Israel intensified its attacks on Gaza by launching a ground offensive over the weekend. This move was followed by an intense bombardment of the Gaza Strip, as well as a communication blackout.
John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council in the White House, said at a press conference Monday that the U.S. will not take a stance on the decisions made by the Israeli government, but offered some thoughts on Israel’s objective of sending troops into Gaza.
“It appears what they’re trying to do is really put more pressure on Hamas leaders,” he said. “When you’re trying to go after the leadership of an organization, as we well know from our own experience against ISIS, against Al-Qaeda, putting that pressure, you have to be able to apply a discrete amount of force, easier to apply with soldiers than it is to apply from just the air.”
Kirby said the U.S. has been working to ensure enough humanitarian aid reaches Palestinians in Gaza, an idea that Israelis are opening up to. Around 45 trucks made their way into the Gaza Strip Monday, “marking the highest single day shipment to date” since the conflict started and bringing the total number of trucks to 150, said State Department spokesperson Matt Miller. Israel has committed to allowing 100 aid trucks to enter Gaza per day, the official said.
Miller also talked about efforts to restore the water and fuel supply as well as communication networks, which are all crucial for the survival of civilians.
Will the Israel-Gaza conflict escalate?
While humanitarian aid ramps up, the threat of the war escalating still looms. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi foreshadowed this possibility in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Sunday, saying that Israel had “crossed the red lines, which may force everyone to take action.”
At the press conference, Kirby said that the U.S. has one message for those seeking to exploit the conflict: “Don’t do it.”
“We’re continually watching to make sure that any actor who might be tempted to jump in here knows that we will take very seriously our national security interests in the region, not to mention our obligation to protect our troops and our facilities that are going after ISIS in places like Iraq and Syria,” said Kirby.
He later added that the U.S. knows Iran, which has faced U.S. sanctions since 1979, backs Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis and other militia groups in Iraq and Syria.
Is cease-fire an option? Biden administration says no
Kirby said that the Biden administration does not believe “a cease-fire is the answer right now,” since only Hamas will gain from that. But, he added, the administration does back “temporary, localized humanitarian pauses” to help civilians in Gaza.
When asked for the exact number of American hostages held by Hamas, Kirby said it was under 10.
Neither Kirby nor Miller from the State Department revealed details of the ongoing negotiations with Hamas leaders over hostages but they both indicated that the administration is in close communication with its partners in the Middle East.
The U.S. was one of the 14 countries to vote against a sustained humanitarian truce in the United Nations General Assembly over the weekend. Nearly 120 countries voted for the motion, including NATO allies like France, Spain and the U.K., while 45 abstained. The resolution passed, showcasing the global opinion on the conflict, as The Guardian reported.
Biden administration reaches out to Middle East partners
President Joe Biden talked to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egypt President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on Sunday, discussing the recent developments in the war, the need for humanitarian aid, and the continued efforts to locate and secure the release of hostages.
On Monday, the White House welcomed Saudi Arabian Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman Al Saud. The visit with national security adviser Jake Sullivan was scheduled prior to Israel launching the ground invasion. Still, the officials talked about the conflict in Gaza — the need for de-escalation and humanitarian assistance — while reaffirming the commitment the two countries have towards each other.
The same day, a similar conversation went on between Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Qatari Prime Minister Al Thani, showcasing the Biden administration’s active outreach efforts to U.S. partners in the Middle East.