli civilians captured is, quote, significant. Joining us now is an international spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces Jonathan Conricus.

You have called this a, quote, Pearl Harbor type moment for Israel. One of the questions that I've heard a lot of people asking is about the intelligence failure. And obviously, intelligence in real life is not like it is in TV shows and movies. Intelligence failed to anticipate what happened on 9/11.

Intelligence failed to realize what happened on January 6, 2021. Intelligence failed to realize what happened during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. So, by no means is intelligence operations in the United States infallible. But that said, what went wrong here for Israel?

LT. COL. (RES.) JONATHAN CONRICUS, INTL. SPOKESMAN, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES. Yes, it is a very difficult day here in Israel as we are counting our dead and wounded and coming to terms, wrapping our heads around the situation that we have many Israelis captive, abducted by Hamas that are now in the hands of a murderous terrorist organization in Gaza.

What happened? Hamas planned and put into motion a premeditated attack where they used all of their resources available. All of these resources, by the way, have been provided to Hamas by Iran, which is, by a long margin, the biggest world promoter or supporter of terrorism. And Hamas used all of their weapons.

Their operatives and we're talking about maybe up to 1,000 terrorists who were able to infiltrate into Israel during the day, or at least many hundreds. The numbers are still being verified, and they were able to launch an attack, a multidimensional attack on the ground, at sea, and in the air.

We will have to investigate, and we will have to ask ourselves tough questions how this happened, how Hamas was able to launch such an attack with such horrible consequences for Israeli civilians, and we will have to provide -- the IDF will have to provide honest answers to the Israeli public. And it will take time to set things right in Israel again after the fighting ends.

But that as important and as interesting and as pressing as it is, and I understand the interest is of secondary importance. The number one priority is to make sure that we clear all Israeli communities of terrorists that are still inside Israel as we speak.

TAPPER: Yes. CONRICUS: It's 4:15 a.m. in Israel, and we are still fighting, clearing the last houses and locations and communities and basis. Hopefully at the break of dawn, we will be able to declare that we have finally restored sovereignty and order in Israel. But that has not yet been achieved, and that will be our number one priority.

Then we will lock down the border and make sure that there are no other terrorists coming in. And then we shall start to focus on hitting Hamas like we have never hit Hamas before.

TAPPER: So how many hostages do you believe Hamas has? How many did -- how many Israeli soldiers and civilians did they kidnap?

TAPPER: Hamas, in their gruesome brutality, abducted women, children, elderly, and even disabled elderly persons and drag them, some of them live, some of them dead, into Gaza and have paraded them on the streets of Gaza to be lynched and displayed. There are, unfortunately, a significant number of Israelis in Hamas' hands.

TAPPER: Is that --

CONRICUS: I cannot say the number.

TAPPER: You can't say the number?

CONRICUS: I cannot say the number. It is an extremely delicate situation that we're dealing with.


It is unprecedented for Israel to have so many of us are civilians and service members in the hands of a jihadi terrorist organization. But I can say, unfortunately, that we are talking about substantial numbers. It's not one or two.

And that will, of course, be a very -- have a very heavy influence on future decision making in Israel. The Israeli Cabinet convened and finished its meeting a few hours ago, and the IDF has been ordered to take away from Hamas any of -- any and every military capability and its ability to govern the Gaza Strip. That can be interpreted in many ways.


CONRICUS: And it leaves room for people to ask questions. But what the IDF will do is to make sure that this kind of attack will never, ever be launched by Hamas against Israel again.

TAPPER: So I heard Prime Minister Netanyahu say that the -- anybody in any Palestinians in Gaza who don't want, you know, who don't want to be hit in the response from Israel to this terrorist attack on Israeli civilians should get out. But, obviously, Gaza is a place that Palestinians cannot get out from. Will there be an opportunity for Palestinian -- Palestinians who are in Gaza who want to leave, perhaps even opponents of Hamas to leave that area? CONRICUS: Yes, it is a densely populated area. It is an area where Hamas has built all of its military infrastructure underneath the civilians --

TAPPER: Right.

CONRICUS: -- using the civilians as their human shields. That is how they have designed their posture. That is not a bug. It's a feature of how Hamas operates. And what we are saying for the sake of civilians, they should be as far as way as possible from anything related to Hamas.

We've said it in Arabic, by Arabic language spokesperson, calling on Gazan civilians, go as far as possible from anything related to Hamas. Yes, it's not Switzerland and they need -- and it's difficult -- it's a difficult place. But they should go south. They can go towards the shore and they can be in locations that are not close to Hamas facilities.

They shouldn't be -- they shouldn't have allowed Hamas in the first place to build and to use them as their human shields, but that's a discussion for another time. But what matters now is that, yes, we care about human life and we do not want Palestinian civilians to be affected by the coming fighting and by the level of destruction that we will rain upon Hamas.

And again, it's worth mentioning and reiterating that responsibility for everything that's happening for the dead, for the butchered men, women and children and soldiers in Israel and for the Palestinian civilians. Lies squarely with Hamas. They started. They are the aggressors.

We are responding to their aggression and we are defending ourselves against their aggression. And that's important to keep in mind because this is how it started. We know how things start. We also know that as soon as we start to defend ourselves, Israel is called out and held to impossible standards when it comes to hitting military targets and defending ourselves against terrorists.

And I hope that people keep that in mind as the battle --


CONRICUS: -- continues and we are only at the beginning.

TAPPER: Jonathan Conricus, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it, sir.

More on the breaking news, Israel at war. We're going to talk to a former U.S. ambassador to Israel next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with CNN's continuing coverage of Israel at war in response to the Hamas terrorist attacks this morning. As attacks are launched into Israel, many people are sheltering, and some going to bomb shelters for safety, even in Israel's biggest cities.

Joining us now is Ari Goldberg, he is an American who now lives in Tel Aviv. Ari, you're originally from New Jersey. Tell us what's going on where you are.

ARI GOLDBERG, AMERICAN LIVING IN TEL AVIV: Honestly, it's -- I've been here for nine years and it's by far the worst situation I've ever seen in my life. Just this morning, I'm sure as you heard, it was a Jewish holiday. I'm an Orthodox Jew, so I didn't have my phone on me.

I went to the synagogue this morning to go pray and we're in the middle of dancing and then all of a sudden the air raid siren came on -- or sorry, a rocket siren. And someone shouted like, "siren". Everyone gets to the floor. We all crowded down on the floor. There are a bunch of little kids next to me that were borderline crying or hysterical.

And then one of the fathers next to me was like, OK, guys, let's start singing. Let's sing together, like, try to cheer up the kids a little bit, just to try to help them a bit. Only then, since most of us didn't have our phones on us, we didn't really understand what was going on.

And then people started telling us, they told us there's like a situation down south and there's like a war starting. So we went home just to go be near bomb shelters. And then later in the afternoon, a friend of mine came knocking on the door frantically and told me that they called him up for reserves and they called everybody up for reserves.

So I got in my car, drove him over to his base. On the way, I saw tons of road blockings of checkpoints where they're searching every single car looking for terrorists. I saw thousands of reservists lined up trying to go back to base. It was horrible.

And then I got home only late tonight after being stuck in all the traffic, and I checked Twitter. Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff you see on the news is not the worst of it on Twitter, a lot of it's not censored. And if you look at it, there's videos going around of people harassing in Gaza, a kidnapped little boy who must be like five years old.

TAPPER: Yes, I saw that.

GOLDBERG: Parading around of a almost naked woman who -- her corpse like she's covered in blood and clearly dead and they're parading her around and celebrating and giving out candy and fireworks.


The picture is also of old -- elderly people at bus stops. Sorry, I'm getting very emotional. Elderly people at a --

TAPPER: Understandably so. Elderly people who were just shot at a bus stop. Yes, I mean the images are absolutely horrific. Young people who are at a peace festival who were kidnapped and shot.

GOLDBERG: It's horrible. There's a picture going around of clearly very elderly women probably in their 70s or 80s with gunshot holes in their heads and dead on the floor and that's something that you're not going to see on the media. And fortunately, we have Twitter which is doing a pretty good job of showing us what's going on but --

TAPPER: Although I will warn people watching that there are also -- there's also some bogus stuff on Twitter as well.

GOLDBERG: There is a lot of bogus stuff but a lot of --



TAPPER: No, there's other stuff too. Are you -- you -- I don't know how old you were on 9/11. You looked relatively young.

GOLDBERG: I was four years old.

TAPPER: You were four, so you don't remember 9/11. I was just going to ask you to compare, but that's not a fair comparison. But I've heard --


TAPPER: -- people compare this to Israel's 9/11, and I think people don't -- people watching around the world maybe don't understand, because Israel is at war quite a bit relative to other countries. But this, I think, this -- the targeting of civilians so specifically is what's so shocking in the kidnapping of so many hundreds of civilians.

GOLDBERG: No, it's horrible. It's -- I mean, I didn't really get to read the news so much, but from the headlines I saw, I kind of compared it to a typical war that happens in Israel. But this is by far beyond worse than anything that has ever happened in recent history. It is beyond -- like there's no words to describe it.

TAPPER: Yes. Ari Goldberg, thanks so much for joining us really. I really appreciate it.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

TAPPER: I'm so sorry you're going through this.

Joining us now, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk. He also served as a U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from 2013 to 2014. Ambassador, good to see you. What should the U.S. be doing right now do you think? What should President Biden be doing?

MARTIN INDYK, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: Well, the first thing is to stand by our ally Israel, and it's a moment of crisis and need. And I think President Biden did that very clearly today in his public statement, and I'm sure he did the same in his reassuring telephone call to the Prime Minister. But we also have to look ahead to the next phases.

I must surely calculate it. That's such a devastating attack. Would produce a devastating response. And I suspect that they hope to escalate the crisis, perhaps draw in Hezbollah from Lebanon with their 150,000 rockets. And perhaps generate an eruption in the West Bank as well with terrorist attacks there and even in Jerusalem.

So I think that it's not just a tit-for-tat at this point as a potential to explode to a regional conflict. And Joe Biden has to be concerned about that.


INDYK: He has to find a way, if possible, to contain it.

TAPPER: Absolutely. Ambassador Martin Indyk, thank you so much. We hope you feel better. Obviously, nursing some throat issues right now.

When we come back, we're going to dig into the intelligence failures that were obviously part of this dark day, attacks by land and air and sea, with Israel completely caught off guard. What happened? We'll talk about that next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our continuing special coverage of Israel at war after the terrorist attack by Hamas against Israeli civilians this morning, which instantly changed the perception of the stability of the region. At a time when Israel itself was voicing great optimism about the prospect of a new Middle East on the horizon, one of the biggest questions this evening is why this extremely coordinated assault by Hamas, by air, by land and by sea, was such a surprise.

Thousands of rockets raining down. Hamas releasing video showing Israeli civilians and soldiers being kidnapped. Obviously, a historic failure by Israeli intelligence services that have long been seen as some of the most capable in the world.

American officials say they received no warning through intelligence that Hamas was preparing this attack. Israel's sudden war comes at a time when even the U.S. was voicing optimism about peace in the region. Listen to what President Biden's National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, said just eight days ago.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades. Now challenges remain. Iran's nuclear weapons program, the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. But the amount of time that I have to spend on crisis and conflict in the Middle East today compared to any of my predecessors going back to 9/11 is significantly reduced.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Quieter than it's been in two decades. OK, but this attack by Hamas comes after one of the deadliest periods in the Israeli occupied West Bank in nearly two decades, on the other side of the country. There were frequent Israeli military raids in Palestinian towns and cities which Israel has claimed are a necessary response to a rising number of attacks by Palestinian terrorists on Israelis in the West Bank.

Today, a historian at Haifa University in Israel named Eli Cook said, quote, "Hamas could waltz into these Kibbutzes in towns today because the Israeli defense forces shifted all its troops to the West Bank, in order to protect violent right-wing settlers while they terrorize local Palestinians. I'll say it again, Israel must end the occupation before the occupation ends Israel," unquote.


Still, just two weeks ago at the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said his nation was on the cusp of a deal to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. And it's Netanyahu predicted this would encourage other Arab states to do the same and increased prospects of peace with the Palestinians.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Today, I bring this marker to show a great blessing, the blessing of a new Middle East between Israel, Saudi Arabia, and our other neighbors. We will not only bring down barriers between Israel and our neighbors, we'll build a new corridor of peace and prosperity.


TAPPER: This was the plan for Netanyahu. He told me back in February he was going to prioritize peace with these other Arab countries first before any sort of peace he was going to pursue or discuss with the Palestinians.


NETANYAHU: I think we can get hung up on this. And we have in the past. People said, you know, unless you resolve this issue and unless you have peace with the Palestinians, you're not going to have a broader peace with the Arab world.

If we wait for them, we're not going to have peace. People said you have to work your way outside in. First, inside out. First, peace with the Palestinians, peace with the Arab world. I think realistically, it's going to be the other way around.


TAPPER: While Israel had been focused intensely on this deal with Saudi Arabia, the country had also been preoccupied with a bitter battle over Netanyahu's controversial judicial reforms proposed by his government, an overhaul of its democratic system. Something that the U.S. and other Western democracies have voiced strong concerns about thousands of Israeli army reservists had been threatening to not show up for work, prompting some of Israel's leaders to sound alarms about the country's readiness forward.

Joining us now is Beth Sanner, CNN National Security Analyst and the former Deputy Director of National Intelligence. Beth just was trying to set the table for you there so we could look at what happened today in the context of everything else going on. Obviously, Hamas and the terrorism today is the fault of Hamas and the terrorists who did that, but this does happen in the context of everything else.

The big question today is the intelligence failure. I think a lot of Israelis are probably saying just as after 9/11, there were a lot of questions about the U.S. intelligence failure. How Hamas was able to do this and catch Israel completely off guard, given what was perceived to be Israel's significant intelligence capabilities. What's your take on this?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first, thanks for having me, Jake. And I think that that intro you gave was really excellent in setting all of this context for people and explaining how just complicated it is, right? This is a complex situation, and Hamas today showed that they have a vote in how normalization is going to go and how peace in the Middle East is going to go. And they said not yet.

So, in terms of the intelligence failure, I mean, clearly this is monumental. It was a security failure as well as an intelligence failure, right? They have all sorts of equipment and early warning alerts that are part of the military system that failed. And then they had apparently no warning at all from intelligence that this was being planned and underway.

And so, you know, I think I agree with one commentator that you had there in that, you know, part of this is about where are you looking. Every intelligence organization has limited capabilities and capacities, right? You can't be looking everywhere.

Well, there was a shift that was focused on the, you know, far-right objectives of this Cabinet in Israel. And as a good friend of mine says, this is about the Lord and the land. And this was about protecting that West Bank settlers. So they diverted some attention.

But I think it also was probably something about the Israelis relying increasingly on technical means rather than human operators. A very dangerous to operate, very difficult to recruit human operators in Gaza. So when the, you know, Hamas knows that, they start -- stop using their cell phones. They start meeting in person.

But it is phenomenal to me, when you look at the complexity of this operation, and how many people were involved in it, that none of this was picked up. So, they are having a 9/11 intel failure moment and we all are going to feel that with them, and I'm sure American intelligence is going to try to work with Israel to help them figure that out, just like we had to work out a lot of things in our system. TAPPER: Yes, I mean, that's that's the thing I was thinking of also and for folks at home who know this already. I apologize, but there's signals intelligence which is, you know, what spyware is able to pick up.


You know, people coming by boat, people coming by air, people coming by land. And then there's human intelligence, as you alluded to, spies. And I don't know how many spies the Israelis have in Gaza anymore. Obviously they used to have quite a few, and now they focus -- the Israelis focus much more on the West Bank.

Former Defense Secretary William Cohen told CNN that he does not perceive this as necessarily an intelligence failure --


TAPPER: -- because overhead intel, drones and the like, wouldn't be able to monitor people who are off the grid. But there are ways for intelligence officials to address that gap, right?

SANNER: Yes, and I mean, I don't want to question anybody else's statements. I'll only just comment for myself. You know, it's very early days here, but, I mean, you've had an operation that was planned obviously, probably since the spring. This is months and months and months of planning. It probably involved the meetings that the Iranian Quds Force commander had with Hamas, Hezbollah, and PIJ, the Islamic Jihad folks in Gaza.

Those were public -- you know, those were discovered and put on open source, that's why I know about them. They've had series of meetings, including planning things against Israel. So, you know, I -- intel failure. Sorry. I mean, it is and I think --


SANNER: -- that the Israeli see that.

TAPPER: The -- Zelenskyy in his statement today in which he expressed solidarity with the Israeli victims made an illusion to Russia being a state sponsor of terrorism. I mean, it was a vague illusion, but I'm pretty sure that's what he was saying. And I do believe Hamas leaders met with Russia this year as well, and it was open source, right?

SANNER: Yes, yes. Yes. The Israeli foreign ministry came out -- I mean, the Russian foreign ministry came out today and did say, you know, this needs to stop. We need peace negotiations immediately. And, you know, going back to, you know, where we are on the international agreements.

I don't know about how much Russia would be involved in this, but we do know from open source that Russia and Iran are colluding together inside Syria, where Israel has been striking against Iranian targets, against Syrian targets. And also where Iran and their proxies have been attacking U.S. forces. We have about between 800 and 900 troops still in Israel.

So, you know, we're going toe to toe with Russia and Syria right now. And all these folks, you know, they're meeting in Damascus together, including Hamas. So, you know, it's kind of hard to separate out how much people -- different countries were involved, but, you know, there's a lot of fingerprints all over everything. We're just going to have to see it.

TAPPER: Hamas took what sounds like hundreds of hostages, civilians, children, some soldiers. Later in the show, we're going to talk to the mom of two teenage hostages that were taken by Hamas. What is the point of them doing that? Why are they doing that?

SANNER: Well some experts I've been talking to today, you know, emphasize that, you know, we shouldn't underestimate the amount of just terror that Hamas wants to impose on Israel. This is -- this was meant as shock and awe. And just -- and its enormous cruelty involved in that.

So, it's what terrorists do, and it's what organizations like Hamas do. Now, whether it means something down the road, I don't know. I mean, one of my theories is that they also want to draw Israel into a ground war in Gaza. That would, you know, really increase the potential of this becoming a regional war, a two front war where you would draw Hezbollah involvement in from the north.

So, you know, Israel has some hard decisions to make right now, because this is being either, it's a 9/11 moment, or it's a 1973 a moment, or it's a 10 offensive moment, whatever you want to call it. Israel can no longer just go along now and deal with this like they have in the past that, you know, it's about containment.


That is not where Israel is going to be at in dealing with this question. And so they are going to have to fundamentally change the paradigm with which they're approaching the Hamas challenge. And as Naftali Bennett said on the show earlier tonight, Israel's united in destroying Hamas. So this is, we are at the very beginning.

TAPPER: Beth Sanner, thank you so much. Always appreciate your expertise.

SANNER: Thank you.

TAPPER: The U.S. could announce new assistance to Israel as soon as tomorrow, according to officials. But without a sitting House speaker, how soon could more aid get there? The House of Representatives, after all, they're the ones who appropriate money.

We're going to talk to the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee next. Stay with us.


TAPPER: As Israel faces terrorist attacks from Hamas in the U.S. House of Representatives, lawmakers are scrambling to figure out who is in the so-called Gang of Eight. That is the eight leaders of the House and Senate and the intelligence committees in those two bodies who receive classified intelligence briefings. But there is no current speaker of the House.

I'm joined now by New York Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks. He is the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


Congressman Meeks, thanks so much for joining us. Is the American government able to respond if, say, Israel asks for further financial aid given the fact that there is no Speaker of the House?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Thank you for having me, Jake. Well, we're talking about that now. I had conversations earlier with Leader Jeffries and I've talked to, you know, Mike McCaul on the other side, my now the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We know that we've got to do something in a bipartisan way.

And so this dialogue and conversation taking place, I would hope that this would speed up with some of my colleagues on the, you know, in the Republican Party there or civil war so that we could address this concerns. This is the danger of having the kind of discrepancies that we're having, you know, whether it's now, of course, the vicious and horrific attack in Israel and the funding for Ukraine. So, I hope that dialogue and conversation happens quite quickly. We need it to happen like yesterday.

TAPPER: Yes. What role can and should the U.S. play when it comes to ending this violence? Because, as I'm sure you heard, from the former Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Beth Sanner, just a few minutes ago, there is very real risk that this could become a serious regional conflict with Iran as one of the players.

And, you know, Iran wants to be a nuclear power, and Israel is a nuclear power. By the same token, Israel, as you have stated, has every right to defend itself. And these were horrific attacks on civilians. And Hamas took hostages, including children and the elderly. What is the role of the U.S. in trying to end the cycle of violence?

MEEKS: I think that is clear that the United States is going to stand with Israel and do all that we can working with Israel. I think that the president of the United States said after his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu that whatever Israel needs, we will make sure that they get it. We will fix the intelligence and talk about the intelligence and next moves.

But I think that you'll see a close coordination, dialogue and conversation between the Israeli government and our president of the United States. We are ready, willing and able to stand by and make sure that we start to get those that have been taken. Those lives are still in danger. There's still individuals who may have infiltrated Israel. So we will be working hand-in-hand with them, their military, their intelligence, and ours to make sure that this is is resolved.

Now, I, too, am worried about further regional warfare. And it just seems to me, and I think we'll find out more, I hope to have a classified briefing either tomorrow or Monday. But as soon as we are getting close to have some peace in the Middle East and have conversation, others are trying to prevent that from happening.

Because it was clear with the Abraham Accords and some of the dialogue and conversation that has taken place with Saudi Arabia and some others that were part of the Abraham Accords, that is the right direction to go. Because what you have to have is people in the Arab world first understanding that Israel has the right to exist. That's what the Abraham Accords was about.

And in that conversation, there was also talk about concessions made for the Palestinians. But when you see this evil Hamas terrorist group and organization, they don't believe that Israel has the right to exist. And that's why we've got to work with Israel to make sure that we wipe out Hamas so that we don't have a vicious attack like this ever again.

TAPPER: What concerns do you have about this massive intelligence failure?

MEEKS: A lot of concerns that I have, but at first, I'm concerned about the continuing attacks that are taking place in Israel right now. You know, there is a friend of mine, a rabbi who is in Israel as we speak, and he tells me how his niece is in a shelter now, been in a shelter for over 12 hours, hearing gun battles right outside close to a police station.

And we also seen some horrendous videos of individuals, you know, who may have been taken hostage. So I'm more focused right now on trying to save lives, tried to make sure that they get a cease of advancements in Israel, and then also look at the intelligence failure that have taken place.


But I think that we've got to take care of business first and continue to look at the intelligence failure thereafter, similarly, as we did with 9/11 here in the United States.

TAPPER: To go back to the earlier question I asked you about what can Congress do without a speaker, have you gotten any ideas or answers from any of the conversations you've had so far about what can theoretically maybe be done? Like, there is this temporary Speaker Pro Tem Patrick McHenry. Can he get clearances to be briefed? Can he put forward an aid package, or can a package be put forward under him?

Have the Israelis ask for more money. And would that go through your committee? I mean, what can you tell us about any of that?

MEEKS: Yes. Well, my -- our committee surely will be involved and if it deals with any type of weapons and things of that nature. I know that Hakeem Jeffries will be reaching out and probably has already to Mr. McHenry, trying to see what we can do that's not in violation of our U.S. Constitution.

See what can happen with reference to what we could do in a united way, following maybe the Senate who is functional and moving forward. But I do think that that conversation will be taking place because we understand the seriousness of the moment.

And I would anticipate and would hope, and that's why I tried to make sure on our committee that Michael McCaul and myself sent out a bipartisan and unified letter and stating so that everyone knows that we are together, that we are not going to allow the dysfunction that we're having to prevent us from moving forward and protecting and working with our ally Israel.

And so, that dialogue I can assure you is taking place. Hopefully, I'll have -- I know I'm going to have a briefing in the morning, and I hope that we have an answer before we get back to Washington on Monday.

TAPPER: Congressman Gregory Meeks, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it, sir.

Coming up, the very latest on the attack on Israel ahead. Joining us in the next hour, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and the former director of National Intelligence. We'll be right back.