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State of the Union

Middle East On Edge Following Iranian Attack On Israel; Iran Targets Israel With Barrage Of Missile And Drone Attacks; Israeli Official: War Cabinet Meeting Now On Iran Response; Biden Meeting Right Now With G7 Leaders To Discuss Iran Response. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired April 14, 2024 - 11:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: 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, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): Whoever harms us, we will harm them.


TAPPER: White House National Security Communications Advisor, 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.

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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 comes next.

New out of the Middle East. President Biden is meeting virtually today with G7 leaders as Israel's war cabinet has been gathering too.

Deciding how to respond to Iran's unprecedented overnight assault. A member of that war cabinet, Benny Gantz, saying Israel will, quote, exact a price from Iran in a way and time that suits us, "unquote.

Iran, last night, fired around 170 attack drones, more than 30 cruise missiles, and more than 120 ballistic missiles over the course of five hours from Iran to Israel. According to the Israeli government, which says 99 percent of the projectiles were successfully intercepted.

Israel says a 7-year-old girl was injured by shrapnel in the evening's activities. President Biden telling Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, overnight, that Israel should consider the overall results a win and that the U.S. will not participate in any offensive operations against Iran. That's according to a senior Biden administration official.

The region is now bracing, of course, for what comes next. Let's bring in CNN chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, who joins us live from Tel Aviv.

And, Clarissa, the Israeli war cabinet meeting. It's been going on now for nearly three hours.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And we are expecting J2 (ph) here some kind of a televised statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when that meeting finally ends.

We did hear, as you mentioned, from Benny Gantz, the centrist war cabinet minister who said that Israel intends to form a coalition, that it will act at the time and in the manner of their own choosing to exact a price on Iran.

But everybody really waiting to see what that price might actually be. And we are already seeing criticism coming from hard line right elements of Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, calling Gantz' comments, hollow Western catchphrases and saying that it is crucial to reestablish deterrence and hit hard.

He's warned of not having a, quote, sluggish response. But it's important for our viewers to remember that Ben-Gvir and others like him are not part of that war cabinet. And we don't yet have a window into what that response will be like, whether Netanyahu will be heating the warnings of President Biden to act with restraint, to not escalate the situation further and to, quote, Jake, take the win, as you said, because many are viewing the news as essentially a gift or a lifeline for Prime Minister Netanyahu changing the calculation of this entire conflict, deflecting away from the disasters that have been happening inside Gaza, reflecting -- deflecting away also from the weekly protests that have been gathering momentum calling for Benjamin Netanyahu to step down, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Our thanks to Clarissa Ward, live for us in Tel Aviv.

Joining us now in studio, White House National Securities course -- communications advisor, a retired admiral, John Kirby.

Admiral Kirby, what is the assessment of the Biden administration right now? 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, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: 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've 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 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 justice 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 and nor do we believe it has to be. The president -- I mean, almost everything he's been doing since the beginning, since October 7th, has been to try to deescalate, to try to limit the opportunities here for a broader regional war.

And if you think about just last night in the pre-positioning that the president ordered, the 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 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 -- and 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 -- 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. It's 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-defensive 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 were certainly in no position to challenge that.

It was several hundred. If you count every --

TAPPER: Several hundred drone 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 in? KIRBY: Easily, several dozens. And again, we'll 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 iron clad. 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 ironclad to those defending Israel and to helping Israel defend itself.

And my goodness that they proved 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. I don't think I'll 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.

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 -- that they claim to be.

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 -- or is it just going to be a diplomatic response?

KIRBY: I mean, I don't know how you can look at what happened --

TAPPER: Right.

KIRBY: -- last night and say that he hasn't. He said, we're ironclad commitment to Israel when my goodness.

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

KIRBY: Again, I think you look at everything that we've done since October 7th, actually before that, but since October 7th, the president has been a man of his word.

We said we're going to help Israel defend itself, and we've 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.

Coming up, we're going to hear directly from a spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces, as Israel figures out how or if or whether to respond to Iran's escalation. That's next.



TAPPER: And welcome back to this special live expanded edition of State of the Union. I'm Jake Tapper.

Iran's leaders today are hailing their military operation of success and signaling to Israel and the United States that their attack is done, unless Israel responds.

Joining us now, the spokesperson for the Israel Defense Force is Colonel Peter Lerner. Good morning.

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?

PETER LERNER, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER: 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 intention, definitely 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've announced that it's concluded, we've 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 more than a pinch of salt, Jake. We have to navigate what is good for Israel. Currently, the government is 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 are among the -- 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 root -- 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 -- to have a positive attitude as we move forward.

It was undoubtedly an unprecedented attack against us, but the unprecedented coalition that came together. You know, 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 -- 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 -- in the sea as they conduct -- TAPPER: Mm-hmm.

LERNER: -- attacks against the maritime -- the maritime route. They need to be concerned about how they are empowering everybody that is a radical player in this region like Hamas.


LERNER: They have to play these organizations, equip them, train them extensively.

TAPPER: So the Iranian government this morning said it specifically had targeted the airbase 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, 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 1st. It began well before that. And, of course, that reality where they feel that they could attack an airbase. And indeed, some of those ballistic missiles, they hit the Nevatim Airbase.

TAPPER: Mm-hmm.

LERNER: Each one of those, they fired 120 ballistic missiles towards Israel. A handful of those hit the airbase. 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 -- 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 on route the same types of munitions that they've used and given to the Houthis, the same types of munitions that are being used against the Ukraine.

These are the same type of weapons that they are using around the world. That's what we faced and front -- and confronted in the early hours of this morning.

Indeed, there was some 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 --

TAPPER: Mm-hmm.

LERNER: -- against Hezbollah positions in this morning as well.

I would -- I would say though that, you know, 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 --


LERNER: -- precisely for this reality. 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.

TAPPER: OK. IDF spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, thanks so much.

Coming up next, Israel's Defense Minister wants to respond to Iran with fire and fury. I'll ask Israel's former Prime Minister if he agrees. You're watching a special live extended edition of STATE OF THE UNION.



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

And this morning, NATO is unequivocally condemning Iran's attack against Israel as an unprovoked escalation. The NATO alliance also urging restraint from Israel as Israel weighs how to respond.

Former Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, joins us now to discuss.

Mr. Bennett, Israeli officials have been meeting for several hours today to discuss Israel's response. You've been in that room before. Walk us through what options they're likely looking at.

And how would you urge a response to this attack if you were still prime minister?

NAFTALI BENNETT, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Sure. Well, first of all, yesterday's attack and defense is almost unprecedented. Iran lobbed about 330 cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and drones to Israel from all directions. And we managed to intercept almost 99 percent of them, but some did hit Israel. And right now, a 7-year-old heir of the girl is badly injured, fighting for her life, and doctors are trying to save her.


We've got to respond. The response needs to be decisive and surprising in terms of the timing, the target, the technique. What we're going to look at in terms of consideration is the fact that we can't have the region assume that you can shoot 330 rockets to Israel and get away with it. At the same time, we need to maximize our alliance against Iran and the Iranian axis. So we're going to have to balance the two of these.

TAPPER: The National Security Minister, the ultranationalist, Itamar Ben-Gvir, says that Israel should, quote, "go crazy," unquote, in retaliation for the attack. Netanyahu, obviously under a lot of pressure from the far-right of his coalition, Ben-Gvir, Smotrich, et cetera. Do you think he should listen to them? I know that they're not members of the war cabinet, but they are members of the cabinet. Do you think he should listen to them?

BENNETT: I think the government and the Prime Minister have to focus only on what's right for Israel and the region and divorce themselves from any political considerations. And that's what's going to happen.

I can tell you that now I think the world is realizing that Iran is a global octopus of terror, each time using a different tentacle of his to apply terror, sometimes in Europe, sometimes in Israel. It could be from Hezbollah, it could be from Hamas, the Houthis, sometimes in the Red Sea. Ultimately, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a regime that is destined to collapse. It will collapse.

Yesterday, it incurred a historic failure, because I want you to understand, when it sends all types of weapons from all directions, it didn't just use cruise missiles, it didn't just use ballistic missiles. It used the mix of it precisely in order to punch its way through to Israel. And it was a disastrous failure for Iran. But that's not enough. We're going to have to ultimately bring this horrible regime down.

TAPPER: I want to read a tweet by former U.S. Middle East Envoy Dennis Ross. He said, quote, "In 1991, Saddam Hussein of Iraq hit Israel with scud missiles, and the U.S. said don't play into his hands by turning the world against Saddam into an Arab-Israel war. And now some will say don't play into Yahya Sinwar's hands,' that's the head of Hamas, 'with a response that creates a regional war instead of finishing the war in Gaza," unquote. I guess the point he's making there is that Saddam was trying to bait Israel into an overreaction, but Israel didn't take the bait in 1991. Do you agree with that analogy?

BENNETT: No, I don't. In that analogy, the world was fighting, actively fighting Saddam Hussein. It really was not a war about Israel.

In this case, Iran deliberately shot these 300 missiles towards Israel. And I'd ask any of your listeners and watchers right now, what would America do if someone shot 300 cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and drones on American soil, even if you intercepted most of them? How would America respond? And I think that's exactly what we need to do.

TAPPER: All right, Naftali Bennett, thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Coming up, President Biden is meeting with the leaders of G7 nations as the world grapples with this unprecedented Iranian attack. Our panel of experts will dive into the potential fallout. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to this special live expanded edition of "State of the Union." I'm Jake Tapper.

A new photograph is just coming in of President Biden doing a virtual meeting with his fellow leaders of G7 nations as the international community tries to coordinate a united response to Iran's unprecedented attack on Israel last night.

The photo posted on Twitter or X by the European Council President is what is on your screen right now. My experts are here as we continue to follow the developing situation in the Middle East. We have Robin Wright from the Wilson Center and the New Yorker magazine and David Sanger of the "New York Times." He's also the author of a brand-new book coming out this week called, "New Cold Wars: China's Rise, Russia's Invasion, and America's Struggle to Save the West." Thanks so much to you for being here. I really appreciate it.

So John Kirby told me this morning that last night proved that Israel has the backing of the United States. What do you think?

ROBIN WRIGHT, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: It has the backing of the United States when it confronts Iran but it doesn't have the support of the United States when it comes to the issue of Gaza and its future. And this is where President Biden is trying to thread a tiny needle with a large piece of rope. And I think it's going to be interesting to see how this plays out as the United States and Israel face the question of what happens in Rafah, what happens next, what happens to the hostages and what happens to a looming famine?

[11:40:03] TAPPER: Your books about China and Russia but Iran is kind of part of that same community of renegade autocracies, right?

DAVID SANGER, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE & NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is, it's part of what they call the Axis of Resistance. And you know, what's interesting from that picture you put up there? Who was missing from that meeting? The Russians and the Chinese.

TAPPER: Right.

SANGER: Now, if it had been that meeting nine years ago, and I'd be interested to hear whether Robin agrees with me on this, there's a decent chance the Russians and the Chinese would have been part of it. Remember, they were on the same side as the U.S. and the Europeans in the negotiations over restraining Iran's nuclear program. Now, the politics of this have completely flipped as we have separated out into two camps that have some fading resemblance to the Cold War era, but a lot of differences.

We're now discovering the Russians are getting their -- their drones from Iran. They're getting artillery from the North Koreans and so forth. They are not going to cross the Iranians by getting in the way of something like this. So the days when we could call Beijing or call Moscow and say, can you quietly help us out on this, I think are probably gone.

TAPPER: Yeah, and despite Netanyahu's efforts to make an alliance of some sort with Putin, Putin has been on Hamas's side.

SANGER: That really collapsed. That was a hugely bad bet on the part of Prime Minister Netanyahu. In fact, during the first year after the invasion of Ukraine, the Israelis did not condemn the invasion. They were very careful in their wording. They said, we hope this all gets resolved on all sides. And they said it was because they needed to keep the relationship going with Russia. Well, that relationship has not turned out to be useful to them.

TAPPER: What is Iran's endgame here? Obviously, they oppose the existence of Israel. Obviously, they -- I don't know if you agree with Marco Rubio, his assessment was that Iran is just trying to make Israel as unlivable as possible. But what do you think they're actually trying to achieve other than killing Israelis?

WRIGHT: Well, short term, it's trying to unleash as many different fronts against Israel as possible, whether it's the Houthis in Yemen, as well in Lebanon, the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq and other militias in Syria.

Long term, you know, rhetorically, its goal is to defeat Israel and force American troops out of the region. I actually think it's more immediate goal is to get the Americans out of the region because they're the ones who back Israel and make the kind of counter strikes or count the operation last night more viable.

Long term, you know, this is where a regime does speaks with one voice and the people may speak with another. And there, I think, when we talk about Iran, we're talking about different communities. So, you know, the danger is we've crossed a threshold now and that this is not going to end anytime soon, even if it doesn't play out tomorrow.

On David's point, it's true that we're in a different place globally than we were in the most important non-proliferation agreement. You had the world's six major powers in sync. Today, they are distinctly divided.

And as this moves next to the United Nations, there is no question about, you know, a hope that there will be some United stand to try to defuse tension. There's nothing out there that's going to defuse tension anytime soon.

TAPPER: Yeah. And David, very quickly, if you could. I mean, there is no indication that Congress is inclined to say, don't stand by Israel. I mean, you even had I don't know if it's fair to call J.D. Vance, an isolationist, but he's very skeptical of the U.S. being involved in Ukraine, for example. And he was saying, no, no, no, we need to just prioritize and Israel is a priority.

SANGER: That's right. But the bill that is in front of them would combine Israel, Ukraine, aid to Taiwan and aid, of course, to Gaza. And the question is, is this Congress going to vote for all of those? You know, what you're hearing from many of the Republicans is fine for Israel, not for Ukraine.

TAPPER: Exactly. That's the next big fight on Capitol Hill tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Coming up next, we're going to speak to a close confidant to President Biden about the White House response to Iran's attack on Israel. Democratic Senator Chris Coons will join us after the break.



TAPPER: Welcome back to "State of the Union," a special live expanded edition. I'm Jake Tapper.

Iran's stunning attack last night ramped up the pressure on a White House already wary of a wider Middle East war.

A 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 your -- what's your view on what would be appropriate or inappropriate for Israel to do in response, if anything?

SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D) FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, I think 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. And 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 7th 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? 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 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 ceasefire 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 7th. 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 deescalate. 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 that same statement, urges Speaker Johnson to put the Senate pass 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, another full hour of today's special live extended edition of "State of the Union." I'm going to talk to the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Marco Rubio. Plus Senators John Fetterman of Pennsylvania and J.D. Vance of Ohio. We'll be right back.