Press Briefing with Secretary Antony J. Blinken
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Hi everyone, and good evening. My message to Israel was straightforward: now, tomorrow, and every day, the United States remains committed to supporting Israel and its people. We went into great length in our discussions about what Israel needs to defend itself and its people, as well as how the United States may assist, in my meetings with the prime minister, President Herzog, and the ministers in Israel's recently established national emergency cabinet. As we speak, we are meeting those demands, and we will collaborate closely and quickly with Congress to address them as they change.
I had a meeting with the relatives of American people who were killed or kidnapped by Hamas this afternoon. Their loss and the depth of their agony are incalculable. The pain of not knowing what has happened to their loved ones is unbearable for the families of the missing, and I don't think most of us can really comprehend or consider it until we are in their position. Nobody ought should have to go through what they are. These kinds of families are very common. Because of Hamas's contempt for human life and fundamental human dignity, family members, friends, and entire communities are being forced to go through this agonising ordeal in more than 30 countries, including the United States.
Together with our Israeli allies, we are making every effort to ensure the captives' release. Our Deputy Special Representative for Hostage Affairs, Steve Gillen, accompanied me to Israel and will remain in this area to assist the families in their efforts to liberate their loved ones.
In the wake of Hamas's attacks, I also had the opportunity to witness firsthand the genuinely inspiring solidarity of the Israeli people when I went to one of the numerous locations where residents have quickly organised efforts to gather, sort, and distribute donations to those in need, including numerous families who have been displaced from the south. I got to meet a few of the volunteers, some of whom were dual citizens of the United States and Israel. I was told by a young couple that they barely survived the attack on the Supernova music festival by Hamas terrorists. They informed me about their unfortunate pals who died at the festival; others were kidnapped or remain missing.
Everywhere we have gone in Israel throughout our stay, we have encountered people who have been impacted by Hamas's murderous hand in one way or another. A friend, neighbour, coworker, student, or loved one—killed, maimed, or gone missing. We came upon a country bound together not only by sorrow but also by determination. That resolve is shared by the United States. We support the Israelites from shoulder to shoulder.
I will then travel to Jordan to see President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and His Majesty King Abdullah. We will then have meetings with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Qatar in the upcoming days.
We will keep applying pressure on nations to stop the situation from getting worse and to utilise their influence over Hamas to force the captives to be released unconditionally and quickly during each of these encounters. We'll also talk about how we can keep bringing our positive vision of a more affluent, safe, peaceful, and integrated region to life. Indeed, it is the option, and the actions of Hamas on Saturday have made that option rather more clear.
A region that unites, integrates, normalises interactions among its nations, and has people working towards a common goal for mutual benefit is one way ahead. more stable and tranquil. Then there is the route that Hamas has outlined in a clear and brutal manner: one of terror, devastation, and nihilism. The decision is as obvious as it gets. We are aware of the decision that our partners and we are making. We need to put forth more effort to see it through.
I have the amazing crew here in Israel to help me with whatever I did today. Under the incredible circumstances, it has been performing vital work under the direction of an outstanding charge d'affaires, Stephanie Hallett. Stephanie is performing exceptionally well. We also anticipate having Jack Lew visit Israel as our next ambassador.
Many people in this room are aware that Hamas attacked Simchat Torah. Jews rejoice on this day when they have completed reading the Torah. Jews all throughout the world will recite the opening lines of Genesis this Saturday. They will read that there was darkness at first, followed by light. that prior to a companion joining them, the first person was alone.
I stand here today with our Israeli friends and with everyone who opposes terror to help locate the bright spots even in the midst of this extreme darkness and to demonstrate that Israel will never be alone as long as the United States exists.
I'll be pleased to answer any queries after that.
MR. MILLER: Shaun Tandon with AFP has the first question.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you. Good night.
BEHIND THE SEX: Shaun.
QUESTION: May I just ask you a quick question first? Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed to have shared some quite graphic images with you.
Yes, said SECRETARY BLINKEN.
QUESTION: I wanted to see first what you thought of those, even though I know it's really unsettling to look at.
If I may, in addition to appreciating and comprehending the immense agony that Israelis have through, there is also, in some areas, a great deal of worry about the situation in Gaza, where people are attempting to find food in light of the cutoff. Was that ever brought up in relation to Gaza's humanitarian crisis? We anticipate a ground offensive, therefore was there a demand for restraint or to loosen some of these restrictions?
If I may just bring up one recent claim that was published in The Washington Post, it stated that Iran's access to the $6 billion that has been placed in the special account will be slowed down or suspended by the United States and Qatar. Could you confirm whether this is true? In that case, could you clarify if this is a slowness or anything more official? Many thanks for it.
SUPERVISOR BLINKEN: Excellent. Gratitude, Shaun. As a result, the Israeli government provided us with images and recordings. I believe that some have already been seen in the media. Some were unfamiliar to both me and, I believe, our group. Finding the right words is difficult. It's beyond anything that anyone could ever hope to see, much less experience, let alone imagine. A child, a newborn, rife with bullets. Mendeled heads. Adolescents perished in their cars or in secret rooms. I could go on forever, but it's just the worst kind of depravity. It's nearly beyond explanation, and as I've been saying to myself, it reminds me of ISIS and some of the very things we seen during its, luckily, brief, rampage.
Therefore, I believe that this is truly beyond practically everything that humans can understand or process. And I would just add that when you witness this, you attempt to imagine—or perhaps you don't even try—you, your loved ones, yourself, and your friends in that circumstance. And I think "overwhelming" is probably the best way to describe it.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe it has brought the nation together in both deep sorrow and resolution. And it's essential that the rest of us have the same determination. As I already stated, this is the time for moral clarity. It's important for everyone to express their anger, repulsion, and resolve to stop this from happening in the future currently.
Thus, a picture is worth a thousand words. These pictures may be millionaires.
Regarding the humanitarian situation in Gaza, I believe it's crucial to keep in mind a basic problem that complicates matters. Hamas is still using citizens as human shields; this is nothing new; they have always purposefully put civilians in danger in an effort to defend themselves, their infrastructure, or their armaments. That makes that one of the fundamental realities Israel must face. Of course, using civilians as targets for military actions is never appropriate. Israel does not have them as its aim.
We did talk about how to help the Gaza population with their humanitarian needs, keep them safe while Israel carries out its lawful security operations to defend itself against terrorists, and work to make sure that this never occurs again. We also discussed the possibility of safe passage for residents in Gaza who wish to leave or avoid certain areas. We will continue this debate and discussion in the coming days, possibly even with some of the nations we will be visiting. Thus, this is a crucial matter that requires attention.
Regarding the $6 billion, first of all, it's always important to restate the facts since, regrettably, they are sometimes overlooked. Iran received payments for the sale of its oil through bank accounts, in this case in South Korea, in accordance with an agreement made under the Trump administration's predecessor. Iran has not really used any of the money that have now been sent to Qatar or gained access to it in any manner. In fact, money from that account is under the Treasury Department's supervision, is only allowed to be used for humanitarian purposes (food, medicine, medical supplies), and never comes into contact with Iranian nationals. We maintain tight control over the money and reserve the authority to put it on hold.
Mr. Miller, Gil Tamary from Channel 13 has the next question.
QUESTION: Much obliged, Mr. Secretary. Gil Tamary, Israel's Channel 13. The President correctly equated the horrific slaughter by Hamas to that of ISIS. Can you guarantee Israel that, no matter how long it takes, the Biden administration won't try to stop Israel's efforts until the aim of driving Hamas out of Gaza is fully accomplished?
And a second question, if you don't mind. Can we anticipate that, should the necessity arise, the United States will employ its armed forces in the area to combat Hizballah with the IDF if the group establishes a second front in the north?
Sect. BLINKEN: I'm grateful. Regarding the first query, the President and I have made it quite clear that we support Israel. We support Israel's will to protect its citizens and its nation. We support Israel's resolve to take all necessary steps to make sure that what transpired on Saturday never occurs again. And as you are aware, in making that conclusion, we are offering support to Israel in response to their request. That will not stop, and we are closely collaborating with Congress to guarantee that Israel has the resources necessary to carry out its obligations.
As I have stated, Israel and we are determined that there not be a second or third front. This also applies to the second front. And in an effort to make sure that's the case, we are exerting every effort and collaborating with other regional partners. Additionally, President Biden has been really explicit. He has made it abundantly evident that no actor, state or non-state, should attempt to capitalise on this opportunity. And he has followed up that threat by deploying the Gerald R. Ford, our largest carrier group, and by once again ensuring that both Israel and the United States have the necessary resources available. I won't make any further predictions about the future after that.
MR. MILLER: Ed Wong from The New York Times is up next.
REQUEST: Hello. Secretary Blinken, thank you.
Covert Blinken: ed.
QUESTION: A LOT of people have drawn comparisons between the horrific brutality committed by Hamas and the 9/11 assaults on the United States. Following those events, the United States garnered a lot of goodwill from all around the world, and there were numerous shows of solidarity for the country. However, the U.S. quickly wasted that goodwill when it started the invasion of Iraq. And now, decades later, many believe that the two wars that many Americans today consider to have been catastrophic in hindsight were the most long-lasting effects of 9/11. As a friend of Israel, I'm curious what lessons you might have for Israel in light of the events that followed 9/11.
Secondly, I would like to know if your team has evaluated the objectives that Hamas set out to accomplish with these attacks and if they have been met?
Sec. BLINKEN: Regards, Ed. Let me first make the following statement regarding 9/11: this is the equivalent of ten 9/11s when compared to the magnitude of Israel's people. That is the extent of this attack's devastation. Naturally, each of these circumstances is unique, so it's critical to remember that. Naturally, we're constantly attempting to infer lessons from our prior experiences, even though they might not be relevant to the work that we or our partners are performing at the moment.
Of course, as I mentioned, we're in close communication with Israel over the efforts it's doing to ensure that it can defend its citizens, defend itself, and do everything within its power to prevent this from happening in the future. Well, those are the goals. As we have these discussions, we're looking at past experiences, including many former experiences more immediate to this situation, including in Gaza and including in the region. Again, I'll leave the operational details to Israel.
About Hamas's objectives, I believe that's a matter best left to conjecture rather than providing you with any kind of precise and conclusive response. There are several reasons that could apply. They have not communicated their objectives to us. And I have to admit that this is pure evil, which is perhaps the most convincing explanation of all.
Second- or third-order interests could exist. As you are aware, for instance, we have been working to support and advance the possibility of normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia and other nations that do not yet have normalised relations with Israel. This is a very challenging, difficult, but also very possible endeavour that could have a significant impact on the region, the countries in question, and the region as a whole. The region has been in turmoil for many decades, but normalisation and greater integration offer a path to much greater stability, much greater peace, and much greater opportunity for everyone in the region. Who is against normalisation now? Iran, Hamas, Hizballah. It, in my opinion, also says a lot.
MR. MILLER: Christine Rinawi of Al Araby News has the last question.
QUESTION: Regards. Could you elaborate, Mr. Secretary, on Netanyahu's remarks regarding the necessity for Israel to abide by international law regarding the Gaza War and provide further information regarding the humanitarian corridors in Gaza?
In response to a query from a colleague, the White House spokesperson denied that President Biden had seen images of children with their heads cut off, but you did state in your press conference today that the woman had been raped and the babies had been killed. Have you seen the proof of that? I'm grateful.
Sect. BLINKEN: I'm grateful. Regarding the first portion of your inquiry, I believe the President has already spoken to this. I have also addressed it in many ways, but in summary, it is crucial that we respect and abide by international law, humanitarian law, and the rules of war, where applicable, for democracies like the United States and Israel. It's also a benchmark that we look to, even in the event that we don't meet it. It's a standard that we hold ourselves to.
This is what drives us both, and it's also what sets us apart from other democracies throughout the world, as terrorist groups like Hamas have no regard for the rule of law, humanitarian laws and rights, or even the most fundamental human decencies. As we were just talking about a few minutes ago, on the other hand, they actually and purposefully target civilians, and not just target them; they target them in the most barbaric manner imaginable, all while using civilians as human shields. That makes a significant difference between our nations and an organisation like Hamas.
Regarding the pictures and videos, I gave an account of what I witnessed today. It does not imply that the cosmos is made up of it. We were able to view a portion of the images and videos. Regretfully, there exist an abundance of additional instances, and daily, the world witnesses fresh proof of Hamas' depravity and inhumanity towards infants, young children, adults, the elderly, and anyone with disabilities. The list continues on, and it is beyond me how anyone, on a basic human level, cannot feel outraged and cannot reject what they have seen and what the world has witnessed.