'This Week' Transcript 10-15-23: White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan & Israeli Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner
This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, October 15.
A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, October 15, 2023 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC "THIS WEEK" CO-ANCHOR: Good morning from Tel Aviv, where the Israel/Hamas war rages for a ninth day, and Israel prepares for an all-out ground invasion. A special edition of THIS WEEK starts right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Hamas is ISIS. And just as ISIS was crushed, so too will Hamas be crushed.
RADDATZ: After the bloodiest attack in its history, Israel orders a complete siege of Gaza. Its military says they're ready for a ground war.
YOAV GALLANT, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER: So those who want to save their life, please go south.
RADDATZ: With nowhere to flee, a humanitarian catastrophe unfolds.
TALA HERZALLAH, GAZA RESIDENT: It's a massacre. They're wiping out entire neighborhoods.
RADDATZ: The U.S. pledges unwavering support for Israel.
ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We will always be there by your side.
RADDATZ: And President Biden warns against a widening conflict.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anyone thinking of taking advantage of the situation, I have one word, don't.
RADDATZ: This morning, our exclusive reporting at the war's front. The latest developments with White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Israeli Defense Force Spokesman Peter Lerner.
Plus, the communities destroyed by the violence.
And we'll take you to the places where this all began and the horrific endings.
And a look back at this intractable conflict I've covered for decades.
MICHAEL TOBIN, ISRAELI CITIZEN: They see us as some kind of European colonial power that showed up, plopped here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hold stones, throw stones. They hold guns and shoot us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, this is a special edition of THIS WEEK, reporting life from Tel Aviv, Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: Good morning and welcome to THIS WEEK.
We join you this morning from Israel, where Israeli forces are now surrounding Gaza, poised for an all-out assault from the air, the sea, and the ground. It has been just over a week since Hamas terrorists brutally massacred some 1,300 Israelis and took more than 150 hostages. It is a country still in mourning, still in shock.
We visited one of the decimated communities yesterday on the Gaza border, and we will bring you the harrowing stories of those atrocities in a moment.
But the full-blown war between Israel and Hamas appears headed for a new, more dangerous phase, likely to involve tens of thousands of soldiers engaged in a long and bloody urban fight in one of the most densely populated places on earth.
Already, about half of Gaza’s 2 million residents have been displaced and more than 2,300 Palestinians there have been killed under near constant Israeli shelling.
And there are now major concerns a prolonged campaign could spark a wider, regional conflict with Iranian-backed Hezbollah, to Israel’s north, or with Iran directly.
ABC's chief foreign correspondent Ian Pannell, who has reported here from the beginning, is near Gaza this morning where Israel’s military could launch a ground invasion at any moment.
Good morning, Ian.
IAN PANNELL, ABC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Martha. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict has been smoldering without burning for so long. But all of that ended in a few, horrific hours just over a week ago in a bloodthirsty rampage by Hamas militants through this part of Israel. Now the giant’s roaring once more and a history long dormant risks repeating itself again.
PANNELL (voice-over): Overnight, Israel confirming plans to attack Gaza from the land, air, and sea, although it hasn't said when. Gaza has already been under relentless bombardment for eight long days and nights. This morning, as many as a million Palestinians are on the move, told to leave their homes in the north immediately and run for their lives.
The message came from the sky. Israeli leaflets scattered over a population under siege, warning Gazans they have just hours to move away from the border, just a few hours to pack an entire lifetime. And with all borders closed, the only place they can head is south.
Gazans have been piling what they can into the back of trucks, strapping their belongings to their cars. Some families only able to go on foot. Parents clutching their children's hands.
And even while they did as they were told, Israel continued to bomb. Israel retaliating for the Hamas massacre of more than 1,300 people, more than 2,300 Palestinians have died in just over a week in Gaza according to the local health authorities.
President Biden, standing squarely behind Israel, but there’s unease at the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we can’t lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians had nothing to do with Hamas.
PANNELL: The entire Gaza Strip, home to over 2 million Palestinians, is about the size of Philadelphia. It's one of the most densely populated places on the planet. The last remaining border crossing into Egypt is closed to Palestinians after bombing by Israel, although Americans and other foreign nationals may be allowed out in the coming days. The U.N. calling for the evacuation order to be stopped.
SECRETARY GENERAL ANTONIO GUTERRES, UNITED NATIONS: We need the immediate humanitarian access throughout Gaza so that we can get food and water to everyone in need. Even wars have rules.
PANNELL: Twenty-one-year-old college student Afaf Najjat documenting her family's journey.
AFAF NAJJAT, GAZA RESIDENT: Shalom, everybody. Today, morning, we woke up to the news that we had to – to evacuate.
PANNELL: She describes the drive south as horrifying. And even when she got to the end of her journey, it wasn't the sanctuary she was expecting.
NAJJAT: The moment we arrived to Hinunus, we realized that air strikes were happening in Hinunus as well. Very heavy ones.
PANNELL: Tala is a young student in Gaza. She also followed warnings to leave and also faced bombing in the south.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're leaving our house right now, and we don't know where to go.
PENNELL: Like many, she's afraid Israel wants Gazans to leave altogether and go live in Egypt. She's terrified about what's to come.
PANNELL (on camera): With escalating fighting in the north on the border with Lebanon and now clear threats from Iran, there are growing fears that this conflict could spread if the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah commits its forces. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to change the face of the Middle East after the attack, but it may not be possible to control what it looks like when the guns fall silent again.
RADDATZ: Ian Pannell, thank you.
It has been a week since Hamas terrorized Israel. We visited one of the brutalized communities where about 100 people were killed last Saturday morning. Others there were taken hostage. It is so hard to hear about, to watch on TV, and even harder to see up close, but Israeli officials and people here say these crimes need to be shown, that the world needs to bear witness.
RADDATZ (voice over): They came to kill. Firing a barrage of rockets, raiding a music festival, and taking Israelis hostage. An attack so horrific, so inhumane, it echoed the Holocaust. The remnants of the terror still everywhere.
RADDATZ: This is where it all began. Heavily armed terrorists coming over from Gaza. They now call this the road of death.
RADDATZ (voice over): The Israeli Defense Forces showing us where the infiltration first began. Cars littered with bullet holes off the side of the road where Hamas ambushed Israelis in their cars and executed them.
MAJ. DORON SPIELMAN, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: Here's the car. One of hundreds of cars. As is. The guy's backpack is still sitting on the car. Hasn’t been, I would say, returned to him, but there’s – there’s no him to return it to. He was slaughtered.
RADDATZ: Down that road, a quiet farming community of about 800 people right on the border with Gaza.
RADDATZ: This is where the kill zone.
SPIELMAN: This is the kill zone. It begins here, as you drive in.
RADDATZ (voice over): Hamas infiltrating this kibbutz, penetrating fences, swooping in on motorized paragliders.
RADDATZ: We are about a mile away from Gaza right now. It’s over there. You can see those buildings and a little bit of smoke still coming up from there. And this is the gate where the Hamas terrorists broke through, one of 30 locations where they gained access.
RADDATZ (voice over): This video from online showing Hamas begin its relentless gunfire, unleashing its brutality on residents, even taking captive the elderly, like this grandmother from the community. Some homes lit on fire to ensure anyone who would survive Hamas' intrusion didn't. Hamas in control here for hours.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hamas, after massacring and holding hostages, were here for a number of hours until the end of the first day. We had special forces that came in, in a series of waves. Eventually we neutralized a number of them. You have to understand, there were hundreds all over climbing under windows, under bushes, flying in from the air.
RADDATZ: The community now a ghost town. None of its residents can live there. But we ran into one young father who'd come back just to get supplies.
MAOR MORAVIA, KFAR AZA KIBBUTZ RESIDENT: I started hearing gunshots from assault rifles all over. I heard explosions. So it wasn't something normal. So I know something really bad and unusual is going on.
So we went back inside. We locked all the doors, all the windows. We were besieged in our protected room for something like 20 hours. We sat in the dark.
RADDATZ: Maor Moravia is unsure he, his wife and two kids will ever return.
MORAVIA: I can smell the death -- the stench of death from everywhere. This is where my kids played. This is where they grew up. They murdered entire families, our friends. They murdered children, the parents.
What they did to the youth -- the youth neighborhood, you know, I’m hearing all the stories, and --
RADDATZ: It's too much.
MORAVIA: Yes. It's brutal, you know?
RADDATZ: An eighth of this community, some 100 people did not survive the attack. Lives taken even at their most vulnerable moments like the couple who lived in this house.
MAJ. DORON SPIELMAN, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: They were killed in bed. The blood is on the wall.
RADDATZ: That's the couple.
There's nothing to say. Just nothing to say.
Israeli soldiers are now stationed along the fence here with the bodies of some of the Hamas terrorists still littering the ground where they died.
SPIELMAN: You could see he's wearing bulletproof vests. He came to kill. He put that bulletproof vest on, knives, axes, guns, knowing he was coming to perpetrate evil against women and children. That whole knock of a force which he's a part of -- they landed.
RADDATZ: And he had probably been here for hours before you got to him.
SPIELMAN: Yeah, he was here for hours before we manage to get him because he’s right under the window of this home, killed right here. Special forces killed him right here under windows. They were everywhere, sprayed out everywhere like a video game in the most grotesque way.
RADDATZ: This community, this country forever changed.
SPIELMAN: It's Israel after Gaza and Israel before Gaza, and this is it.
RADDATZ: And joining us now is the spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.
Thanks for joining us this morning.
The IDF says the assault will be by land, by air, by sea. Is this imminent, and can you explain the objective?
LT. COL. PETER LERNER, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES SPOKESPERSON: Good morning, Martha.
Yes, we are on day nine since the brutal massacre of families, men, women and children, in the south of Israel by Hamas as an orchestrated, strategic attack against the soft underbelly of our society. We are currently striking Hamas at -- in its entirety, from the leaders at the head, from Yahya Sinwar, who has a mark on -- a target on his back, the mastermind of the massacre, the president of -- the prime minister of Hamas, the person who subordinated the entire institution of Hamas, to the terrorist actions of this terrorist organization, to all the way down to Bilal al Kedra, who we killed last night in a strike, who was one of the Nukhba, the commander unit that is -- Hamas's commander unit, that conducted an attack on the Saturday of October 7th in kibbutz Nirim.
And we will strike Hamas from the top, through its institutions, all the way down to the individuals that conducted the butchering of our babies.
We did not ask for this war, but we will win it.
RADDATZ: Meanwhile, you have 2,300 Palestinians in Gaza who’ve been killed. You have a million Palestinians who are still looking for a way to get out of northern Gaza and go south after you ordered an evacuation. But they have nowhere to go, and it is already a humanitarian disaster.
LERNER: So, we have instructed people living in the north of Gaza to exit towards the south to move down, and as we are seeing the images of people actually adhering to our message. You know, this is just what a humanitarian means in order to get -- keep people out of harm's way so that we can deal with Hamas.
You know, people are moving, people are listening. And I don’t know if you’ve seen, but Hamas actually tried to obstruct their movement. They established checkpoints to try and prevent people. They disseminated messaging, telling people to ignore that -- ignore that. And that just goes to show how Hamas is actually trying to put the people of Gaza at more risk. You know, they have no regard for human life, Israel or Palestinian.
RADDATZ: But the United Nations called your order impossible. And we’ve seen people trying to get out who can’t. They can’t go through Egypt. Doctors Without Borders says it’s outrageous. Israel has said they will follow the rules of war. So, why not allow everyone who needs to get out, to get out before this assault begins?
LERNER: As I said, we are directing people out of the north of Gaza before we increased our strikes there against the hub and heart of Hamas’ operations. And we are seeing that people are actually evacuating. Indeed, we would like to see the humanitarian organizations assisting in the evacuation of people if – for the welfare of people and not side with Hamas telling them not to evacuate. That is ridiculous.
You know, we’ve seen Hamas orchestrate over the last day an attack on the people themselves in order to prevent them from evacuating. Yesterday, throughout the day, there were many images broadcasted around the world of a supposed convoy that is the idea of -- attacked, causing 70 deaths or so.
This was a false move. It was one of Hamas’ many manipulations. And, unfortunately, you know, we need to be very clear on, what are the facts that are actually happening. Before we report about these types of incidents on the ground, we need to have the facts clear. We can’t just deduce that this was an Israeli strike.
RADDATZ: Well, certainly people are trying to do this.
All – all of this is complicated, of course, by the hostages. One hundred and fifty hostages. What do you know about them? What can you tell us?
LERNER: So, we are very concerned, Martha, of their welfare. Indeed it is Hamas who has the responsibility to return them to Israel immediately. I want to be very cautious in anything I say because I don’t want to jeopardize any steps that could happen in order to bring to their release, hopefully. But it is a – you know, a component of our operational planning and it does influence. So, I think out of respect for them and – and hopefully for their welfare, I think we should leave it at that.
RADDATZ: OK, we have seen increased fighting on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. And Iran's foreign minister met with the head of Hezbollah and said, the terror group is ready to respond to any move Israel makes and that the opening of the – and the opening other fronts is a real possibility.
How are you preparing for that and how likely is that?
LERNER: So, we have recruited some 300,000 reservists in order to be prepared for any eventuality. Those reservists are both for the southern front, on the border with Gaza, so they’re in staging grounds preparing for a potential ground invasion if the government instructs it – instructs us to do so. But also they are disbursed in – throughout the communities and on the border and frontier with Lebanon in anticipation for a potential uptick in violence with Hezbollah.
We have had several skirmishes along the border over the last few days. And even today, during the day, we’ve had anti-tank guided missiles fired at forces, indeed causing some casualties. So, we need to be prepared.
I would highly recommend that Hezbollah watch very closely what is happening to Hamas and their organization in Gaza as we speak. If they have – they should be very cautious of crossing that threshold because we are determined to defend the state of Israel.
With regard to Iranian involvement, of course, they’re involved. They have trained and funded and – and equipped the terrorist organizations on our doorstep. They’re – you know, they’ve used millions and millions and billions of dollars in order to do so. So, of course they are involved. And we are watching that also very closely to see if that has any further influence on our fronts.
RADDATZ: OK, thanks very much for joining us this morning, Lieutenant Colonel.
Coming up, we’ll speak with President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, about the effort to free the American hostages held in Gaza.
Our special edition of THIS WEEK continues in just a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A week ago we saw hate manifest in another way, in the worst massacre of Jewish people since the Holocaust. More than 1,300 innocent lives lost in Israel, including at least 27 Americans. Children and grandparents alike kidnapped, held hostage by Hamas. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza, innocent Palestinian families and the vast majority have nothing to do with Hamas.
BIDEN: They're being used as human shields.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: That was President Biden speaking at the Human Rights Campaign Dinner last night. We're joined now by his national security advisor, Jake Sullivan.
Good morning to you. The U.S. is supporting Israel's military plans but is urging Israel to avoid civilian casualties. But as we've said, more than 2,300 Palestinians have already been killed. They're running out of water. They are running out of food. Are you satisfied with the way Israel's carrying out this operation?
JAKE SULLIVAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, thanks for having me on, Martha.
As President Biden said, innocent Palestinians, who have nothing to do with Hamas, should be treated just like innocent civilians anywhere, which means they should have access to food and water and medicine. And we have made that clear publicly and privately since the beginning of this operation in response to the absolutely heinous and savage terrorist attack that took place last Saturday.
We are in touch with our Israeli counterparts. We're in touch with the United Nations to help secure the necessary supplies of food, water, and medicine to the citizens of Gaza, those Palestinians who have nothing to do with the barbaric terrorists who carried out this attack.
RADDATZ: Let me ask you again, are you satisfied with the way that Israel is carrying out this operation then?
SULLIVAN: What I'm here to do, Martha, is to explain what the United States's position is. And our position, as President Biden has stated it, is straightforward. We believe in the protection of civilian life. We believe in the laws of war. And we believe in the full and necessary access to humanitarian supplies.
And we're going to keep working on that. We're going to work on it with the Israelis. We're going to work on it with the Egyptians and Jordanians. We're going to work on it with the United Nations.
We're going to do that every day and I'm not going to react publicly to every report of everything that's happening. But rather, keep my head down, keep our heads down until we have been able to achieve what we believe is the necessary level of support to innocent people.
RADDATZ: So, how do the refugees get out at this point? How do the Palestinians get out? How do Americans get out?
SULLIVAN: Well, first, with respect to the American citizens in Gaza, Martha, we have been working round the clock. We have an entire dedicated team that is working on nothing but this, helping American citizens who are in Gaza be able to get safe passage through the border crossing to Egypt. That has been difficult because of the ongoing operations and, frankly, because Hamas has intervened in some cases to make it hard for Palestinians, Palestinian Americans, and others to be able to travel to the border crossing and get through.
We're working that hard. Our goal is to ensure that every American who is in Gaza has safe passage out and we will not rest until that happens.
And then with respect to the Palestinian population more generally, Palestinian civilians, we are working, again, as I said, with the United Nations, with Egypt, with Jordan and with Israel to ensure there are safe places for them to be able to go, where they will have access to food, water, medicine, shelter, and also where they will be safe from military operations.
RADDATZ: And what is the latest on the American citizens who have been taken hostage? President Biden told “60 Minutes” that the U.S. is going to do everything on our power to get them home if we can find them.
Do we not have any idea where they are in Gaza at this point?
SULLIVAN: Well, first, like Lieutenant Colonel Lerner who was just on your program, I’m going to be very cautious about what I say publicly on this because we want to make sure that we preserve our capacity to ultimately secure the recovery of the American hostages being held by Hamas.
But I will say this, it is a dynamic situation. We cannot say that we have a fixed location for every American or even that we know every American who is being held. We know there are 15 unaccounted for Americans at this point. We don’t know how many of those being held as hostages and we don’t know how many of those tragically are deceased and their bodies have not yet been identified.
So, we are working -- having sent hostage experts to Israel with our Israeli counterparts on hostage recovery actions, we are also working with third countries on every possible avenue to secure their release. And I won’t go further than that other than to say that for President Biden, he has no priority than to get those Americans back.
RADDATZ: I want to talk about the northern border. I talked about that with the lieutenant colonel as well. But as you know, the Iranian foreign minister met with the leader of Hezbollah and called on Israel to stop the attacks in Gaza.
There’s a report this morning that Iran sent a message through the U.N. -- to Israel, through the U.N., that Iran would have to intervene if the Israeli operation into Gaza continues. Is that accurate?
SULLIVAN: I cannot confirm that report.
RADDATZ: Well, tell me what you’re seeing on that border and how concerned you are about what is happening with Hezbollah?
SULLIVAN: We are concerned. We see a real risk of escalation on the northern border and that is why President Biden has been so clear and so forceful in saying that no state and no group seek to exploit the situation to their advantage or should escalate the conflict.
And in fact, he has now sent USS Eisenhower from the United States towards the region to give additional capacity to respond to any contingency and also to send a clear message of deterrence that no one should get involved in this, no one should escalate this. And the United States is showing that as well as saying that, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely on that northern border.
RADDATZ: You just said respond to any contingency. What are you talking about there? How could they get involved if this deterrence does not work?
SULLIVAN: Well, I’m not going to speak to hypotheticals. What I’m going to say is that the United States will have in the region a substantial amount of capacity and that the United States is going to continue to message both publicly and privately any potential actor not to get involved.
As President Biden said quite simply and straightforwardly -- don’t. And that is the message the United States will continue to send.
RADDATZ: Thanks for being with us this morning. We appreciate it.
SULLIVAN: Thank you.
RADDATZ: So let's get more on the hostage situation now with ABC foreign correspondent James Longman who has been here in Israel all week.
And, James, so good to see you.
I know you’ve had a really emotional week talking to survivors and families of hostages.
JAMES LONGMAN, ABC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Martha, you know, it's been extraordinary actually that --. I think what's the most striking is the intimacy of the killing on Saturday. That's what really, I think, the survivors explained.
The idea that these men came into their homes and murdered their families in front of them, a lot of them, will stay with me a long time. Sixteen years old, the last thing he heard his father say was, I’ve lost my arm, and his mother, her body landed on his, and he had to hide under her body from Hamas terrorists as they searched the building for more victims.
It's just been terrible. But father, for others, they’ve been waiting for news on loved ones and they just haven't been getting it.
RADDATZ: They haven't really gotten any news. They're not keeping in touch with people?
LONGMAN: No. I mean, all week this week, we had a horrible image of one family -- I met the family of Kim Damti, 22. She was at the festival in the desert.
Her father was going hospital to hospital with her hair brush, with her on it, with her DNA, trying to find out if she died. And in the end of the week, they finally got the answer they were dreading, that Kim had in fact been killed and they had their funeral but there are so many other families now waiting for news the families of these hostages. We've actually just reached out to the family of a 19-year-old IDF soldier she was taken. Her family went through the ordeal of looking at videos of her bloodied and bounds being taken into Gaza.
We reached out to her family this morning, the IDF, the Israeli government, have still not given them updates about what they believe to be the case with her daughter and her mother at the moment is sitting, I met her sitting on her sofa, couch at home, struck down with grief.
RADDATZ: So much grief here, James. It's really overwhelming. But there is also anger.
RADDATZ: I went to a candlelight vigil last night. There were a lot of very angry people at the Israeli government.
LONGMAN: Yes, absolutely. There are families of hostages who, who say quite openly that they believe that Benjamin Netanyahu has blood on his hands. They want the government here to respond. Of course, they do. But they also want the focus to be on their families, their hostages, their loved ones who are in Gaza.
And I have to say the focus of that vigil has been outside the Defense Ministry also the focus of protests all this year, I've been here back and forth to Israel, monitoring the situation of this government who they feel has had too much of a focus on the West Bank, on settler rights and less of a focus on the security in the south. And they feel that the government has abandoned their cause. And they're abandoning their families now inside Gaza.
RADDATZ: Terrible stories. James, thanks so much for joining us this morning.
Just ahead, our brand-new poll with Ipsos with rare consensus on U.S. involvement here and several findings, the White House will want to take note of.
Those new numbers, next.
RADDATZ: As this conflict between Israel and Hamas intensifies, in Washington, the ongoing paralysis among House Republicans to elect a new speaker could impact USA to Israel.
For more on that, I'm going to hand it off to Jon Karl. Jon?
JONATHAN KARL, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: Thank you, Martha.
We’re getting word of some ominous comments from Iran's foreign minister about the war expanding and warning, quote, heavy losses will befall America as well. Those comments reported just minutes ago by al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, there is broad support for Israel among political leaders from both parties. And according to our new poll this morning, among voters as well. But with the chaos in the House and no agreement on the next speaker, there is not much Congress can do, at least not now.
We’ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: These people have – they played their cards. They want to kill as many Israelis as they can. And negotiating with killers is not an option for the elected government of Israel. And so we're just going to have to remain steadfast. But it's not going to take long for – it’s gone on too long. Surely there's a way to settle this through negotiations. Both sides are guilty. My view is, one side is guilty, and it's not Israel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: Former President George W. Bush in his first public comments about the war between Israel and Hamas.
Let's bring in our roundtable.
Former DNC chair Donna Brazile, Manhattan Institute President and “ The Atlantic” contributing writer, Reihan Salam, the executive editor of the “Associated Press,” Julie Pace, and NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid.
So, Julie, I want to start with what we’ve just heard, which is according to al Jazeera, some very ominous comments from the Iranian government. This from the foreign minister again according to al Jazeera. “Iran cannot remain a spectator to this situation. If the scope of the war expands, heavy losses will befall America as well.”
Again, quite ominous, but I want to -- you were just on the phone before stepping out here. You have ten of your people, your AP personnel, reporters, on the ground in Gaza. How concerned are you about their well-being?
JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: We're incredibly concerned about their well-being. I mean the humanitarian situation in Gaza is quite desperate right now. The ability to get basic things like food, water, fuel, it’s -- it is desperate. It's a desperate situation. And we're worried about them. But quite proud of the work they're doing, along with our teams in Israel, of course, who have been through quite a bit.
But I would say, you know, that quote that you just – that you just raised there, this is the concern that you’re starting to hear from U.S. officials, from officials in the region, that while we're all waiting right now for what we expect to be quite an aggressive Israeli kind of move into Gaza, this could quickly spill into a much broader regional conflict. That's the worry right now. Hezbollah coming in from Lebanon, what will Iran do, and what will the U.S. have to do if they feel like they are getting pulled into this as well?
REIHAN SALAM, MANHATTAN INSTITUTE PRESIDENT & THE ATLANTIC CONTRIBUTING WRITER: I just want to underscore that the comments from the Iranian government are an obscenity the notion that Iran has been a spectator in this crisis is an outrageous lie because the Iranian government has sponsored, has financed, we have considerable credible reporting to suggest that they played an operational role in planning this atrocity.
So this is not just about Hamas. What Hamas did was egregious, was an outrage against any decent human being. But Iran has been deeply involved not just with Hamas, with Hezbollah, with Palestinian Islamic Jihad. They have been waging a war not just on Israel, but on a number of other allies of the United States. They have demonstrated zero compunction about targeting Americans as well.
So this is not new. They have not been a spectator. And I believe that the Biden administration needs to own up to some grave strategic and moral errors they've made in trying to “de-escalate”...
KARL: Well, the...
SALAM: ... quote-unquote, with the Iranian government.
KARL: The de-escalation seems to be in the past.
ASMA KHALID, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, I do think, to echo what Julie was saying, you know, the Biden administration was very clear that what happened last Saturday in Israel, that these are horrific attacks. Biden was very quick to condemn those attacks and even received some praise, I would say, from some conservative Jewish corners.
Where we are now and what I'm hearing from Biden administration officials is that they are very concerned about this becoming a wider conflict that engulfs the region, potentially bringing in Lebanon, the West Bank even, and broader. They are also concerned also about the dire humanitarian consequences in the region. You have heard that. You heard that from Jake Sullivan right now. You heard President Biden also, I think, within the last 48 hours shift some of his public rhetoric and acknowledge more Palestinians and innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip as well.
I will say as this conflict potentially prolongs, there will be additional challenges for how the Biden administration responds. But those are the two immediate challenges I'm hearing from U.S. officials.
KARL: And Donna, as we were coming on the air, we heard from Cindy McCain who, of course, is the head of the World Food Programme. She is saying that they are there ready to get supplies into Gaza, desperately concerned that civilians will be starving. I mean, there's the threat, obviously, of being hit with acts of war, but concern about starvation. And they're pleading with the U.S. to pressure Israel, Egypt to allow the humanitarian supplies to get in.
DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER DNC CHAIR AND ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: There's no question. And I just want to echo something you said. Look, Iran has played a role in this region. They have played a role in funding Hamas, the terrorist activity that we've seen. And they must use their leverage with Hamas to release those hostages, to end the roadblocks so that innocent civilians who are fleeing Gaza City can make their way down south to safety.
These are urgent concerns. But we must not lose the moral clarity of what happened last week because it was a terrorist organization that attacked innocent civilians at a dance party, and a kibbutz, a kibbutz I visited. They're now living in shelters, worried about their lives. You have Palestinians who are also worried about their lives trying to flee to safety.
So, yes, we need -- we need cogent, strong leadership, and I think we're getting it from the Biden administration. The fact that Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, and many others are in the Middle East talking with everyone. But at the end of the day, Israel must decide how to strategically eliminate an enemy that is out to destroy them. That is something that will have to be decided soon.
KARL: An enemy that knows no bounds in terms of its terror.
PACE: Absolutely. I mean, this is -- you just have to look at what happened last week. I mean, that is -- that is what Israel is dealing with right now. And then I think a lot of the discussions that we're hearing, that Israeli officials are having right now is there are going to be limits to how far they can go to protect civilians in Gaza because of the way that Hamas operates. I mean, Hamas does use the civilian population as a shield.
KARL: And are you hearing that -- that Hamas is actually, in some -- is, first of all, telling its people not to leave even as the Israelis are warning...
PACE: They absolutely have. I mean, they -- as we've seen this dual messaging, which we know has been extremely confusing for people who are living under dire conditions right now. On the one hand, they're being told...
KARL: Electricity and water.
PACE: ... by the Israelis to move to the south. On the other hand, Hamas is telling them to stay. There's a lot of misinformation, a lot of conflicting information. A lot of rumors swirling. And just imagine being in that situation and having to decide what to do there.
SALAM: Jon, it's really important for people to understand the wider context. I want your viewers to understand that in January, 2021, Iran was exporting something along the lines 700,000 barrels of oil per day. Now that number is about 3X that amount. That translates into tens of billions of dollars in Incremental revenue where Iran was previously in a box under a campaign of maximum pressure.
Now, Iran has the resources not just to deal with domestic economic challenges, not just to rebuild its nuclear program which is -- it has done emphatically, but also to finance its various terrorist proxies. Between Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestine Islamic Jihad, that is over $1 billion in resources that are transferred from Iran to these entities right now. And the Israeli government has good reason right now to be circumspect. They want to be lockstep with the Biden Administration for understandable reasons.
SALAM: But I think the viewing public needs to understand that Iran is playing an absolutely essential role here. And I sure hope…
KARL: Supporting Hamas, supporting Hezbollah and threatening...
SALAM: And I sure hope the Biden Administration is not just applying pressure to Israel about the humanitarian crisis, but also to Iran and these other actors.
KARL: So, I want to look at the domestic situation because we've seen broad bipartisan support at least among the political leadership in Washington, and we heard from George W. Bush. Our new poll looked at this, just out this morning. U.S. responsibility in the Middle East found that 55 percent say the U.S. has a responsibility the fight terrorism. 53 percent, responsibility to protect Israeli citizens. But less than a majority to ensure peace.
So, there's not a lot of appetite among American voters for broad U.S. involvement, but there is support. Perhaps not as strong as I would have thought it would have been, but there is support for a strong U.S. support for Israel.
BRAZILE: There's no question about it, and look, we just finished or got out -- I don't know the right word. But, we were in the Middle East, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, I'm sure there's no appetite. And some of that is the hard partisanship we see. But more importantly, this is a moment where the American people must understand what's at stake to hostages, including Americans. We have to understand that Israel is our ally, and yet we have to be prudent in how we use our military might and strength in that region.
KHALID: Jon, if I can jump in though, I haven't seen a whole lot of polling. I will say also my colleagues at NPR did do some polling this week and similarly did show a majority of Americans are in agreement with support for Israel. But when you drill down a little bit on the cross tabs, there are some striking differences.
So, a majority of those under the age of 45, Gen Z and millennial voters were not -- there was not as much support amongst voters of color. And I bring this up to say not to say that they are not saying that they are not, of course, in shock and horrified with what happened there. But I do think there are reservations about sort of an indefinite amount of support and reservations potentially about a prolonged conflict.
KARL: And there's a clear isolationist move. We only have a couple of minutes left, but I have got to touch on the chaos in the House because the House actually cannot act right now. And there seems to be no consensus on who the Speaker is going to be.
KARL: Where do you think this is going?
PACE: Great question.
I don't think anybody can predict necessarily based on what we've seen over the last couple of weeks. But I do think that this is very quickly moving from sort of a spectacle for House Republicans into a real crisis in terms of the U.S. government's ability to respond in the way that the world expects it to. You know, if the U.S. cannot move aid for Israel, aid for Ukraine, keep its own government open because we have this speaker's fight, what does that say about our reliance as an ally to Israel and to other countries?
KARL: And 55 Republicans, Reihan, 55 Republicans said they would not vote for Jim Jordan on the floor. Even after he won a majority, a majority not as big as the majority -- I mean, remember, he came in second to Scalise who had to drop out. I mean, what do you…
SALAM: Honestly, I don't think the name matters. I don't think who the person is matters. I think what matters is whether that person is going to have the moral clarity to understand that the United States has now entered a new and more dangerous phase, and that foreign policy is not some secondary, tertiary consideration. This is job number one to ensure that we are protecting ourselves and our allies, and also that we recognize that the Biden Administration needs to be held to account. That is in part the job of Congress. Not just Republicans in Congress, but also Democrats in Congress to ensure that there's some accountability.
KARL: And right now, it seems more likely that they'll be fighting with each other than -- I mean, anyway. We are out of time. We've got much more to discuss. We'll have much more from Martha Raddatz live in Tel Aviv, right after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: One of the problems being a soldier in the territory is just that, they are soldiers, combat-trained soldiers. But here they are fighting civilians.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see in the eyes not to pay too. You can see sometimes the little child before -- of two years old, three years old who's staring at you with the hatred.
RADDATZ: This kibbutz on the hill is a long way away from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But the uprising is very much on the minds of the people who live here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: That was Martha Raddatz back in 1988 in Israel during the First Intifada. Martha rejoins us from Tel Aviv.
Martha, as we saw there, you have been covering this conflict literally for decades. And you've had a chance to follow the stories of several of the families that you met back then throughout that time.
RADDATZ: I have Jon. Israel was the first conflict I reported on as a journalist back in 1988. I've been here many times since. But on that first trip, some 35 years ago, I met Israelis and Palestinians who had hoped for the future here, including some idealistic Americans.
RADDATZ (voice-over): In 1988, Michael and Deborah Tobin, who had uprooted their young family in Massachusetts to move to Israel were in the place they thought they were meant to be.
MICHAEL TOBIN, ISRAELI CITIZEN: They rather be in the middle of Jewish history than on the sidelines.
DEBORAH TOBIN, ISRAELI CITIZEN: The turning point for me was thinking about sort of imaging myself being nine years old sitting on my rocking chair and not wanting to look back and have regrets
RADDATZ (voice-over): The Tobin settled in a front in the West Bank, an area controlled by Jordan until 1967, where the overwhelming majority of the population Arab.
MICHAEL TOBIN: I would like to feel that it's very possible that we two peoples can learn to live peacefully in a country that we both love.
RADDATZ (voice-over): But 1988 was a time of constant clashes. I watched Palestinian villagers angered by the growing settlements, throwing stones that Israeli soldiers met with tear gas.
RADDATZ: After just a few hours, the military pulled out in the village was reopened once again. The only signs that any conflict had occurred here were the piles of rock on the side of the road.
RADDATZ (voice-over): But just hours after that protest, we had happened on a wedding in the Palestinian town of (INAUDIBLE), a moment of promise. For them 19-year-old Rana Ishaq.
RANA ISHAQ KASSIS, WEST BANK RESIDENT: People have to go on marrying and bringing more children because this is the only way that we Arabs, Palestinians will stay in this country. So, she's getting married. She will bring another son and he will be an Arab Palestinian. So it's our self-defense here.
RADDATZ (voice-over): There would be more protests, more violence, and horrific suicide bombings. So years later, in 2014, I tracked down the Tobins and Rana Ishaq again. Now further apart than ever.
RADDATZ: When you look at this land, for the past 26 years, things better? Things worse? How would you assess it?
KASSIS: Difficult questions, and in some ways, it's better. In some ways, it's worse. Sadly, we still live in one big prison.
RADDATZ: So you're not the idealistic couple I met 26 years ago?
D. TOBIN: That old ex-hippy, peace and love, let's just talk it all out, be good friends with the Arabs, no. That's gone.
M. TOBIN: The circumstances, unfortunately, have pushed each of us into our respective camps. It could change.
RADDATZ (voice-over): But what changed things forever, October 7th. We reached out to the Tobins after the Hamas attack, still living in Israel, now with four children and 18 grandchildren. Their son Aaron called up for service. For Michael Tobin, the massacre that left Israelis slaughtered in their beds has ignited an anger that will never be diminished.
M. TOBIN: The responsibility 100 percent lies in the hands of Hamas. They attacked us, they brutalized us. What did they think? We were going to come back and play some game, hopscotch with them? They put their people in harm's way.
RADDATZ (voice-over): We contacted Rana Ishaq as well. She lives with her husband and two children in Ramallah on the West Bank, behind a wall that will surely never come down now. She did not want to speak on camera again, but told us, "We are heartbroken for our people in Gaza. We are heartbroken how the world has turned a blind eye. I pray for a better future for my daughters."
RADDATZ (on camera): A tragic situation all around. We'll be right back.
RADDATZ: That's all for us today. Stay with ABC News for all the developments here in Israel streaming on ABC News Live, online at abcnews.com, and download the ABC News app for breaking news updates. We'll have a full wrap-up this evening on "World News Tonight," tomorrow morning on "GMA" as well. I'm Martha Raddatz reporting from Tel Aviv. Have a good day.
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