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Ceasefire Between Israel and Hamas Ends; Reports Emerge that an Israeli Soldier Captured by Hamas

Aired August 1, 2014 - 07:00   ET


DR. GERSHON BASKIN, CEO AND FOUNDER, ISRAEL/PALESTINE CENTER FOR RESEARCH AND INFORMATION: It was a different situation and we're in the midst of a war right now when no one is going to tolerate, no one is going to call for Netanyahu to negotiate a prisoner exchange, certainly not with Hamas after the tunnels that we've seen, after the rockets that we've seen. Hamas is perceived as the ultimate threat to Israel's existence. We shouldn't be talking to them at all is what the people of Israel say, what the government of Israel says. So I think it's not a similar situation. I think that we've seen the end of prisoner exchanges like that.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": So you think -- you think the reaction here in Israel will be to strengthen the hard- liners in the Israeli cabinet like Avigdor Lieberman or Naftali Bennett, who say, you know what, just go ahead in there and finish the job. If you have to reoccupy Gaza, reoccupy Gaza, but crush Hamas. Don't even think about a ceasefire. What you're saying is if in fact they have an Israeli soldier, and we should hear probably sooner rather than later if they have proof of life.

BASKIN: They're not going to give proof of life. They are going to demand payment for proof of life. That's the way Hamas works.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

BASKIN: They won't show the soldier, they won't produce his voice. They won't produce a videotape. Their demands will be for Israel to stop the war, to release prisoners, for something. Initially with Gilad Shalit they wanted to release the videotape in exchange for 350 prisoners. In the end it was down to 50 prisoners, and in the end I managed to convince Hamas to give a handwritten letter from Gilad Shalit for free just as a way of opening negotiations.

But Hamas is also in a different situation today. This is what Hamas military fighters have been waiting for. This is their victory. This is their way to show the people that we can get the Israelis, we can surprise them. What I want to remind Hamas people is what I reminded them on Al Jazeera and on CNN when Gilad Shalit was freed. An exchange for Gilad Shalit, 1,000 prisoners but they paid with the lives of more than 3,000 people in Gaza, a destroyed Gaza economy, Gaza cut off from the world. There's a price to pay for abducting an Israeli soldier as well, and they are going to pay a very heavy price.

BLITZER: I suspect, as bad as it's been these first almost -- BASKIN: You ain't seen nothing yet.

BLITZER: I suspect it's going to get in the coming hours and days a whole lot worse knowing the mood here in Israel.

BASKIN: Definitely.

BLITZER: And knowing what the Israelis did after Gilad Shalit was captured. They announced publicly, they didn't say it was an errant missile. They said they blew up the power plant and wanted to make life miserable for a lot of Palestinians in Gaza in exchange for freeing Gilad Shalit.

BASKIN: If Netanyahu and the defense minister and the voices in the government calling for restrain and not going in, I would suspect that a cabinet meeting which is probably meeting right now, they are working out the operational plans for the full occupation of Gaza and for going after the Hamas leaders.

BLITZER: I want you to stay with us, Gershon. Thanks very much, Gershon Baskin. He was the intermediary and got that other Israeli soldier released, Gilad Shalit, in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinians. But Chris and Kate, you heard it from him, and I've got to tell you, based on everything I've heard myself, this is going to be a major game-changer right now. And as we say as bad as it was, and it's been awful over the first three and a half, almost four weeks, I suspect it's going to get a whole lot worse and it probably will in the coming hours. We'll see what happens. We'll see if cooler heads prevail, but knowing the mood here in Israel right now, I suspect that is not going to happen despite the diplomatic intervention of the secretary of state, the U.N. secretary-general, other world leaders, I'm really worried about the situation right now.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf, thank you very much. Obviously Wolf is talking about what may happen next. That is cause of what has happened already. We're following break news this morning. The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is over. The 72-hour ceasefire had gone into effect at 1:00 a.m. eastern was over within hours. Spokesmen for both sides were quick to blame the other for breaking the quiet. Israel claiming Hamas attacked troops, launched rockets, but Hamas denied those claims and maintained the group is committed to keeping the truce. However, the question became which part of Hamas may have done this. It doesn't seem that the military side is in contact with the political side.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: I think that's a big part of the story. And also this, and now Israel's military claims that one of their own soldiers has been abducted. As Wolf says, that could be a major game- changer here. A Hamas spokesman says he cannot confirm if the soldier was captured. So are the peace talks -- is this ceasefire that all of this, is there any hope of reviving any of it at this point? Let's discuss. Let's figure out where things are now, where things could go from here. Our panel is here with us. Peter Beinart, a CNN political commentator, and contributing editor for Atlantic Media, as well as a senior columnist for the Israel newspaper "Haaretz," as well as Bobby Ghosh, the managing editor "Quartz." Good morning to both of you. So it seems one of the questions just at the very ding of the show was, is the ceasefire over? That's an absolute certainty at this point. But is this event, what we're talking about right now, the capture of an Israeli soldier, Bobby, is this a game-changer?

BOBBY GHOSH, MANAGING EDITOR, "QUARTZ": Without question as we heard that from Wolf and Gershon. This is going to bring the wrath of Israel upon Gaza, and on a scale that we have not yet seen in the last week, and one shudders to think what that might be. If we go by what happened last time with Gilad Shalit then I think we're going to see a huge ratcheting up of Israeli attacks, perhaps even -- so far the Israeli tanks have stayed in the outskirts of the heavily populated area. Maybe they go in.

CUOMO: Peter, are we seeing a window into the complication right now, that we spoke to Hamas spokesman, he said, hey, we haven't fired any rockets. I don't know if anybody else has, but we're certainly still committed to this, and we didn't know about any defensive action being allowed. At the same time he was talking to us an Israeli soldier may have been captured by the military wing. Is that the disconnect that makes any type of progress towards peace almost impossible right now?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. It's not always clear who in Hamas is making the decisions and who is talking to who, especially in a kind of fog of war situation. During the ceasefire, remember, Israel was still working on those tunnels which Israel saw as a necessary defensive operation, but you can imagine a circumstance in which that could have led to conflict.

Again, it shows the difficulty in dealing with an organization like Hamas, especially because there is no direct ability to talk from the U.S. or Israel to Hamas so you're always involved in the game of telephone, and it produces these situations where there can be escalation which is very, very frightening. If Hamas escalated this during the ceasefire knowingly they made a terrible, terrible mistake which is going to hurt their people a tremendous amount.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We've all been talking about how this could change the situation drastically on the ground. One of the things we've been hearing the last few days is the U.N. with more pointed language towards Israel really than they have ever had before, condemning them almost outright for their action in Gaza. If there was this kidnapping, Bobby, during this ceasefire, what will that do to the international organization's reaction now? Will they perhaps back off and give Israel more space to take military action?

GHOSH: I think that that's possible. A great deal will depend on the immediate aftermath and what happens in the course of the next 24 hours. If hundreds of Palestinians are killed and if a lot of innocent children are killed as we've seen so often over the past three weeks, international pressure will remain, but certainly if there's particularly in Europe and in the U.S., whatever little pressure there was on Israel to back off will now sort of in itself back off a little. But I can't imagine, as long as there's an Israeli soldier alive in captivity within Gaza, that for one thing Israel is not really going to be listening very much or whatever the pressure is, and, yes, some pressure will come out.

BOLDUAN: It sound like this is a complete game-changer.

Guys, stick with me. I want to get back to Wolf Blitzer who is on the ground and has been on the ground for us in Israel. And Wolf has developing news about the situation. Wolf?

BLITZER: Another very alarming, disturbing statement coming out of the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces. Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner is speaking to reporters moments ago saying this. He said at 9:30 a.m. local time, that would be an hour and a half after the ceasefire was supposed to go into effect, IDF soldiers while working to decommission tunnels were attacked by terrorists who emerged from a tunnel.

Lerner goes on and says one terrorist was a suicide bomber who detonated himself after emerging from the tunnel. "One IDF soldier is missing, and we suspect he has been kidnapped by the terrorists. We have identified and notified the soldier's family," this according to Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.

He goes on, "We believe he's been taken back down the tunnel by the terrorists. Extensive operations are now taking place on ground and in the air as we speak. The abduction took place in southern Gaza near Rafah," that's that border crossing in southern Gaza. And then he adds this flat statement. This is the spokesman for the IDF. "The ceasefire is over." So no more maybe over, could be over, possibly be over. According to the Israel military the ceasefire is now over, a very strong statement, and clearly the Israelis believe Hamas has an Israeli soldier, and we'll see what Hamas does, if they have issued a statement. They have not confirmed it. They have only told reporters, and you heard Karl Penhaul say they have a unique situation now. So we'll see what happens. It does underscore the fragility of what's going on right now, and it underscores that potentially this is going to get a whole lot worse. As bad as it's been, potentially this could get a whole lot worse. Chris?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. All right, Wolf, thanks so much. We'll get right back to you.

Let's also bring in Aaron David Miller to continue this discussion. He's advised six secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations, now the vice president of New Initiatives, and also a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Aaron, we've gone to you a lot whenever we are in situations talking about the possible peace process, but where are we right now? Is there any way to revive what we thought was the best chance at a ceasefire, the best chance, as Secretary Kerry called it, an opportunity to begin working towards a solution?

AARON DAVID MILLER, DISTINGUISHED SCHOLAR, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: You know, Kate, the answer is no, and here's why. Because of the logic of this conflict suggested even with the good news of a 72-hour stand down that the urgency to actually conclude it is not present. This was not a failure to communicate or breakdown in the communications channel between the political wing of Hamas and the military wing. The reality is the military wing, the Al Qasams have been driving this train for the last several weeks.

And this was not some serendipitous, haphazard operation. This was carefully planned, and it was created to try to create a victory image for Hamas. Some single act, some quote, unquote "heroic act" by the resistance to fundamentally score a victory, and they have done so.

And the reality is against the backdrop of a good faith effort on the part of the secretary of state, the U.N., and the Israeli government, who, by the way, I'm not sure feels a whole lot of urgency either in terms of stopping an operation when in fact their objectives have not been complete, what you essentially have is a confluence of factors which almost guaranteed that something like this was going to happen. You simply didn't have the urgency, particularly on the part of Hamas to stand this thing down.

And now if you wanted a transformative event, a trigger to escalate this to a profoundly qualitatively and quantitatively new and horrific level, you got it, because over the next several weeks, I don't know about reoccupying Gaza. The Israelis don't want to participate in an act self-destruction which creates enormous casualties on their side and hundreds if not thousands of more casualties on the part of the Palestinians, but you're going to see an extension of what the Israelis have been doing over the last several days, which is an effort to pound Gaza.

CUOMO: Let's go back to Karl Penhaul right now and actually find out what is going on with this alleged capture because it's going to mean so much in the situation. Karl, any more information?

KARL PENHAL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think this is very important, Chris, because what Wolf was reporting to is based on the confirmation from the spokesman of the Israeli military, Peter Lerner, the spokesman of the Israeli military. He has confirmed, as Wolf was saying, that there was a tunnel clearance operation in effect. That was going ahead around one and a half hours into the ceasefire. The Israeli military went into that tunnel because despite the ceasefire the Israel military said that it retained the right to try to destroy tunnels.

Now that appears to have brought them into confrontation with Hamas militants who were in that tunnel or emerged from another tunnel nearby, and according to the Israeli military report, one Hamas fighter blew himself up, he detonated himself amid those Israeli soldiers. And that is what then allowed other militants to capture one of the soldiers.

Now the timing on this is interesting, and that's what I wanted to bring you. As Wolf said, the Israeli military statement said that this tunnel clearance operation, this suicide bomber occurred one and a half hours into the ceasefire. It was one and a half hours into the ceasefire that our CNN team first got word from the Palestinian colleague that Rafah was under fire, the southern town of Rafah was under shelling from Israeli artillery. And this Israeli military statement confirms the tunnel clearance operation, the suicide bomber, and the capture of this Israeli soldier took place in southern Gaza near Rafah. So in response to an earlier question he said, is the shelling of

Rafah linked to the capture of the Israeli soldier? I think quite clearly now we can say that yes those two incidents do appear connected. I said to Wolf earlier on we would try to join the dots on our reporting so we're not jumping ahead of ourselves. And I believe that that Israeli military statement has allowed us to join the dots on our reporting.

So one and a half hours into the ceasefire Israeli soldiers on a tunnel clearance operation then find Hamas militants in that tunnel or a nearby tunnel, a fire fight ensures, a suicide bomber blows himself up, an Israeli soldier is captured. And around the same time shelling starts on the southern town of Rafah, and according to the Palestinian Health Authority, some of those shells fell on a public market. Some fell outside the hospital where the dead and injured were being taken.

And right now we have a death and casualty toll of 40 Palestinians killed, more than 200 wounded in that incident. Add to that any casualties between the fire fight between Hamas fighters and Israeli soldiers, and as the Israeli military are confirming, one Israeli soldier captured. We are also waiting for a statement from Hamas' military wing, the al Qassam brigade, about what they describe as a unique operation.

CUOMO: Well, that will be important, Karl. Let me cut you off for a second.

PENAHUL: But certainly this suicide bombings in the tunnel as Isareli soldiers are trying to --

CUOMO: All right, Karl, let us know when you get that statement. Thank you for the reporting on the ground but we're going to need to hear from that.

I want to put this question to the table. The reporting is helpful, gives information of context, a timeline, also creates a very big question. A unique operation makes it sound like it was planned. We just Aaron David Miller on who said this had been planned for months; they've been getting ready. Tat's not what that sound like from Karl Penhaul. If they were clearing a tunnel and came into contact with other people and one blew themselves up.


GHOSH: If the people who took the soldier were already in that tunnel or the tunnel next to it, a guy with a suicide vest in the tunnel, that suggests that some kind of operation was planned.

CUOMO: So it's not a random meeting. You think that they were planning a confrontation.

BOLDUAN: And that gets to the big question of Secretary Kerry said very clearly, when he announced this cease-fire, that Israel could continue its operations in containing, destroying those tunnels -- though when you had the Hamas spokesman on, he said he had not heard that at all, which begins the murky thing. But here's the thing. It is going to be murky, talk fog of war, talk

whatever you want, but is this not so complicated at the end? If an Israeli soldier has been captured when a cease-fire is supposed to be in place, game over. Israel is not going to listen to anything anyone else says until either the soldier is back or they pay?

BEINART: Right. I mean, first of all, the political climate is already very strongly supportive of this military operation. Benjamin Netanyahu's political pressures are all coming from his right, from people like Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, not from the left which is virtually non-existent. And Israel also has claimed they wanted to move to demilitarization. The question was always demilitarization by who? Who was actually going to demilitarize? In a way, this gives Israel the opportunity to do more of that demilitarization itself. Now, it will come at a very high price for Israeli --

CUOMO: Let's talk about that price.

BEINART: -- and for Palestinians.

CUOMO: Let's take a break and then we're going to talk about the price of what this alleged capture of an Israeli soldier could mean. It certainly means that the cease-fire is definitively over and nobody is looking for peace on the ground right now.

Stay with us. We'll be back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CUOMO: Very troubling developments in the Middle East. Let's reset what's been going on.

So there was a cease-fire in effect. That was supposed to start this morning local time out there; it was announced in the middle of the night. But it ended almost as quickly as it started. The Israeli military now says a soldier has been abducted after a suicide bomber attacked a group of Israeli soldiers while they were working to dismantle one of those tunnels that we've been hearing about that stretches into Israel.

The bomber supposedly came out of one of the tunnels, detonated himself and created an opportunity for other militants to abduct an Israeli soldier. This event obviously changes everything and takes peace off the table.

BOLDUAN: It changes everything and it's developing as we speak. Israel responded with force, we're told, shelling Rafah in southern Gaza where an attack on the Israeli soldiers took place we believe. Dozens were killed, more than 100 wounded, we're being told at the moment. For their part, a Hamas spokesman says he cannot confirm whether a soldier was captured. It's unclear whether peace talks were to be held in Cairo are still in the works or still worth anything at this point. Let's get back to Wolf Blitzer on the ground in Israel for us with all

of the developments. Wolf?

BLITZER: Well, the IDF is not mincing any words. They say that we suspect that soldier has been kidnapped by the terrorists. We have identified and notified the soldier's family. We believe he has been taken down the tunnel by the terrorists.

We're just getting a statement in from the United Nations, the first reaction to what is going on, the end of this cease-fire. As you know, the U.N. together with the U.S. were instrumental in putting together the 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire. Robert Serry, the U.N. Special envoy here in the Middle East, he was working very, very feverishly behind the scenes to get this three-day cease-fire.

Now the statement just coming in from the United Nations. "The special coordinator," that would be Robert Serry, "was informed by Israeli authorities of a serious incident this morning after the start of the humanitarian cease-fire at 8:00 a.m. local time involving a tunnel behind IDF lines in the Rafah area of the Gaza strip. Two soldiers, two Israeli soldiers, were reportedly killed, as well as a number of Palestinians""

The statement from the U.N. then says, "The United Nations is not in a position to independently confirm these reports. However, if corroborated, this would constitute a serious violation of the humanitarian cease-fire in place since 8:00 a.m. this morning by Gaza militant factions, which should be condemned in the strongest terms. Mr. Serry," this is Robert Serry, the special U.N. envoy, "urges the Palestinian parties to last night's understanding to urgently reaffirm their commitment to the humanitarian cease-fire."

"Serry," the statement says, "is deeply concerned regarding the serious consequences on the ground that could arise as a result of the incident. He will continue his efforts to contain the violence and the risk of renewed escalation. "

So that's the first official statement from the United Nations, which put together this ill-fated cease-fire. The Israeli military now says flatly the cease-fire is over, and they say an Israeli soldier has been taken by Hamas and that soldier's family has been notified.

So this is clearly a very, very serious development that's unfolding right now. And as I've said before and I'll repeat it -- if in fact it's all true, this could be a game-changer. As bad as the situation has been for the past several weeks, it potentially right now could get a whole lot worse.

CUOMO: All right, let's put the question to the panel. Wolf, stay with us, obviously. We have Peter Beinart, Bobby Ghosh, and Aaron David Miller

Why? Let's start our audience with that. Why is the capture of one soldier such a huge move in the mind of Israel? And does it change the dynamic of violence on ground. Bobby. GHOSH: It's a huge move because we've seen this movie before and we know what happens when an Israeli soldier is taken. We know the sort of extent that Israel will go to to reclaim that soldier and we know the suffering that will descend upon Gaza when that happens.

We could argue that the capture of soldiers is not uncommon in a war, but we know what happens when an Israeli soldier is captured. And that's why this is a game-changer.

The crucial thing now is the time line. When did this happen. It's clear that Hamas was planning something. They had -- they had their fighters --

BOLDUAN: Why did you think it's clear something?


GHOSH: They had their fighters in a tunnel ready to go for something. Maybe the grabbing of a soldier was an opportunity. They got a chance, they grabbed a soldier. But they were planning for something. They had somebody strapped -- if we are to believe what the Israeli spokesmen are saying -- somebody strapped on to a suicide belt. Very unusual that is in Gaza. Suicide operations are more common in other parts where -- Iraq, for instance, ISIS, and in Syria, but it's very unusual in Gaza, very rare that you see this kind of operation.

So they were planning something. They were planning something big. Now, one -- as I noticed just as we were coming on, one radio situation in Palestine apparently, is saying that that operation, that they grabbed the soldier before the cease-fire technically began. Grabbed at 8:00 a.m.

CUOMO: Why would it matter?

GHOSH: It doesn't matter. It won't matter to Israel.


CUOMO: Does it matter when?

BOLDUAN: Semantics of the timing.

GHOSH: But it shows -- the fact that they think it's important to do the semantics is interesting, but it will matter not at all to Israel. You're exactly right. Israel will go in hard and go in heavy and try to get the soldier back.

CUOMO: And it still shows a fundamental disconnect within Hamas, because it means one wing was doing something when the other one was promising political peace.

BOLDUAN: The political arm not talking to -- right. Because the Hamas spokesman telling you at the very beginning of the show they were still hoping and leaving it open for a cease-fire to happen and for the talks in Cairo to continue. They said they were still on schedule. CUOMO: He certainly didn't mention any unique operation, which is what they were calling this earlier.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely not. Stick with us. One second, guys. Following all this breaking news. Let's get back to Wolf Blitzer on the ground with more from Israel. Wolf?

BLITZER: I want to bring in, Kate, Gershon Baskin. He's the founder and CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. He's here with me in Jerusalem. He's instrumental in getting that Gilad Shalit soldier, the Israeli soldier, freed. You were dealing with the Israelis and Hamas.

BASKIN: That's right.

BLITZER: You were a back channel. You got that deal done. You've been talking to Hamas. You know Hamas. When Colonel Lerner, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, says that they believe the -- the terrorists were wearing a -- was a suicide bomber who came through this tunnel, one terrorist, he says, was a suicide bomber who detonated himself after emerging from the tunnel. You say that is not unusual.

BASKIN: Not at all.

BLITZER: What do you know about this? Because you've studied this. You've dealt with Hamas for a long time.

BASKIN: I spoke yesterday with a Palestinian friend who had a conversation, a long conversation, with one of the Qassam officers.

BLITZER: The Qassam is the military wing of Hamas.

BASKIN: The military wing. He had told me that the 3,000 Qassam elite unit fighters had been instructed before the Israeli ground operation to go back to their families and to say good-bye, that they knew that they were going to this battle and probably not coming home.

All the Qassam fighters, the elite unit fighters, that have come out of their tunnels so far to attack Israeli soldiers have been wearing suicide belts. This is something that they do in addition to attacking the Israelis with their weapons. Their goal is to come out and blow themselves up in front of Israeli troops or Israeli civilians.

So this was planned. Just 24 hours ago, I said on Israeli television, from my conversation with my friend who spoke to the Qassam officer, that their plan is to abduct the Israeli soldiers. They had even put out a number, that their goal was to abduct three Israeli soldiers and that they were working on this and that would be the point at which they would seriously be ready to go into a cease-fire and not before.

The -- Osama Hamdan, the Hamas spokesman from Lebanon from the political wing of Hamas, is not a spokesperson for the military wing. This war is being run on the military on the ground, by Hamas in Gaza, in the tunnels, underground, and not by political wing of Hamas. BLITZER: Because I kept asking Palestinian Authority representatives

here on CNN over the past 24 hours, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations. So many others, Maen Areikat, the Palestinian ambassador, the representative in Washington -- all of whom obviously work for the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. They all said that they thought all the factions of Hamas, including the military wing, were on board. But you say they were never on board.

BASKIN: I would say that they were never on board. I would say that the communication between the military wing and the political wing is very slim if existent at all. They have no communication. They're running operations by messengers in the tunnels underground in Gaza. They're not using their telephones. They're not using any other means of communication, because they know that that's how Israel could track them.

So I'd be very questionable how they're sending messages back and forth between each other.