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THE SITUATION ROOM
Crisis in Israel
Aired November 19, 2012 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Will desperate international appeals lead to an actual cease-fire? I will speak with a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Across Southern Israel and in Gaza right now, you can smell the smoke, see the damage and feel the fear. Palestinian officials now say more than 100 people have been killed in Gaza after nearly a week of air attacks by Israel. Israel says Hamas militants can stop the suffering in a second if they stop shooting hundreds of rockets across the border.
Those rockets have killed three Israelis since the conflict began. The U.N. secretary-general has arrived in Egypt as part of an urgent international push for a cease-fire. Israeli troops and tanks are on the border and they're awaiting the order that could come at any time to invade Gaza and turn this to into a full-scale war.
My colleagues and I are in the region. We are covering all sides of this conflict as only CNN can.
Earlier today, I traveled to Ashkelon in Southern Israel -- that's near Israel's border with Gaza -- where people live every day with a threat of rocket attacks and we experienced what they go through firsthand.
BLITZER (voice-over): Within minutes of arriving in the city, just a few miles from the Gaza border, the sirens went off, meaning Hamas rockets or missiles were in the air and on the way.
The Israelis in this region take these warnings very seriously. They know they may have only 30 seconds before a rocket over a missile reaches the area.
(on camera): We are just running inside. Sirens have just gone off.
(voice-over): We get into the small secure room. Israeli soldiers and civilians are already crammed inside. They clearly have a very worried look. That's because earlier in the day, precisely at this very high school, a rocket landed. The damage is very visible. Fortunately, no one was injured. (on camera): You can see it came through the concrete and landed at the school. This is a school here in Ashkelon and you can see the rocket damage all the way down here.
(voice-over): No one was injured by the other rocket that caused us to scramble to the shelter. Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system destroyed the rocket on the way to Ashkelon. You could see the lingering plumes of smoke in the sky.
BENNY VAKNIN, MAYOR OF ASHKELON, ISRAEL: Missile targeted this school. This is the third time.
BLITZER: Benny Vaknin is the mayor of this city of more than 100,000 people. He's been living this nightmare for a long time.
VAKNIN: Maybe hundreds of dramatic wounded people, and especially children. So...
BLITZER (voice-over): When you say traumatic, because psychologically they're scared?
VAKNIN: Of course.
BLITZER (voice-over): Schools in the city have been closed since the latest exchange with Hamas escalated in recent days. He says he's most worried about the children who have been traumatized by the sirens and the explosions. This shelter is designed for the children, many of whom sleep here.
We drive over to a residential area of Ashkelon where a rocket had landed the day before.
(on camera): We are here in a quiet residential neighborhood in Ashkelon. But you can see it wasn't so quiet yesterday when the rockets hit this area over here. If you go over there, you can see the damage over that garage area. The rocket apparently came right in there.
But then fortunately everyone in this neighborhood had gone into their shelters, their closed rooms and -- but you could see some of the shrapnel reaching all the way across the street over here to this house over here. This is one of the safe rooms actually in this house, but there's no damage inside.
(voice-over): The owner of this home was at work in his office, but his wife was inside the house. He said she ran into their secure safe room and is OK.
Ashkelon is eerie right now. The cafes and shops along the Mediterranean beach are pretty much empty. Like many of the residents we spoke to, he was not very optimistic about the immediate future.
(on camera): We are here along the beach in Ashkelon. Normally, this place would be lively. It's a lovely day. The sun is just beginning to go down right now. We're watching what is going on. It is empty. This whole area pretty much is desolate. The Israelis are staying inside their homes. They're not going out to coffee shops. They're not going to theaters, at least in this area, at least for the last few days because of the pounding, the rockets that have been coming in.
That Iron Dome, that thud you hear all the time over the sky, and you realize not far away, only a few kilometers of here is Gaza, densely populated area right along this same Mediterranean. You know, my own sense is this could be a such a wonderful area if they could just achieve some real peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but obviously that is going to have to wait at least for now.
(voice-over): But for now, there's a very deep silence on the beach, unlike what we heard earlier in the day.
BLITZER: I'm joined now by CNN's Anderson Cooper, who is joining us from Gaza City.
Anderson, I understand you heard some loud explosions just moments ago as well. What happened?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.
In the last five or 10 minutes or so, there were actually two very large explosions very close to here. The impact, actually, you could feel it in this building here. Windows shaking. It is actually very close, the latest strike to the media center which was hit earlier in the day, Israeli officials saying they were targeting members of Islamic Jihad who apparently had an office in that building.
One member of Islamic Jihad, an official there killed according to Israel and also to Palestinian sources here. Another man not affiliated with the group or said not to be affiliated with the group was also killed in that.
Ben Wedeman was on the scene of that strike very early on.
You got there really as first-responders did and to see the wreckage. It seemed like the strike was targeted to the second floor of the building.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the second floor, Anderson. There was a sign out that it was a lawyer's office. Obviously, we don't know if that was the case, but our understanding is they didn't have an office. They were just sort of using that space because the building was by and large evacuated at the time.
COOPER: You also spent some time today at the funeral of a family that was killed yesterday in a very controversial strike.
WEDEMAN: Yes. This is a strike that took place just north of here in the suburb of Gaza City on the Dalou family house. The Israelis are saying that it was -- there was a member of the Hamas rocket team who was there. But there's no sign that that was the case.
But, you know, these funerals here are very bombastic. Very loud. Very full of sort of political rhetoric. But behind them, there are really the tragedies that are happening every day here.
COOPER: Let's take a look.
WEDEMAN (voice-over): The body of 5-year-old Yusif Al-Dalou is held aloft as calls ring out for revenge. In life, Yusif was a child known only to his family and friends, in death, yet another potent symbol for the cameras and the angry crowds.
Yusif and eight other members of the Dalou family were killed Sunday afternoon in an Israeli airstrike on their home. Israeli officials say they were targeting a Hamas military official, though no Hamas official is known to be among the dead.
Their bodies were carried through the street to the sound of gunfire under the banners of a Hamas to the (INAUDIBLE) cemetery. When the crowd leaves and the chanting stops, the real mourning begins. Friends and relatives quietly pray for the dead. Quiet tears are shed for the latest to die so suddenly without warning.
Hamdi's (ph) brother was killed in another Israeli attack Sunday. Like so many here, he's weary of war, but sees only more coming.
"There will be an escalation," he says. "Israel won't accept our conditions. It wants blood for blood."
Abu Ahmed (ph) and his team of grave diggers prepared 15 graves, their busiest morning yet and they're preparing for more. "What's left?" he asks me. "No one is safe anymore in their homes."
(on camera): The main cemetery for Gaza City is out of town near the Israeli border and, therefore, too dangerous to hold funerals at. Now, they're bringing the dead here to the (INAUDIBLE) cemetery, but this cemetery has no more room for new graves.
Back where Yusif Al-Dalou's home once stood, mourners greet an Egyptian delegation led by Mohamed Katatni, head of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. A member of his delegation loudly vows vengeance against Israel for the deaths of Gaza's children, children caught in a struggle they were too young to comprehend, but not too young to die in.
COOPER: Obviously, we're seeing a lot of funerals here on this side of the border. You have been covering this region for a very long time and it's really fascinating. Depending on what side of the border you are on really dictates how you see this conflict and who's to blame for it and each side is convinced they're correct. WEDEMAN: Yes. It's very much sort of a he said, she said. Each side blaming the other.
And, you know, when you cover these stories, you can't help but sympathize with both sides, really. I mean, put aside the politicians, the men in suits. You run into ordinary people every day when you cover these stories who have problems like you but have suddenly been dropped into this hellish situation, here in Gaza, being bombarded the whole time, in Israel, where they're under a rocket fire.
I mean, you have to really -- to cover it properly you have to sort of see the humanity in both sides.
COOPER: And it really is a very human story on both sides of the border and regular life on both sides of the border has in many respects ground to a halt. Israel -- on the Israeli side, they do have air raid warning signs and they are able to usually get cover.
Here, you don't see many people on the streets. Most people are staying indoors.
WEDEMAN: Here, it's much more difficult. Gaza is much poorer. Even in the best of times, life is much more difficult here than it is in Israel. Israel is in a sense a First World country in terms of living standards.
Here in Gaza, about 75 percent to 80 percent of the population are refugees and they have moved out -- many of them have moved out of the refugee camps, but you still have this situation where they look over the border and they remember the homes they lost and that might explain why there's so much passion here about this conflict.
COOPER: It's also such a densely populated area and the city, Gaza City, is such a densely populated city. And you have rockets being fired in some cases from residential areas, from very close to people's homes.
WEDEMAN: That's something that's changed somewhat since four years ago. The technology has changed so that they can fire remotely rockets from inside Gaza City.
And a lot of the vacant lots that you find between some of the buildings have -- underneath the sand there are mobile -- not mobile, but automatic remotely controlled rocket launchers, so that means that any vacant lot down there could be a target.
COOPER: And as you have been reporting, the technology for some of these rockets improved, which allows them to reach in come cases Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Our coverage will be continuing all evening long. For now, let's go back to Wolf in Jerusalem -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Quick question, Anderson. How often are you hearing explosions right now? I assume you're hearing those Israeli, you know, the drones flying over. You hear that buzzing sound. But what about actual explosions?
COOPER: Yes. The drones are constant as you know and have been since obviously the conflict began.
Day and night, you hear the sound of the drones. Wolf's question was, how often are we hearing explosions? Tonight, we have been hearing -- it's pretty routine and it's pretty constant, I mean pretty regular, not as much as in past nights.
WEDEMAN: Tonight's actually the quietest night yet. The night is young, however.
COOPER: Right. And, obviously, it's usually later in the evening, the kind of 2:00 a.m. hour that you start to hear more explosions. We will see what happens this evening.
WEDEMAN: Fingers crossed.
COOPER: Fingers crossed -- wolf?
BLITZER: All right. We will keep our fingers crossed here as well. Thanks very much, guys. We will check back with you.
Meanwhile, anger is boiling over at the border crossing from Gaza to Egypt. We're going to take you there. Stand by that. We're also going to tell you how President Obama's trying to tamp down these Middle East tensions, even as he visits another part of the world.
BLITZER: Israeli officials tell me they're prepared for a ground invasion of Gaza if necessary. We have new information coming in right now from our own Barbara Starr as well. She was over at a briefing at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
Barbara, what are you learning?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm outside the Israeli Embassy. We just finished a closed-door briefing.
Ambassador Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., says Israel is ready to go, that the planning has been completed. Everything is in place for a ground invasion into Gaza if it comes to that. But Ambassador Oren goes on to say that Israel would like to avoid the need for that. They're still hoping for a solution to this, to get an understanding, an agreement with Hamas to stop firing those rockets, Wolf.
BLITZER: What about the overall situation as far as U.S. troops, U.S. troops are concerned? There was a massive U.S.-Israeli military exercise here in Israel only a few weeks ago, but you're now learning some of those troops still are here? What's going on, Barbara?
STARR: Well, Israelis say, in fact, Wolf, there are a small number, perhaps a couple of dozen, U.S. troops still in Israel, hangers-on, if you will, from that exercise. But they had to move them. They were at a base in Southern Israel and that put them in range of those rockets from Gaza.
So the Israelis have now moved them to a base in a more central area of Israel covered by Israeli air defenses. They feel they will be much more safe there until they can get them out and send them home, Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr in Washington for us, thank you.
Israel's firing back for Hamas rocket attacks, but the country faces another kind of threat as well, cyber-warfare, an unprecedented number of attacks. Stand by for details.
BLITZER: Stand by for more of our coverage from here in the region, from Israel, from Gaza. Anderson Cooper, he's in Gaza. He will back with his impressions on the Israeli airstrikes he's been seeing up close.
I will also speak with the top Israeli spokesman for the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and I will ask if there's a timeline for a ground invasion of Gaza.
BLITZER: We're coming to you live from Jerusalem.
I have been talking to Israeli officials here, and it's not clear how much longer they will hold back from launching a ground invasion of Gaza if attempts at a cease-fire don't pan out. The Israeli cabinet has been meeting urgently to consider an Egyptian proposal.
Israeli troops are poised at the border right now in big numbers. The leader of Hamas, which controls Gaza, says his fighters are not afraid of a ground war. Israel's been hammering away at Gaza from the air for six days, saying it's going after terrorist targets, retaliation for hundreds of rockets fired at Israel by Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza.
Let's go back to Anderson Cooper right now in Gaza. He's in Gaza.
I take it, Anderson, more explosions, another one you just heard?
COOPER: Yes, probably about two minutes ago, actually pretty close to the location where we're at right now, off in that direction, another large explosion. So, that's three pretty significant explosions just in the last half-hour or so.
The other two were over in that direction close to the media center which was hit earlier in their day and that's the second time that media center as you know got hit, officials saying they hit and killed an official from Islamic Jihad who was staying in an office inside that media center, whereas the attack yesterday on the media center they said was to hit a Hamas antenna. But they said the strike killed one Islamic Jihad official today, as well as one another person who was working in the building, Wolf.
BLITZER: When you talk to folks on the street there, what's the first thing they say to you, Anderson, when they know you're an American journalist visiting Gaza?
COOPER: There's obviously a lot of anger directed toward Israel, a lot of frustration, a lot of resentment. And, you know, people are weary, people are tired.
For the last six days, now going on seven days, many have been basically hiding in their homes. Shops have been closed, people unable to go outside or only going outside just to get basic necessities. And then they try to basically go back inside and try to seek relatively safety inside of buildings.
And there's a lot of anger and resentment. And that's really grown over the last several days, as people have experienced, you know, more deaths, seen other people wounded as well. More than 100 people have been killed here so far, more than 700 wounded thus far, and those numbers continue to grow with each day, Wolf.
BLITZER: Here in Israel you have a debate. There's a pretty healthy debate going on. Most of the Israelis -- at least the ones I've spoken to -- they seem to support the Israeli government, but there's a vocal minority that's been quite critical. You read some of the articles in the Israeli press.
Do you get any criticism at all of Hamas? Do you get a sense over there that people, some people are saying Hamas shouldn't be launching these missiles and rockets into Israel?
COOPER: You don't -- I don't think you hear such a vocal debate as you do in Israel. Privately some people will express opinions and opinions to you, but it's not something you hear people vocally expressing. It's obviously a very different political situation here on the ground, obviously, in Gaza City and throughout Gaza.
But, you know, as you know, the West Bank area is controlled by different group of Palestinians, Fatah, and obviously there's been a difference of opinion between those two groups. But there is a lot of support. I mean, for Hamas, Hamas who was elected here by the people here. And especially under fire, there's been a lot of support.
And real questions remain about, if there is a cease fire, moving forward, whether Hamas has actually improved its situation politically over the other Palestinian group, Fatah. We'll certainly have to wait and see how that plays out in the days ahead.
BLITZER: Yes. I suppose if there is a cease fire, that will dramatically increase Hamas's stature among Palestinians and other Arabs, I would venture to say. I have no doubt about that.
All right, Anderson. Thanks very much. And any moment it seems the conflict between the Israelis and Hamas could tip one way or another toward a cease-fire or a major ground war.
BLITZER: Joining us now, Mark Regev, the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Mark, thanks very much for coming in.
MARK REGEV, SPOKESMAN FOR BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: My pleasure, sir.
BLITZER: How close are you to a cease-fire?
REGEV: I don't know. I hope close, but I can't say that for certain. If it's possible to solve this through diplomatic means, we're happy to, but we're also prepared, if need be, to upscale, upgrade the military option.
BLITZER: What does that mean?
REGEV: That means if we need to. To protect our people who are on the receiving end of these rockets from Gaza, we're -- if need be, we are willing to send ground forces into Gaza.
BLITZER: There's a lot of reports now that the Israeli cabinet, even as we speak, right now is meeting, the prime minister has convened this international security cabinet to consider a proposed cease-fire that has come from Egypt. Is that true?
REGEV: I can only say the following. They'll be looking both at the military operation and one of the options there. And hearing about the diplomacy. One way or the other, we want to achieve our goal, and that is peace and quiet for the civilian population of southern Israel, who have been on the receiving end of those rockets from Gaza for much too long.
BLITZER: Is there a cease-fire proposal on the table?
REGEV: Wolf, you have to understand, and I understand that it's, you know -- there's a conflict of interest between the spokesperson and the journalist. But if diplomacy is going to be successful, it has to be done with discretion and I can't go into the details of what's been discussed.
BLITZER: Has the prime minister spoken once again with President Obama?
REGEV: We have had two phone conversations between the president and the prime minister.
BLITZER: Today -- including today?
REGEV: No. There was one the day before.
BLITZER: We had been told that he called -- the president called Prime Minister Netanyahu from his visit to Asia.
REGEV: I know there are ongoing contacts with the United States. Americans are playing a very important part here in trying to get a cease-fire. We hope it's possible.
BLITZER: Is Egypt playing a positive role?
REGEV: Egypt has a role to play. If Egypt comes to the table here, I think they can be instrumental in helping to get an agreement.
BLITZER: Has Israel spent a special convoy to Cairo to meet with high-ranking Egyptian officials?
REGEV: Once again, I'm not going to go in to the details of the negotiations, into the details of the diplomacy. Only to say for us, the most important thing is the end result. That is, that the people of southern Israel can live normal lives without fear of an incoming rocket fired from Gaza. That can be done, as I said, either through diplomacy or through military action. I hope it's possible to do it through diplomacy.
BLITZER: On Friday, the deputy foreign minister of Israel, Danny Ayalon, told CNN -- and I'm reading what he said. He said, "I would say if we will see in the next 24, 26 hours more rockets launched at us, I think that will be a trigger."
It's been more than 48 hours since then. What's going on?
REGEV: We're showing restraint. We're giving diplomacy a chance, but it's clear we can't wait forever. Because the missiles are still raining down on our people.
I'll tell you what one of the fundamental challenges is. There's no doubt that Hamas would agree to an immediate cease-fire, but it wouldn't mean anything, because we'd have rockets on Israeli cities again next week or the week after.
We want to know, when this is over, that it's really over. That the people of southern Israel no longer have to live in constant fear of those missiles coming from Gaza. We want to come out of this with a sustained period of quiet for the people of southern Israel. We hope it's possible. We believe it's possible.
Once again, it will be achieved either through diplomacy or through military action. I hope diplomacy can work.
BLITZER: Yesterday you launched -- the Israeli air force -- an air strike against a building in Gaza that killed ten civilians including children. You were going after some sort of Hamas leader. Is that what the target was? What happened? Because obviously, a major blunder occurred.
REGEV: You're right. We don't want to hit innocent civilians. The civilian population of Gaza is not our enemy. Full stop.
BLITZER: What happened in this incident? REGEV: Our enemy is only the people who are shooting those rockets, trying to kill our people.
BLITZER: Ten civilians were killed.
REGEV: I understand. We're looking at exactly what happened there. Obviously, it was a foul-up. We don't know exactly how or what happened.
I can say the following and that's the difference between Israel and Hamas. When they shoot rockets into Israel and they kill an innocent civilian, to them that's an amazing victory. They celebrate it.
When we're conducting surgical operations against Hamas in Gaza, if an innocent civilian is caught up in the crossfire, for us it's a failure. And that's the entire difference between us and them. We're trying to do everything we can to minimize, to limit, to be as surgical as is humanly possible in a very complex combat situation. We don't want to harm innocent civilians. They, on the other hand, are doing everything they can shooting these rockets.
BLITZER: That was an intelligence failure.
REGEV: I don't know exactly what happened. But every time an innocent civilian or bystander is caught up in the crossfire between us and Hamas, it's something that we consider a failure. I have...
BLITZER: You know there have been a lot of innocent civilians who have died in Gaza.
REGEV: But we have to be clear. Hamas is deliberately endangering the civilian population of Gaza by using those civilians as human shields. CNN has reported. Other networks. They have been shooting their rockets out of the middle of built-up neighborhoods. They've been putting in munitions, their missiles, their stockpiles, their command and control in the middle of civilian neighborhoods, forcing us to fight there. This is a war crime. You know, it's illegal under international law to use civilians as a human shield, and Hamas does it. We nevertheless try to be as surgical as we can. But sometimes, it's very difficult.
BLITZER: Not once but twice you targeted a building that houses international media in Gaza. Why?
REGEV: We've had a situation, unfortunately, where Hamas has used buildings where media has -- is using for their own command and control.
We had a situation today where four terrorists from Islamic Jihad were hiding out in a building where there was international media. In those situations, we're very careful. We do everything we can to make sure journalists are not harmed. And we are surgical as is humanly possible. And I'm happy to say, as far as I know, no journalist was harmed.
BLITZER: In that building. But are you going to continue going after that specific target?
REGEV: We will go after Hamas and the other terrorists. We have to stop them from shooting rockets at our people. We'll always be as careful as we can to try to avoid harming bystanders.
BLITZER: You want to give us the last question? Forty-eight hours, 72 hours, what's the deadline?
REGEV: I hope that we can have a cease-fire and we can end this quietly. And the people of southern Israel no longer have to live in constant fear of an incoming rocket. If that can't be done through diplomatic means, we will do it through military means.
BLITZER: Mark Regev, thanks very much for joining us.
REGEV: My pleasure, sir.
BLITZER: Top officials of Hamas say they don't want a ground war, but the group's political leader is defiant following the recent stream of Israeli strikes. His side of the story, that's next.
BLITZER: We're live in Jerusalem, covering Israel's six-day air offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza. The political leader of Hamas is vowing to keep fighting, even if the Israeli military launches a ground invasion. He spoke to journalists in Cairo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KHALED MESHAAL, HAMAS POLITICAL LEADER (through translator): We don't want escalation nor do we call for a ground war. But we are not afraid of it, nor will we back down.
I am praying for every Palestinian child who is being killed in the land of Palestine. I am pained for the families who have lost their loved ones. For all the victims. For all those who have their homes destroyed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Also in Egypt, tensions are spilling over at the Rafah border crossing with Gaza. CNN's Reza Sayah is there.
REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are at the Rafah border crossing where Egypt's border meets Gaza.
Gaza is a very small piece of land. About twice the size of Washington, D.C. It has four gateways. Three of them are inside Israel. They're pretty much blocked off in an effort by Israel to choke off Gaza. This is the only one that leaves from Gaza into an Arab ally. That's Egypt. While the air assault continues in Gaza, while the violence increases, when's increased here is the anger by Egyptians who want Egypt and the government to step up and intervene.
RAMI SHAATH, PROTESTOR: The people have changed. We have changed and we are not going to take that for -- we're not going to wait for the government to move. We're going to take things in our hand, and we're going to lead the government into certain position that is required for Egypt.
SAYAH: There's roughly 500 protesters here. They've made a seven-hour journey from Cairo. Now they've lined up down the street. Each of them are showing their identifications to security forces and then heading into Gaza.
We've asked them, when do you think you'll come back? They say, "We don't know. We're just happy we're going in."
Are you scared?
DIANA EL LASSI, PALESTINIAN: Yes. I mean, absolutely I'm scared. And you hear bombs. You don't know what you're going in there for. But I think that's -- I think that's what we've got to do. You have to be scared and overcome that fear by just going in there.
SAYAH: As more demonstrators continue to file into Gaza, back in Cairo the Arab League, a group of 22 Arab states, has announced that on Tuesday they're going to send in more than two dozen Arab foreign ministers into Gaza. This is part of the Arab League's push to publicly stand with the Palestinians.
Also, in Cairo, Egypt spy chief in talks with Hamas officials and Israeli officials, trying to establish a cease-fire. This is the same spy chief that in 2011 helped secure the release of Israeli soldier, Bilal Shahib. Many say if there's going to be a cease-fire, Egypt's spy chief is going to play a key role.
Reza Sayah, CNN, at the Rafah border crossing.
BLITZER: A massive cyber attack on Israeli Web sites. We have details of possible ties to a notorious group of hackers.
BLITZER: Not only is Hamas targeting Israel right now, the country has also been hit by a massive cyber attack linked to a notorious group of hackers.
CNN's Lisa Sylvester is joining us now with more. Lisa, what can you tell us about these cyber attacks on Israel?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, people will talk about cyber warfare, but now we are getting a look at just what part of that looks like. Over the weekend, hackers targeted Israeli government and some private Web sites like the Bank of Jerusalem. It was a large-scale attack, and it had a familiar name that may be associated with it.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Israeli government, defense, finance, trade and tourism sites all among those targeted. Israel's finance minister acknowledging that it was facing cyber attacks on an unprecedented scale, with over 44 million attempts to attack and disrupt government Web sites. In some cases, access was denied. In other cases, hackers altered the home page, leaving their own message behind.
CNN has not independently confirmed who was behind these hacking attempts, but the group Anonymous posted a pro-Palestinian message on one of its Web sites. Quote, "When the government of Israel publicly threatened to sever all Internet and other telecommunications into and out of Gaza, they crossed a line in the sand. We are Anonymous, and no one shuts down the Internet on our watch."
Anonymous is not a stated political ally of Hamas but is using this as a form of civil disobedience, says one former hacker turned information security specialist.
KEVIN MITNICK, INFORMATION SECURITY: What they do is they use a form of hacktivism, meaning they hack into sites to send a message and create media attention to what they think is of inordinate interest.
SYLVESTER: But cyber security expert Hemili Nigam says these are more than just nuisance attacks.
HEMILI NIGAM, CYBER SECURITY EXPERT: Each attack is designed to figure out exactly what the landscape looks like. So from an anonymous hacker perspective, they're attacking millions of times a day, but every time they do, they actually learn something new about the network or the landscape that they're attacking.
SYLVESTER: Most of the sites were quickly restored, but some of them are still down, and the volume of the attempted disruptions is stunning. According to Israel's minister of finance, there were ten million attacks on the official Web site of President Shimon Peres, seven million attacks on the Web site of the ministry of foreign affairs, and three million attacks on the prime minister's official site, all in just the last few days.
This is a wake-up call for many countries that cyber war is a new front. Millions of attacks can be carried out by a handful of people with far-reaching consequences.
ROBERT DANIN, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: If you can get at the computer network that affects this, then you're really hitting the home front without having to put a person on the ground.
(END VIDEOTAPE) SYLVESTER: Anonymous also taken to social media, Twitter and posted a message on a Web site, saying it does not support the use of violence, but it is pursuing this as a human rights cause.
Meanwhile, Israel's chief information officer says it has deflected millions of these attacks and says right now, they are facing a war on three fronts: physical, social media and cyber -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.
CNN's intense focus on the Israeli-Gaza crisis continues right at the top of the hour. Erin Burnett is "OUTFRONT."
Erin, you have some major interviews coming up. Tell us more.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Wolf. We're going to continue here to talk about this crisis and what could happen next. We're going to be joined by the ambassador from Israel to the United States, Michael Orrin, going to talk about the Israeli side tonight, possible ground invasion.
Then we're going to be joined by the Palestinian ambassador to the United States to talk about that side. Both of those sides covered at the top of the hour, Wolf.
Plus we're going to be talking about Benghazi. We have new reporting tonight on exactly who altered the talking points given to Susan Rice. Talking points that obviously were very different than what CIA director and intelligence officials appeared to know at the time when she went out and told the public that it was a video to blame for a, quote unquote, "spontaneous attack."
All of that coming up at the top of the hour, Wolf. Back to you in Israel.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Erin. We'll see you in a few minutes.
Up next, we're giving you rare access inside Israel's missile defense system known as the Iron Dome.
BLITZER: Oil prices rose another $2 a barrel today to $89 a barrel. Food prices are up about 4 percent since fighting erupted between the Israelis and Hamas last week.
Five years ago in North Gaza, there was a major police overhaul, but investors are worried the offensive could spill over into other parts of the Middle East.
Israeli defense officials say nearly 1,000 rockets have been aimed at Israel over the past six days. About a third of them were intercepted by their Iron Dome defense systems. CNN's Fred Pleitgen shows us all how the system works. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
FRED PLEITKEN, 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 at 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. Dr. Israel Ozmovich is one of those in charge. One key element is an advanced radar.
DR. ISRAEL OZMOVICH, ISRAEL AIRCRAFT INDUSTRIES: The radar searches, locates, tracks and intercepts and guides intercepting missiles within several seconds, few seconds, within the launching time.
PLEITKEN: 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 onto them.
OZMOVICH: The target is moving extremely fast. When you want to intercept it, you have to work -- you have to faster, with more agility, with more maneuvering power relative to your target.
PLEITKEN: 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 Ashkelon.
(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.
(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 are usually down. Usually these rockets are the ones that are sent from the terrorist factions to much bigger 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. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BLITZER: And as Fred points out, a lot of that Iron Dome technology was developed thanks to U.S. taxpayer money. The U.S. helped the Israelis build that entire Iron Dome system.
Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Just tweet me, @WolfBlitzer.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. We'll be back here tomorrow. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.