SECRETARY BLINKEN: Hello, everyone. 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.
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, which is doing terrific work during these difficult days.
We’re determined to make sure that Israel gets everything it needs to defend itself, and provide for the security of its people. Already, significant military assistance requested by Israel is on the way. 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’ll be further needs, further requests. We’ve already been closely with Congress on this, and 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 President Biden has delivered to any country or any party that might try to take advantage of the 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 contemplating any further aggression against Israel.
Finally, of course, we’re very focused on our own people, our own citizens. We lost 22 Americans; that number could still go up. 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.
MR. MILLER: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, yesterday Jake Sullivan said that U.S. officials were talking to the Israelis about getting civilians safe passage through Gaza into Egypt. Today John Kirby said they’re still talking to the officials about this. What is the holdup? What’s the obstacle to getting civilians safe passage out of Gaza?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: 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.
QUESTION: Is the issue more on the Israeli side or the Egypt side?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m not going to get into the details, but it’s an ongoing conversation.
MR MILLER: Will.
QUESTION: Following up on that, in conversations between the U.S. and Israel, has the U.S. advocated any degree of restraint in terms of possible ground operations in Gaza, either for the sake of the civilians there or for the sake of hostages in there?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: 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.
MR MILLER: Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. We’ll have a chance to talk later. Thank you.