US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Thursday with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and then privately with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the two men joined a meeting with the rest of the expanded War Cabinet.
The discussions focused on next steps to be taken in Gaza, the dismantling of the Hamas terrorist organization and the release of the remaining Israeli and other hostages.
“I want to express our appreciation for your support from the beginning – the president, you personally, the delegation – in the war of eliminating Hamas and releasing, securing the release of our hostages,” Netanyahu said in his opening remarks.
“We appreciate it deeply. And of course, I’d like to talk to you about the next phase,” he added.
Attending the meeting for the Israeli side was Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Minister Benny Gantz, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, Minister Gadi Eisenkot, MK Aryeh Deri, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Tzachi Braverman, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, the Prime Minister’s Military Secretary Maj.-Gen. Avi Gil, National Security Council Deputy Director Gil Reich and Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs.
Attending for the American side was US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf, US State Department Counsellor Derek Chollet and Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues David Satterfield.
Hamas Terror Attack During Blinken’s Meeting with Herzog
During the Secretary’s meeting with Herzog, the president informed Blinken that even as they were meeting, medics were fighting for the lives of Israelis who were attacked by Hamas terrorists in Jerusalem just moments before.
“Once again, unfortunately as we are meeting now there are casualties in a serious terror attack at the entrance to Jerusalem our capital. Two terrorists have attacked innocent civilians waiting for to be picked up to go about their day, to go to work. And we have casualties and loss of life and I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to the families and of course to pray for the swift recovery of the wounded. This is another example of the situation we’re in, the endless war that we are fighting against terror organizations, especially Hamas, in these very complicated and challenging times,” Herzog said.
“I thank you for coming here. As always, you’ve been expressing and the support of the United States, the President and his Administration, and on behalf of the American people at large, so I thank you very much.
“We are working, praying for and demanding the immediate release of all hostages, and I thank the United States of America for the immense work it is devoting to the release of the hostages. There are still around 150 hostages who are in Hamas hands in Gaza.”
Where is Baby Kfir?
Herzog raised the issue of the Beibas family — 10-month-old Kfir, four-year-old Ariel and their parents — none of whom have been freed. The Al-Qassam military wing of Hamas announced Wednesday that baby Kfir and his older sister, plus their mother Shiri, had all been executed by the terror group, but Israel has yet to confirm their deaths.
Baby Kfir, the youngest Israeli in captivity, has become a symbol for the Jewish nation of the particularly vicious cruelty of Hamas, thus fueling national unity in the determination to eradicate the terror group.
“Their whereabouts are unknown to us and we are demanding their immediate release,” Herzog underlined. “It should be obvious that little toddlers will be released with their mother and hopefully with a father as soon as possible,” he said.
Herzog also noted that Blinken is serving in a position once held by Dr. Henry Kissinger, who passed away Wednesday night at the age of 100. Kissinger laid the cornerstone of the Israel-Egypt peace agreement. “I admired Henry Kissinger,” Herzog said.
“In our last conversation he ended the call by saying, “Mr. President, please know I’ve always loved and admired and supported the State of Israel”. And so I always felt his love and compassion for Israel and his belief in the Jewish state.”
US Supports Israel’s Right to Try to Ensure Oct. 7 ‘Never Happens Again’
Blinken said in response that like Herzog, “My heart goes out to the victims of this attack … We’re thinking of them, we’re thinking of their families, their loved ones, and we mourn their loss just as we mourn the loss of any innocent life.
“From day one, we have been focused on trying to secure the release of hostages from Gaza, from Hamas. And we have seen over the last week the very positive developments of hostages coming home and being reunited with their families, and that should continue today.
“It’s also enabled the increase in humanitarian assistance to go to innocent civilians in Gaza who need it desperately, so this process is producing results,” Blinken said. “It’s important and we hope that it can continue,” he added.
“The United States firmly supports Israel and its right to defend itself and to try to ensure that October 7th never happens again.