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Israeli Airstrikes Pound Gaza After Hamas Reportedly Kills 900; At Least 11 Americans Killed In Israel, Some Likely Held Hostage; U.S. House Paralyzed Amid Israel Crisis As Speaker Fight Begins; Gaza Officials: Palestinian Deaths Rise To 687 Amid Israeli Strikes. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired October 09, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Thank you for joining us on The Lead today. I'm Jake Tapper.
Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Israel warns its punishing airstrikes on Gaza are just the beginning of its response to the unprecedented surprise attack by Hamas. The death toll is on both sides climbing right now as this new Middle East war is entering its fourth day.
At least 11 Americans are among those killed in this terror attack on Israel. And President Biden says some U.S. citizens are likely being held hostage as Hamas is now threatening to execute civilians it captured.
All of this happening s the U.S. Congress is paralyzed by the fight to select a permanent speaker of the house after Kevin McCarthy's ouster. Republican lawmakers are meeting behind closed doors this hour as the crisis in Israel is escalating pressure on them to end their infighting.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
Let's get right to the deadly attacks on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border as Israeli forces respond to the terror unleashed by Hamas fighters with all-out war.
Our war correspondents on the scene, they are on the scene where the dangerous and historic conflict is unfolding right now.
First, let's go to our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward, who is live in Ashkelon, Israel, for us, just a few miles north of Gaza. Clarissa, what are you seeing where you are tonight?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just relentless bombardment going both ways, rockets coming in and also heavy, heavy strikes on the Gaza Strip. For the last few hours, it has been significantly quieter than we've heard really since we have been here. It's not clear why that is.
We also were a little surprised when we heard from the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, he gave a speech in which he did not spell out an imminent ground invasion, though, of course, everything is still on the table, but there have been widespread speculation that that might be imminent.
And now I think there's a sort of a lull of sorts and everybody kind of paralyzed with anxiety about what is coming next, particularly with regards to those hostages. We don't know what state they're in. We don't know exactly where they are or how many of them there are, but very real concerns about their security and getting them out safely, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, earlier today, you and your team had to actually run and take cover from rockets near the Gaza border. I want to show our viewers that moment. Watch this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're fine. We're fine. We're fine. We're fine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're fine. We're fine. We're okay. You're all right. You're all right.
WARD: Okay. Yes.
Guys? Are you seeing our situation, guys?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WARD: Okay. Stay down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to stay here. We have to stay here.
WARD: Fuck. Guys, come to us. Fuck, fuck.
BLITZER: Clarissa, take us through what happened, very scary indeed.
WARD: So, Wolf, we had gone down to meet with some people from the IDF who were showing us where the first breach had been in the Gaza border, where those Hamas militants came across in a pickup truck, opened fire causing carnage, a lot of vehicles where people had been killed and shot.
[18:05:02] And during the course of our filming there, as you heard in that clip, this large barrage of missiles fired off, everyone really running to take the cover as soon as possible.
I think honestly the main takeaway is, for us, that's just one glimpse or one moment that hopefully gives viewers a sense of what life is like for so many people on both sides of this border who have been living for some time now in a state of perpetual terror, Wolf.
BLITZER: Those were Hamas missiles, rockets aimed at Israel, right?
WARD: Yes, they were. They were Hamas rockets aimed at Israel. Some of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome. Some of them landed in the town of Sderot, where other journalists were also filming and also forced to take cover.
And you've seen our Nic Robertson has also been reporting for days now, but also today with just constant barrages of rockets being fired off, and, of course, constant airstrikes going into the Gaza Strip as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Clarissa Ward, one of our courageous correspondents, glad you're okay. Thank you very, very much and stay safe over there.
And speaking of CNN's Nic Robertson, I want to go to him right now. He's in Sderot, Israel, another key location, not far from the border with Gaza. Nic, what's the situation where you are?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. I think what Clarissa is saying really is our experience here as well at this piece of the border, the border with Gaza is less than a couple of miles from us here.
And it's been noticeably quieter, I would say, over the past maybe three hours. When we first arrived here, there was a barrage of incoming rockets. We were taking cover with the police who were here at the shelter just down here.
There was interceptor missiles going up, a few more missiles fired after that. At that time as well, there was fighter jets in the air, helicopters in the air. You could hear the strikes going in on Gaza, what sounded like artillery was being fired in. There was just a lot of noise there was. There was a real momentum to the situation. But steadily, steadily, steadily this evening it's become quieter and quieter and quieter. Yes, there's the odd explosion here but nothing like what we've been experiencing really over the past 48 hours here.
And the other significant differences, of course, we're seeing a lot more troops on the move here as well, combat troops and in open jeeps with their rifles ready pointing out, very experienced-looking combat troops. And we've seen a lot of heavy mechanized armor, a whole group of mechanized armored personnel carriers pulled up here headed off in the direction of the Gaza border, another group of heavy armored fighting vehicles went that way. And there you are, just as I was saying it was quiet, there's an explosion. However, there haven't been many of them. There haven't been many like that. The tempo is down, but the number of troops coming into the area, and all of them that you see come through at the moment, they're all loaded down with supplies. They're coming in and they're coming in here to stay for a while, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Nic, stay safe over there. I just heard another explosion as well. Thank you very, very much, Nic Robertson, on the scene for us, as he always is.
And just a little while ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Israel would be victorious against what he called the horrendous enemy, Hamas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: We have begun, and I emphasize we have only begun to strike at Hamas.
The images of the devastation and destruction from the Hamas strongholds in Gaza are just the beginning. We have eliminated many hundreds of terrorists, and we will not stop there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And joining us now, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus. Lieutenant Colonel, thank you very much for joining us.
What's the situation on the ground tonight as this war between Israel and Hamas clearly is intensifying?
LT. COL. JONATHAN CONRICUS, SPOKESPERSON, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: Yes, good evening. The situation is that, for the first time in more than 48 hours, Israel has regained control over all of its territory in the south. We have now established that there are no more terrorists in active fighting against civilians or troops. We are fortifying the border and guarding it heavily to make sure that no additional terrorists will come in.
And over the last few hours, we have been striking via the air and some artillery. We have been striking military targets inside the Gaza Strip, belonging to Hamas and the Islamic jihad. And there, we are, as your brave correspondents are, showing pictures, preparing for the future of this war, which started with an unprecedented attack against Israel and will be finished by an unprecedented response by us.
BLITZER: And I want to get into that. But, first of all, Lieutenant Colonel, can you give us an update on the death toll and the number of people wounded from these Hamas terror attacks?
CONRICUS: Yes, the numbers are staggering. Every time I answer that question, I find myself not believing the numbers. Why? Because there are numbers from different times in history. Never before have so many Israelis been murdered in one day in our history. I'm talking about 900 killed Israelis and about 2,500 wounded Israelis.
The overwhelming majority of all those killed and wounded are civilians. We have military casualties as well, but the overwhelming majority are civilians.
And on top of that, to make the situation the most complex that we have ever faced, unfortunately, there are dozens of Israelis and many of them have dual nationalities, but dozens of Israelis inside Gaza as well, held by Hamas and the Islamic jihad.
BLITZER: As you know, Lieutenant Colonel, Hamas is now threatening to execute these civilian hostages in Gaza if Israel continues, in their words, attacking Gaza without warning. How do you respond to that?
CONRICUS: I am not surprised that an organization that plans to abduct civilians and drags into Gaza women, children, toddlers, even disabled persons, and happily parades them on the streets in Gaza, as if they have achieved something victorious. I'm not surprised that they would say or threaten that they're going to do that. And, of course, it adds complexity for our decision-makers, the commanders and the political echelon but what we are doing is focusing on what the Israeli government has tasked us to do.
The primary task is to make sure that Hamas, at the end of this war, will not have any military capabilities to threaten Israelis with. That is what we are focused on. And we understand that it's going to be very, very difficult times of excruciating pain for Israeli society. And there will be casualties in Israel and there will be suffering elsewhere. But we understand that this has been forced upon us and that it is now time to respond to this atrocity in a way that we have never responded before.
BLITZER: As far as that response is concerned, as you know, the IDF is currently engaged in what it calls a complete siege of Gaza, cutting off food, water, fuel, electricity. The airstrikes in Gaza have already killed, as you know, women and children there. Are you concerned, Lieutenant Colonel, about the terrible toll this potentially is taking on the civilian population in Gaza?
CONRICUS: The civilian population in Gaza is not our enemy, and we will do whatever feasible within this situation of being at war in order to avoid striking and inflicting any damage or casualties to civilians. That is very clear.
We are committed to the international law of armed combat. We are committed to our values as the military of a sovereign state of a democratic country and to our own morals. So, we are not looking to inflict any damage on civilians.
The responsibility for the situation lies on Hamas, Hamas' shoulders, not on ours. What we are doing is defending ourselves against the worst attack ever against Israeli civilians in history. And, surely, when you think about it, and when your viewers think about it, I don't think that we should be expected to be providing electricity, fuel and water to the very same murderers that hours ago were butchering our civilians and that we are fighting against now. BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus of the IDF, thank you so much for joining us. We, of course, will continue these conversations down the road.
There's also breaking news, by the way, here in Washington that we're following right now, as House Republicans are holding a closed door meeting this hour, the crisis in Israel clearly weighing heavily on their messy fight to try to select a new speaker of the House.
CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is covering it all for us. How critical is tonight's meeting, Manu?
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Incredibly critical, Wolf. In fact, I just talked to a number of members coming into this meeting, the first time that they have gotten together since they left town and the aftermath, the historic ouster of Kevin McCarthy, and the emotions are still raw.
Speaking to a number of them, many of them still very frustrated, angry, at the eight Republicans who joined with Democrats to kick McCarthy out as speaker of the House. As one congressman, Derrick Van Orden told me, he said that he's not going to back a safe speaker candidate to succeed Kevin McCarthy until we figure out how to go after these people who he said shut this House down and cannot do it once again.
Another member, Don Bacon, just told me moments ago, he said, we're not here to accommodate eight people who just kicked us in the shins really bad, suggesting he would not back any of the candidates. And one of those eight members, or those eight members, got behind someone in particular to succeed Kevin McCarthy.
And another member, Mike Lawler, went after Matt Gaetz, who was the ringleader of that effort successfully pushing out Kevin McCarthy, calling him a vile person. I asked Gaetz about that moments ago, he declined to comment, would not respond to that question.
This all comes as the candidates who are pitching themselves here at Wolf, Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise, are trying to push themselves as the unity candidate, someone who can bring the party together, suggesting that despite all of this, they can actually achieve that goal.
But that will be incredibly difficult, Wolf, given that we're returning from these members. And the real fear here now on Capitol Hill, among the House GOP, is that this race, Wolf, could drag on for some time and that they perhaps could not get a candidate who would have the requisite votes to be elected speaker, raising the possibility of perhaps another candidate ultimately emerging here. So, a lot of questions and deep uncertainty at this time of high tension among the House GOP, Wolf.
BLITZER: And as long as there's no speaker, as you know and our viewers know, as long as there's no speaker, the House of Representatives can't appropriate additional funds or military equipment for Israel. And that's a huge issue on the minds of these lawmakers right now.
Manu Raju, thank you very much.
Just ahead, we'll follow the breaking news as it continues. And the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, will join us live here in The Situation Room.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news, Israel pummeling Gaza as it retaliates for Saturday's deadly Hamas terror attacks.
Our Chief National Security Correspondent Alex Marquardt has a closer look at the territory for us. Alex, we've seen a barrage of airstrikes into Gaza, but what could the next phase of this war actually look like?
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's certainly a sense that what we could be seeing next is a ground incursion by Israeli forces. We heard from the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that the devastation, the destruction that we've seen in Gaza so far is just the beginning, the Israeli defense minister saying that there is now a complete siege of Gaza.
So, let's take a look at the Gaza Strip and try to get a sense of what may happen. Gaza is surrounded on all four sides, three sides by Israel, and a fourth side, a small border there with Egypt. This is some of that highly secure fencing and wall that the Hamas militants were actually able to break through. There's a naval blockade right here.
Now, we've heard from our reporting teams on the grounds, specifically our correspondent, Nic Robertson, who's been reporting from here and from here, saying that he has seen a buildup of troops, of equipment, howitzers, tanks, armored personnel carriers.
Those could all contribute to a ground incursion. Those troops could easily be built up very quickly in the coming hours and days. We know that there has been a draft of some 300,000 reservists.
Let's take a closer look of the Gaza Strip with this satellite image. This gives us a really good sense of how incredibly dense the Gaza Strip is. This is one of the densest places on Earth. Wolf, I've actually been here during the wars in Gaza in 2012 and 2014. I have seen how closely people are living together.
This is -- the entire strip is around 140 square miles with some 2 million people who are living there. Around half of them are children, just a maze of streets, of buildings, of refugee camps. We have seen already, just in three days, incredible attacks by Israel's Air Force on the Gaza Strip.
Hamas says that they are -- sorry, the Israelis have said that Hamas is hiding behind Israeli civilians. Hamas is saying that unless there are warnings to those Palestinian civilians who are living there, they will start executing the hostages that they have taken and broadcasting that live.
Wolf, this is already an extraordinary, deadly, an extraordinarily bloody conflict that is set to get even worse. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes. The fact that Israel is mobilizing 300,000 reservists to go get involved indicates this war may only just be beginning.
Alex Marquardt, thank you very much.
For more on all the breaking news, I want to bring in right now the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Hertzog. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.
The IDF, as you well know, has Gaza now under what the IDF is calling a complete siege. Is this the prelude to a ground invasion, a ground invasion of that territory?
MICHAEL HERZOG, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: We are at war and we are determined to conduct the war and win it. Ground operations in the cards, I'm not going to print (ph) any decisions on the Israeli side. They invaded our territory and we are within our rights to go into their territory and conduct this war. But, again, I don't want to print (ph) any decision on the Israeli side.
BLITZER: As you know, Hamas terrorists, they are claiming to be holding more than 100 hostages, mostly civilians, many of them dual Israeli-American citizens. How does this potentially complicate Israel's response?
HERZOG: We are well aware of this situation and the number of -- we're still trying to form a precise picture of the number of kidnapped and their identities.
Unfortunately, given the high number of fatalities on our side, we haven't completed the process of identifying all the bodies on our side. So we don't have a complete picture of who's missing on the Gazan side of the border.
We are well aware of the situation, the complexity, but Hamas will not play blackmail us to stopping this war. They waged war on the state of Israel. We have all seen the horrific scenes of their assassinating whole families, and we are determined to break the war machine of Hamas.
We cannot allow them to be able to threaten the state of Israel the way they just did. It's not going to happen.
The government of Qatar has been in talks, we are now told, with Hamas to mediate over the hostages, the group is holding inside Gaza more than a hundred, mostly civilians. What can you tell us about the status of these behind the scenes negotiations, if you can, Ambassador?
HERZOG: We are not conducting negotiations right now. We are at war. And I call on all those who have influence over Hamas to demand unequivocally that Hamas will release all the hostages and will not harm them. These people have influence over Hamas. They have a means of influencing Hamas and they should use them. This is a moment to do so.
BLITZER: Israeli and Hezbollah forces, as you all know, Ambassador, Hezbollah forces in Southern Lebanon actually exchanged fire today. How worried are you about this war escalating into a regional conflict?
HERZOG: We are following the situation on the northern border very closely and we made clear that all those who are allied with Hamas, part of what they call the axis of resistance, the Iranian-led axis, should not join this fray, because if they do, they will pay a price, will not be indifferent.
There were some provocations along the Israeli-Lebanese border, including the fire of rockets and mortars and infiltration into our territory. And we responded to that. We have no interest in escalating this war, but we cannot remain indifferent if people breach our border and fire at us.
BLITZER: And very quickly, Ambassador, because we're out of time, do you believe Iran played a role with Hamas in launching these terror attacks against Israel?
HERZOG: So, we're still studying the exact role of Iran in this war. And if there is any operational role that they have played, but we all know that they are very close relations between Hamas and Iran. Iran has provided most of the funding for the military wing of Hamas. They have provided training, guidance, equipment and they aligned themselves in what they call the axis of resistance. So, definitely, we see Iran as part of this picture. And they should -- we should all be cognizant of the fact that Hamas is part of the Iranian axis.
BLITZER: Yes, this war clearly could escalate in major ways. Ambassador Michael Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, thank you very much for joining us.
HERZOG: Thank you very much, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, how the White House is now responding to this crisis in Israel as we're learning more about U.S. citizens killed by the Hamas attacks and the potential threat to Jewish-Americans right here at home.
Plus, I'll ask Republican Senator and Presidential Candidate Tim Scott about a stunning new claim that President Biden is, quote, complicit, his word, complicit in the Hamas attack on Israel.
BLITZER: We're following all the breaking news right now with Israel clearly at war and launching widespread airstrikes on Gaza. The United States revealing at least 11 Americans were among the hundreds killed during the Hamas terror attack on Israel that launched this grave new conflict.
Let's go to CNN's Senior White House Correspondent Kayla Tausche. Kayla, what's the latest on the U.S. response to this horrendous crisis?
KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Wolf, the White House is working to assess the impact on American communities and families. President Biden just this afternoon confirming that 11 Americans were among the hundreds killed in this violence, and that the White House is also working to confirm how many Americans are among the number of hostages taken by Hamas since this violence began several days ago.
The president also saying he has directed his team to work with their Israeli counterparts on every aspect of this hostage crisis. But for Americans who remain in country, the president is urging them to find commercially available travel options.
A U.S. official telling me that the White House is not actively considering any sort of emergency evacuation operation for Americans who are there.
The National Security Council at this hour is briefing reporters on the latest situation. NSC spokesman John Kirby saying just moments ago that the U.S. has existing authority and funding to aid Israel, but that it would not hesitate to go back to Congress to ask for more if it is believed that that is needed.
Kirby also saying that the U.S. has no intention of putting boots on the ground in Israel and that the U.S. still does not possess a smoking gun of sorts to tie Iran directly to these attacks so far.
President Biden this evening convening a call with the so-called Quint allies, that's the U.K., France, Germany and Italy. They issued a joint statement of support and offered their help and aid to Israel in any way that is needed, Wolf.
Here at home though there is stepped up security by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI around centers of Jewish life amid worries of increasing domestic threats after this violence has erupted. The White House is expected to be lit up in blue and white in solidarity with the Israeli flag this evening and we've just learned that President Biden is set to make remarks tomorrow afternoon on the situation as it evolves.
BLITZER: We will watch it all unfold. Kayla Tausche, thank you very much.
Let's get Republican reaction right now to this crisis in Israel. We're joined by GOP Presidential Candidate and U.S. Senator Tim Scott. He's a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thank you so much for joining us.
First of all, what's your reaction to these awful images, these heartbreaking stories coming out of Israel as this war against Hamas terrorists moves into now its fourth day?
SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wolf, it's just devastating to see the images and watch the videos. You see the one video of the young lady having her throat cut and then you see her head dragging along the way on the road. That kind of devastation, that kind of -- evil is the only word for it. That kind of evil should have a swift, clear, complete reaction to it. And we should be supporting Israel, making sure there's not a -- no daylight between America and Israel is absolutely essential and it's time for the president to come back and speak to the nation. It's been two days nearly without hearing from the president and I will say without question I find him to be complicit in this actual war against Israel.
BLITZER: Well, that's a very strong word, complicit. He has been issuing paper statements, written statements, and we are told tomorrow he will go before cameras and make a major statement in terms of his support for Israel.
But when you use the word, complicit, in this awful Hamas terror attack against Israel, and I'll read to our viewers what you actually wrote, Biden's weakness invited the attack. Biden's negotiation funded the attack. Biden administration wanted Israel to stand down after the attack. At this point Biden is complicit. Senator, are you at all concerned that these sorts of charges undermine efforts to be united right now here in our country in support of Israel?
SCOTT: Well, I think we should be, without question, totally and completely united behind Israel period. We should look back at the breadcrumbs that lead back to the hostage negotiation that freed $6 billion. And what did Tehran say about the $6 billion? We will use it in any way we like. What the Hamas say to Iran, they said, thank you. What if we discovered that the negotiation and the planning of this attack was Iran working with Hamas? That is clear cookie crumbs, breadcrumbs, evidence, from my perspective. That doesn't suggest it reinforces the fact that Iran is behind these attacks. Allowing $6 billion, increasing the price on an American life, and creating a market for hostage taking, it's just devastating, Wolf.
BLITZER: But you know you've heard the secretary of state, you've heard the president say this $6 billion in Iranian funds that have been frozen can only be used for humanitarian purposes, for food or medicine or medical equipment, like that. And the U.S. Treasury, through the banks in Qatar, would have the ability to make sure it's only used for those humanitarian purposes. You don't believe them?
SCOTT: No, I don't believe them, number one, nor should the American people. Here's what we should know. Number one, Tehran themselves said we are going to use the money any way we want to. Number two, we all know that money is fungible. Put in common terms for a southern boy like me, that means that once you get the credit on your account, you'll spend it any way you want to, even the backfill of the areas.
And so with Tehran speaking loud and clear, with Hamas thanking Iran, we should take them for what we've seen, which is the devastation, human carnage and an absolute chaos and atrocities in the Middle East.
BLITZER: On another sensitive issue, Senator, you've called Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville's blockade of military appointments, quote, not necessarily a bad thing, your words, not necessarily a bad thing.
But given that Israel is now at war, will you now call on Senator Tuberville to end that hold so that the U.S. military's Central Command in the Middle East, for example, can be at full strength in the region and these generals and admirals can be promoted?
SCOTT: Well, here's what we should think about. For the last ten years, we have supported Israel in a way with the investment, the resources, the collaboration, the training that tells us what Prime Minister Netanyahu said. We have the power, the resources and the manpower, the might to wipe Hamas off the map, so my words not his words, and they're going to go in there and have a complete siege. They don't need our boots on the ground.
What they need to make sure that we have is the ability to refill or backfill the resources and the weaponry as they use them.
BLITZER: So, should Senator Tuberville lift his hold and allow these promotions to go forward?
SCOTT: The whole has nothing to do with our ability to respond and protect and, frankly, work shoulder to shoulder with our ally. The frozen promotions is a totally and complete different issue.
BLITZER: I've interviewed the defense secretary and other senior officials over at the Pentagon. They say this hold on promotions is undermining U.S. national security. What say you?
SCOTT: Well, I would just fundamentally disagree. I spent some time on the Senate Armed Services Committee and had an opportunity to watch our men and women from a panoramic view. Our military needs a couple things.
Number one, they need the kind of generals who will focus on lethality and bringing our troops home safe. We need, number two, an elimination of any social experimentation, vaccine mandates, disruptions and losing the focus on winning wars, winning conflicts and coming home safe.
And, number three, if we continue to reinvest in our military, it is the strongest way to reduce violence across the world. I believe the Ronald Reagan doctrine of peace through strength has been missing, getting back to it will not only keep our nation safe, but it will also create peace across the world.
BLITZER: Yes. But all the top military leadership say they need these promotions. They need them right now.
Let me ask you one final question, a political question, Senator, before I let you go. Former Republican Congressman Will Hurd just announced he's suspending his 2024 presidential campaign and is endorsing your fellow South Carolinian, Nikki Haley. What's your reaction?
SCOTT: Well, listen, Will served his country as a CIA person and has served his country as a member of the Congress. Thank you for your service. Will, I look forward to seeing you sometime soon. I can't comment on his endorsement, but I will simply say that making sure that America knows that we can also accomplish the most remarkable things.
My goal is to protect the American dream for the next generation and that means starting with reinvesting in our military, protecting our southern border and standing toe-to-toe with our adversaries.
Senator Tim Scott, Thanks so much for joining us.
SCOTT: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's get some more now in the breaking news we're following. Our Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley now has a closer look at the tactics Hamas used to carry out this terror attack.
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Slick propaganda a blatant threat and published last year, Hamas gunman training on motorized paragliders. They also showed meticulous planning for fighting in built-up areas, all an historic failure of Israeli intelligence.
Hamas videos of the start of their assaults from Gaza were published within hours of its launch. Malevolently bold in execution, Hamas targeted Israeli machine gun nests and command posts. They knocked out Israeli military communications and crippled command and control They swept into Israeli territory and launched a wave of atrocities, killing at least 900 people in the worst Israeli setback in 50 years.
Once a branch of the Muslim brotherhood, Hamas, a Sunni movement, won Palestinian elections in 2006 on a platform of social reform and resistance to Israel. Ridden by corruption and incompetence, rivals Fata launched attacks Immediately against the movement, which denies the right of Israel to exist at all.
In the end Hamas won control of Gaza and its grip on the enclave of around 2 million people tightened as Israel and Egypt largely sealed it off, causing intense humanitarian problems.
Hamas responded with waves of rocket attacks against Israel that got worse as the years went by. Israel counter attacked from the air, and with ground assaults that left thousands dead, and Hamas still in charge.
But Iran's influence has been key to Hamas's military power.
FABIAN HINZ, IISS: The Iranians have trained Palestinian engineers on how to establish rocket manufacturing in Gaza. We know that the Iranians have provided several production equipment which you need for the production of solid propellant rockets to Gaza and to other places as well.
KILEY: In the past, infiltrations were limited to attacks from tunnels. Hamas successfully hid its bigger plans for months.
Meanwhile, Israel's right wing government focused its efforts on growing Palestinian violence on the West Bank.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are extensive meetings with the resistance factions in Gaza and the West Bank and with our brothers abroad about starting that fight.
KILEY: This spokesman also told me that he'd recently been training forces in Lebanon, most likely alongside Iran-backed Hezbollah. The next phase that Hamas and its allies would have planned for is Israel's almost inevitable ground invasion. The last in 2014 was chaotic.
HINZ: Hamas had a long time to prepare for this kind of scenario. There is a chance that Hamas and Islamic Jihad might be the new capability that could have a tremendous impact on the strategic balance as well.
KILEY: Israel knows it must battle Hamas on its own turf in urban areas littered with explosive traps and riddled with secret tunnels. And Hamas will draw on the experience of Iran backed Hezbollah which ravaged Israel's armor in 2006, all the while trying to protect the lives of at least 130 hostages that Hamas says they will kill if Israel's attacks continue, dealing with violent groups, backed by Iran, a country that's bent on destroying Israel and building a nuclear weapon that could do just that.
KILEY (on camera): Now, Wolf, Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to do such devastation to Hamas that it would be remembered and definitive for decades to come. The problem for him though is, of course, the safety of those hostages and the extent to which Iran gets sucked into this context. I think that is the reason we're also seeing that U.S. warships out coming in support or close to these Israeli coastline -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: In the eastern Mediterranean.
Sam Kiley, thank you very much for that report.
Just ahead, as the war between Hamas and Israel is now entering its fourth day, both sides are showing no sign of letting up. We'll hear from an expert on the fighting and potential repercussions for civilians in Gaza. That and much more when we come back.
BLITZER: Officials in Gaza are reporting nearly 700 dead as the Israel defense minister says the territory will be, quote, under complete siege.
For more on the latest developments in the fighting, I'm joined by Professor Shibley Telhami. He's the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland.
Professor, thank you so much for joining us.
What strikes you about the sheer brutality of Hamas, the terror attacks, against Israel, especially the civilians there, and its ongoing hold of Israeli hostages who have been brought to Gaza?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI, ANWAR SADAT PROFESSOR FOR PEACE & DEVELOPMENT: You know, when I look at it, Wolf, I'm looking at something horrific in terms of the scale. You are -- in those couple of days, there are several hundred Israelis that were killed and thousands who were wounded by the Hamas attack, and then several hundred Palestinians and thousands of people wounded by the Israeli bombings in Gaza.
When you look at those numbers, obviously, they're stunning by any measure. And you ask yourself what's the ratio of civilians to military. We don't know the actual ratios, but we know from the past. We know from the past that overwhelmingly, they tend to be civilian on both sides.
And that is shocking, and that is painful, and that's why I say that should be front and center. There is no cause, even a just cause that could justify targeting civilians or recklessly endangering them. And we need to be very careful with them.
And I say this because the president of the United States called the prime minister of Israel during the first day to assure him, because obviously they're feeling very vulnerable, very weakened. They're witnessing helplessly when people are being hurt with no capability of addressing it. He made a statement of full empathy in support for Israel.
That's good, that's important, but he needs to go beyond that. He needs to speak out that no cause, including the retaliation, justifies hurting civilians. In war times like this, hearts harden. They harden. You can hear people in Israel saying, do what it takes, you know, carpet bomb, you know, whatever it takes. You certainly can hear that on the Palestinian side after 56 years of occupation, saying do what it takes. No, I think we need to be clear we need to speak with a moral
authority and we need to do it soon because I don't think anything justifies targeting or recklessly endangering civilians.
BLITZER: You're an expert, professor, on the region. Do you see this war that's ongoing right now escalating and getting so much worse?
TELHAMI: There's always a danger, Wolf. I mean, obviously, the danger is, of course, the escalation on the ground. Frankly, Israel has a capacity to bomb Gaza and kill a lot of people including Hamas people and militant people. But that's not going to solve the problem, and that's obviously the dilemma. Whether Israel goes in or doesn't go in, it's a political problem, it's not a military problem in the end.
So, we're looking at something sustained because the pressure in Israel is mounting to do something on a big scale, and the prime minister of Israel has been threatening that on a large scale. But if you are the United States saying we are going to support you, do whatever you want, and the public saying do what it takes, and you look at the fact that this government had failed to anticipate.
I mean, we're not talking about a major army. We're talking about a limited group under, you know, the observation of the Israeli military and intelligence. The fact that they could do something on this scale, that is a huge failure.
And you can see Israel is in debate, whether they even trust the military, whether they even trust the government. Should we trust them to do the right thing at this time given we know that there are ministers who are far right who don't even --
BLITZER: But in the process, Professor Telhami, how concerned are you about the Palestinian civilians in Gaza as a result of what Hamas is doing?
TELHAMI: Well, obviously the civilians are always -- you know, they're the first, even if there is some relationship to a military target, we know that civilians are going to be -- it's a very densely populated area. We know -- you and I don't have to determine what the targets were because we can't. We don't have the capacity from the outside.
But we know from the numbers, from the numbers in the past that the majority of those who get killed in the bombings are civilians, human rights organizations across the board, Israeli international have been critical of that and obviously have been critical of the Hamas attacks on civilians constantly for sure.
So, we need to be mindful of that. But in terms of expansion, Wolf, obviously the big question is Hezbollah. I mean, that is the really big question. It's not even Iran directly. I think that's remote.
The question is whether Hezbollah gets drawn into this fight. Obviously that's the worry for Israel because Hezbollah is far better armed and more effective than Hamas. And if it gets drawn in at the northern front, that could be very, very troubling and makes the war more difficult. But it also would be very troubling for Lebanon. Lebanon could be devastated. This is not something Lebanon needs right now. I don't think Hezbollah is looking for a fight, but, nevertheless, they could be drawn into it.
BLITZER: Yeah, my own fear is that this war is just beginning.
Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland, thank you so much for joining us.
TELHAMI: My pleasure.
BLITZER: And we're going to have much more on the breaking news coming up. I'll be back after a quick break for "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".