Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Israel Says, Unleashing Large-Scale Strike On Hamas Targets In Gaza; Gaza Crisis Deepens Amid Mounting Deaths, Widespread Destruction; Blinken In Israel Likens Hamas Brutality To The Worst Of ISIS; Former Hamas Leader Encourages Muslim World To "Show Anger"; Red Cross Warns Gaza Hospitals "Risk Turning Into Morgues". Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 12, 2023 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: He was remobilized after Saturday's attack. His family said Eli's unit went into the kibbutz Re'im. That's the same kibbutz where Hamas killed scores of people, innocent people at that music festival. Eli went there to rescue hostages and he too was killed by Hamas. Eli leaves behind four young children.

His cousin, Alexis Weiss, helped launch The Lead with me and some of us still here back in 2013. Alexis, we're so sorry. We love you and we're thinking of you and your family.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Israel says it's now unleashing a large-scale strike on Hamas, Hamas targets in Gaza, intensifying its air war while it builds up its ground forces while on the border in Gaza.

The crisis in Gaza is deepening tonight amid mounting deaths and widespread destruction. Israel vowing to cut off critical supplies to Gaza until Hamas frees dozens of hostages believed to be hidden underground.

As the war rages on, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is holding urgent talks in the region, showing U.S. solidarity with Israel and likening the brutality of Hamas to the worst, his words, the worst of ISIS.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our breaking news coverage begins this hour in the war zone as the Israel-Hamas conflict grows increasingly deadly, and America's top diplomat is holding critical, very critical talks. CNN correspondents are near the frontlines and other key locations getting new information about what's happening on the ground right now and what may happen next.

First, let's go to our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. She's joining us from Ashkelon, Israel, just north of Gaza. Clarissa, as Israeli troops are massing in huge numbers near the border, you visited a kibbutz now being used by the IDF troops. What did you see?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is the place where some of the atrocities that took place on Saturday were perpetrated. It was very interesting when we arrived on the scene that it has now been taken over in something of a symbolic gesture, you might even say, by the Israeli military, by an artillery brigade. We saw a lot of troops. We saw a lot of hardware. We saw tanks. We heard outgoing artillery.

And there was no sense walking around and talking to the soldiers they were on super high alert or super high level of preparedness in terms of an imminent, imminent move forward in some way, but certainly fair to say that there is now a huge amount of manpower and weaponry fanning out all the way across that border with the Gaza envelope and the very real specter of some kind of movement. But the question now becomes, Wolf, what does that movement look like.

The situation in Gaza, as you mentioned, growing worse and worse by the minute. The U.N. today says that 2,500 homes have been destroyed, more than 23,000 have been damaged either moderate or minor damage. The number of displaced people has gone up by 30 percent in just one day. The hospitals are running out of fuel.

You heard secretary of state Antony Blinken earlier on in his visit talking about the need to set up some kind of a humanitarian corridor and ongoing efforts to try to make that happen. But, so far, there is no indication that is quick in the making and very real concerns about the sky rising death toll in Gaza, many of these people civilians, and what that means for this conflict going forward, Wolf.

BLITZER: After talking to Israeli troops, and seeing the buildup along the border there, did you get any sense of the timing for an Israeli ground invasion?

WARD: I think there's a broad sense, and this is anecdotal, I should say, that a ground invasion would need to be soon while there is still a high level of public support, while people are still very much engaged with this conflict. But there are very real questions that remain about what this ground invasion would even look like, what it would mean for the fate of the hostages who are being held, what it would mean for ordinary Palestinian civilians, what it would mean for Israeli forces who could potentially be up against some of the most intense house to house, street to street guerrilla combat that they would have faced in many years.


And so the question becomes what is the metric for success here. What would a victory for Israel look like with a ground offensive in Gaza? And I don't think that has clearly been articulated just yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward reporting for us, Clarissa, stay safe. Thank you very, very much.

As the Israeli military mobilizes on the ground, it's unleashing new air strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza and enforcing a blockade of fuel and other crucial resources.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is covering it all for us. He's in Southern Lebanon for us right now. Ben, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza seems to be growing worse by the hour.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In fact, Wolf, the U.N. is describing it as dire. And I think the U.N. is rather understating the case. It sounds, by all accounts, that it's catastrophic, in addition to the fact that the death toll in Gaza has now exceeded 1,500.

The health system, by all accounts, and according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, is in a state of collapse. All the things you need to run a hospital are slowly running out. The fuel for the generators that keep the hospitals running, medicine, basic supplies are simply not being replenished. And, therefore, we're seeing it, for instance, in hospitals all around Gaza, many of the injured are simply put on the floor in the corridors. There are no beds left. The operating theaters are beyond capacity.

Now, according to the United Nations, there are 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza who now have no access to healthcare, partially because of the fighting, but partially because the health workers and all the facilities are being focused on treating the injured.

Now, speaking of the injured, earlier this evening, our colleague, Christiane Amanpour, spoke Dr. Razana Busite (ph), who is a Palestinian-British doctor who has been going to Gaza regularly. I've interviewed him many times also in operating theaters, while he's actually operating on the injured. And he says that among the wounded, 30 to 40 percent of them are children. And, certainly, there is a sense in Gaza that, at this point, people feel that the ordinary civilians, they are simply being abandoned.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one cries over us. There's no chivalry, no feelings, hearts are dead. Only shocks and body parts remain. People are blind to this. People can't find food in their homes and there is an extremely tough social condition in Gaza. Siege above the siege and all of this is happening because of the siege. Where should our people go? We've been besieged for 18 years. Where should we go?


WEDEMAN: Of course, where can they go? They cannot go anywhere. The border to Egypt is closed, they can't go into Israel. The United States and other European powers are trying to figure out some sort of humanitarian corridor so Palestinian civilians who have to can get out of Gaza, but at this point, no progress on that front. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman reporting for us, Ben, thank you very much.

Let's turn to Secretary of State Antony Blinken's mission in the Middle East right now. CNN Anchor Erin Burnett is joining us right now from Tel Aviv, where Blinken met with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, earlier today.

Erin, what was Blinken's basic message to Netanyahu and to the American people for that matter?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it was a powerful presentation that they gave afterwards when they came, both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary Blinken spoke. Secretary Blinken was very emotional. He talked about his personal connection to the story as a Jewish- American, and he talked about what he saw, those images that we've now seen, Wolf, of that baby. He talked about people being burned alive. He talked about parents being executed in front of their children, children in front of their parents.

And he was very clear, Wolf, to give a message that the United States has Israel's back. In fact, he used those exact words and he specifically talked about the world's largest aircraft carrier now off the coast of Israel, in the Eastern Mediterranean, upping the air force presence here, giving Israel everything it needs.

It is interesting, though, Wolf, that he did something that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not do, and that is when he talked about Israel having the right to defend itself, to do what it needed to do, he said, how Israel does this matters. And he talked about how the value of human life and dignity matters in a democracy.

So, that was obviously a significant message as well. But he was incredibly moved by what he saw, and here was one of the key things that he expressed after his meeting with the prime minister.



ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's beyond what anyone would ever want to imagine, much less actually see and, god forbid, experience, a baby, an infant, riddled with bullets, soldiers beheaded, young people burned alive in their cars or in their hideaway rooms. I could go on but it's simply depravity in the worst imaginable way.


BURNETT: And what he expressed, Wolf, is, of course, what people hear in such a profound deeply personal way, that sense of shock. And even as I've been talking to you since your program began here just a few moments ago, we've heard at least ten explosions coming from Gaza as the Israeli strikes continue well into the night. Of course, it's after 1:00 in the morning here, those strikes continuing from Israel into Gaza overnight. Wolf?

BLITZER: Erin, I know you had a chance to visit an Israel military checkpoint today right near the Gaza border. Tell us about that.

BURNETT: Yes, Wolf. We've been observing this military buildup from the IDF up and down this border and seeing these convoys going in, these young soldiers going in. And as we left the checkpoint, I had the opportunity to speak to a former IDF general, he actually -- General Israel Ziv. And then you may know him, Wolf. He's a former head of operations for the IDF, obviously decades working for the IDF.

On the morning of the attacks, he was out for a bike ride, heard something happening, grabbed his pistol and went with a group of people through some of the settlements to fight back. He said he saw dozens of Hamas militants himself. He said he saw a woman with a baby shot and killed. He saw people beheaded. He saw all of these things.

And as he was talking about what Israel needs to do, Wolf, there was a moment of incredible grief when he talked about what he saw. Let me play it for you.


BURNETT: And, General, what did you see? What did you see them doing in this kibbutz?

GEN. ISRAEL ZIV (RET.), ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: No, it's terrible. My whole military career, I haven't seen such horrifying and terrible things of killing. I saw women holding their children and been shot by holding them. People were hiding under their furnitures and got murdered. I saw a few people, their head was chopped, children.

So, it was terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible. And we failed, we failed, I feel ashamed, we failed to protect them. They live here on the first line of all Israel, of our sovereignty, and we failed. We failed to defend them. It's a personal humiliation and national humiliation at the same time.


BURNETT: Wolf, he didn't spare any words when he talked about that, the humiliation and the shame and what he described as a complete and utter collapse of Israel's military and defense system in terms of how this happened. He was unafraid to say that. And I think that does capture where they are right now.

But right now, there's this moment, as Clarissa said, of incredible unity, but there are many who say, once we are past this, there are things we need to deal with. And so there is a moment of action and that moment, of course, Wolf, needs to be soon. Back to you.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure it will be. Erin Burnett in Tel Aviv, Erin, thank you very much.

This note to our viewers, Erin, of course, will be back right at the top of the hour with her program, Erin Burnett Outfront. She's live in Israel.

We have more now on the horrific images Secretary Blinken was describing. But, first, a warning to all of our viewers, the photo we're about to show you is very graphic and extremely disturbing. And you may want to look away or step away for a moment from your T.V.s. The Israeli government released three photos of what it says are babies murdered and burned by Hamas. This is one of those photos with the baby's face obviously blurred. We feel it's important to show this to our viewers to better understand the brutality of the Hamas attack. It is so, so awful. And the two other photos the Israelis released, we're not showing that because they are even worse.

Joining us now is spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus. Lieutenant Colonel, thank you so much for joining us.

As I said, the Israeli government released these very gruesome, heartbreaking images of the brutal murder of these kids, these children. Why do you feel it's important that the entire world sees these pictures?


LT. COL. JONATHAN CONRICUS, SPOKESPERSON, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: It takes a few moments to settle your optics again after seeing that. I think it is crucial because we've been in similar situations before, never like this, but similar situations where we are attacked by terrorists, atrocities are done, never at this level, but atrocities are done, rockets are fired, and then we start defending ourselves, and then the world turns against us and tells us, stop doing that, we don't like it.

I think that it is as hard and as gruesome and as vile it is to see these pictures, and they're so disturbing, and you cannot unsee them. And I think it's the first time in the history of Israel that our official institutions, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did it first, and now the prime minister's office, we in the IDF spokesperson unit have shared pictures as well. It is the first time that we do it because I think we feel that if we don't, we will be failing the people who were murdered, and the fact that people in the world won't understand what this is all about.

They may be confused in thinking that this is just another round between Israel and the Palestinians or Gaza, and that it's related to politics and what have you not. That's not the case. This is a totally, fundamentally different situation. And if we don't show it to the world, maybe people won't understand it and know it.

BLITZER: The Israeli energy minister, Israel Katz, tweeted this earlier today in Hebrew, but I'll give you the translation. No electrical switch will be turned on, no water, hydrant will be opened, and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home. Humanitarian for humanitarian, and no one will preach us morals.

Critics, including the United Nations, have condemned this move as collective punishment for the more than 2 million and inhabitants of Gaza.

Lieutenant Colonel, tell us about that. How do you respond to that?

CONRICUS: Well, what I think we have to remember is that we are in a new and different situation. This is not another round. We are at war with Hamas. We're not at war with the civilians, but we are at war with Hamas, and we will not allow anything into the Gaza Strip that supports the fighting ability of Hamas. If it comes at the price of inconvenience and even worse than that for the population, so be it, we are at war.

I'm not taking the words of Minister Katz, but I think we shouldn't be expected to provide sustenance and the ability for our enemy to fight. I think the expectation is unfair, and I think that the focus is unfair, and I think that no other country, not in the history of wars and not in the history of fighting terrorism, has ever been told, listen, it's your obligation to provide the fighting capability that your enemy needs. I don't think that's fair.

BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, thanks so much for joining us.

CONRICUS: Thank you, Wolf. Coming up, police and Jewish institutions here in the United States are now stepping up security measures as a former Hamas leader is calling for a show of anger.

Plus, the House speakership appears to be slipping away from Republican Congressman Steve Scalise just one day after earning his party's nomination. We have details up on Capitol Hill, the chaos that's going on up there, and we'll share it with you after the break.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news in the Middle East, Israel intensifying its air assault on Hamas targets amid growing concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We'll have more on that in just a few moments.

But there's other breaking news we're following here in the United States as well. Congressman Steve Scalise's bid for the speakership of the House of Representatives now appears to be in very serious jeopardy.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is joining us from Capitol Hill with an update. Melanie, how are Republicans finally going to break this deadline?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, that is the question of the day, Wolf, because Republicans had this closed door meeting earlier today. And based on my conversations with lawmakers, it was a disaster. Steve Scalise failed to win over any holdouts and, in fact, he seems to be bleeding support.

Last night, Congresswoman Anna Paulina Luna told us she was going to be behind Scalise, but she left that meeting telling my colleague, Annie Grayer, that she is now going to be voting against him on the floor. So, things seem to be trending in the wrong direction for Steve Scalise.

Now, he is meeting in his office, as we speak, with some of these holdouts, trying to win over their support, trying to assuage their concerns. But I can tell you, there are serious doubts right now about whether Steve Scalise can ever get there. And that is creating deep frustration in the GOP right now.

And members are warning that they just don't have that type of time. It's not like in January where they could go through these rounds of votes. Right now, they are dealing with the crisis in Israel and also they have another government funding deadline coming up.

So, now, at this moment, there are some discussions underway in the GOP about a plan B. If Steve Scalise can't get there, they're talking about drafting a new candidate to try to step up to the plate. And now there's also a group of centrists Republicans who are talking about trying to empower Patrick McHenry. He's the interim speaker and giving him more temporary power so he can move legislation and be able to help the House function more properly.

At this moment, though, the House is paralyzed and there's still no consensus on a path forward and still no speaker. Wolf?

BLITZER: Melanie Zanona with the latest of the developments up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Right now, I want to go back to the breaking news out of Israel. CNN's Anderson Cooper is in Tel Aviv. He's got more on what's going on.

Anderson, I understand you just visited a site where Hamas unleashed deadly terror just last weekend. Tell us about that.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I went down to the site of the music festival, which, as you know, was the -- we believe, at this point, the single deadliest attack in these terror attacks that took place early Saturday morning. And the site is very much as it was left, the vehicles are all still out there, that these young people tried to get into, tried to escape from.


It is a scene of just complete devastation there. And Israeli forces are still going over the site. It is still a dangerous area. There was still activity down there that actually delayed my trip down there. It was shocking to see it all up close, Wolf.

You saw IDF soldiers at that music festival site. What did they tell you, Anderson, about the attack and the fight they believe they will face in the future?

COOPER: Yes. Every IDF soldier that we met down there was deeply affected just by being at that site and witnessing what they did over the last several days that they have been at that site. I talked to a rear admiral and I want to play just a little bit of the sound that he said to me and I'll have more on my program tonight. But he talked about the fight ahead and the preparations for it and the determination. I've never seen so many soldiers who are so determined for what is to come. And listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: How difficult is this fight going to be on the ground in Gaza? I mean, there have been incursions before. I've been to Gaza City. I know it's a tough place to fight.

REAR ADM. DANIEL HAGARI, SPOKESPERSON, IDF: We would do what we need to do in order to get to this goal that ISIS won't govern Gaza. And if any other country here in the region next to us that host Hamas, ISIS, they're risking their own population but also they need to know if they will interfere if they will act against us.

My grandfather fled away from Germany. We understand completely what we're seeing now. We have no other place to go.


COOPER: That's Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.

Wolf, it is -- there's a lot of very determined people here about what is likely to take place in the coming days.

BLITZER: A lot of folks keep asking me, Anderson, how you're coping with all of this. So many of these stories are so awful, so painful and so personal. How are you doing?

COOPER: You know, Wolf, I've been doing this for a long time, and it's incredibly disturbing every time. And it's horrific to see the civilian casualties, civilian casualties, to know the civilian casualties that will be occurring in any kind of ground offensive in Gaza as well.

But, you know, what we've seen here is shocking. And it continues to be and the details of it are still coming out and we're really just starting to kind of fully understand the scope of what happened here.

BLITZER: And I fear this war is only just beginning right now. Anderson, stay safe. Thanks for all your terrific reporting, excellent, excellent reporting.

To our viewers, Anderson, of course, will be back later tonight, 8:00 P.M. Eastern for Anderson Cooper 360. He's live in Israel.

I want to bring our next guest in right now, Republican Presidential Candidate Chris Christie. I want to get his reaction to what's going on.

Give us your reaction, first of all, Governor, to what we just heard from Anderson. I know you were listening. It is so painful, so awful to hear these personal stories, these civilians, men, women, children, grandmothers, grandfathers, just gunned down the way they were.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Wolf, this is the disgrace of what Hamas and their Iranian sponsors are doing here in Israel. The fact is that for these folks living their lives peacefully as civilians in Israel to be the subject of this type of slaughter, torture and kidnapping. The families have not only lost loved ones, there are many families, as you know, who don't know whether their loved ones are safe or not and whether they'll return home. This is something where our country has to unequivocally be behind Israel.

And I want to add one other thing, Wolf. One of the things that's disturbing me greatly is the continued rise of anti-Semitism not only here in the United States but around the world that you're hearing expressed right now. And one of the things the United States has to do, in my view, is not only stand with Israel militarily but stand with Israel morally and the Jewish people. We've got to be saying that anti-Semitism of any kind is unacceptable in our country and unacceptable for our allies around the world.

We cannot judge people in that way, it's wrong and it contributes to the torture that's occurring in Israel right now.


BLITZER: Yes. We're going to have more on that, this part of the story coming up later this hour, Governor.

You mentioned Iran. I don't know if you heard but it was learned today that the U.S. and Qatar will deny Iran access to that $6 billion dollars transferred -- supposedly going to be transferred in exchange for five Americans being held in Iran. Do you think that money should be permanently frozen?

CHRISTIE: Absolutely, because Iran is proving once again to be the greatest source of funding for terrorist activity in the world. And it was a wrong decision by President Biden to do it in the first place. I'm glad that they have now admitted they were wrong and move forward to correct that problem. But in the interim what they did was give encouragement to folks like Iran to do the things that they're doing with Hamas and Hezbollah in Israel, as we speak.

And so I'm gratified that they've made that move But it is an admission that what they did at first, which they tried to desperately defend in the direct aftermath of the attacks, as you'll remember, that this $6 billion had nothing to do with what went on, well, you know, Wolf, money is fungible. So, if the Iranians knew they had $6 billion coming in that could be used for food and other humanitarian purposes, money they had put aside for those purposes could now be freed up to help to fund and support Hamas and Hezbollah. It was a wrong-headed decision and I'm glad it's been reversed.

BLITZER: You, of course, are running for the Republican presidential nomination. Under a Christie administration, Governor, what would the U.S. response be if evidence showed that Iran was directly involved in this Hamas attack on Israel?

CHRISTIE: Well, what we need to do first, Wolf, is to stand with Israel and make sure that Israel's existence and Israel's flourishing going forward is not in question for anybody in the world. And the best way to do that is to have the United States stand unequivocally with Israel in every step they believe they need to take to protect their sovereignty and the health of their people. And it's then to also work with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the emergency government that's in place to make sure that we are in concert with them on the steps that need to be taken. They have the money and the materials to do what they need to do to send a message to Hamas and Hezbollah. And by doing that, the Americans will be sending a very clear message to Iran, which is this was a mistake. And if you continue in this conduct, you are going to pay as well inside the borders of Iran.

BLITZER: Israel says it's cutting off water, electricity and fuel to Gaza, a move that will undoubtedly result in many civilian casualties. Governor, do you support this move?

CHRISTIE: I support it because Hamas has brought this on to its people itself. They are the ones who paraglided in and massacred a music festival of innocent young men and women. They're the ones who have caused the torture of young children, babies, innocent people inside Israel. They're the ones that, to this moment, have kidnapped innocent Israelis and Americans and are holding them captive somewhere in the Gaza Strip.

You know, the fact of the matter is, Wolf, they brought this on themselves. And this will end for them if they denounce this terrorism, they return these hostages unharmed without any consequence. Then we can start talking about what we can do to help the innocent civilians inside Gaza.

But until then, their own government has brought this upon them and Israel has to make sure that they provide no aid or comfort to the terrorists who have murdered more Jews than at any time since the Holocaust.

BLITZER: Your Republican rival, Donald Trump, is now facing a lot of criticism, as you know, for his recent remarks, remarks he made about the war between Israel and Hamas. I want to play some of those remarks for you and our audience right now. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: And they said, gee, I hope Hezbollah doesn't attack from the north because that's the most vulnerable spot. I said, wait a minute. You know, Hezbollah is very smart. They're all very smart.


BLITZER: You slammed Trump up for these comments, accusing him of praising murderers. Why do you think so many Republicans seem untroubled by Trump's comments?

CHRISTIE: You know, I don't know that that's true. I think there might be a lot of Republicans who are troubled by his comments.

But, Wolf, let's make it clear, he's a fool. He's a fool. Only a fool would make those kind of comments. Only a fool would give comments that could give aid and comfort to Israel's adversary in this situation.


And he always places in the context of himself. He went on those comments to talk about his resentment towards Prime Minister Netanyahu because they had a disagreement regarding the actions we took regarding Soleimani. And he says, I still am angry with Netanyahu about that, implying that that's the motivation for his comments.

This is someone who cares not about the American people, not about the people of Israel, but he cares about one person one person only, the person he sees in the mirror when he wakes up in the morning.

As a Republican Party we cannot once again nominate a fool like this to be our nominee and get him anywhere near the presidency of the United States. Desperate times like we see in Ukraine right now, like we see in Israel right now lets the American people know how important the American presidency is not just to us but to the whole world, Wolf. And having a fool like Donald Trump, who would make those comments in the tone that he made them, it's proven to folks that he has no business being president of the United States.

BLITZER: And another issue before I let you go, Governor, House Republicans as you know selected Steve Scalise as their nominee for the House speaker, but he doesn't appear to have enough support to win on the floor, a full vote on the floor. What do you make of this apparent dysfunction in the House of Representatives that's ongoing right now with huge consequences for the U.S.?

CHRISTIE: It's a good way of putting it, Wolf. Dysfunction is one way of putting it. The gang that can't shoot straight is what we look like. We want to govern on important issues in this country regarding our national debt, regarding immigration, regarding our children's education. And lots of Republicans have lots of good ideas to try to make this better in our country. But we can't do it if we don't step forward and appoint a leader and let them get to work on things, like aid to Israel which is desperately needed, additional aid to Ukraine, which is desperately needed, securing our southern border, which is desperately needed. Instead, they're all arguing like Games of Thrones among themselves about this. This is ridiculous. It is time to make a decision and move on.

I will say this. I know Steve Scalise. I think Steve Scalise is a smart guy, and I think he'd be a good speaker. Let's dispense with all the drama. Let's pick a speaker and let's get back to work for the American people.

BLITZER: Governor Chris Christie, thanks so much for joining us.

CHRISTIE: Wolf, thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Coming up, we'll return live to a critical Israeli town right near Gaza. CNN was there when it was attacked with a barrage of rockets.



BLITZER: More now on the breaking news, Israel still under threat tonight as rockets bombard communities right near the Gaza border.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is on the ground for us at Ashdod, Israel. Jeremy, your area came under rocket fire earlier today. What can you tell us?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Wolf. Several communities near the Gaza Strip came under rocket barrages today. Most of those rockets were indeed intercepted by the Iron Dome Missile Defense System.

Right here in Ashdod, we had two barrages within about an hour-and-a- half of each other. That second barrage was really quite close, and we know that because the boom of the Iron Dome System intercepting those rockets was quite, quite loud.

Inside the shelter in our hotel, we spoke with a family, Natan Levy, the father of six children, and his wife, Ester (ph). They told us that they fled the city of Ashkelon, which is right behind us. Here's that conversation.


NATAN LEVY, ASHKELON RESIDENT: We are from Ashkelon. We live in our home because it's the bomb.

DIAMOND: Ashkelon is much closer to Gaza.

LEVY: A lot of bombs, a lot of bombs. And all the children here are crying and don't sleep at night.

DIAMOND: Do you feel safer here?

LEVY: Yes, the children feel safer. But when they hear the noise --

DIAMOND: They get afraid?

LEVY: Yes, they get afraid.

DIAMOND: They get afraid, yes.

LEVY: I'm running to here.


DIAMOND: And Natan Levy, I spoke with him after that, and he explained that his home in Ashkelon does not have a bomb shelter. His children were so afraid that they couldn't sleep at night. And so, eventually, they made the decision to come slightly farther north to find some sense of security. But as you can see, Wolf, it is effectively impossible to find 100 percent security in this part of Israel. I asked him what he's going to do next, because this military campaign could last a while. He said they are taking things day by day. But they have been getting offers from families all across the country to house them.

Now, at the same time, right here on our balcony, we've been hearing, Wolf, the constant rumbling, very loud, vibrating the windows and the balcony that we're standing on. That is Israeli airstrikes and artillery falling on Gaza. Certainly tomorrow morning, I expect that we'll be seeing some severe images of destruction over there.

BLITZER: I suspect you're right. Jeremy Diamond, stay safe over there. Thank you very much.

We're also right now learning more about the scale and the brutality of the Hamas attacks on Israel, which the U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, today compared to ISIS.

I'm joined now by Betzalel Taljah. He's an Israeli soldier whose mother, sadly, was killed during the attacks. Betzalel, thank you so much for joining us. We are, of course, so sorry for your loss.

I understand your mother went to see your sister, who just gave birth at the hospital, and when she went home quickly to get cookies for her grandkids, she was murdered on the streets by Hamas terrorists, while she was still holding those cookies. What was it like to find her?


BETZALEL TALJAH, ISRAELI SOLDIER WHOSE MOTHER WAS KILLED BY HAMAS: It was a very, very bad feeling, when we found her. Was a very, very bad feeling, when we found her. We didn't believe it, we didn't think, no -- no way I would find, this is how we'll find our mom. It was crazy, it is crazy. I cannot really feel it. And now, I am with war, so we don't really have time to sit and think about my mom. So, after we will fight and win this fight, on the evil force, we start the --

BLITZER: Betzalel, how is your family processing this, really disgusting, this horrendous attack on your mother, the loss, and what was supposed to be a celebration of life, a newborn baby?

TALJAH: A lot of pressure, even in the war zone, a lot of pressure. When the grandkids are asking always, where's grandma, when his grandma coming, why is grandma not coming. We understand now we're already that my mom got murdered, so they ask why she got murdered. And, nobody understands it, everybody is just crying a lot.

BLITZER: I know you say, Betzalel, that you want to fight in Gaza, in your mother's name, in your mother's memory. Do you expect you actually will be deployed there?

TALJAH: All the Israelis under attack. I fight and you whenever they need the most. For me, we don't have really a difference between Hamas of Gaza, and Hamas of (INAUDIBLE) or Hezbollah. Everybody tries to kill us. It doesn't -- we have attacked -- we have so much enemies on Israel.

So -- just it's not even a fight between Israel and Hamas, or Hezbollah. It is a fight between good and evil, and the other side don't they -- don't they have mercy, no mercy. It is not a fight before wills, it is a fight with cowards, with cowards, civilians, who just wants to kill, who just see us like a fun day, that is how they see us.

They just want to kill us, no matter what, no matter who. We know now, more evil stories about Gaza, I just heard horrible stories about babies, they killed them, chop their head off, opened bellies of pregnant women, and take the baby, out and kill it, burned people alive, just getting worse and worse.

I'm sorry I have to share it for you. But, this is the truth, and the world needs to know the truth.

It's not a war between Israel and Hamas, or Israel and Hezbollah, it's not. If it was like this, so they would not capture United States civilians, and they would not capture Thailand civilians, and they would not kill Thailand civilians, or France or Brazilian, whatever. It doesn't matter.

And we cannot let them win this war. No matter.


BLITZER: I was just going to say, Betzalel, we just want to express our deepest, deepest condolences to you and your family, and as we say with your mom's passing -- may her memory be a blessing.

Betzalel, thank you so much for joining us.

TALJAH: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: So please pass our love to your family

TALJAH: Good evening.

BLITZER: And we'll be right back.



BLITZER: A former Hamas leader's comment is causing law enforcement officials to step up security measures here in the United States.

Brian Todd has our report.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Stepped up patrols, police posted outside synagogues. The New York Police Department ramping up security, and calling for all of its roughly 36,000 officers to report in uniform, according to an internal department memo obtained by CNN.

This comes after former Hamas leader Khaled Mashal called on the Muslim were to, quote show anger, on Friday.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: You've got police covering over 400 locations in New York City's an iconic location, a symbolic locations, Jewish, religious locations, and, of course, the cities Arab communities, and Muslim communities, for their safety.

TODD: CNN's John Miller reports there is no specific call for violence beyond a general call to express anger. But he says, law enforcement and intelligence officials across the country, are telling him about chat, rooms and other online forums.

MILLER: They are seeing 1000 percent uptick, in the kind of generic threats, against Jewish communities, and targets.

TODD: A suspect in Fresno, California, is now in custody, after this surveillance video, captured a man throwing a rock at the window of a bakery this week. The business is not Jewish affiliated, but I know it was left saying, all Jewish businesses will be targeted.


A Jewish temple in Fresno also had its glass doors broken this week.

RABBI RICK WINER, TEMPLE BETH ISRAEL, FRESNO, CA: We know it's out there. For the most part, the Fresno community is awesome, but there are a few hateful people, who decide to make it hard for everyone.

TODD: President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met today with law enforcement and national security officials, going over steps to protect the homeland, in the wake of the Hamas attacks in Israel.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have just issued a public service announcement, warning of the potential for attacks in the U.S., saying that in the past, conflicts between Israel and Hamas provoked the targeting of individuals institutions, associated with the Jewish and Muslim faiths.

That same PSA says there is no specific intelligence reflecting any plans to attack inside the U.S., stemming from the current war in Israel. But experts say, angry lone wolf, could move on their own.

JAVED ALI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SENIOR DIRECTOR ON COUNTERTERRORISM: Finding that single individual who will go very quickly from being radicalized and angry, to actually trying to mobilize, and connection attack, it is next to impossible to try to stop that in advance.

TODD: Still, law enforcement agencies will have officers at places of worship, police providing safe corridors, and doing perimeter searches, at some institutions.

MILLER: There is a lot, here we will see out there on the streets. And, there is a lot you won't, in terms of cameras, intelligence, investigations into extremist forums.


TODD (on camera): But a key question, raised by former top U.S. counterterrorism official, Javed Ali, is given the amount of resources, how long do you maintain that level of security? He says, no law enforcement agency can protect these religious institutions for weeks on end, and the conflict in Israel, could, of course, play out for much longer than that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, Brian, thank you very much.

I want to get back to the breaking news in the Middle East right now, and the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Joining us now, an expert on the region, Kim Ghattas. She is a distinguished fellow at the Columbia University Institute of Global Politics.

Kim, thanks so much for joining us.

How dire is Israel's bombardment, and blockade on Gaza, on the Hamas targets in Gaza right now, for Palestinian civilians in Gaza? What will it take for Secretary Blinken to get Egypt, for example, and other partners to secure at least one humanitarian corridor, for these people to leave?

KIM GHATTAS, DISTINGUISHED FELLOW, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY INSTITUTE OF GLOBAL POLICIES: Wolf, the situation looks very dire. Currently images we are getting all of Gaza, which unfortunately we are used to in last few years. These words happened several times, between Hamas and Israel. And, images every time are very bad.

They are worse than we have seen so far, and then we have seen before. We understand there are already 1,400 casualties, Israel dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza. That is a lot on an area, of 45 square kilometers, 2 million people, half of which -- half of whom are children.

At some point, there is going to be -- there needs to be calls for restraint, for more precision, military campaign. We are not sure exactly what Israel's plans are for now. Although, the circumstances are unlike anything we have seen before, because of the slaughter of civilians in Israel.

So far, Israel's approach to this military campaign is more of what it's done in the past. At the same time there is really nowhere to go for Palestinians in Gaza, because of course they can't go into Israel and Egypt has made quite clear, they are not ready to welcome thousands of people streaming into Egypt.

BLITZER: Yeah, they have shut down that Rafah border gate, as we know.

I know you lived through the Lebanese civil war and covered many wars in the Middle East, I've been reading articles for many, many years. We have seen Israel exchange strikes with groups in Lebanon and Syria, in recent days as well.

How heightened is the risk, Kim, that this current war could spill into a much bigger regional conflict?

GHATTAS: The risk is very high, which is why I think you're seeing Antony Blinken in Israel, you know, U.S. warships off the course of Israel, not too far from Lebanon, the secretary of defense coming to Israel as well, and Antony Blinken going -- Blinken going on a tour of the region to Qatar, to Saudi Arabia, to the United Arab Emirates, and I believe as well to Egypt.

But interestingly, the next step of what this is going to look like is not being decided in those capitals. It's being decided probably in Gaza, potentially in Syria, and Tehran and, of course, because of Hezbollah's presence in Lebanon here as well.

And in fact, the Iranian foreign minister just arrived in Beirut for a visit, he was meant to go Damascus, but the Israelis bombarded the Damascus airport and put it out of commission, so he cannot land there, and instead he advanced his trip to Beirut, he was supposed to come tomorrow but he's already arrived. And he was welcomed at the airports via representatives of Hamas, and the Islamic jihad who are in operation here. He was not sounding very conciliatory.

So there is, tension. There's been, you know, crossfire across at the border between Lebanon and Israel. The Iranians not sounding conciliatory, but at the same time, very interesting to see the Iranians supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying that Iran had nothing to do with the planning of this attack.

So, I think everybody is taking pause, and looking at what is coming next. I think we're very much in unchartered territory.

BLITZER: Yeah, I suspect you're right there. Kim Ghattas, thank you so much for joining us.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" live from Israel starts right now.