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The Situation Room

Hamas Launches Unprecedented Terror Attack on Israel; Biden Decries Unconscionable Hamas Attack on Israel; Interview with Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA); Israel: At Least 200 Dead in Surprise Hamas Attack. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 07, 2023 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now. Breaking news. Shocking scenes out of Israel and Gaza, as Hamas launches a surprise attack, killing at least 200 Israelis, the terror group catching Israel off guard, as fighters stormed across the Gaza border and launched more than 2,000 rockets towards Israel. A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces tells me fighting is ongoing right now, and that Israeli troops still don't have full control over their territory.

We want to welcome 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.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And we begin this hour with the breaking news out of Israel, Hamas militants pouring across the Gaza border in a deadly surprise attack. Listen to one Israeli woman's terrifying firsthand account of the raid.


ORTEL, EYEWITNESS, ATTENDED NATURE FESTIVAL (through translator): Suddenly out of nowhere, shots are coming in. They started shooting in every direction, and I took the car keys and just drove and started moving forward to get out of the shots -- out of the shots.

And at some point they overtook us. We were overtaken by the shooters. They started shooting at our vehicles. We got out of the vehicles. I didn't keep driving. We took cover.


BLITZER: CNN's Nic Robertson is on the ground for us in Israel right near the Gaza border.

Nic, so far, what have you seen tonight?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Wolf, this is the point where that area of Israel, the defense forces are still going through confronting the Hamas militants is taking place. We can hear it, we can see it and about 10 or 15 minutes ago, we saw a reinforcement of military come down this road, stop at the checkpoint here, get clearance and then go on further towards Gaza.

We're about two-and-a-half miles from the northern end of the Gaza strip here. You can hear maybe a helicopter above me, that's become an increasingly dominant sound here and the night sky. It's hard to see. But then at times, it will open up with its heavy machine gun, and that does appear to be in support of those Israeli troops who are on the ground, still confronting those militants and that is going on within our earshot just over there.

We're hearing over this way out towards the sea heading towards Gaza. That way, we're hearing fighter jets flying over. We're seeing flashes on the horizon. Just heard a couple of big detonations there, detonations that appear to be coming from Gaza or around Gaza, where the Israeli Defense Forces are still confronting those Hamas militants.

A priority for the government tonight is take back control of this area here around Gaza, seal off Gaza, make sure that there are no more Hamas militants in that area, and what we are seeing here, in essence, we are hearing and seeing the battle play out over there, the shelling in Gaza, and reinforcements coming in down the highway here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, what else do you expect to see tonight?

ROBERTSON: I think really realistically, there will be an increase. This is what the Israeli Defense Force spokesman was saying just earlier on, expect the attacks to ramp up, the response to ramp up through the night.

I think we'll expect to see more Israeli Defense Forces arriving here going down towards Gaza, and likely to hear until those Hamas militants are killed or back inside Gaza. We will continue to hear the helicopter in the sky above us, the gun -- the gunship -- the helicopter gunship firing its heavy machine guns.

It's going to be a very active and fluid night down here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you get the sense, Nic, as I do, that this is going to be a protracted fight that this war really, for all practical purposes is only just beginning.

ROBERTSON: Very much so, Wolf.

We both know. We've been covering these sorts of situations here in Israel, other countries for many, many years together. It takes time for the government to make its decisions, for the military to enact that, to mobilize the reservists, to get all their heavy military hardware required for a potential incursion, which is the expectation for what will happen in Gaza.

When that happens, it will be coming down roads like this here, but it will probably take at least several days for that flow of military equipment and the support for it, the fuel, the ammunition to get it all here in place, to get the plans mapped out, and for Israeli Defense Force, and Israel's intelligence services to map out as precisely as they can where Hamas is, where any hostages are being held, and how the recovery of those hostages might take place.


None of those sorts of decisions can happen quickly, but from what we're seeing, the movement of troops coming tonight, already some decisions have been taking place. Heavy equipment, we haven't seen that arriving yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Zikim, Israel right outside of Gaza. Stay safe over there, Nic, we'll get back to you later this hour.

Here in Washington, the Biden administration is condemning the attacks and reaffirming its strong support for Israel. I'm joined now by CNN senior White House correspondent, Kayla Tausche who has reaction from President Biden.

Kayla, what are sources telling you first of all about the conversations that are happening right now over at the White House and across indeed the US government?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House has been working around the clock to assess the scope of Israel's needs as it responds to the situation, which officials are calling appalling and unprecedented.

A senior administration official says this evening that the focus is on keeping the violence contained, and on assessing what military aid is needed with conversations up and down the military chain to that effect, and that there could be an announcement as soon as tomorrow.

This official says that there are unique challenges posed by the fact that the US currently lacks a speaker of the House of Representatives, as well as a permanent ambassador to Israel, and that could provide some obstacles in providing timely and fulsome support to the Israelis, but President Biden, in no uncertain terms earlier today said that that support from the US will be unwavering.

BLITZER: You have a number Lieutenant Colonel of how many Israelis --

TAUSCHE: I believe we have the wrong soundbite there, Wolf. But President Biden said that the US will provide rock solid support to Israel, it will be unwavering, and he also had a message to the rest of the world, saying this is not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks to seek advantage and the president says, the world is watching.

And while he didn't specify the target of that message specifically, it was seen as a shot across the bow to Iran. Now, a senior administration official just this evening said that there is no indication at this stage that Iran was directly involved in the violence overnight, although the administration says that Iran's role as a longtime benefactor of Hamas cannot be ignored.

BLITZER: Kayla Tausche at the White House. Thank you very, very much.

Let's discuss what's going on. Joining us now CNN national security analyst, Beth Sanner, CNN political and national security analyst, David Sanger, and a contributing correspondent for Axios, Barak Ravid.

Barak, this was clearly a sophisticated multi-prong surprise attack by Hamas. How unprecedented was today's assault?

BARAK RAVID, AXIOS, CONTRIBUTING CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think it is the most deadly invasion Israel as endured since the 1973, Yom Kippur War. You know, I guess you know Israel very well, and I guess that when you saw those pictures of what was going on inside Israel, you couldn't believe your own eyes.

And I think that many people around the world are watching what was going on, and they just couldn't believe, of -- that Israel was that surprised of this huge attack by Hamas with some assessment say 1,000 Hamas operatives entered Israel from the border with Gaza and just, you know, swarmed into Israel, and some of them managed to reach five miles into Israel, into whole cities, driving around the cities with pickup trucks shooting everybody they see.

This is something I think that will -- that is shocking for many, many Israelis, and will have at least, at least the same ramification as the Yom Kippur War domestically, maybe even more.

BLITZER: Yes, and kidnapping a lot of Israelis -- men, women and children and bringing them back to Gaza. Very, very serious development as well.

Beth, let me get your reaction to what an IDF spokesperson told me here in the SITUATION ROOM about the hostage situation that has now developed. Watch it listen to this.


BLITZER: You have a 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.

LT. COL. (RES) JONATHAN CONRICUS, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES INTERNATIONAL SPOKESPERSON: You know, 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.



BLITZER: So Beth what's your reaction and what kind of impact do you see this having?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think it is totally unprecedented and it's going to lead to Israel having to take actions against Gaza that they really haven't -- wanted to take in the past. In the past, they haven't wanted to go in with ground troops, but now that you have hostages, I kind of feel that, you know, first, this was clearly planned, you don't take that many hostages just, you know, by happenstance. This is part of what Hamas wants and I think it's going to drive the Israelis to do a ground operation.

And then I think we're really, again, looking at a real risk of an escalation of this war, to include maybe Hezbollah coming in with attacks from the north, as they have warned.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what Israelis are clearly concerned about, as well.

David, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is warning that Israel will "exact a huge price from the enemy," a huge price from the enemy. What do you anticipate that will be?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think the big question is, do they go do a ground operation to go into the Gaza, something that as Beth pointed out, they have been hesitant to do because once you're in, obviously, then you run into all of the problems that we've seen happen time and again, with occupation forces.

It was interesting that when we got a briefing from a senior administration official just a few minutes ago, they did not -- they would not take a position on whether or not the US would support a ground operation in to the Gaza. They said they obviously are a hundred percent behind the Israelis, they will provide the Israelis with enhanced intelligence. It sounds like tomorrow, they're going to be announcing, making some other defensive related announcements.

But this question is a very big one, Wolf, because you could imagine the situation in which President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu are divided on this. It is going to be President Biden's position, I suspect fairly quickly, that they need to de-escalate and you know, calm things down. And yet, Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to want to was reestablished deterrence, and clearly, deterrence failed here along with the intelligence failure.

So I think we could see the US and Israel differ on the tactic of where to take this next.

BLITZER: Interesting indeed, Barak Ravid, is this from your perspective, and you're an expert on this area, is this the biggest intelligence failure in the history of Israel?

RAVID: No doubt. I think it's clear to everybody, Gaza is a small place. It's right around the corner for Israel. It's not something that is, you know, thousands of miles away. The Israeli intelligence is watching Gaza all the time. It built a technological fence around Gaza exactly for that kind of scenario, it all failed.

Nobody had a clue. There was no early warning. And I think it also shows something about where the Israeli government and the Israeli military attention was in the last nine months. It was not in Gaza. It was not even in Iran, it was all domestically in the domestic crisis over the judicial overhaul.

And I think that what we see now is one of the results of the domestic crisis Israel was engulfed in for the last few months, and I think that Hamas saw what was going on and decided to take advantage.

BLITZER: Interestingly, indeed. You know, Beth, Israel, as we all know, has a very sophisticated air defense system called the Iron Dome. Why did the system fail to protect the country today?

SANNER: I think it's just volume. You know, they just -- it overwhelmed the system. That number and that -- you know, where they fired, I think it was very, very carefully planned and to Barak's point, you know, it wasn't just an intelligence failure, it was also a security failure.

All of those early warning systems also failed, and I think it goes beyond Gaza, because we know that Iran has been meeting with Hezbollah and Hamas for months since last April, and doing a lot of joint planning, and specifically regarding Israel, so there should have been more information about this, and I think that there is going to be quite a bit of soul searching once there is enough room to breathe after this incredible challenge is past.


BLITZER: A major challenge indeed.

David, do you think an IDF assault into Gaza right now could spark even more attacks on Israel by Hamas?

SANGER: Well, it could spark them by Hamas, it could bring Hezbollah in from the north, it could bring the Iranians in. And so, certainly Israel is not going to want to do that unless it thinks it's got a fairly good ability to deter having this war spread to multiple borders.

You know, just thinking back on the intelligence question you've been discussing here with Beth and with Barak. What was supposed to happen in the past couple of years, was that the technological improvements that Israel had from satellite, from the ability to get into cell phones, from drones was all supposed to go toward increasing warning.

But not only has this current government been focused on the judicial reform, it's also been focused on the expansion of settlements elsewhere in the country. And so there's going to be I suspect, a lot of soul searching over the question of whether they were looking in the wrong place, and my guess is, there is going to have to be some kind of commission, an equivalent to our 9/11 Commission that asks the question, how could you have spent so much money, so much time over the past number of years and been so taken by surprise?

BLITZER: Excellent analysis indeed. Everyone, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, the breaking news will continue here in the SITUATION ROOM. We'll get another live report from Israel. This is a Special Edition of the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Take a look at this. This is a picture posted by the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz. It is the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin showing solidarity with Israel right now. This is in Germany. Look at that picture.

We're following the breaking news out of Israel: At least 200 Israelis are dead after a truly shocking raid by the terror group, Hamas. Let's get some more right now from the editor-in-chief over at "The Jerusalem Post," Avi Mayer.

Avi, thanks so much for joining us.

First of all, what can you tell us about the situation on the ground now? Is the fighting ongoing? Are the hostage situations ongoing as well?

AVI MAYER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "THE JERUSALEM POST": Well, the fighting does seem to be ongoing in at least several locations in southern Israel. It's unclear exactly how many. There have been reports that some of the hostage situations have been resolved, but we are getting conflicting reports on exactly what's happening on the ground.

The situation as you know, is extremely tenuous. There's a lot of misinformation circulating and a lot of confusion as to what's actually happening on the ground in southern Israel, which to be perfectly frank reminds me of the day of 9/11.

I was a high school senior in the DC area, and I remember just how devastating that day was and how much confusion there was, during the course of those very tenuous and scary hours. This is numerically, compared to three 9/11s if you take Israel's population size into account.

This is a devastating, devastating day for so many Israelis who are wondering whether their loved ones are kidnapped or killed and don't have that information at this time.

BLITZER: Yes, some Israelis are comparing it not just the 9/11, but to Pearl Harbor as well. As you know, Avi, Hamas launched this very complex, multi-pronged attack. Do these tactics represent, from your perspective, an entirely new type of assault against Israel?

MAYER: It certainly does seem so. Certainly, with regard to the scale of the attacks, the audacity of multi-pronged attacks that took place by land, by air, and by sea, this is totally unprecedented. We've never seen anything like this, certainly with the number of casualties and the number of Israelis that have been abducted and taken into Gaza, which of course, include elderly men and women, and children, young people who were partying in the desert. They were dragged by Hamas into Gaza and being held there at this time. We've never encountered anything like this in Israel's long history. BLITZER: Do you have any sense of how many Israelis have been abducted and kidnapped and taken into Gaza?

MAYER: Well, I don't want to parrot Hamas talking points or psychological welfare, but I will tell you that the numbers appear to be quite high and they include not only civilians, but also soldiers, perhaps even some senior commanders. We don't know whether that's the case. That's some of the information or misinformation that's been circulating in recent hours.

You probably won't have clarity on that for another hour or perhaps several days as the situation becomes clearer and we get a clearer sense of exactly how many Israelis are being held in Gaza and how many unfortunately lost their lives in the earlier hours of the attack.

BLITZER: We are told it is a very significant number, although specific numbers are not being released.

The Israeli prime minister, as you know, Avi, Prime Minister Netanyahu out has vowed to "destroy Hamas." What will the Israeli response look like from your perspective?

MAYER: What we're seeing now is wall-to-wall support for the IDF and quite frankly, for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Both leaders of the opposition, Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz have expressed their willingness to enter into an emergency unity government with the prime minister. That is apparently something that is currently under consideration.

All Israelis are standing behind their government and their military to do whatever they can to return the captive to Israel and to deal a devastating blow to Hamas and its leadership for having instigated this deadly attack today.

BLITZER: Avi Mayer, the editor-in-chief of "The Jerusalem Post," thank you very, very much for joining us.

MAYER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, we will have more on the breaking news coming out of Israel, the deadly and unprecedented Hamas attack today. We'll get reaction from a key lawmaker here in the United States.



BLITZER: The breaking news this hour: Israel reeling tonight from a massive attack by the terror group, Hamas.

Joining us now, a key Democrat in the House Foreign Affairs Committee Congressman Brad Sherman of California.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

You've been a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- what -- for 28 years ever since you came to Congress? What's your reaction to this unprecedented attack by Hamas against Israel?

BRAD SHERMAN, MEMBER OF THE HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: This is Israel's 9/11. This will have to go on for some time because Israel is going to have to dismantle Hamas. They can't just absorb these casualties because if they do, then this will happen again two months from now or four months from.

BLITZER: So what role should the US have right now in dealing with all of this?

SHERMAN: We should provide the tools and intelligence that Israel can use in the coming months, but also the diplomatic support because there are already those who are telling Israel to stand down, to do nothing, to absorb the casualties and not respond.

And in fact, Israel is going to have to respond. You can't leave this monster in Gaza any longer.


BLITZER: As you know, the former president, Donald Trump, he issued a statement supporting Israel, but he also in that statement blamed President Biden for what's going on, calling him a weak leader. How do you respond to that?

SHERMAN: Ridiculous, partisan, petty and political. The fact is that under every president's watch, there's been terrorist action from Hamas. And this effort is an effort to derail what Biden is doing that's very good, which is the normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

So by coming close to a very important accomplishment, Hamas has gotten desperate and they've thrown everything they can against Israel.

BLITZER: So that normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, from your perspective, is on hold right now.

SHERMAN: It is - I'm not sure this will derail it, but it's clear that that's the purpose of this. I mean, look, Hamas wants to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible every day of the week, but they took an extraordinary action now because they see the possibility of normalization and something that gets the peace process moving.

And Hamas, their announced in constant refrain is that they want to expel every Israeli from the Middle East. They will not - no peace until all Jews are driven out.

BLITZER: As you know, the House of Representatives needs a speaker of the House in order to get things accomplished. You really can't do anything without a speaker. How is that going to affect what's going on with Israel right now?

SHERMAN: I don't think it'll prevent us from doing what we need to do to help Israel. I think that providing the tools is something that the president can do with monies that have already been appropriated in that short-term. The key is what we say off the floor and on the floor in special orders to say that we stand with Israel. And I think the vast majority of members will be saying that and making it clear that we don't just stand with Israel when it's the victim. We stand with Israel when they do the necessary retaliation.

BLITZER: Because we're seeing a lot of statements of support for Israel coming from Democrats like you and Republicans, conservatives and liberals. Do you see that going forward?

SHERMAN: I think that keeps going. There may be some who take a step back when Israel does what it has to do. But Israel can't just be a victim in this case. It has to make itself safe for the future.

BLITZER: So you would support if Israel launches a massive ground invasion of Gaza right now to try to end the Hamas threat, you would support that?

SHERMAN: If that's what Israel needs to do, I would support it and I'd understand it, because if you don't dismantle Hamas today, they're going to be back tomorrow.

BLITZER: How worried are you that Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and other terror groups in the West Bank, for example, could take what's going on in Gaza and Israel and begin other strikes against Israel right now?

SHERMAN: You've got to be concerned about that. But the vast power of the Israeli defense forces is - are there civilians that are called up. And I would expect Israel to mobilize and to have more power on their northern border two weeks from now than they do today. So I think Israel has had to fight on several fronts at once in '67 and '73 and, of course, in its war of independence.

BLITZER: As a longtime member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I know you're briefed by the U.S. intelligence community. What is the role of Iran in all of this?

SHERMAN: Iran provides 70 percent of the financing for Hamas, a hundred percent for its junior brother, who's also involved in these terrorist attacks, Islamic Jihad. There is no way that this happened without either tacit or explicit encouragement from Iran. And that's why in the Iranian modulus, their parliament, people are shouting death to Israel gleefully as they count up the number of women and children killed.

BLITZER: Congressman Brad Sherman of California, thanks so much for coming in.

SHERMAN: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Just ahead, CNN is on the ground in Israel covering this historic Hamas attack. We'll get a live report right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with breaking news, the massive and deadly Hamas assault on Israel.

Let's bring back CNN International Diplomatic Editor, Nic Robertson. He's right near the Israeli border with Gaza right now.

Nic, do you get the sense that Israel has regained control of the Israeli communities right near the border?

ROBERTSON: Regained or regaining, it's very hard to tell. The indications from here, we're just two and a half miles from the border with Gaza, perhaps a few more miles to Sderot that was - there was a sort of semi-siege situation there as well, perhaps a little further from another one of those communities that was understood for civilians to be under siege there.

The helicopter gunship that we heard overhead before, we really haven't heard that in the last, I would say, 15 or 20 minutes, perhaps, and it was quite prevalent over the previous hour, which does seem to indicate that the fight that that helicopter was supporting troops on the ground in is perhaps over. It does feel as if potentially some of those situations are being eased. But really, in terms of security here, that area beyond this police checkpoint here is still considered an active combat zone.

And we haven't been here given an all clear that it's safe to go in there as of yet. But the sort of battle tempo, if you will, that we could hear before has diminished. But we are, having said that, seeing bigger explosions on the horizon behind me. Those seem to be coming from directly inside Gaza itself, Wolf.

BLITZER: Have you seen a change in - on the ground presence, for example, of Israeli troops over the past few hours?


I know you've been there at least a couple hours in Zikim, Israel, along - right near the border with Gaza.

ROBERTSON: It's nighttime, so it's a little hard to tell who's in the vehicles that are passing here. Some of the buses look as if they could be evacuating civilians that are leaving where we are here coming away from the Gaza area, headed towards the north, headed towards Tel Aviv.

But we have seen a convoy of military vehicles or vehicles full of soldiers headed south towards Gaza. We haven't seen a movement of heavy military equipment, but I think it's perhaps too soon to expect to see that. I think for right now, the focus has been on regaining control of these areas here, so it's safe to begin to deploy more forces into to ramp up what potentially could become an incursion forces.

We've seen it down here before, Wolf. Just further down the road from here is where you will see the Israeli defense force line up its military equipment, get ready for an order that would push it in across the borderline and go borderline across the fence line and go into Gaza itself. Not seeing that yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: We know that the Israeli military has activated, mobilized thousands of reservists to get ready for a potential war. We'll watch as all of this unfolds.

Nic Robertson, stay safe over there. We'll get back to you.

Right now, we're over here at the Magic Wall to get some insights on the fighting that's going on. CNN Military Analyst, retired Col. Cedric Leighton is with us.

Col. Leighton, thanks so much for joining us.

Give us a closer look at the places that Hamas has attacked.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf. So when you go right into the area, this is where Zikim is where Nic Robertson was right - in this last report that he gave. So it's right close to the Gaza border. These are all the areas that have been attacked.

And if we step out here and look at the broader map, what you can see is Gaza is right here, in this area right here. This is the launching pad for the Hamas attacks into Israel in this way. West Bank is here. The Egyptian-controlled Sinai, Jordan, Golan Heights, Syria, Lebanon up here, all of these are part of the environment that Israel has to deal with, as you know so well. But this is the area in which all of these attacks came from.

BLITZER: I know you're watching all of this explode right now, but you're also keeping a very close eye on the cyber threat that's unfolding right now, tell us about that.

LEIGHTON: So what you're looking at when it comes to the cyber threat, Wolf, is that there have been a series of what they're calling distributed denial of service attacks against the Israeli networks. And those Israeli networks are ones that actually - are controlling the emergency services in particular and they're also going after police and other networks there.

So Hamas has been responsible for those. They've been using their launch sites in Gaza to do this and the Israelis are setting up defensive perimeters in the cyber sense to go after the attackers from Hamas that are based in Gaza, plus others that are based in other places like Iran.

BLITZER: How worried should the Israelis be about a Hezbollah attack from southern Lebanon into northern Israel, Haifa and some other places?

LEIGHTON: Absolutely. I think this would be one of the areas that we could see the possibility of the folks from Hezbollah actually coming in and potentially using this area to create diversionary attacks for the Israelis. Also, we have to watch the West Bank. So between Hezbollah, Hamas in Gaza, the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority there, all of these areas could potentially pose further dangers for the Israeli defense forces.

BLITZER: I know you have some satellite images you want to share with our viewers as well. Tell us about that.

LEIGHTON: Absolutely, Wolf. So these satellite images are actually quite interesting because this line right here, this is the border right here between Israel and Gaza. And you see this is the Mediterranean Sea right here. And you can tell when you look at each of these satellite images, and you see this one here as well, this is more of an east-west look. This is Israel right here. This is Gaza. Agricultural land here, more crowded areas here, also agricultural land.

But this is the area in which the Hamas forces came through and basically bulldozed their way through the fence line into Israel proper. And when it came to that, these areas right here were the ones that were attacked by the Hamas forces right along this border here.

BLITZER: These Israeli towns and Kibbutzim (ph) that are along the border and a lot of civilians, Israeli civilians were kidnapped, captured and taken into Gaza and they're there right now. And that's a deep, deep source of concern for the Israelis.

Col. Cedric Leighton, as usual, thank you very, very much.

LEIGHTON: Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: Coming up, I'll get reaction to all the breaking news out of Israel from the former defense secretary and former CIA chief, Leon Panetta. He's standing by live.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Palestinian militants from Hamas have attacked Israel, killing at least, this is a new number, at least 250 people in Israel. And a significant number of Israeli civilians and military personnel have been kidnapped and taken to Gaza, that according to an IDF spokesperson.

Joining us now to discuss this and more, the former U.S. Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us. First of all, what strikes you most about how Hamas actually carried out this unprecedented attack against Israel?


LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, there's no question that it was a well-planned attack by Hamas. They were able to infiltrate some of their troops into Israel without being detected by Israeli intelligence. They were able to gather a number of missiles that they then launched and there's no question that it was a surprise attack and Israel was surprised by that attack.

And I can tell you, the one thing Israel does not like is to be surprised by an attack. But that's exactly what's happened here.

BLITZER: You're also, not only the former defense secretary, you're also the former director of the CIA. What do you make, Mr. Secretary, of the fact that Israeli intelligence appears to have been completely caught off guard by this Hamas assault?

PANETTA: Wolf, I think there's a problem with intelligence these days where there's very heavy reliance on kind of technology and space and surveillance. And too often, they forget the important approach to intelligence, which is human intelligence, people on the ground who are paying attention to what's happening.

And so Hamas here obviously avoided the kind of high-tech surveillance that's usually done on intelligence. And it was pretty deliberate on their part. They were able to deploy these individuals without the intelligence picking any of that up. I think there's no question that the intelligence system in Israel did not do well here and they're going to have to take a hard look at how to improve that.

BLITZER: Yes, human intelligence is so critically important, even amidst all the high technology that's going on right now.

Prime Minister Netanyahu says, Mr. Secretary, that Israel will, quote, take mighty vengeance for this Black Day. How do you anticipate Israel will now respond?

PANETTA: Well, I don't think there's any question that Israel is going to take vengeance, particularly as a result of this significant number of Israeli citizens that have been taken hostage. Israel is not going to stand back and allow that to happen. So make no mistake about it. We are at the beginning of a prolonged war.

I think Israel is going to mobilize. They're going to deploy their forces and they're going to do everything they can to make sure that they are able to bring those Israelis back to their families. So this is going to be a prolonged war.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what I suspect as well. What role, Mr. Secretary, do you see the U.S. playing in supporting Israel as it responds to this terror attack?

PANETTA: I think the United States, obviously, has a special relationship with Israel. We will provide, I'm sure, military support. I'm sure we'll provide whatever kind of intelligence that they may need. I think the big challenge right now is going to be one of intelligence, very frankly, to be able to locate where these hostages are, and then be able to determine what kind of operation is going to be taken in order to rescue those hostages. This is going to be a complicated effort, and I think the United States can help Israel in trying to provide both the intelligence as well as the military support needed in order to make that mission accomplished.

BLITZER: Give us some history, Mr. Secretary. How does this attack compare with past assaults on Israel?

PANETTA: One of the things we've seen going back to 1948, the roots of this conflict were planted then and have continued throughout the years. We've had seven decades of wars and uprisings and efforts, failed efforts, unfortunately, to try to find peaceful solution. And there's no question that this last past year, the tensions between Palestinians and Israelis continued to increase.

There were attacks. There are a number of Palestinians that have been killed, Israelis that have been killed. We kind of didn't pay attention to the amount of tensions that were arising. And so, ultimately, Hamas took this step, this dramatic step, and nobody saw it coming.


So, it's a wake-up call, very frankly.

If Israel wants to protect its security, it's going to have to pay attention to the efforts that Hamas is involved with, that Iran is involved with, that Hezbollah is involved with, if they're going to protect their country.

BLITZER: Yes, not only the Israelis didn't see this coming, I don't think the U.S. intelligence community saw it coming either, but we will do more checking on that. Former defense secretary, Leon Panetta, thanks so much for joining us.

PANETTA: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: And we'll have more of the breaking news coverage coming up right after this quick break.



BLITZER: You've been watching our special coverage of the breaking news out of the Middle East where Israel has come under attack by air, land and sea. Hamas militants killing at least, this is a new number, at least 300 Israelis and wounding over a thousand more.