US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged in Tel Aviv on Thursday that Israel will never have to defend itself alone for as long as America exists.
Having flown to Israel in the wake of Hamas’s devastating assault Saturday on southern Israel, in which over 1,300 were killed — most of them civilians — Blinken expressed horror at the killings, invoked the Holocaust and his own family’s experiences in the Nazi era, and said he was working energetically to ensure the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict did not spread.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hosting the secretary at a press conference televised live in Israel and the US, told Blinken his visit “is another tangible example of America’s unequivocal support for Israel.”
Blinken began by saying he was “incredibly grateful” to be back in Israel, “in this incredibly difficult moment, for this nation, but in fact for the entire world.”
The secretary, who is Jewish, told of his grandfather fleeing pogroms in Russia, and of his stepfather surviving concentration camps in the Holocaust. “I understand on a personal level the harrowing echoes that Hamas’s massacres carry for Israeli Jews, indeed for Jews everywhere,” he said.
“I also come before you as a husband and father of young children. It’s impossible for me to look at the photos of families killed, such as the mother, father, and three small children murdered as they sheltered in their home in Kibbutz Nir Oz, and not think of my own children,” he went on.
“This was just one of Hamas’s countless acts of terror in a litany of brutality and inhumanity that, yes, brings to mind the worst of ISIS,” Blinken says. “Babies slaughtered, bodies desecrated, young people burned alive, women raped, parents executed in front of their children, children in front of their parents. “How are we even to understand this, to digest this?
Speaking in the evening at a press conference at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv, Blinken said he was shown images of the atrocities by Netanyahu: “Images are worth a thousand words. These images may be worth a million.”
“And yet, at the same time that we’ve been shocked by the depravity of Hamas, we’ve also been inspired by the bravery of Israel’s citizens,” he said with Netanyahu. “The grandfather who drove over an hour to a kibbutz under siege armed only with a pistol and rescued his kids and grandkids. The mother who died shielding her teenage son with her body, giving her life to save his; giving him life for a second time. The volunteer security teams on the kibbutzes who swiftly rallied to defend their friends and neighbors despite being heavily outnumbered.”
I had a chance to visit a donation center in Tel Aviv for the victims of Hamas’ terrorist attack. We are inspired by the solidarity of the Israeli people. America will always be by Israel's side. pic.twitter.com/aAuizvBbwY
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) October 12, 2023
He praised the “remarkable solidarity” of the Israeli people, mentioning the long lines of people giving blood, the reservists who flew home from abroad, and the people who opened their homes to fellow citizens displaced from the south.
“The people of Israel have long and rightly prided themselves on their self-reliance, on their ability to defend themselves even when the odds are stacked against them,” Blinken continued.
‘The message that I bring to Israel is this: You may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself, but as long as America exists, you will never, ever have to. We will always be there by your side.
“That’s the message that President Biden delivered to the prime minister from the moment that this crisis began,” he said.
The secretary also met with President Isaac Herzog on Thursday afternoon, and repeated the message that Washington stands firmly by Israel “as you defend your people and defend the values that join us together.”
Blinken welcomed the creation of Israel’s new national emergency government, and the “unity and resolve that it reflects across Israel’s society.”
“We are delivering on our word,” said Blinken. ”Supplying ammunition interceptors to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome, along other defense materiel. The first shipments of US military support have already arrived in Israel, and more is on the way. As Israel’s defense needs evolve, we will work with Congress to make sure that they are met,” he promised. “And I can tell you there is overwhelming, overwhelming bipartisan support in our Congress for Israel’s security.”
Blinken repeated America’s “crystal clear” warning against any other actor — state or non-state — thinking of taking advantage of the crisis to attack Israel: “Don’t. The United States has Israel’s back.”
The US has deployed the world’s largest aircraft carrier to the Eastern Mediterranean, bolstered the presence of US fighter aircraft in the region and provided Israel with other support, he said.
He affirmed that the US is also working closely with Israel to secure the release of the hostages taken by Hamas. And he said the US is continually engaging in “intensive diplomacy throughout the region to prevent the conflict from spreading.”
SecState Blinken embraces a survivor of the Hamas massacre pic.twitter.com/BsfBQQPlrf
— Jacob N. Kornbluh (@jacobkornbluh) October 12, 2023
Blinken brought with him his special representative for hostage affairs, who participated in his meetings on Thursday evening with US citizens whose loved ones were killed or taken hostage. The official will stay in Israel to keep working for the hostages’ release.
Blinken criticized world leaders in the past for equivocating when it comes to terrorist attacks against Israel. “There is no excuse, there is no justification for these atrocities,” he declared. “This is, this must be, a moment for moral clarity.”
The failure to unambiguously condemn terrorism, he argued, puts people in Israel and everywhere at risk. People from 36 countries were killed or are missing from the Hamas attacks, he said. “Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas — no region has escaped Hamas’s bloody reach. Anyone who wants peace and justice, must condemn Hamas’s reign of terror.”
“We know Hamas doesn’t represent the Palestinian people” or their legitimate aspirations. “We know Hamas rules repressively and dedicates the resources it has to terror tunnels and rockets… We know Hamas does not stand for the future the Palestinians want for themselves and their children. Hamas has only one agenda — to destroy Israel and to murder Jews,” he went on.
“No country can or would tolerate the slaughter of its citizens, or simply return to the conditions that allowed it to take place,” Blinken said. Thus, “Israel has the right, indeed the obligation, to defend itself and to ensure that this never happens again.”
At the same time, Blinken repeated the exhortation that democracies must take every precaution to avoid causing civilian casualties.
“As the prime minister and I discussed, how Israel does this matters. We democracies distinguish ourselves from terrorists by striving for different standards even when it is difficult, and holding ourselves to account when we fall short. Our humanity, the value that we place on human life and human dignity, that’s what makes us who we are. And we count them among our greatest strengths. That is why it is so important to take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians.”
However, during the evening press conference, Blinken stressed that Hamas continues to use civilians as human shields. “That’s one of the basic facts that Israel has to deal with,” he said, emphasizing that civilians “are not the target of Israel’s military operations.”
The death toll continues to rise, he noted. And among those, “at least 25 American citizens were killed,” he said.
Again invoking his own family’s Holocaust experiences, Blinken concluded: “In this moment, where evil, hatred and madness have once more taken so many innocent lives, we must stand together, and resolve to confront what is worst among humanity with what is best. We must provide an alternative to the vision of violence and fear, nihilism and terror, presented by Hamas. That is what the United States will do, standing with Israel, working together with its people and all those in this region who remain committed to the vision of a more peaceful, more integrated, more secure and more prosperous Middle East.”
Blinken will spend the weekend meeting Arab leaders, first heading to Jordan to meet King Abdullah and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, then flying to Qatar to meet senior officials.
At the Tel Aviv press conference, Blinken said he would also meet the Saudi, Emirati, and Egyptian leaders in the coming days.
Netanyahu: World must spit out Hamas
Speaking before Blinken, Netanyahu welcomed him as “my good friend.”
“Thank you, thanks to President Biden, and thank you to the American people for your incredible support for Israel in our war against the barbarians of Hamas,” Netanyahu began.
“You have come to a hurting nation, a fighting nation, a nation of lions, a nation that is determined to defeat the forces of evil around us,” the prime minister said in Hebrew.
Switching back to English, Netanyahu said, “Hamas has shown itself to be an enemy of civilization.” He detailed “the massacring of young people in an outdoor music festival, the butchering of entire families, the murder of parents in front of their children and the murder of children in front of their parents. The burning of people alive. The beheadings. The kidnappings – of a young boy, not only kidnapped, molested, hurt, attacked.”
He condemned “the sickening display of celebrating these horrors — the celebration and glorification of evil.”
“President Biden was absolutely correct in calling this sheer evil,” Netanyahu continued. “Hamas is ISIS, and just as ISIS was crushed, so too should Hamas be crushed.
“And Hamas should be treated exactly as ISIS was treated. They should be spit out from the community of nations. No leader should meet them. No country should harbor them. And those that do should be sanctioned,” he urged.
“There will be many difficult days ahead,” Netanyahu said, but he had “no doubt that the forces of civilization will win, and the reason that’s true is because we understand what is the first prerequisite of victory. It’s what you just said in our meeting — moral clarity.”
“This is a time, a particular time, a special time, that we must stand tall, proud and united against evil. Tony, you are taking that stand; America is taking that stand,” he said.
“Thank you, America, for standing with Israel today, tomorrow, and always, “ he concluded, then shared a firm handshake with Blinken.