Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
Israel: At Least 200 Dead In Surprise Hamas Attack; Interview With IDF Spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus; Pentagon: "Unwavering" In Commitment To Israel's Self-Defense; Netanyahu: "Citizens Of Israel, We Are At War"; William Cohen, Former U.S. Defense Secretary, Discusses Hamas' Surprise Attacks On Israel, Possible Intelligence Failures; Efraim Halevy, Former Mossad Chief, Discusses Hamas' Surprise Attacks on Israel, Continuing Conflict. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 07, 2023 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, Hamas launches a shocking raid on Israel killing at least 200 people and wounding more than a thousand. The surprise attack from air, land and sea catching Israel's Defense Forces totally off-guard as fighters stormed across the Gaza border and rockets poured into major cities in Israel including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is vowing the terrorist group will pay what he calls a huge price for this deadly incursion.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and this is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM: ISRAEL AT WAR.
Let's get straight to the breaking news: the stunning deadly Hamas raid on Israel.
CNN's Nic Robertson arrived in the country just a little while ago and was immediately forced to take cover even as soon as he got off the plane at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: 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 gotten down. A lot of concern about what's going to happen here this night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Nic Robertson is joining us now live from just outside the Gaza Strip. He's in Ashkelon, not far from Gaza. Nic, set the scene for us. What are you seeing on the ground there
ROBERTSON: Yes Wolf, we've come a little bit south of Ashkelon now. We're just outside of a small town called Zikim. We're about 2.5 miles from the Gaza Strip. I'm hearing explosions. Explosions behind me. They sound as if they're coming from the Gaza Strip. They sound like they're heavy detonations.
We've heard fighter jets flying in the direction of the Gaza Strip. Israeli fighter jets would be expected, flying in the direction of the Gaza Strip. We've heard those before.
But Zikim is sort of right on the edge of the area. I'm hearing a lot of explosions now. Zikim is right on the edge of the area that the Hamas militants broke out of Gaza. Some of them tried to land on the beach which is just over the hill here as they try to make incursion by sea.
This is a checkpoint here, Israeli Defense Forces, police, as well have set up here. Civilian traffic not allowed beyond here. This is a very active zone at the moment. There's a lot of military activity in this area.
We've seen Iron Dome missiles being fired out from fields nearby here. We've seen the -- the trace around with their explosions in the air.
But the constant here, the constant that we've been hearing as we've been south close to Gaza this evening is these loud detonations coming from Gaza. It's unclear precisely what they are.
But what we're being told by the police and soldiers on this checkpoint here, this is a live -- an active military area beyond here. And this is where civilians are being held back, if you will.
So as we go into the rest of the night, that concern about what comes next, that volley of rockets fired by Hamas in Gaza, 150 -- maybe 200 Hamas claimed that they've fired into the Tel Aviv area hitting residential property, injuring people there, setting buildings and vehicles on fire there, tearing down trees and roadways.
This is the picture in Israel tonight, and this is on the edge of that active zone. And I'm hearing military aircraft above me now. I would say what I'm hearing at the moment is a helicopter above me, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic, Prime Minister Netanyahu as you know said Hamas will pay what he calls a heavy price. Do you have any sense at all of how and when that will play out?
ROBERTSON: It does appear as if he has a very strong intent. He's certainly said that verbally. And I think if we compare and contrast Hamas' military actions against Israel before by rocket fire, the response to that, of course, has been a very tough response.
[17:04:53] ROBERTSON: What has happened today is quantifiably different from what we've seen in the past. Hamas breaking out, killing Israeli civilians, taking Israeli civilians and military personnel they claim hostage, taking them back to Gaza.
So this is a dynamic and fluid situation for the government that has to weigh up its next move.
But the prime minister saying it will be -- indicating it will be a very, very strong move. So on our travels this evening, we haven't seen the movement of huge military hardware.
But in a scenario as the government is presented with right now, it will take them a little time to make the precise decisions on what they're going to do and how they're going to do it. And then bring the personnel and the equipment into position.
So in terms of the timeline for whatever the government does in terms of a big response, obviously though what we can hear are air strikes and are seeing air strikes going on today in Gaza. There has been that immediate response.
But how that follows up and how big the forces that confront Hamas isn't clear, and I think that's going to take a few days at least to play out and build up.
And typically what we've seen in the past there, Wolf, you've covered it so many times before, it will take some time to put a significant additional military force in this area. And the prime minister has said the response for Hamas will be -- will be huge. But he has also said the priority is going to be to clear out those Hamas militants who have infiltrated from Gaza that are inside Israeli territory, to make sure they're cleared out.
And that's one of the reasons why this checkpoint is in place because it's an active military zone. Beyond that, searching them out, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nick, are there concerns right now based on what you're seeing and hearing that a second wave of attacks from Hamas could be coming against Israel any time soon?
ROBERTSON: the analysis so far, Wolf, seems to be that Israel was caught to some degree flat footed. Its intelligence didn't see this type of attack coming.
Hamas, therefore, has been able to prepare, if you will, unseen or unheard or unnoticed in detail of what they were doing.
They have withstood barrages of fire by Israel today and responded this evening with those rockets on Tel Aviv. Ten years ago Hamas rockets couldn't reach Tel Aviv. Now they can. They're a greater danger to more Israeli citizens.
So the concern tonight is what else will Hamas be planning? And part of that planning undoubtedly will have been how to withstand the initial rounds of Israeli response and, therefore, still be able to come out and fire rockets, not as many as they did this morning, they fired a significant number this evening.
It makes it hard for Israel with its Iron Dome defense system to take down a lot of outgoing rockets that are fired by Hamas from Gaza.
So Hamas will know that, so they will attempt very likely to keep clusters of rockets in reserve to fire big rounds, batches of them off if you will, to try to penetrate Israel's defenses.
And that clearly, they've been planning for; to what degree, it's been hidden from Israeli eyes. We don't know. But I think that is to be expected. And certainly that's what Israelis this evening are very concerned about. What's going to happen through this night? What's the situation when they wake up tomorrow. Of course they're looking to their government, their prime minister to get direction on that, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Very, very tense situation indeed. Nic Robertson, just outside Gaza in Zikim Israel. Nic, thank you very much. Stay safe over there.
Joining us now, a key spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus. He's joining us from Tel Aviv.
Lieutenant Colonel, thanks so much for joining us. I want your sense, first of all --
LT. COL. JONATHAN CONRICUS, SPOKESPERSON, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCE: Thanks Wolf.
BLITZER: -- what's the situation on the ground there tonight? Is fighting still ongoing with Hamas militants?
CONRICUS: Yes. This is a very sad day in Israel. We have sustained very heavy casualties, both civilian and military. The fighting as we speak is ongoing in southern Israel. There are still active battles between Israeli security forces and terrorists inside Gaza. And unfortunately, we have not yet been able to re-establish full control over all of our communities and all of our bases.
This is the top priority that is what the IDF is focusing on now -- regaining control, and then stemming and making sure that the border is properly shut and monitored.
And as your footage is also showing, we have started to strike the very early first wave of strikes against military targets in Gaza. It is ongoing. They will intensify during the night.
And as you've discussed, I think, you know, it should be clear to anybody who is watching that this is not more of the same.
CONRICUS: The scope of Hamas' attack, the audacity, and the barbarism that they have displayed today I think can only be compared to ISIS in its sheer violence and cruelty to all Israeli civilians. I've seen videos of paralyzed women, children, elderly, being taken off into the Gaza Strip by Hamas terrorists. These are scenes that are very difficult to unsee. And that is currently what we are dealing with. We know --
BLITZER: Do you have the number Lieutenant Colonel, of how many Israelis -- men, women, and children for that matter -- have been kidnapped by Hamas and taken from inside Israel to Gaza?
CONRICUS: I can say that it is a significant number. I cannot yet say the official number. But I can say that it is unfortunately a significant number of both Israeli civilians and military personnel. Some of them alive, some of them presumed not to be alive.
It's an extremely delicate situation. It is unprecedented in our history that we have so many Israeli nationals in the hands of a terrorist organization, a blood-thirsty terrorist organization.
And that, of course, will influence future decision-making and what the Israeli cabinet will tell the IDF to do, and what the aim of future operations of the IDF will be when it comes to Gaza.
Last thing for me to emphasize is that this is not more of the same. We will have to turn a page, and we will have to apply different tools, and we will have to apply much more power in an unprecedented way than what we have done in the past because we have been attacked in an unprecedented way by Hamas and additional terrorist organizations.
BLITZER: Yes. I think a lot of Israelis have been saying to me that Israel has never seen like anything along these lines before.
CNN has geolocated one video Lieutenant Colonel -- geolocated one video to Gaza that appears to show a woman, an Israeli woman, taken captive by militants. Her wrists appear cable tied. I want our viewers to watch this.
Lieutenant Colonel, what is Israel doing to try to rescue these people who have been kidnapped and taken directly into Gaza?
CONRICUS: These are extremely disturbing scenes for any Israeli to see. I don't even want to imagine what the fate of this Israeli person will be at the hands of these blood-thirsty animals.
I can assure you that the IDF will be focused on getting each and every Israeli back. That is a very heavy assignment, that is something that will demand tremendous effort. It is an unprecedented situation that we're facing now. Something that we've dealt with a tenth of the severity of the situation that we deal with today. We've had hostages taken by terrorist organizations in the past, but not as many and not together.
I'd like to say something about the regional perspective, as well. For us, it's clear that there is one nation that stands to gain for this escalation, from this war, and probably wants to escalate the whole region into war. And that is the world's largest supporter of terrorism, Iran. Iran funds and equips all of the terrorist organizations outside of
Israel -- Hamas, the Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon to name but a few. I'm sure that they are rejoicing in the violence and the Israeli casualties as we speak, and I think that they're hoping to derail regional positive events of rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia and anything else positive that may happen in the region.
We understand that, and Israel understands clearly that what is at stake here is that there are Iranian proxy organizations at our borders that have been allowed to stockpile weapons and what we have faced today is the result of those weapons being stockpiled on our borders in the hands of extremist organizations.
BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel, before I let you go -- before I let you go, Lieutenant Colonel, can you give us an update on the death toll and the number of wounded? How many Israelis have been killed? And how many have been wounded and are in hospitals right now?
CONRICUS: It is unfortunately still a dynamic number. And we have crossed the number 200 of dead Israelis, and we have crossed the threshold of 1,100 Israelis hurt.
And unfortunately, that is not the end of it. There will be additional figures coming out during the night and perhaps tomorrow. These are astronomical figures. In Israeli perspective, these are numbers that we have never, ever seen before. And these are -- they're unprecedented. And they will force an unprecedented response from Israel against the organization that did this to Israel, and that is first and foremost Hamas.
BLITZER: Yes. From everything I'm hearing from various sources, this war between Israel and Hamas is only just beginning right now. Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
CONRICUS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, President Biden is vowing rock solid and unwavering support for Israel. We'll get a live report from the White House when we come back.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news: the shocking attacks by Hamas against Israel which have already killed and wounded hundreds of Israelis. These are live pictures, by the way, from Gaza city coming in right now. I'm sure the Palestinians there are bracing for a massive Israeli retaliatory strike.
Let's go to CNN senior White House correspondent Kayla Tausche who's joining us right now from the White House. She has reaction from President Biden.
Kayla, this outbreak in fighting is coming at a very sensitive time in U.S.-Israeli relations. What is the president saying? And what steps is the White House taking as this dramatic and very dangerous situation continues to unfold?
KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, relations between the U.S. and Israel have been relatively strained in recent months as Prime Minister Netanyahu's governing coalition promoted a judicial reform package that the U.S. has staunchly opposed. But President Biden and Netanyahu have a very close personal relationship. They met in person last month at the U.N. General Assembly, and they spoke at length on the phone earlier this morning.
And U.S. government officials are in touch with their Israeli counterparts at all levels, and also in touch with various leaders across the Middle East as they try to figure out exactly what the administration's response and the support for Israel should look like at this moment.
President Biden, though, for his part called that support unwavering.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's never a justification for terrorist attacks. And my administration's support for Israel's security is rock solid and unwavering.
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAUSCHE: The outbreak also comes as the U.S. had been working behind the scenes on a diplomatic pact to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. That deal was expected to be months away, but it was expected to provide some sort of defense pact between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. as part of that, as well as some concessions that were expected to be offered to the Palestinians.
There are questions about whether the proximity of such a deal could have sparked some urgency for the outbreak that we saw overnight. But all of those, Wolf, are still questions that the administration is trying to get answers to.
BLITZER: Yes, lots of important questions that need answers. Kayla Tausche at the White House, thank you very much.
I want to get analysis right now. I want to bring in the former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Edward Djerejian, former State Department Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller, and CNN global affairs analyst Susan Glasser.
Susan, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his nation is now at war. This is truly a remarkable moment. Give us your sense. SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Wolf, the scope and scale
of this attack against civilians is absolutely breathtaking. Of course, people have been seeing these horrifying images all day. There will be more.
The fighting appears to be ongoing. And it will have enormous repercussions not only I think in Israel where there are already many questions about the surprise attack. What kind of intelligence and military failure led to it.
You know, there were hours it appears before there was a response in some areas that came under attack.
There are also repercussions here in Washington, not only this peace deal that the United States had been trying to broker between Saudi Arabia and Israel, the question of whether there would be renewed regional conflict. The question of what role if any Iran might have played in stoking or sponsoring this kind of attack.
There's so many questions. But it's going to have repercussions, I fear, for a long, long time.
BLITZER: Ambassador Djerejian, this surprise attack by Hamas included the targeting of various Israeli civilians, men, women and even children. Given everything we know so far, how do you expect Israel will respond and counter?
EDWARD DJEREJIAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: Well, this is such a major strategic failure really of Israel's deterrence policy against Hamas and the Gaza Strip.
You know, look, we've been following this, cycles of violence for over 30 years. And we see that this incident is truly major. It's a bit of a game changer. I believe that the Israelis will attack in great force.
But let me say this -- I think Israel has great technological intelligence capabilities, but I think here we have a real failure of human intelligence, not really knowing what the intentions of the Hamas leadership are or of those of Hezbollah on the north which is really another danger zone that has to be watched very closely.
BLITZER: Yes, southern Lebanon, they have thousands of rockets and missiles there as well. The Israelis are very concerned about what this situation could -- how it could explode right now even further.
Aaron David Miller, you've reported and covered on this region for so many years. Hamas claims it has taken dozens of Israelis hostage, kidnapped a whole bunch of Israeli military and civilian folks. President Biden says entire families were among those taken. How does this complicate Israel's response?
AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT MIDDLE EAST NEGOTIATOR: It introduces Wolf, a measure of human and political and even security complexity into this equation.
For years the assumption has always been that the Israelis would not mount a major incursion into Gaza, land, sea, and air, in order to decapitate Hamas leadership. And to, in their view, deal Hamas a blow from which it would not recover.
I think the Israeli spokesman, I think at least three times during your questioning laid the predicate for a new and even transformative set of Israeli tactics designed to do what they have not done, what they have been risk averse in doing for decades.
The level of casualties and the hostages, particularly the hostages, introduced a major constraint, and on one hand it's conceivable that large numbers of Israeli hostages could produce an incentive for some sort of negotiation to get those people released.
But Wolf, you recall in 2006, Gilad Shalit was taken prisoner by Hamas. In 2011 the Israelis engaged in an asymmetrical hostage exchange. 1,079 Palestinian prisoners for Shalit. I suspect that that has -- the redemption of Israeli citizens and soldiers in combat is a high priority for this country.
I suspect sooner or later you are going to have to see a negotiation if, in fact, those large numbers of people, we don't know how many are going to be released.
BLITZER: Yes, this issue of these hostages being taken and brought to Gaza is a huge, huge problem. And I know it's dominating so much thinking in Israel right now.
Everyone, stay with us. We're going to continue our analysis.
Up next, Israel is currently on the edge after a series of these deadly attacks from the Palestinian militant Hamas in Gaza.
We're going to reaction from the Pentagon. And I'll speak with former Defense secretary William Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: This war's clearly escalating now.
Let's get back to our breaking news coverage of Israel in a state of war after a series of very deadly attacks by Hamas across the country.
Want to bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent, Oren Liebermann, right now.
Oren, what is the Pentagon's view on how this fighting will unfold over the next few hours and days, potentially even weeks, who knows?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: First, let's be clear that the Pentagon's statements and statement from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin makes it clear they believe it's more the latter of that. This is not playing out over hours but over days and potentially weeks.
Defense Secretary Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, to give U.S. support for Israel as this process plays out.
And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising a prolonged campaign to deal with Hamas and Gaza after the terrorist attack.
How specifically this plays out remains an open question. Whether and how Israel will carry out a ground incursion. So far, we have largely seen Israeli airstrikes.
But there's an expectation and, even more than that, a promise that this will very much expand. And Israel's needs through that will become clear as the IDF's plans, Israel's military plans play out here.
What is clear to this point is they were caught completely by surprise and were unable to stop it with the forces they had there.
Whatever comes next, they'll have to bring in forces for whatever Netanyahu and the cabinet decide to do to handle this and retaliate for it.
BLITZER: Israel might ask the United States for stockpiles of weapons that the U.S. stockpiled, according to -- (AUDIO PROBLEM) -- weapons the U.S. stockpiles in Israel.
What kind of military assistance would the Israelis be looking for?
LIEBERMANN: This wasn't mentioned specifically, but both President Biden and Austin seemed to make clear that Israel will have access to U.S. stockpiles in Israel if needed.
In terms of what will be needed, so far, we're seeing Israel carry out precision-guided attacks. So those sorts of bombs.
If there's a ground incursion, you may see an Israeli need for artillery, tank shells. All of that could be requested and could be given very quickly by Biden and the White House in the case that Israel needs it.
BLITZER: We'll watch to see what happens on that front.
Oren Liebermann, our Pentagon correspondent, thank you.
Let's discuss this conflict right now between Israel and Hamas and how it's unfolding with the former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen.
Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.
When Israel says all options are on the table, what are you bracing for?
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's going to be a very bloody war they're going to carry out. And the lyrics to the song, "when there's blood in the water, what are you going to do?
I think what you've seen now, Israel is going to respond violently and with hopefully proportionate response. But I doubt under the circumstances, given the amount of casualties they've suffered, the amount of people who have been taken hostage, I think it's going to be rather overwhelming military response.
The difficulty is in terms of how many innocent civilians they will carry out in the process. So Prime Minister Netanyahu has a real tough job now in terms of satisfying the people of Israel that they are going to be safe going forward.
They're pretty terrified now. But he's going to reassure them that he's capable of marshaling the forces and organizing a way to carry on --
BLITZER: I know that the Israelis will launch airstrikes against various Hamas targets in Gaza. But do you think the Israelis will move in on the ground and launch a ground invasion to try to take out these Hamas leaders?
COHEN: I think they'll be hesitant to do that. They will if they must, as this goes on. But to put ground troops into Gaza would be dangerous for those troops.
They'd be walking into bobby traps, other types of very difficult close-combat situations with more of them being killed and more of them being taken hostage. So I think ground troops is going to be very difficult.
On the other hand, if it's just artillery, he's going to kill a lot of innocent people as well as the terrorists themselves. So difficult choice for him.
BLITZER: This was a pretty sophisticated multi-front attack by Hamas against various targets in Israel. Came from air, sea and ground, and it was -- pretty sophisticated.
Came as a surprise to Israeli intelligence. A lot of us were surprised to see this unfold when we woke up this morning.
Give us your sense, how much of an intelligence failure was this?
COHEN: Well, we have to put it in the context. Overhead intelligence will not help under these circumstances because the Palestinians, terrorists at least, are off the grid.
They're not communicating by cell phone. They are sending private messages. They're digging tunnels. So very hard for overhead intelligence or signals to detect that out.
So they have a lot of -- a few on the ground, for fear they would be captured and tortured. It's difficult to say we've got this covered as far as intelligence.
I wouldn't say a failure. They obviously didn't anticipate this would happen. They have moved forces from Gaza into the West Bank for another reason.
So I would not label it a failure. I think it's -- they'll be seen as such. On the other hand, pretty tough to monitor people who are not taking on the open air.
BLITZER: Here's what jumps out at me. Hamas, this terrorist group that controls Gaza, managed to get thousands of rockets and missiles inside Gaza to launch them within a few hours against Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, other major cities in Israel right now.
How did they manage to get all those missiles to come in from sea or on the ground?
COHEN: Well, they can come in from the sea. And the --
BLITZER: Usually, the Israeli ships patrol that area.
COHEN: Obviously, they didn't prevent this.
This is going to be a real part of the analysis of, how did this happen and why did it happen?
I think the other problem is going to be is, what does Netanyahu do? He's going to be under pressure to move further and further to the right.
And that means that they will start taking more territory in the West Bank. And if that happens, you're going to see more countries involved against the Israelis.
So we have to -- to see how this plays out. But for the Israelis, very difficult, dark day for them. It's going to be a very dark day for the Palestinians coming up --
BLITZER: So you agree with me with, this war is only just beginning.
BLITZER: It's going to be dangerous and very, very deadly.
Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.
The U.S. secretary of state, by the way, Antony Blinken, will be joining CNN's Dana Bash tomorrow on "STATE OF THE UNION." That's at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern tomorrow right here on CNN.
Coming up, we're going to bring you the latest updates from the ground in Israel's war against Hamas. We'll have a live report from near the Gaza border.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM
BLITZER: We're following truly historic breaking news. At least 200 people are dead after a series of surprise attacks on Israel by Hamas militants in Gaza.
These are pictures we're showing you of Hamas continuing to launch missiles and rockets toward Israel. But you see Israel's Iron Dome system hitting a lot of those rockets, preventing them from moving closer toward Israel.
I want to bring back CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson. He's right near the Israeli border with Gaza right now.
Nic, we've seen these rockets going off in Gaza throughout many hours now. What are you seeing from where you are right now? You're much closer to the scene obviously.
ROBERTSON: Yes, Wolf, we're really getting a sense of just how active this military zone is in the dark behind me here.
We can't go further down this highway. It's about 2.5 miles to Gaza. We can't go further down. It's an active military zone. The Israeli Defense Forces, as you were being told by the spokesman earlier this hour, don't have full control of the area.
I can hear a helicopter in the sky above me now. And we've been able to hear that helicopter coming in, getting close to Gaza. And then heavy machine gunfire from that helicopter fired presumably into Gaza or supporting Israeli Defense Forces on the ground in their ongoing operations at the moment.
This is a very active and dynamic area. Again that's why we cannot go further down the highway.
We've been able to hear fighter jets flying past occasionally and heavy explosions coming from the direction of Gaza. The Israeli Defense Forces say they are going to hit Hamas hard.
What we are seeing perhaps early tonight is some of those first operations to begin at least to take full control back of Israeli territory -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Nic Robertson, stick around. We're going to get back to you for more on the breaking news. Stay safe over there.
[17:45:56] Our coverage will continue. Our breaking news coverage will continue. I'll speak, when we come back, with the former head of Israel's intelligence service, the Mossad, get his assessment of what's going on when we come back.
BLITZER: We're back with more breaking news. The massive and deadly Hamas raid on Israel.
For more on what's going on, I'm joined by Efraim Halevy, a former head of Israel's intelligence service.
Thank you so much for joining us.
You were chief of Mossad, Israel's intelligence service. You've seen Israel under attack many times before. Have you ever seen an attack quite like this one?
EFRAIM HALEVY, FORMER MOSSAD CHIEF: No, I think this is a unique attack. We have had intelligence failures before, and we've been surprised. But this is the first time that the people from Gaza have been able to penetrate deep into Israel and to take control of villages in the south.
Not only bordering on the Gaza Strip but, to some extent, also deeper in Israel and into cities quite north of those in places along the seashore.
BLITZER: As you know, Hamas launched this major, fairly sophisticated attack on this, the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Do you believe Israel's military and intelligence services missed some significant red flags in not understanding what was going on?
HALEVY: Yes, indeed. But the story of 1973 was different because there we had the lead up to the war and we had wrong assessments of what it is that the other side was going to do, if at all.
In this case, we had no warning of any kind and it was a total surprise that the war broke out this morning.
BLITZER: What is the state of Israel's intelligence operations and its ability to monitor Hamas activities in Gaza right now, Mr. Halevy?
HALEVY: Well, they do have capabilities, obviously. In this particular case, these capabilities failed them.
I believe though that probably, in the last few hours, certain efforts have been made to improve the capability of covering what is happening there, and also preparing the counterattack, which will probably begin, or has begun in the last few hours.
BLITZER: Give us your analysis, if you will, of the level of coordination and sophistication of this Hamas attack from Gaza into Israel with rockets, a ground invasion using paragliders, speedboats to attack by sea, killing and kidnapping a lot of Israeli civilians and taking them into Gaza.
Give us your sense.
HALEVY: As an operation, it was highly successful, unfortunately. I think it was well coordinated. I think they were able to keep it secret and we had no idea that this was being planned and even, in some cases, probably they were able to have trial training.
And we didn't have any inkling of what was going on, despite the fact that the coverage of the Gaza Strip with the capabilities we have was very high and very, I would say, very successful in years gone by.
BLITZER: I think one of the major intelligence failures of the Israelis, and correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Halevy, Hamas managed to get into Gaza thousands of rockets and missiles, which they're now launching against various targets against Israel.
Israel surrounds the Gaza Strip. How did they manage to do this?
HALEVY: Well, they fired these missiles in quantities we have never seen before. The number of missiles they have launched within less than 24 hours is over 3,000.
This is beyond imagination from our point of view. And we didn't know they had this quantity of missiles. And we certainly didn't expect that they would be as effective as they were today.
BLITZER: How did they get them into Gaza, all these missiles?
HALEVY: I think many were manufactured by themselves. They have manufacturing capabilities in the Gaza Strip. Maybe they got a few of them from Iran and that was smuggled in through the sea.
Basically speaking, it is the self-production they have within the Gaza Strip.
BLITZER: Efraim Halevy, thanks so much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation down the road.
We have a lot more news coming up. We're going live to Israel for more on all the breaking news, the deadly, unprecedented Hamas attack.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Shocking scenes out of Israel and Gaza as Hamas launches a surprise attack, killing at least 200 Israelis.