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Israel Rivals Strike Deal Which Could Oust Netanyahu; Experts: Vaccine Resistance Hindering Fight Against Virus; Stern Of Smoldering Cargo Ship Sinks Off Sri Lanka; Naftali Bennett Poised to Become Israeli Prime Minister; American Jailed in Russia for Alleged Spying Speaks Out; Japan Carries on with Olympics Prep and Public Hesitancy. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired June 3, 2021 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, this is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause and coming up this hour. They have a deal, the most diverse and unlikely political alliance in Israeli history set to form a unity government. United with one goal, force Benjamin Netanyahu out of office. There is vaccinated Planet Earth where life seems to be heading back to normal and there is the ongoing misery, suffering, and death of unvaccinated planet Earth. And experts warn this inequity cannot continue. Then thanks, but no thanks. Thousand of Olympic volunteers in Tokyo quit over fears of the Coronavirus.

And we begin with breaking news from Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu's 12 years as prime minister is inching closer to an end. A deal to form a unity government by the opposition leader, Yair Lapid, with celebrations in Tel Aviv. Eight political parties, the most diverse coalition in Israeli history have signed on all committed to one cause removing Netanyahu as prime minister. Religious nationalist, Naftali Bennett, would serve as prime minister for the next two years that if the deal is approved by the Knesset.

And for the first time, an Israeli government would include an Arab Israeli party. Let's get the very latest now from Elliott Gotkine in Jerusalem. OK. Benjamin Netanyahu is the country's longest serving Prime Minister for a reason. He's considered the Houdini of politics. And clearly, it doesn't look good right now. And they were -- expected this kind of deal. It came right down to the wire. But seriously, what can he do at this point? What are his chances of survival?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, clearly he's lost this battle, but he will feel that he's yet to lose the war. What he will be doing between now and the Knesset convening, the vote of confidence in this coalition, which could actually take as long as 12 days because they've got about a week after the Speaker of the Knesset convenes parliament.

So in that time, you can bet that Netanyahu will be lobbying at his most furious best, all of the potential waivers in this incipient coalition, he will be going after the supporters of the Yamina Party, especially of the New Hope Party, who are ideological bedfellows rarely with Netanyahu with the only reason they wouldn't form a government with Netanyahu's Likud Party and the other members of his right-wing bloc is because of Netanyahu himself.

So Netanyahu will be doing his best to try to appeal to their sense of right-wing worthiness, will try to encourage his supporters and supporters of those other right-wing parties to get the message through to those party leaders that joining this Rainbow Coalition is not in the best interests for their own political careers, and not in the best interest of Israel. But for now, right now, Netanyahu is down, but he's not out yet, John.

VAUSE: OK. So what? In all of this, it seems, that what seems to be lost is the significance of the inclusion of the high end, the United Arab list party, as part of this government. It was there from the very beginning, it was part of negotiations, it now looks set to sit with the government, which has never happened before in Israeli politics.

GOTKINE: It hasn't. Now in the past, Arab parties have, you know, been part of let's call it a confidence in supply arrangement on particular bits of legislation. They have supported governments in the past, but from outside the coalition. This will be the very first time that in our party is actually included within a governing coalition.

But, you know, if you think of it from, you know, take a step back, you know, the Israeli Arabs or Palestinian Arabs, depending on what description you're using, they account for about a fifth of the population in Israel. They have, you know, full rights to vote. And it seems almost, you know, looking at it now, we're seeing this as an unprecedented move.

But if you think about it, you've had a fifth of the Israeli population ever since its founding not being represented in coalition governments. So although this was kind of anathema in the past, I think the fact that this is happening now will set a precedent and that in future, you could potentially see our parties joining left- wing coalitions or centrist coalitions or even right wing coalitions, this kind of, you know, will set a precedent, I think.


And that in the future, we will just see this as a part of Israel's normal political life, having an Arab party inside a coalition government.

VAUSE: Yes. It could be a real changer, I guess, as you say, sort of bringing things back to what you would expect to be some kind of normalcy there. But Elliott, thank you. Elliott Gotkine there in Jerusalem. Joining us now is Dalia Dassa Kaye, Director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy and Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation. Dalia, it's been a while and it's good to see you. Thanks for being with us.


VAUSE: OK. So the leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, called Israel's President about 35 minutes before a midnight deadline to tell him the deal had been done on forming a unity government. Here's part of that phone call.


YAIR LAPID, YESH ATID PARTY LEADER (through translation): Mr. President, I'm calling you to say that I've succeeded in forming a government with the factions of Yesh Atid, Yamina (INAUDIBLE) Ra'am, New Hope, Meretz, and the Liberal Party. All of them together, they signed for me. They all signed for me. They all told that I have succeeded as far as they're concerned. So, I'm calling to inform you that I've succeeded in forming government.


GOTKINE: You know, when you listen to that list of rival political parties, Lapid (INAUDIBLE) Rahman, which is a United Arab list, Palestinians, who are Israeli citizens serving in the Knesset. He then named the right-wing party, New Hope. He then goes on to the far-left Meretz Party. This is a mind-blowing diverse group of politicians. Before today, chances are they could not agree on ordering a pizza. And now they're forming a government, you know. In terms of this, what this means this is fairly historic stuff, right?

KAYE: It is fairly unprecedented coalition. The common denominator is not buying a pizza but, you know, getting Bibi Netanyahu out of power after 12 consecutive years, 15 in total. It was a strong motivating factor. So it is a quite a diverse coalition. We'll see if it can last. But it is a unique moment in Israeli history for sure.

VAUSE: Now, the issue is it goes before the Knesset for parliamentary approval and in all of this, it appears to be a new element in the mix and that is a new Israeli President Isaac Herzog. Here he is.


ISAAC HERZOG, ISRAELI PRESIDENT-ELECT (through translator): I would like to thank each and every one of the Knesset members for the trust you put in me. I accept the heavy responsibility you have entrusted in me and accept the privilege of serving the whole nation in this esteemed role.


VAUSE: He's a former leader of Israel's Labor Party. He takes over from Reuven Rivlin who came from Netanyahu's conservative Likud. He was seen of -- Reuven was seen as an ally of the Prime Minister. It's not exactly a game changer for Netanyahu, but it's not exactly great news either, is it?

KAYE: Well, I think, you know, the President and Israel is largely ceremonial. I think it will reinforce what this new coalition, assuming that it is sworn in probably next week, it will reinforce a yearning for stability in Israel. There, you know, has been four elections in two years. There is no budget, there's going to be a need to focus on domestic socioeconomic issues, the economy, education, health, of course, in the COVID crisis.

So I think, you know, this is just going to reinforce that trend that we see that really is part of the underlying reason that we have this coalition to begin with, that is really quite surprising. And it did not allow Netanyahu to pull off yet another surprise ability to stay in power following the Gaza conflict. So, it is an interesting development.

VAUSE: Yeah, the Houdini of Israeli politics may be out of tricks.

KAYE: Yes.

VAUSE: But we don't know at this point. Still a couple of days left.

KAYE: Yes.

VAUSE: Under the coalition deal though, the role of Prime Minister if this goes ahead, it will be shared and the leader of the minor religious Nationalist Party, Naftali Bennett, he'll be sworn in first. Here he is speaking to CNN's Erin Burnett back in 2013.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Would you ever accept that, a sovereign and independent Palestinian state?

NAFTALI BENNETT, YAMINA PARTY LEADER: Well, it's no secret that my opinion is that forming a Palestinian state, just a five-minute ride from where I'm sitting right now, would in fact create a terrible situation in Israel in a hundred-year long conflict between the U.S. and the Arabs.


VAUSE: So on that issue, there really appears to be no change from the position taken by Netanyahu. And all reports are similar (INAUDIBLE) on Iran as well. And that's shared by a lot of politicians within this coalition. So on those issues, does it mean business as usual? No change?

KAYE: Well, it is called the change coalition. But I think we are likely to see more of the change on the domestic front and the foreign policy front, especially on issues of most concern in the West, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iran issue. You know, he is -- Bennett is a very pro-settlement, anti-two-state solution politician, is not shy about it even to the right of Bibi Netanyahu on these issues.


The only restraining factor though is that he is in this quite diverse coalition, including with centrist, secular centrist parties and left center left parties, including the Labor Party and Meretz. So he won't be able to have free rein to, you know, pursue, let's say annexation, even though he is pro annexation. That said, we can expect status quo policies when it comes to the Palestinian issue and status quo issues, as we know from this recent Gaza War, we've just, you know, seen and witnessed, that a status quo does not mean stability and any spark could ignite a new conflict.

Same with the Iran issue. Naftali Bennett coined what he called the Octopus Doctrine. It's about hitting Iran, the head of the octopus, not just its proxies, quite supportive, as many Israeli politicians are of continuing to degrade Iranian capabilities, whether or not there is a nuclear deal, very concerned about Iranian activity in Syria and beyond. So, I think on a lot of these issues, we'll see a change of tone but not necessarily a change in substance on foreign policy.

VAUSE: OK, Dalia. It's been a long time and it is good to have you with us.

KAYE: Yes.

VAUSE: We really appreciate your insights. Thanks so much.

KAYE: Thank you.

VAUSE: The largest warship in Iran's Navy has gone up in flames and later sank in the Gulf of Oman. Iran's fast news agency says the ship was on fire for 20 hours with no word of the cause of the blaze. All crew members were safely evacuated before the ship went down. Another fire near Iran is now under control. According to an emergency official quoted by a state media, this was an oil refinery with huge plumes of smoke visible from the south of the capital, Tehran. A refinery spokesman says he has no information on possible casualties or even what started the fire. He did say, however, there was not sabotage.

About a month and a half before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, and it seems thousands of volunteers have quit. According to NHK Tokyo 2020 CEO says a total of around 10,000 volunteers have withdrawn, but he doesn't believe that exit will actually affect the games. CNN's Blake Essig is live for us from Tokyo with the latest. How can you lose 10,000 volunteers and say, oh, it's OK? Sure you'll have some impact.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, John, it's insignificant, but officials do say that they still have roughly 80,000 volunteers signed up and don't believe that the withdrawals will impact the games in part because overseas spectators have been banned and that they plan on scaling back the number of foreign delegates expected to attend as well. Now although officials didn't give a specific reason for the volunteers' quitting, they did say that the numbers started to drop in February around the same time that former Tokyo 2020 Chairman Yoshiro Mori resigned after making sexist comments about women.

But according to one of the volunteers that I spoke with, health and safety concerns are the primary reason for volunteers dropping out. She told me that they still have only been told that as far as prevention measures are concerned, they'll be given two masks, a small bottle of hand sanitizer, and a request to socially distance. Now, to make that last request a little more difficult, volunteers are being asked to take public transportation to and from the venues.

Now as of today, only about 3 percent of Japan's population has been fully vaccinated and volunteers are not being given priority. Although Olympic organizers are now saying that a small number of that percentage of volunteers will be given the opportunity to be vaccinated, those people will likely be the volunteers that are working closely with athletes within different venues. But of course that is still being discussed.

Now for now, Tokyo and eight other prefectures remain under an extended state of emergency order until June 20th. And while, the daily case count has been going down for about two weeks, the number of patients in critical condition remains high. Now if the games are to be held, Japan's top Coronavirus adviser told the lower house of parliament just yesterday that it's up to Olympic organizers to develop sufficient and virus -- antivirus measures to make sure that the safety of participants is ensured.

And at the same time, he said it's not normal to host these games under the current situation, of course, current situation being a global pandemic. Now, despite all that, Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto told Nikkan Sports Newspaper just yesterday that it's impossible to postpone the games again, and that data provided to them by Tokyo University shows that there will be no increase in the number of infections if the games are held without spectators compared to not holding the games at all.

Of course, we're still not sure if domestic spectators will be allowed, John. We expect to find that out later this month.

VAUSE: Blake, thank you. Blake Essig's in Tokyo, appreciate it. Now just in time for the Northern summer, seven European countries now issuing COVID-19 certificates with travel within the block. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia, Poland, will issue digital certificates free-of-charge but only for their citizens.


The rest of Europe will have to wait just a little longer. We get more details now from CNN's Melissa Bell reporting in from Paris.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A system of digital COVID certificates now up and running in seven European countries, a system that should go live in the whole of Europe by the 1st of July. It basically means that with this digital certificate, people can show as they come in and out of countries and across the European Union, whether they've been vaccinated, whether they've been found to be immune because they've recently had OVIDm, or if they've had a negative test in the previous 72 hours.

The idea once again to get Europeans flowing across borders that have, for too long, been closed, also allowing third-party nationals. So for instance, citizens of United States for these seven countries so far, but for the rest of Europe, by July 1st, if they've been vaccinated, once again to be able to travel in and out of the European Union for the first time in more than a year. Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.

VAUSE: The COVID crisis in Brazil could be about to get even worse with a potential third wave of the Coronavirus. More than 95,000 new infections were reported Wednesday the country's second highest daily case count since the beginning of the pandemic.

Protests erupted Wednesday during a national address by President, Jair Bolsonaro. Brazilians are fed up with his handling of the pandemic and they could be heard chatting "Out with Bolsonaro and Bolsonaro genocide." Despite the recent surge, Bolsonaro has continued to reject social distancing measures and is insisting on hosting the upcoming Copa American Football Tournament.

Professor William Haseltine is an infectious disease expert and president of ACCESS Health International and author of Variants! The Shape-Shifting Challenge of COVID-19. He joins us this hour from New York. Professor, thank you for coming back. Good to see you.


VAUSE: So in Central America, the pandemic seems to be going from bad to worse. We have the Pan American Health Organization reporting COVID-19 infections are accelerating in Panama, Belize, and El Salvador, where new cases have doubled in the last seven days. It's a similar situation in many parts of Asia. Here's part of an editorial from Malaysia's New Strait Times. The headline, "Be afraid. Be very afraid. We're in a desperate situation. Yes, a full lockdown comes into force tomorrow. But it is uncertain whether the ravages of the pandemic can be brought under control. The economy will certainly suffer. The people will suffer even more, those who live. Many are dying, and will die."

This is -- this seems like, in many parts, it is about as desperate as it has been. And the longer this virus remains active and circulating, it seems the more contagious it gets. And that once again, places a lot more urgency on getting the entire world vaccinated sooner rather than later. But that's just not happening. So what are the consequences here?

HASELTINE: Well, it's very serious. And for South America, it's also really serious that of 200,000 people a day being infected there. It's as bad as it's been. And as you've accurately pointed out, many parts of the world, Southeast Asia in particular, which seems to have been spared, Thailand, Vietnam, many of the countries there, Malaysia, are now suffering. And even the countries that had been doing very well by closing their borders and taking the strictest of measures are -- many of them are right now on lockdown because there's been leakage.

When you have variants-like exist that are so much more transmissible, it's not as easy to contain it as it was before. Never -- it was never easy. But now, it's considerably more dangerous because the one thing that's been happening through the course of this pandemic over the last year and a half is the virus is getting more and more transmissible.

VAUSE: And what we have right now is the world which is divided into vaccinated and unvaccinated. And for the most part, life for the vaccinated is looking pretty good. Summer vacation plans in the U.S., Europe is allowing the vaccinated to travel freely. Here's Denmark's Foreign Minister with more of that, listen to this.


JEPPE KOFOD, DANISH MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: It is really important for, you know, tourists, for families, for businesses that they can cross borders, and they have proof of, as you said before, of, you know, vaccination, negative tests or recovery. So this is fundamental for us.


VAUSE: This seems to be an invitation for the virus to spread once again. How long will the good times last, I guess, before a variant emerges, which the vaccines have no effect on?

HASELTINE: Well, I live in a country, the United States, which is being well vaccinated, except there's a large fraction of our population, which is not yet vaccinated and doesn't seem to want to be vaccinated. And this is not the only country where that's true. And so if your vaccinated, you have a much less chance of contracting, 95 percent chance less of contracting the virus.


But it turns out for those -- that large fraction of the U.S., which is not vaccinated, it's just as bad this month as it was last month and the month before. Your chances of getting infected and getting sick are just the same. It's really important to get vaccinated. And that's true around the world. There are countries where many people are vaccinated and others aren't. And as we have discussed, there are many countries where very few people are vaccinated, and they're extremely high risk.

VAUSE: And with that in mind, the U.S. plans to release part of its excess supply of vaccines. It's (INAUDIBLE) to help countries which have been unable to secure adequate supplies. Here's the U.S. Secretary of State with more on that. Here he is.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We will be making available globally about 80 million vaccine doses that we have access to between now and the end of June. And in the next week or so, sometime in the next week to two weeks, we will be announcing the process by which we'll distribute those vaccines.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: But most of that 80 million, I think, will be the AstraZeneca

vaccine, which seems to be less effective against some of the variants, especially compared to Moderna and Pfizer. Is there a need for a better strategy here?

HASELTINE: There is a need for a better strategy. And I think that strategy is, first of all, the richer countries of the world getting together and increasing dramatically the total supply of vaccine. It's not just about inequity, it's a total supply, that we just don't have the -- enough of the vaccines, particularly the Pfizer, and the Moderna which seem to work much better against the variants and many of the others. The AstraZeneca vaccine, for example, was published in a real trial not to work against a South African variant.

So it really matters what variant and what vaccine, and so far, the Pfizer in the Moderna are by far the best. And we just don't have the manufacturing capacity around the world. More is coming online. Singapore is signed up to use some of their technologies. The Chinese are using their technologies. There's new technologies coming online from some European countries. So, that's all good, but we need to accelerate it. And we can make sure those manufacturing facilities are in places like Egypt that can help supply the African content -- continent or perhaps Chile, in South Africa -- South America. We need those vaccines to be produced locally so they can be distributed locally and that's incumbent on the rest of the world to help that happen.

VAUSE: Yes, a good point to finish on, Professor. Thank you. Professor William Haseltine. Thanks so much for being with us.

HASELTINE: You're welcome. Thank you very much.

VAUSE: Well, still to come, it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but authorities in Sri Lanka interlinked trying to limit environmental damage from a sinking burned out cargo ship, tried to tow it out to sea to deeper water, but now it's stuck at the bottom of the ocean.

Also ahead, an American prisoner being held in a Russian work camp urging the U.S. President to end hostage diplomacy, an exclusive report in a moment.


VAUSE: It wasn't meant to end this way. But when Sri Lankan officials tried to tow cripple cargo ship to deeper water on Wednesday, it sank.


The ship had been burning off Sri Lanka for almost two weeks and now the ecological disaster is only expected to get worse with growing concerns for Sri Lanka's pristine beaches. The ship holds hundreds of tons of oil, fuel, and chemicals. CNN's Anna Coren joins us now from Hong Kong with the latest. You know, all that stuff, that hundreds of tons of oil and now just on the bottom of the ocean, so what's the plan now? ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, environmentalists are describing this as Sri Lanka's worst marine environmental disaster. And that is because of the 350 tons of oil that is sitting in this vessel. From those aerial pictures that the Navy has provided, you can see oil slicks. They're saying that there isn't an oil spill just yet. But that is what they are waiting for. What they are preparing for, which would be catastrophic to this pristine marine environment.

For days now, we've seen this -- these plastic pellets, they're described as noodles washing up on the shore. There's like 3,000 bags of it being swept up and taken away every single day by the hundreds of workers that are combing these beaches, but it is proving, you know, catastrophic for the marine life. They're already seeing dead marine life washing up on the shore. The government has banned any fishing now for, like, 80 kilometers of the coastline. That affects 5,600 fishing boats. And for the local fishermen who rely on this for their livelihood, it is absolutely devastating. Take a listen to what one of them had to say.


SUDHATH FERNANDO, SRI LANKAN FISHERMAN (through translator): I've been a fisherman for 35 years. I've never experienced anything like this. A ship carrying chemicals from nowhere has destroyed our livelihood. The government should take responsibility for this.


COREN: Now the Sri Lankan Navy is saying that the fire on board this vessel was caused by nitric acid leaking. And we know there were 1,400 -- 14,086 shipping containers on board. The vessel, many of them have fallen off, but they contain 25 tons of nitric acid along with other chemicals and that has also seeped into the ocean. The government is obviously -- has launched an investigation. We know that the ship that left (INAUDIBLE) port in India on the 15th of May that the crew detected a leak of this nitric acid before the fire occurred.

They had tried to dock later in India and then in Qatar. They were denied entry. And there's a real anger now at the Sri Lankan government as to why it allowed the vessel into Sri Lankan waters. The ship's captain and two engineers have basically been detained. They are not allowed to leave the country by court order whilst an investigation is ongoing, John.

VAUSE: Anna, thank you. Anna Coren live in Hong Kong with some very grim news. Well, just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM. A new political future on the horizon for Israel, we'll meet the man who could be the country's next prime minister, the first new prime minister in 12 years.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. Thank you for saying with us. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

[00:30:50] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be down, but history would caution not to call him out. Unlikely allies Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett have announced a deal to form a unity government made up of political parties with little in common. They have a razor-thin majority in the Knesset.

This agreement still needs parliamentary approval with a vote next week in the Knesset, giving Netanyahu and his allies time to try and sabotage the fragile coalition.

Still, word of the agreement brought celebrations to the streets of Tel Aviv.


ERAN MARGALIT, MUSIC STUDENT: Tonight, we are celebrating. It started as a protest to encourage the government of change, and now Yair Lapid has announced that he has a new government. So this protest turned into a celebration.

MARYANA SIMANOVIC, CELEBRANT: We are celebrating our provisional new government. For two years, Israel hasn't had any government. We have had several elections that were endless. And now, we are hopeful for a new stable government.


VAUSE: If this new government is approved, Naftali Bennett, a right- wing religious nationalist, would serve as prime minister for two years, followed by the centrist, Yair Lapid, until late 2025.

CNN's Hadas Gold has more now on Bennett's rise to power.


HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once a close aide to the prime minister, this may be the man to break Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year run as Israel's leader. Naftali Bennett, a right- wing, ambitious, self-made tech millionaire, eager to stake out a personal mark in Israel's future.

NAFTALI BENNETT, YAMINA PARTY LEADER: I'm announcing today that I intend to act with all my strength to form a national unity government, together with my friend, Yair Lapid, so that God willing we will rescue the country from this tailspin, and we will get Israel back on track.

GOLD: The 49-year-old was born in Haifa, to immigrants from San Francisco. A modern Orthodox Jew, Bennett served in an elite unit of the Israel Defense Forces for six years in the 1990s.

He then became an entrepreneur in the high tech sector, after studying law at Jerusalem's Hebrew University.

Bennett launched a tech startup in 1999, which he later sold for a hundred and forty-five million dollars. Bennett burst onto the political scene in 2013, leading the Orthodox

Jewish Home Party to seats in the Israeli parliament.

BENNETT: We're more realistic. We think that, vis-a-vis the Palestinian issue, the full peace sort of, or formula, Palestinian state within Israel, is suicidal. And it turns out that most Israelis view that. But we've put forward a realistic, practical plan.

GOLD: At his ideological core is a strong opposition to a Palestinian sovereign state. And his party keen to annex parts of the West Bank.

Bennett's other positions are not without controversy, saying that Palestinian terrorists should be killed, rather than released.

In April 2019 election, his party did not get through the electoral threshold and were left in the political wilderness.

After a merger with another party, he rebranded the party Yamina in 2019 and holds seven seats in the Knesset. He eventually returned to the corridors of power, becoming very close to the prime minister.

He served in various Netanyahu governments as defense, education, and economic minister. But despite sharing in similar ideology, Bennett and Netanyahu have had a rocky relationship.

After four failed elections in two years and the recent armed conflict with Hamas-led militants in Gaza, Bennett agreed to join forces with centrist Yair Lapid to push out Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The question is, will Bennett and Yair Lapid have the parliamentary votes to unseat the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history?

Hadas Gold, CNN, Jerusalem.


VAUSE: Add cyberattacks and ransomware attacks to an already long list of issues the U.S. president will raise when he meets with Russia's Vladimir Putin later this month. According to the White House, the hackers which targeted meat processing company JBS are likely based in Russia. And President Joe Biden believes the Russian government has a responsibility and a role to play in stopping the attacks.



JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This will certainly be a topic of discussion, that harboring criminal entities that are intending to do harm, that are doing harm to the critical infrastructure in the United States is not acceptable. We're not going to stand by that. We will raise that. And we are not going to take options off the table.


VAUSE: The cyber breach caused JBS to close its beef-processing plants in the U.S. The company says they will be up and running in the next few hours. It's unclear if JBS paid the ransom.

An American prisoner in Russia is calling on President Biden to aggressively resolve what he calls hostage diplomacy. Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year-long sentence for an espionage charge which he strongly denies, and he spoke exclusively with CNN from a Russian labor camp.

Here's Matthew Chance.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For more than two years, Paul Whelan has languished in Russian jails, insisting he's an innocent pawn in a political game.

PAUL WHELAN, SERVING TIME IN RUSSIA FOR ALLEGED ESPIONAGE: I want to tell the world that I'm a victim of political kidnap and ransom. There's obviously no credibility to the situation.

CHANCE: Now, the former U.S. Marine has spoken to CNN from his remote Russian penal colony, ahead of a much-anticipated summit between the U.S. and Russian presidents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And if you could get a message to President Biden ahead of this meeting, what would it be?

WHELAN (via phone): Decisive action is needed immediately. The abduction of an American citizen cannot stand anywhere in the world. This is not an issue of Russia against me; it's an issue of Russia against the United States. And the United States needs to answer this hostage diplomacy situation and resolve it as quickly as possible. So I would ask President Biden to aggressively discuss and resolve this issue with his Russian counterparts.

CHANCE: It was at this upscale hotel in Moscow in December 2018 where Whelan was detained by the Russian security services, the old KGB, and accused of receiving a flash drive containing classified information.

In a closed trial, he was sentenced to 16 years after being convicted of espionage, a trumped-up charge, he says, intended to make him a valuable bargaining chip for the Kremlin, something Russian officials deny.

WHELAN (via phone): It's pretty simple. There was no crime. There was no evidence. The secret trial was a sham. As I said, you know, the judge when I was sentenced said I was being sent home. This was done purely for political motive. And it's really up to the government to sort out either an exchange or some sort of resolution. My hope is that it will be quick. It's been, you know, more than two years.

(on camera): I have not had a shower in two weeks. I can't use a barber. I have to cut my own hair.

CHANCE: Ever since his arrest, there have been serious welfare concerns. The state of Russian prisons is poor. Now, Whelan tells CNN he spends his days sewing clothes in a prison factory, but that health issues, especially during the COVID pandemic, are a worry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So tell me, how are you doing? How are you feeling?

WHELAN (via phone): I'm doing OK. I've got some sort of illness right now. I call it a kennel cough. It kind of comes and goes in the barracks. People have it, get better, then have it again. Getting medical care here is very difficult.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are their concerns about COVID still where you are? I imagine the vaccine hasn't reached you.

WHELAN: We have serious concerns about that. I just had one shot, and I should have a second shot in about two weeks.


WHELAN: So that's a step in the right direction.

CHANCE: A step in the right direction perhaps, but for Paul Whelan, it may still be a long road home.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


VAUSE: Well, still to come, for Tokyo Olympic officials, there has only been dogged determination to push on with the summer games, but out of the cloud of a pandemic, will the multi-billion-dollar investment break even? That's coming up.


[00:41:23] VAUSE: Well, for any other Olympics, the final few weeks before the opening ceremony is a chaotic rush to finish stadiums and venues for hundreds of thousands of spectators. So with just 50 days now until the curtain goes up on the Tokyo Games, there's the rush to finish construction, but for venues that will have very few spectators.

CNN's Selina Wang has the latest now from Tokyo.


SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pressure is building for the Olympics to be canceled, but here on the ground in Tokyo, final preparations appear to be underway.

With just less than two months to go until the Olympics, the organizers are pushing ahead in the face of public opposition, with the games very much in operational mode.

So behind me here is the venue being built for BMX racing and skateboarding. This venue can hold potentially thousands of spectators. Now, we know already that foreign spectators are banned from attending the Olympics, but organizers have yet to announce how many local spectators, if any, can attend the games.

Over there are the spectator stands being built for marathon swimming and the triathlon. This is all temporary, just for the Olympic Games. I'm here in Odaiba Marine Park, which is normally open to the public, but now it's been largely boarded off in preparation for the games.

I spoke to one of the construction workers here, who told me he does not think the Olympic Games should move ahead.

(voice-over): "Infections are rising during the pandemic," he tells me. "I wonder if what I'm doing is good for the people, preparing for the Olympics," he says. "But it's my job to work under the assumption that the games are going ahead."

(on camera): Tokyo is planning large Olympic viewing sites across the city, including one here at Yoyogi Park, as this sign indicates.

But amid public opposition, the government now says this will be used as a vaccination site. Japan has fully vaccinated less than 3 percent of its population.

ROCHELLE KOPP, MANAGING PRINCIPAL, JAPAN INTERCULTURAL CONSULTING: People here are not protected. I don't think we should have it. I think everyone I know in Tokyo is scared to death of people from all over the world coming.

WANG: But others in Tokyo are more optimistic.

(voice-over): "I'm really looking forward to the Olympics," she says. "People are down because of the pandemic. We need something fun."

(on camera): This national stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held, was rebuilt at a cost of more than one billion dollars for these Olympic Games. In fact, Japan has already spent more than $6 billion on Olympic infrastructures, like venues and temporary buildings.

The economic cost of canceling these games would be enormous, but at stake here is not just money and Japan's national pride, but people's lives.

Selina Wang, CNN, Tokyo.


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