Interview with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, State Department in Washington
QUESTION: — straight through on this. Can you answer the question yet of whether the Hamas assault is over? Are there more attacks to come?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The assault isn’t over. There continue to be very active fighting around Gaza. At the same time, we’ve seen more quiet in other parts of Israel, but there is intense fighting going on.
QUESTION: And what about Americans? There are a lot throughout the region. How many Americans are among the hostages and among the dead?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: we’ve got reports that several Americans are among the dead. We are working very actively to verify those reports. At the same time, the reports of Americans being taken hostage – there, too, we’re working to get the facts and to find out if those reports are accurate.
QUESTION: So, you don’t know if there are hostages are not?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We can’t confirm that in this moment, but we’re very actively working to see if we can confirm the reports that we’ve had.
QUESTION: Has the United States asked Israel not to strike Iran?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We – the only things we’ve said to Israel are that we’re here; we’ve got your back; we want to make sure that you have the support that you need; we want to make sure that you have the assistance that you need.
At the same time, I was on the phone yesterday – and many others were on the phones yesterday – with counterparts from Egypt, from Saudi Arabia, from Jordan, from Qatar, from the United Arab Emirates, from Türkiye, Lebanon, and many European countries as well to make sure that, first of all, people had heard very clearly what the President said about others in other places not taking advantage of the situation, and to use the influence that they have with different groups to make sure that they don’t do that, precisely so that we don’t have a broadening of this conflict to other places.
QUESTION: But the door is open for Israel to expand this, to take the fight to potentially sponsors of Hamas, like Iran?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Israel is focused – is entirely on Gaza and on securing its citizens, a number of whom remain under direct threat right now in Israel proper, and, as I said, trying to do what’s necessary to have accountability and to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. That is Israel’s focus.
QUESTION: Yeah. Is there a sense that this was an attempt to take advantage of the West’s focus on Ukraine?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, I don’t see that. I think – look, we don’t – we’ll have to see, as we learn more, what the motivations were and what they are. But here’s one thing that’s clear: We’ve been actively working on trying to help Israel and Saudi Arabia normalize their relations, as well as Israel broadening its relationships with many other countries in the region and beyond. Very hard work, and not clear that we could get there. But if we could, it would really change the prospects of the entire region far into the future.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Now, who’s opposed to that? Hamas, Hizballah, Iran. So, I think that speaks volumes. And there are really two paths before the region. There’s the path of greater integration, greater stability, including, critically, making sure that Israelis and Palestinians resolve their differences —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — or there’s the path of terror that Hamas is engaged on, that has not improved the lives of a single person. On the contrary, it’s destroyed lives, including Palestinian lives.
QUESTION: But let me press you on that, because you’re suggesting this may have been a strategic choice. But then I look at conditions having been deteriorating for Palestinians living in the West Bank, in Gaza for a while now. The right-wing coalition in Israel – in fact, the CIA director Bill Burns has publicly warned of his concern and U.S. Intelligence concern about the risk of instability in this region. Jordan’s king has been warning about the risks of extremism. Did the Netanyahu government underestimate that risk? Why were they so vulnerable?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, let’s be absolutely clear that there is no equivalence between the differences that exist between Israelis and Palestinians, and the actions of the Israeli Government in that regard, and these absolutely heinous acts of terrorism that we’ve seen directed at Israeli men, women, and children – none.
Now, we have been concerned about the risks of instability for many, many months between Israelis and Palestinians. We’ve said from day one that even as we’re working toward normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, that can’t be a substitute for resolving the differences between Israelis and Palestinians. We think the best way to resolve it —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — remains a two-state solution, and one that ensures that Palestinians and Israelis alike know equal measures of democracy, of opportunity, of dignity in their lives. That’s why we’ve been very focused on that track as well.
QUESTION: But that has not been a priority between the parties themselves, but – as you know. Gaza – and I’m explaining this to our audience, because I know you know how concentrated the population is within such a small area, and every time we have a conflict like this it raises the question of what the humanitarian impact will be. If this is a prolonged attack, what kind of humanitarian crisis are you expecting here and impact on civilians?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we’ve seen this, unfortunately, repeat itself, although the magnitude, the scale of what Hamas did here, is something we haven’t seen before. But in prior instances, those who have suffered, along with the victims of terrorism, are civilians, including in Gaza. And whatever Israel does in Gaza, as always, we look to it to do everything possible to avoid civilian causalities – something, of course, that Hamas doesn’t do. On the contrary, not only does it not seek to avoid them, but it also deliberately targets civilians.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s gunning down Israelis in the streets, in their homes, and, as I said, dragging them across the border in Gaza. So, there’s absolutely no comparison. But we look to Israel, as always, to apply the highest standards when it comes to avoiding civilian causalities in anything it may do in Gaza.