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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Joint Press Conference With Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, Israel

STAFF:  Hello, everyone.  Thank you for joining us.  The minister of defense and secretary of defense will now deliver statements to the press, and we'll have a few questions at the end.

Please, Minister.

ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER YOAV GALLANT:  U.S. Secretary of Defense General Lloyd Austin, when you said that you stand with Israel, you showed up.  You stand here with us.  Mr. Secretary, you have shown us what it means to be an ally, to be a friend, to be a brother.

The secretary and I have just left the war room.  We sat where decisions are made on Israeli security, on our most sensitive interests.  I briefed the secretary on strategic developments in our region, and the chief of staff together with the IDF leadership shared our operations.

Defense cooperation and U.S. support in the Pentagon, in the White House, in the Congress ensure freedom of operation and enforce our capabilities.  In fact, today we will receive the second aircraft carrying essential munition to the IDF.

U.S. deployment of assets on land, in air and at sea sends a strong message to both partners and enemies in the region.  On behalf of Israel's defense establishment and on behalf of our citizens, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

Let me remind you all, our audience, who is the enemy?  Our neighbors is Hamas, the ISIS of Gaza, an organization enjoying the Iranian payroll.  I cannot let the world forget the brutal attacks Hamas (inaudible) always conduct against Israeli children, Israeli women, Israeli elderly and entire families.  Murder, rape, kidnapping — this is what we face in this war.  This is a war on the existence of Israel as a prosperous state, as a democratic state, as the homeland of the Jewish people.  This is a war on freedom and on our common values, and we are on the frontline.  We will keep fighting and we will win this war.  We will prevail.

With your permission, Mr. Secretary, I'll say a few words in Hebrew.


MIN. GALLANT:  Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  Yoav, we've been in close touch, but it's good to see you again in person, and it's good to be back in Israel, even during such terrible days.

As the U.S. secretary of defense, I am here in person to make something crystal-clear: America's support for Israel is ironclad, and I extend my deepest condolences to the Israeli people, for those killed or wounded in this terrible slaughter by Hamas.

I'm also here in solidarity with all the families still living the waking nightmare of not knowing the fate of their loved ones, and we will continue to coordinate closely with Israel to help secure the release of the innocent men, women and children in the clutches of Hamas, including American citizens.

Now, Israel is a small country, a place where everybody knows everybody, and in times of trial, the intimacy of your society deepens the intimacy of your grief.  But that's not a weakness; it is a profound strength, and in times of testing, Israelis know what to do.

Over this awful week, we've seen Israeli hotels and homes take in those who've had to flee.  We've seen long lineups to donate blood.  We've seen WhatsApps explode with messages as people race to support neighbors in anguish.

And perhaps because I'm a retired general, I was especially moved by the story of a retired general named Noam Tibon.  His son called him on Saturday from his home near Gaza to say that Hamas terrorists had stormed their kibbutz and were closing in, and the retired general jumped into his car in Tel Aviv and raced toward the combat zone.  He linked up with other fighters and rescued his son, his daughter-in-law and his granddaughters.  And when the general arrived at their house, one of his granddaughters just said, "Grandpa is here."  And these are rays of hope in a terrible week, and in times like these, sometimes the best thing that a friend can do is just to show up and to get to work.

Now, this is no time for neutrality, or for false equivalence, or for excuses for the inexcusable.  There is never any justification for terrorism, and that's especially true after this rampage by Hamas.  And anyone who wants lasting peace and security for this region must condemn and isolate Hamas.  Hamas does not speak for the Palestinian people or their legitimate hopes for dignity, security and statehood and peace alongside Israel.

As a former commander of Central Command, the deliberate cruelty of Hamas vividly reminds me of ISIS: bloodthirsty, fanatical and hateful, and like ISIS, Hamas has nothing to offer but zealotry and bigotry and death.

The world has just witnessed a great evil: the deadliest attack on civilians in the history of the state of Israel and the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the end of the Holocaust.  So make no mistake: The United States will make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself, and Israel has a right to protect its people.

You know, in their many phone calls this week, President Biden has told Prime Minister Netanyahu that the United States would also respond swiftly and decisively to such a massive terrorist assault.  And the president also underscored that democracies like ours are stronger and more secure when we uphold the laws of war.  Terrorists like Hamas deliberately target civilians, but democracies don't.  This is a time for resolve and not revenge, for purpose and not panic and for security and not surrender.

At President Biden's direction, we have moved urgently to respond to this crisis and to send a strong message of deterrence.  The USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group is now in the region, led by the largest aircraft carrier in the world.  We've augmented U.S. fighter aircraft squadrons in the Middle East, and the U.S. Department of Defense stands fully ready to deploy additional assets, if necessary.

As President Biden has said, for any country, for any group or anyone thinking about trying to take advantage of this atrocity to try to widen the conflict or to spill more blood, we have just one word: Don't.  The world is watching and so are we, and we aren't going anywhere.  We will remain in close contact with our valued partners across the region, and security assistance from the Department of Defense is already rapidly flowing into Israel.  That includes munitions and air defense capabilities and other equipment and resources.  It also includes more interceptors for Iron Dome to save Israeli lives, and we will continue to ensure that Israel has what it needs to keep itself secure.

Now, Hamas attacked at a time of global challenge, but the United States is the most powerful country in the world, and we remain fully able to project power and uphold our commitments and direct resources to multiple theaters.  So we will stand with Israel even as we stand with Ukraine.  The United States can walk and chew gum at the same time, and U.S. security assistance to Israel will flow in at the speed of war, and as this harrowing week draws to a close and as Shabbat draws near, we stand together and we stand strong.  The United States has Israel's back, and that is not negotiable, and it never will be.

And after this terrible week, I wish you and all the people of Israel Shabbat Shalom.  Thank you.

STAFF:  We'll be starting with the questions starting with (inaudible), Channel 13.

Q:  Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, your presence in the Eastern Mediterranean clearly projects power, but should Israel be attacked from the north, from Hezbollah in Lebanon, will you be willing to exercise your force and join the fighting?

SEC. AUSTIN:  You know, I ordered additional assets to the region to bolster deterrence, and again, the message that we would send to any country or group thinking to take advantage of this situation and widen the conflict: Don't.

I won't speculate on anything that could happen in the future.  I will just tell you clearly that the United States will continue to support Israel's right to defend itself.

Q:  Thank you, and please, a question to the defense minister.



STAFF:  Matt Seyler, ABC?

Q:  Thank you both for doing this.

Secretary Austin, the U.S. administration has told Israel to avoid causing civilian casualties and to uphold what you called just now the laws of war.  Given how Hamas fights, deliberately launching operations from dense civilian areas, how could Israel permanently end the terrorist threat posed by Hamas without inevitably risking many civilian lives?  And as we watch the civilian death toll in Gaza rise while Israel conducts its counterattacks and perhaps a ground invasion, do you believe the moral culpability for those Palestinian deaths belongs to Israel, Hamas or both?

SEC. AUSTIN:  I'll leave it to Israel to talk about its potential plans and its approach to conducting operations.

Matt, I'll just say again that Israel has a right to defend itself, and we will support Israel's right to defend itself.  We will continue to flow in security assistance.

And I've worked with Israeli forces over the years, over many years.  As you know, I wore a uniform for 41 years.  My experience in working with the Israeli forces is they are professional, they're disciplined and they are focused on the right things.  And so I expect that going forward, they will continue to exhibit that same degree of professionalism that we've seen in the past.

But you know, Matt, we've seen this before.  The international community fought ISIS who in some cases was embedded deeply in built-up areas, and that international coalition fought valiantly and protected civilians and created corridors for humanitarian movement even in the midst of a pretty significant fight.  So again, this is a professional force.  It is well led and I have every expectation that it will be disciplined.

Q:  Thank you.

And for Minister Gallant, have you seen evidence that Iran was directly involved in planning or executing the recent attack on your country, or any signs that either Iran or its proxies are seeking to exploit the situation?  And if you do come to see signs of an imminent attack on Israel, are you in favor of preemptive strikes?

MIN. GALLANT:  Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas is one axis, an axis of evil.  Everything is directed generally from Iran.  The permission is given by Iran.  The money is supplied by Iran and the ideas are shaped in Iran.  Therefore, it doesn't matter if they give or didn't give a permission, but the idea is an Iranian idea.

As to their actions, future actions of IDF — I will stay confidential for good reasons.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  (Suleiman Maswadeh).

Q:  Mr. Secretary, thank you for this.  House Foreign Affairs Chair Mike McCaul said that we know that Egypt had warned Israel three days prior to that event, like something like this could happen.  We don't know how we missed it.  We don't know how Israel missed it.  So can you tell us what really the U.S. knew before this attack?

SEC. AUSTIN:  What I can tell you is that if we had known or if we know of a pending attack against an ally, we would clearly inform that ally.

But what we're focused on now, Suleiman, is we're focused on making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend its sovereign territory and to protect its citizens.  And the minister and I spent a good bit of time talking today about what those requirements are and what we need to do to urgently meet those needs.



STAFF:  And last question, from Tom Squitieri

Q:  Thanks for doing this, Mr. Secretary.  As you just stated, you were involved in the major effort to stop and eradicate ISIS.  When you talk to the minister and others and that experience courses through you, what kind of lessons learned do you feel might be helpful in this case, especially dealing with that whole urban situation that you just referred to, the proposed — the evacuation of civilians from Gaza, those kind of challenges?

What kind of ideas and thoughts do you have that you can share, please?

SEC. AUSTIN:  Well, thanks, Tom.  I would tell you that, encountering ISIS, I felt as if we were staring evil in the eye.  It was truly evil.  And what we've seen from Hamas, it takes that evil to another level.  And so that's the first thing that we need to remember and consider.

There are a number of things that we talked about today — there are some lessons learned that we'd be more than happy to share with our allies here, in terms of operating effectively in dense urban terrain, creating safe humanitarian corridors, making sure that we're thoughtful about how we shape the battle and making sure that, you know, our objectives are well-defined and so we'll continue to share the lessons that we've learned over the years.

And of course, as the Israelis prosecute this fight, we will learn lessons from them.  And so I think it's this great teamwork that has served us both well over the years, and we'll continue that.

Q:  Mr. Minister, there's been some confusion over the 24-hour deadline that Israel announced to — for civilians in Gaza to move south, to evacuate and move south.  There was a 24-hour deadline initially reported, and then there's been reports that Israel has modified that, have left it open; in other words, not sticking to 24 hours of a deadline.

Would you please clarify, specifically, is there going to be a deadline?  What can you tell us about the deadline?  And what will Israel do, if anything, to help civilians move?

Some of the people have said, "That's Hamas's problem; it's not our problem."

MIN. GALLANT:  Well, first of all, I would like to remind all of us what happened less than a week ago.  Twelve hundred Israelis were brutally murdered, raped, burned alive.  Kids were tied one to the other and shot in the head.  This is Hamas.  This is the ISIS of Gaza.  And as the secretary said, they took evil to another level.  That's the first issue.

Second, Israel never and ever, will not shoot civilians on purpose.  Therefore we are asking all the civilians in Gaza City to go south of Gaza.  And the reason is that because we don't want to harm them.

The camouflage of the terrorists is the civil population.  Therefore we need to separate them.  So those who want to save their life, please go south.  We are going to destroy Hamas infrastructures, Hamas headquarters, Hamas military establishment, and take these phenomena out of Gaza and out of the Earth.  They cannot live among human civilized people.

Q:  But 24 hours — is that deadline still holding, the 24 hours?

STAFF:  Thank you very much.  We're done for today.  Thank you.