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White House Defends Trump amid Porter Scandal; Deficit Hawks Blast Trump Budget Plan; South Africa's Ruling Party to Decide President Zuma's Fate; Ethnic Cleansing Continues in Myanmar. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:11] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour --

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: The White House says President Trump supports victims of domestic violence above all but he can't seem to publicly say that himself.

VAUSE: After a marathon meeting of South Africa's ruling party, the fate of the scandal plagued President Jacob Zuma is hanging in the balance at this hour.

SESAY: Plus Myanmar authorities are starving the remaining Rohingya people in northern Rakhine state -- a damning new report from Amnesty International.

VAUSE: Hello everybody. Great to have you with us wherever you are watching all around the world. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now

VAUSE: Nearly a week after a White House staffer resigned over domestic abuse allegations, President Trump's aides are insisting he takes domestic violence very seriously and supports victims of domestic abuse. But that's not something the President has managed to say himself, at least not publicly.

SESAY: Instead he let his press secretary do the talking. Sarah Sanders spent most of Monday's press briefing fielding questions about the allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter. And she repeatedly turned to a prepared statement which she says came straight from the President himself.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly. Above all, the President supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Joining us now Democratic strategist Caroline Heldman, associate professor of politics at Occidental College; and Republican strategist and media consultant Luis Alvarado. Good to have you both here with us. It's been a while -- good to have you.

LUIS ALVARADO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. Thanks for the invitation.

VAUSE: Nice to have you back -- Luis.

Ok. So that was Sarah Sanders. Part of her briefing on Wednesday -- or Monday rather at the White House -- I'm hoping it was Wednesday, not yet.

Here is what the President though tweeted over the weekend by way of contrast.

"People's lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused. Life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as due process?"

So Luis -- the reality is that Trump's statements or his tweets carry a lot more meaning and significance when they come directly from him and the White House press secretary knows it.

ALVARADO: She does. And when we listen to that tweet, you read about it, you question if he's actually talking about Porter. Or is he out talking about his friend, Wynn? Because it's not just Porter, it's a lot of friends that he also has seen that have been accused and for gain?

And the reality is that he believes that due process should be paramount to the process that has to be utilized in understanding if there is any culpability whatsoever.

Now, the political aspect of this, certainly there is a lot of damning information that's coming out. But we already know that Donald Trump is oblivious to many things with regards to how he's managing the White House.

VAUSE: But Luis -- sorry I just want to -- does it matter if he's talking about Porter or Steve Wynn in that tweet? Because he's not talking about the victims of domestic violence.

ALVARADO: Well, it should matter. It should matter --


ALVARADO: -- because it's his White House. At the end of the day it's his legacy and how he's going to lead the White House and how he actually is going to represent the American people because that's the job that he's exercising right now.

But politically speaking we know that there are many things that he has said that we thought that would hurt him, have not hurt him. VAUSE: Right.

ALVARADO: At least not with the base. And I think if he started to sound too squishy I think that actually would around and bite him for trying to be overtly sensitive when people know that that's not who he is.

VAUSE: Caroline there is a theory that President kind of -- the allegations against Porter kind of (INAUDIBLE) credible because that makes a lot harder for him to deal with his own allegations that more than a dozen women at the President, you know, before the election.

That doesn't -- you know, that sort of makes a logical sense but this is a president who doesn't sort of follow, you know, logical formulas if you like. You know, he defended Roy Moore of Alabama but he attacked Al Franken, the Democrat Senator, you know, both accused to varying degrees of sexual harassment and assault.

CAROLINE HELDMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right. Well he's actually defended a lot of men who have engaged in this behavior, right -- from a Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, Corey Lewandowski, Roy Moore. Go down the list, the only people he really wants to hold accountable are Democrat (AUDIO GAP) partisan purposes.

But it's really (AUDIO GAP) that the 22 women who had made allegations of sexual harassment or violence against Donald Trump have not had their day in court. So if he's truly interested in due process, he would have to look at himself.

[00:04:59] VAUSE: Well with that in mind, you know, this is what Sarah Sanders said about the issue of due process.


SANDERS: Supporting due process for any allegation as not tone deaf. I think it is allowing things to be investigated and a mere allegation not being the determining factor.


VAUSE: Luis -- if you're looking for someone to defend the concept of guilty until proven innocent, Donald Trump would not be my first choice.

ALVARADO: I wouldn't want him to be defending me either.

VAUSE: Yes. I mean this guy has a lot of history of, you know, making false allegations; you know, declaring people guilty before there has been any kind of an investigation.

ALVARADO: Well, it's interesting that due process is what we're talking about when he's the king of due process. He's been sued how many hundreds of times and won. And I think that is the issue for him. When he looks at due process, he looks at it from a different parameter that the normal person would be looking at it.

For any normal person who gets sued it would be a traumatic experience. For Donald Trump, it's just any day at the work office.

VAUSE: I was just wondering about that tweet he put out over the weekend about lives destroyed by mere allegation. Caroline -- do you think this is now the President, you know, expressing some remorse for, you know, leading the birther movement against President Obama?

HELDMAN: I actually don't think that President Trump is capable of remorse. I think that the whole mystery of evangelical support for him, for example, is premised on this idea that he's the prodigal son and he's come back and he has, you know, sought forgiveness except he hasn't sought forgiveness.

He hasn't sought forgiveness for the women who claimed that he has violated them. So this is right in line with that -- right.

But beyond it being morally reprehensible and the fact that he is no longer -- the presidency is no longer the moral compass of our country, he had a man there who could have been compromised, right.

The issue with the security clearance is not a minor one. He ran a campaign battering a woman verbally, constantly about national security issues and an e-mail server and that was all about national security and yet he has a man who could so easily be turned or compromised because he can't pass a security clearance, because he has abused former spouses.

That could be used against him by any number of people. And this man was allowed to look at classified information. So it goes well beyond the moral argument.

VAUSE: So there are questions, Luis, about why Porter was allowed to stay around the White House for so long on an interim security clearance. The White House is blaming the FBI saying it's their process. The FBI said in response that in a statement, "After the FBI has completed a background investigation and provided the information to the agency adjudicating authority who determines whether to grant or deny the security clearance."

And Luis, there are questions like this about Porter but there are others who within the White House, you know, the "Washington Post" was reporting that Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law and adviser is also still on interim security clearance.

ALVARADO: But if you take a step backwards, you realize that this is a presidency that is unconventional from every facet, then you have to ask yourself what does it really matter because --

HELDMAN: What does it matter is people could look at classified information --


ALVARADO: -- to the electorate -- to the electorate -- to the electorate who put him there to be the disruptive president this is only a byproduct.

HELDMAN: To compromise our national security is a byproduct?

ALVARADO: It's a point of opinion. That would be your point of opinion.

HELDMAN: No, it's not a point of opinion if you have a --


ALVARADO: But to the people who elected him to office -- the people who elected him really don't care about these information as long as the economy is still strong. As long as they feel that the army and the military is being strengthened. To them they don't see this as a parallel to their daily lives. And I think that's the question at the end of the day.

VAUSE: Right.

You know that Edward Snowden got security clearance faster than these guys -- just saying that.

Ok. The other big news of the day is the President's budget blueprint. It looks like he will keep that pre-election promise he made during the campaign when he said the country will never again run a $400 billion deficit because it's going to be around a trillion dollars this year and in years to come.

And there is outrage from deficit hawks on both sides of the aisle. Listen to this.


REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: It makes even a drunken sailor blush. And the problem with that is the drunken sailor actually spent his own money, we've got the government spending yours.

REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: And now the Republicans are doing just as bad as Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid did in 2009 and 2010 when they had control of the United States Congress.


VAUSE: Just to pick up on that last point, because Caroline -- you know, why Obama ran those deficits because the economy was recovering from the great George W. Bush recession and the government had to stimulate the economy. That's why you have money in reserve for those kind of emergencies.

HELDMAN: Correct. And in fact, the economic crisis was under both Bush and Obama and they both responded by running big deficits in order to get us out that with the TARP program.

Yes. What is happening here I think is the one-two punch, right.

[00:09:54] So the tax cut where, you know, if you don't make at least $75,000 a year, you're not going to see a tax cut regardless of what the Trump administration says where he gave the top 1 percent 83 percent of the benefits.

That, you know, you rob the federal coffers of that revenue. That's the first punch. And then the second punch is you run these big deficits, or propose big deficits and then both Democrats and Republicans come in and start supporting slashing of entitlement programs.

This was the plan from the start.

VAUSE: Luis, why is it that Republicans are so against running a deficit when Obama was president --

ALVARADO: The Tea Party did.

VAUSE: Now they don't care. But now they don't care. I mean what's the deal.

ALVARADO: Well, that's a question that many Republicans are asking, me included as a Republican. I find myself calling for fiscal responsibility and I see that there is some mismanagement with regards to the approach on how they're going through infrastructure.

We do need infrastructure. Democrats are going to march along with the President and the Republicans on infrastructure. The question is who's going to get the bulk of the pork.

You know, when you look at some of the initial propositions on where the money is going to be spent, it's going to be spent in the Rustbelt. And you see the bullet train here in California, a big problem that we know that it didn't work, that it was more of a sweetheart deal for union supporters, for Democrat union bosses.

Those are the things that this president is trying to move away from. The question is will it be effective, whether Democrats show up to the table and do it together for the nation or is it going to be once again another partisan fight that we're going to see ready before the midterm elections in November.

VAUSE: Caroline -- we're almost out of time. But this infrastructure plan -- it seems like smoke and mirrors to some degree. The federal government will invest $200 billion over the next 10 years and somehow that will grow to a trillion dollars in spending on infrastructure by encouraging states and -- I mean how does that all work?

HELDMAN: Well, it's shifting priority. We used to base major infrastructure projects on what was in the best interest and what would serve the most people. Now, it's what private investors want.

So for example you might see a road to a high-priced condo complex that's been prioritized over a bridge in a poor area because it attracts private funds.

So this is a boondoggle. This is not going to help the Midwest. It is not going to help working class people. It is not even going to help a lot of Americans but it will help private investors.

VAUSE: And it is infrastructure week. They tried this before and that was the week when the special counsel was appointed.

HELDMAN: It's Rob Porter week.

ALVARADO: They can't get this right.

VAUSE: It's all about messaging -- people.

Ok. Luis and Caroline -- good to see you both. Thank you.


HELDMAN: Thank you.

SESAY: Well, the presidency of South Africa's Jacob Zuma appears to be nearing the end. His political fate now depends on the leaders of his party. They had a long meeting on Monday to decide whether to remove him or wait until his term ends next year.

While waiting for the party's official decision, it is unclear whether Mr. Zuma will once again refuse to step down. He's been clinging to power despite hundreds of corruption allegations. He denies all wrongdoing.

Well, Redi Tlhabi is a commentator and talk show host. She joins us live from Johannesburg. Redi -- good to have you with us once again.

So Jacob Zuma has been close to the political end several times. Let me ask you whether this effort to oust him is different. What's different this time around?

REDI TLHABI, COMMENTATOR AND TALK SHOW HOST: I loved what you said earlier, Isha -- that it appears that Jacob Zuma is going to step down because the entire country is shell-shocked. Why are we shell- shocked? Because our expectations were high.

The deputy president of the country, who also happens to be the president of the ANC (ph), told the nation and this is confirmed official in a statement and he was tweeting about it and said that we must trust him and that he thanks the nation for its patience and that the Jacob Zuma saga or the transition is nearing its end.

Many of us took that mean that Jacob Zuma, at least after yesterday's meeting or shall I say the meeting that ended in the early hours of this morning because it ended at 3:00 a.m., it is 7:00 a.m. in Johannesburg -- 7:14 a.m. in Johannesburg right now. The meeting ended four hours ago.

And there has not been any official word. But it is the nature of the ANC to have a meeting and then the next day, give us feedback. But this is such an important measure that we are all shell-shocked, that they're obfuscating around it.

So what would I say? That Jacob Zuma has not been seen in public. So obviously something is happening behind the scenes. That this was a high-level meeting of the ANC and our sources are telling us that a decision was made for Zuma to step down. When that is, we don't know. But it seems to be a matter of days but

no official confirmation.

SESAY: So Redi -- the one thing that is clear in everything here is that Jacob Zuma is not prepared to go willingly. At least that's how it appears from where we're sitting right now. Some of our viewers will be asking themselves what kind of man fights to stay when so many people want to see the back of you? Help our viewers understand who Jacob Zuma is.

TLHABI: Ok. That's a very important question. Why is it not a simple measure of a man who's no longer wanted just leaving?

[00:15:00] Firstly, Jacob Zuma is scandal-prone. He is facing days in court. He is facing jail time and this is not mere speculation on my part. But there are serious charges against him.

He's tried to stop those charges from going to court. The highest court in the land has said no, you have to face those charges. So that is his reality right now.

The second issue Isha, is that there is this notorious nuclear deal that has been struck with the Russian. The government has obfuscated also, denying that he has done that. The speculation that money had exchanged hands and Jacob Zuma is under pressure by the Russians to deliver this deal. And we had a Russian delegation visiting South Africa last week; so all of that seems to be at play here.

And then the third issue which is one that I can say with authority because it's not speculation is that there are many cabinet ministers in Jacob Zuma's government who also are complicit, who also have been tainted in this history of corruption.

So they're not ready to see the back of him because when he goes then they lose the protection and the authority that they've had. Because when Jacob Zuma faces these charges, if he goes to court then many people are going to go there with him.

So it will be an exaggeration to say that everybody wants to see the back of Jacob Zuma. There are ministers, there are officials in the ANC who benefits from his prolonged stay.

He is certainly very vulnerable. His family is very vulnerable because they too have been accused of using state money to benefit themselves and benefiting from lucrative state contracts. That is factual. It has proven.

So what I'm saying here is that one man doesn't necessarily create, you know, corruption in the entire country to acquire (ph) a system and that system has been enabled by his comrades and officials and cabinet ministers. And so I suspect that those ones are holding out. And that's the card that Jacob Zuma is playing right now.

SESAY: One analyst described this moment as a battle of -- a battle for the soul of the ANC. I mean how do you see this moment when you put it in context of the ANC and what it's meant to South Africa through the decades?

TLHABI: The soul of the ANC died a long time ago -- Isha. It died --


TLHABI: -- (INAUDIBLE) Jacob Zuma while he was the president of the country.

Just very quickly for the international audience. Jacob Zuma came to power with these corruption charges hanging over him. I'm not talking about things that happened after his presidency, the way they were before.

Secondly there was that famous great trial, I've written a book about it. He faced rape charges and this involved a young woman who was literally a daughter to him, the daughter of a friend of his. And of course, he was acquitted but the moral decay that that's demonstrated cannot be disputed.

So what I'm saying Isha is that this is a man who came into office with all of the stench and corruption hanging over him. So in my mind, for many of us we are exasperated that the ANC chose him.

But let me just say. You and I have spoken before when the ANC chose him over and over again. Opposition parties have brought a motion of no confidence in Jacob Zuma several times. That is akin to an impeachment in U.S. politics. Over and over again this man has come before parliament and the ANC has closed ranks protecting Jacob Zuma.

So many of us, we want Jacob Zuma out but we have very little sympathy for the ANC and we don't want the ANC to escape criticism institutionally (ph) because they have created this monster. They have continued to surround and protect him (INAUDIBLE).

So what am I saying in answer to your question? That for me the soul of the ANC died when it allowed Jacob Zuma to be the President and when it continued to protect him even when the courts found that he had violated the constitution. And as sitting president they continue to criticize the media, criticize the opposition, label people.

And so right now they want us all to rally in support of their call for him to step down. Of course, we rally around that because it's the right thing for the country but as for the ANC, we need to have a conversation about this because the country -- the party of Mandela, the ANC, has failed the country.

SESAY: Well, this is the centenary of Nelson Mandela. There will be a conversation about the ANC and its place in the next chapter of the country.

Redi Tlhabi -- really appreciate it. Thank you so much. Always great insight from you. Thank you.

TLHABI: Good to see you.

VAUSE: Well, still to come here. Could Israel and Iran be on the brink of all out war after a weekend which saw an Israeli fighter jet and Iranian drone shut down? The once shadow war waged between these countries now seem to be very much out in the open.


SESAY: Well, Britain's foreign minister is accusing Myanmar of ethnic cleansing after a visit to a Rohingya camp in Bangladesh. Boris Johnson took a tour of an area in Cox's Bazar that's home to 500,000 refugees. He also expressed his concern during a meeting with Myanmar's civilian leader, state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.

VAUSE: He later told a reporter that he's unsure whether she really understands the full horror of what's happened.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER: There is no doubt when you fly over northern Rakhine and you look at the scale of the devastation, the industrial ethnic cleansing that's gone on. There's no doubt that the military must have been involved. And of course, what we want to do now is to get those refugees back home in a way that is safe, voluntary and dignified.

And what Aung San Suu Kyi can do now that's most important is show leadership in getting an international body to over see that.


SESAY: For more we're joined by Matthew Wells. Matthew is a senior crisis adviser for Amnesty International. Matthew -- good to have you with us.

So according to a new Amnesty report the persecution of the Rohingya in northern Rakhine state continues. Explain to our viewers a particular facet of this crisis, if you will. How food is essentially being used as a weapon of war against the Rohingya.

MATTHEW WELLS SENIOR CRISIS ADVISER, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: That's exactly right. I'm just back from the Myanmar-Bangladesh border where even now more than five months into this campaign of ethnic cleansing, there's still hundreds of Rohingya who cross into Bangladesh each week.

And what they tell me, the recent arrivals, is that this is overwhelmingly because they had been driven to the point of starvation by the Myanmar military. The military has blocked them from going out to the rice fields so they've been unable to harvest their rice fields when that is their, you know, staple crop of the community.

Many of their markets have been burned and they've been blocked from accessing other markets. Their livestock have been stolen often with the direct complicity of the Myanmar military. And the military and the Myanmar authorities more generally have denied or severely restricted aid access to northern Rakhine state.

And all of these factors together have driven people to the point of starvation such that even now more than five months into the crisis they continue to flee to Bangladesh.

SESAY: Yes. And Matthew we want to point out those who find the courage to leave, to actually make that journey to Bangladesh face further dangers.

I want to read from the report and quote, "Myanmar security forces have set up checkpoints along these parts where they often deal a final blow, the systematic theft of money and other valuables from each person who passes through. When groups of families arrive, soldiers and border guard police descend from a security force outpost on a hillside and surround them, separating men from women."

The report goes on to detail how Rohingya women, particularly young women, attempting to flee also told the organization that Myanmar soldiers subjected them to sexual violence during searches at checkpoints."

And Matthew -- the thing that struck me as I read that section of the report is this clear sense of impunity on the part of the Myanmar military. These actions that are they being carried out in the open, they're not being hidden away and now we hear about this. We hear about the theft and the starvation.

[00:25:06] What does all of this tell us about the way this conflict has evolved?

WELLS: You know, it's just as you say the military has operated with complete impunity for a long time in Myanmar. And that has manifested itself during this current crisis in terms of its ruthless campaign against the Rohingya being met with no real action, no real consequences both inside and outside of Myanmar.

There have been condemnations, statements of concern from countries around the world but no real consequences to date. And that's left the Myanmar military to continue squeezing the Rohingya population now through starvation and through this really nasty stuff at checkpoints.

So we need to see the statements that are coming from countries around the world turn to action, when you real consequences, when you see an arms embargo on Myanmar, when you see targeted financial sanctions against the senior officials in the military who have led this campaign for months.

SESAY: Yes. As you talk about the international community, the British foreign secretary made a visit to Myanmar and also visited camps in Bangladesh and spoke of the devastation, of the need for Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar to do more and the need for an investigation.

But Matthew, what stood out to me is that he said nothing about the international community taking action to put a stop to the atrocities, to the suffering of the people; stopping it right now. What do you make of what Boris Johnson had to say?

WELLS: Yes. I mean you're absolutely right. You know, he said a couple of very important things. He referred to it as industrial ethnic cleansing. He rightly rejected the absurd argument the Myanmar authorities have put forward that the Rohingya burned their own houses before leaving when, you know, we've seen from overwhelming evidence that it was the Myanmar military that burned in a very targeted and systematic way villages across northern Rakhine state.

But these words are -- they're not good enough. They have led to no change in the Myanmar military's actions over the course of the last five months. Crimes against humanity are ongoing as our reporting and other reporting in recent weeks have shown.

And so it's time for countries around the world including the U.K. to step up, to impose consequences, including as I said targeted financial sanctions and arms embargo. We have to see real demand for aid access to open up in northern Rakhine state so the Rohingya population that's still there can receive the aid that they desperately need.

And we can see demands in the international community that independent investigators including the U.N. fact-finding mission, journalists, human rights organization like our own can get access to northern Rakhine state in order to further document the atrocities that have happened over the last five months.

SESAY: Yes. In the report, Amnesty said that Myanmar security forces are building on entrenched patterns of abuse to silently squeeze out of the country as many of the remaining Rohingya as possible. Without more effective international actions this ethnic cleansing campaign will continue its disastrous march.

Matthew -- as you well know, the U.N. Security Council will be briefed on Myanmar again on Tuesday. What is stopping the international community from leveling the targeted sanctions that you talk about and putting in place an arms embargo?

WELLS: You know, I think there's a couple of things. I think there have been several specific countries on the Security Council including China and Russia that have pushed back against more concerted effort from countries that, you know that are trying to impose more consequences.

But that in itself is not an excuse. We just need more action for example from the European Union. So far the United States had imposed sanctions on a single individual but apart from that, there have been no consequences around the world for what's happening in Myanmar.

So if the U.N. Security Council can act then the European Union and other bodies around the world should impose financial sanctions themselves, should impose more stringent measures in terms of an arms embargo.

One already exists by the E.U. but they could be further strengthened to make sure that this culture of impunity that exists within the Myanmar military that underpins all of these abuses against the Rohingya population and then that sends a clear message that they will not be tolerated.

SESAY: Yes. I couldn't agree more.

Matthew Wells of Amnesty -- we appreciate it. Thank you for all the work you're doing on the Rohingya. Thank you.

WELLS: Thank you for having me.

VAUSE: There is the progress but it's so incremental and slow. It's very, very slow.

SESAY: Yes. I would debate the progress.

We're going to take a really quick break. Do stay with us. We'll be right back after this.




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome back, everybody, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour:


VAUSE: For decades, Israel and Iran have been fighting a shadow war, a deadly cat-and-mouse game, often played out through proxies, rarely are details made public. But that all seems to have changed this past weekend when Israel downed an Iranian drone which infiltrated its airspace.

And then an Israeli F-16 sent to the destroy the drone's operational base inside Syria was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed.

In retaliation, Israel carried out extensive airstrikes on what it said were Iranian military assets deep inside Syrian territory. And Israel's intelligence minister has delivered a very blunt threat in an interview with the Saudi-owned news outlet "Elaph." Here it is.

"If Iran continues to threaten and carry out offensive operations against Israel from Syria, Israel will teach Iran a lesson that it will never forget."

We should note the London-based news site is seen as a back channel for Israeli officials to the Arab world.

All of this is leading to a growing unease that Israel and Iran are heading towards a large-scale direct confrontation, possibly all-out war. U.S. security and foreign policy analyst Ari Aramesh is with us now from San Francisco.

Ari, thanks for joining us. A quick look at the Israeli media and it doesn't take too long to find a lot of warnings, a lot of op-eds that war is on the horizon. For example, the former head of the IDF intelligence told one newspaper that Israel is now stuck in a difficult dilemma between whether to act preemptively or wait for the coming war because (INAUDIBLE) the Israeli cabinet must sit and examine whether the precision guided missiles in Syria justify a preemptive operation that could lead us to war.

It's pretty much a certainty we'll see a lot more Israeli military action in Syria.

But, Ari, does that lead to an all-out war in the traditional sense with Iran?

ARASH ARAMESH, U.S. SECURITY AND FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: So we have a pretty complicated set of factors here. We've got a lot of players, we've got Iran, Syria and Hezbollah with their patron (ph) rush on the one side and then you've got the Israelis on the other side, who are now getting much, much closer to some of their older enemies, like the Saudis and other Arab states in the region, and some of their sort of quasi-enemies, like Egypt and Jordan, and so on and so forth, who made peace with Israel many years ago. But again, you see sort of the formation of two --


ARAMESH: -- blocs in the Middle East, one led by Iran and one led by the Saudi Israeli coalition.

Here is the bottom line: Israel is not going to allow Iran to build military bases or have a military presence permanently on Syrian soil. Syria sits right to the east of Israel; Israel has had to deal with Hezbollah, which is in Lebanon and it's by the Israeli border. Israel has had to deal with Gaza, Hamas in Gaza, that, again, is on the southern Israeli border.

Israel does not want to deal with yet another open front coming from Israeli. Now this is a much greater land, much bigger land with much more sophisticated air defense systems, called the Arab Army of Assyria in Iran.

And Iran is after putting permanent bases there around Palmyra, around Homs and all around Damascus for two main reasons: A, to train and support Hezbollah and to quell and quench domestic uprisings in Syria against the Bashar al-Assad regime but more long-term to get ready for a long-term or more permanent or more serious conflict with Israel.

And very shortly, very briefly, while Iran may be able to take these tactical hits right now, getting a few sort of bases bombarded by Israelis, getting a few drones shot out of the sky, they're willing to take the tactical hits so long as they can position themselves very strategically for a conflict down the road.

And Israel doesn't want to let that happen.

VAUSE: OK, Israel's made no secret it's reinforcing its defenses in the Golan Heights in the north of the country. That's where it shares a border with Israel. Listen to the Israeli commander for the northern front. This is what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Today what we have known for a long time is clear to everyone: Iran wishes to create a front command in the territory of Syria, whose aim is to hurt Israel.

We will not let it happen. We will not jeopardize the citizens of Israel. We will not enable the destabilizing of the entire region.


VAUSE: Which goes to your point but at this present point right now, how much of a threat is Iran posing directly to Israel?

And we should note, Iran pretty much denies everything.

ARAMESH: If Iranian missiles can reach Israel, Iranian missiles and Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas are very, very close to the Israeli border, so actually right on the Israeli border.

The question here is that the two countries right now are at the sort of climax of an ideological war. Let's not forget that there is really not much of -- if Iran was not ruled by the Islamic Republic of Iran, if Iran had a -- somewhat of a different government for that matter in place, Iran as a country, as a nation state doesn't really have any fundamental sort of national interest challenges or crosscutting or reinforcing cleavages with Israel.

The two countries are not neighbors. The two countries do not have any border issues or border conflicts and the two countries do not compete over natural resources.

The main reason that Iran and Israel are at odds and they are foes is because the Iranian government, the Islamic Republic of Iran, claims Israel to be its ideological enemy in the region.

That is the main reason. And Iran, Iranian propaganda has always said they want to take out and destroy the Zionist regime and so on and so forth.

So is Iran a threat to Israel?

Israel perceives it that way. There is no doubt that, if there was a conflict in the region, Iran definitely would be in the front lines of fighting against Israel and vice versa. And just looking at how things have shaped, you've got the so-called crescent of resistance, that's the Assad regime, Iran, Hezbollah.

And then you've got the rest that Iran accuses to be the stooges of the United States, such as the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and so on and so forth. So the question is this, this conflict, while it's serving ideological interests of the ruling power in Iran, it is not really sort of a conflict based on national interest. It is one based on ideological reasons, of ideological cleavages. In addition to that, if a conflict does take place, without a doubt it

will put the United States in a pretty bad situation. The U.S. will have to intervene. The U.S. will have to at least fully support Israel and it will do so.

And it will perhaps create a wider, bigger, longer-lasting conflict in the region, something that no one wants. So let's hope there is less saber-rattling and let's hope the cooler heads will prevail.

And a very brief point, history has also shown that when the government in Tehran is roiled with domestic disturbances and domestic uprisings, a little bit of a foreign crisis always helps the radicals and the hardliners in Iran solidify and consolidate power. And that is something they are not necessarily after.

VAUSE: It's a formula they have used, not just in Iran but throughout --


VAUSE: -- the Arab world But we're out of time, Ari, but it's also -- we should note that secretary of state Rex Tillerson is on a trip to the Middle East. He's not going to Israel, which is significant.

Also you say the U.S. will be in a spot of bother. The Russians will as well.

We just lost Ari.

So there we go. That's my point.

Good to see you, Ari, thank you.

But, yes.


VAUSE: The Russians are back obviously not just Iran but they also quite allies with the Israelis, the Israeli prime minister had a very long and deep and meaningful conversation with the Russian president recently over what's happening with Syria and Iran.

So, yes, anything to do with Syria, listen everything else --


VAUSE: -- gets very complicated.

SESAY: Gets very complicated and then you just use the satellite link.



VAUSE: Not a good look. SESAY: Quick break. North Korea's delegation is back home but the push for Olympic diplomacy continues. Coming up, Kim Jong-un's message to South Korea.