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Israel Prepares For Ground War In Gaza; Interview with Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia

Aired November 19, 2012 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, a new week of conflict begins between Israel and Gaza. No end in sight tonight. Israel's ambassador to the United States OUTFRONT.

Thousands of Israeli troops with tanks are now poised at the Gaza border, ready to move in, in a ground invasion if necessary. Israel says a ground war is a possibility, but does it add up?

And new questions tonight in the Benghazi investigation, the CIA talking point. Congress wants to know who changed them and why and we think we know who did. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT, tonight, under attack, day six of the conflict between Israel and Gaza. Is there an end in sight?

Tonight, thousands of Israeli troops are poised at the border, ready to move at Gaza. Negotiations spearheaded by Egypt though are ongoing and tonight, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon arrived in Cairo just hours after Egypt's intelligence chief gave an Israeli delegation a letter from Hamas outlining its conditions for a cease-fire.

So far on the Israeli side, officials say three people have died, 68 have been wounded as the result of rocket fire from Gaza and in Gaza, officials say 104 people have been killed, 860 have been wounded since the conflict began.

As for fire power, Israel says militants in Gaza have fired nearly 1,000 rockets at Israel, 570 of them have actually struck Israel. Another 307 have been intercepted by Israel's so-called iron dome defense system.

Meanwhile, Israel carried out 80 strikes today. It has now targeted 1,300 sites in Gaza since last Wednesday. Ben Wedeman is in Gaza city tonight. Ben, how are civilians dealing with this conflict? Some of those numbers we hear 870 people injured are frightening.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're not dealing very well with it. It's a very difficult situation. You have to keep in mind, Erin, that here in Gaza. They don't have early warning systems. They don't have bomb shelters. They don't have an iron dome system to protect them. So, they feel very exposed. You don't see a lot of people out in the street. When they do go out, they do it so very quickly. They get supplies and really, they're just watching the television, listening to the news.

Awaiting to see if Israel is going to go ahead with its ground incursion because as difficult as the situation is now, it will become much, much worse if Israeli forces enter, probably much higher civilian casualties.

As we saw four years ago, there was a heavy death toll. Almost a rather more than 1,400 killed, so there's a lot of trepidation about what could be just around the corner -- Erin.

BURNETT: And Ben, I know right before you literally came on the air with us. There were a couple of rockets that went off behind you. How frequently do they strike?

WEDEMAN: They're sporadic and in no sense is it throughout the day. It's every few hours. You'll hear sort of a deep roar and then a whoosh as it goes out. Right behind me, I'd say that's about a third of a mile from here.

About four or five rockets went out. But we saw them way up in the sky hit by those missiles of Israel's iron dome system, so it doesn't appear that they actually reached their targets on the other side of the border -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Ben Wedeman, thank you very much reporting from Gaza. And now, let's go to Israel. Fred Pleitgen is in Ashkelon. And Fred, does the escalation you've seen in this conflict seem different than what you've seen in prior conflicts between Hamas and Israel?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN BERLIN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, if you look at the civilian population here, they seem to be a lot more worried than I've seen them in the past. I mean, one of the things that is going on is that there are actually a lot of rockets falling down on the area here around Gaza.

Certainly a lot more than you would have at normal times, but also more than other conflicts in the past and a lot of those rockets also appear to be flying further than before.

Keep in mind that we've seen rockets on cities like Tel Aviv that are very far away from the Gaza Strip, so certainly, people here are very worried. If you go around the towns here, you'll see that about 80 percent of the businesses are closed.

People are staying indoors and keeping their children indoors, so yes, in many ways, this conflict is a lot more worrisome than a lot of them in the past -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Fred, thank you very much. And now, Maen Rashid Areikat, he is the chief representative of the general delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the United States. Ambassador, thanks very much for taking the time as we try to understand this from both sides. Let me start by asking you about what we've been reporting, which is that Hamas had delivered the terms for a cease-fire, which the Egyptian intelligence has given to Israel. Is that the case as you understand it?

MAEN RASHID AREIKAT, CHIEF REPRESENTATIVE OF THE PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION TO THE U.S.: Well, our understanding is that Egypt is being very active, working with all sides in order to secure a cease- fire.

We do not know exactly the details or the terms of the cease- fire, but the PLO's position is very clear. There has to be an end to this brutal Israeli campaign against innocent civilians in the Gaza strip.

You mentioned in your report earlier, 104 dead so far, 851 dead. This is the equivalent to 19,500 Americans and 160,000 American wounded. So there has to be an immediate end to this madness carried out by the Israeli military.

BURNETT: When you said you weren't sure of the details, I just want to hone in on that, Ambassador if I might. Because obviously as the PLO, I'm curious as to how often, how close, how closely you're talking to Hamas right now. And do you fully support everything that they have done in this conflict so far?

AREIKAT: Well, we are in close contact with the Egyptians. We are in close contacts with many parties in the region, Europeans, the United States. And we have been updated and informed about some of the progress that has been taken place in the last few hours regarding Egyptian efforts to reach a cease fire.

When it comes to our differences with Hamas, we may have differences practically. This is normal, but what is happening in the Gaza Strip, a direct attack on innocent civilians, Palestinians who are being killed and wounded, yesterday, 24, today, 34.

In the last two days alone, half of the people who were killed were killed in the last two days. We are witnessing a deliberate escalation on the part of the Israelis to cause as much possible civilian deaths.

BURNETT: You really think they're trying for civilian deaths? That seems like a bit of a stretch, doesn't it?

AREIKAT: What else? I mean, you know, what you have is official figures that can be verified by different media outlets. The majority of the people that are being killed today in the Gaza Strip are civilians.

BURNETT: But isn't that partially because of the tight, cramped quarters in the Gaza Strip and also the Israeli say you've got militants and Hamas militants who are hiding in mosques and schools and purposefully putting civilians in front of them? AREIKAT: Well, this is something that I don't think independent sources can verify. The Gaza Strip is densely populated area. The chances of civilian casualties are higher than any other area. The Gaza Strip is twice as big as Washington, D.C., but it has three times as much population as Washington, D.C.

Yesterday, the Israelis dropped a bomb on a building with objective of killing supposedly a Hamas commander. They ended up killing 11 people from one family, including four children under the age of 10. So, Israel has a very sophisticated military and they are causing these innocent civilian deaths.

BURNETT: We are going to talk more about those four children later in the program, but Ambassador, I wanted to share a poll with you and get your point of view on what this means for you and for the case you're trying to make.

We here at CNN asked Americans in the Middle East who are your sympathy is more with and the poll was very stark in its outcome, 59 percent said that their sympathies are with Israel, 13 percent said they are with the Palestinians.

What does this mean for you? I mean, that is -- I think to describe it as an uphill battle is not even the right word.

AREIKAT: Well, my personal experience with Americans is definitely is contrary to this kind of poll. I talk to Americans. I talk to ordinary Americans and find a lot of sympathy with the Palestinians struggle for freedom and independence.

We are just out from a recent election where most polls were proven wrong. I don't look at polls. I think the majority of them the American people believe in justice, believe in fairness.

And sometimes, the media with their exaggerated headlines, rockets reigning on Israel, sometimes, they also influence and impact audiences and people.

But I am confident that the majority of the American people do not tolerate such brutality against an innocent population, civilian population and they are definitely in favor of ending this conflict in a way that will help the Palestinians realize their objectives of becoming independent and free.

BURNETT: Ambassador Areikat, thank you very much for your time tonight. We appreciate it. Our viewers, now you've just heard the Palestinian side. Next, we are going to turn our attention to Israel. Michael Orrin, the Israeli ambassador to the United States responds OUTFRONT next.

And the neighbor of American internet tycoon John McAfee found murdered. Tonight, McAfee in hiding. The strange case involves very young women and poisoned dogs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: Our second story OUTFRONT, murder in paradise. American internet tycoon, John McAfee, is believed to be hiding in Belize after the murder of his neighbor on an island off the Central American coast.

While police say the onetime megamillionaire is not a suspect, they want to question him and his response has been rather bizarre. CNN's Martin Savidge is in Belize with details on the case involving young women, poisoned dogs and bad blood.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So I'm sitting here in John McAfee's front yard. I can sit here because this is actually the beach and here in Belize, the beach is considered public property for all.

The house back there, the purple and yellow, the lights are on, but I can assure you nobody's home. It's also in this same spot that yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a young woman who claims to be one of seven of McAfee's lovers.

(voice-over): Tiffany as she called herself didn't want to be seen. Like McAfee, she fears the police.

(on camera): When was the last time you saw him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sunday, around 11:15.

SAVIDGE: Do you know where he is now?


SAVIDGE (voice-over): Now, a day later, Tiffany's gone, too. The only residents left at McAfee's home are dogs. And dogs may play a central role in this murder mystery.

Officials say they're barking and aggressive behavior was a frequent source of friction between McAfee and his neighbor, Greg Faul, who lived here. Last Friday, McAfee told police someone poisoned four of his dogs and to put them out of their misery, McAfee shot them. Two days later, somebody shot Greg Faul, once in the head and McAfee vanished. Martin Savidge, CNN, Belize.


BURNETT: We are following here, very, very bizarre story. Well, just a few moments ago, you heard the PLO's ambassador to the United States say Israel is purposely targeting civilians.

Israel's ambassador to the United States responds to that and talks about a ground war after this.


BURNETT: Our third story, OUTFRONT, the Israeli response, day six now of the conflict between Israel and Gaza. Earlier in the program, we spoke with the PLO's representative to the United States.

And joining me now is Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States. Ambassador, good to speak with you and I want to start right off the top here with what Maen Areikat said in our interview a few moment ago.

He was talking about Israel and Gaza and he said that Israel is purposely targeting civilians. What do you say?

MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, first of all, it's odd, Erin, that the representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization is defending Hamas. In 2007, Hamas threw the PLO out of Gaza. In the process, it threw the PLO leaders off the top of buildings and shot them dead in the street.

The same representative from the PLO to go back into Gaza today, his fate would probably be about the same. But no, of course, we're not targeting civilians. The fact we're making superhuman efforts to avoid inflicting civilian casualties.

It's difficult. We are sending out tens of thousands of telephone messages, text messages, dropping tens of thousands of leaflets warning civilians and areas that are will be hit by our military to evacuate in time.

It's difficult because the Hamas terrorists are deeply embedded within the civilian population. They're using that population as human shields. We're trying to avoid inflicting civilian casualties.

Hamas is doing its outmost to maximize the number of Israelis that kills. That's the big difference between us. They're a terrorist organization. We're a democracy.

BURNETT: Let me ask you because -- because I also asked that of Ambassador Areikat about whether the Hamas was using civilians as human shields, whether they're hiding in mosques or schools, as I know Israel has said happens. Do you have proof that that's happening?

OREN: We've seen it from the air. We have one case of an Israeli pilot who had targeted a long range rocket and at the last minute, had to abort his mission because there were children in the vicinity.

It was situated right in a playground and that long range rocket later -- they fired at Tel Aviv, so we pay a price for trying to avoid civilian casualties. But that's our code of ethics and we're going to stick by them.

BURNETT: We also have reported here at CNN, Ambassador, that Egypt's intelligence chief has handed over a Hamas terms for a cease-fire perhaps to the Israelis. Is there a cease-fire on the table right now?

OREN: Well, I can't go into behind the scenes diplomatic details, Erin, but we will say is we want the fighting to stop. We want Hamas to stop shooting at our civilians. We've had 5.5 million Israelis under Hamas rocket fire. That's well over half of our population and it's very simple. They just have to stop shooting at us and stop creating a situation where they can shoot at us every week because that situation that existed before this round of fighting.

We have to have a different status quo on the ground. Once that is on the table, we will be interested.

BURNETT: There are reports, of course, that Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas will both meet with Ban Ki-Moon. I'm wondering whether you think there's a possibility that Abbas and Netanyahu may meet directly?

OREN: I haven't heard about it, but I know that Prime Minister Netanyahu is willing and ready to meet President Abbas any time, any place. He said it many times, in Jerusalem, in Ramalla, which is only 7 minutes drive away (inaudible) anywhere.

BURNETT: OK, let me ask you about a ground war because when you're talking about the situation, if there isn't a cease-fire, you obviously have 75,000 troops now massed to go into Gaza.

Only 30 percent of the Israeli public actually support a ground war according to the poll today. Is a ground war likely? I mean, are you really, really mean it that you could do it?

OREN: Well, first, let's look at some of these reservists. I won't say 75,000, but a large a number of reservists have been called up there. Erin, you're right. This is Israel, where young men, women, leave their families, their kids, put on uniforms and go out to fight for their country because their fellow countrymen are under rocket fire.

These are the minutemen and women of Israel, if you will, and yes, we are ready. We'd hope that the fighting will not escalate. We hope that Hamas will stop shooting at us, but at the end of the day, we have to take all legitimate and necessary measures to protect our citizens. And if that includes ground action, it might have to include ground action, yes.

BURNETT: When? How long are you going to wait if they don't stop in the next day? I mean, do you have a deadline?

OREN: Well, put it this way, again, not going to go into tactical details on national television either, Erin. But we are ready, we are prepared. We have a citizen's army and that citizen's army is ready to defend the citizens of Israel.

BURNETT: I want to ask you about Egypt's role if I may, because it's complicated, but also obviously crucial and particularly about Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

I wanted to play you a brief clip from a campaign rally. This was in May of this year. This was a rally Mohamed Morsi was at. I just wanted to play for you what it said. Again that was a rally of Mohamed Morsi who is now negotiating this with you and that cleric was saying the United States of the Arabs will be restored this by this man, referring to Mohamed Morsi. The capital of the United States of the Arabs will be Jerusalem and come on, you lovers of martyrdom. You are all Hamas. Do you trust Mohamed Morsi?

OREN: Well, we prefer to focus on Egyptian deeds rather than words, Erin, and Egypt has fulfilled a constructive role in the past in mediating. And we hope that Egypt will continue to fulfill that constructive role.

BURNETT: Do you think that this could -- if you do have a deal, lead to a real working relationship with the Morsi government, where the treaty isn't possibly in jeopardy or is that something that you think is just way too high in the sky?

OREN: Well, we're always welcoming of an improvement in our relationship with Egypt. We've had a peace treaty with Egypt now for 34 years. That treaty is essential for us, but it's no less crucial for the Egyptians.

We all need stability and Egypt, particularly now, at a time when it has to focus on its economy needs that stability and we have every reason to believe that that interest will continue.

BURNETT: Ambassador Oren, thanks as always for your time.

OREN: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: We have new information tonight on the Benghazi investigation because we now know who is saying they made the changes to the CIA talking points. And another European country got in today.


BURNETT: We start the second half of our show with stories we care about, where we focus on our own reporting from the front lines.

First up, President Obama soon returning to the United States. He was on a whirlwind trip to Asia. While he was there, he visited Thailand and Myanmar. His final stop was Cambodia, where he took part in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit. Wow.

He also met with the Cambodian prime minister where he talked about the need to improve human rights. One Obama adviser described the meeting as tense but said the prime minister expressed the desire for closer economic ties with the United States.

It's been three weeks since Sandy ravaged the East Coast and the recovery is ongoing. Tonight, many are still without homes and in need of basic necessities. Businesses are still closed. New York City is still rationing gas. Four New York City hospitals are still closed or only offering limited services and one of the main train services between New Jersey and New York City is still operating with limited service. This video shows the New Jersey path station flooding the night of the storm. These stations sustained significant damage.

Well, it was a good day for the stock market. The Dow was up nearly 208 points. The NASDAQ up by more than 2 percent, the S&P higher, too. The reason, traders are more optimistic the fiscal cliff will be avoided. They think leaders in Washington will reach some sort of compromise on tax increases and government spending. We shall see if that optimism is merited.

Well, Twinkies live for another day. The Hostess brand and the key bakers union have agreed to mediation, which will keep the company from shutting. When Hostess said it was going to be closing last week, Twitter and the entire world freaked out and they blamed the union, which had been on strike since November 9th. The company said the strike was creating too much of a financial strain.

But today, a bankruptcy judge said he wanted to company and union to meet one more time and try to work out an agreement. That meeting is going to take place tomorrow.

It's been 473 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?

Well, interesting thing happened today. Moody's, the ratings agency, downgraded the country of France today -- meaning France lost its AAA. Now, this was something that was a long time and coming. Many including Bill Gross at PIMCO said it should have happened a long time ago and this happened despite the fact that its President Francois Hollande has been trying to raise taxes.

And now, our fourth story OUTFRONT: those CIA talking points. Who changed them and why?

Well, we have new information for you tonight. We can report that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence tells CNN that the talking points were changed by the intelligence community.

Now, Congress has launched an investigation after former CIA Director David Petraeus testified he knew immediately after the September 11th attack in Libya that the attack was carried out by terrorists linked to al Qaeda. Now, this, of course, contradicts what we heard from U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who said publicly on five Sunday talk shows that the attack was spontaneous and sparked by an anti-Muslim film.

Now, the Director of the National Intelligence Office says substantial changes were made before those talking points were sent to the White House, the Justice Department or the State Department. But the question still remains who made the changes and why, and did anyone in the White House know the full unedited version of events which included that link to al Qaeda?

Tonight, the State Department has no comment, neither does the CIA. Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson is on the Foreign Relations Committee. He says the administration is accountable, and he's demanding answers. And he's OUTFRONT tonight.

Senator Isakson, thanks very much for taking the time.

And as we can report, this is late r reporting here that we have tonight, but the intelligence community is saying, look, we made the changes. They were substantial. But we made them.

Do you believe it?

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R-GA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, it's the first I've heard of it, eastern. You got me on a surprise, but I know Director Clapper very well. I would -- I'm not going to question his word, but it's a little late given all the testimony we had. We had late September briefings with Director Clapper in the room where no such admission came out.

So I'm a little bit surprised, but somebody's got to fess up as to what was happened. It wasn't Susan Rice. It was somebody in the administration or intelligence community changed and we know it wasn't David Petraeus.

BURNETT: Do you think it's possible -- the question I asked there at the top -- that anyone at the White House could have known the full version of events or possible series of version of events and yes, they are handed an edited version, the same version which, of course, Ambassador Rice received, but they knew there were alternative ones that included a link to al Qaeda, that said the movie was not responsible, and that said it was preplanned, not spontaneous.

ISAKSON: For the administration to admit that it didn't know or wasn't informed of the information the director said he had was hard for me to believe and it means the administration really wasn't on top of their game.

You know, the most important issue we got here is a U.S. ambassador was murdered. First ambassador we've lost since 1979. Three others were killed. We were incapable of defending our embassy and we didn't have advanced intelligence to know the attack was going to take place.

That sends a horrible message to our diplomats and we need to know why the administration tried not to look the other way, tried to go on to Nevada, tried to not pay attention to what somebody in the administration knew was already a terrorist attack.

BURNETT: If it turns out that the DNI altered, as they said, significant, substantial -- I'm sorry -- substantially altered the talk points and they were the ones that did it, does that mean that Clapper should do what? Keep his job? Not keep his job? I mean, wouldn't that mean he's responsible?

ISAKSON: Well, you know, I heard Director Clapper's testimony in the late September secured briefing that we had. I can't discuss that. But nothing came up about any scrubbing of the information before it went to the White House.

My colleague, Senator Chambliss, is the ranking member on the Intel Committee. I'm sure with this now coming out, he would want to know why the director didn't say it originally and later did say it and when -- why he did that.

BURNETT: So, let me ask you about what the White House says in terms of their version. As you know, they said look, we only changed one word. Instead of calling it a consulate, we decided to call it a diplomatic facility.

So they're being very careful of yes, when it came into our hands, we only -- we only touched one thing. Do you think that's -- that's reasonable or not?

ISAKSON: You know, everybody's trying to parse around words around the situation. If Director Clapper has come forward and look what he has said is absolutely accurate and he did change the information, we need to find out if the White House really did know that and if they did, why they allowed it to happen? And once again, ask ourselves the question, why did we not have the intel in advance of the attack to know it was going to take place?


ISAKSON: And why weren't we capable of surrounding that ambassador and protecting his life?

BURNETT: Ninety-seven House Republicans, sir, as you're well aware, signed a letter to the president, urging him to not nominate Ambassador Rice for secretary of state. And the letter says, I just want to quote it here in part, "We believe her misleading statement over the days and weeks following the attack on our embassy in Libya that led to the deaths of Ambassador Stevens and three others caused irreparable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world."

Is there a scenario where you would support or vote for her nomination for secretary of state if he not nominates her?

ISAKSON: First and foremost, we've got to get to the bottom of the truth. You don't shoot the messenger and feel the self satisfaction that you solve the problem. If we find out she read what she was told to read, had no other information to the contrary, we need to get at the root of the problem. But until this is worked out, until we know the facts, we don't need to have a nomination coming before the Foreign Relations Committee.

BURNETT: Even though at the time, there were many questioning already, just -- you know, sort of on gut and what they saw that spontaneous was an inaccurate word, you know that maybe she should have questioned those -- would you at all question her nomination or no? You truly believe that she was the messenger. She is innocent and always.

ISAKSON: I've been around the president long enough when he was in my party to know when you're asked to go on the top five news shows on Sunday morning and you're giving talking points, you don't question them, you read them.

BURNETT: Yes. All right. That's good. Fair that that might lead you to that conclusion.

So, is the final word, sir, that you are not satisfied with where we are right now? If the DNI, intelligence community is the one that did all the alterations, that's not the final say in your mind. You want more investigations still.

ISAKSON: I think we need to know why he didn't say that in the briefing that took place in the secured environment at the end of September. Long past now. I think we need to know why later, it came forward. And we need to know why the White House didn't know and if they didn't know, why they should have known.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much, Senator Isakson. We appreciate your taking the time as we continue to -- try to find out exactly what happened on September 11th and after about Benghazi.

OUTFRONT next, thousands of Israeli soldiers are poised on the Gaza border. You heard the ambassador to the United States talking about it a moment ago. He said a ground war's a possibility, but do Israel's threats add up? Special forces from Israel faces off after this.

And a new factory opens in Iowa. We are going to tell you why this is a really big deal in America.


BURNETT: Our fifth story OUTFRONT: ground war. As you heard earlier on the show, Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, told me that Israel is done planning and ready to go ahead with the ground invasion if necessary. But what happens if the fighting escalates and turns into an all-out ground war?

Israel has 14 times the number of ground troops as Hamas, not to mention some of the most sophisticated hard wear in the world. Seems like a clear advantage, right?

Well, there are very good reasons why the Israelis have not plunged it.

Chris Lawrence reports why the numbers are only part of the problem.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If Israel defense forces invade Gaza, they'd likely go under the cover of darkness.

HAIM MALKA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Where they have an advantage or tactical advantage on the battlefield through night vision equipment and the ability to operate in the dark.

LAWRENCE: But they'd likely find Hamas better armed than it was four years ago.

JEFFREY WHITE, THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: They have better tank weapons for sure. And they might be more capable of inflicting damage on Israeli forces.

LAWRENCE: Analyst Jeff White says Hamas' first line of defense will be a kilometer or two inside the border fence. They will try to draw the IDF into kill zones of IEDs, snipers, and preset border fire.

But the Israelis beat that tactic with better intel four years ago and now have new capabilities.

WHITE: They developed cameras they can actually roll or throw into a house. It shows them what's going on inside the house.

LAWRENCE: Geography works for and against Hamas. Gaza is densely populated, difficult for Israel to fight in without causing some civilian casualties.

But Gaza is also long and narrow, which is terrible when you're trying to defend it. Artillery stationed in Israel can reach all point of Gaza because it's so narrow. Israeli forces can move in from multiple entry points because it's so long.

WHITE: You can compartmentalize the fighting inside Gaza. Isolate one Hamas from another and operate it, you know, selectively against pieces of the Gaza Strip.

A former Israeli general says Israel is running out of targets outside of population centers while Hamas leaders have holed up inside mosques or amongst civilians. A ground war could lead to a situation similar to 2009, when a U.N. report accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza.

MALKA: And that is weighing on the minds of Israeli policymakers now as they consider whether to go into Gaza on the ground.


BURNETT: So, obviously, some questions on that.

Chris Lawrence is with me now.

So, Chris, if Israeli officials say they're going to go ahead with this, how big would the ground assault likely be?

LAWRENCE: Well, there are two scenarios being considered at least at this point. One is a full-scale ground assault like we saw four years ago if not bigger. That would involve tanks, airborne, everything. The other would be smaller, limited incursions using special operations forces and smaller infantry units. That would be more of a targeted strike, going after say specific rocket launching sites that the airstrikes have not been able to take care of. BURNETT: And what is mission accomplished? I mean, just because it seems this is so much a part of what Hamas is such a part of civilian society as the Israeli ambassador said. So, what do you have to do to, quote-unquote, "win"?

LAWRENCE: Well, an Israeli official told CNN you know on background that like an alcoholic with a bottle of whisky in front of them, Hamas with weapons means they're going to shoot them. The temptation is just too great. And now that they've demonstrated greater range in order to hit areas near Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, well, that changes the calculus somewhat for Israel.

They do not want to be back in this situation in a few months. In other words, they're not going to cut a quick deal and be right back where they started before this. They want to send a very, very clear message to Hamas not to fire these rockets. They want to cripple some of Hamas' capability in terms of being able to reach inside Israel.

BURNETT: Thanks, Chris.

Well, OUTFRONT now, Naftali Bennett, is former chief of staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a major in the IDF special forces. And Ed Husain, senior fellow of Middle Eastern studies at the Council of Foreign Relations.

Great to see both of you.

Naftali, let me start with you. You heard Chris Lawrence reporting that Hamas is better armed now than it was a few years ago, but I know the Israeli government has called up 75,000 reservists. You know, some people I know had to say good-bye to their children who are getting ready to go along the border.

Does a ground invasion seem inevitable to you?

NAFTALI BENNETT, FMR. NETANYAHU CHIEF OF STAFF: It's not yet inevitable. We're at a crossroads. But you're right, there are tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers ready to go in. The goal of such an entrance would be to stop the continuous import of missiles from Egypt into the Gaza Strip.

So, the point is we'd want to dry up the well of missiles because they keep on shooting the missiles into Israel. If we create a buffer zone between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, then the missiles would dry up and stop shooting missiles on us.

BURNETT: Ed, the leader of Hamas Khaled Meshaal said today to reporters, and he was talking about Israel, I'm going to quote him. "If you wanted to launch," meaning a ground invasion, "you would have done it."

So is he daring them? I mean, that would not be good for Israel, but it certainly would be absolutely horrific for Gaza.

ED HUSAIN, SR. FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Any kind of ground invasion would mean thousands more Egyptians and others going into Gaza and Israel fighting abroad or anywhere in the region. This is not in Israel's interest to engage in a ground war in Gaza.

BURNETT: They said they want to go. They want to fight, so they're going to go.

HUSAIN: They're going to go. They're going to fight anyway. You don't dry the well as Major Bennett suggested. You actually pour more fuel into a burning pit.

BURNETT: Naftali, what do you say to that? That this could be, you know, throwing fire into the well? I mean, I ask that in the context of the "Haaretz" poll today which said 30 percent of the public supports a ground war. Obviously, that's not very many.

BENNETT: We're talking about al Qaeda style organization. Hamas is funded and supported by Iran. Iran's goal is to eliminate Israel. There's no peace to be discussed with people who want to kill you.

HUSAIN: Hamas is not funded by --


BENNETT: -- facts. Erin, I just want to get to the facts.

The facts are simple. Seven years ago, Israel vacated Gaza, handed 100 percent over to the Arabs. They founded an independent state and within 10 days, they started shooting missiles at us.

HUSAIN: Yes, but you maintain the siege by air, by sea and by land.


BENNETT: The only question to be asked is: why did we wait long -- why did we wait so long, why did we wait seven years? That's a good question. But I'm asking you, guys, if where you're sitting right now in New York was continuously targeted by missiles, would you be waiting? Would you be asking questions?

We need to act. We need to eliminate the terror and ongoing terror that's hitting Israeli cities.

HUSAIN: It's worth us remembering the facts on the ground and they are that Hamas has been fighting people on the right of Hamas, Islamic jihad and violent Salifists, and trying to stop them from attacking Israel over the last several months.

BURNETT: You're saying there are other groups there that are more violent?

HUSAIN: Far more violent. Far more rigid.

BURNETT: Naftali, would you agree with that?

BENNETT: So basically what he's saying, we've got one group of nut cases who is protecting us from another group of even more extreme nut cases? Look, fortunately, President Bush didn't take his advice years ago and fought al Qaeda --

HUSAIIN: Look where we are now --


BENNETT: President Obama fought al Qaeda.

You do not make -- you do not make peace and you do not have any discussions with terrorists. That's a rule. You don't talk with terrorists. You fight them.

HUSAIN: I'm sad to say the resolve of your terrorists as you describe them is equally strong, if not stronger. They are willing to die and become suicide bombers. That's not a commitment you people have and you should be avoid that fate both for them and yourselves by realizing you made peace with Yasser Arafat, who was equally --

BENNETT: Mr. Husain --

HUSSAIN: -- Semitism in the '60s. Look where PLO --

BENNETT: Mr. Husain --

HUSAIN: It's the same deal again with Hamas.

BENNETT: Terrorists come and go. We've had Egyptians, we've had Romans, we've had Greeks, so many people come and go.

We're here to stay. Do not doubt our resolve. The people of Israel are strong. We'll do anything to stay in this country and we will win and we will beat these terrorists.

BURNETT: When you all talked on this show last week, late last week, you referred to the situation as having a right side and wrong side. I thought a lot about that on the weekend because people are dying on both sides. Now, yes, there's the numerical imbalance that you're both referring to but there's also children.

There was a picture I saw today, Naftali, of four Palestinian children wrapped in flags and it was an agonizing picture. They had been killed. When you see pictures like that, it's agonizing and it made me wonder about why do you think this is so clear-cut?

BENNETT: Erin, I agree there's nothing worse than children dying. When the United States conquered Germany in World War II, lots of children died. Lots of children died in Japan in World War II. That's what wars look like.

When terrorists deliberately attack civilians in Israel -- yes, there will be casualties. But there is right and wrong. Let's not make that mistake.

In Afghanistan, when you went and hunted down Osama bin Laden, America killed kids, not deliberately, and no one blames you for supposedly being a terrorist. So there is right and wrong.

HUSAIN: Stop making the comparison. Gaza is not Afghanistan. Hamas is not al Qaeda.


BENNETT: The terrorists are hiding, they are hiding behind kids. They are hiding within hospitals. That's a terrorist act.

The people who are killing those kids are the Hamas. It's the Palestinians killing their own kids. Let's be very clear about that.


BENNETT: There is a right and wrong. Terror is wrong. Defending yourself is right.

BURNETT: As always, let us know what you think about that on our blog.

And now, let's check in with Anderson Cooper with a look at what's coming up on "A.C. 360." Hi, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Erin. Yes, we're going to be live from Gaza City tonight. We'll also be joined by Wolf Blitzer, who is live in Jerusalem. Also our correspondents throughout the region. We have correspondents in Egypt, also along the Israeli border with Gaza in some hard-hit towns like Ashkelon that have been receiving so many of those Hamas rockets.

We've got, as I said, our correspondents all over the entire region. I want to bring you the absolute latest information that we can. New explosions here late this evening, early this morning, here in Gaza City to tell you about that. Our breaking news which we will begin the program with, we have heard explosions throughout the evening.

We also saw a short time ago a number of rockets being fired from Gaza City toward Israel. Those seem to have been intercepted by the Iron Dome program that Israel has as part of their air defense system. We'll have all of that at the top of the hour, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Anderson, we're looking forward to that in just a few moments.

Well, after decades of American companies moving jobs overseas, there is something that happened today that is absolutely incredible. And we are going to tell you about it.


BURNETT: When a new factory opens in a town, things can change almost overnight. And that's why we're keeping an eye on Wever, Iowa. Wever will be the new home of the Iowa fertilizer company. It's the first world scale ammonia plant built in this country in 25 years. Expected to be completed in 2015, it's going to create 250 construction jobs and 165 permanent ones, which is a big deal for Wever and for Iowa, which is why as you can see, today's groundbreaking was attended by the state's governor, Terry Branstad, and other officials.

Now, an interesting aspect of the story is who is behind the plant. It's owned by Orascom Construction, an Egyptian company that owns and operates nitrogen fertilizer plants around the world, and while some weaver residents are worried about the project's environmental impact, we wanted to focus tonight on the positive aspects of this. It's proof that America is a great place to do business, and it is physical proof of America being an energy superpower.

The United States Energy Information Administration says we have 92 years worth of natural gas at current consumption rates. That's a huge competitive advantage and it means more plants like Orascom and more American jobs.

At a time when America's economic outlook is uncertain, we hear a lot about American companies moving plants to other countries, so tonight, we are proud to be reminded that other countries see opportunity in the United States of America.

Thanks for joining us.

"A.C. 360" starts now.