June 18, 2024

News surrounding the Israel/Hamas conflict following the vicious attack launched by Hamas on largely civilian Israeli targets on Saturday has been coming fast and furious. Though President Biden has not had a great deal to say about the situation (see Biden’s Live Remarks About Israel Response Raise All Kinds of Questions About His Ability, While Hamas Holds U.S. Citizens Hostage, Joe and Jill Biden are Hosting a BBQ at the White House, As Hamas Threatens to Kill Hostages on Camera, Joe Biden Calls a Lid, President Biden Finally Speaks After Americans Killed by Hamas, No Mention of Iran’s Role), other administration officials, including National Security Council spokesman John Kirby and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have been apprising the press of developments fairly regularly. 

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Blinken is now heading to Israel but stopped on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews to speak briefly with the press before departing. 

Regarding his trip, Blinken said: 

We are heading, as you know, to Israel, and I’m going with a very simple and clear message on behalf of the President of the United States and on behalf of the American people, and that is that the United States has Israel’s back. We have the back of the Israeli people. We have their back today, we’ll have it tomorrow, we will have it every day. 

We stand resolutely against terrorism. We’ve seen the almost undescribable acts committed by Hamas against Israeli men, women, and children. Every day, we’re learning more, and it is simply heartbreaking. Not since ISIS have we seen this kind of depravity, and we will continue to stand very resolutely against it.

Blinken offered a broad overview of the aims of the trip: 

When I’m in Israel, I’ll have the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Herzog, other senior officials. I look forward to seeing our embassy team as well, that’s been doing terrific work during these difficult days. We’re determined to make sure that Israel gets everything it needs to defend itself, to provide for the security of its people. 

Already, significant military assistance requested by Israel is on the way — and that’s on top of everything that we’ve been doing for years, including with the Memorandum of Understanding that was negotiated by President Obama to make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself. At the same time, we anticipate there will be further needs, further requests. We’ve already been working closely with Congress on this, and we look forward to continuing to do that to make sure that Israel has what it needs. 

Second, we will be reiterating, reaffirming the very strong message that President Biden has delivered to any country or any party that might try to take advantage of this situation, and that message is: Don’t. The president has deployed, as you know, the world’s largest aircraft carrier group to the region to make very clear our intent to deter anyone from contemplating any further aggression against Israel. 

Finally, we’re of course, very focused on our own people, our own citizens. We lost 22 Americans — that number could still go up, and it probably will. At the same time, we have a number of Americans who remain unaccounted. We are working very closely with the government of Israel to determine their whereabouts, and if they have been taken hostage by Hamas, to work to secure their release. 

So, all of these things are on the agenda over the next day or so with Israel, but the main point is this: We stand with Israel. We’ll continue to do so.

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Blinken then took several questions from the press. Asked about securing safe passage for civilians through Gaza into Egypt, Blinken stated:

John, we are talking about that, and we’re talking to Israel about that.  We’re talking to Egypt about that.  It’s an ongoing conversation; I can’t get into the details.  Some of this is, needless to say, understandably complicated.  But we want to make sure to the best of our ability – and I know Israel wants to make sure to the best of its ability, that civilians are not harmed.  But Israel has to take steps to defend itself.  It has to make sure that any ongoing threat is dealt with – and I believe it has to make sure that, going forward, what happened doesn’t happen again. 

Blinken was then asked whether the US had encouraged Israel to exercise any kind of restraint in responding to the attack and responded: 

Well, again, I’m not getting into any of the operational details of what Israel may or may not do.  I think you heard the President speak to this yesterday in his very, very strong and forceful comments.  And of course, what separates Israel and the United States and other democracies when it comes to incredibly difficult situations like this is our respect for international law – and as appropriate, the laws of war.  We do everything we can to make sure that in these situations we avoid civilian casualties. That is in direct contrast with Hamas, which uses people as human shields.  It actually seeks to put Palestinian civilians in situations where they could be harmed.  This is very much part of their – part of the game plan.

So, we know that Israel will take all of the precautions that it can – just as we would.  And again, that’s what separates us from Hamas and terrorist groups that engage in the most heinous kind of activities.

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We can expect to hear further from Blinken once he’s met with Israeli officials and will, of course, provide updates on the developments as they become available. 

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