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THE SITUATION ROOM

Israel-Hamas Fighting Rages for Seventh Day; Israeli Missiles Pound Gaza; Israeli Soldier Killed in Rocket Attack; Israel, Hamas Step Up Military Firepower; Plot to Kill Americans Overseas

Aired November 20, 2012 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, fresh fighting between Israel and Hamas amid mixed messages about a possible halt to the violence.

Lessons for Iran -- what Israel's sworn enemy may be learning from this conflict.

And four California men facing terror charges for an alleged plot to attack U.S. troops.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's day seven of the late -- the latest deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas. We're live here in Jerusalem. We're standing by for any word of diplomatic progress.

There has been talk throughout the day of a cooling off period, but they have not yet materialized, let alone a formal cease-fire.

Israel responded to fresh rocket attacks from Gaza with missile strikes that killed at least five people, including a child, according to Gaza health officials. The Israeli Army dropped leaflets warning residents in some areas to leave immediately for Gaza City, even indicating which routes they should take to stay safe.

Earlier today, I visited the Israeli town of Beersheba, which was hit by almost a dozen Hamas rockets. The family who lives in this home told me they made it to their safe room with only about 30 seconds to spare. And the Israeli Defense Forces says one of its soldiers was killed by a Hamas rocket earlier today. A total of five Israelis have now been killed in this week of fighting.

Throughout the day, wailing sirens have sent people in Israel running for shelter, including CNN's Fred Pleitgen.

Take a look at what happened when he was reporting live earlier in the day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR:-- Fred, what have you got?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne -- OK, I don't want any.

Suzanne, we just got an air alarm right now. It's going off right now. We're going to get into a safer place.

MALVEAUX: Please.

PLEITGEN: It literally just went off as we got on the air.

Come on. Get this thing unplugged. Let's get -- let's get inside.

MALVEAUX: OK.

PLEITGEN: Come on, let's go.

MALVEAUX: Please be safe. We're going to...

PLEITGEN: OK, Suzanne, so this is the...

MALVEAUX: OK.

PLEITGEN: -- air alarm going off. I just want to -- we're going to move to a safer area. Are you still with me -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: I am, Fred.

Please do move to a safe area. If you have to disconnect, please do.

PLEITGEN: Yes, we're moving inside now.

MALVEAUX: (INAUDIBLE).

PLEITGEN: Now, come on, guys. Let's go.

(CROSSTALK)

PLEITGEN: Come on.

All right, we're almost inside. Let's go. So we're moving to a safer place, basically just inside this house.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: It can be pretty scary, as I can personally testify, when those sirens start going off. You don't know what's coming your way.

Fred Pleitgen is joining us now live from the Israeli town of Ashkelon. That's not far from the Gaza border, only a few -- a few kilometers north of Gaza -- Fred, there's been intense rocket fire in Southern Israel, Ashkelon, Beersheba, Ashdod, elsewhere in Southern Israel, throughout the day.

Give us your sense, what's the latest?

PLEITGEN: Hi, Wolf.

Well, in the past couple of hours, it's gotten a little more quiet. But it was really that time, if you remember, earlier today. We were thinking that there was going to be an announcement that was going to be made by Hamas or possibly by the Egyptian government that there was going to be a cease-fire. And it was really in the hour before we thought that announcement was going to be made that all of a sudden, all hell broke loose out of Gaza.

I was standing at a hill at some point, overlooking Gaza. And you could just see rockets flying out of that place at an enormous pace, going toward Ashkelon, going toward Beersheba, going toward the town of Sterot (ph).

Now, of course, a lot of those rockets were picked off by that Iron Dome missile interceptor system in midair. And later, of course, I was in Ashkelon where that strike that you just saw also happened. And we saw rockets fly over our heads that were aimed at the town of Ashdod. And we saw at least five rockets that were picked off there.

And, of course, one of the things that also happened is that a rocket landed really close to the town -- the main town, of course -- of Tel Aviv, injuring several people there when it hit a house, Wolf.

So there was a big phase with a big barrage of rockets. It's a little more quiet now. However, we have no sense that this is in any way over -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. That was the second time a rocket got close to Tel Aviv. One got close to Jerusalem today, as well, the second time that's -- that's happened.

How are the folks, the Israelis that you're dealing with, that you're seeing and speaking to, average civilians, how are they dealing with all of this?

PLEITGEN: Well, that's a very good question. And, you know, of course, the big thing on people's minds here is that possible truce or cease-fire or let up in violence, as some people are calling it. And many people here -- I was quite surprised to hear, especially in towns like Ashkelon -- are not happy with that at all. They say they feel that the objective of this military campaign has not been reached yet, as long as rockets are still flying out of Gaza.

Have a listen to what some people that we asked had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were supposed to have finished the job there. They didn't -- they didn't even start the job there. As we talk right now, we have missiles flying above our head every five, 10 seconds. You see it in 10 minutes. And they should continue and finish the job, as they promised us. And, unfortunately for Mr. Netanyahu, if he won't finish the job there, then there is an election coming -- coming soon and he will pay the price in the -- at the election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think the other side doesn't want a cease-fire. It's a bluff. They only want war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe this, you know.

Where is guarantee what you make will be quiet?

One hundred percent, we'll be quiet.

Who are -- who is to give the guarantee?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: Now, Wolf, those are some very strong words for Israel's government and also Israel's defense forces. And the people there are saying that they simply don't want to continue in this way anymore. They say they feel that if there is a truce or cease-fire, then two months, three months, maybe two or three years down the line, you'll probably see a similar military campaign as the one right now.

And, of course, especially ton -- in towns like Ashkelon. They take rocket fire all the time. Even in the best of days, you have rockets hitting here, maybe one or two every week, maybe one every two weeks.

However, the people here live in constant fear. And they say they simply don't want that to continue. They want the problem solved once and for all -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, they certainly do. That's what I heard when I was in Beersheba earlier in the day and walked through that house that basically had been destroyed yesterday, when I was where you are in Ashkelon.

Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much.

Gaza also taking a deadly pounding throughout the day today, despite all the talk of a cease-fire.

Anderson Cooper is in Gaza City for us -- Anderson, you got a firsthand look at the damage from an explosion. Share with our viewers what you saw.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Wolf. For all the talk of a cooling down period, if -- if anything, things remain very hot here and continue to -- to heat up.

We've heard a number of explosions where -- even within the last hour, one just about a minute or so ago while you were talking to Fred in Ashkelon.

There was a large explosion, actually, near our office a couple of hours ago. And we actually ran out to the scene of it. It was -- it was about a block-and-a-half from where we are. Smoke filled the entire area and we could feel the smell of -- of -- of scorched metal, a very acrid smell filled the air. We got there around the time the first ambulances were arriving. We couldn't see any sign of bodies or -- or of fatalities or even wounded. One person was taken into an ambulance who was still walking.

But it was a vill -- a villa said to be owned by a -- a banker who also had been a minister, who was no longer there. Locals said they weren't sure who was using the house now, whether there was someone from Hamas using the house or what. But that house was basically completely destroyed.

And the blast actually occurred while our Ben Wedeman was on the air talking.

Take a look at what -- what our viewers saw when Ben was talking.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, I think it's pretty clear that we are moving in the direction of...

(GUNFIRE)

WEDEMAN: I can hear shattering glass out there right now. The building just shook. Of course, because I was looking at the camera, I didn't see where the blast took place. Anybody see it?

OK. To the north of this building here. So despite talk of cease- fire, Hala, it appears that the guns are still firing.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COOPER: Ben Wedeman joining me now.

All of us in the office basically ducked to the floor. I don't know how you remained standing. You basically didn't even flinch. Clearly, you've been in this region a lot longer than -- than I have.

But -- but for all that talk of a cooling off period, we really -- I mean nothing has materialized.

WEDEMAN: Nothing. In fact, if anything, it's intensified this evening, I think, going both ways.

What we're hearing is, in fact, at this point, there's not going to be any possibility of an announcement of a cease-fire until tomorrow at the earliest. So -- and one Hamas official is saying that -- sort of backtracking on what they said before, that the Israelis have not accepted their proposal for a cease-fire or a period of calm.

COOPER: And we were -- we were listening to people in Ashkelon. It was voicing a lot of skepticism about what even a cease-fire would mean.

I mean, unless there is some sort of long-term solution here, this could very easily happen again. WEDEMAN: Of course. And it has. This is the second time. And, really, the -- the solutions are stark. It's either a political solution with Hamas or a military solution whereby Israel comes into the Gaza Strip, which could result in massive casualties.

COOPER: And we did see the -- Israel coming back in 2008 and 2009.

I mean, is there really, finally, a military solution to this?

Because no matter what, it seems like Hamas maintains power and is able to get in more rockets as soon as Israel leaves.

WEDEMAN: Well, back in 2008 and 2009, it was fairly limited in terms of the areas they entered. And they had a much smaller call up back then.

This time, it's 75,000 reservists. So if a cease-fire is not reached, it appears that Israel is preparing for a much larger operation.

COOPER: Even if there is a cease-fire or a cooling off period that Hamas agrees to, there are other groups in this region.

Does Hamas have control over all of the groups, Islamic Jihad and others, who are operating here?

WEDEMAN: No, not -- there are groups here that consider Hamas to be too moderate. Islamic Jihadi...

(GUNFIRE)

COOPER: I saw it from that direction.

WEDEMAN: Yes, Islamic Jihad is -- is definitely one of those groups, the major group challenging Hamas here. But then there are other groups, even al Qaeda-affiliated groups, that consider Hamas to simply be too moderate.

COOPER: And, Wolf is with us in Jerusalem -- so, Wolf, a lot here remains on the ground unsaid, unclear at this hour. And -- and I mean there's a lot of skepticism here.

I mean how -- how much do you think people here are -- are siding with Hamas?

I mean are -- are they on Hamas' side?

Is -- how popular is Hamas?

WEDEMAN: They have a backing. I mean the -- Hamas is a very sophisticated organization in terms of its grassroots sort of social services and whatnot. But beyond those who immediately benefit from it, it doesn't have a lot of support. Many people here grumble that Hamas is making a lot of money off the tunnel business, Hamas is only serving its own people and it's doing things that result in this bombardment, a complete disruption of normal life.

So there's a lot of dissatisfaction among ordinary people here.

COOPER: How are they making money off the tunnel business?

WEDEMAN: Oh, well, they get a -- it's basically tax. They tax every -- sort of everything. Everything that comes in, there's a tax -- cement, food, fuel, cars, computers. And so they have a cut in everything. And that's how they manage to survive.

COOPER: Ben Wedeman, that's the scene right now in -- in Gaza -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did I just hear behind you, Anderson, another explosion, or was that my imagination?

COOPER: No, that was definitely another explosion. It was pretty far off in the distance. I didn't actually see an impact blast.

But, yes, that was another explosion. It was incoming.

BLITZER: I wonder, Anderson, because you showed our viewers, earlier in the day, some very dramatic video. Maybe you and Ben can explain what happened. And I want to warn our viewers, the video is very disturbing. The Hamas leaders, they -- they found some Palestinians they accused of being collaborators with Israel.

What happened -- Anderson?

COOPER: Yes. We -- we basically heard a loud ruckus out in the street, looked out of our window and saw a number of motor -- guys on motorcycles, about six or seven or eight guys on motorcycles dragging the body of a man through the streets. His feet were tied to the back of one of the motorcycles. He was clearly dead. His hands were over his head. And you can see the video. It's very disturbing.

This has happened before, Ben, not only just in the last several days, when there was another killing, but it's happened in prior conflicts, as well.

WEDEMAN: Oh, yes. During the second intifada, it happened many times, where collaborators were killed. Now my understanding regarding these collaborators is that they have been condemned already to death. They were released by Hamas because they basically opened all the prisons when this began, because they couldn't hold them, because the prisons were police stations and government facilities were being hit.

And, therefore, basically, their excuse is they are carrying out the sentence that's already been passed against these men.

COOPER: The other day, though, there was also an execution of somebody on the street who apparently had not -- gone through some sort of judicial process. It was just basically street justice.

WEDEMAN: Yes. And that's going to happen in a situation like this. There's -- everybody here will tell you that there are collaborators for Israel wherever you go, somebody is sending information constantly. So Hamas is a very paranoid organization.

COOPER: There is a lot of paranoia, and especially when you see a -- I mean like in the hit on the media center yesterday, you know, three rockets hitting the second floor of the building. It was targeted very specifically. They clearly had information about who was in the building at the time, because they did say successfully and the Palestinian officials -- sources here say that an Islamic Jihad official was killed in that blast. So somebody has eyes on the ground.

WEDEMAN: Yes. They are getting some very good intelligence.

COOPER: Yes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, Ben, guys, thanks very much.

We'll be checking back with both of you.

We're watching what's happening in Gaza. We're watching what's happening here in Israel.

Meanwhile, swirling speculation about a deal to stop the fighting at least temporarily. We're going to get the latest from the spokeswoman for the Israeli defense forces. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: An 18-year-old Israeli soldier was among the latest Israeli casualties today as the fighting between Israel and Hamas raged on for a seventh straight day. For the latest on what's going on, we're joined now by Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich. She's the spokeswoman for the Israel defense forces. Lieutenant Colonel, thanks very much for coming in once again. Tell us about this 18-year-old Israeli soldier. How was he killed?

LT. COL. AVITAL LEIBOVICH, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES SPOKESWOMAN: Well, actually when we damage severely the long-range rocket capabilities and the medium range, they moved to mortars and short-range rockets and this is what happened probably happened today with the soldier.

BLITZER: Where was the soldier when he was shot or hit?

LEIBOVICH: On the outskirts of Gaza --

BLITZER: Like five kilometers near Gaza?

LEIBOVICH: Near Gaza.

BLITZER: So, you think this was just a shelling of something --

LEIBOVICH: This was a very heavy barrage like we've seen the whole day. The entire country, a large portion of the country, was barraged especially the city of Beersheba over 100 people were injured this way or another.

BLITZER: Just today? LEIBOVICH: Just today. And another civilian was killed in addition.

BLITZER: So far in the past week now five Israelis have been killed and how many have been injured?

LEIBOVICH: Hundreds.

BLITZER: Another Israel civilian was killed today as well going from three to five. So, what are you doing about it? What's going on? Because there's a lot of talk of a ceasefire, but I was in Beersheba today and I didn't see any ceasefire. Anderson Cooper is in Gaza with Ben Wedeman, Arwa Damon, they don't see any ceasefire. You see a cesefire?

LEIBOVICH: Well, we're currently operating still in the Gaza Strip. We are going ahead to the plans. We still have many more targets since there are many launchers that are launching those rockets towards us, so we're still operating.

BLITZER: Through air power or naval power.

LEIBOVICH: Air power and naval power combined. We also use a little bit of artillery today. So, we're trying all of these methods in order to target these launchers. Some of them are underground. So, pretty difficult to find them. It's not just a launcher in the back of a van or something of that sort.

And many of them are hidden between civilian areas. And this makes our lives, of course, a lot more difficult since we want to avoid civilian casualties.

BLITZER: So, you're using artillery that's in Israel, but you're shelling areas, targeted areas, inside Gaza. It's the first time you've been using artillery for that purpose?

LEIBOVICH: I would say it's not the first time this operation. We actually dropped leaflets earlier today asking those people living in the areas of the shelling to clear those areas. And we are working with these areas in order to try and quiet down the rocket fire.

BLITZER: But those leaflets that you dropped, how did you drop those leaflets? By air power?

LEIBOVICH: Yes.

BLITZER: And what were you instructing Palestinians and Gaza to do?

LEIBOVICH: So, this is something that the Israeli military does, and I'm not sure many other militaries in the world do as well. We actually advise them and we told them in which areas we will be operating and advise them to stay away. And interestingly enough, the Hamas radio called them to just ignore our message and stay at home.

BLITZER: And did you go ahead and shell those areas that you warned in advance you would be sheeling?

LEIBOVICH: After some time, we allowed them to clear the area and only then we shelled.

BLITZER: You have all the preparations now in place potentially for a ground invasion of Gaza?

LEIBOVICH: Nothing has changed that course.

BLITZER: Is everything ready on that front in terms of the thousands of troops, the tanks, the armored personnel carriers, the artillery that would go in, is that all in place?

LEIBOVICH: All in place. All is ready. People are trained. Waiting just for decision.

BLITZER: You really don't want that option to take place?

LEIBOVICH: We want a rocket-free country. This is what we want.

BLITZER: And is that going to happen?

LEIBOVICH: We're working on it, so it will happen.

BLITZER: The secretary of state of the United States is meeting, as we speak right now, with the Israeli Prime Minister. So far, there's been no announcement from Cairo, from Hamas, from Israel, from the U.S., no announcement of a ceasefire, although, there have been some hints that maybe the parties are close.

LEIBOVICH: Well, so far, the operation is still going like you said. There is no decision. Will it work or not, it's too early to predict. We are doing whatever we can in our power in order to influence (ph) the number of rockets. We believe we did damage really the -- especially the Fajr-5, the Iranian mate (ph) --

BLITZER: One or two of them may have landed outside of Tel Aviv and outside of Jerusalem today. Were those Fajr-5 missiles that landed outside of Tel Aviv and outside of Jerusalem?

LEIBOVICH: Yes. There were Fajr-5 --

BLITZER: Iranian-made?

LEIBOVICH: Iranian-made. And, the only reason you only see one or two every couple of days is because the arsenal was really damaged.

BLITZER: How many more do you think they have?

LEIBOVICH: We don't think that they have a lot more.

BLITZER: What does that mean a lot more than they have?

LEIBOVICH: I would say very small quantities. The ground rockets, which are the one to 40 kilometers, that's only one million Israelis under that danger. They have more of those.

BLITZER: How many do they have?

LEIBOVICH: Even thousands.

BLITZER: Thousands?

LEIBOVICH: When you have 400 smuggling tunnels on a very narrow 14.5- kilometer long area and you have to pay Hamas to use those tunnels, then everything goes in those tunnels starting from rockets, explosives, people, you name it.

BLITZER: You know, there's talk of -- we heard the secretary of state use the word calm before some sort of formal agreement. How do you monitor from a military perspective a calm, if you will, in Gaza? Do you have drones that fly over? Because everyone hears those drones flying over. Are those drones just taking surveillance video? What are they doing?

LEIBOVICH: The drones are used for intelligence. We have the best air power working now in Gaza as we speak. But calm is, you know, you can feel it in the country. You said you were in Beersheba, it was not calm. An hour ago, a house with seven storeys was bombarded. It was bombarded in the city of (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: That's near Tel Aviv.

LEIBOVICH: That's 20 minutes away from Tel Aviv.

BLITZER: That was at Fajr-5 missile?

LEIBOVICH: That was Fajr-5. And luckily, the family stayed safe. You would see the house. You would not believe it's the family survived this.

BLITZER: So, they were lucky to stay alive. They didn't go into a safe room? They didn't have a shelter?

LEIBOVICH: They were not in the apartment at the time.

BLITZER: So they were lucky on that front.

LEIBOVICH: Yes.

BLITZER: All right. Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, thanks very much for coming in once again. Appreciate it.

It's one of the most densely populated places in the world and for the residents of Gaza, there certainly is no escape from the fighting as we just heard. We're going to have life in a war zone. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Inside Gaza City, a desperate battle to stay alive for Palestinians caught in the war zone with no easy way to escape. Here's CNN's senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is one of the few markets open in Gaza. Most do their shopping in the morning, not so much for the fresher produce but because it's safer. Mansoud Alaridi (ph), one of the grocers here says that when the strikes began, prices immediately skyrocketed. People were expecting a repeat of Israel's 2008-2009 invasion.

"People were buying out of fear. It lasted for two days," Alaridi tells us. And then the market stabilized and prices went back down. Gazans only too accustom to war have mastered the art of adjusting their daily lives. Atsisan Hadin (ph) lives in an area close to the Israeli border. "There are no cars around," she tells us, saying that residents were warned not to leave their homes. So, she hitched a ride with an ambulance to come here and shop for her eleven children.

(on-camera) On the one hand, Gaza feels like just about any other area at war. The streets are largely deserted, the shops mostly closed. One would assume that the residents here had fled for safer ground. Only they haven't. The 1.5 million plus people who call this home are simply hiding indoors. The vast majority of them are literally not allowed to leave.

(voice-over) They can't cross into Israel, and getting into Egypt requires a hard to obtain permit. Once darkness falls, the streets are even more eerily silent, but overhead drones buzz incessantly.

(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON: In an almost surreal contrast, a nursery rhyme and 10-year-old Abib (ph) leads the children in a game they invented. As in many other homes, the power is out. And there was no diesel at the pump for fuel for the generator. Normally, seven members of the Ashi (ph) family live here. Now, their numbers have swelled to over 30.

Abib tells us the roof of her house is a sheet of metal, not concrete.

"We were afraid it would collapse on us," she says.

And even here there is no guarantee of safety. Sadika, the family matriarch, tells us one of the explosions was so close the building trembled.

"I grabbed all of the kids that was sleeping in my bed. I grabbed them all like this and hold them close," she says.

Seven-year-old Roaha (ph) started wetting her bed.

"We're in a prison. A big prison," Sadika sighs.

It's all she knows. All she wants for the sake of the children is something better.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Gaza City.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Heartbreaking stories on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border. The escalating battle of the Middle East may be sending signs of caution to Iran. Just ahead, what that country may be learning from the military firepower now being used on both sides. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting right now with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They're meeting at the prime minister's office here in Jerusalem. We're standing by to see what they say following that meeting.

Going in, they both made statements. Neither suggested that there was a ceasefire, some sort of deal. They're working on that, obviously, with Hamas to try to end the fighting that's been going on now for a week.

At the top of the meeting, though, when they made their statements, Prime Minister Netanyahu went out of his way to thank the United States for helping Israel develop its anti-missile defense shield known as Iron Dome. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I want to thank President Obama, you and the American government, and people for their strong support for Israel in this hour of need.

I want to also thank you especially for your support of Iron Dome. It's been saving lives. And we are in a battle to save lives.

One of the things that we're doing is trying to resist and counter a terrorist barrage which is aimed directly at our civilians. And doing so by minimizing civilian casualties whereas the terrorist enemies of Israel are doing everything in their power to maximize the number of civilian casualties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Once again they're still meeting inside the prime minister's office. We'll see what they say.

The secretary of state, by the way, tomorrow will be going to the West Bank, to Ramallah, to meet with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and then she's going to Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

Here's one thing we should be looking for. Let's see if she then returns to Jerusalem to meet once again with the Israelis, engage in a little bit of what they used to call shuttle diplomacy. We're watching that part of the story very closely. There have been some intriguing hints that the secretary of state may have to do that to help broker some sort of deal. We'll see how close they get.

Meanwhile, both Israel and Hamas have been showing off their respective military firepower over the past week in this escalating violence. And the sophisticated battle they're fighting could be sending some critical messages to Iran.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us right now in Washington. She's at the Pentagon.

What's going on in this part of the story, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the question on the table is now as Iran looks at all this firepower over Gaza, is Iran recalculating any things it might have against Israel?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Israel's Iron Dome missiles have intercepted about 85 percent of Hamas rockets fired at Israeli civilians. It's a military success, but still short of all-out victory.

DANIEL GOURE, LAXINGTON INSTITUTE: The terrorist may be the big winner insofar as it doesn't take more than one or two of these things to land in a major urban center to cause political response, to cause panic, and to maybe, at that point, have forced Israel's hand into a ground operation.

STARR: Hamas is already banking on Iron Dome's potential weak spots.

STEVEN ZALOGA, TEAL GROUP: Iron Dome does have a certain limit to the number of missiles it can engage.

STARR: Hamas can now fire a dozen rockets at a time. CNN's Ben Wedeman has seen growing Hamas sophistication.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some of them, the Fajr-5, is more than one stage. It's a long rocket. It has to be disassembled and brought in. And this has increased the range of the rockets fired by Hamas and the other resistance organizations as far as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

STARR: Hamas is also burying rockets in underground pits covered by rock and sand. Then using automated remote controls to fire. Israeli pilots have to hunt them down one by one.

One country, which is likely watching how Israel handles this conflict very carefully is Iran, which is wary of Israel's striking at its nuclear program. Iran has missiles that might be able to hit Israel, but Iran may be seeing cautionary signs as it looks for ways to retaliate if Israel were to launch a strike.

GOURE: Israel may be able to tolerate whatever retaliation Hamas or Hezbollah might do in the event of an attack on Iran. So Iran may feel a little more vulnerable today than it did a week or two ago.

STARR: Israel has multiple defenses now. Iron Dome batteries can strike rockets launched 45 miles away. Its longer-range arrow missiles can detect targets 300 miles away. It's designed to go squarely after a ballistic missile attack from Iran.

A new weapon called David's Sling falls right between. Able to hit missiles and rockets fired from 40 to 150 miles away like a threat coming out of Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: But Iran has still one more advantage. Right now it is able to continue smuggling rockets and missiles into Gaza through the Sinai. And as long as that continues, Wolf, a lot of experts say Iran still can very much influence events -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know they're watching what's going on in Gaza very, very closely and a lot of other folks are as well.

Good report, Barbara. Thanks very much.

The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she's here in Jerusalem right now. She's meeting with the prime minister of Israel. They're at the prime minister's office.

What can she do specifically, Hillary Clinton, to stop the violence? Can she close a deal in the coming hours, maybe days?

We're going to talk about that. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You're looking at a live picture of Jerusalem right now where our own Wolf Blitzer has been reporting all day, all week, in fact. And we'll be getting back to him momentarily right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In the meantime Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also in Jerusalem hoping to help bring an end to the violence. But can she close the deal?

Joining us in our "Strategy Session" two CNN contributors the Democratic strategist James Carville, his wife, Republican strategist, Mary Matalin.

And now you all have seen this kind of thing play out before. And presidents generally don't send their top people into a situation like this unless they think they're going to get something positive out of it.

Do you think this is sort of a sign just the secretary being there that it's pretty close to resolution? Or do you think she still has to close the deal? Mary?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, we haven't seen anything like this before because the Mideast is unraveling at a dangerous pace with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. You noticed in their press conference they both mentioned Egypt, the secretary of state's going to Egypt and Tunisia and Libya and elsewhere.

So it's a completely different foreign policy terrain. But what -- what we have seen is the inability of any administration through decades and decades be able to get peace when one side is declared that only the elimination, the complete elimination of Israel is the only thing that will bring peace. I'm admiring she's going to Syria, a serious problem for the United States. But I don't think sending her means they have a deal.

JOHNS: James.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes. I don't know. I -- you know, but I think there will be some kind of a ceasefire. But I feel that this is a political thing more than it is a military thing. And I think what they're trying to do is rally people around that region to their side here. I mean they're obviously not going to win a fight with Israel.

There's no way that's going to happen. I think that the fact that they have this Iron Dome gives people at least a sense of security for the time being. I think it's worked pretty well. And I -- you know, they might get a deal, but it's going to be a bit of a band-aid or something like that but you take what you can in an interim thing.

JOHNS: This might be Secretary Clinton's last foreign trip but it probably won't be her last political rodeo if you know what I mean.

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The question being, does she need another feather in her cap now considering the fact that she might -- she might go onto other things or --

MATALIN: I think --

JOHNS: Rest on --

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MATALIN: I think her cap is well feathered for whatever she wants to do next. And I don't -- this is an impossible situation.

CARVILLE: Right.

MATALIN: And I don't -- I think it's wonderful that she's there. But we shouldn't have any expectation that she could do what George Mitchell and so many statesmen before her couldn't do. But he's the Hillary expert.

CARVILLE: Yes, well, I remember that her husband tried the darnedest at the end of his term to get an agreement, but that didn't happen. Yes, the prerequisite for running for president is you solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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MATALIN: Yes. Then I'd vote for her.

CARVILLE: Well, you know, like 5,000 years of presidential candidates.

JOHNS: Well, there's been a lot of talk about Bill Clinton becoming a Middle East envoy to try to resolve this thing, too. CARVILLE: Well, yes, I think that maybe if you wanted some longer talks it would make sense to have an envoy. But I think right now -- and by the way, I think his wife as secretary of state, I think she thinks she's perfectly capable of doing this, thank you. And I'm sure that she is to the extent it can be done.

JOHNS: The funny thing is, there's already talk about who's going to replace Hillary Clinton whenever she leaves office. And the name has come up of Susan Rice, who is the ambassador to the United Nations. Though there's a lot of opposition now on the Hill particularly among Republicans.

I showed you all that letter that came out just a little while ago, 97 Republican House members sending a letter to the president voicing their opposition to the nomination of Susan Rice if she's nominated. And I want to read you a little bit of that.

"Ambassador Rice is widely viewed as having either willfully or incompetently misled the American public in the Benghazi matter. Her actions plausibly give U.S. allies and rivals abroad reason to question U.S. commitment and credibility when needed."

Do you think it's appropriate for House members to weigh in on this especially -- since it's the Senate that has the advice and consent role?

MATALIN: This is not about Susan Rice. This is not a personality business thing. They're trying to get some answers. That letter was sent before they got the answer. Apparently it was Clapper that omitted from her talking points and sent her out on TV. Anybody who would want to know why she went on television, did a full Ginsburg at all the Sunday shows with fraudulent information should be her. She should want to know either -- And I think there is an incompetence level having been inside there that she didn't even question this? This should have -- she has not been -- this is not her first rodeo either.

CARVILLE: Well, look, this woman is a Rhodes scholar. Moves on to secretary of state. Is the ambassador to the United Nations. And certainly the House Republicans are elected people, they're entitled to say what they want. But then she's going to testify. So if people have these objections, that's the great thing about our system. I'm sure CNN will be there with the cameras when she testifies to give her answers.

JOHNS: That's a fact. Democratic Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina was asked about that letter earlier on CNN. He sort of took a shot. He suggested they were using code words. He didn't like the use of the word incompetent. He said there were racial implications to all of this.

What do you think? I see you drop your head, Mary. Is this a bridge too far for you?

MATALIN: Is there anything that liberals don't see as race, class or gender? Is there anything, anything? The party that's supposed to be color blind? No, there's not -- I don't know what the code words are, but we just make up code words as we go to be able to call conservatives and Republicans racist. I think it's despicable. The campaign is over. Can we knock it off already?

CARVILLE: Yes, again, I don't know what certainly the objection to her is not qualification or education. So there must be some other objection. And that objection is that she said what she was told in the talking points. And she's a very articulate, very well -- you know, intelligent woman. And she can answer these questions herself and I'm sure she'll be delighted to do it.

JOHNS: James Carville, Mary Matalin, thank you so much. If I don't see you again, Happy Thanksgiving.

MATALIN: Happy Thanksgiving.

JOHNS: Appreciate you coming in.

CARVILLE: Thank you, thank you.

JOHNS: All right.

CARVILLE: Thank you.

JOHNS: Now we're going to go back to Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem.

What's happening out there, Wolf?

BLITZER: Lots happening right now. We're still waiting for the end of this meeting between the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. At issue, whether or not there will be some sort of ceasefire or pause in the battle between the Israelis and the Palestinians in Gaza.

Meanwhile, one family's close encounter with death in southern Israel. Ahead in our next hour, what I saw only moments after their home was hit by a rocket.

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BLITZER: An alleged plot to kill Americans and bomb government facilities, busted wide open by the FBI. And now four young men from Southern California are facing terror charges.

CNN's Kyung Lah is joining us from Los Angeles right now with details.

Kyung, what do we know about this alleged terror plot?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the FBI just wrapped up a news conference here in Los Angeles at the federal building. And we did learn more about this group, men from different ethnic groups, and they all were part of what the FBI is saying as a very serious homegrown terrorist network, with a singular plan, to kill Americans overseas and they hatched that plan right here in Southern California.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LAH (voice-over): An event so unusual at this normally quiet home, that neighbor Jen Collins snapped pictures from her front window. She was so alarmed, she didn't fully open the blinds, but could see federal agents descending on the home of Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales, her neighbor, now charged in a terrorist conspiracy.

JEN COLLINS, RESIDENT: It's kind of like shocking, like, well, they say for my son to go outside, like, it kills me.

LAH: According to the criminal complaint, the apparent ringleader is 34-year-old Sohiel Omar Kabir, born in Afghanistan but a naturalized U.S. citizen and former resident of Pomona, California. The complaint, quote, "One of the defendants," referring to Kabir as, "a Mujahedeen walking around the streets of L.A." and that he came out here to recruit brothers.

The complaint says the four Southern California men shared violent and extremist material on Facebook, including video messages from Anwar al-Awlaki, the now deceased leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and they liked various other links and postings.

The complaint alleges the men, once in Afghanistan, planned to target American military bases. One telling a federal informant that he hoped to load up a truck with C-4 explosives and, "just drive it into, like, the baddest military base. I'm going to take out a whole base."

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LAH: And something we just learned, that Kabir was also in the U.S. Air Force. We did reach out to the U.S. Air Force, confirming that he was in the military for a year and a half. He was discharged honorably at the end of 2001.

Wolf, he is now in custody in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Very disturbing story, indeed. Kyung Lah reporting from Los Angeles. Thank you.

We're also following a series of blasts in Gaza that have occurred. Anderson Cooper is on the scene for us. We'll go to him for the very latest.

Plus we'll get the latest on the meeting that's still ongoing right now between secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. They're meeting right here in Jerusalem.

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