5:20 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Great. Sorry. Apologies for the delay, everyone. Good evening. And thanks, everyone, for your patience and joining our call. Thanks for joining this call on Hamas’s terrorist attack in Israel.
As a reminder, this call will be on background, attributable to a “senior administration official.” For your awareness, as you heard — not for reporting — on the line is [senior administration official]. As a reminder, the contents of this call are embargoed unto the call — until the call concludes.
With that, I’ll hand it over to [senior administration official], and we’ll take Qs and As after.
Over to you, [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, everybody, for joining this call. I just wanted to — we wanted to provide some, really, background about — about activity and kind of flesh out some of what the President discussed during his — during his phone call.
Last night around — really, 2:30 in the morning, we were alerted to the rocket attacks in Israel and were engaged, really, throughout the evening with our Israeli counterparts and regional counterparts to try to determine precisely what was unfolding.
This morning at 7:00 a.m., Jake Sullivan spoke with his Israeli counterpart. And then shortly thereafter, around 7:30, Jake convened a call with his national security team, including Secretary Blinken and others.
Shortly after that, around 8:15 or so, there was a call — the President convened a call with his national security team — with Jake Sullivan, Tony Blinken, Lloyd Austin, Bill Burns, and others. Throughout that call, the President received a full briefing on the situation and developments, directed full engagement with Israeli counterparts and with regional counterparts.
Immediately after that call — right at when that call ended, the President called Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Prime Minister, on that call, made very clear this was an unprecedented day for Israel. As he said publicly, Israel is at war.
The President offered his full support for Israel and emphasized the close coordination ongoing between our military and intelligence teams, noted that Secretary Austin would soon be speaking with his counterpart. And the President and the Prime Minister agreed to remain in regular contact, both between the two of them as leaders and also, obviously, through our teams.
Shortly thereafter, Secretary Austin discussed the situation with his counterpart, the Minister of Defense, Gallant, in Israel — again, full support for Israel’s military right to defend itself. And the Secretary issued a read-out after that call, which I’m sure you’ve seen.
President Biden later called King Abdullah of Jordan. Of course, the President has known these two leaders for decades. And he called the King of Jordan in between receiving regular briefings from his — from his team. The King and the President also agreed to stay in regular contact, including through our respective national security teams.
Also, throughout the day, Secretary Blinken, who is here at the White House, spoke with Israel President Herzog. He spoke with the President of the Palestine Authority, President Abbas; the Israeli foreign minister; and his counterparts from Turkey, from Egypt, from Jordan, from Saudi Arabia — (audio drops) — Italy, and others.
Needless to say, Jake, Brett McGurk, Jon Finer have been in touch with counterparts throughout the day. State Department — Victoria Nuland, Barbara Leaf — engaged throughout the day regional counterparts, G7, European, and Lebanese.
We remain deeply engaged as of, truly, this very moment, and one reason I was a little late getting on the call. This is ongoing and continuous, likely to continue for some time.
The bottom line, as the President said, the United States stands with Israel. The United States unequivocally condemns the appalling assault against Israel by Hamas terrorists from Gaza. We have made it absolutely clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu, but to Israeli officials up and down, across the political spectrum and their national security spectrum, that we stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the government and people of Israel.
And Israel has a right to defend itself and its people. Full stop.
So, how this plays out over the coming days and weeks, again, I’m not going to speculate on this call. But we wanted to give you just some of the backdrop of activity here — including, obviously, the President’s engagement from early this morning, together with his team — as this terrible day has unfolded.
So, with that, I will take some — some questions and answers.
MODERATOR: Thank you, [senior administration official]. We’ll go first to Yuna from Channel 12 from Israel.
Q Hi, [senior administration official]. Hi, everyone. Was there in the talks any specifics about aid, military aid, some numbers — requests from Israel or anything that was discussed about that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, again, thanks so much for your question. There has been a — (audio drops) — engagement with his counterpart, but General Kurilla has been engaged with General Halevi. Really, up and down our military chains, just regular coordination about some of the needs that Israel anticipates.
And I am not going to get ahead of that process, nor would I likely talk about it in any event. But I would say that that is very much — very much under way. And we might have more to say about it as early as tomorrow.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go next to Steve from Reuters.
Q Hey. Thank you. [Senior administration official], did the U.S. have any inkling that this was going to unfold? This is being called a massive intelligence failure in Israel. Did we know about this and the impact this might have on the talks toward a normalization deal?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Steve. I would just say I’m obviously not going to comment on specifics of any intelligence or intelligence sharing.
We will continue to provide Israel with support during this critical time, including close — close, deep intelligence sharing.
We have a very close partnership with Israel. And we always share timely intelligence about threats in the region with Israel and other partners, but in particular with Israel.
Again, the President directed his team to ensure we’re providing all that support for Israel that it needs now. And as this unfolds, I’m just — I’m not going to get into any specific intelligence. Obviously, the Israelis, in particular, will be looking at this very closely, and I’m not going to get ahead of that.
I would just say on other things going on in the region — look, we’ve said that we are obviously engaged in the process of normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel. We’ve also said that process has a ways to travel. I think it’s really premature to speculate as to say — say the impact.
I would say for certain, Hamas — terrorist groups like Hamas will not derail any such outcome, should they be possible. I think that’s — that’s quite certain. But that process has a — has a ways to go, as we have said a number of times.
I would just come back to the first — the first question, I just want to point out: When it comes to Israel’s military needs, I mean this is something we’ve been focused on from day one of our administration. You’ll recall the billion-dollar allocation for Patriot interceptor replenishment following the first Gaza war — the first time Hamas launched a war here in 2021 — the first time in the Biden administration — the billion-dollar replenishment for the Patriots.
The Jerusalem declaration the President signed with Prime Minister Lapid when he was in Israel talks about the full commitment to our MOU and making sure that Israel has everything it needs to protect their citizens and defend themselves.
So, that has been an ongoing, continuous commitment that was reaffirmed today, and we are in deep talks with the Israelis about some of their particular needs as they respond to this terrible assault on the Israeli state and the Israeli people.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go next to Nadia from Al Arabiya.
Q Hi. Thank you. Thank you for doing this call. [Senior administration official], you mentioned that you talked also with the Lebanese during these calls. Do you have any assurances that the Lebanese government will restrain Hezbollah from opening another northern front with Israel?
Also, Prime Minister Netanyahu called on Gazans to leave. The question is, to where? How can the U.S. protect civilians in Gaza who will endure collective punishment and who not necessarily agree with Hamas?
And just, finally, on the — (audio drops) — people talk about a diplomatic failure by not focusing on the heart of the matter, which is the Palestine conflict and the rush to expand the Abraham Accords. How do you respond to that? Thank you so much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First, on the Lebanese, I think we made very clear — the President made very clear that anyone, any — any party that’s hostile to Israel, seeking to take advantage of this situation, we’d strongly warn against that.
Obviously, we — you know, similar to other conflicts in Gaza — will work with parties throughout the region to try to contain the situation in Gaza and not spread elsewhere. But these are decisions that will be very important.
Obviously, this was one of the topics in discussions with the Lebanese and others — and others throughout the day.
In terms of our — I think your third question, I would just say we have been, you know, very deep — look, yes, we do not have a final outcome or resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But let me say: We have been in deep, deep discussions with the Palestinians — talking to them almost every day, every week — and the Israelis. We brought the Israelis and the Palestinians together in face-to-face talks twice — really for the first time in almost a decade — in Aqaba and Sharm, and have been working to find some rules of the road.
And particularly — when it comes to security and other issues, particularly in the West Bank and also in Gaza, working with the Egyptian, the Qataris, and others. So, we have really been all over this.
This was an unprovoked assault by a terrorist group, Hamas. And that’s what this was, and that is how — and that is also going to influence the scope and significance of the Israeli response and, of course, our support for Israel in that response.
But that does not take away from our focus on the fundamental issue, which you said. That’s one reason why Secretary Blinken called President Abbas today, had a very good call. And needless to say, we have been in touch with other Palestinian officials across the board throughout the day.
What was your second question, Nadia? I’m sorry.
Q On Netanyahu calling on Gazans to leave.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah.
Q To where? (Inaudible.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m just — I’m not — yes, I’m not — I actually haven’t seen that specific statement.
Again, I think that the Israelis are in deep consultations about specifically how they’re going to respond. I think it is obviously one of the horrific aspects of this day.
We have a number of hostages that have been taken. These are families taken from their homes, taken off the street. Some of them are being held hostage in some of these Israeli towns. Some of them we believe have been taken to Gaza. So, this is obviously being taken into deep consideration by the Israelis.
But, again, I’m not — I’m just not going to parse that statement, and I haven’t seen it.
Q Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go to Felicia from Financial Times.
Q Thanks, [senior administration official]. Just in terms of Iran’s involvement or role in encouraging this, do you have any early indications of what role they’re playing?
And then on the question of security assistance and the Iron Dome, if Congress needs to pass legislation to do that, does the dysfunction or lack of a Speaker get in the way of that? And if so, do you have any sort of workaround?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On you second, it’s a great question. It’s actually something we were discussing today, because there probably is a role for Congress here. And without a Speaker of the House, that is a unique situation we’re going to have to work through. So, I don’t have a — an answer to you, but it is something that we have been — we have been discussing.
There’s also an important role for the Senate. We have an Israeli — Jack Lew is our nominee to be ambassador to Israel. Obviously, it would be great to have him on the ground in Israel. And though I’ll say that our chargé, Stephanie Hallett, is doing a superb — really superb job throughout this crisis and in the many months before.
On Iran’s involvement, I mean, look, specifically about what happened today, it’s too early — too early to say whether, you know, the state of Iran was directly involved or planning and supporting. I’m not going to get ahead of that. We are going to be looking at that very closely.
That said, there’s no doubt — look, Hamas is funded, equipped, armed by Iran and others. And so, that’s why we have taken action throughout this administration to hold Iran accountable. We’ve imposed sanctions on Iran for support to Hamas and other terrorist organizations. That is going to continue — believe me.
And Hamas is a terrorist group. Full stop. And this is — they launched a war in 2021 through rocket attacks. They tried again in 2022.
What we’ve seen today is really an unprecedented assault, particularly these incursions into Israeli cities and literally murdering people, including families in their homes, taking hostages — including, we believe, children — out of their homes. It is just unspeakable, and we will treat Hamas for what they are. They are an international terrorist organization, and I think that is really what we’re focused on right now.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go next to Ben, Haaretz.
MODERATOR: We’ll go next to Ben from Haaretz.
Q Hey there. Can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I got you. Yeah, I got you.
Q Good. Thank you so much. Yeah, so just to kind of circle back to the point that you were making about the Sharm and Aqaba summits. You know, this is the worst attack in at least 50 years and possibly in Israel’s history. So, you know, does that not make you kind of — does it not bring some sort of introspection about maybe the track that the administration has been on to date is not necessarily working?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, this was an attack by Hamas against the state and people of Israel. Hamas launched a war in 2021. They tried to launch war in 2022. And today, we have seen this unprecedented response.
Again, we walked into office with a situation where we have basically severed ties entirely from the Palestinians, and we have worked to restore that and to be — try to begin a process. I think that’s going to continue, but Hamas is never a part of that process. Hamas is in charge of Gaza, and that is a situation that we’ve been dealing with.
And I think what we’re really focused on right now is trying to ensure — and a number of ways that we’re working on this — that this does not spread to the West Bank. We want to try to make sure this is contained in Gaza, as terrible as the situation in Gaza is. But this is an attack by Hamas. And so even in that process, Hamas is not a part of that. And so, you know, I think the situation in Gaza has been unique — how we deal with it through the Israelis, through the Qataris, through the Egyptians, and others.
But given that Gaza is controlled by a terrorist organization, it’s just a situation we work with — through and with the Israelis and others.
But I really — the focus today is on the response to this terrible — (audio drops) — Israel and the people of Israel, and ensuring the Israelis have what they need here to respond appropriately.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. We’ll go next to Asma Khalid from NPR.
Asma? Okay, can’t hear Asma.
We’ll go next to Barak from Axios.
Q Hi. Thank you. Two questions. First, Israeli officials said that Prime Minister Netanyahu asked President Biden during their call for some sort of an emergency funding for Iron Dome interceptors. Did the President agree? Did the President get — ordered some sort of an emergency funding?
And second question, it seems that the Israeli Cabinet is about to approve an all-out ground operation in Gaza. Does the U.S. support an Israeli ground operation in Gaza?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, Barak, on your first question, I’ll say that — that level of detail was not specifically discussed on the President’s call, as I recall, so I’m not sure where you got that from.
There was a discussion about ensuring, as I — as I conveyed in my opening — ensuring knew that the Israelis had all the support they needed and that our Secretary of Defense would shortly and almost immediately after the call be discussing the situation with his counterpart and General Kurilla and others, and then the leaders would circle back up.
But I think, as you saw in 2021 with the billion-dollar supplemental for Patriot interceptor replenishment, to the extent systems have to be replenished, that’s something we have always been committed to. And I think we’d be committed to it here. But I just don’t want to go into any — any specifics.
I also am not going to comment on what the Israelis might do, might not do, should do, should not do. That’s just not my writ here on this call, so I hope you can understand that. And I’m just not going to get into that tonight.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We’ll try Asma from NPR one more time.
Q Hi. Sorry about that. Can you all hear me okay?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Good.
Q Great. Thank you. Thanks so much for doing that. And sorry about the tech difficulties a moment ago. I had two questions for you, [senior administration official]. One is: Can you talk a little bit about the confidence you have in a bipartisan response, given some of the initial response that we’ve seen from Republicans trying to attribute this to President Biden’s actions as they related to a recent prisoner swap in Iran?
And then the second question I wanted to ask is kind of piggybacking on an earlier question about Netanyahu’s comments on Gazans should leave the area. Are there or will the U.S. work with any allies in the region to potentially offer solutions for Gazans — civilian Gazans to exit or enter the area?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, you asked one questions which I’m not — I’m not going to delve into the (inaudible) — the political dimension of it. I would certainly hope that there would be a united — a U.S.-stands-with-Israel response here when Israel is under assault by a terrorist group. Those of us working on this here in the White House, working in SCIFs and elsewhere, did not see some of that. But I — (audio drop) — about it.
I mean, I cannot think of a more irresponsible claim to make in such a situation. This is about the hostage deal. And it’s also completely false. And it’s just unfortunate that, you know, we have to spend our time responding to total lies based on either a complete misunderstanding or just a complete mischaracterization and disinformation of facts.
I think, as our Treasury Department had to put out today — just to clarify — first of all, the agreement to secure the freedom of five U.S. citizens from Iran in September obviously had nothing whatsoever to do with today. That is just factual, provable. None of the funds that were part of that deal have even been spent — not a single cent — or accessed by Iran
And in fact, as you know, for anyone who’s actually covered this deal, none of those funds will ever be accessed by Iran. They can only be used, when they are used — and none have been used to date — to pay vetted, third-party, non-Iranian vendors for a limited category of humanitarian trade: food, agricultural products, medicine, medical supplies. That’s it.
So, nobody in Iran will ever touch a single dinar or cent or rial from those funds. Period. So, it’s just a total ridiculous charge, and it’s had nothing to do with what happened today.
And with such a horrific day like this, it’s just really — (audio drops) — to spread disinformation, but we’re fully prepared, obviously, to respond to it. But it would be nice not to have to respond to just totally ridiculous lies like that.
Again, on this — on the Gaza statement from the prime minister: I have to say, I have not seen that.
I also — we will be working through — with the Israelis and others — contingency scenarios. Working with Egyptians — I’m sure — and others about the come — what’s going to unfold over the coming days and weeks.
So, again, I’m sorry, I’m just not going to get into the speculate about what exactly, precisely that means.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for maybe one or two more. So we’ll go next to Hiba from Asharq News.
Q Thanks, [senior administration official], for doing that. I go back to Lebanon. Hezbollah warned that if there’s a ground operation in Gaza, they will start attacking from the northern borders. What information do you have on the situation on the northern borders? And did you convey a message to the Lebanese leaders about that?
And my second question — on the Iranian factor. I understand that you said that it — it’s too early to tell if they are — to what extent they are involved. And you acknowledged that they are supporting Hamas. But would that impact any kind of talk between Biden administration and the Iranian after this attack? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, on that question, what I said: We don’t have anything to indicate Iran was involved in this specific — what is unfolding now.
But in terms of Iran’s full support for Hamas — and Hamas would not exist without that support over many, many years and decades. Obviously, that is a fact. And that is why we continue to hold Iran accountable for its support for terrorist groups, whether Hamas or Lebanese Hezbollah.
And I will say, and I think it connects to both points: We have clearly conveyed messages and our clear position to all relevant parties, including partners and anyone who might seek to take advantage in any way — which would be a huge mistake — of this situation. So, I’m not going to speculate on what Hassan Nasrallah or Lebanese Hezbollah might do.
But I will say, I think our position is very clear. And one reason we’ve been engaged throughout the region with everybody — and as I outlined at the beginning of my call — is to make sure — (audio drop) — about where we stand in this.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And our last question we’ll go to Vivian from the Wall Street Journal.
Q Hello, guys. Thanks for doing this. All the important questions have been touched upon. But [senior administration official] — but you only mentioned the Egyptians once in passing, and so I figured I would ask. The Egyptians say that they — you know, there had been reports and also officials that we’ve talked to have said that they’ve actually had a lot of the intelligence related to potential Hamas attack, also a potential Hezbollah attack on the northern front.
And so, I wanted to ask: Have they conveyed it to you? Because a number of Egyptian officials are now saying that they had informed the Israelis, the U.S., even the Russians about a potential attack. What were those conversations like? And is there any reason that we haven’t seen a POTUS-Sisi — (audio drops) — call, as we did with the King of Jordan, for example. The Egyptians were obviously key to brokering a deal in 2021. And so I’m wondering why we haven’t seen more intensive engagement besides just the Secretary of State, the foreign minister level. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Vivian. I should of — no, we’ve been intensively engaged with the Egyptians. Jake spoke with Abbas Kamel earlier today. I think we’ve had a couple of touches with Abbas Kamel, who really is the key — the key point of contact in these situations. And I’m sure there will be a discussion with Sisi here at some point.
I can’t speak to what Egyptians are saying there, but I — I don’t want to characterize the intelligence, and I don’t want to get ahead of also what the Israelis will be looking at.
But if the allegation is that we had some specific warning or indicator from another country, it’s certainly not something that we’ve seen. So, I think that’s really not — not accurate, other than just general concern — as we have had concern — about obviously rising tensions, particularly in the West Bank, which we’ve been working very hard on.
But in terms of the level of sophistication of what transpired overnight here and what continues to transpire, that’s a very different — a different issue. And I have not seen anything to support that.
MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone for joining today’s call.
As a reminder, the call today was on background, attributable to a “senior administration official.” The embargo is now lifted. That is all.
Thank you very much. Have a good evening.
5:49 P.M. EDT
Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official Regarding Hamas Terrorist Attacks in Israel
5:20 P.M. EDT