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Middle East Cease-Fire Is Over

Aired August 1, 2014 - 07:30   ET


GERSHON BASKIN, CEO AND FOUNDER, ISRAEL PALESTINE CENTER FOR RESEARCH AND INFORMATION: They are running operations by messengers and the tunnels underground in Gaza. They are not using their telephones. They are not using any other means of communication because they know that that's how Israel could track them. It would be very questionable how they can are sending messages back and forth between each other.

The decision making process and a movement like Hamas is extraordinarily complex. A lot of the leadership were still secret, in secret, not everyone knows, who -- everyone else is in the leadership. They work by consensus. There is no leader of Hamas.

Khaled Mashaal is the head of the politburo of Hamas, but he is not the leader of Hamas. After Israel assassinated the founder of Hamas, Hamas no longer has a leader and after Israel assassinated the head of the military wing in 2012 this no senior figure within the military wing who is really in command.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Mohammed Diaf, the head of the military wing of Hamas. What's his relationship with the head of the political wing who is in Doha, Qatar?

BASKIN: I would guess that Mohammed Diaf is a legend.

BLITZER: He's in Gaza.

BASKIN: He is in Gaza. He was wounded so many times by Israel in attempts to kill him that he's literally a half a human being. There were questions of whether or not -- just a year ago, people were talking whether or not he's actually functioning and alive. Whether he can -- so he's a legend. He is the spirit of the Hamas fighters' movement.

I doubt if he is a person who is giving tactical orders. He's definitely the spirit of the fight, not to give up. The high motivation and sacrifices that they are willing to make for the cause, for God, for Islam, for Palestine. He's definitely in that position, but I don't think he's really the person giving tactical orders.

BLITZER: Gershon Baskin, thanks very much. Don't go away. We'll rely on your expertise. Gershon Baskin is the founder and CEO of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information.'

He's worked closely with Israelis, worked closely with Hamas and many other Palestinians and served as a key intermediary in getting another Israeli soldier freed after five years being held by Hamas, Gilad Shalit. So we'll rely on his expertise.

Bottom line right now the cease-fire clearly over. The Israel military has said so, the Israeli government has said so. Let's see what happens next, but I think it's fair to say it's going to be brutal.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely right, Wolf, and the memory of what happened to Gilad Shalit and what happened after that, stuck in many Israeli minds, that's a lot of what we are talking about clearing the tunnels, that's the basis of it and that's going to be why you're calling it a game-changer right now.

Wolf, stick with us. We'll be right back. We'll take another break and continue to follow breaking news. Cease-fire over in Gaza.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Breaking news this morning, a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas over. We are just learning about the time line of how that truce, temporary truce ended. Here's what's being reported right now.

Israel's military says Hamas suicide bomber attacked Israeli troops an hour after the 72-hour truce started. They say a soldier was captured by the militant group, which all led to shelling between both sides. Hamas claims they never fired a rocket though, but Israel says they very much did.

Earlier we heard from Hamas' spokesman who says the group was committed to the cease-fire. All of this stemmed after Secretary of State John Kerry had announced the truce with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Take a listen.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: While we are grateful that the violence and the bloodshed has the opportunity to stop for more than 24 hours. It is up to the parties, all of them, to take advantage of this moment. There are no guarantees.


BOLDUAN: There's no guarantees, but surely some hope there, so what now? Let's bring in John King for more on this. I mean, John, this has been quite a reversal of fortune is how the "New York Times" had put it early this morning for Secretary Kerry as he had failed to get that seven-day cease-fire in place.

It seemed very optimistic this morning, big statements coming out from the secretary as well as the U.N. secretary-general and now this.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, "INSIDE POLITICS": And now this, Kate, but if you listen to even a little portion of Secretary Kerry that you just played, even he gets it, if you will. Look at his caution. It's up to the parties. There are no guarantees. This is an opportunity for a cease-fire so he was very cautious, even as he announced what he hoped would be a breakthrough and we're having this conversation because we now know that breakthrough has collapsed after just moments really.

And so the question now from the administration perspective, the Obama administration is what can you do and sadly, I think the panelists you've been talking to this morning, would agree, at the moment almost nothing. Nothing to be gained right now if an Israeli soldier, in fact, has been abducted as the Israeli Defense Forces say.

There is nothing to be gained from a Secretary Kerry or a President Obama calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and asking him to take it easy and go too strong in response to that. It would be a waste time. What does the administration do now?

As you note, Secretary Kerry has been criticized for failing repeatedly to bring about something his team would argue and the White House backs him up on this that he keeps trying and that's all you can do in this situation. Not what happens, I think Wolf had it just right.

And now you just have to watch, wait and hope that you find another opportunity for an opening, but don't expect anything in the short term.

BOLDUAN: Because no matter how the time line kind of works out this morning, John, obviously it's still being worked out on the ground and all the reporting that we're getting in from our folks on the ground, simple fact if an Israeli soldier was abducted, game over, game- changer, the U.S., the United Nations cannot condone that to take place.

KING: That they cannot condone that and Prime Minister Netanyahu will say that this proves his point all along. He has his critics. Right now, the United States not only trying to negotiate to get the Israelis and Palestinians to sit down. It's sort of been the middle man between Israel and the United Nations as the United Nations has criticized Israeli tactics.

The president has made quite clear that he thinks Prime Minister Netanyahu as of a few days ago was doing too much. That he could have ratcheted back the level of the violence, but again, just forget about all of that right now.

If an Israeli soldier has been abducted, Prime Minister Netanyahu in strong position back home, his public backs him, he's going to make the case that this proves the point that he has nobody to negotiate with, that Secretary Kerry and the United Nations might cut a deal with the political wing of Hamas might think they have an agreement to stop fighting and look what happens within hours.

He'll make the case that you can't have peace or even pause if you don't have a partner. That will be the Israeli position?

BOLDUAN: And so, I mean, is there any reason to even -- for all of these parties to be heading to Cairo or even talking about heading to Cairo to try to sit down at a table at this point?

KING: I believe and wait for official word from the Israeli government, but I think just common sense tells you what has happened in the last hour or so it's most unlikely that Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to send a delegation to Cairo in the middle of this.

Perhaps that would be the administration pressure, can you at least send some people there to be prepared to talk if we see an opening, but I wouldn't expect anything like that over the course of the next several hours in this day.

BOLDUAN: We heard from the United Nations, and it will also be important whenever it comes. We're seeking comment, but whenever it comes, to hear from the secretary or the State Department on where they view things stand at this moment. John King, thanks so much -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Kate, let's try to figure out what the State Department is going to do here, let's bring back Aaron David Miller who has advised six secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations and a distinguished scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Center.

So, you've been in the room. You know what the events are on the ground. What does the State Department do?

AARON DAVID MILLER, DISTINGUISHED SCHOLAR, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: First of all, Chris, it's not the State Department. It's the administration and the president. I mean, John Kerry works for Barack Obama. He, John Kerry, put himself in the middle of the mix over the last nine months to negotiate peace.

And over the last two weeks to try to stop a war, but the reality is, I think, that this represents to a large degree a fundamental misreading of the situation on the ground. You know, the Qataris and Turks can deliver all the commitments they want.

The Egyptians in this case, also who is no friend of Hamas certainly or the Muslim Brotherhood was probably wary about this enterprise from the beginning. The U.N. has its own organizational imperative to try to save lives and stop the violence.

But the reality is we are misreading the fundamental marriage of desperation on one hand on the part of the Hamas military wing and its determination and resiliency to continue the fight. They have already killed almost five times the number of IDF soldiers than they killed in the two previous operations.

They effectively forced the FAA to shut down Ben Gurion Airport and suspended for a period of time. They have a large repository of high trajectory weapons and now I don't think this event was planned months in month. Hamas took advantage of they know the tunnel systems.

They know them and you put a suicide bomber up front to create havoc, kill a few more Israelis and then grab a soldier seems to me was a well-timed, well-organized operation designed to achieve this victory image or this trophy. I just think --

CUOMO: But also, let -- let's follow the conversation though in terms of the logic. It may have been designed for that purpose on the Hamas side, but it also wound up being by design the perfect rationale for Israel to take peace off the table because the metaphor alone, we're clearing the tunnel which is the threat.

And in the tunnel which is the threat we have the worst thing happen that we can imagine is someone blows up, kills our soldiers and then takes one of our own, you basically delivered as Hamas the best explanation to Israel that you could to continue inflicting violence on your own people, true?

MILLER: I think that's right, but let's be clear. You're dealing with a very risk-averse Israeli prime minister. I mean, this is not Ehud Olmert 2006 in Lebanon or Ariel Sharon responding to the 2002 intifada. This is a guy who wants to avoid, if he can, a massive ground incursion into Gaza, which is going to cause -- escalate his own casualties and increase international pressure on Israel.

I don't think he wanted this, but at the same time the Israeli military strategy has been clear. You neutralize the high trajectory weapons through iron dome. You clear the tunnels and destroy as many as possible in order to neutralize Hamas' offensive threat.

And then you pummel Gaza in an effort to force terms on Hamas that are more favorable to Israel. What this provides frankly is not a rationale to what I would argue is a well-timed and well-scripted military campaign. It's a key to continued escalation and chaos.

And there is no end state to this, and that is the problem that the Israeli government and cabinet will have to wrestle with now as they determine an appropriate response in the days ahead so I don't think they want to -- you know, what? They have 15,000, 20,000 guys operating in Gaza roughly at a division level.

The last thing they want this guy, Benjamin Netanyahu, knows what happens to Israeli prime ministers who get bogged down in ground incursions in asymmetrical wars. He saw what happened to Sharon in Lebanon in '82 and what happened to Ehud Olmert in Lebanon in 2006.

So the Israelis have to figure out a way to mete out proper, and it is going to be punishment, there's no question about that, without tripping into a campaign that forces them to reoccupy Gaza which could last for months.

CUOMO: So at this point, the U.S. is just going to have to stand back and watch Gaza burn, maybe even watch the West Bank destabilize as things get worse before they get better.

I want your take on that and to figure out what can be done, if anything, because obviously the goal is still peace, at least for the international community. Right now, let's take a break here and we'll be right back with more breaking coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The cease-fire is over. Those words from the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, a firm statement, no more cease-fire. They say it ended about an hour and a half after it was supposed to go into effect. They also say they believe an Israeli soldiers that been taken prisoner by the Hamas militants in Gaza right now.

One terrorist, the IDF says was a suicide bomber who detonated himself after emerging from a tunnel, a tunnel that the Israelis say they were, quote, "decommissioning." They say that was allowed under the terms of the humanitarian 72-hour cease-fire, put forward, announced last night by the Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry and the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

The secretary has been in India over the past few days. He made a statement to reporters last night on camera, and he explained what Israel was allowed to do during the cease-fire, and was not allowed to do. Listen to his precise words.


KERRY: Starting later this morning at 8:00 August 1st, the parties are expected to cease all offensive military activities, and neither side will advance beyond its current locations. They will stay where they are in place.

Israel will be able to continue its defensive operations for those tunnels that are behind its lines and the Palestinians will be able to receive food, medicine and additional humanitarian assistance.

As well as to be able to tend to their wounded, bury their dead, be able to, in safe areas, travel to their homes, and take advantage of the absence hopefully, hopefully of violence for these 72 hours.


BLITZER: Didn't exactly work out the way the secretary of state, the U.N. secretary-general had planned. Gershon Baskin is the CEO and founder of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a liaison, if you will, an informal liaison between Israel and Hamas, is still with us.

It's interesting that the way the secretary of state explained what Israel was allowed to do during the 72-hour cease-fire, not allowed to do, was it contained in that original joint statement that was put out by the secretary of state and Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general?

You heard Osama Hamdan, the spokesman for Hamas tell Chris Cuomo here on NEW DAY, just a little while ago that he didn't know about any decommissioning of tunnels that was allowed. You heard the secretary of state specify what Israel could do and couldn't do, and we now know what the result of all that has been.

BASKIN: I think it should be quite clear to everyone that Israel has said that they will not stop the decommissioning of tunnels during the cease-fire.

BLITZER: Decommissioning is a fancy word for destroying.

BASKIN: They were finding, locating and destroying as many tunnels as they could. They identified 31 tunnels earlier in the week, there was an American intelligence report that was reported in one of the American newspapers that the Americans believe there were more than 60 tunnels.

But the Israelis had said that they had identified, found and were in the process of destroying all the remaining tunnels that they knew about, 30-plus in number and that Israel was not going to finish, was not going to finish this war until all the tunnels had been removed.

This is a direct threat to the Israeli civilian population. The tunnels led across the border into Israeli civilian communities all along the Gaza Strip and there was no way that the government of Israel is going to end the operation without doing it. It was not going to take a time off during the 72-hour cease-fire.

I would also point out that, you know, the Egyptians closed down about 1,000 tunnels that existed between the Egyptian Gaza border. The Egyptians did it without killing a single Palestinian and they do it all from their side of the border.

So this could actually be done by Israel from inside of the border, they could even take a 500-yard area, buffer area inside the Gaza border and attack those tunnels as well. That's not the way the Israelis are doing this operation and I'm quite sure that Hamas knew Israel would continue to work on the tunnel during the cease-fire.

BLITZER: You are an expert on Hamas, you spent time with them, know them, you know them. You've worked with the Israelis and Hamas. You estimate there are about, what, 3,000 armed Hamas militants in Gaza and the military wing of Hamas who you say --

BASKIN: They have a lot more than that. That's the elite fighting force.

BLITZER: But you say these elite fighting forces are all prepared, they all go in with suicide vests ready to kill themselves in order to kill Israelis?

BASKIN: I was told by someone spoken to Al Kassam, the military wing officer said before the ground operation began they were all instructed to go to their families and to say good-bye to their families with the intent that they would not be returning alive from this battle.

This is one of the very difficult things about fighting with an organization like Hamas, particular lay these very dedicated soldiers, combatants who are not afraid to die. You can't create deterrence against someone who is not afraid of dying. We're going to kill you, that's exactly what they intend on happening.

And they believe that they are dying in the name of God, in the name of Allah and Islam and Palestine. It's part of their duty to serve and they're deeply motivated to do this. BLITZER: It's a part of the warfare that's going on now in Gaza and it is a war.

BASKIN: That's right.

BLITZER: That the Israeli military certainly -- they're aware of it and have to deal with it as well. It's not just tanks versus tanks, planes versus planes.

BASKIN: It's very difficult for an army like Israel to fight this battle because the Hamas are fighting underground, there are guerrilla warfare, light on their feet, they move around easily. The Israelis have tanks and APCs and move a lot of troops. They have an air force.

The fire power of Israel is so much more intense than the Hamas has at its disposal, but what Hamas can do is surprise the Israelis from coming up underground as we've seen over and over again.

BLITZER: These tunnels are obviously very, very significant. Gershon, thanks very much, helping us better appreciate and understand what is going on. Let's go back to New York -- Kate and Chris.

BOLDUAN: All right, Wolf, thanks very much. We will be back to you. We'll have much more of our breaking news coverage right after this break. Stay with us.