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Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing on Israel

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks, everybody, for tuning in today. Let me start by first acknowledging once again the truly heinous nature of Hamas's Saturday attack on Israel and the Israeli people.

As you've heard from President Biden to Secretary Blinken in Israel today, these are ISIS-level, brutal, cruel tactics. We mourn with the Israeli people for the loss of life, send condolences to them, and are firmly standing with them in their right to defend themselves.

I want to again update you on where we are with the Department of Defense's support to Israel. So first of all, let me talk about the posture increases that Secretary Austin ordered over the weekend. 

You will have seen the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group has arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean on Tuesday of this week. The 354th Fighter Squadron and their A-10 Thunderbolt IIs arrived in the region to support the United States Air Force today. And we are continually adjusting and monitoring our posture -- our posture in the region to ensure we are positioned in support of Israel's defense.

Let me again reiterate one of the main messages that this rapid increase in posture is intended to send to both state or non-state actors. The United States is unequivocal in its support for the defense of Israel and is sending a warning to any entity that would consider taking advantage of this conflict and this war to escalate violence -- one word, quite simply, don't.

In order to reinforce the absolute and unwavering support of this administration, and particularly in the Department of Defense, I would like to confirm for you that Secretary Austin plans to travel to Israel tomorrow. He's expecting to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Gallant, and the Israeli War Cabinet.

This is sending a quite clear signal of the depth of U.S. commitment to Israel's security. You've seen President Biden speak at the podium multiple times, Secretary of State Tony Blinken traveled to Israel today, and Secretary of Defense Austin tomorrow. What is quite clear from -- is the commitment of this administration and our Cabinet to support the Israeli people as they work to restore security to their people.

During Secretary Austin's visit, one, he will underscore his unwavering commitment to Israel's security. He is looking forward to speaking in depth with Israeli leaders about their operational planning and their objectives for this conflict in response to Hamas's brutal ISIS-style attack.

Number two, Secretary Austin will be discussing Israel's security assistance needs there. And I'd like to provide you an update. The first shipment of our military aid, including munitions, arrived earlier this week. We fully expect to see continuous delivery of U.S. security assistance to Israel in response to their requests.

There are also deliveries and preparation of Iron Dome missile interceptors, and we will continue to be responsive to Israel's requests for air defense, artillery ammunition, and precision-guided munitions. Secretary Austin's commitment to responding expeditiously to Israel's requests is a high priority for his national security team, and he is working with us daily to ensure that we are responsive in moving out.

And finally, Secretary Austin is going to repeat what you heard from President Biden earlier this week and Secretary Blinken today -- to any actor, state or non-state, seeking to escalate this conflict, do not. We have adjusted our posture, we are expediting security assistance, and we are unwavering in our commitment to support Israel. 

You heard these messages this week while Secretary Austin was in Brussels, and we fully expect the rest of the U.S. administration to continue making these messages and demonstrating in words and deeds our ironclad commitment to Israel's security.

Thanks, and I look forward to your questions.

STAFF: Great, thank you. Our first question will go to Tara Copp, AP.

Q: Hi, thank you for the call. Are you expecting during the Secretary's visit tomorrow to make any additional commitments of munitions or additional force presence? And will there be any discussion of what the Defense Department could do to help U.S. hostages and Israeli hostages as well? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks for that question. Going to leave any announcements during the Secretary's trip to the Secretary. Needless to say, we intend to continuously be providing much needed security assistance to Israel.

And on your second question, we are providing advice and consultations to the Israeli Defense Forces on hostage recovery efforts. This is a high priority here, as it is for the Israeli government. 

STAFF: Thank you. Our next question will go to Jen Griffin, Fox News.

Q: Oh. Hey, this is Liz in for Jen. My first question is -- is there any shortage or is there any concern there could be a strain providing weapons for both Israel and Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks for that question. Put simply, we are the strongest nation in the world with the most combat credible military. We are capable of supporting Ukraine and Israel in their hours of need. Ukraine is defending freedom against Russian tyranny and Israel is defending its people against horrific terrorist acts. We feel we can and must do both, and the cost of inaction would be much higher and more costly.

STAFF: OK, great.


QUESTION: ... sorry, just to follow up -- this is Jennifer. But there's already been a strain on 155 millimeter shell ammunition. How are you dealing with that strain, given that Israel is going to need that kind of ammunition as well?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We are assessing all of our global stocks. I would not focus on one particular kind of ammunition. What we are focused on is requirements, what do the Israelis assess they need now and what do they need days and months from now. And based on that information and that level of close consultation we are working with them on all available kinds of ammunition to respond to their needs. 

STAFF: Thank you. Our next question will go to Alex Horton, Washington Post. 

Q: I'm curious about some of our understanding that Hamas used some western or U.S. provided weapons, you know, either they've already had or took while conducting their operation. Can you elaborate on that? Any kind of weaponry or equipment that you saw coming from the west used in these attacks?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't have any comment on that at this time. Let me just sort of reflect on the fact that since Saturday we have been focused on supporting the Israelis as they sought to clear villages where Hamas was present and secure Southern Israel. And understanding their operational objectives for Gaza, we will continuously be consulting with the Israelis on the types of weapons and their analysis of the tactics Hamas used. I anticipate and expect that to be an ongoing discussion. 

STAFF: Thank you. Our next question, Idrees Ali, Reuters. 

Q: Hey there. Firstly, do you have any evidence that Hamas got or carried out any training outside of Gaza for the attack? 

And secondly, I think it's pretty widely accepted that there was an intel failure on the Israeli side. How comfortable and confident are you that given that they had poor intel about the attack that they have good enough intel to carry out strikes inside Gaza, A, to be successful and, B, not to kill civilians given that in the past they have a history of pretty high numbers of civilian casualties? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. Well, let me first say, as I believe you heard Secretary Austin say earlier today, Israel -- the Israel Defense Forces are a professional force with professional leaders and we continuously consult with Israel just as we do with any ally or partner on the ways in which we can mitigate civilian harm, adhere to the laws of armed conflict and uphold international humanitarian law. We would expect in this case for that to be no different. And that's, of course, an area that we discussed with the Israelis as we do with any ally or partner. 

STAFF: Great, thank you. Next question, we'll go to Tom Bowman NPR. 

Q: -- so on the Israeli, Hamas training, sorry. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters here today. Thanks. 

STAFF: Next question, over to Tom, NPR. Tom, do we have you? 

Q: Can you hear me?

STAFF: Okay. Yes, all right. Got you. 

Q: Okay. Yes, you mentioned the first shipment earlier in the week of munitions. I'm told hundreds of small diameter bombs are in that shipment. Can you confirm that? And ballpark on the numbers of other items, Iron Dome interceptors, BGMs, are we talking hundreds, thousands? And again, just a ballpark number. And also, getting to the hostage situation, are the experts, including JSOC, already on the ground?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks, so let me take that question first. There are personnel on the ground as part of a larger assistance package in support of CENTCOM. And that includes military personnel advising and consulting on hostage recovery efforts. 

On the question about the specifics, I'm going to defer you to the government of Israel on that. Needless to say, you hit the mark. It's both munitions and air defense. And we intend to continuously be delivering both to the Israel Defense Forces. 

Q: Yes, can you give us a ballpark? Hundreds, thousands of these munitions?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm not going to do that today and would defer you to the government of Israel. 

STAFF: Thank you. Our next will go to Courtney Kube, NBC.

Q: Thank you. When you say you hit the mark, you're confirming that it's the small diameter bombs that the munitions?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Small diameter bombs are certainly part of a category of precision guided munitions that we are consulting with the Israelis on. 

Q: And then you mentioned -- thank you. And then you mentioned that the fighter squadron of A10s that arrived today, have any -- is that the only air platform that's arrived there so far that was announced on Sunday? 

And then, can you just say -- I mean, the Ford is there, the ships are there, like what are those -- and we're hearing that some of the -- I think, like the Hawkeyes are flying off the Ford. Like can you say what the Ford is actively doing right now or what -- to support Israel? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. So, first of all, we expect to see more posture increases flowing in over the next week. And in terms of the activities of the Ford, that is the largest aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy, plus all of the accompanying assets that come with it. They will be conducting a range of activities, including intelligence support, maritime support, long-range strike options, et cetera. And we expect all of that to remain active and available in support of Israel's defense. 

Thank you. 

Q: But was it A10s -

STAFF: Our next question -

Q: -- the A10s is the only ones that there are now then, of the -- of the ones that were announced on Sunday, none of the others have arrived yet. Is that -- that's fair to say?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I have seen CENTCOM announce the A10s. 

Q: Thank you. 

STAFF: Okay, we're going to go onto the next question. Fadi, Al Jazeera. 

Q: Thank you for doing this. Appreciate your time. So, I have two questions. As you mentioned the secretary today, said that he hopes, and his expectations are that Israel will do the right thing in operating in Gaza. However, so far, based on official numbers in the U.N., 1,400 Palestinians have been killed, to include 447 children, 12 U.N. staff, thousands of buildings destroyed, neighborhoods wiped out. 

So, so far has Israel been conducting this operation in Gaza met your expectation? And then on following up on the increase in posture, from the Pentagon point of view, is -- are all options on the table when it comes to the defense of Israel, in terms of U.S. troops presence? Thank you very much. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. So, let me take the second question first. We have no intention of putting U.S. forces on the ground at this time, but we are providing advice, and we will continue to consult with our Israeli partners about their security assistance needs. 

Let me just be very clear about U.S support to Israel. The civilian protection and humanitarian suffering is always an area of concern for the United States and it is one that we are consistently discussing and will always discuss with allies and partners. 

Civilians in Gaza are not to blame for Hamas' horrific terrorism. The civilians are protected under laws of armed conflict and should be given every opportunity to avoid the fighting. And I would note here, of course, that nothing in any of Hamas' actions over the past week would suggest that Hamas values or prioritizes civilian lives. 

STAFF: Great. We'll go to Lara Seligman, POLITICO. 

Q: Hi, thanks so much for doing this. A couple questions. First of all, just a follow up on what you said about force posture increases flowing in over the next week. Are you referring to just the aircraft that was already announced or is there anything else that is being sent over that we don't know about already? And then just also on Secretary Austin’s trip, can you just give us a couple more details to the extent you can. Is he traveling directly there from Brussels? Who is going to meet with? And how long is he staying?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. So, yes, he's traveling there directly from Brussels. We expect that he will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Gallant and the Israeli War Cabinet. 

Sorry, Lara, tell me what was your first question again? 

Q: Just on the posture increases flowing in over the next week, yes, what additional --.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Let me be very clear, the announcements of the posture increases on Sunday are extremely significant and sizable. And it's going to take a couple days to get all those augmentations in place, which is why you're going to see that flowing in. In terms of additional posture adjustments, what has been very clear, especially in the past year from our U.S. military is that we remain able and capable and willing to dynamically and expeditiously flow forces into the region. 

You saw us do it over the summer, you saw us flow in massive amounts of force and thousands of U.S. personnel earlier this year for the most significant bilateral exercise with Israel. And we maintain the ability to that here. I have no further posture adjustment to announce today. But nobody should question the ability of the U.S. military to do that expeditiously at the direction of President Biden. 

STAFF: Great. Thank you. Next we'll go Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg. 

Q: Hi, I had a couple questions about the Iron Dome. Can you walk through the mechanics of the transfer of the Iron Dome, of the interceptors that are already in Israel but in U.S. possession to Israel and then the future flow, will those come from the U.S., the two batteries in the United States? 

And can you confirm that we have about 312 interceptors in the U.S. inventory at this point? But first question, are the interceptors that you transferred to Israel this week part of a U.S. order that was going to the Second Army Battalion? Or battery, excuse me?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Those are a lot of very detailed and specific questions that -

Q: Right.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- I can't get into them. 

Q: Can you talk in general then? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think you well know that the U.S. Army has Iron Dome batteries and interceptors within its stocks, and we are actively consulting with Israel on making available air defense support, including Iron Dome. 

STAFF: Okay, and we're going to -

Q: Thanks. 

STAFF: -- just have time for just a few more questions here. Eric Lipton, New York Times.

Q: Yes, thank you. Are the munitions and interceptors that you are sending now, are they above and beyond what Israel had already ordered and were on the way? And, but also, can you confirm that the JDAM kits are part of, in addition to, the small diameter bombs and ammunition and interceptors, that the JDAM kits were part of what's being sent?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sorry, there's so many detailed questions. Okay, the request for additional Iron Dome defense that we are discussing is most likely going to be above and beyond what Israel has already ordered. And tell me again your second question. 

Q: The JDAM kits are part of the precision guided munitions that are in addition to the small diameter bombs, but JDAM kits are also part of what is going there in the near term?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure, I will refer you back to my earlier comments. One of the categories we are working with the Israelis on are precision-guided munitions. Small diameter bombs and JDAM kits are part of those categories.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: Thank you. Next question will go to Konstantin,

Q: Thank you. Earlier this afternoon, the NSC spokesman John Kirby said that the Israelis have made it very clear that they don't want foreign troops on their soil, that they want to prosecute hostage rescue operations on their own. Are you able to offer any more insight or detail into why the Israelis are not interested in having U.S. troops participate in combat operations in this conflict?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I would refer you to the government of Israel for their thinking on what their requirements are. What I do want to make clear is that we are consistently and continuously consulting with them on their needs. What they have asked for us is to expedite security assistance so that they are able to defend themselves.

Q: Appreciate that. And then one quick follow-up if that's OK. You mentioned that long-range strike from the Ford and its strike group is one of the options on the table. Does that -- just to be -- to be clear, that leaves on the table the option that the Ford or one of ... 


... accompanying ships will launch missiles?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: What I said is that that is a capability of the U.S. carrier strike group. I didn't say that that is an option on the table.

Q: OK. Thank you for clarifying.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And again, let me be very clear, we have deployed a massive amount of force to make very clear that the United States stands with Israel and to send a strong message to state and non-state actors who would even be considering escalating this conflict.

I think it is very important for these leaders and these groups to understand the full capability of the U.S. military, which we have deployed in the Eastern Mediterranean.

STAFF: Great. And our last question -- we'll take the last one from Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q: Thank you. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit has left Kuwait. Are they being positioned in case they're needed for a non-combatant evacuation operation? 

And I just wanted to clarify something. The Defense Department is saying it is not interested in putting forces on the ground. I think you said there are U.S. military advisors in Israel advising on hostage rescue. So are there U.S. forces on the ground? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: First of all, on the Marine Expeditionary Unit, we are constantly moving our Marine and naval assets around the theater, based on what the requirements are. 

And on your second question, we have military personnel that are part of the U.S. embassy team, and on any given day, they are overseeing security cooperation, security assistance, managing senior leader visits, or providing specific support to exercises or specific needs of our partner.

In this case, those U.S. military personnel are providing advice on hostage recovery, which obviously is a really significant concern and priority for both the United States and Israel.

STAFF: Great. I know our Senior Defense Official has a very busy schedule today, so we're going to wrap up the call with that. Again, this call was all on background, and if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to follow up. Thank you.