Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Live Event/Special
At Least 300 Israelis Dead, Hundreds Injured In Hamas Attack; 232 Palestinians Killed In Israeli Response; Netanyahu: "What Happened Today Has Never Been Seen In Israel"; Biden Pledges U.S. Support In Call With Netanyahu; IDF: Hamas Holding Hostages And Prisoners Of War; Hamas Militants Attack Israel By Land, Sea, Air; IDF: Up To 1,000 Hamas Fighters Involved In Attack; World Reaction Pours In To Attacks On Israel; World Landmarks Lit Up In Support Of Israel. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired October 07, 2023 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: Rockets rained down on Israeli cities as far away as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, well north of Gaza. Significantly and unprecedented, Hamas militants also staged cross border raids on Israeli communities in the south, along with attacks from the sea as well. Israel says some of its soldiers and a significant number of civilians have been captured by Hamas.
And we do have to warn you, many of the scenes are graphic. Video obtained by CNN shows what appear to be dead civilians gunned down in their cars and on the road near the border with Gaza.
Israel retaliating with relentless strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza. The Palestinian Health Ministry says at least 232 people in the strip have been killed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing to find Hamas militants wherever they hide, and he's warning civilians to leave their homes, although it's not clear where they would find safety. He is also saying that Hamas is responsible for the well-being of those Israeli hostages and that Israel will settle the score with anyone who harms them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): What happened today has never been seen in Israel, and I 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, and we will take mighty vengeance for this black day that they have forced on the state of Israel and its citizens.
All of the places which Hamas has deployed, hiding and operating it, that wicked city. We will turn it into an island of ruins. I am telling Gaza's people to leave those places now because we will take action everywhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES: More now from CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): 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 a thousand injured on both sides.
A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Force gave a frank assessment of the situation.
LT. COL. RICHARD HECHT, INTERNATIONAL IDF SPOKESPERSON: A very severe morning here in Israel, and a combined offensive by Hamas, grind air and sea. The numbers still are not clear. We're not going to talk about the numbers as we speak. But the numbers are substantial. A very severe morning. We are very much now focused on sending forces to these locations where there's ongoing fighting as we speak.
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 and Gaza. A woman is seen forced 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 touch down at Ben Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv, air traffic was halted as sirens wailed and travelers took cover.
(on-camera): We literally just got 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 taking cover. They've got down. A lot of concern about what's going to happen here this night.
(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.
HOLMES: And Nic Robertson joins me now on the ground in southern Israel. You've been there for a few hours now, Nic. This all caught the Israeli military and intel machines totally off guard. What are you expecting to see when the sun comes up and the day unfolds?
ROBERTSON: Yes, we're learning a few things in the -- from what we've witnessed and just information now from the Israeli defense force that they have retaken control in the past hour or so of Sderot, which is just over there, 5 or 6 miles away in this direction. Gaza Strip, of course, about 2.5 miles, 3 kilometers behind us here.
And what we've seen at this point in the last hour or so, I think, gives us an indication of what we'll see going forward. We've seen the maneuver and movement of a lot of Israeli tanks, their main battle tank, on tank transporters, some going down towards Gaza, some taking another route around Gaza.
That's been a change. That's the first time we've seen that more than a dozen, at least maybe 15 or so tanks coming through this point here, many going towards Gaza. We've seen as well civilian buses empty going into this area in the last 30 minutes or so. That's significant as well, because they can now get to Sderot and now help evacuate civilians who want to leave that area.
The directions from the Israeli government, stay close to home, stay close to a place of shelter. Be ready to use it. You shouldn't be wandering around this area or until a few hours ago. The area behind me here was really cordoned off because it was an active military area zone where the Israeli defense force were trying to clear out the last of the Hamas militants.
But you're hearing behind me explosions. We're hearing fighter jets in the air as well. A helicopter went overhead just now. All of this concentrating firepower on Gaza. So I think this is the tempo of what we're going to see build up here. Another truck going in here towards Gaza right now.
HOLMES: Yes. And have you been able to speak with many Israelis? I mean, just to get a sense of their reaction given, you know, how unprecedented this has been, particularly with the issue of infiltrators.
ROBERTSON: Unseen before. This is something that has burst into the consciousness of Israelis, and it's having a terrible effect, because until now, they knew that if the sirens went off, there could be incoming missiles, take shelter, be safe, make sure your children are safe, all of those things. People have built that into their lives where they need to. But the idea that Hamas militants could be storming into homes, rounding up and taking people away, capturing them, taking them into guards as civilians, or just shooting them in big numbers on the streets in their towns, not occasional shootings, but big shootings. That's something new and different, and that really has eaten into people's psyche.
And I think we saw that in that clip there at Ben Gurion Airport, there were people there who were afraid. They were clinging to their loved ones. It's a dynamic situation that they're not used to. People lying on the ground crying in fear. Again, they're used to the shelling or the rockets but less used to the fact that this is an unpredictable situation with scenarios, hostage taking and killing in numbers, that have not really been previously witnessed like this.
HOLMES: And, you know, obviously this has been planned for months, if not years, really. I mean, there have also been months of simmering tensions in the West Bank, a lot of incursions, settlement expansion, and so on. But what are you hearing -- and you've been covering the region as I have for many years -- what are you hearing about what triggered the plan to be executed now?
ROBERTSON: It's something that's clearly, as you say, been in the works for a while. It does seem to be symbolically tied to the 50-year anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. A war where, again, Israel was stunned by the sudden move of Arab states within the region that attacked it. Israel, of course, regrouped, fought back, took territory back.
This is perhaps timed for that, but my sense is you have this huge amount of narrative and building expectation that Saudi Arabia and Israel are getting closer to a normalization, perhaps in line with the Abraham Accords. Saudi Arabia also working out a new relationship with the United States. This is something the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia is clearly working towards.
It's clearly something the White House has been putting a lot of effort into as well on that relationship, but it brings in Israel. And Israel is the key player with Saudi Arabia and normalization there on Saudi is no has no friends in Hamas far from it. They see them as bitter enemies.
That they -- for Palestinian groups here, they would feel marginalized by any development like that with a large Arab neighbor like Saudi Arabia. So there's significant things for Hamas to play for here to disrupt that process. And potentially, you can't overlook Iran's role in this. I mean, the paragliding training, that happened somewhere. It didn't happen in Gaza because the Israelis would have spotted it for sure.
So these things -- all these things could have been happening. These things could have all been happening with the support of outside states. And so I think at this moment, you can't rule out as well the involvement and the role of potentially of Iran here. HOLMES: Yes. Terrific reporting throughout the night where you are, 5:00 a.m. there in Israel. Nic Robertson, appreciate it. Thanks so much.
And joining me now is the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, James Jeffrey. Mr. Ambassador, I really appreciate you making the time. What do you think Hamas' calculation was with this operation and the timing and the scale of it?
AMBASSADOR JAMES JEFFREY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ AND TURKEY: First, it saw Israel weakened by internal division over West Bank policy and judicial reform. Secondly, it is closely aligned with Iran. Iran wants to block the growing accommodation between Israel and Arab states, most notably Saudi Arabia. But Hamas has miscalculated. They hadn't considered how strongly Israel is going to react and that will be strong indeed.
HOLMES: So what does what's happened suggest in terms of Hamas capabilities, resources? And given their preparations for the attack itself, how prepared do you think they are for what's to come? I mean, they'll be expecting whatever the response is.
JEFFREY: To be sure, first, the Iron Dome air defense system actually worked very well despite many thousands of rockets. There have been no major installations hit and very few Israeli casualties despite all the media reporting. Where Hamas succeeded brilliantly was this ground, air, and sea infantry assault on Israeli bases and Israeli civilian communities near Gaza. With many, many hostages taking, hundreds of people killed, that is a huge blow.
And Israel has given orders to the IDF as per the Israeli defense spokesman on CNN an hour ago to eliminate Hamas' offensive capability and eliminate Hamas' ability to govern in Gaza. That is tantamount to destroying Hamas, and that is a big agenda. Israel is going to have to go in on the ground and in a big way.
HOLMES: Yes. Sadly, the routine seems to be, you know, flare up. It will be albeit this one bigger than others. Then a period of quiet and then it happens all over again. What fundamental changes, if any, can be brought to end that cycle?
JEFFREY: Remember, relatively minor Hezbollah attack out of Lebanon, another Iranian-backed terrorist group in 2006 produced a massive, not tactically very good, but strategically effective is really offensive into Lebanon that has kept that front quiet now for 17 years. That's what Israel will seek.
They are going to go in. I see no other alternative to them, and they are going to take down Hamas as a major military force. We did this with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria from 2015 to 2019. It is a long and bloody and tough fight, and the Israelis are getting ready for it. But Hamas has provoked Israel in a way they haven't been provoked since the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago. That's the reality on the ground now.
HOLMES: Yes. The thing is Israel has said many times before and I've been covering it for decades. That they're going to destroy Hamas, they're going to destroy their capability. You know, the Gaza isn't Syria. I mean, you've got 2 million civilians in a very small area.
They haven't been able to do that to Hamas before now. Why would they be able to do it now? What's -- what would it take to do that?
JEFFREY: That's a good question. Very important to your viewers, many of them American, because this is going to involve America.
Before there was an understanding unwritten with Hamas and Gaza, you can fire rockets at us, we'll do minor incursions bomb some of your headquarters and then it settles again. We've seen that in 2008. We saw that again in 2014. We saw it again in 2021.
But Hamas broke the rules. They have asserted the ability to assault Israel. And attack is really civilians in a way we have not seen since the 1948 war. Israel has to respond. They have to take out Hamas by the Israeli people, and the Israeli state will not live in peace.
I have to implore you. This is not normal. That's what Netanyahu is signaling. That's what the orders to the Israeli Defense Forces are. This is going to be extraordinary as the Israeli military is calling it. It's an unprecedented Israeli response to an unprecedented Hamas attack.
HOLMES: It certainly was unprecedented. Never seen anything like that before with the infiltrators roaming the streets.
Ambassador James Jeffrey, I really appreciate you making the time. Thanks so much.
JEFFREY: Thank you very much.
HOLMES: And we will have more of our breaking news coverage after the break. Do stay with us.
HOLMES: And welcome back to our continuing coverage of the Hamas attack on Israel and the aftermath condemnation of the attacks quick to come from the White House. President Biden pledging that the U.S. will make sure that Israel has the help it needs to defend itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, the people of Israel are under attack, orchestrated by a terrorist organization, Hamas. In this moment of tragedy, I want to say to them and to the world, and to terrorists everywhere, that the United States stands with Israel. We will not ever fail to have their back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: A U.S. official says the White House could announce new assistance to Israel as soon as Sunday.
Senior White House Correspondent Kayla Tausche joins me now to discuss. Good to see you. The White House, you know, like Israel, clearly caught off guard by this attack. Tell us more about the reaction and how the White House might plan to help.
KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House is working around the clock to understand the scope of Israel's needs after this situation, which it calls appalling and unprecedented. I'm told by sources that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made direct asks of President Biden for specific military aid in the phone call that the two leaders held earlier today, and that President Biden directed his team to try to make good on any of those requests.
All of those requests, as many capability as it could, including not just military aid, but enhanced intelligence capabilities. That, of course, comes after a significant intelligence lapse that left Israel and by extension, the United States flat footed in responding to this surprise ambush that happened overnight.
Senior administration officials say that their focus now is on trying to keep the violence as contained as possible, and there are going to be some unique challenges posed by this moment of time in Washington. This official acknowledging that the lack of a Speaker of the House of Representatives and the lack of a permanent U.S. ambassador to Israel will provide an obstacle and trying to get timely and fulsome support to Israel.
But that the hope is that there remains a bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill to try to green light and expedite that aid as quickly as possible. Leader Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said that he has been in discussions with top Biden administration officials to offer his support and is expected to continue to be briefed on the situation.
And while Republicans have been pointing fingers at the Biden administration saying that a prisoner swap deal that the administration carried out just a few weeks ago, empowered Hamas to carry out this attack. The administration is unbowed in the face of that criticism, calling that rhetoric irresponsible and saying that it still their hope that there's a bipartisan effort.
So certainly, these conversations are going to continue to take shape in the coming days. It could be announced as soon as tomorrow in the words of that senior administration official. But I'm told by another source that even though the U.S. is working around the clock to do this, that it could get pushed into Monday possibly.
HOLMES: All right. Kayla Tausche there in Washington. Appreciate it. Thanks so much.
And do stick around, we'll have more of our breaking news coverage, including a live report from Jerusalem when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
HOLMES: Welcome back to CNN special coverage of the breaking news out of the Middle East. Rocket fire continued into the early hours of Sunday over Gaza City. Israel striking back for that brazen and massive Hamas attack.
Just hours ago, missiles lit up the sky over southern Israel. The flashes, apparently the missiles there being destroyed by Israel's Iron Dome. Defense system there intercepting those missiles in the sky.
Now it all started early on Saturday when Hamas launched thousands of rockets into Israel and then incredibly and unprecedentedly infiltrated a number of communities. Israeli forces are still battling for control of some of them. Plus, an unknown number of Israelis were taken hostage.
A man says he recognized his wife from this horrifying video of people being loaded onto a truck. Here's what he told CNN's Erin Burnett.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YONI ASHER, WIFE AND DAUGHTERS HELD HOSTAGE BY HAMAS: I have no idea where they are right now, but earlier this morning, they were visited in kibbutz near Oz, in my mother-in-law house, on the kibbutz, and they were taken by Hamas to Gaza Strip. My mother-in-law, my wife, my two daughters, which are five-year-old and three-year-old. And I lost contact with them about 11:00 a.m.
When my wife was with me on the phone, she told me that the terrorists of Hamas entered the house and later on, the conversation was disconnected. Later on, I managed to track her mobile phone by using Google and I tracked her mobile phone and I saw that the location is in Gaza Strip in Gaza.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: CNN's Hadas Gold is live for us now in Jerusalem. Hadas, a particularly stunning aspect of this is the infiltrations and the hostage taking. Just how extraordinary is that aspect? How shocking for ordinary Israelis?
HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Well, Israel hasn't ever seen anything like this really in its history, because rocket fire from Gaza, that is not new. But what is new is these infiltrations, and we're hearing from the Israeli military there may have been hundreds of militants who had infiltrated Israel.
Not clear if all of them were -- had crossed, as Israel said, by air, by sea, by land, because we know some of them entered by paragliding. And some of them may have already been within the country, because on a day to day basis, there are thousands of Palestinians from Gaza who are allowed to enter Israel and cross that border with work permits. So it's possible some of them may have already been in place and then activated in some way. But what we do know is even as we speak, the Israeli officials are saying that they are still confronting some militants in some communities in southern Israel. We do know that in just the last half hour or so in Sderot, which is a town I'm sure you are very familiar with, right near the Gaza border and Israeli town, where they had just in the last half hour or so, finally cleared it for militants after a very, very lengthy gun battle.
But even more horrifying for Israelis are these just terrifying images and stories we're hearing of Israeli civilians, including very young children, including elderly who have been abducted from Israeli territory and taken into the Gaza Strip. We are hearing that children, as you just heard there from that father, as young as three years old, have been taken as well. And we have been seeing videos of some of them allegedly within Gaza.
Hamas has said that they have taken these hostages into strategic locations across Gaza. And this will be, of course, top of mind for Israeli officials as they start carrying out, as they carry out their military operation in the Gaza Strip.
They've called up tens of thousands of military reservists to serve. So far, this has been limited to airstrikes on Gaza. They've alerted civilians in Gaza to leave certain areas and find safety, elsewhere. That's likely indication of where they plan to strike. We've already seen them striking and destroying several buildings in Gaza. But so far, we don't have any indication that a ground incursion will be happening immediately, although the Israeli military says that they are preparing for that possibility.
Another thing we've heard from the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the last couple of hours or so saying that this is the beginning of what will likely be a lengthy war. But their number one priority is to secure those towns in southern Israel. This is happening, of course, while rockets are still being fired from Gaza into Israel.
What's also interesting is Netanyahu saying that they've decided to cut off the electricity supply to Gaza.
Israel supplies most of the electricity to Gaza. This is obviously as part of an effort to try to hinder the Hamas terrorist organizations ability to function, but will also, of course, affect the civilians who live there. We already have hundreds of people killed both Israelis and Palestinians on both sides.
These are numbers that we have not seen in decades in terms of casualties for Israelis. I cannot really compare a time when there was last time, this number of casualties, many, many of whom are likely to be civilians. Michael?
HOLMES: Yes, yes. It's a great point that Israel has to take into account those hostages now as it carries out its retaliation, whatever that may look like in the days ahead. Hadas Gold in Jerusalem, appreciate the reporting. Thanks so much.
And joining me now is Natan Sachs, he is director at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Thanks for making the time. When you look at this attack, you have to also look at this apparent failure of intelligence to have a hint that it was coming. What do you make of that?
NATAN SACHS, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It's a remarkable failure. It's really one that second only to the 1973 failure, when Egypt in Syria attacked surprise Israel on the Yom Kippur War, that was 50 years ago to -- and plus one day. This is truly remarkable. And it will have long term repercussions in the Israeli system, with Israelis demanding answers, both from the military but, you know, with time also from the political Ashuelot.
We don't have answers yet as to why this happened. Clearly, there was a misunderstanding, misconception about Hamas priorities, about the chance that it would try to do something. And we saw very far too few soldiers, far too few military personnel in the arena table to stop some of this infiltration. Clearly a failure.
HOLMES: Yes. Given the planning that Hamas put into the operation and the extraordinary secrecy that it entailed keeping it quiet, how prepared them do you think they are for what Israel does next, because you imagine they wouldn't put the preparation into the attack itself without, you know, realizing what was coming?
SACHS: Yes, absolutely. The first strike in these rounds has been very important. Obviously, Hamas knew that they will be now facing a lengthy and difficult fight. And so their leadership, which cares mostly about itself, is probably now hiding, deep underground.
Nonetheless, it's quite possible that they surprised themselves with the success of their initial attack. And they may find that, in some ways, it's a Pyrrhic victory, Israel has been awaken into really being willing to take a kind of cost and pay a price that it was not in previous rounds.
I would not be surprised that this is a very long fight. And if Israel is willing to incur real costs that it did not in the past while entering the Gaza Strip, it may be much more than Hamas intended to right off.
HOLMES: That there was obviously a plan to scoop up hostages, soldiers, but also civilians that clearly was part of the operation. I mean, do you think that was strategic as awful as it is? And how big of a prize for Hamas in that regard?
SACHS: Well, this was the main goal. The whole point was to capture civilians and soldiers with two purposes. The first is they can serve as human shields in the Gaza Strip now. Hamas would hope that they would stop some of the Israeli strikes. And the second and very important for Hamas is as bargaining chips in exchanges in the future for prisoners that Israel holds both for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the smaller organization in the strip. It has said wars (ph) -- leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip political leader is himself a former prisoner, as are many of his colleagues in Hamas, and he has vowed many times to try and release other prisoners in Israeli prisons. The key way to do that is via prisoners of war and in this case of abductees, kidnapped civilians, children even.
We saw in the past Israel give over 1,000 -- give back over 1,000 prisoners for one soldier, Gilad Shalit, now with dozens of Israelis, children and elderly. Hamas is probably thinking to get much more than them.
HOLMES: What are your fears when it comes to the potential regional implications, particularly, if Hezbollah or in Lebanon decides to get involved? No sign of that at the moment.
SACHS: Yes. Well, Gilad Shalit, whom I just mentioned when he was abducted in 2006, less than three weeks later, we saw Hezbollah and Lebanon join the fight and start the Second Lebanon War, as it's known in Israel. A very bloody war that lasted over 30 days.
There's a real danger of that happening again now. Hezbollah has already been pushing the envelope and testing the ground, moving what was determined since 2006. And in the past year has been eroding. There's a real chance that they try to join in this fight.
Their friends in Iran would certainly like to do this at this point in time. And if that were to happen, I think we could see absolutely horrific images in Lebanon. Of course, in northern Israel first, but Lebanon would not be spared. I truly hope for Lebanon sake, for Northern Israel sake, that Hezbollah is deterred from doing this.
We already heard President Biden today speak without naming his beloved but calling on any other parties hostile to Israel to be very wary of entering the fray. That is the number one threat here that this is, as horrific as it already is, and this was truly horrific 24 hours. This could get far worse if Hezbollah joins the fight.
HOLMES: But perhaps not the time for domestic politics. But how does this impact Mr. Netanyahu and his governance domestically, but also his regional plans more broadly? It shifts the tension in many ways from his domestic problems. But, you know, could his various outreach deals with places like Saudi Arabia be impacted, because the populations of a lot of those countries, if not the government, are sympathetic to Palestinians?
SACHS: Yes, absolutely. So Netanyahu has been now had 10 months -- very difficult 10 months of domestic unrest, huge protests against his government and against a far-reaching plan that they had to change the balance of power between democratic institutions in the country threatening Israel's liberal democracy.
These huge demonstrations are now all pause for the first time in over 30 weeks. They've been canceled. We've seen all reservists show up for duty. And in that sense, the domestic unrest is put to the side for now. But this kind of day, what Israel saw the debacle, in many ways, is not going to be forgotten by anyone in Israel. And Netanyahu is in charge. And politically speaking, he's in very dire straits, if he has a reprieve now to conduct this war, which is widely supported in Israel, obviously.
So we're seeing a reprieve of the politics. We've seen both sides of the aisle and leaders of the opposition, talk about possibly an emergency national unity government. But we're also seeing an Israeli public that is extremely angry at its leadership.
The main goal for Netanyahu in recent months is to -- has been to try and achieve normalization with Saudi Arabia. That's something that here in Washington, the Biden administration has been very active exploring. It's, of course, put on hold right now.
I've -- I'm not sure it's off the table completely. Many people have said it is. I'm not completely sure. We'll have to see after this war ends, whether or not it has changed fundamentals in the Saudi-Israeli relationship. That was never based on the love of the Arab world or the Saudi population for Israel. It was based on the interests of the leadership in Saudi Arabia and the desire in Israel to reach this kind of deal.
It may be back. In the meantime, of course, here in the United States, we have a political cycle, a political year that may throw a wrench into that. But I would not rule that possibility out quite as quickly yet.
HOLMES: Yes, yes. Wartime unity for now. Political fallout perhaps later. Natan Sachs, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
SACHS: Thank you.
HOLMES: Coming up here on the program, strong reactions from the international community. More of our breaking news coverage after the break.
HOLMES: The former head of Mossad, Israel's Intelligence Service, tell CNN there was no warning sign before Saturday's attack. He called it a total surprise. CNN's Tom Foreman with more now on how it unfolded.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This extraordinary series of attacks began at 6:30 in the morning, when Israel was asleep with this massive barrage of rockets flowing out of Gaza. Note that this would be the level at which their most rudimentary rockets would hit about 6 miles or so. Then you reach out to maybe 25 miles and their most advanced rockets, the ones that would most seem to rely probably on some technology beyond them.
Iran has many intelligence people would say, would reach up here to Tel Aviv, that's about 45 miles from here. Whatever the placement of them was, though, there were an awful lot of them. We don't have an exact count, but it appears to be in the thousands. That would matter because that would make it easier to overwhelm Israel's missile defense system, the Iron Dome system, and make sure that some got through, even if many were stopped.
More importantly, by doing this, all indications are that laid the groundwork for what came next. At 7:40, an hour and 10 minutes later, that's when armed soldiers, fighters started coming out of Gaza into Israel, some by knocking down walls and barriers here, some coming in by air with powered parachutes, some by boats going around here.
This was something again, that indicated it was a very planned attack. And soon, you saw people with rocket launchers and rifles running in the streets. They even went and engaged military bases, where you would think they would expect the most opposition, gives an idea of their degree of planning and competence as they went in to attack the Israelis.
And, of course, we've seen those videos of the towns that had been raided near that area, where we've had reports of people being taken hostage and other people being killed. All of it speaks to this very notion we've been hearing about from the beginning, that this represents a level of planning and execution that is far deeper than what has typically been seen before.
HOLMES: The European Union says it unequivocally condemns the attacks on Israel and is calling for the violence to stop immediately. U.S. President Joe Biden offering in his words all appropriate means of support. And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has seen more than his share of attacks on his own nation and had this to say
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Israel has every right to protect itself from terror, so does every other state. And it is very important for the whole world to respond to terror in the united and principled fashion. No support for terrorists. Wherever they aim their missiles and whomever they attack, terrorists must lose.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: Salma Abdelaziz joins me now from London. Salma, it's a complicated neighborhood at the best of times. Tell us more about the regional and international reaction.
SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it's very clear, Michael, that we're really just in the early hours, the first moment of Israel's response when the -- we can only expect will be drawn out bloody potentially weeks, months, if not longer to these unprecedented attacks.
And as Israel prepares for that, and starts to think about those hostages, those captives of course, inside Gaza, it's going to be looking around and wondering what are the responses from other governments around the world? 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.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAEL PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I've ordered an extensive mobilization of reserves, and that we returned 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.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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, not flared 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 move 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, though some experts say, Qatar could possibly play a part in future efforts to deescalate the crisis.
AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER U.S. STATE DEPT. MIDDLE EAST NEGOTIATOR: It improve relations with the Israelis, but they have been very supportive of the Islamists. And I think they want to maintain their their ties in context with Hamas. They may well come in to play a role.
ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is backed by Israel's arch enemy, Iran, praised the attacks, saying it was in contact with Palestinian resistance groups, both at home and abroad. Adding further concerns that what began with a shocking start could spread into a wider conflict.
(END VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES: And Salma, as you raised in your peace area, Israel has been forging relationships in the region, the Abraham Accords, notably efforts to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. How might a massive retaliatory attack on Gaza perhaps impact those relations, those efforts?
ABDELAZIZ: It absolutely will have a massive impact and who's going to keep his eyes, of course, on what's happening on Gaza, but his other eye might just be on Tehran. Of course, those are the backers. Iran is the backer of Hezbollah. The big concern, of course, is that Hezbollah steps into the conflict. In some way, it has absolutely cozied up to Hamas in recent years. So there is concern there, no sign of that happening. But that will be a major factor.
The other thing you have to remember, of course, is the mediators. So think Egypt and Qatar, those are often the countries that can open a line of communication with the Gaza Strip. That could be vital, particularly when you're talking about hostages, captives inside the Gaza Strip.
Yes, there's going to be a military operation, but could there also be negotiations. And then as you mentioned, Michael, just the wider conflict here, the wider picture of the region here. It was only a couple of weeks ago that Prime Minister Netanyahu was touting a deal with Saudi Arabia, a very, very different picture now.
HOLMES: All right, Salma, thank you so much. Salma Abdelaziz reporting for us there in London.
And we'll have more of our breaking news coverage when we come back.
HOLMES: I want to bring you up to date now on the sudden and dramatic escalation of violence in the Middle East. Israel says it is now at war with Hamas and has launched counter attacks in the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing his country will exact, quote, "mikey vengeance" for the militants surprise attack on Saturday.
At least 300 Israelis have been killed, thousands injured and unknown number of Israelis have been taken hostage. The IDF says at least 2,200 rockets were initially launched into Gaza, and that up to 1,000 Hamas fighters took part in the surprise attack.
Israeli police and soldiers said just a short time ago that they have finally been able to take control of the Sderot police station from militants. The Palestinian Health Ministry, meanwhile, says at least 232 Palestinians have been killed in the first counter strikes of what the Israeli Prime Minister says will be a long and difficult war.
CNN's Christiane Amanpour spoke with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asking him how Israel should respond, and what the day's events could mean for the future negotiations such as they are between Israel and the Palestinians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EHUD OLMERT, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Well, obviously, we will have to do two things into different and separated tricks. One, we have to fight the terrorists, there is no question about it. These are brutal, vicious terrorists. They are not interested in making peace with Israel. They are motivated, inspired, equipped, and triggered by the Iranians and by others.
And Israel has to plan in a very careful manner. I would not give advice to the Prime Minister, not even through your question, and CNN. But I think that the reaction of the Prime Minister has to be very calculated, very careful, very aggressive, and very powerful with in a manner that will hit the terrorists and try to avoid as much as possible, hurting, non-involved civilians --
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: OK. So that's --
OLMERT: -- quite a few of them. I want to add something to this. If there was a dream or an illusion that the Palestinian issue can be ignored, I think the events of today prove that it can't be ignored, and can't be overlooked. And then something must be done in order to deal with the Palestinians, not with Hamas.
We have to fight Hamas, but we have to reach out for the Palestinian Authority. We have to speak with those who are capable and are interested and perhaps may be ready to speak with us, which we didn't do up until now for many years already. And this is a tragic mistake.
Now, we'll have to do it. We'll have to reach out for Abu Mazen and we'll have to fight the Hamas.
AMANPOUR: From what you know about the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank, do you believe that this could erupt further around, you know, West Bank and elsewhere and not be limited just to the Gaza area of Israel?
OLMERT: Well, you probably know quite well, that over the last few months, there is an ongoing terror activities by individuals, but it's orchestrated and inspired by the Hamas in the West Bank. So there is already terror on the lower level, on the lower level in the West Bank, but quite a significant terror.
And it probably can expand and we have to be careful and aware of that. But this is not the only other arena. Question is, what will Hezbollah do and what the Iranians will inspire the other factions to do. So, this is something that needs to be taken care of in a very careful, but in a very powerful and decisive manner.
Two things, two tracks at the same time, fighting Hamas and talking to Abu Mazen. If someone thinks that we can continue to ignore the Palestinian issue as if it doesn't exist, I think the events of today, a tragic and painful and bloody reminder of the impossibility of this dream.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: A number of countries around the world are liking up some of their most famous landmarks in support of Israel. In Berlin, the Israeli flag now projected on the iconic Brandenburg Gate. Chancellor Olaf Scholz posting on social media, quote, "In solidarity with Israel."
Italy also showing its support the Israeli flag projected on to the Palazzo Chigi, the official residence of the prime minister. And in New York, the spire of the Freedom Tower is lit up in the blue and white of the Israeli flag.
We can take a short break. Our coverage though continues at the top of the hour. I'll be back with that. Do stay with us.