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Gaza Crisis Is Different This Time; Iron Dome At Heart of Defense; Israel vs. Hamas

Aired November 19, 2012 - 12:30   ET



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama tries to strengthen U.S. ties in Asia. It's part of a strategy to limit China's influence in the region.

Now, the president is in Cambodia after a historic visit to Myanmar. In Cambodia, he is attending the regional East Asia Summit. He also held what one aide calls a "tense meeting" with Cambodia's prime minister. The focus was on the need to improve human rights.

In Myanmar, the president urged the country to continue the reform movement that is underway there. He met with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and praised her for courage as a pro-democracy activist. The president called the meeting a "new chapter" between the United States and Myanmar. We get details from the trip from our Dan Rivers.


DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Myanmar, formerly Burma, after three years of intense engagement with the former military dictatorship. He dismissed criticism that the trip was in some ways premature, saying that his presence there could be a catalyst for change.

He held a highly symbolic meeting with the pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, at her residence, the house that had been her effective prison for more than 15 years, and officials saying the president was really quite moved by that visit to her home. He pays tribute, as well, to her almost quarter of a century struggle to bring democracy to Myanmar.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was honored to be the first president to welcome Aung San Suu Kyi to the White House. I'm proud to be the first American president to visit this spectacular country and I'm very pleased that one of my first stops is to visit with an icon of democracy who has inspired so many people, not just in this country, but all around the world.

RIVERS: The president also held bilateral talks with the Myanmar president, Thein Sein, who stressed how much he wants the U.S. to be engaged with his country going forward and administration officials are already boasting results from this visit. The International Committee for the Red Cross is going to get access to some political prisoners. There's Myanmar promises to secure a ceasefire with one of the ethnic groups in the north of the country and attempts, apparently, to try and resolve inter-ethnic violence in the west among the Rohingya community.

The big question for critics of President Obama is, will all these promises and words from the Myanmar president be translated into action?

President Obama's parting thought really that the more they demonstrate that they are implementing reform, the more we can do for them.

Dan Rivers, CNN, Myanmar.


MALVEAUX: NASA has a fascinating new tool for launching vehicles into space. We're going to take a look at what it is.


MALVEAUX: Right now, tensions are rising at the border between Gaza and Egypt. The Rafah border crossing is one of four gateways into and out of Gaza that is still open. The other three in Israel have been pretty much blocked by the Israeli government.

Our Reza Sayah is on the phone with us and he is on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing where he saw some explosions just this last hour.

Reza, tell us what's going on? What are you seeing? Reza, can you hear us?

It looks like we can't -- Reza can't hear us. We're going to get back to him, explosions taking place in the Gaza-Egyptian border. As soon as we can call him up, we'll bring him back.

It is hardly the first time that we've seen bloodshed in the Holy Land, but this time things are different.

We're going show you how the Arab Spring could be changing the shape of the Israeli-Arab conflict.


MALVEAUX: One man who has spent a lifetime in the battle for peace in the Middle East, Israel's President Shimon Peres. He talked to our Piers Morgan about the crisis in Gaza and says that ending the fighting can happen.


PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": If there are Palestinians watch this interview who feel helpless, who feel completely poverty-stricken, they have nothing, they see no hope and they now see endless Israeli rockets flying over their heads, perhaps killing relatives and loved ones, what do you say to them to offer proper constructive hope?

SHIMON PERES, PRESIDENT OF ISRAEL: Do two things: Stop shooting, start talking. It's in their hands.

Look, I want to say very sincerely and very seriously, we don't hate Arabs. We don't hate Muslims. They are not our enemies. Everybody can believe in what he wants, to be what he is. We respect them. We think they have the same right to live free and successfully like any other person.


MALVEAUX: You can watch the complete interview on "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT," right here on CNN at 9:00 Eastern.

The crisis in Gaza, it is not the same this go-round. When you look at the map, the borders, they're the same, but the players, the influence that the countries have around Israel have also changed.

Want to bring in our Nic Robertson from London. Nic, there's been fighting in this region for as far back as anybody can remember.

But we know it was the end of 2008, beginning of 2009, Israeli tanks rolled in rather quickly. That was about three weeks or so and 1,400 Palestinians ended up dead.

Now, there are thousands of reservists that have been called up just, sitting at the border. Is this a new strategy? What has changed?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the biggest thing is, if you go back to that map and look at it here, here's Egypt.

We're going to zoom in here from Egypt to the border with the green, the Gaza Strip there and zoom in again here to the border crossing, the Rafah border crossing, perhaps symbolic to look at that because, when you go back to 2008, 2009, that was the key place that the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak essentially blocked, helping support the Israelis.

Now, if you look at what was happening back then, these were supplies that were going in through that Rafah border crossing and Hosni Mubarak's Egypt essentially really tightened the squeeze on Hamas inside Gaza by restricting the amount of aid that could get through.

There's been a complete political change in Egypt. It's now the government of the Prime Minister Hesham Kandil who just last week went to Gaza, said the situation was terrible, that it had to stop. Gave its support to Hamas.

It is a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government now inside Egypt and Hamas, after all, is really a radical off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and they're looking to that government and Egypt to give them more political support, but also better access and better supplies at that Rafah border crossing, and these are sort of some of the broader brush, political changes that are going to affect Hamas's calculations here.

MALVEAUX: And this morning we heard from Hamas's leader, Khaled Mashal, who was definitely pretty tough in his remarks at a news conference out of Cairo. He says that Israel's got to make the first move toward a cease-fire. He was very angry with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the killing of one of Hamas's top military commanders. I want you to listen to what he said this morning.


KHALED MESHAL, HAMAS LEADER (through translator): Today, Netanyahu wanted to achieve three goals with several messages, but he did not succeed. Yes, no doubt he succeed in assassinating the heroic leader, Ahmad al-Jabari, but he wanted to maintain his ability in deterrence. But it failed.


MALVEAUX: So, Nic, you've been covering this region for a long time. When you hear him and you hear the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that there is -- they're not going to wait around forever here, is this political bluster? Is this rhetoric? Or is there something more behind this? Are we going to see an escalation?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think at the moment it does feel like political bluster on all sides. I mean imagine this as well. When Khaled Meshal was speaking there in Cairo, but at the same time that was just after a building used by Palestinian media inside Gaza had been struck by Israeli missiles. Inconceivable to think back to 2008 and 2009, Hosni Mubarak and Egypt would have given such a platform to Khaled Meshal to speak out as this was unraveling and developing inside Gaza. So I think at the moment we're hearing posturing because the stakes and the political scenario has changed.

But, of course, we apply very rational thinking to this. And in times of conflict, sometimes that rationale thinking goes out of the window, that how do you back away from what could be a very costly, in terms of lives, conflict, as opposed to backing out of it now. And it does seem that people are taking a breath talking about the possibility of a cease-fire now rather than going for that military assault on the ground that will be so hard to pull back from, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Yes, we certainly hope it can be resolved in a diplomatic way.

Thank you, Nic. Appreciate it.

Shooting missiles out of the sky to save lives on the ground. We're going to show you how Israel's controversial iron dome defense system actually works.


MALVEAUX: We've been telling you about the Israeli missile defense system called the iron dome. Israel says it has stopped the vast majority of Hamas rockets, including some aimed at Tel Aviv and other prime targets. So, how does it work? Fred Pleitgen explains.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A kill that possibly saved lives on the ground. This video shows an iron dome missile intercepting a rocket fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv on Sunday. The defense system had just been installed in Israel's largest city a few hours earlier. Several days into the conflict, it's already clear the iron dome is having a big impact picking off hundreds of rockets. I got a tour of the Israel aircraft industries plant that assembles the air defense system.

ISRAEL OZNOVICH, ISRAEL AIRCRAFT INDUSTRIES: Deployment is a matter of minutes.

PLEITGEN: Dr. Israel Oznovich is one of those in charge. One key element is an advanced radar.

OZNOVICH: The radar searches, locates, tracks and intercepts and guides the intercepting missiles within several seconds, few seconds within the launching time.

PLEITGEN: It's extremely hard to shoot down short distance rockets, like the ones coming out of Gaza, in part because they're not in the air long enough for older radar systems to lock on to them.

OZNOVICH: The target is moving extremely fast. When you want to intercept it, you have to work -- you have to move faster with more agility, with more maneuvering power relative to your target.

PLEITGEN: The iron dome was only put into service in 2011. With breakthroughs in technology, it can detect and shoot down multiple targets in midair. But it isn't a perfect solution. This is the aftermath of a rocket strike in the town of Ashkelon.

PLEITGEN (on camera): One of the rockets that hit Ashkelon actually came here and hit this carport. And as you can see, did substantial damage to the car as well. The iron dome system has been billed as a game changer in this conflict. But as hits like this one show, it cannot intercept all the rockets that are coming at Israel from Gaza.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Still, Israel's military says it's very happy with the performance of the interceptor system.

MAJ. ARYE SHALICAR, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: Rockets we want down, we usually down. Usually these rockets, especially (ph) the ones who are sent or launched from the Gaza Strip, from the terrorist factions towards biggest cities where you have more people living, we usually down them. But it's not a 100 percent solution, unfortunately.

PLEITGEN: And so the engineers at the assembly plant are working extra hours to assemble more iron dome batteries for immediate deployment.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Ashkelon, Israel.


MALVEAUX: Tragedy, fear, and bloodshed. We're going to take a look at some of the most powerful pictures from the Gaza conflict.


MALVEAUX: The attacks are growing deadlier by the day as Israel and militants in Gaza turn their region into a battlefield. On paper at least, Hamas comes up with a -- way short when it comes to firepower. Tom Foreman, he takes a look at what each side brings to the fight.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's look at how the battlefield is shaping up over in the Middle East. Here's Israel, alongside the Mediterranean Ocean. It's about the size of New Jersey. Seven and a half million people. Seventy-five percent Jewish. The economy's good. Unemployment below 7 percent.

Gaza, by comparison, geographically very small. Only about twice as big as Washington, D.C. Predominantly Palestinian. The economy there is quite bad and unemployment is very high. has called Israel the tenth most powerful military in the world. So let's break that down and see why. They have compulsory military service. That means every young person must go into the military for a while. One hundred and seventy-six thousand active troops are available and they have about a half million that they can call up from the reserves very quickly.

Ground forces also impressive. Some 3,000 tanks. If you count all the artillery pieces and mortar, things like that, you get up to about 12,000 units that can operate on the ground. And, of course, their air force is formidable. About 800 aircraft out there, including some 200 helicopters. This is largely what they've used to have these strikes within Gaza.

Now, if you look at Hamas, their forces are much smaller in terms of their official forces certainly. If you look at people who are really in uniform, soldiers, police, whatever you want to call it, about 12,500. And, of course, they have nothing like the weapons that the Israelis have. However, Palestinian militants do have lots and lots of rockets.

And I want to bring in a model of one of them here. This is a Kasam 2. You've probably heard about this a good bit. These rockets are popular because they're cheap, they're easy to make out of steel tubes. They only weigh 70 to 100 pounds. And they're fueled essentially by commercial grade fertilizer. And they can pack quite a punch. They're not very accurate. But if you fire enough of them, they don't have to be accurate. If you go beyond this to some of their more robust and better targeted rockets and missiles, then you also start talking about range. In this conflict so far we have reports of weapons fired from Gaza traveling as much as 50 miles to hit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In fact, Israeli officials now believe as much as a fifth of the population of Israel is subject to these rocket attacks. That's something they say they simply will not tolerate anymore and that's why we keep hearing all this talk and speculation about a possible ground invasion of Gaza.


MALVEAUX: There are casualties on both sides in Israel and Gaza. Photos capturing the devastation and the loss. Take a look at these.

In northern Gaza, a Palestinian woman cries out after her home was destroyed in an Israeli air strike. Israeli soldiers say morning prayers near the Israel-Gaza border. Today is day six of the so-called Operation Pillar of Defense. They have intercepted more than 340 rockets launched into Israel.

And in Pakistan, a radical Islamic group burned American-Israeli flags in protest of Israel's increasing attacks on Palestinians in Gaza. The group plans to continue protesting until the conflict ends.