Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

CNN International: Israel at War; Interview with Australia Defence College Former Commander And Australian Army (Ret.) Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan; Growing Concern that Israel-Hamas Conflict May Escalate; U.S. House Speaker Race; Jordan Vows to Stay in House Speaker Race; China Weighs in on the Israel-Hamas War; On Two-Day Visit to Middle East, U.K. Prime Minister Meets with Israeli Leaders; Pro-Palestinian Demonstrations. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired October 20, 2023 - 04:30   ET





BIDEN: In Israel, we must make sure that they have what they need to protect their people today and always. The security package I'm sending to Congress and asking Congress to do is an unprecedented commitment to Israel's security that will sharpen Israel's qualitative military edge, which we've committed to. We're going to make sure other hostile actors in the region know that Israel is stronger than ever and prevent this conflict from spreading.


FOSTER: U.S. President Joe Biden there appealing directly for continued military aid to Israel in its war with Hamas. It's been nearly two weeks now since Hamas terrorist launched a surprise attack on Israeli towns near Gaza, killing 1,400 people and taking scores of hostages.

FOSTER: Now, Israel's military appears poised to strike back, with soldiers being told that they'll soon see the inside of Gaza. The IDF says, it struck more than 100 Hamas targets overnight.

FOSTER: Adding to the tensions, skirmishes with Hezbollah have recently stepped up along Israel's northern border with Lebanon. Earlier today, Israel announced the mandatory evacuation of an Israeli city near Lebanon.

NOBILO: No matter what Israel's next step ends up being, concerns are growing that this crisis could spill over into other countries in the region.

FOSTER: A new warning came from the European Commission Chief, Ursula von der Leyen. She says, if the crisis is left unchecked, it could spread across the Middle East, Europe, and the Indo Pacific.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) URSULA VON DER LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: We have seen the Arab streets filled with rage all across the region. So, the risk of a regional spillover is real. And this is exactly what Hamas was hoping to achieve.


FOSTER: In another sign of a possible escalation, the Pentagon says a U.S. warship shot down multiple drones and missiles that have been heading towards Israel.

NOBILO: A U.S. official said they were launched by Yemen's Houthi rebels on Thursday before the destroyer USS Carney destroyed them in the Red Sea. The Houthis are backed by Iran. According to the Pentagon, the U.S. is still trying to find out for sure what their intended target was.


BRIG. GEN. PATRICK RYDER, PRESS SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Information about these engagements is still being processed. We cannot say for certain what these missiles and drones were targeting, but they were launched from Yemen, heading north along the Red Sea, potentially towards targets in Israel. Our defensive response is one that we would have taken for any similar threat in the region where we're able to do so against our interest personnel and our partners.


NOBILO: U.S. officials say, they're not aware of any casualties from the incident.

FOSTER: Meanwhile, U.S. forces in the Middle East have come under fire for fifth time this week. Officials say, two rockets fired this morning targeted an area near the Baghdad airport that houses both U.S. military and civilian personnel. One rocket was shot down whilst the other exploded without causing any casualties.

Earlier this week, U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria came under drone attacks. An American civilian contractor in Iraq died of a heart attack after an early warning system sounded.

NOBILO: For more now, we're joined by Mick Ryan, a retired general of the Australian army. And he's also the author of the book, "War Transformed: The Future of the 21st Century. Great Power Competition and Conflict." General Ryan's in Brisbane for us. Thanks so much for joining us this morning/evening where you are.


NOBILO: Max was just --

RYAN: Thank you.

NOBILO: -- Max was just outlining there the number of times that U.S. forces in recent days have come into contact with military engagements of various sorts. Now, obviously, the U.S. wanted to have a beefed-up presence in the region as a form of deterrence. But surely it also raises the risk of escalation because it means that the U.S. can become a direct target of some of these actors themselves, and then what happens?

RYAN: Well, certainly the U.S. being there, it may become a target. But at the end of the day, a lot of these activities have been generated by the Hamas attack on 7th October.


It's emboldened actors in the region. They see Israel and other countries as weaker, and they're making the most of the opportunity they feel exists to attack Israel and U.S. interests across the region.

FOSTER: In the last hour -- well, in the last half hour, in fact, the IDF told us that if things escalate with Hezbollah, they will hold Lebanon accountable. Is that an escalation in itself?

RYAN: Well, I'm not sure how they'll actually do that. But certainly, Israel is trying to deter as much as possible other actors conducting attacks on Israel. And the most dangerous one is Hezbollah with this massive arsenal of over 150,000 rockets. It will be trying everything it possibly can to only have to fight one war on one fight -- on one front at a time.

NOBILO: All eyes on Iran for obvious reasons. How do you assess the Iranian response to the events of this week in terms of their appetite or reticence to get further involved in this?

RYAN: Well, certainly that made some comments that haven't been helpful about Israel's potential operations in Gaza and what might happen there. But Iran, over the last 20 or 30 years or so, has preferred to work through proxies in the region, whether that's Hamas or whether that's Hezbollah in the north, that's most likely to be its preferred pathway ahead. I don't know that Iran would like to be directly involved in this conflict when it can outsource operations to others.

FOSTER: The broader destabilization of the region, presumably, is one of the ways this is going to escalate perhaps in countries like Lebanon or Jordan that get destabilized because of sympathy for the Palestinians, which they don't feel is being recognized by their leaderships.

RYAN: Well, certainly no country in the region wins from what Hamas is trying to do. He -- even Iran needs to be very careful that any wider destabilization might blow back on it. I mean, one of the core reasons why Hamas undertook these attacks on the 7th of October was to prevent normalization of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia. And that deal would have come with greater concessions for the Palestinians and greater support for them. Hamas has blown all that away, and it's going to destabilize many countries across the region. NOBILO: In terms of hearts and minds, the West is obviously in quite a delicate situation here. In no way. underestimating the horror and the terror that Hamas inflicted upon Israel, I think we all agree on that. In terms of the response in Gaza and the public opinion in western countries, and sympathy towards the Palestinian cause, it's quite difficult for them, it seems, to maintain the moral high ground of civilian deaths continue apace in Gaza.

RYAN: Well, it will be certainly very difficult for some of Israel's supporters to continue strongly supporting Israel if the civilian death toll increases there. At the end of the day, you know, the President of the United States today in his speech, while strongly reiterating U.S. support for Israel, was also very strong on the matter of Gazan civilians and preventing civilian casualties to the maximum extent possible. It's a very difficult line that the United States and other supporters of Israel are going to have to walk in the coming days, weeks and possibly months ahead.

FOSTER: One other way it could escalate is in countries like Australia or European countries where there's a reflection as there has been in the past in a rise in jihadism. How concerned are you about that?

RYAN: Well, I think, you know, self-radicalization is certainly something we've seen over the last decade or so. A lot of people don't need these kinds of events to do some terrible things. But it does prompt people to get online, to look at social media, to look at some of these abhorrent acts into, you know, really engage in behaviors and in online behaviors that they may not do normally, even as far away as the bottom of the world here in Australia.

We've seen protests with people chanting, gas the Jews, which is really just the most awful behavior. But unfortunately, when we see these kinds of conflicts in the Middle East, it does tend to enrage and engage a wide swathe of people around the world.

FOSTER: OK. Mick Ryan in Brisbane, Australia, really appreciate your insight on all of those topics.

RYAN: Thank you.

NOBILO: And we'll get back to our top story in just a bit, but right now the U.S. House of Representatives remains rudderless after speaker hopeful Jim Jordan came up far short in his second effort to secure the gavel.


FOSTER: ?Later today, the Republican hardliner will hold a news conference ahead of what would be the third speaker vote. Although Jordan appears to be bleeding support, the longer this all jags on. Our CNN's Melanie Zanona picks up that story.


MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, Jim Jordan is not backing down despite the fact that he has been unable to win over some of his most ardent detractors. He is pushing ahead with his speakership bid. On Friday, he is planning to go to the floor for a third time. Before that, he's expected to hold a press conference where he's going to try to rally support for his speakership bid.

Now, on Thursday, he also met with some of the holdouts who have been vowing to vote against him, he's trying to win them over. And his goal right now is he knows he's probably not going to win on the first ballot on Friday that he takes, but he is hoping to show at least some type of progress. However, after that meeting, a number of those holdouts said, they're not budging in their opposition. Let's take a listen.

REP. MIKE KELLY (R-PA): I don't know that any minds change. This guy refuses to lose, and that's OK. I find that to be very good, but at some point, that we're going to have to move forward and we can't keep the country shut down.

REP. VERN BUCHANAN (R-FL): We'll find out if there is any more votes. I don't think very much in the near future. It's going to be a while.

ZANONA: So, we'll see if Jim Jordan is able to make any progress. We are told, however, that there were some people who voted for Jordan on the second ballot who are now planning to vote against him on the third, which would be very problematic for Jim Jordan and his speakership.

In the meantime, there are now new concerns over members safety. There have been several Republicans who voted against Jim Jordan who say, they are now experiencing death threats. Jordan, of course, has denounced those death threats and said he has no involvement in this outside pressure campaign. But all of it speaks to the growing tensions and frustration in the GOP as they struggle to select a new speaker.

Melanie Zanona, CNN, Capitol Hill.


NOBILO: China's president makes his first public statement on the Israel-Hamas war since it began almost two weeks ago. Details on Xi Jinping's comments when we come back.



NOBILO: Chinese President Xi Jinping is calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

FOSTER: According to Chinese state media, Xi is also pushing for a two-state solution to the decades old dispute between Israel and the Palestinian people.

Let's bring in CNN's Steven Jiang live for us in Beijing. There will be a lot of sympathy around the world for that strategy. It's just perhaps not the time. Perhaps Israel isn't in the frame of mind to even consider any, sort of, negotiation or peace deal when they're on the attack.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: That's right, Max. And what Xi Jinping said in terms of a ceasefire and that two-state solution being the fundamental way out of this crisis not new, not surprising. And he also said during his meeting with the visiting Egyptian prime minister, where he also said, China's ready to work with the -- with Arab nations to promote a more comprehensive and lasting solution to this issue.

And on that front, the Chinese special envoy to the Middle East actually has now arrived in Doha and just held talks with his Russian as well as Qatari counterparts, very much reiterating his top leader's comments. But as you mentioned, as also many analysts pointed out, the problem is right now is the Chinese response seems to be disconnected from reality.

And also, they say this kind of response, not unlike what China has said after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This seems to be more about projecting the image of a peacemaker than acting as one. In the past few days, we have seen the Chinese foreign minister, for example, expressing a hardened line towards Israel while the government here still refuses to even name Hamas in any of their statements and condemnations that the state media coverage of the story appears to be increasingly one sided, very much focused on the Palestinian cause and on their tightly controlled social media.

As you know, the government literally could flip the switch to shut down any conversations they don't like. We have seen an explosion of anti-Israel and often antisemitic comments. And all of that, according to experts, is an indication of where the government's position truly lies.

And you know, at the end of the day, though, a lot of people also see this as connected to the current tensions between Washington and Beijing. We have seen officials here, but also state media and even social media users now training their fires on Washington and blaming the U.S. as the ultimate culprit here. Driving home the point that the U.S. is a factor of instability around the world, while China is the factor of peace.

And that, of course, is a point Xi Jinping very much made in the past few days, doing that has set about and brought for him, very much again, reinforcing this desire and willingness to reshape a U.S. led world order, Max.

FOSTER: OK. Steven in Beijing, thank you.

NOBILO: U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to travel to Egypt this morning. He was in Jerusalem Thursday meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, both as a show of support for Israel, but also to stress the need for humanitarian aid to reach the people of Gaza.

FOSTER: Both leaders agreed on the importance of defeating Hamas, with Netanyahu saying his country is fighting an axis of evil led by Iran.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Hamas are the new Nazis, they're the new ISIS, and we have to fight them together just as the world, the civilized world, united to fight the Nazis and united to fight Hamas. It must together now stand with Israel as we fight and defeat, defeat Hamas. This is not merely our battle. It's the battle of the entire civilized world.

RISHI SUNAK, UK PRIME MINISTER: You describe this as Israel's darkest hour. Well then, it's for me to say, I'm proud to stand here with you in Israel's darkest hour. As your friend, we will stand with you in solidarity, we will stand with your people, and we also want you to win.


FOSTER: The British Prime Minister also met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on Thursday. The two agreed on the urgent need for humanitarian access into Gaza to provide vital water, food and medicine.

The U.S. has issued a worldwide alert, advising Americans to be extremely cautious after protests erupted over the Israel-Hamas war.

NOBILO: The warning sites increase tensions in various locations and the potential for terrorist attacks. It also points to demonstrations or violent actions against U.S. citizens and diplomatic compounds. The message advises Americans abroad to join the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive information and alerts that would also make it easier for users to be located in the event of an emergency.

FOSTER: Demonstrations in support of Palestinians do not appear to be dying down. More expected today, the details just ahead.



FOSTER: Protests and rallies continue around the world in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war. And in New York, hundreds gathered in Times Square to demand that hostages taken by Hamas be released.

NOBILO: The Israeli American Council organized Thursday's rally. Billboards displayed the faces of people believed to be held hostage, including babies and senior citizens. The crowd chanted, bring them home, as speakers at the event call for action.


NOAM GILBOORD, JEWISH COMMUNITY RELATIONS COUNCIL: It should not be complicated to condemn Hamas terrorism. It should not be complicated to affirm the right of Israelis to protect themselves from these attacks. And it should not be complicated to demand the unconditional and immediate release of all the hostages from this terrorist group.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NOBILO: And in Egypt, the government approved official call for nationwide protests in the coming hours, not just the Palestinians in Gaza, but also to support the Egyptian President and his opposition to a million displaced Palestinians being forced to relocate to Egypt.

FOSTER: This would be the first government approved mass protest there since President El Sisi assumed power nearly a decade ago. On Wednesday, demonstrators demanded humanitarian aid be allowed into Gaza. Those protests come on the heels of multiple pro-Palestinian rallies in Europe and the Middle East.


NOBILO: Hundreds of people in Paris supported Palestinians on Thursday. They got a last-minute green light to participate after some pro-Palestinian protests were banned last week. The French Interior Minister said they could create public disorder, but a French court later ruled the rallies should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

FOSTER: In Pakistan, hundreds of people took part in what organizers called the Palestinian Solidarity March. Some of the protesters in Islamabad called for a boycott of Israeli products, while at another rally they trampled on the U.S. and Israeli flags.

NOBILO: And in Algeria, thousands of people carried banners and Palestinian flags during a rally in the capital on Thursday. Some of their banners called the Israeli bombing campaign a genocide.

And before we go, if you would like information on how to help with humanitarian relief efforts for Gaza and Israel, please do go to, there you'll find a list of vetted organizations that are providing assistance. That is

FOSTER: Thanks for joining us here on "CNN Newsroom." I'm Max Foster.

NOBILO: And I'm Bianca Nobilo. "Early Start" is up next right here on CNN.