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CONNECT THE WORLD

Interview with Narco Cultura Director Shaul Schwarz; Centrist Left Party Yesh Atid Wins Surprising Second Position In Israeli Elections

Aired January 22, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Victory in his sights. Tonight on Connect the World, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks set to return to office as exit polls puts his coalition in the lead.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN London, this is Connect the World with Becky Anderson.

ANDERSON: Well, the big shock this hour is how well a secular, centrist party has done. What Yesh Atid's influence on Israel's future might be is our discussion for this evening.

Also ahead...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wasn't afraid when the rebels shot at us, but when we heard them yell Allah Akbar, god is great, all of us were scared."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: A former Syrian soldier escapes from what the rebels are calling the final battle in the north. We're going to bring you our exclusive report.

And...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take a life, save a life. And that's what we sort of revolve around, I suppose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Flippant remark or a soldier bravado? What you have to say on Prince Harry's stint in Afghanistan.

All right. First up tonight, a breaking story this hour. It appears that Benjamin Netanyahu will keep his job as the Israeli prime minister despite a strong showing by a surprise contender. Exit polls were released right after voting ended in Israel's general election. That was about an hour ago. According to Channel 2, Mr. Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Beiteinu ticket won 51 seats in parliament while the secular center left Yes Atid Party came in a surprise second with 19.

Now the centrist Labor Party took 17 seats and the religious far-right Jewish Home Party came in fourth with 12.

120 seats up for grabs. All told, it looks like right-wing parties won 61 seats, mostly left-wing parties 59. What that means for Israel, and quite frankly the rest of us, is what we are covering tonight.

Sara Sidner is at the Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv. Atika Shubert is following reaction from Jerusalem. And our guest Aaron David Miller, former U.S. government adviser will look at what it all means for U.S.- Israel relations and Middle East peace.

Sara, let's start with you. And a triumph if not unexpected night for Benjamin Netanyahu. The question, though, will be whether he'll reach out in order to form a coalition, a broad coalition.

First things first, what's the mood at his headquarters?

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's one that's celebratory as you might imagine. As soon as those exit poll results came out, everybody went wild that was here to support the Likud, because they saw that indeed Likud Beiteinu, the party that has been put together between Netanyahu and the former foreign minister Lieberman, had actually gained the most possible seats in the Knesset.

However, the number 31 one is an interesting number, because the polls had been indicating that they would get far more seats. And Lieberman himself had said we will get 40 seats. That did not happen tonight. So when we interviewed just a few moments ago Danny Danon, who was also going to be a member of the Knesset from the Likud party, he said we will try to have the widest government possible.

That indicates that they may try to go after some of the parties on the left. Yesh Atid has not absolutely said that he would not join Netanyahu's party. He has very specific things that he has asked for. And he is indeed the surprise of the night with 19 seats in the Knesset. Everyone had expected from the polls just leading up to the election that Labor party would be the second largest party. That did not happen. A very interesting twist here.

But he is a center left party who is really concentrated on issues inside of the country. So what you saw voters do is to say, look, we still trust Netanyahu to be the prime minister perhaps, but we want him to pay attention to other issues other than security, Becky.

ANDERSON: Yeah, this is fascinating stuff. And it's just developing as we speak. Sara, on a post on his Facebook page, Benjamin Netanyahu wrote, and I quote, "from exit poll results it is clear that Israelis want me to continue to serve as prime minister of Israel and to form a very wide government," as Sara underlined. "The results observed are a great opportunity for many changes for the benefit of all citizens of Israel."

But what does that mean? Let's get to Atika Shubert who is in Jerusalem for some analysis here.

We just heard what Netanyahu published on his Facebook site. Correct me if I'm wrong, but he doesn't need both Jewish Home, which is a very right wing party, and Yesh Atid who are these sort of secular centrists if he's looking for what he says is the broadest possible coalition. If the secular centrists were his pick, that would surely change the dynamics of policy, certainly within Israel if not without.

ATIKA SHUBERG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it certainly would. And for many Likud members, they must be looking at Yesh Atid as a perfect coalition partner because really they supply their strong where Likud was weak. One of the biggest criticisms of Likud was that they weren't dealing with the economy. They weren't addressing domestic issues.

But Yesh Atid hit all of those domestic issues. They wanted affordable housing. They wanted to improve education. And their big, hot button issue was ending the exemption to mandatory military service by the ultra orthodox. Really, the face of secular, modern, Israel. And their strong showing shows they have that political clout now to really bargain for a good position, if they choose to, in a governing coalition.

And this is what voters told me today at polling stations, those are their big concerns -- domestic issues.

Now Netanyahu, of course, his strongest platform is security, the issue of Iran, for example, and he's been under a lot of pressure because an analyst has said that he might go too far to the right. Well, now this is his opportunity to reach out and bring the center back into a coalition if he can pull it off.

ANDERSON: All right, let's have a look and see what that center might look like, then. Don't go away Atika.

Yair Lapid is the chair of Yesh Atid, which means There is a Future. The center left party is focused on the economy and halting the military draft exemptions for ultra-orthodox Jews, as Atika said. Well, Yair Lapid hasn't ruled out joining a coalition with Netanyahu. He hasn't confirmed his party would either.

Atika, you said that you'd spoken to people out in the streets today after they'd voted, can we hear from some of them. What were they saying to you?

SHUBERT: Well, basically what they were saying is there is a huge array of issues, but one of the biggest ones that came home was really the economy, people feeling like the price of housing was too much, that they were paying too much for utilities. They are worried about corruption. These were all very domestic issues.

And another thing that we kept hearing over and over was disillusionment with the peace process, feeling like there was nothing they could do to impact the peace process to try and resolve the ongoing conflict. And so they turn away from those security issues to focus on domestic issues instead, that's what a lot of people were telling us on the streets today.

ANDERSON: Yeah, that's absolutely fascinating.

All right, Atika, thank you for that.

The shape of Israel's new ruling coalition could significantly impact the peace process, even perhaps if that's not what people voted for, as it were, and the chances for a future Palestinian state of course are at stake.

Today, British foreign secretary William Hague spoke to many around the world when he voiced these concerns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM HAGUE, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Changing the facts on the ground, principally settlement construction on occupied land means a two state solution is slipping away. The chances of bringing about, however, are not yet at an end, but it's very urgent -- and I don't want to speculate, of course, about the outcome of an election taking place at the moment in Israel, but I hope that whatever Israeli government emerges from that will recognize that we are approaching the last chance to bring about such a solution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: All right, let's pause for breath at this point, shall we? Hague calling on the United States to launch, a quote, major new initiative to revive the peace process. He says it should be the absolute highest priority of the Obama administration's foreign policy.

But is this a realistic expectation? I want to bring in a man who can answer that question. Aaron David Miller is a former adviser to six U.S. secretaries of state on Middle East peace process. He's no vice president for new initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

Before we get a sense of where you think Obama goes next and whether he indeed will engage with Israel, perhaps more so than he's done in the past, I just want to get a sense from you as to where you see these politics tonight playing out domestically, because this is a lot tighter and a lot more interesting than many people have though. The sort of tectonic plates may be, just may be shifting in Israel if, indeed, Netanyahu goes for what he calls the broadest possible coalition and includes Yesh Atid in his administration?

AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CTR: Yeah, I mean, look, you know, Israeli politics is Byzantine since the foundation of the state. You've had 30 plus governments. Each government, the average length of each government was 1.8 years. So there's a lot of negotiating to be done here. And it may be weeks before we actually know what the character and complexion of the new coalition is.

But, let's be clear, this is a rejection of the right. There's no question about that. It is not quite a victory with respect to the left, but it is a victory with respect to those centrists. And I think Lapid and company, I think it does show a fundamental dissatisfaction on that part of large numbers of Israelis with both the traditional wings of their politics. It also shows an emphasis on a new set of priorities.

Iran, the peace process, yes, maybe, but in reality social inequality, housing, income inequality, these things are extremely important.

ANDERSON: And that's what's going to be interesting, then, going forward, because my next question to you is simply this, you know, as William Hague suggested today there are many people around the world who would expect and hope that Obama may make in his second term the Middle East peace process and engaging with Israel the highest possible priority, but if those that Atika spoke to on the street reflect the Israelis themselves today, many of those -- and many of them were young -- have said quite frankly, that ain't what we're looking at, that's not the issue. These are domestic issues.

So how do you see this playing out on the international stage?

MILLER: Well, it's fascinating, because -- especially for most Israelis as they think, I believe, on the Arab-Israeli peace process, Israeli-Palestinian issue, on one hand the situation is too good, that is to say there's a lack of urgency and a sense of complacency. I mean, it's welcome -- who wants suicide terror attacks inside of Israel proper. But the fact is the Palestinian house is divided, Hamas has for its own reasons decided not to continue, at least at suicide attacks. The economy is improving against the backdrop of a global recession. Even though there's a tough austerity package to be negotiated.

At the same time, the regional situation looks really bad. You've got an Egyptian president, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood. You have Hamas in Gaza and Abbas in Ramallah. So I think there's a sense of distraction here.

The reality is, you need a strong, legitimate, an authoritative Israeli government to make the kinds of decisions on Jerusalem, refugees, security and borders. And you need a Palestinian partner that is coherent and has a monopoly over the forces of violence. In short, it controls all the guns. And you don't have that.

This election, however, I think, is going to temper those who expected Netanyahu to return and Barack Obama and Bibi Netanyahu to get into round two of the Obama-Bibi wars. I don't think that's going to happen at all. The fact is if he goes with Lapid and he reaches out to the center, you're going to end up with an American and Israeli rapprochement to a certain degree, because if the president wants to manage Iran, and if he wants to preserve the option of a two-state solution he has no other choice, frankly, than to work through this particular government. And if in fact it does include a centrist party, it will constrain, it seems to me, some of the more extremist tendencies and acts on the ground that would follow a government simply of the right.

So I think by and large this is, assuming the coalition negotiations come out the right way, not the best possible outcome, but one I think that will be much better than the alternative which would have been a very robust right-wing victory.

ANDERSON: Fascinating. The truthful tale. We'll watch this space. It may take weeks, as our guest suggested, to finally get the line in the sand, so far as this coalition is concerned, but it will be an interesting solution when it comes to all of our correspondents and our expert this evening. We thank you very much indeed for joining us.

You're watching Connect the World live from London. Still to come, gunfire at a Texas college. We're going to hear from one of the students who heard the shots ring out.

What this freed hostage caught up in a siege of a gas plant in Algeria had to say about his ordeal.

And can drug trafficking ever be glamorous? Well, the director of Narco Cultura joins me live from the Sundance Festival later on in the show.

All that and plenty more when Connect the World continues. This is CNN. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Welcome back.

Now two students at a Texas community college are being treated for gunshot wounds this hour. Officials say they got caught in the crossfire when two people started shooting at each other at Lone Star College in Houston.

One suspect is in custody, the other has fled. This is an ongoing story. As we speak, police are still searching for that second suspect and have evacuated the campus.

More than 10,000 students were at the North Harris Campus at the time of the shooting, including Amanda Vasquez. She tells CNN she was in English class when she heard the shots.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANDA VASQUEZ, LONE STAR COLLEGE STUDENT: I heard about six shots. And kids started rushing down the hallway. And a few even came into our class. And it really happened so fast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What were people shouting?

VASQUEZ: They were just shouting. I couldn't hear anything. For me, I was just trying to get under a table, get into a back corner of the room, and immediately I just wanted to find some sort of shelter inside the room. And so we closed the door and we turned off the lights. And there was a lady in the room who was training to be an EMT and she put a table by the door.

And I called my mom just because I needed her to know that I was OK. And that, you know, that I loved her just in case anything was going to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: College issues. The ongoing situation. We'll keep you bang up to date on what's going on there in Texas here on CNN.

A look at some of the other stories that are making news overall this hour. And for the first time in over 22 months of conflict, Syria's staunchest ally Russia is flying home some of its citizens. Now Moscow has sent two planes to Beirut where Lebanese officials expect them to pick up more than 100 Russian nationals fleeing the violence in Syria. Here's a reminder of exactly what thousands of people are trying to flee if they can.

This video is said to show a missile hitting the Syrian city of Sitaraya (ph). Later on we're going to have an exclusive report from Syria's front lines.

And as shelling continues day in, day out, we're going to breakdown who holds what as far as ground is concerned in Syria.

The recent rebel gains and the key location still in regime hands.

Well, five hostages are still missing from last week's terrorist siege in Algeria that left at least 37 dead. You're looking at footage of one of the freed captives Joseph Balmaceda. He's one of four Philippine oil workers who made it out alive from the besieged natural gas facility. Now that plant was raided by jihadists, you'll remember, then Algeria's special forces went in after them.

The former hostage describes his ordeal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BALMACEDA, FREED HOSTAGE (through translator): I don't know how many there were, because I bent over. I don't know how many of us Filipinos were taken. My head was down. When the car exploded I couldn't see anything in front, all I saw was what was behind us. My aim then, since I was alive, was to fight until the end. This was it. I would escape even if they would shoot at me. Even from afar I could see the government forces. I was told to lie on the floor, to roll over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Well, a drug conviction attracted a death sentence for a British woman in Indonesia today, but in Mexico dealers are being glorified. We speak to the filmmaker who has investigated the influence of so-called drug ballads. That story still to come.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: A dance with the first lady, that is how U.S. President Barack Obama celebrated his inauguration last night.

Well, the party is over now. And it's back to work for a second term. Among the issues the Obama administration will face over the next four years, the burgeoning drugs war. Well, a documentary that's just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival provides a stark portrait of this scourge. Most shockingly, it shows how the culture is being glorified through music.

Well, the film is called Narco Cultura. I'm joined now by director Shaul Schwarz who is live for us from the festival in Utah.

Just how influential are these -- what are known as Narco Corido (ph) singers?

SHAUL SCHWARZ, DIRECTOR, NARCO CULTURA: Well, I think they are very influential not as a person maybe themselves, but if you look at the song you just saw there were 17 million hits on YouTube for that song alone. So I think they affect vastly how youth view this ongoing crisis. And, you know, they take a toll.

ANDERSON: Shaul, is it clear they promote violence?

SCHWARZ: Well, I think for the band your seeing is an American band. And I think for them today ironically it's a way to connect to what's happening down south. These kids are looking at the blogs. They're looking at the news. And they're writing these folk lore songs that made them feel part of this.

ANDERSON: We just in a short clip of the film. You spent four years making this. Did you, yourself, face any threats?

SCHWARZ: Unfortunately I did. I mean, it's not an easy topic. The film actually also goes to Juarez to follow a CSI worker there while the other side (inaudible) and following working in Juarez daily on the crime scenes was extremely challenging. As many journalists who have been there know, it's not a place you can openly ask any question. It's not a place where you could just go and investigate. So it needed a lot of time. And, you know, we would face threats and usually have to kind of step back and wait and keep coming back to get the material we need slowly and surely.

ANDERSON: Sadly for anybody who watches this film, the upshot will be that your conceit, or your contention at least are things only going to get worse. That's -- that's a really depressing situation. Do you see a solution?

SCHWARZ: You know, I don't think there's a one, two, three easy solution here. I think we do have to, though, look at what we're failing at and address it. You know, we can't continue to not care. The reason why there is this glorification is it is because the youth see the bad guys winning. And they think they are the new heroes, because when you have in Juarez where I did most of the filming of the movie, 97 percent of 10,000 murders have not been investigated. When you allow that kind of thing, when you leave kids with very little opportunities but to join cartels in order to become these Robin Hood figures and this cycle is going to keep happening.

And we have to come back and say as hopeless as this is, how do we start curbing this. There's no 100 percent solution, but...

ANDERSON: Let me just stop you there, because I'm going to have to take a very short break after this. There is a new president of -- an old, new president. Obama has got a second term at this point. And that second term has officially started now. How high a priority should this war on drugs be?

SCHWARZ: I think it should be a very high priority, but I think it's not only the priority, I think it's actually what you do. Do you start curbing the gun control issue that all the Americans guns are used to kill people down in Mexico. Do you start realizing that just throwing money at closing the border is going to curb immigration, but not slow down the traffickers and not stop the violence.

So we have to readdress not only how high and how much money we throw to this, but what we actually do to curb the situation.

ANDERSON: We thank you very much indeed for joining us from the Sundance Film Festival on a story that very, very few journalists are even prepared to cover these days. That is a brave man flushing out what is an incredibly scary story.

The latest world news headlines are ahead on CNN. I'm Becky Anderson for you.

Plus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have to get rid of it to get rid of its evil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: In this CNN exclusive, Ivan Watson joins rebels as they strive to bring part of Syria safely under their control.

Plus, guess who is causing a stir again. How the third in line to the British throne is whipping up the Taliban.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: These are the headlines this hour. You're watching CNN.

Israel's prime minister says it's clear that voters want him to form as broad a government as possible. According to exit polls from today's election, Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing ticket won the most seats in parliament, but center-left party did better than expected.

More on a developing story out of Texas this hour. Three people, at least two of them students, have been wounded, both suspects now in custody after a campus shooting at a Houston college. Officials say the students were wounded by crossfire.

Russian planes have landed in Beirut, Lebanon, to pick up Russian nationals who want to leave Syria. These pictures show buses transporting the Russians from Syria. A Russian official is quoted as saying today that he fears a protracted conflict in the country.

The United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution condemning North Korea for its recent rocket test. You'll remember, last month, North Korean television declared that its rocket has successfully put a satellite into orbit. Whether or not that was actually the case, the rocket did pass close to the territory of Japan and South Korea.

Let's get you back to our top story this hour, results in Israel's election, which are just becoming -- beginning to come in. This story this hour is not so much that Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to remain prime minister, because that seems certain, but rather the strong second-place showing from a new party, Yesh Atid.

Joining me now is Adi Koll, who's a member of Yesh Atid, joining me from Tel Aviv. Firstly, congratulations on what is a really surprise showing. What do you put it down to tonight?

ADI KOLL, YESH ATID PARTY MEMBER: Oh, this is excellent. Thank you. We are so excited, this is probably the best moment in my life. I can hardly hear you, though, because everyone is screaming around me, but it's a wonderful experience here.

ANDERSON: OK. Well listen, I'm going to talk very slowly for you, because this is important. You have said in the past that you would be prepared as a party to consider coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu. Can you confirm tonight that that is your party's intention?

KOLL: Oh, we've been talking since we started this campaign about the fact that we are not going to say who we're going to sit with, we're just going to say what our conditions are going to be. We talked about values, and values mean that the majority of people in Israel, the middle sector, is claiming its rights again.

And we want to talk about equal service in the Israeli army, we want to talk about the prices of living, we want to talk about education. And this is the topic that are interesting us most, and we're going to go with whoever agrees to complete them. So, this is actually -- this election will be the first time that we are going to make a difference.

ANDERSON: All right, OK. Our viewers who are watching around the world might be surprised to hear that the party that came second in the Israeli elections tonight may sort of provide king-making opportunity for this coalition.

Seems less concerned about Iran and, for example, the Middle East peace process than they are about domestic issues. Just how much intention do you have to pursue, for example, a two-state solution?

KOLL: First of all, people around the world don't really know that when I wake up in the morning and I go to work, the first thing I worry about is housing and education and domestic issues and not about Iran or the Palestinian issue.

But we said from the first moment that we have to return to the table and to negotiation and we have to continue talking, because the last four years have been terrible to Israel since we stopped our negotiation and stopped advancing the peace process.

And one of the conditions to continue this -- to be part of the government is to continue talking with the Palestinians, trying to reach a two-state solution.

ANDERSON: So, you're confirming tonight that if you were in a coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu going forward, that you see a two-state solution as the only solution to Middle East peace?

KOLL: Well, I think -- yes, I think we should strive towards a two- state solution, but I think first of all, we need to return to the table and we need to start talking and to reach some sort of an agreement, because the condition now that both sides stay in their own corners and not speak to each other, that will never big peace.

So I think we -- the first thing we need to do is return to the table and continue talking, and I hope we can do it as fast as possible, because domestic issues bother us the most, and bother most of the Israeli public, as you can see because of this change in the election.

But we all know that in order to bring peace and even prosperity to the region, we have to talk to our neighbors.

ANDERSON: Again just briefly, do you expect that you will be in coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu going forward?

KOLL: Oh, actually, I think it's too early to talk about. This is -- it's a great night for us, we've been working very hard for this for more than a year of really hard surface work. And we're going to wake up tomorrow and start negotiation with other parties.

But I think tonight is time to celebrate and to actually show the world that what's going on in Israel is not just the dispute with our neighbors. It's more deep than that. We had demonstrations in Israel two summers ago, and I think this is the time for the public to say we care more about domestic issues and we want to bring change to Israel.

ANDERSON: Sounds sensible. We wish you the best. Congratulations on what has been a surprise polling for you guys tonight. Thank you very much, indeed.

There's been 22 long months since the Syrian conflict began. The United Nations estimates more than 60,000 people have lost their lives during that time, not to mention the thousands of people who've fled to neighboring countries.

But rebel fighters sense they may be within sight of a major breakthrough at this point in the north of the country, at least. Let's kick off this part of the show with CNN's Ivan Watson, who has this exclusive report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here in the north, rebels call it "the final battle." It is a modern-day siege --

(GUNSHOT)

WATSON: -- of what rebels say is the last government-controlled position in northern Syria.

(GUNFIRE)

WATSON: For more than a month, lightly-armed rebels have hurled themselves against this heavily-fortified helicopter base, located barely 15 minutes' drive from the border with Turkey.

Though Mannagh Air Base is surrounded on all sides, several hundred loyalist troops, backed by dozens of tanks, continue to hold out.

WATSON (on camera): It's from here in the olive groves that the rebels are laying siege to this air base. They're currently targeting it with mortars fired from the distance in helping site with this telescope right here.

And we can hear the defenders inside firing outgoing rounds, and we can actually see three of the helicopters parked there on the tarmac.

WATSON (voice-over): A commander named Abu Jailan (ph) tries to call in sniper fire against targets in the base.

ABU JAILAN, REBEL COMMANDER (through translator): Hey guys, snipers. The soldiers are moving from the clubhouse to the west. They are running.

WATSON: Video shot by rebels give us a tiny glimpse of what life looks like in a military base located deep in enemy territory. This soldier escaped from the base and defected four days ago and now hides his face for safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I wasn't afraid when the rebels shot at us, but when we heard them yell "Allahu Akbar," "God is Great," all of us were scared.

(GUNFIRE)

(CROWD SHOUTING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!

WATSON: But the rebels have also suffered losses. Several senior commanders have been wounded, leaving this man, a surprisingly shy defected army pilot in his 20s, in charge of one of the main rebel brigades. He shows us one of the giant cannons his men have captured from the Syrian army, a weapon he soon plans to use against his enemy.

WATSON (on camera): Why is this airbase so important to you?

WATSON (voice-over): "Because it's the regime's last position, " he says. "We have to get rid of it to get rid of it's evil.

Less than a year ago, Syrian rebels were being hunted in their homes. Now, they lob shells --

(EXPLOSION)

WATSON: -- and wait, eager for the day they can claim to be undisputed rulers of the north.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Mannagh, Syria.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: Well, joining me now from New York is Michael Weiss, columnist for "NOW Lebanon." He was in Aleppo last August and has covered Syria and its military capabilities extensively. Michael, is it fair to say we're in the last stage of battle for control, at least of the north of Syria?

MICHAEL WEISS, COLUMNIST, "NOW LEBANON": I would say it's probably the beginning of the end for the north. But to be very clear, by no means are we in the last stages of battle for all of Syria.

What's important to understand is there are about eight airbases between Idlib and Aleppo province combined. And Mannagh is sort of the last one that the rebels have yet to sack.

But if they do sack it, what this effectively means is that the Free Syrian Army, in conjunction, I'm sorry to say, with some really nasty, hardcore, Salifi-jihadi fighters, have managed to carve out a safe area in the north of Syria extending for almost 100 kilometers from the Turkish border, and have also managed to neutralize a lot of the Syrian regime's air defense system.

You'll recall about a year ago when there was this massive debate in the west about military intervention in Syria, one of the US government's primary concerns was that Assad has a very powerful, robust anti-aircraft system, air defenses that are backed by Iran and Russia and so forth.

Well, what the rebels are effectively doing is what NATO might have otherwise done in the north: they're taking out utility helicopters, which are parked on the tarmacs of these airbases, they're confiscated material, which they then use against the regime.

Another important point to emphasize here is what happens typically when a Syrian regime airbase or any kind of military installation is taken over by the rebels. The regime then bombards its own infrastructure, because it's so terrified of having its own material taking by the opposition, it's willing to destroy its own installations

ANDERSON: Right --

WEISS: So, I think -- yes, the north is very quickly falling into opposition hands.

ANDERSON: Let's take a look at the map again, and I want you just to talk our viewers through what we see, then, to the south, where we have a number of --

WEISS: Sure.

ANDERSON: -- contested areas, not least Damascus, Homs, and these two --

WEISS: Yes.

ANDERSON: -- strategic ports to the west coast. Just walk me through the strategy for both sides here.

WEISS: OK, well, I think what the rebels thought they were going to do -- they kind of overplayed their hand, in all honesty. The siege of Aleppo in the north took place last summer between about July and August. I was there in August when it was sort of in the early stages.

They had hoped that this would be a relatively quick victory. I think they were banking more on Western and Turkish and Gulf Arab support than they ended up getting. And the idea was then to press southward.

Now, several weeks ago, I think about maybe eight or nine weeks, there was a massive push into Damascus, and their hope was that they could effectively encircle the regime, this in conjunction with the ongoing siege of Aleppo, and basically force Bashar al-Assad's forces down to a very loyalist hard core, a kind of rump state within Syria, rendering him, effectively, no more than, say, the governor of Damascus itself.

Unfortunately for the rebels, the regime has proved to be quite adept at countering their offensive, particularly in Damascus. The rebels are most successful in what's called Reef Dimashq, which is the Damascus suburbs.

So, there's a very powerful campaign being mounted on both sides in Darayya,which is a suburb that had been horribly bombarded several months ago. And yet, though, the regime has yet to retake this suburb.

So, effectively, Assad's forces are being fought on multiple different fronts, but you're quite right to say that the corridor that leads from Damascus to the northwest, particularly the coastal areas, this is crucial. Crucial for the regime, but also crucial for the opposition.

One of the little-covered aspects of the opposition's offensive right now is ongoing in Latakia. Now, Latakia is the northwest province, from which the Alawites mainly came, but particularly also the Assad family.

Now, one of the most prominent theories among analysts is that if Damascus were to fall, would Assad try to take --

ANDERSON: Sure.

WEISS: -- some kind of rump contingent of his loyalist forces and repair to those northwestern mountains and basically make that a redoubt --

ANDERSON: All right.

WEISS: -- or his last stand in Syria.

ANDERSON: Yes, that remains unclear at the moment. But the story, at least as our expert this evening understands it, there for you in Syria. Michael, always a pleasure, thank you.

Live from London, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD, I'm Becky Anderson. Coming up, she was only meant to stay in India for six weeks but ended up living there for over two decades. The British-born artist who is rocking India's contemporary art world. That and -- well, we've got a lot more coming up after this short break. Do stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: When you've reached the top of your game, there is one big question that many people ask: what happens next? Well, in this week's installment of our Leading Women series, drive and determination doesn't stop, it seems, when you have made it big.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON (voice-over): In more than 30 years at Sabanci Holding, Guler Sabanci has risen from a management trainee at the tire division to chairwoman and managing director of the entire group of roughly 56,000 employees.

Since she assumed the post in 2004, she's often been on the global power lists, recognized for her leadership of the Turkish industrial and financial conglomerate. She's also well-known for giving back.

GULER SABANCI, CHAIRWOMAN AND MANAGING DIRECTORY, SABANCI HOLDING: Life is meaningless if only -- if you are only making money. It is important, it is essential, but it is not enough.

ANDERSON (on camera): You do so much philanthropy, you spend so much of your time -- some 50 percent, I think you've told me -- on your charity work and your foundation work, the university. How important is that to you?

SABANCI: I feel it is -- not something special, it is something that it is supposed to be. My grandfather started it. My grandmother donated all her wealth to our foundation, and my uncles continued.

This is calligraphy letters, it's a contemporary art.

ANDERSON (voice-over): That legacy is visible at this museum. It was once a family home, and today is open to the public.

SABANCI: We have the books here, so the rare books you can only display two pages.

ANDERSON (on camera): Right.

SABANCI: But whereas if you focus on that, you'll see the whole book.

ANDERSON: That's fantastic.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Her causes go beyond the cultural. She's a big supporter of Girls Not Brides, which fights against child marriages. In 2011, she won a Clinton Global Citizen award for her efforts and was also recognized last year.

SABANCI: And President Clinton and his team are doing an incredible job on really motivating us.

ANDERSON: And there's also her push for a more level playing field for women in the workplace, she says, through business practices at her company and support of community efforts.

SABANCI: Not every women has what I have. So, if I could do something to help them, that should be also my duty.

ANDERSON (on camera): What do you hope that you're going to leave with this?

SABANCI: What I believe strongly is that I took the flag from my uncle and my cousins and others will take the flag from me. And so that it continues. Sustainability, as I said, is in every term is very important. It's crucial. And that is our duty for going forward.

FELICIA TAYLOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): I'm Felicia Taylor. For artist Bharti Kher, a new creation can begin on paper and continue to evolve in various forms, even after it comes to life.

BHARTI KHER, ARTIST: This was one of the first works I made with the really large bindi works, and when I look at it now, it seems like -- kind of very different. I was using only ready-made colors, and now I make my own colors.

TAYLOR: Bindis are the forehead decorations worn by South Asian women. Kher makes her own version and uses them in much of her work, seen here at her studio in Delhi.

KHER: Find our own fabrics, we use our own glue, we've made our own dyes and stuff like that, the shapes and -- I keep it simple. I use the snake, the circle, and the arrow. The arrow being, of course, your journey, the snake being the beginning, the start, the sperm, and then the spot. The spot is the universe.

TAYLOR: She also uses everyday objects and materials in her pieces.

KHER: This is nice. This is like a -- this is like somebody's hair. It's like a ponytail.

TAYLOR: Her art can also be considered avant-garde, like this piece featured at a London exhibit.

KHER: This piece is Warrior with Cloak and Shield. The title sort of suggests that yes, she's going to fight or she's going to do something, but of course, with these huge antlers and her shield is just really a shirt that she perhaps would use to cover up.

Art really does answer those fundamental questions, or it seeks to ask -- to answer those questions of who are we, why are we here and what are we doing on this planet?

TAYLOR: Kher's success means creating, exhibiting, and speaking about her work globally.

KHER: When I finish a piece, it's really -- it's like, if this was me and I saw this in a gallery, would I stop in front of this work for longer than five minutes, or even 20 seconds?

TAYLOR: And after more than 20 years as an artist and great success, she's not ready to stop creating and promoting the arts at home.

KHER: I think there's a lot of really interesting works here and a lot of really good artists in India. I just hope within our lifetime that people realize that culture is really an important part of society, because it defines us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Well, from the battlefields of Afghanistan to a war of words, Britain's Prince Harry, third in line to the throne, of course, has landed in the middle of what is starting to look like a PR battle.

Captain Wales, as he's known to his comrades in Helmand province, is coming in for some harsh words. A Taliban commander calls the 28-year-old royal a coward for his unguarded comments comparing the decade-old conflict with computer games.

Well, let's bring in our royal biographer Mark Saunders, who's with me here. Mark, I'm going to play just some sound from the interview, which was a pooled interview that we use here at CNN and which was conducted in Helmand just before Prince Harry left Afghanistan.

He says he enjoys flying an Apache helicopter and then sort of goes on to explain why. Have a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HRH PRINCE HARRY, UNITED KINGDOM: It's a joy for me because it reminds me a lot of playing Playstation and Xbox. So, with my thumbs, I like to think that I'm probably quite useful. You can ask the guys -- I thrash them at FIFA the whole time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa! There it is!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARK SAUNDERS, ROYAL BIOGRAPHER: As so many of the young men who fly these helicopters say, it is very much like a computer game. Harry always had a great love for computer games. I remember, he was always playing with his mother. And sadly enough, the day she died, she bought him the computer game, I think it was the Xbox, was it, in those days?

So, he's -- him and William have got a room at Kensington Palace when they were younger where all they did all day was play computer games. So, it -- this is what soldiering is about these days, I suppose.

ANDERSON: I guess some people are saying -- it's not a great analogy. But I guess it's an honest one.

SAUNDERS: Yes, that's the thing about Harry, the way he talks, he's not being advised, it's Harry speaking.

ANDERSON: All right. Some concerns over possible reprisals in Britain were sparked, Mark, by this candid moment. Have a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRINCE HARRY: Take a life to save a life, that's what we sort of revolve around, I suppose. If there's people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we'll take them out of the game, I suppose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Flippant or bravado?

SAUNDERS: I think both, really. My initial reaction was crass. Crass statement, big mistake, because I felt that he -- he probably is talking from the heart, but one thing about this theater of operation, they don't generally talk like this. They do talk about their own men being wasted or blown away, but they very rarely talk about the enemy in that way. So, that was a bit worrying.

But then I thought about it. We've had this with Harry, he always does, he speaks from the heart. He's -- as I've said earlier, he's not taking this from advisors, they're not telling him what to say.

ANDERSON: We spoke earlier on and you -- told me that you get this sense that he's -- that -- I mean, we know the army's important to him, that he's trying to sort of -- I think you put it -- shed the skin of the royal family while he's got this opportunity to be a soldier. But ultimately, you say, he is royal. He has to come back.

SAUNDERS: And he is a senior, he's a senior member of the royal family. But I think that Harry is probably going to do the full 22 years, so this is his career. So, he is a soldier first and a prince second.

ANDERSON: Mark, we've run out of time this evening, but we thank you very much, indeed, as ever.

I'm Becky Anderson, that was CONNECT THE WORLD out of London. Thank you for watching. It's a very good evening from me and the team.

END