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CNN Live Event/Special
Hamas Militants Launch Surprise Attack On Israel; Netanyahu: "We Are At War"; E.U. "Unequivocally Condemns" Hamas Attack; At Least 300 Israelis Have Been Killed; Interview With U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips On Netanyahu's Declaration Of War; Former Mossad Chief: "No Warning Of Any Kind". Aired 7-8p ET
Aired October 07, 2023 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: This according to Israeli officials. Tomorrow the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will join my friend and colleague, Dana Bash, on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." That's at 9 a.m. and noon Eastern.
And I'll be back in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow evening, 6 p.m. Eastern for a special -- for our special coverage of Israel at war.
Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. CNN's special breaking news coverage continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to our viewers around the, world I'm Jim Sciutto live in Washington, following our continuing coverage of the breaking news.
It is 2 am in Gaza, where Israel is now striking back at Hamas targets, after, as prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, his country is now at war. The militant group launched an unprecedented early morning attack on Israel, firing at least 5,000 rockets.
Israel says at least 300 Israelis are dead, more than 1,500 wounded. But this was not just a series of rocket attacks. The terror group overran border crossings, invaded by sea, taking over Israeli communities in the south; they came in by air as well. We do have to warn you, many of these scenes are truly graphic, unlike anything I have seen.
And I have covered so many wars in this region and elsewhere. Video obtained by CNN shows what appear to be dead civilians, gunned down in their cars, on the road, near the border with Gaza.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Hamas also claims it has taken Israeli soldiers and civilians hostage. Many of them -- and you see the video there of a young woman, forced into a truck at gunpoint. This video was posted online; it was geolocated by CNN. It shows that Israeli woman captured, taken into Gaza.
As he mentioned, Israel is now retaliated with strikes -- look at that, taking down what I believe is the second tallest building in Gaza earlier today via airstrike. The Palestinian health ministry says at least 232 people have been killed in Gaza.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: The Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu, is vowing to find Hamas militants, wherever they are hiding. He is warning the people of Gaza to leave those places now. He also says Hamas is responsible for the well-being of captives and that Israel will settle the score with anyone who harms them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): What happened today has never been seen in Israel and we will make sure that it does not happen again. The entire government is behind this decision.
The IDF will immediately use all its strength to destroy Hamas' capabilities. We will destroy them and we will take mighty vengeance for this black day, that they have forced on the state of Israel and its citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: We have more now from CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, who is on the scene as well.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: In the early hours of Saturday, Israelis woke to a sudden assault from Gaza militants. The surprise attack claimed by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, a complex and massive operation, marking a steep escalation of hostilities.
The attack began with a huge barrage of missiles fired from Gaza, thousands of rockets, some making direct hits on targets across southern Israel. Under the cover of the missiles, a large scale infiltration began, as Hamas militants crossed by land, sea and air, even using paragliders to cross into Israel.
Videos from border crossing stations show Hamas fighters storming into Israeli territory. A few miles away in the border town of Sderot, Hamas was seen driving and opening fire at civilians. The gunmen tore through the streets, leaving a trail of casualties behind. The full extent of the casualties is unclear.
But hundreds have been killed and more than 1,000 injured on both sides. A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces gave a frank assessment of the situation. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. COL. RICHARD HECHT, INTERNATIONAL SPOKESPERSON, IDF: A very severe morning here in Israel. A combined offensive by Hamas, land, air and sea. And the numbers still are not clear. We are not going to talk about the numbers obviously.
But the numbers are substantial, a very severe morning. We are very much now focused on sending forces to these locations, where there is ongoing fighting as we speak.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON (voice-over): During the raid, some fighters also took Israelis as hostages and prisoners of war, the Israeli military said. Videos geolocated by CNN show militants taking civilians captive in southern Israel. In Gaza, a woman is seen forced out of her car --
ROBERTSON (voice-over): -- and into the custody of Hamas. Israel quickly retaliated, hitting multiple targets along the Gaza Strip. In Gaza City, two high-rise buildings collapsed after an airstrike. The unrest continuing late into the night, with both sides trading rocket fire. As we touched down at Ben Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv, air traffic was halted, as sirens wailed and travelers took cover.
ROBERTSON: We literally just took off the plane here at Ben Gurion Airport. The sirens have gone off. People are taking cover. We got off the bus, people are taking cover. And you can hear the intercept missiles, banging in the air.
Nothing incoming here. But everyone is (INAUDIBLE). They have got down. A lot of concern about what is going to happen this night.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been unwavering, in his message, that Israel is at war with Hamas. Now Israel rushes to regroup with its allies.
Despite the intelligence failure that appeared to lead to the attack, it is clear that the true force of the Israeli government's response is yet to come -- Nic Robertson, CNN, Ashkelon, Israel.
SCIUTTO: And just incalculable human suffering, we are seeing it coming in videos unlike any I've seen covering that region for some time. CNN's Hadas Gold is live now in Jerusalem.
Hadas, we are at the beginning of something enormous here, there is no question. Tell us what we know now about this day, in terms of casualties.
And also, I wonder if there is any accounting of the number of hostages taken in Gaza? HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is being described as Israel's Pearl Harbor because of the surprise nature of, it because of just the sheer scale of it. The numbers of these casualties, the number of these wounded and the number of these hostages, we still don't have fully confirmed.
These are numbers that Israel has never seen before. Even the comparisons now to the Yom Kippur War. At first they seemed, oh, yes; that's the closest thing we can get to. But now they seem quite real in terms of comparisons to what happened 50 years, ago almost to the day, I should note.
That surprise attack, that surprise war on Israel, the Yom Kippur War. Now since 6:30 am, local time, we are now at 2 am local time, rockets have been fired from Gaza toward Israel. There have been thousands of them.
I think that those numbers are well above 3,000 rockets. More concerning though, of course, are these militant infiltrations.
And that is the biggest story right now because, as we speak, even though rockets are still -- and mortars are still being fired from Gaza into southern Israel, especially though the rockets have reached as far as Jerusalem and as far as Tel Aviv as well, the focus right now is on these militants in Israel itself and as well on these prisoners of war.
We are now seeing very dramatic and disturbing video, of Israeli civilians being abducted, not only from the streets, also from inside their homes, also from a festival that was going on, a sort of nature festival, a party in the desert that was going on not far from the border.
Everyday, regular civilians -- these are not soldiers, these are not police officers -- these are everyday, regular civilians, including children, being abducted, taken hostage, into Gaza by Hamas militants.
We do not have a specific number. The Israeli officials are only confirming that both soldiers and civilians have been taken.
But what we are hearing from are the families, either families who say they know for a fact that their loved ones have been taken, either because they have seen videos on social media of their loved ones being abducted by Hamas militants or they were in contact with them while they were hiding in their houses, while they heard the militants coming in.
We also have had active hostage situations within Israel proper. One of them, in Beeri -- Israeli media had been reporting, was supposed to be resolved shortly but these are hostage situations that have been going on for hours, hours at a time, since the early morning, not even accounting for these rocket strikes.
Now Israel, in these conflicts with these militants in Gaza, has become sort of accustomed to the rocket strikes. But the sheer number of them, that is also something. To give you some context, Jim, in that 2021 war, that 11-day war with Hamas militants, some 4,300 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel.
I wouldn't be surprised if we have already matched or surpassed that number now, not even 24 hours into this conflict. A few hours ago, it had surpassed 3,000 and that was hours ago.
So even though the Iron Dome works well, it does help intercept most of these rockets, when you are being barraged with so many of these rockets, that is when some of them are making it through.
In terms of death tolls, Israeli officials confirming to me 300 Israelis have been killed. We know of at least 1,500 wounded. In Gaza, the Palestinian ministry of health, they are saying at least something like --
GOLD: -- 290 Palestinians have been killed with also more than 1,600 wounded as well. In both of those situations, we don't know the exact breakdowns of how many of them are combatants and how many them are civilians.
SCIUTTO: OK, Hadas, so that's a lot for folks to absorb now because, in effect, you have three points of a spear, right? I mean, you have the rocket attacks; they cause their own devastation. You have the infiltration, right? And then you have the folks who have been taken back into Gaza as hostages.
On that middle piece, there, are there still towns, kibbutzes in or just around Gaza, inside Israel, that are still under the control of militants?
Are there still battles going on to gain back that territory?
Because that is one of the most unprecedented features of this, right, that Israel, for the first time in decades, really, has lost control of communities inside its territory.
GOLD: Yes, as we speak, there are communities in southern Israel, where there are still active firefights going on. As we speak, between militants and the Israeli soldiers and Israeli police.
I was just watching one of the local channels here. And their correspondent was just standing on a street in Beeri in southern Israel, while you could hear active gunshots and explosions going on behind him. And he was saying that these were near the police headquarters of the town, where there had been gunfights going on for hours.
In fact, the diplomatic correspondent for Ha'aretz, he is a journalist, a well-known journalist, he reported that he had spent 10 hours trapped, essentially, in his home, in his bomb shelter, with his children, while militants continued to be active in his town.
In terms of also though, the Israeli military response, it is not just focused on those towns but they are responding now to Gaza. Now they have a very, very complicated situation because they want to have an aggressive response in Gaza.
They have already actually sent out a message to civilians in Gaza, warning them to evacuate certain areas, saying, if you are a civilian in Gaza, get out of these areas, go to these safer areas, because we are going to be targeting this soon.
But now, I'm told a number of Israeli civilians and soldiers taken prisoner of war within Gaza. And so Israel will have a very complicated task there, to have a very strong response, targeting these militants.
Right now, as far as we can tell, it is just from the air and from the sides. There is no ground invasion yet.
But a question of, how do you handle going after these militants, going after Hamas, without also somehow the collateral damage of your own citizens?
SCIUTTO: Listen, and Hamas has already distributed messages, saying that they have deliberately distributed hostages around. I mean, that is the nature, literally human shields, right. It is the next phase of this, the first phase already horrendous. It is still underway, as you are saying.
And the next phase is, well, almost unimaginable. Hadas, thanks so much for covering, we know you're going to be continuing to be on top of it.
Here in Washington, President Biden strongly condemned the attacks by Hamas militants and pledged greater U.S. support for Israel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States stands with Israel. We will not ever fail to have their back. We will make sure that they have the help their citizens need and they can continue to defend themselves.
In the street, in their homes, innocent people murdered, wounded, entire families taken hostage by Hamas, just days after Israel marked the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar.
It is unconscionable. You know, when I spoke to prime minister Netanyahu this morning, I told him the United States stands with the people of Israel, in the face of these terrorist assaults. Israel has the right to defend itself and its people, full stop.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: The president there, comments from the White House today. Joining us now, senior White House correspondent Kayla Tausche.
Listen, you know, the president, they wanted to get out quickly here, not just to condemn the attacks but also to promise greater support for Israel.
Do we know what form that support might take?
KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We know that those discussions are, live they are underway, Jim, and that the administration has been working around the clock, in close consultation with its counterparts over in Israel, to figure out exactly what type of support will be needed.
With a senior administration official saying this evening, that something could be announced as soon as tomorrow.
As for how that would get expedited, this official, raising concerns, real concerns, that the lack of a Speaker of the House of Representatives and the lack of a permanent U.S. ambassador to Israel pose unique challenges at this moment, that the administration is trying to figure out how to work around.
As for the moment, the White House is focused on trying to keep the violence contained and figuring out how it can best support Israel going forward.
Of course, relations between the U.S. and Israel have been relatively strained in recent months, as prime minister Netanyahu's governing coalition has been promoting the judicial reform package that the U.S. has seen as staunchly undemocratic. But certainly President Biden --
TAUSCHE: -- in no uncertain terms, said that he is here to support prime minister Netanyahu and here to support Israel in any way that the U.S. can. That support, he said, rock solid and unwavering -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: And there are already discussions on Capitol Hill about the possibility of an additional military aid package in addition to the one the U.S. supplies every year to Israel. Kayla Tausche, we know you are going to continue to follow this from the White House. Thanks so much.
I want to speak now to Avi Mayer. He is the editor in chief of the "Jerusalem Post," joining us.
And Avi, thanks so much for joining us from Jerusalem. I have to take a breath, as we start this conversation. You know it better than me, I have taken multiple trips to Israel, during past wars and terror attacks and operations in Gaza. Nothing on this scale.
Can you just place into context, for folks watching right now, how the scale of this, the brutality is truly unprecedented?
AVI MAYER, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "JERUSALEM POST": Absolutely, Jim. You know, when you look at what is happening in Israel today, you have to understand that Israel is a country of under 10 million people; 100 potential abductees or 300 Israelis killed are the equivalent of 9,000 Americans. That's three 9/11s.
That's what we're talking about here in terms of scale. This country has been devastated and it is in a state of shock. You have Israelis who don't know whether their loved ones are dead or missing, who haven't heard from them since this morning.
There is total confusion in southern Israel. There are still, as been mentioned, some ongoing sites, where there are exchanges of gunfire between Israeli service members and terrorists, who have taken hostages and have embedded themselves into those communities.
But the situation is extremely tenuous, one of the scariest days in Israel's history for sure.
SCIUTTO: I'm sure. And you are there. And I'm sure you are feeling it as well personally, as well as professionally, given that this is the work you do. So much to dig into.
But can we speak first about the hostages?
Does the Israeli government have a handle on exactly how many people were taken alive?
And again, that might be information they are not sharing with great detail, because they, of course, don't want Hamas to know how much they know or where folks might be.
But is it your sense that they know how many have been taken?
MAYER: Yes, I think they have a sense of sort of a general number of how many there are. They haven't disclosed that number; there have been various estimates that have been floating around.
We do know that there are both civilians and Israeli soldiers who have been taken. The civilians included elderly men and women, mothers and small children, young people who were partying in the desert, all of whom were taken at gunpoint and dragged into Gaza.
This is a terrifying scenario for so many Israeli families. You have to remember that, back in the early 2000s, there was a single Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was taken captive by Hamas. And that captivated an entire country for years and years.
Here you have potentially many, many times that number. The scale is simply unfathomable and that is what we're dealing with right now.
SCIUTTO: No question. I covered that I, remember being there. But, goodness, as I look at this from afar, my -- well, my stomach turns.
OK, another piece of this is the infiltration, right, in that you had militants come in, take over kibbutzes or kibbutzim, other communities. Our reporter, Hadas Gold, was saying some of that is still going on. There are gunfights underway to gain back those communities.
Do we know how many and where exactly?
MAYER: As of a couple of hours ago, there were about 20 active sites, in which there were exchanges of gunfire between terrorists and Israeli service members. It is unclear how many of them are still ongoing. We know that a certain number of Israelis who had been taking hostage in the structure on a kibbutz called Beeri have been freed. So that situation seems to have resolved itself. But it appears as though there are others that are still ongoing at the time.
SCIUTTO: The IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, say that their main objective right now is to reestablish control. That, of course, what you are talking about there, get control over Israeli territory.
But of course, there are already discussions. And there have been some hints as to what will follow in Gaza. And you have heard that from the prime minister and others. In effect they are going in. And it is going to be, well, perhaps, unlike anything we have seen before.
Is Israel preparing now for a ground invasion as it were, of Gaza and perhaps the reoccupation of Gaza as well?
MAYER: Well, we have seen Israeli soldiers mobilize for reserves in very large numbers. Soldiers from across the country have been streaming to southern Israel, in advance of some kind of offensive. We don't know exactly what it is going to be.
But we do know that the government has two aims here. The first, of course, is to free the Israelis who are being held captive by Hamas. That will be extraordinarily difficult, as was mentioned earlier.
They have been distributed throughout the territory. They don't know exactly where they are. And, it is not unlikely that they will be used --
MAYER: -- as human shields, as Hamas uses its own people as human shields. They certainly don't hesitate to do that with Israeli civilians. And then, of course, to deal a devastating blow to Hamas and to its leadership, for having instigated this horrific assault on Israel today.
SCIUTTO: Avi, I have to ask you, in past precedent, right, when Hamas has taken -- they have taken soldiers before but certainly not in the numbers that we are talking about here -- is there the possibility for negotiation and trading prisoners?
Or does Hamas -- and I hate to say that out loud because this is, of course, a risk.
Do they kill them?
MAYER: Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization, that, as we see today, stops at nothing in its murderous rampage against Israelis and Jews. So I certainly wouldn't put it past them to murder innocent civilians that are being held captive.
SCIUTTO: I want to be clear, I wouldn't, either. I am just saying, is there a possibility?
Or is this -- is there really nothing, nothing open except going in and doing their best to free as many as you can?
MAYER: Well, precedent would seem to indicate that there is the possibility of a negotiation. In the case of Gilad Shalit, we mentioned earlier, nearly 2,000 convicted Palestinian terrorists were freed as part of that prisoner exchange.
Here, we are talking orders of magnitude more than that. I don't know that that is something the Israeli public could stomach. At the same time, Israelis could certainly not stomach the images of young people, children, the elderly being executed, as might happen if Hamas doesn't get its way.
So this is the situation in Israel. It is extremely gut-wrenching and so many Israelis there are living in a tremendous sense of insecurity, even as they sit in their bomb shelters, with rockets flying overhead.
SCIUTTO: And it is great that you mentioned Gilad Shalit. There is one soldier and what was required to get that one soldier back in exchange.
Before we go, I want to focus on the assault and the ongoing threat before we get to the intelligence failure here. But this was an enormous intelligence failure here, given the scale of this operation, the sophistication, right.
I mean, you had these powered paragliders, right, airdropping militants, breaching lines and so on. It certainly would require planning in advance. It means that it was, missed that that planning was missed.
What is the sense there in Israel right now, as to how this happened?
MAYER: Look, this is an intelligence and military failure that is certainly -- we haven't seen, at least in the past 50 years, possibly since Israel's very establishment. We don't know exactly how this came about, it happened under the noses of Israel's very sophisticated military and intelligence capabilities.
So it is going to take a very long time for us to figure out exactly how it came about. I certainly believe that we will see some kind of an investigative commission, similar to what happened after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, that essentially brought down Golda Meir as the prime minister of Israel.
We don't know that it's going to happen here. But I do believe that Israelis will demand answers for how this could possibly have happened.
SCIUTTO: Or the 9/11 commission here, right, as another parallel.
MAYER: Surely, absolutely. SCIUTTO: And folks who are watching now may not know that Israelis
serve in the military and folks are getting called up right, now. This is a -- it is a group effort, many or most are asked to do their part.
So my heart goes out to you and your family and the people you know there. And, we do wish you the best, going forward and safety as well.
MAYER: Thank you so much, Jim, I appreciate it.
SCIUTTO: We will have more on our breaking news coverage of the escalating Israeli-Palestinian conflict, right after this. Break.
SCIUTTO: Israel says it is now extending what it is calling a special security situation across its entire territory after this unprecedented surprise attack by Hamas, which is still underway in parts of the country.
Early Saturday morning, militants fired thousands of rockets and then entered Israeli territory by land, air and sea. At least 300 Israelis were killed. The IDF says that some of its soldiers, as well as civilians, have been taken hostage.
And we have seen videos of them being taken across the border into Gaza.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Israel has retaliated inside Gaza, with airstrikes like this one, destroying the second tallest building there. The Palestinian health ministry says at least 232 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: The E.U., says it is unequivocally condemning the Hamas attacks on Israel and it is now calling for the violence to stop immediately.
President Joe Biden has pledged to back Israel, offering, in his words, "all appropriate means of support."
Those are just some of the reactions pouring in now from around the world. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins us now from London, with more of it here.
It is, virtually across the board, condemnation, although you have had expressions of support for this attack; from, for instance, Tehran.
What are you hearing?
SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, these shocking images came in, of this surprise attack. Again, one unprecedented, unseen in generations. Of course, as you can imagine, reaction began pouring in, some of it expected from Western allies, others are something that Israel is going to have to watch very closely. Take a look.
ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): An unprecedented attack, by Hamas, on Israel.
Israel's full-bore response, including a declaration that it was at war, with Hamas. And, a vow to exact a huge price, on those responsible.
NETANYAHU (through translator): I have ordered an extensive mobilization of reserves, in that we return fire of a magnitude that the enemy has not known.
ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Many of Israel's allies say they stand with Israel, saying it has the right to defend itself after such a large- scale and brazen attack.
BIDEN: Let me say this, as clearly as I can, this is not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks, to seek advantage. The world is watching.
ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): No signs now, of the previous rocky relations between Biden and Netanyahu. That flare between the two leaders after a controversial judicial reforms in Israel. Germany, France and the U.K., also weighing in. All three countries calling the attacks, an act of terror. With Germany's foreign minister, warning of the dangers of further violence.
ANNALENA BAERBOCK, GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Hamas' terror once again, moved the region further away from peace. Through these terror attacks, there is now the incalculable danger of a large, regional escalation.
ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Regional players, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are appealing for calm, calling on both sides to stop the fighting. Before the hostilities erupted, Riyadh was in talks brokered by the U.S. to potentially normalize relations with Israel.
With Saudi Arabia pushing for a resolution on the treatment of Palestinians before any deal could be reached.
Qatar, which historically has had both financial and political ties to Hamas, says it solely blames Israel, saying it provoked the aggression with recent raids on worshippers in the Al Aqsa mosque, though some experts say, Qatar could possibly play a part, in future efforts to de-escalate the crisis.
AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT MIDDLE EAST NEGOTIATOR: We could improve relations with the Israelis but they have been very supportive, of the Islamists and I think they want to maintain their ties and contacts with Hamas.
They may well come in to play a role.
ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is backed by Israel's archenemy, Iran, praised the attacks, saying it was in contact with Palestinian resistance groups, both at home and abroad, adding further concerns that what begin with a shocking start could spread into a wider conflict.
ABDELAZIZ: Jim, what will be most important for Prime Minister Netanyahu right now, beyond Western support, is going to be how the region, how the Middle East reacts to this. That is for several reasons.
First of all, you have to have the mediators on your side; you are talking about Egypt and Qatar. Prime minister Netanyahu has made clear this is not a time for de-escalation, that we've only just seen the beginning of Israel's operations in Gaza. But there will still need to be a line of communication with Hamas.
Again, that means in Egypt and Qatar. Then there's the question of who could escalate this potentially, of course. In that I am speaking about Iran and its backing of Hezbollah. So there will be a very close eye on Tehran as well.
Then in a wider context, it's extraordinary to remember that, just two weeks ago, just two weeks ago, prime minister Netanyahu was at the U.N. Security Council, touting a deal with Saudi Arabia, touting a deal with Riyadh that would bring a historic peace to the region. You can only imagine all of that now is derailed.
SCIUTTO: Yes, with that Saudi statement on this, certainly, and then of course, Iran, you have the supreme leader celebrating an attack, sharing videos of this attack as well, just an extremely volatile situation.
Salma, thanks so much for bringing some of it to us.
We will have more on our breaking news story, war in Israel, right after the break.
SCIUTTO: Welcome back to our breaking news. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.
"Leave now, because we will operate forcefully everywhere." Those words, from Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to the
people of Gaza. He's now backing up those words with action. Israel responding to these unprecedented and brazen attacks with airstrikes. This after Hamas militants fired waves of rockets into Israel, thousands at last count.
And then, more alarmingly, entered Israeli towns, taking over homes, taking people hostages -- as hostages, murdering some at point blank range. Fighting was reported late into the day.
And with fresh strikes hitting Tel Aviv, Israeli officials say more than 300 Israelis have been killed. The Israeli military is now acknowledging hostages, including soldiers, have been taken.
Netanyahu says Israel is now at war. Moments ago, seeing rocket fire late into the night, this was the scene over Gaza City just about 15 minutes ago. Those are airstrikes, rocket fire, underway.
Look at these pictures. These, from our correspondent, Nic Robertson's camera. He is in Zikim, not far from the Gaza border.
SCIUTTO: Again, rockets. I think what we are seeing there, if I have it right, Israel has an air defense system known as Iron Dome, supplied by the U.S., which is able to shoot down many rockets coming in. But as we saw today, not all of them because many have struck their targets.
I do want to turn now to U.S. Congressman Dean Phillips. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also a senior member of the Subcommittee for the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
Congressman, thanks so much for taking the time this evening.
REP. DEAN PHILLIPS (D-MN): Of course, Jim, good to be with you on a very sad evening.
SCIUTTO: It is a solemn, sad evening. I've got to tell you, I've covered a lot of stuff in that part of the world. And the images I'm seeing tonight are just gut-wrenching. First, let me ask you; you, of course, have a lot of experience in the region. You recently returned from a trip there a number of weeks ago.
What's your reaction to see this tonight?
PHILLIPS: I'm saddened, I'm horrified, I'm appalled, I'm disgusted. I would hope that every American who has seen those just disgusting, depraved images of women, children being kidnapped. Some of the most horrifying things I've ever seen.
I hope our fellow Americans can recognize how lucky we are to have countries bordering us, Canada and Mexico, that not only don't pose a threat to us but are our friends and allies.
Israel and Israelis live like this all the time, Jim, as you well know. What I'm seeing right now, it's sad. I'll tell you what really saddens me. This is Iran and Hamas' reaction, the response to peace.
So for anybody watching right now, if you really want to understand what's going on, they are objecting to the notion of the Abraham accords. They're objecting to the notion of Saudi Arabia normalizing with Israel.
This is their effort to create a massive disruption, a regional war, perhaps. They want Israel to respond with full force, which saddens me that I think will exactly happen. It's going to be some dark days. But I don't think Israel has a choice, Jim.
SCIUTTO: I was going to ask you about Iran's role here.
Do you believe Iran has a role?
Of course, Iran already has a role because they backed Hamas for years.
But do you believe that they would have ordered an attack such as this, that directly involved in planning?
PHILLIPS: I've seen no intelligence yet that would indicate that. I don't even want to infer it. But I can tell you, with certainty, that Iran finances Hamas and Hezbollah. They are deeply aligned. They are committed, equally, to the destruction of Israel.
They like to use proxies, so that we find it sometimes difficult to find their fingerprints, if you will.
We will find them. I suspect that, indeed, this is Iran influenced, if not initiated. And this once again, demonstrates how complicated, how difficult this is going to be. But I do want people to, again, to pay attention to the fact that they are trying to prevent the very peace that, for 50 years, 50 years, still many have lost their lives in pursuit of.
And that we, many of, us Democrats and Republicans, in both the House, the Senate, the Biden administration, along with the Saudis and Israelis, so close to a historic regional peace that would (INAUDIBLE) domino effect perhaps through the Muslim world.
That's what exactly what they wanted to disrupt. We cannot let them do that, Jim. They're going to see tough days ahead. But I ask that we all be resolute in pushing for peace; by the way, also for Palestinians.
I'm horrified by what is almost certain to ensue; women, children; the innocents will be collateral damage in something that, of course, Israel -- Israel has to protect its citizens. Just as the United States of America would have to if missiles were raining on us from Canada or from Mexico. That is the sad truth.
But we have got to end this as quickly as we can and pursue peace. And that is my mission.
SCIUTTO: One constant in this conflict, right, is that innocents on both sides, frankly, usually pay the highest price.
I do want to ask you about your sense -- they were close, the parties were close, it seemed, to an historic agreement between the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia's statement tonight does not inspire a lot of confidence, given the way they reacted to this with not an explicit condemnation at all.
Do you see this as, if not derailing, destroying that peace effort?
PHILLIPS: Well, the Saudis have shared with many that they issued that a little bit too soon, that initial statement.
Having just traveled to Riyadh -- and I met with some other senior leaders -- having traveled to Jerusalem, met with Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister Netanyahu and also Turkiye, I can tell you that indeed, not only are they close, they were eager, I believe, to do so.
The Saudis and every member of the Arab world has a complicated path ahead because many of their citizens do not approve --
PHILLIPS: -- of the bold and courageous steps that their leaders are taking to normalize with Israel. That's something we do have to be sensitive to.
I have faith that the Saudis find this important. I believe they want to achieve it. And I also believe that the Abraham accords must be strengthened. We must celebrate them. And we must ensure that the United States of America does everything it can to not let its proxies-- Hezbollah, Hamas -- destroy perhaps the most historic moment in history.
It's going to become hard in the coming days and months. But I do believe we will get there. We have to be resolute. I would just ask Americans to have empathy, of course, for Palestinians but also have empathy for the women and children and soldiers that are now captive, being slaughtered.
It is just abhorrent, disgusting and, my goodness, we cannot let this continue. And we mobilize for peace, every one of. Us
SCIUTTO: It's not -- it's impossible not to have empathy. All you have to do is watch one of those videos, showing the frightened faces of those people taken away. It's gut-wrenching to see.
Before we go, on Congress' role here, because as you know, we have a leadership problem. There's no speaker. And a continued debate among the Republicans in the House about how to move forward.
Can aid, additional aid for Israel, get through all this?
By the way, you have the -- with Ukraine aid, the response was, well, Democrats care more about the Ukrainian border than about the southern border.
Are you going to see any of that kind of resistance, that this isn't our fight?
PHILLIPS: Well, I'd like to have more faith in my GOP colleagues right now, Jim, to be forthright. I will say that we have to; absent a Speaker of the House, we can't do anything, by the way.
The only thing the Speaker pro tem right now, Patrick McHenry, can, do according to the rules, is be the chair on the leadership of the election, the actual speaker election.
So right, now the House literally cannot do anything. I want to point out to everybody, though, there is an analogy here. The dysfunction in the United States Congress is going to be consequential. The world is paying attention.
Some of the challenges in Israel, in recent months, I think, perhaps opened a door to what occurred in the last 24 hours. I think there are some that are taking advantage of what they consider to be perhaps some temporary weakens.
We are exhibiting the same thing. And I would then ask and encourage and invite all of my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, to ensure that we put the country first and end this nonsense of shutdowns, of vacations of speakers.
And I hope my GOP colleagues and friends, on Tuesday, when we reconvene in the United States Congress, will choose a speaker expeditiously and, most importantly, ensure somebody of principle and character, that keeps our national interests in mind first and then takes care of our friends and allies, to whom we owe a great deal around the world.
And this is a great example of that. And I call everybody's attention to the fact we've got to come together, because, absent that, we will also be at risk.
SCIUTTO: Well, we'll be watching that story as well this week. Congressman Dean Phillips, thanks so much for joining us this evening.
PHILLIPS: Thank you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: And we'll have more on the breaking news on the situation in Israel after a short break.
SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Our Nic Robertson is on the ground in southern Israel now. He had some
harrowing moments from the moment he arrived in the country at the airport in Tel Aviv.
Nic, good to have you.
First, can you tell us where you are and what you are seeing where you are?
ROBERTSON: Yes, about 2.5 miles from Gaza, which is just down the southern coastal highway behind me here, we are just outside the town of Zikim. Just over the hill over there on Zikim Beach, this evening, seven Hamas militants tried to land and have an incursion from that beach into Israel here.
The checkpoint behind me here is (INAUDIBLE) right now of areas that Israel feels that it fully controls. North of here, toward Tel Aviv, is fully secure. Beyond that checkpoint, that area is not confirmed fully secure from Hamas militants, who broke out of Gaza and into Israel earlier on today.
I can hear a helicopter in the sky above us; we've been hearing that through the evening. Oftentimes, we will hear it fire a heavy machine (INAUDIBLE) -- machine supported (INAUDIBLE) on the ground here. There are heavy explosions coming from the direct (INAUDIBLE) Gaza fighter jets as well in the air.
Israeli Defense Forces say they have been targeting Gaza. But over the past perhaps half an hour, 45 minutes, we've witnessed right here, above our heads, the Iron Dome defense system, taking down missiles being fired out of Gaza.
Literally the explosions have been taking place right above our heads here. We understand, at least for now, no casualties in nearby Ashkelon, which is the biggest town often targeted by Hamas by some of their shorter rockets. It's their longer range rockets that reached Tel Aviv -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: I want to get to the rocket attacks. But on the ground attacks -- and the engagement is still underway; there as IDF forces attempt to take back these towns, villages and kibbutzim, do we know, from your reporting, do you know how many are still underway?
How many towns, communities, are they still operating in?
And I believe the circumstances of such that, in some of them there are hostages, which, of course, makes those operations even more difficult.
ROBERTSON: At the beginning of the day, the number that seemed to be the official number from the Israeli Defense Forces was around seven, plus/minus. Into this evening, we understood there at least two locations where there were standoffs, where the Israeli defense Forces struck one of them.
It's on the skyline, about five or six miles away. That helicopter I was telling you I could hear, I heard it firing its heavy machine gunfire, heavy machine gun. It seems to be happening in the area of Sderot. So potentially that is still an active standoff situation. One of those that we were reporting earlier this evening, one kibbutz that has now been fully taken control of by Israeli Defense Forces, the Hamas militants neutralized, according to Israeli Defense Forces. And the hostages there secured and made safe.
But it's a dynamic situation. At the moment, Israeli Defense Forces officials cannot say specifically that everything is back under their control. From where we stand, areas of it do still sound very active -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: That last statement you said there, parts of Israeli territory still, well, some 24 hours, perhaps a bit less into it, out of Israel's control.
But before we go, Nic, you've covered this conflict for years. I'm assuming you've never seen anything like this.
Can you just describe to our viewers how unprecedented this is?
ROBERTSON: It is unprecedented in many ways. But the most significant step change, a quantum step, if you like, this happened today, is Hamas has broken out in numbers --
ROBERTSON: -- out of Gaza, been able to storm Israeli Defense Forces positions, hit and take out tanks, capture and kill, in some cases, Israeli Defense Forces commanders.
(INAUDIBLE) has been killed. Captured some lower ranked Israeli troops as well as kill multiple civilians, literally gunning them down, chasing them into their houses, pulling them out of their houses, taking them back into Gaza.
That is utterly unprecedented. It changes the dynamic. It puts and will put fear into the hearts of many Israelis, particularly those that live close to Gaza, that this could have possibly happened. Opens up all matter of criticism for the Israeli security forces and military, that they didn't have better intelligence foresight that --
SCIUTTO: Looks like we lost the signal there.
Oh, he's back.
ROBERTSON: -- have not been in before.
SCIUTTO: Well, Nic, please be safe.
ROBERTSON: -- not been into before, Jim.
SCIUTTO: No question. And given that you are right next to the checkpoint, which marks the demarcation line between safe and unsafe territory, please do keep yourself and your team safe. We appreciate you joining us.
And I'll have much more on our breaking story right after this break.
SCIUTTO: Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says his country is now at war after Saturday's surprise Hamas attacks that have killed at least 300 Israelis at this stage, injured at least 1,500 others and many, perhaps many dozen of Israelis, including soldiers, taken hostage into Gaza.
Israeli rockets continue to strike Hamas positions in Gaza, into the evening Saturday, now into Sunday on the ground there.
Netanyahu is warning Palestinians in Gaza to move away from Hamas strongholds there, vowing to turn those areas, quote, "into rubble."
The next move by Israel may be to send ground troops into Gaza, where an unspecified number of Israeli civilians and soldiers are now believed held hostage. By the way, there are videos, frightening videos, of people being taken hostage.
The Israeli military is now mobilizing reservists and, in southern Israel, active firefights are still ongoing between Hamas militants and Israeli soldiers and police. That is inside Israeli territory. Joining me now, CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton.
Cedric, we were talking before the program, it's quite a moment for Israel, for the region and really for the world, given the brazenness of this attack.
At one point here, on the intelligence, giving you are an intelligence offer, the head of Israeli Mossad saying they had no warning of this. That is an intelligence failure on a grand scale.
How is that possible, given the resources Israel has electronically, from the air and inside Gaza, how is it possible?
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Jim, it's really astounding when you listen to that and you hear the former head of Mossad actually say that.
One of the key things I think in this particular situation is that what seems to have happened is that Hamas has moved away from all the technical aspects of our modern life. In other words, they've taken out their cell phones.
LEIGHTON: They don't use them to transmit orders. They don't use computers to do it. They've basically gone back to the 18th century, when it comes to actually moving their orders and their forces and all of that.
But even with that, even if they go radio silent, as we say in the business, there should have still been ways in which to detect that something was afoot.
The fact that Hamas was able to keep this from the Israelis -- or at least apparently was able to keep this from Israeli intelligence -- that gives us a lot of concern, because their deception campaign must be pretty extensive, if that, in fact, is the case.
SCIUTTO: No question. Listen, when you look at this as well, it was a highly complex attack. You had Hamas militants in motorized paragliders, flying across the border, landing and taking over. They still seem to hold Israeli territory.
Can you describe -- we don't know yet but we have some idea, given the prime minister's comments and past Israeli responses to extreme and militant attacks, terrorist attacks like this, are we, should we brace ourselves for a ground invasion of Gaza?
Given that this is a tightly packed urban area, how difficult will that be?
LEIGHTON: It'll be very difficult, Jim. But I think we should be prepared for something like that to happen. Now I think it would be very tough for the Israelis to actually mount an operation like this successfully, unless they find a way to get in and perhaps extricate some of the hostages, do things like this.
But Gaza is, like you said, a very densely populated area, probably the densest populated area in the world.
That is something that makes it really difficult, from an urban combat perspective, to actually precisely target these kinds of areas, especially if they are going into an area with the idea of figuratively decapitating the Hamas leadership.
That is going to be a problem, because the Hamas leadership is very much a leadership that parks itself in the middle of a civilian population. That, I think, is what we are going to be dealing with here. This could be a very, very difficult thing here.
There are certainly possibilities that this could be defused. But given the way in which the hostages were taken, the brazenness of the attack, the fact that it was so well-planned and so well executed, that really makes it, I think, very difficult for either side to step down at this point.
SCIUTTO: Listen, it would be difficult under any circumstances. Now with perhaps dozens, we don't know the figure, but hostages deliberately distributed around Gaza also making any military operations there more difficult and dangerous. Cedric Leighton, thanks so much for joining us.
LEIGHTON: You bet, Jim.
SCIUTTO: We're now going to take a short break. Please do stay with CNN for our continuing coverage.