NSA Jake Sullivan’s Overview of President Biden’s Approach to the Israel-Hamas War

May 14, 2024

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on May 13, 2024:

One – this is a war between the state of Israel and the terrorist group Hamas, whose mission is to annihilate Israel and kill as many Jews as they can.  This war began on October 7 when Hamas massacred 1,200 people and took more than 200 hostages.  There was a ceasefire in place on October 6.  Sinwar broke it.  The President has made clear the United States wants to see Hamas defeated and justice delivered to Sinwar.  There can be no equivocation on that.

Two – the Palestinian civilians caught in the middle of this war are in hell.  The death and trauma they’ve endured are unimaginable.  Their pain and suffering are immense.  No civilian should have to go through that.  This is on the President’s mind every day.

Three – Israel has an unusual, even unprecedented, burden in fighting this war because Hamas uses hospitals and schools and other civilian facilities for military purposes, and has built a vast network of military tunnels under civilian areas. That puts innocent civilians in the crossfire. It does not lessen Israel’s responsibility to do all it can to protect innocent civilians.

Four – We believe Israel can and must do more to ensure the protection and well-being of innocent civilians.  We do not believe that what is happening in Gaza is a genocide.  We have been firmly on record rejecting that proposition.

Five – the United States will continue to lead international efforts to surge humanitarian assistance throughout the Gaza Strip, because innocent civilians should never go without food, water, medicine, shelter, sanitation, or other basic necessities.  Active diplomacy by President Biden has made a considerable difference in getting more aid into Gaza. Now we are redoubling our diplomacy to press the key actors, including Israel and Egypt. I discussed this issue with my Israeli and Egyptian counterparts yesterday.

Six – the United States has sent a massive amount of military assistance to Israel to defend itself against all threats, including Hamas, Hizballah, and Iran and its other proxies. We are continuing to send military assistance, and we will ensure that Israel receives the full amount provided in the supplemental. We have paused a shipment of 2,000-pound bombs, because we do not believe they should be dropped in densely populated cities. We are talking to the Israeli government about this.  We still believe it would be a mistake to launch a major military operation into the heart of Rafah that would put huge numbers of civilians at risk without a clear strategic gain. The president was clear he would not supply certain offensive weapons for such an operation, were it to occur. It has not yet occurred. And we are still working with Israel on a better way to ensure the defeat of Hamas everywhere in Gaza, including in Rafah.  This has been the subject of detailed conversations between our professionals, and I discussed this again with my Israeli counterpart just yesterday.

Seven – military pressure is necessary but not sufficient to fully defeat Hamas.  If Israel’s military effort is not accompanied by a political plan for the future of Gaza and the Palestinian people, the terrorists will keep coming back and Israel will remain under threat. We are seeing this happen in Gaza City. So we are talking to Israel about how to connect their military operations to a clear strategic endgame — about a holistic, integrated strategy to ensure the lasting defeat of Hamas and a better alternative future for Gaza.

– Israel’s long-term security depends on being integrated into the region and enjoying normal relations with the Arab states, including Saudi Arabia. The advantages of strong partnerships were on display recently when a coalition of countries helped Israel defend itself against Iranian missiles and drones.  We need to consider the tactical battlefield situation in Gaza in light of the bigger strategic picture.  We shouldn’t miss a historic opportunity to achieve the vision of a secure Israel flanked by strong regional partners, presenting a powerful front to deter aggression and uphold regional stability.  We are pursuing this vision every day.

Nine – we are urgently and relentlessly working for a ceasefire and a hostage deal, starting with a first phase and building to an enduring calm.  As the president said this weekend, there could be a ceasefire tomorrow if Hamas simply released women, wounded, and elderly hostages. Israel put a forward-leaning proposal on the table. The world should be calling on Hamas to come back to the table and accept a deal.  The hostages include Americans and citizens from around the world.  The President is determined to bring them safely back to their loved ones.  I just met with the families again on Friday. They know how hard the President is working on this.

Ten – Iran and its proxies have tried to take advantage of the war in Gaza to launch attacks on Israel. Hizballah is attacking every day.  The threat posed by Iran and its proxies to Israel, to regional stability, and to American interests is clear. We are working with Israel and other partners to protect against these threats and to prevent escalation into an all-out regional war, through a calibrated combination of diplomacy, deterrence, force posture adjustments, and use of force when necessary to protect our people and defend our interests and allies. We will not let Iran and its proxies succeed.

These are President Biden’s positions. They reflect his commitment to getting an outcome in Gaza and across the broader Middle East that protects Israel’s future security, rather than Israel getting mired in a counter-insurgency campaign that never ends and ultimately saps Israel’s strength and vitality.  And they are consistent with his longstanding view that, ultimately, a two-state solution is the only way to ensure a strong, secure, Jewish, democratic state of Israel, as well as a future of dignity and security for the Palestinian people.

No president has stood stronger with Israel than Joe Biden. He was the first president to visit Israel in wartime. He is protecting Israel at the UN. He mobilized a coalition to directly defend Israel against an Iranian attack. He led the bipartisan effort to pass a supplemental that ensures Israel’s defense and military edge for years to come. 

His commitment to Israel is ironclad. Ironclad doesn’t mean you never disagree; it means you work through your disagreements – as only a true friend can do. That’s exactly what we have done for the past seven months – and that’s what we will keep doing.