Massive explosions rocked the capital of Syria early Sunday, renewing claims that Israel has launched attacks into the war-torn country. Israel Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon weighs in on the claims and the latest developments in the conflict on "Starting Point" this morning. "We cannot confirm or deny activities in Syria, but we have concerned about the involvement of Iran," Danon says.
READ MORE: Syria: Attack on military facility was a 'declaration of war' by Israel
Fmr. Sen. George Mitchell on President Obama's meeting with Palestinian President Abbas and chance of new peace plan.
Israel spokesperson Mark Regev on President Obama's first trip to Israel and reports of chemical weapons in Syria.
[MORE TO COME]
A major conflict is developing in the Middle East this morning. Rockets fired from Gaza to Tel Aviv overnight after Israel began its “Operation Pillar of Defense” on Wednesday when a precision Israeli air strike killed Hamas military mastermind Ahmed Al-Jaabari. Hamas reports at least 15 Palestinians have been killed in missile strikes and Israeli forces reports three of its citizens have been killed.
Massive anti-Israeli protests have since sprouted in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Egypt, and Jordan, in reaction in Israel’s strike on the Gaza Strip.
Leaders in the international community are watching the violence closely, fearing a ground war as Israeli troops mass at the Gaza border. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has cancelled a planned trip through Africa to go to the Middle East to try to prevent further violence.
Danny Ayalon is the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister. He's also a former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ayalon joins Soledad O’Brien on “Starting Point” with more on the ongoing situation.
“The situation is that the terrorists of Hamas keep trying to aim more rockets…at Israeli populations,” Ayalon says. He says Israeli citizens have been unable to lead their lives peacefully for the last seven years, ever since handing Gaza over to the Palestinians. “We gave Gaza to the Palestinians till the last inch, and instead of peace and quiet, reconciliation, coexistence, they have fired more and more arms against us.”
Ayalon says “situation now has been exacerbated because of the so-called Arab Swing.” He says Hamas now has access to “more accurate and long-range missiles from the caches” of deposed Libyan Moammar Gadhafi. Ayalon explains that Israel’s role is now to defend itself because those in Hamas use these arms “very irresponsibly”. “What we want to do is first and foremost, achieve peace and quiet,” Ayalon says. “That means, to stop the rockets.”
Ayalon says a ground war is possible. “We don’t want to get into Gaza if we don’t have to, but if they keep firing at us, we will have to do it.” Ayalon says the next 24 to 36 hours will determine whether a ground operation is in the cards. More rockets in that time frame “would be the trigger.” Ayalon says the decision is all “touch and go”.
Lastly, he alerts world leaders to their responsibility. “It’s really the responsibility on the Hamas terrorist heads and all those who support them, the Iranians, Qatari money,” Ayalon says. Ayalon stresses that the international community should cut off any aid to Hamas.
This morning on "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien," Romney Campaign Senior Communications Advisor Tara Wall says there's a 'clear difference' between the foreign policy plans of her candidate and President Obama.
"Americans need to understand there is a clear and distinct choice between these candidates, relative to their approaches to foreign policy and how we lead, how we have led, how this president has led, how this president failed to lead it in a large degree, even just recently," Wall says.
Soledad points out that Romney's foreign policy plan is very similar to President Obama's, and pushes Wall for details on those differences.
"I'm sure you can find similarities in a number of positions with leaders on a number of different issues," Wall adds. "There are those clear differences that have been spelled out, that we do spell out. and the approach that this governor takes and plans to take relative to cracking down on terrorists and enemies and those who are out to harm us and out to harm our allies."
The conversation became heated when Soledad asks Wall about Romney's position on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Soledad notes the contradicting points from a secret video tape released earlier this year, where Romney says "I'm torn by two perspectives in this regard. One is the one which I've had for some time, which is that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace. And that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish." Soledad compares that to Romney's upcoming foreign policy speech today, where excerpts say he will "recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel."
"We will stand side-by-side with Israel, and the Governor has made that clear," Wall says. "I'm not going to get into a big foreign policy debate with you here...that's not my position, not my role. If you want to talk about that I suggest you put on a couple of foreign affairs experts and let them go at it and pick this apart in the way you'd like to have it picked apart. But I think we've clearly stated what our position is."
On Friday, President Obama is expected to make a very important phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The phone call follows a week of heavy criticism against the president for not meeting with Netanyahu in person and yet making time for several TV appearances and campaign stops. Thursday, the Israeli Prime Minister met with Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton for more than an hour, which included an "in depth discussion on Iran." That meeting followed Netanyahu’s blistering speech to the United Nations General Assembly where he made it clear Israel would demand a "red line" to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon - literally drawing that line in front of the audience. Mark Regev is the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and joins “Starting Point” today to discuss
Regev says the American position has been consistent with Israel calls to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. “Our position and the United States’ position are almost identical and we have to continue talking to see what we can do to prevent the Iranians from achieving a nuclear bomb.”
On Tuesday, a top Israeli official wrote in The Times of Israel article that while Fmr. President Clinton “made us feel like he had our back…President Obama doesn’t give us the same sense that he’d be there.” Regev disagrees – saying, “I don’t believe that’s an official who’s in the loop with what’s going on between Jerusalem and Washington today.” Regev adds, “I think there’s a common understanding that the Iranian regime simply can not be allowed to achieve a nuclear weapon.”
The spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister says despite the fact Obama chose not to meet with Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister did not feel insulted. “We came here to New York… because of the Jewish holidays we only arrived yesterday. The President was here only at the beginning of the week. We’ve got a good dialogue. We will continue to discuss the issue and the most important things to stop Iranian nuclear enrichment.”
Peter Beinart, author of "The Crisis of Zionism," explains his controversial claim that Israeli occupation poses a risk.
Starting Point airs weekdays from 7am to 9am ET on CNN. Check in often to join the daily conversation.