ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good evening, everyone. I came to Israel bearing a simple message: The United States stands with Israel and with its people – today, tomorrow, every day. In my meetings with the prime minister, with President Herzog, with the ministers in Israel’s newly formed national emergency government, we discussed in detail what Israel needs to defend itself, its people, and how the United States can help to meet those needs. We’re delivering on those needs as we speak, and we will work closely and swiftly with Congress to meet them as they evolve.
This afternoon, I met with families of American citizens that Hamas has killed or taken hostage. The enormity of their anguish, their loss, is immeasurable. For the families of the missing, there’s an unrelenting agony of not knowing the fate of their loved ones – something that I don’t think most of us can truly understand, truly contemplate, if you’re not in their shoes. No one should have to endure what they’re going through. There are so many families like them. The United States is one of more than 30 countries where family members, friends, entire communities are being forced to go through this wrenching experience because of Hamas’s disdain for human life and basic human dignity.
We’re doing everything we can to secure the release of the hostages, working closely with our Israeli partners. I brought with me to Israel our Deputy Special Representative for Hostage Affairs Steve Gillen, who joined my meetings with the families and will stay on the ground here to support the efforts to free their loved ones.
I also had a chance to see up close the genuinely inspiring solidarity of the Israeli people in the wake of Hamas’s attacks when I visited one of the many sites where citizens have swiftly organized efforts to collect, to sort, to distribute donations to those in need, including many families who have been displaced from the south. I had a chance to meet with some of the volunteers – several of them dual U.S.-Israeli citizens. One young couple told me how they narrowly escaped with their own lives when Hamas terrorists attacked the Supernova music festival. They told me about their friends who were not fortunate, who were killed at that festival; others taken hostage or still missing.
In our time here in Israel, everywhere we’ve gone we’ve met people who’ve been touched in one way or another by Hamas’s bloody hand. A loved one, a friend, a classmate, a neighbor, a colleague – killed, maimed, missing. We encountered a nation knit together by grief, but also a nation united in resolve. The United States shares that resolve. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Israel.
From here I’ll go on to Jordan, where I’ll meet with His Majesty King Abdullah, and with Palestinian Authority President Abbas. And then over the coming days we’ll visit with leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Qatar.
Across each of these engagements, we’ll continue pressing countries to help prevent the conflict from spreading, and to use their leverage with Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release the hostages. We’ll also discuss how we can continue to make real our affirmative vision for a region that’s more peaceful, more prosperous, more secure, more integrated. And in fact, that is the choice, and the choice in some ways has been made even more stark by the actions of Hamas on Saturday.
One path forward is a region that comes together, integrated, normalized relations among its countries, people working in common purpose to common benefit. More peaceful, more stable. Then there’s the path that Hamas has shown in the stark, clear light: terror, destruction, nihilism. The choice could not be more clear. We know the choice that we’re making, our partners are making. We have work to do to carry it through.
In all that I did today, I was supported by an exceptional team here in Israel. It’s been doing crucial work in incredibly difficult conditions, led by a remarkable charge d’affaires, Stephanie Hallett. Stephanie is doing an extraordinary job. We also look forward to welcoming our future ambassador, Jack Lew, to Israel.
As many here know, Hamas launched its attack on Simchat Torah. This is the day that Jews celebrate finishing the reading of the Torah. This Saturday, Jews around the world will chant the first words of the book of Genesis. They’ll read that in the beginning, there was darkness; and then there was light. That the first person was alone until a partner joined them.
I’m standing here today alongside our Israeli friends and all those who reject terror to help find the glimmers of light, even in this moment of deep darkness, and to make clear as that as long as there’s a United States, Israel will never be alone.
With that, happy to take some questions.
MR MILLER: The first question goes to Shaun Tandon with AFP.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Good evening.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Shaun.
QUESTION: Could I just ask you, to begin with, Prime Minister Netanyahu has shared what he’s – what are very gruesome photos – he said that he shared them with you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah.
QUESTION: I know they’re very disturbing to look at, but I wanted to see, first of all, what you – what your reaction was to those.
And if I may, like, while understanding and acknowledging the great suffering that’s been experienced by Israelis, there’s a lot of concern in some quarters about the situation in Gaza as well – people looking for food in light of the cutoff. Was that discussed at all in terms of the humanitarian situation in Gaza? Was there any call for easing some of these conditions or for restraint, as we expect a ground offensive?
And if you’ll allow me just one thing that’s been reported just recently, there was a report in The Washington Post that the United States and Qatar have decided to slow down or suspend the access that Iran has to the $6 billion that’s been put in the special account. Could you say if this is accurate? And if it is, could you explain whether this is a slowdown or something more formal than that? Thanks very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great. Thanks, Shaun. So we did see photographs, videos, that the Israeli Government shared with us. Some, I think, has actually already been seen in public media. Others were new to me and, I think, new to our team. It’s hard to find the right words. It’s beyond what anyone would ever want to imagine, much less actually see and, God forbid, experience. A baby, an infant, riddled with bullets. Soldiers beheaded. Young people burned alive in their cars or in their hideaway rooms. I could go on, but it’s simply depravity in the worst imaginable way. It almost defies comprehension, and as I’ve been saying, to me, it, in the most immediate future, hearkens back to ISIS and some of the very things we saw when it was on its rampage that, thankfully, was stopped.
So I think for any human being to see this, it’s really beyond almost anything that we can comprehend, digest. And I’d just add that when you see this, you try to imagine – maybe not try, you can’t help but imagine – yourself, your family, your loved ones, your friends, in that situation, in that predicament. And maybe the best word for it for me is overwhelming.
I think what it’s done is, as I said, united a country in profound grief, but also united a country in resolve. And it’s imperative that the rest of us share that resolve. I said this earlier: This is a moment for moral clarity. This is a moment where everyone needs to make clear that there is revulsion, disgust, and a determination, a determination not to allow this to go forward.
So images are worth a thousand words. These images may be worth a million.
On the humanitarian situation in Gaza, I think it’s, first, important to remember a fundamental issue that makes this complicated. Hamas continues to use civilians as human shields – something that’s not new, something that they’ve always done – intentionally putting civilians in harm’s way to protect – to try to protect themselves, or protect their infrastructure, or protect their weapons. So that’s one of the basic facts that Israel has to deal with. And of course, civilians should not be used in any way as the targets of military operations. They are not the target of Israel’s operations.
We did discuss ways to address the humanitarian needs of people living in Gaza, to protect them from harm while Israel conducts its legitimate security operations to defend itself from terrorism and to try to ensure that this never happens again. We also talked about possibilities for safe passage for civilians who want to leave or get out of the way in Gaza, and that’s a conversation, a discussion, that we will pursue in the coming days, including with some of the countries that we’ll be visiting. So this is important, and this is an area for focus.
With regard to the $6 billion, first, again, it’s always worth repeating the facts, because, unfortunately, the facts get lost along the way. The money that Iran accrued in bank accounts, in this case in South Korea, for the sale of its oil was done pursuant to an arrangement established by the previous administration, the Trump administration. None of the funds that have now gone to Qatar have actually been spent or accessed in any way by Iran. Indeed, funds from that account are overseen by the Treasury Department, can only be dispensed for humanitarian goods – food, medicine, medical equipment – and never touch Iranian hands. We have strict oversight of the funds, and we retain the right to freeze them.
MR MILLER: Next question goes to Gil Tamary with Channel 13.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. Gil Tamary Channel 13 Israel. The President compared, rightfully, Hamas horrendous massacre to ISIS. Can you provide assurance to Israel that the Biden administration will not attempt to halt Israel effort until the goal of eliminating Hamas from Gaza is completely achieved, regardless of how long it may take?
And with your permission, second question. If Hizballah opens a second front in the north, can we expect that if needed the U.S. will use its military assets in the region to fight against Hizballah together with the IDF?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. With regard to the first question, the President’s been very clear, I’ve been very clear – we stand with Israel. We stand with Israel in its determination to defend its people, defend its country. We stand with Israel in its determination to do everything possible to ensure that what happened on Saturday never happens again. And in that determination we’re, of course, as you know, providing assistance as requested by Israel for its efforts. That will continue, and we’re working closely with Congress to make sure that Israel has what it needs to do what it must.
With regard to the second front, as I mentioned earlier, it’s our determination and that of Israel as well that there not be a second front or a third front. And we are working as hard as we can, working with other partners in the region, to try to ensure that that’s the case. The President has also been very clear, President Biden. He’s been very clear that no one, state or non-state actor, should try to take advantage of this moment. And he’s backed up that warning with a deployment of our largest carrier group, the Gerald R. Ford, as well as, again, making sure that Israel has what it needs and that we also have appropriate assets in place. Beyond that, I’m not going to speculate on future events.
MR MILLER: For the next question, Ed Wong with The New York Times.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Secretary Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Ed.
QUESTION: Many people have likened the horrendous violence by Hamas to the attacks of 9/11 in the U.S. As you know, the U.S. earned lots of goodwill after those attacks, and there was – were many expressions of solidarity for the U.S. from around the world. But soon afterwards, the U.S. squandered that goodwill when it began its invasion of Iraq. And now decades onward, in retrospect, many people think that the most lasting consequences of 9/11 were the two wars that many Americans deem were disasters in hindsight. And so I wonder what lessons might you have for Israel, as a friend of Israel, looking back at the aftermath of 9/11?
Second, I wonder whether your team has an assessment of what Hamas’s goals were in carrying out the attacks and whether it has gotten any closer to those goals with these attacks?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Ed. First, let me say this, with regard to 9/11 – if you look at this in proportion to the size of Israel’s population, this is the equivalent of ten 9/11s. That’s how big and how devastating this attack has been. And of course, each of these situations is very different and it’s important to keep that in mind. Of course, we’re always trying to draw the lessons from our – from past experience, as they may or may not be applicable to what we or our partners are doing now.
And of course, we’re in very close conversation with Israel about the work it’s undertaking, as I said, to make sure it can defend itself, defend its citizens, and to the best of its ability ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Those are the objectives. And, again, I’ll leave the operational details to Israel and simply say again, that as we have these discussions, we’re looking at past experiences, including many past experiences more immediate to this challenge, including in Gaza and including in the region.
With regard to the goals of Hamas, I think that is a question mostly on which I could speculate but not give you a – any kind of clear and definitive answer. There are a number of possible explanations. We have not heard from them what their goals are. And I have to tell you that in many ways the simplest explanation may be the most compelling: this is pure evil.
There may be second or third-order interests. For example – I’ve noted this before – we’ve been engaged, as you know, in trying to support and advance the possibility of normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia and other countries that do not yet have normalized relations with Israel, something that is very challenging, very difficult, but also very possible, and something that would have a profound effect on the region, on the countries in question and on the region – a region that’s been in turmoil for so many decades that through normalization, through greater integration then has a path to much greater stability, much greater peace, much greater opportunity for everyone in the region. Now, who opposes normalization? Hamas, Hizballah, Iran. I think that speaks volumes as well.
MR MILLER: And the final question goes to Christine Rinawi with Al Araby News.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, can you discuss what Netanyahu – the need for Israel to commit to international law on the war in Gaza and any more details about the humanitarian corridors in Gaza?
And following on my colleague question, the spokesperson of the White House retracted President Biden’s claim of seeing pictures of beheaded children, but today you mentioned in your press conference about the babies slaughtered and the woman raped. Did you see the evidence of that? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. To the first part of your question, I think you’ve heard the President address this. I’ve also addressed it in different ways, which is to say this: for democracies like the United States, like Israel, it’s vitally important that we respect and follow international law, humanitarian law, the law of war, as applicable. And it’s a standard that we hold ourselves to and it’s a standard that we look to, including if and when we fall short of it.
So this is something that motivates both of us, and of course it’s what distinguishes us and other democracies around the world from terrorist organizations like Hamas, which have absolutely no regard for the rule of law, for humanitarian rules and rights, for any basic standards of human decency. On the contrary, as we were discussing just a few minutes ago, they quite literally and deliberately target civilians, and not just target civilians – target them in the most inhumane ways possible – and at the same time, use them as human shields. So that’s a profound distinction between our countries and a group like Hamas.
When it comes to the photographs, the videos, I described what I saw today. That doesn’t mean it’s the entire universe. We had an opportunity to see some of the photographs and videos. Unfortunately, there are many, many, many others, and every day the world is seeing new evidence of the depravity and inhumanity of Hamas – depravity and inhumanity directed at babies, at small children, at young adults, at elderly people, at people with disabilities. The list goes on, and on a basic human level, how anyone cannot be revolted and cannot reject what they’ve seen and what the world has seen, it’s beyond me. Thank you.
MR MILLER: Thank you all.