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U.S. Backs Israel in Standoff with Iran and Syria; Oxfam Denies Cover-up in Prostitution Scandal; Korean Diplomacy; Day 2 Action Underway at Winter Games. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired February 11, 2018 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Israel and Iran now closer to direct confrontation in Syria than ever before. Sunday could be key after an Israeli jet was downed on Saturday.

And British aid agency Oxfam denied it tried to cover up a sex scandal after allegations that some of its workers sent to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake paid for prostitutes.

Plus protests right now in South Korea. Activists feel that their president is ceding too much ground to the North for too little in return. We'll be live at the demonstrations.

I'm Cyril Vanier from the CNN NEWSROOM here in Atlanta. Great to have you with us.


VANIER: We're following this developing news out of the Middle East. The U.S. says it's concerned over the escalation between Israel, Iran and Syria but it does say Israel has the right to defend itself.

Israel launched a wave of attacks on Iranian targets inside Syria after saying that it intercepted an Iranian drone in Israeli airspace. CNN's Ian Lee has the full story on the cycle of retaliation that brought us to this point.


IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A thermal camera tracks a drone in the early morning hours. Israeli officials say it is Iranian and gives the series of events.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

LEE (voice-over): The command to shoot comes after it penetrates Israel's airspace. An attack helicopter giving the final blow. The unmanned drone originated near Palmyra in Syria at an Iranian base called T4, that according to Israeli officials.

Eight fighter jets scrambled to take out the command and control center. They encountered heavy Syrian antiaircraft fire, triggering sirens across Northern Israel and the Golan Heights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before 5 o'clock in the morning, we hear the sirens, two sirens. We take -- I take my wife and my children. We take them to the shelter and then we hear -- sometimes we hear airplanes in the air.

LEE (voice-over): Amid the heavy fire an F-16 crashes. The pilot and copilot eject safely, one seriously injured. The other lightly. A helicopter takes the pilot to a hospital. Israel's military says this is the first plane they've lost in combat in decades.

In retaliation, Israel launches another wave of airstrikes, targeting both Syrian and Iranian positions, including antiaircraft batteries. Israel's prime minister had this message for Iran.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Israel holds Iran and its Syrian hosts responsible for today's aggression. We will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect our sovereignty and our security.

LEE (voice-over): The incident, raising tensions in the Golan Heights to a new level.

LEE: Israeli leaders have been watching the ongoing civil war in Syria just right over there for years. One thing that concerns them the most is someday, when they are looking over this frontier, they'll see Iranian soldiers looking back.

LEE (voice-over): Israeli officials have warned against an Iranian military buildup in Syria and Israeli warplanes have launched dozens of strikes on advanced weapons targets over recent years.

For its part, Iran is warning Israel against further military action, calling the downing of an Iranian drone "ridiculous." Iran's foreign ministry saying Iran has a legitimate right to be in Syria.

His latest clash could mark a turning point with Israel's long-enjoyed air supremacy in the region taking a hit -- Ian Lee, CNN, in the Golan Heights.


VANIER: Let's try and get the different angles on this. CNN's Oren Liebermann is in Jerusalem.

Oren, this got heated very fast but it has been quiet in the last few hours.

Is the cycle of attacks and counterattacks over, you think?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It could be. We'll have a much better sense of that answer at the end of the day. Remember, we're still in the early phases here. This is less than 36 hours now after this all started about 4:30 in the morning local time here.

But you are right. The military tension has held at about the same level since Saturday afternoon, so yesterday afternoon. The rhetoric is still escalating. But we were certainly watching overnight to see what else would happen.

Would Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy in Lebanon, take the opportunity for their own action?

Would Hamas in Gaza, which has received Iranian money in the past, would they decide this was an opportunity to move?

The answer in both cases was no and that is good news in terms of de- escalation here. The key player, the regional player, that is, that we're looking at and we still are looking at, is Russia, which is a close ally of both Israel and Iran.


LIEBERMANN: Russia's statement following this, which came the foreign minister, was pretty much right down the middle, saying we want to see both sides de-escalate. Israel spoke with Russia, that is Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At the end of the day yesterday -- and that is important because of Russia's presence and their ability to influence both sides and to leverage both sides to deescalate.

So in answer to your question, Cyril, it could be over. It is still a little too early to answer that question, perhaps much too early. But, again, the level of military tension is holding at about the same level since yesterday afternoon.

VANIER: Oren, Israel wants to avoid a strong Iranian military presence on its Syrian border.

Isn't it way too late for that?

We know that Iran is already deeply entrenched in Syria.

LIEBERMANN: It is too late for at least part of that. Iran is definitely in Syria, Israel tried to avoid that. But that did not work essentially in the end. Iran is in Syria and Russia is OK with that.

Israel tried to have Russia pressure the Syrians to remove Iran. But that didn't work. Russia is OK with Iran's presence in Syria. So not it's a question of where do you draw the red line?

And that is where Israel's trying to put its foot down and say, look, we're not going to allow Iran to build up a military presence in Syria.

And the other big question is how close will Russia let Iran get to the Syrian border there, the Syrian-Israeli border?

That's the one other part where Israel's trying to apply pressure on the Russians, to keep Iran as far away from possible from Israeli territory. And that is another reason why Netanyahu made sure to call Russia, made sure that military coordination is still there between the two countries.

That is where Israel's now trying to use whatever leverage it has to keep Iran as far away from the border as possible, reiterating its message that it will not allow Iran to establish itself militarily in Syria or get too close the border.

It is interesting that in the statement Netanyahu put out last night, it was essentially an "I told you so." Look, we said Iran was building itself up in and here is our proof to the world, even though Iran denies Israel's accusations. That message was not for the Israeli public. It wasn't even for the U.S., which has essentially sided with Israel here. It was for Russia and it was for European countries as Israel tries to push Iran as far away from possible.

But you're absolutely right, Iran is there, it looks like to stay, in the near term.

VANIER: All right, Oren Liebermann, reporting live from Jerusalem, it is just after 10:00 am local time, where he is. I want to keep this conversation going, get the Iranian perspective here. So let's hop over to Istanbul, Turkey.

Boris Zudaragani (ph), he joins us, one of the best observers of Iran that I know.


BORIS ZUDARAGANI (PH), JOURNALIST: -- perspective at all. I'm an independent journalist. I don't know where you got that.

VANIER: No, by Iranian perspective, I don't mean the Iranian official line. I just want to tap into your knowledge. We've spoken many time over the years. Your knowledge of Iran and where they stand in the region and my question is, what is Iran's interest here?

Do they have any reason to start a confrontation with Israel?

Or what -- how do they want to end this?

ZUDARAGANI (PH): I think Iran has had a presence in Syria for three days, 2011. It goes back decades really. And so they've had some sort of presence (INAUDIBLE) influence and they have been trying to increase that influence.

They invested a lot in the Syrian regime over the past few decades, past few years and they want to show something for it. Many Iranians died fighting for Bashar al-Assad. And if they can show their people, if they can show themselves that they have managed to improve Iran's deterrent capabilities vis-a-vis Israel, then it will not have been all for naught.

But I think that in terms of the war neither Iran nor Hezbollah nor Israel nor Gaza -- not the Hamas in Gaza -- it's in their interest right now to escalate this any further. All of them are dealing with the domestic constituencies that do not want conflict. They can't afford a war politically, not in Iran where there have been waves of protests over various issues recently.

Not in Gaza, where there is a lot of discontent over the rule of Hamas, not in Israel where Bibi Netanyahu is facing a corruption scandal and not in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is facing pressure from both its own ranks and the rest of the Lebanese people about the tensions with Israel.

So there is there is no real push for anyone. War is not in anyone's interests. But the problem is that people are playing games of 3brinksmanship. And this is how wars accidentally start.

Your previous commentator had a really good observation about Russia and Russia's role in all this. Not only are they talking constantly to the Israelis but they're also talking to the Iranians and there is sort of a mediating role that the Russians (INAUDIBLE) between these two powers that never speak with each other.

VANIER: It looks like Iran and Israel are both trying to draw lines based on what's happened over the last 24 hours.

Where do you think they want that line to be?

We know we know Israel's side of it, which is that they want to minimize or they want to at least push back on the Iranian --


VANIER: -- military presence and buildup in Syria.

ZUDARAGANI (PH): In 2006, there was a war, a pretty terrible war between Hezbollah and Israel and there were certain unstated and semi- stated rules established after that war. It brought about 12 years of peace between Israel and Lebanon.

And it looks like the Iranians, to an extent, are the provocateurs here. They are trying to change those red lines. They're trying to create a new modus vivendi, a new way of -- a new status quo of by extending the kind of Hezbollah-Israel line across to the Syrian border and putting even more pressure on Israel.

And Israel simply does not want that. They want to keep that 2006 status quo. And I think that is where the pressure is right now.

VANIER: All right, Boris Zudaragani (ph), coming to us from Istanbul today, great to speak to you again. Great to get your insights. Thank you for coming on the show.

Now aid agency Oxfam is denying it covered up allegations that some of its senior employees paid for sex in Haiti. According to an investigation by "The Times" newspaper, this occurred shortly after the earthquake there in 2010.

The paper says a confidential Oxfam report found that quote, "children may have been among those sexually exploited by aid workers." CNN has not independently reviewed that report and the aid agency says that sexual allegations involving minors were never proven. CNN's Erin McLaughlin following the story now from London for us.

Erin, lay it out for us from the beginning.

What happened?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Cyril, I think it is first important to point out what was going on in Haiti at the time, in the wake of that devastating 2010 earthquake. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed; hundreds of thousands of people injured in that earthquake; 1.5 million people displaced.

And now allegations that one of the major aid organizations that was there on the ground, supposed to be helping those people, engaged in a cover-up. Now this is all coming to light now because of a "London Times" investigation.

They managed to obtain access to an internal Oxfam report that details an investigation into allegations that senior aid workers, including the country director for Oxfam in Haiti hired women for sex. The report not ruling out the possibility that minors were among those hired.

So those are the allegation but what trustees of Oxfam as well as Haitian authorities are now saying, they are now saying that they were not made aware of the nature of that investigation. They knew the investigation was going on but they did not know the details and we're hearing from one trustee here in the U.K., the Department for International Development released a statement, saying, quote, "We often work with organizations in chaotic and difficult circumstances. If wrongdoing, abuse, fraud or criminal activity occur, we need to know about it and immediately in full.

"The way this appalling abuse of vulnerable people was dealt with raises serious questions that Oxfam must answer."

The department saying that it is now reviewing its cooperation with Oxfam. We've also heard from Haiti's ambassador to the U.K. express his outrage. Take a listen to what he had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is clear it's a cover-up case. The fact that those folks were allowed to leave the country without any punishment, without even informing really the Haitian authorities about that, it was a cover-up.

And now, the fact that they did such a crime or there was such a cover-up, now we are wondering how many of those cases are still being happening in Haiti.


MCLAUGHLIN: Now Oxfam says that it either dismissed or accepted the resignation of seven of those employees involved but in another article, follow-up story, the "London Times" saying that those employees actually went on, some of them, to work in other aid organizations in other countries and those aid organizations were not notified about this investigation by Oxfam -- Cyril.

VANIER: This could be devastating to Oxfam's reputation. Oxfam, like any other humanitarian agency, relies a lot, relies heavily on just the goodwill surrounding their name and just around their reputation. So the way they respond to this is key.

What has been their response so far?

MCLAUGHLIN: Right now, the CEO is saying that there was no cover-up on the part Oxfam. Take a listen to what he had to say.



MARK GOLDRING, OXFAM CEO: Well, I think at the time Oxfam took serious and immediate action and it was open, Oxfam was actually pro- active in going to the British public, the Department for International Development and the Charity Commission, to explain that there had been serious misconduct and we'd taken action.

What Oxfam didn't do was describe the detailed nature of the offenses, which included the use of prostitution.


MCLAUGHLIN: Now Oxfam also putting out a statement, saying that while it received legal advice at the time, it decided that no action would be taken if it had employed -- reported, rather, these employees to Haitian authorities, given the situation there on the ground in Haiti.

It does say it could have done a better job alerting other aid organizations about these employees but insisting that Oxfam did not supply those employees with references, releasing a statement saying, quote, "While there is nothing we can do to stop individuals falsifying references or getting colleagues to provide a reference in a personal capacity, there is clearly more that can and should be done to ensure that individuals who are found to be guilty of sexual misconduct do not continue to find work in the sector" -- Cyril.

VANIER: All right, Erin McLaughlin, thank you very much for keeping us apprised of these developments. It is going to be important to see what the continuing fallout of this is. There have been so many international organizations that went to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. And they were obviously there to lift up the country and there have already been instances of organizations that just did not achieve that goal.

All right, Erin, thank you very much.

When we come back after the break, a show of strength or an opportunity lost. Why did the U.S. vice president not reach out literally to North Korea at the Olympics?

Stay with us.




VANIER: Welcome back.

U.S. vice president Mike Pence is back in Washington after a trip to the Olympics aboard Air Force Two on his way back, he said there is, quote, "no daylight between the United States, South Korea and Japan." in their stances on North Korea. He said the countries need to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear weapons program.

And at the Olympics opening ceremony, well, he kind of did just that. Pence was just meters from the sister of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. He never acknowledged her. Matter of fact, a senior administration official says the vice president purposely ignored the North Korean delegation.

Meanwhile, anti-North Korea protesters have been filling the streets of Seoul. Our Paula Newton has been in the thick of it.

Paula, what was going on earlier?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Much quieter now. Earlier, those anti-North Korea protesters were getting quite heated in terms of trying to agitate police. There were hundreds of police here and possibly about 1,000 to 1,500 protesters.


NEWTON: They now are marching through some of the streets of Seoul, most of the protests now have dissipated. You can start to see the anger bubbling up. I have to remind everyone that on a normal Sunday or Saturday afternoon here in Seoul, you will see protesters on a range of topics.

But it will be interesting to see how this anti-North Korea sentiment really catches on in this country. Already Moon Jae-in has seen a decrease to his popularity ratings and why. A lot of people are not comfortable. Some are more ambivalent about what is going with North Korea.

And you were just discussing some the stills and pictures and videos that we have been seeing from the Olympics, the images to many people in this protest, they were thinking that what we have been wanting for weeks now would become the Pyongyang Olympics have indeed become the Pyongyang Olympics.

These are the Olympics that Kim Jong-un wants, the kind of charm offensive that he wanted to work. And they also give the opinion that South Korea has gotten nothing out of this so far and North Korea has gotten everything. North Korea has not had to give up anything in order to get this, what they call propaganda.

Now I have to say we are on our way onto another performance by the North Korean culture groups that are here, keep in mind it's not just the athletes; there are 22 of them, yes.

But between the cheerleaders and the cultural performances that we have seen, South Koreans had seen a lot of what has been going on in North Korea. There is the divide here, definitely the older generation is relieved.

Moon Jae-in, the president of this country, relieved that these do seem to be the peace Olympics. But a younger generation in the far right contingent here, also saying, what are we getting out of this and where is South Korea going after the so-called peace Olympics?

VANIER: All right, that's a question that's still to be answered. It's easy to figure out why some North Koreans would be angry -- South Koreans -- beg your pardon -- would be angry with North Korea. They live within range of North Korea's missiles. It would be interesting to find out where they would like the situation to go if they do not want diplomacy and appeasement.

Paula Newton, thank you very much for filling us in on what is going on in Seoul.

Paula was mentioning some South Koreans unhappy about what they see as Pyongyang Olympics. So let us turn to the PyeongChang Olympics. Day two of Olympic competition is underway. Six medal events are scheduled for Sunday. The U.S. already took home the gold in one of them.

CNN sports analyst Christine Brennan joins me now from PyeongChang, South Korea.

So you were watching figure skating with a big rivalry there. Tell us about that.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Well, that's right, Cyril. The Russians, now the Olympic athletes from Russia, and the Canadians really go at it in this team competition. 2014 in Sochi, Russia got the better of the Canadians, winning the gold.

And you know, for figure skating, that -- Russia almost feels like it owns skating and when it was shut of the gold medals in Vancouver eight years ago, that was devastating for the Russian figure skating team and association.

They came back with a vengeance in Sochi 2014 but right now, with three events, three disciplines yet to in tomorrow's team competition, they will give away the medals at the end of that on Monday.

Right now, Russia is -- the Olympic athletes from Russia are pretty far behind, Cyril. They're 6 points behind. Only three of these disciplines yet to come. I think they are out of it, which means Canada looks like they are in a great position to win the gold and that is quite a rebuke to the Olympic athletes from Russia.

And it's a devastating loss if, in fact, it comes to bat for Canada to beat OAR and then the U.S. is hanging onto a -- tightly right now, the third place with Italy just 1 point behind. So very fascinating in terms of one of the marquee sports of the games, figure skating.

VANIER: Tell us about the Korean unified hockey team. Of course, they've been the talk of the town, the talk of the country, really the talk of the continent ever since these Olympics began and even before they began.

Where do we stand on that?

BRENNAN: Well, they lost 8-0 to Switzerland and then they had a team meeting afterwards that included the president of South Korea, Kim Jong-un's sister, the IOC president, Thomas Bock, and we've never seen anything like that, to have that kind of reaction to a team that just got drubbed 8-0.

But that's because the game really did not matter. It was the scene and I have covered a lot of sports in a lot of years. It was one of the neatest, coolest events I have seen. I mean, it was really something. It was really part show and part sport. It was obviously political.

And you wondered, Cyril, if it was historic or if it would be historic. In say, 20 years from now, people look back and say, depending on what happens with North and South Korea politically, they look back and say, hey, it all started with a hockey game back in February of 2018. And I think there is an important big shoutout here.

The coach of the Korean team, who was given these North Korean players just two weeks ago and said put them in that team, make it work. Sarah Murray, 29-year-old Canadian --


BRENNAN: -- from a big hockey family in Canada, she is a rock star. She is doing this calmly, methodically and obviously the sports end is huge but she is also doing it diplomatically. And I think lesser coaches, Cyril, might have said this is too difficult. I cannot work with this. I cannot put all these new people into this system.

And she is making it work and her quotes and her comments were terrific and classy. And it turns out, maybe a Canadian is saving the day in the midst of the North-South Korea situation.

VANIER: Just imagine, as a coach, being dumped with that. I just want make sure I understood correctly, did you say there was a team meeting that involved Kim Jong-un's sister after that defeat?

BRENNAN: Well, when I said team meeting, they met with the team. Yes.

VANIER: Right, OK.

BRENNAN: It was a fascinating scene of having that -- right, of having that the -- all the officials, the dignitaries, standing there, on the team bench as the players were still on the ice. And they were listening to this pep talk about hey, this really doesn't matter. There's bigger fish to fry. This is so much more than a hockey game from Thomas Bock and the others.

VANIER: Yes, of course.

BRENNAN: Just an unbelievable scene, never seen anything quite like that.

VANIER: All right, Christine Brennan with our brief and debrief from what's going on in PyeongChang, South Korea. Thank you very much.

And by the way, this is the largest Winter Games in history, more than 100 events scheduled. That means some of the lesser-known sports often get overlooked. Here is one: snowboard cross. So our CNN meteorologist, Derek Van Dam, took a look at this sport. He got some lessons from a medal-winning pro.


DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We are in the presence of greatness here.

I am totally intimidated just to be standing next to you.

This is Erin Simmons, an Olympian from Steamboat Springs. Erin competed in the 2006 Winter Olympics, world championships and multiple X Games as a snowboard cross athlete. She's even taken home some hardware.


VAN DAM: OK, and any medals?

SIMMONS: Three silver medals.

VAN DAM: Where are those now?

SIMMONS: Almost gold. They're in a little case at home.

VAN DAM (voice-over): Turin, Italy, was the first time that snowboard cross was introduced to the Olympics.

SIMMONS: It was the inaugural year for snowboard cross, super fun.

VAN DAM (voice-over): The sport involves up to six athletes racing down a narrow, undulating course --


VAN DAM (voice-over): -- with the objective to reach the finish line first. Of course, it's a lot harder than she makes it look.

VAN DAM: Can you give me a couple tips and inside info?

SIMMONS: Mainly stay low, controlled, you know, parallel with your board.

We're checking out every feature, what we feel might be the best line, coming in to it, going off of it, connecting to the next feature. You basically are trying to absorb stuff and pump down the other side.

You want to land about here.

VAN DAM (voice-over): With Olympian training and 20 years experience under my belt, it was time to find out if I had what it takes to be a snowboard cross athlete.

SIMMONS: One, two, three, go.

There you go, nice.

Up. Stay on top. Come down.

VAN DAM: Whoo!




SIMMONS: You did it.


VAN DAM (voice-over): I think I'll leave this one to the pros. I'm CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam, reporting from Steamboat Springs, Colorado.


VANIER: That's how Derek rolls. We're back with the headlines in just a moment.