Return to Transcripts main page

State of the Union

Iran Attacks Israel: Interview With Former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton; Interview With Israeli Defense Forces Spokesman Colonel Peter Lerner; Interview With National Security Council Coordinator For Strategic Communications John Kirby; Interview With Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE). Aired 8-9a ET

Aired April 14, 2024 - 08:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Iran attacks, a dramatic escalation in the Middle East, a direct military attack against Israel with a barrage of drones and missiles. How will Israel respond?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Whoever harms us, we will harm them.

TAPPER: White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby is next.

Plus: ironclad. President Joe Biden affirms his commitment to Israel's security, while U.S. forces in the region rush to Israel's defense against the wide-scale aerial assault.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will support Israel. We will defend Israel.

TAPPER: How will Biden handle this crucial test on the global stage? His key ally Senator Chris Coons joins me, plus former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton.

And what now? With tensions in the region soaring out of control, fears of a larger conflict in the Middle East are now front and center. Can further escalation be avoided? Our panel breaks down what to watch next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington with a special live expanded edition of STATE OF THE UNION, where the state of our union is bracing for what's next.

New this morning out of the Middle East, Israel's war cabinet is meeting this hour to decide how to respond to Iran's unprecedented overnight assault. That's according to an Israeli official. Israel says that Israel and other nations intercepted at 99 percent the more than 300 missiles and drones fired by Iran directly from Iranian soil during its five-hour strike on Israel overnight. The U.S. intercepted more than 70 of those attack drones and at least three ballistic missiles, according to officials.

President Biden is set to convene a meeting of the G7 today to coordinate what he calls a united diplomatic response to Iran's brazen attack.

It was a night of booms and flashes, of light and explosions over Israel, as air raid sirens wailed. Israel says a 7-year-old girl was injured by shrapnel. And the rockets did not come just from Iran. More than 55 were fired from Lebanon into Israel, according to the Israeli military.

Biden met with his national security team in the Situation Room late into the night, getting minute-by-minute updates as the attack unfolded. Biden also speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling Netanyahu that Israel should consider this a win, since nothing of value, in terms of targets, was hit, according to a senior administration official, and the United States would not participate in any offensive operations against Iran.

Iran says the attack was in retaliation for the April 1 strike on an Iranian consular building in Syria that killed senior Iranian military officers. Now the Middle East and the world is on edge for what comes next.

Let's bring in CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward in Tel Aviv.

Clarissa, what's the latest on the ground in Israel?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, as you mentioned, Jake, we are now waiting for that war cabinet session to get under way.

We anticipate it will start in the next half-hour. President Biden has urged Israel not to escalate further, but one Israeli official telling CNN that they will respond. It's simply a matter of the scale and scope of what that response will be, this after, as you mentioned, 300 cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, drones fired towards Israel last night, 99 percent of them intercepted.

But, tellingly, the IDF has said that a number -- they won't give the specific number -- of ballistic missiles did make impact at the Nevatim Air Force Base in Southern Israel. That is where those F-35 fighter jets are based. Iran has said that that is the base they believe was used to launch the April 1 attack against the consulate building in Damascus.

So, the question now becomes, what does Israel do next? On the streets, the feeling is relative calm, a high degree of anticipation. Israel has reopened its airspace, Jake, though we're seeing that a number of flights are being canceled, a number of airlines choosing not to fly in and out, some even canceling flights across the region.

And Iran has said that it will cancel all flights, civilian aircraft, in and out of the country at least until Monday, so a heightened state of alert here, Jake.


TAPPER: All right, Clarissa Ward in Tel Aviv, we will come back to you. Thank you so much.

Joining us now in studio, White House national security communications adviser retired Admiral John Kirby.

Admiral Kirby, what is the assessment of the Biden administration right now of how serious this strike was? Was the Biden administration surprised by the scale of this attack? I mean, I can't even imagine. This is -- just for people out there who don't know this, an attack from Iran, directly from Iran, on Israel of this magnitude has never happened.

JOHN KIRBY, NSC COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: No, it truly was unprecedented. It's a good word that you use there.

I mean, the size and scale and scope, just not seen this before. We had been watching as closely as we could. Can I tell you that we anticipated every single drone and every single missile? Probably not, but we certainly had a good sense of what Iran was planning to do.

More critically, the Israelis did as well. And thus the response by them, the defense by our Israeli counterparts, and, of course, the United States and additional partners also was unprecedented. I mean, this was an incredible success, really proving Israel's military superiority and, just as critically, their diplomatic superiority, that they have friends in the region, they have friends around the world that are willing to help them.

TAPPER: So let's talk about that for one second, because, obviously, the Iranians -- and please correct me if I'm wrong -- it appears as though the Iranians were not only attacking Israel. They were violating the airspace of other Arab countries, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Is that accurate?

KIRBY: Absolutely.

There's no way to do what they did last night without violating international airspace to do it.

TAPPER: President Biden has repeatedly say -- said that his goal is to prevent the war in Gaza from becoming a regional conflict. Has that nightmare scenario become a reality?

I mean, is this the beginning of a broader regional war of not just Israel against Hamas and Hezbollah, but Israel against Iran?

KIRBY: We don't believe it is, nor do we believe it has to be.

The president, I mean, almost everything he's been doing since the beginning, since October 7, has been to try to de-escalate, to try to limit the opportunities here for a broader regional war.

And if you think about it, just last night, the prepositioning that the president ordered, additional ships, additional aircraft, fighter pilots into the region to help take down these drones and these missiles, I mean, everything he's doing is trying to set the conditions so that does not happen.

TAPPER: A number of the attacks came not from Iran, but from Iranian proxies in Syria and in Lebanon -- or just in Lebanon?

KIRBY: It was -- there were some proxies firing out of Iraq and Syria and...

TAPPER: Iraq and Syria?

KIRBY: ... and even in the -- from the Houthis as well.

TAPPER: And from the Houthis as well?


TAPPER: So it was from Iranian proxies all over the region?

KIRBY: They certainly included the proxies, Jake, but the vast majority of weapons that were fired at Israel came from Iran proper.

TAPPER: President Biden spoke last night with Prime Minister Netanyahu after the attack. What can you tell us about the call?

We are reporting that the president told Netanyahu that the United States is not going to be part of any offensive attack against Iran. Did Netanyahu give President Biden any indication of what Israel intends to do next?

KIRBY: I certainly won't speak for Prime Minister Netanyahu and what they're thinking and whether and how they're going to respond, because, really, that's up for them to decide.

The purpose of the call was to check in with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the -- at the end of the operations. Not everything had finished getting into Israel in terms of the drones were still on the way. But we felt like we were near the end. The president wanted to congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu for an incredible military achievement.

The prime minister was very grateful for the support that President Biden offered and demonstrated in supporting Israel. And the president made it clear that the self-defense of Israel is something we take seriously, and we will continue to take that seriously.

TAPPER: Do you have an assessment right now of how many drones and how many missiles Iran fired? KIRBY: I think Central Command, the Defense Department is still

working through the exact numbers. The Israelis put out a number of more than 300. We're certainly in no position to challenge that. It was several hundred, if you count everything.

TAPPER: Several hundred drones and missiles?

KIRBY: Drones and missiles. You count everything, clearly several hundred. The exact count, I think they're still working through.

TAPPER: How many of those did the United States shoot down?

KIRBY: Easily several dozens. And, again, we will get a better count as we get throughout the day. I mean, this all just happened overnight, but several dozens, U.S. fighter aircraft. And U.S. destroyers in the region were also able to help contribute to the shoot-downs.

TAPPER: President Biden said that America's commitment to Israeli security from Iranian threats is ironclad.

If Israel launches retaliatory strikes against Iran in Iran, not just in Lebanon or the Houthis in Yemen or Hamas, will the U.S. support that, or is it the U.S. position that Israel should not retaliate to Iran on Iranian territory?

KIRBY: I would just tell you that, number one, our commitment is ironclad to the defending Israel and to helping Israel defend itself.


And, my goodness, did they prove their capability about that last night, I mean, just an incredible performance. And as the president has said many times, we don't seek a wider war in the region. We don't seek a war with Iran. And I think I will leave it at that.

TAPPER: How much can it be perceived that Iran is not afraid of the United States if it is willing to conduct an attack like this on Israel, unprecedented in its size, shape and scope?

KIRBY: I mean, it's not about trying to instill fear here in Iran. It's about making it clear to Iran, which we did privately and publicly, that we're not going to tolerate any threats to our troops, our facilities in Iraq and Syria, and that we will help Israel defend itself.

And, my goodness, Jake, I mean, you can't look at last night and not see and the Iranians can't look at it and not see how serious we are about that commitment.

TAPPER: Mm-hmm.

KIRBY: I mean, think about what they threw at Israel.

TAPPER: Right.

KIRBY: Several hundred drones and missiles over the course of a few hours. And what damage did they cause? Not very much.

I mean, it was an incredible effort by Israel. But, also, it shows that Iran is not the military power weight that they claim to be.

TAPPER: So, a girl in Israel has been -- was she wounded or killed?

KIRBY: I think the reports are mixed. I mean, the last that I heard was that she had died from her wounds.

TAPPER: Died from her wounds.

And the reporting I have is that she was an Arab-Israeli girl. Is that accurate?

KIRBY: That's our understanding as well, yes. In a little town outside the Nevatim Air Base, there's a village. And what we understand was a piece of shrapnel from some of these engagements landed in that village and injured her.

And, sadly, she succumbed to those wounds.

TAPPER: So the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, says it's time for Biden to -- quote -- "match words with actions." Will he, or is it just going to be a diplomatic response?

KIRBY: I mean, I don't know how you can look at what happened last night and say that he hasn't.

TAPPER: Right.

KIRBY: He said, we're ironclad commitment to Israel. And, my goodness...

TAPPER: To defending Israel, but not -- again, I think what McConnell is talking about is a response.

KIRBY: Again, I think you look at everything that we have done since October 7, actually before that, but since October 7, the president has been a man of his word. We said we were going to help Israel defend itself. And we have been doing that.

In addition to what happened last night, which was extraordinary, we're continuing to make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Hamas, which is still operating inside Gaza. So, I just respectfully have to disagree with the leader there.

Everything that the president has done since the 7th of October has proven his word as good.

TAPPER: Admiral Kirby, thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it.

What will Israel do next?

Joining us now, the spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, Colonel Peter Lerner.

Colonel, good morning.

First, let's start with the casualties. Admiral Kirby just told me that he was of the understanding that a young girl in Israel, an Arab- Israeli who had been wounded by shrapnel, has succumbed to her wounds and died. Can you confirm that? What else can you tell us about any damage or injuries on the ground?


Well, I was just listening to Admiral Kirby reporting that. I have not seen that report at this stage. I was trying to get it as I was coming on. I have asked to try and perhaps update during it. I know that she was still fighting for her life, I think 7-year-old Amina, a few -- an hour ago or so, but I can't confirm that at this time.

TAPPER: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said -- quote -- "The campaign is not over yet."

So what will Israel's response to this attack look like? Is the IDF preparing to strike within Iranian territory?

LERNER: So, before we go on to that, I would like to weigh on what Admiral Kirby was talking about.

I think the unprecedented coalition, the international coalition, which was basically a roundtable of decent people coming together against the diabolical intentions of Iran, it proved itself.

It proved itself that, together, we can work to save lives. And that is exactly what we did. When they fired some 300 rockets, missiles, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and explosive drones towards Israel, they had only one thing intentioned, death and destruction of Israel and Israelis.

So, as we look forward, and we need to keep that -- those ill intentions in mind, we also need to think that we don't necessarily need to believe what they are telling us. The fact that they have announced that it's concluded, we have had rockets fired at us by one of their proxies this morning from Lebanon by Hezbollah.

So we don't necessarily take their word for what -- for more than a pinch of salt, Jake. We have to navigate what we're -- what is good for Israel. Currently, the government is going considering the route forward.

The IDF, of course, will lay the opportune options on the table for the government to decide, and we will operate accordingly.

TAPPER: You just mentioned the international coalition, and I wanted to just get a little bit more information about that.


Obviously, the United States helped Israel respond and shoot down these missiles and drones, more than 300, according to Admiral Kirby. Obviously, Iran also was violating Saudi and Jordanian airspace in this.

Who else was on board with the response, with shooting down these missiles and drones? Was the Jordanian government? Was the Saudi government? Who else was -- are among these players that you just referred to?

LERNER: So, I can't go into the specifics of the regional nations that felt that it was the right thing to do to stop Iran from spreading their hate and destruction.

But I can say that the American leadership was very, very clear. General Kurilla was here over the last few days, and the coordination under the American leadership helped put this coalition together, which was a successful coalition, with the Brits -- the British and the French and regional players, that felt that Iran has ill intentions, has a very hostile attitude towards the region -- towards -- excuse me -- regional stability.

And, therefore, they felt -- those players felt that it was relevant for them to step up. I think what is more important is to look forward and see the strategic alliance that can actually benefit and grow from this, and I think that is something to be positive out -- to have a positive attitude as we move forward.

It was undoubtedly an unprecedented attack against us, but the unprecedented coalition that came together, it is really, really -- I would say it's a very, very strong sense that Israel is receiving this level of support and understanding.

And as we move forward, we understand and expect that those that are concerned about Iran's actions need to be concerned about their actions in Lebanon, with Hezbollah, need to be concerned about their actions with the Houthis, need to be concerned about Iran's actions in the sea as they conduct attacks against the maritime route, and need to be concerned about how they are empowering everybody that is a radical player in this region like Hamas.




LERNER: ... these organizations, equip them, train them extensively.

TAPPER: So the Iranian government this morning said it specifically had targeted the air base where Iran says Israel launched the strike targeting an Iranian consulate in Syria, killing at least seven Iranian officials with the Quds Force.

What is your response to that? Was Israel behind that strike in Damascus, Syria? What's your response to Iran saying attacking that diplomatic facility crossed a line and provoked this response?

LERNER: Iran has been behind everything bad for years in this region, with an intention to destabilize the region. In the last six months, they have been the puppet master behind

Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Hamas, and, of course, the -- what's happening in the -- at sea in the maritime corridor.

And so Iran didn't need an excuse. They chose to come to the forefront of this and attack Israel. We have obvious concerns about Iranian activities, because they're using their proxies to attack us. I would say that our perspective is, this didn't begin on April 1. It began well, well before that.

And, of course, that reality where they feel that they can attack an air base -- and, indeed, some of those ballistic missiles, they hit the Nevatim air base.

TAPPER: Mm-hmm.

LERNER: Each one of those -- they fired 120 ballistic missiles towards Israel. A handful of those hit the air base. They didn't cause too much damage, but each one of those carries a warhead of anything around 100 to 120 kilos.

It didn't cause much damage. The base was operational throughout the course of the events and the night, and we will continue to defend ourselves against Iranian proxies or Iran as they -- as they try and conduct their actions against us.

TAPPER: Right.

Can you just give us the numbers, 100, 120 ballistic missiles? Does that mean it's about 200 drone attacks? Were there also rocket attacks from Hezbollah, Houthis, et cetera? Like, what's the total? What's the aggregate number you have of incoming ordnance?

LERNER: So, the numbers are still not 100 percent clear, but I understand 120 ballistic missiles, around 30 cruise missiles were fired, and around 170 explosive drones, explosive UAVs, that were en route, the same types of munitions that they have used and given to the Houthis, the same types of munition -- munitions that are being used against Ukraine.

These are the same type of weapons that they are using around the world. That's what we faced and confronted in the early hours of this morning. Indeed, there was some, a very small amount of weaponry fired from the Houthis. They weren't successful either.


And Hezbollah, in the course of the hours -- in the hours of this morning, have also conducted some attacks against us. We have retaliated against those Hezbollah positions in -- this morning as well.

I would say, though, that what we see is attacks from Yemen, attacks from Iraq, obviously attacks from Iran, attacks from Syria, from Lebanon.

TAPPER: Mm-hmm.

LERNER: This is a ring of fire that Iran has built around Israel precisely for this reality.


LERNER: I'm very happy to say that they failed in their attack, most -- in part because of the extensive coalition that was built, a coalition of decency, against a ring of fire of hostility and hate.


IDF spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, thanks so much.

Coming up, a close confidant of President Biden weighs in on the White House's response to Iran's attack on Israel. Democratic Senator Chris Coons from Biden's home state of Delaware will join us live. That's next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION, a special live expanded edition. I'm Jake Tapper.

President Biden is now planning to convene an emergency session of the G7 nations, as Biden looks to take Israel and Iran off the war path.

Let's bring in CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour.

Christiane, how much is Israel's calculus being shaped, do you think, by the fact that it's already fighting a war in Gaza and in its north battling Hezbollah?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Jake, it's hard to tell. You had the spokesman for the IDF on. He didn't seem to be at all concerned about that. He was just talking about a ring of fire in Iran and the rest of it.

But I did hear and CNN did interview former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. I interviewed the former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, and they both said that Israel, the Netanyahu government, needs to basically take its time, think, realize that it won this round, as you have all been discussing, because none of those projectiles, missiles, drones actually reached any target of any consequence whatsoever.

There were no injuries, except, unfortunately, apparently for a little girl, and that was because of anti-aircraft missile shrapnel, according to the Israelis.

And what Barack has said is that Israel has to look at the whole picture right now, in other words, that it is at war in Gaza. It hasn't finished there. It does have its hostages still there. It hasn't got them back. The border between Northern Israel and Lebanon is very volatile. So all of these things have to be -- according to Barak, former prime

minister, former head of the military, et cetera, have to be taken into account before rushing to some kind of response to Iran. So too did the former Mossad chief. He said you can't have a -- quote -- "revenge attack" on Iran right now.

And number one priority for Israel and for this government should be to get the hostages back. So, at least those two elder statesmen are saying what they believe should be the next political and diplomatic moves.

TAPPER: The stunning attack last night, unprecedented in size and scope, and the fact that it was from Iran, ramped up the pressure on a White House already very worried about a wider conflict in the Middle East.

Is there a way for the White House, do you think, to dial down the temperature so this does not become a full-scale war?

AMANPOUR: So, Jake, this is a real case for a massive, concerted diplomacy, serious diplomacy, actually talking to parties, even though there are no formal diplomatic ties either between Israel and Iran or between Iran and the United States.

Now, nonetheless, they do have channels, and we know that Iran and the United States have been in diplomatic negotiations previously.

But this is, yes, crossing the Rubicon. I think the most interesting and important and consequential comment that came out of Iran today was the head of the Revolutionary Guard Corps saying that this has changed the equation, i.e. -- and we know that, in 45 years of the Islamic Republic, Iran has never directly responded or attacked Israel.

There has been a shadow war going on for decades. Israel has attacked inside Iran, has used covert operations to kill and assassinate scientists and militaries and this and that, but there's never been from the other side. So this is a potential shift that could increase the chance of miscalculations, unless they step back from the brink now.

TAPPER: All right, Christiane, thank you so much for your insights.

Joining us now, a key Biden ally and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

So, last night, you called this attack on Israel by Iran a brazen escalation. We're now learning that Israel intends to respond. That's according to an Israeli official. What are your thoughts on the latest? What are -- what's your view on what would be appropriate or inappropriate for Israel to do in response, if anything?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Well, I think what would be most appropriate for the Congress to do in response is for Speaker Johnson to put on the floor tomorrow the supplemental that was passed by the Senate by a broad bipartisan majority and promptly send it to President Biden.

That will send a strong signal by funding Israel, humanitarian support, Ukraine, Taiwan, making it clear that, after months of dithering, the House will act. What I think Israel should do is pause for the moment, consult with its close allies and partners, assess the damage and the activity, and then decide, what is the most appropriate response?

President Biden has forcefully engaged in this region ever since October 7 to try and avoid escalation to a regional war. As you just heard from Christiane, we must be mindful that last Sunday was six months in captivity for the hostages being held by Hamas.


My hope would be that this remarkable display of an effective and forceful defense of Israel by Israel and several critical regional partners and allies will give them the room to make a deliberate and considered response in terms of their next steps forward.

TAPPER: Who are the critical regional allies and partners? Is it -- did Jordan and Saudi Arabia and any other countries willingly participate, allow -- not just allowing the U.S. and Israel to shoot down drones and missiles, but did they do anything beyond that?

COONS: Well, Jake, by all published accounts, this was a massive attack, 300 missiles and drones. And Arab partners like Jordan and the Saudis provided some -- some analytical and active support, but I'm not basing that on anything other than the accounts that I saw last night.

We haven't yet been briefed in the Senate, and I do think one of the things that Israel now has the time to do is to consult with its partners and allies, like the United States, the British, the French, the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Emiratis, and to assess what their next steps are, both in terms of their preparedness and their supply and the reliability of the support that's been shown by the United States and others in the region.

TAPPER: You mentioned Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza.

The latest information from the Middle East in efforts to get a cease- fire and the hostages home is that Hamas has rejected the most recent proposal. What's your response? How does -- how can the United States get this process to a better place?

COONS: Even more forceful pressure on Qatar and on Egypt, who've been good interlocutors, who've been working with us on trying to pressure Hamas to release these hostages.

I think it's time for us to make it clear that Hamas does not have a future in the region and that the United States intends to be forcefully engaged on both sides to get them to the table, to get this resolved, and to get these hostages released. I think that's been happening privately, but I think it's also helpful for it to be clear publicly that it's not acceptable for Hamas to continue day after day the torture of hostages and their families.

I just met last week with Rachel Goldberg-Polin, whose son Hersh has been a captive since October 7. It's important to remind folks every day that this horrific situation in Gaza has in no small part continued because of Hamas and that their use of civilians as hostages and human shields has contributed to this being as terrible a situation as it has been.

We're also calling on our partners in Israel to flow humanitarian aid into Gaza and to partner with us in making sure that we avoid humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

In the regional context, it's important to remind everyone that Iran has been behind all of this, that they have equipped and trained Hezbollah, which even today is continuing to attack Israel, the Houthis, which have continued to attack regional shipping, the Iranian militias in Iraq, which continue to threaten the American presence in Syria and Iraq.

So, coming up with a way to de-escalate tensions, to defend Israel and to resolve the conflict in Gaza is the hard and important work that President Biden is leading today.

TAPPER: What do you make of the argument that the only way to get attacks like this to stop is with a military response, a powerful military response?

I'm not saying this is my view, but that is a view out there. Certainly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is out there saying that Biden needs to do more to match his -- let me get the exact language. Well, it's along the lines -- oh, here it is. Sorry.

He said that it's time for Biden to -- quote -- "match words with actions."

What's your response to those who say, if you want to get Hezbollah and Hamas and the Houthis in Iran to stop attacking, to de-escalate, the response can't be diplomacy; it has to be military?

COONS: Well, I was also struck that Senate Leader McConnell, Republican Leader McConnell, in the same statement, urges Speaker Johnson to put the Senate-passed supplemental on the floor tomorrow.

We all know, but it's -- it bears repeating, that the Ukrainians have been facing day after day, wave after wave of the same Iranian drones provided to Russia in their ongoing aggression against Ukraine. I think showing resolve, showing that the United States in a bipartisan and forceful way will resupply Israel and supply Ukraine and supply our partners in the Indo-Pacific is the way that we show determination.

I think we should take a breath and analyze what the consequences might be of an attack back on Iran by Israel or of any other escalation. So, I understand that there are those who think that's the only way for us to restore deterrence. I think the most important deterrent action that Congress can take -- and this is what former Secretary Mike Pompeo is calling for.


This is what Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for, is for Speaker Johnson to not take days or weeks to try and come up with some other package, but to pass the supplemental tomorrow.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, thanks so much, sir.

Coming up next: One Iran hawk says Israel should respond to the drone and missile barrage by hitting back harder militarily. Former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton joins us in minutes.


TAPPER: And welcome to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

A senior administration official says that President Biden made it clear to Israel that the U.S. will not participate in any Israeli offensive operations against Iran.


Joining us now, someone who seems to take a different view of how to respond to Tehran, former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Ambassador Bolton, thanks for joining us.

So what is your assessment of what's happening right now? You said earlier on CNN that this is a huge failure of both U.S. and Israeli deterrence.


Last night, the Iranians launched 320-plus cruise and ballistic missiles and drones. It's a blessing that the Israelis find only 1 percent got through. But not every night is going to be that good. And unless Iran sees a powerful response, that risk will continue.

And the way to reestablish deterrence is not proportional. That's academic talk. The way you establish deterrence is by telling your adversary, if you ever try that again, the price you will pay will be so much higher than any gain you think you can get, you shouldn't even think about it.

So I think Israel has a wide range of potential targets. You start by flattening Iran's air defense capabilities. Next, you might go after headquarters of the regular military and the Revolutionary Guard. You could consider going after their oil infrastructure, the oil fields, the distribution pipelines, the export port facilities.

And, most importantly, I think Israel should be looking at this as an opportunity to destroy Iran's nuclear weapons program, which is the existential threat that Israel faces. I don't know what they will do. I can't predict it. But I will tell you this. If Joe Biden, as some press reports have it,

is urging the Israelis not to retaliate at all, he is an embarrassment to the United States. This is an American interest to make sure that Iran, which is the principal threat to international peace and security in the region, is, at a minimum, put in its place to spare Israel, to spare the Gulf Arabs, to spare us from the threat that they pose.

TAPPER: So, look, I don't think there's anybody in the White House that, if they could snap their fingers and have the Iranian regime disappear, wouldn't do so.

The question about what you're proposing would be, that doesn't necessarily end the conflict. That might actually just escalate the conflict, and then you have Iran responding even more harshly and even more successfully. And who knows what their nuclear capabilities are right now. And how does one avoid that happening?

BOLTON: Well, let's start with what we don't know about their nuclear capabilities.

Do you want to tell Israel to roll the dice that, next time a salvo of ballistic missiles comes into their territory, it won't be nuclear? I think that's the point that Israel needs to focus on. And I would say this too about this escalation, this fear of a wider war.

The administration fears a wider war because it's worried about gasoline prices in the United States. It's worried about the left wing of the Democratic Party. The fact is, Israel has been in a wider war since October the 7th, which the administration has resolutely refused to recognize.

If you don't understand the strategic environment, you can't possibly respond to it effectively. This theater of operations has five battlefields at the moment, certainly Hamas in Gaza, the Houthis closing the Red Sea international sea traffic, the Hezbollah attacking Northern Israel, Shia militia groups in Iraq and Syria. Now we see Iran itself.

And even yesterday they hijacked, I believe it was a Philippine ship on the high seas. So there are five sources of pressure here. It's not necessarily the world's most effective alliance, but it's one battle plan, which the Iranians call the ring of fire. And the administration needs to face up to that, which it has not done so far.

TAPPER: Nobody wants Armageddon, right? Nobody wants World War III. Nobody wants nuclear weapons used. Nobody wants more death of innocent people.

Why are you convinced that your method is the best way to avoid that, as opposed to diplomacy, deterrence, and other ways?

BOLTON: Well, how well is diplomacy working so far? Hamas this morning again rejected the cease-fire plan.

And, by the way, I have heard from people in Israel they believe there are less than 20 hostages still alive, that perhaps 100 of them are dead. And if that's true, and if Hamas knows it, but has been negotiating these past months on the basis of 40 coming out, with more possibly later, and Hamas itself saying they can only find 27, Hamas may have been conducting a deception operation to build up pressure on Iran, knowing full well it could...

TAPPER: On Israel, pressure on Israel, yes.

BOLTON: ... it could never meet the diplomatic goals of the administration.

So deterrence failed 320 times last night against Israel. If Iran doesn't feel the pain, I think it's only got to get worse for Israel.


TAPPER: Former President Trump last night at a rally in Pennsylvania, Schnecksville, said that none of this would have happened if he had been president. Take a listen to what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (R) AND CURRENT U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The people of Israel, they're under attack right now. That's because we show great weakness. This would not happen. The weakness that we have shown, it's unbelievable. And it would not have happened if we were in office.


TAPPER: What are your thoughts on that?

BOLTON: I just think Trump is delusional on this point. It's a point that nobody can refute or confirm one way or the other.

He doesn't have any idea what to do in the Middle East in this situation. Remember when he threatened fire and fury against North Korea. Within a year, he had fallen in love with Kim Jong-un. So he's not qualified to be president.

I think -- people often ask me, well, if you don't think Trump is qualified to be president, why not vote for Biden? Look at Biden's actions in the past 24 hours, trying to persuade Israel not to respond. This is a measure of two candidates, neither one of whom is qualified, at a point of enormous threat, not just to Israel's national security.

To be clear, what's happening in the Middle East is a threat to American national security. And we should be standing at Israel's side to deal with the threat of Iran.

TAPPER: All right, former Ambassador John Bolton, thanks so much for your views. Really appreciate it.

BOLTON: Glad to be with you.

TAPPER: Coming up: An unprecedented attack, does this all risk throwing the region into a wider and deadlier conflict?

Our expert panel will weigh in next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to this special live expanded edition of STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we are following the ongoing response to the Iranian strikes against Israel overnight.

With us now, Robin Wright, who's a contributing writer for "The New Yorker," and CNN retired analyst -- military analyst retired Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Sorry about that.

Let's start with the first question. Do you think, Robin, that Iran anticipated Israel's ability to strike down 99 percent of these missiles and drones that it sent into Israel? Do you think they knew that their attack was going to be so unsuccessful?

ROBIN WRIGHT, "THE NEW YORKER": They absolutely knew what Israel's capabilities are. They knew the prospect that they would get anything through was probably limited.

But this was something that Iranians felt they had to do in response to Israel's killing of senior generals in the consulate in Damascus. The question is, how far is Iran willing to go? In 2010, when the United States killed General Soleimani, it was -- the Iranian response was one-and-done.

That's what the United States hopes happens this time, that it ends here. But I think we have crossed a threshold. The shadow war that has played out between Iran and Israel since 1982 is now in the open. There's no going back. For a long time, it was rhetorical, and now the threat is very real and likely to play out again in the future.

TAPPER: So when we talk about a shadow war, we mean Iran arming proxies such as Hamas, such as Hezbollah, such as the Houthis, and having those proxy groups do that, and we mean Israel doing sabotage of the Iranian nuclear program -- we believe it was Israel -- or Israel doing targeted secret assassinations of various people involved with Iran's nuclear program.

But now it is out in the open, Iran directly attacking Israel from Iranian land. Israel has lots of options. President Biden doesn't seem to want them to do it. Biden reportedly told Netanyahu, take the win.


And one of the key things to think about here is, there are those asymmetric capabilities that both sides have. The Israelis can go after the Iranian nuclear program using cyber means, a la Stuxnet, like you alluded to, or they can do something in terms of special operations-type missions.

But the key thing that they're going to have to figure out is, what kind of response do they really want to do? How are they going to really set things up for the future? Because, at some point, they're going to have to figure out how to live with Iran, whether it's in a peaceful way or whether it's in a perpetual state of conflict.

TAPPER: And you heard very different voices.

On the show earlier, we had Chris Coons saying, take a breath, everybody should take a breath. And you had John Bolton saying, taking a breath, deterrence has not worked, and Iran needs to be hit where it hurts.

And this is this is the dilemma facing Joe Biden and Netanyahu.

WRIGHT: Absolutely. And there's some big decisions that have to be made.

I think historians will look back on this moment as a turning point. Were -- was anyone willing or able to get in and defuse tensions between Iran and Israel? The problem is, we're also coinciding with the crisis in Gaza.

TAPPER: Right.

WRIGHT: And that's not going any place fast soon, in terms of resolution.

And in many ways, the conflict between Iran and Israel mirrors what's playing out in Gaza. And, in neither conflict, do you see any kind of plan, any takers, any willingness to try to get beyond these tensions. And, as a result, kind of by default, the danger is that we get more of this, rather than a way out. There's just no way out that's visible any time soon.

TAPPER: And you heard Ambassador Bolton say that he'd heard from sources inside Israel that Hamas -- of the 99 hostages that are hoped to be alive, that Hamas probably does not have 99 hostages, almost certainly has just a few dozen left, and this has all been a misinformation game from Hamas just trying to delay an Israeli attack by pretending that there are hostages to be negotiated.


This certainly doesn't help matters.

LEIGHTON: No, it doesn't.

And the whole disinformation campaign that both sides have been engaged in is not helping release the hostages. And that's going to be a critical issue for the Israeli public, as well as for the future of how they're going to actually mediate or even run this conflict.

So that's going to really determine whether or not they do Rafah or not.

TAPPER: All right, thanks so much.

Coming up next, another full hour of this expanded special live edition of STATE OF THE UNION. I'm going to talk with the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Marco Rubio, plus Senators John Fetterman and J.D. Vance, former General David Petraeus, who used to run the CIA.

We will be right back.