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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: Good evening, everyone. Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will now deliver remarks -- please have your phones on silent, if possible -- starting with Minister Gallant.

Please, Minister.

MINISTER OF DEFENSE YOAV GALLANT: Secretary Austin, the United States and Israel have never been more determined and aligned in our shared values, our shared interests and our shared goals.

My friend, General Austin, you have shown the people of Israel and the entire world what it means to be a leader and a partner. There is no greater projection of our intimate ties than sitting together with General Brown and General Levy, discussing the most sensitive issues on the agenda in full transparency and trust.

Thank you, Secretary, for your deep commitment to Israel's security.

We stand here 72 days into a war that we didn't want. On October 7th Hamas conducted a brutal attack. They murdered, raped and kidnapped children, women, soldiers, Holocaust survivors. On October 7th we fought back and immediately set the goals of this war, the destruction of Hamas and the return of the hostages home, with no exception.

Our common enemies around the world are watching, and they know that Israel victory is the victory of the free world, led by the United States of America.

And our war against Hamas, the Hamas terrorist organization, is a war -- it's not a war against the people of Gaza. We are fighting a brutal enemy that hides behind civilians. Billions of dollars have been invested in Gaza, money that should have gone to civilian infrastructure and instead was used to build a network of tunnels hundreds of kilometers long, equipped by military facilities.

Today IDF troops are operating in Hamas hotspots across Gaza. In northern Gaza, our troops have eliminated thousands of terrorists, destroyed military infrastructure, and this dismantled most of the battalions operating in the area.

In South Gaza, in Khan Younis, we are precise and focused on eliminating Hamas leadership and military infrastructure. Detecting and engaging Hamas leadership and the chain of command span over the phases of this war and will continue until we fully achieve our goals.

Secretary Austin, we both know the complexities of war. We both fought brutal terrorist organizations. We know that it takes time. Unlike our enemies, we are defending our values, and we operate according to international law.

The IDF is operating to minimize the harm to the civilian population. We are also working with international partners to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. Yet any time we discuss humanitarian issues, we must remember the 129 hostages who are held in Gaza. This is the most humanitarian issue.

On October 8th, a day after Hamas attack, Hezbollah opened fire unprovoked. The threats of rockets, missiles, and drones is unacceptable. Over 80,000 citizens have been displaced, living as refugees in their own country. We are determined to create a new reality, restoring our security in the area, based on UN Resolution 1701, pushing back Hezbollah.

We will bring back the residents of the north to their homes on the border after full security will be restored. We prefer to do so via understanding, ensuring that the border region is clear of terrorists and does not allow the direct threats of our citizens. If such a process will not be implemented diplomatically, we will not hesitate to act.

Today, we also discussed the growing global threat posed by the Houthis' terrorist organization. Their action threaten international freedom of navigation and their reckless behavior, firing ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones against Israel, can drag the region into war.

The state of Israel values U.S. leadership and we will support international efforts. At the same time, we maintain the right to take all the actions necessary to defend our sovereignty and our citizens.

Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis are funded, supported, and trained by one source of evil, Iran, and unfortunately, this is only their secondary effort. Iran's major effort is acquiring military nuclear capabilities, and this continue even now. We are aware of their actions and we -- we are ready to defend ourself.

We must take a stand. The world is watching us now. This include our enemies -- Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. The image they see today is powerful, as we stand here united. We are resilient and determined, and we will win on every front.

Thank you once again, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for coming and thank you for your support and your friendship. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Thank you, Yoav. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Yoav, we've been talking almost daily by phone, so it's good to see you once again in person. And it's good to be back in Israel, even in these difficult days, especially in these difficult days.

This is my fourth visit to Israel as Secretary of Defense and my second time since October 7th. And I know that Israel has been profoundly changed from where you were on October 6th. So I'm here with a clear message -- America's support for Israel's security is unshakable and Israel is not alone.

At a time of mourning, a real friend shows up. And I know how terrible these days have been for the Israeli people and I know that October 7th touched everyone in the small democracy. So let me again extend my deepest condolences to Minister Gadi Eizenkot, who has been sitting shiva for his 25-year-old son and mourning his nephew after they both fell in Gaza.

On October 7th, Hamas committed one of the worst atrocities in the history of modern terrorism. As President Biden said, it was an act of sheer evil. Innocent young people at a concert were massacred. Parents were shot in front of their children. Women were sexually assaulted. Toddlers and Holocaust survivors were taken hostage.

And for Hamas, that was just the beginning. Hamas has clearly and loudly spelled out its vision of the future, and it is to repeat October 7th over and over and over again. No country should tolerate such a danger, and Israel has every right to defend itself against a fanatical terrorist group whose stated purpose is to murder Jews and eradicate the Jewish state.

Hamas is still holding hostages, including American citizens. Hamas embeds itself and hides itself behind innocent Palestinian civilians. Hamas does not speak for the Palestinian people. And Hamas is determined to doom both Israelis and Palestinians to an unending cycle of suffering and strife.

So make no mistake, Hamas should never again be able to project terror from Gaza into the sovereign state of Israel. And we will continue to work together for a safer, more secure future for Israel and a brighter future for the Palestinians.

The United States will keep pushing relentlessly for the safe return of hostages in Gaza and we will continue to help Israel in its efforts to bring them all home. Thanks to the personal leadership of President Biden, we helped to broker a deal that got out more than 100 hostages, but this remains a top priority for the United States, from President Biden on down, and we will continue to do everything that we can to bring home every man, every woman, and every child seized by Hamas.

Now, the United States has been clear and consistent since Hamas started this war on October 7th. Democracies are stronger and more secure when we uphold the law of war. And as I've said, protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is both a moral duty and a strategic imperative.

So we will continue to stand up for Israel's bedrock right to defend itself and we will also continue to urge the protection of civilians during conflict and to increase the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza. That's important as Israel fights to dismantle the Hamas terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. And it will also be crucial for our work with our allies and partners after the fighting stops.

Now, we're working to ensure that this conflict does not escalate beyond Gaza. But as we are driving to stabilize the region, Iran is raising tensions by continuing to support terrorist groups and militias. Attacks by these Iranian proxies threaten the region's citizens and risk a broader conflict. Of course, the United States does not seek war, and we urgently call on Iran to take steps to de-escalate.

Now, in my meetings today, I also discussed the need to take urgent action to stabilize the West Bank. Attacks by extremist settlers against the Palestinians in the West Bank must stop. And those committing the violence must be held accountable.

Now, we know that the past 72 days have been some of the most painful days in Israel's history. But it would compound this tragedy if all that was waiting for the Israeli people and your Palestinian neighbors at the end of this awful war was more insecurity, fury and despair.

As I've said, Israelis and Palestinians have both paid too bitter a price to just go back to October 6th. So I discussed pathways today toward a future for Gaza after Hamas, based upon the clear principles laid down last month by my friend, Secretary Blinken.

Israelis and Palestinians both deserve a horizon of hope. So the United States continues to believe, as we have under administrations of both parties, that it is in the interest of both Israelis and Palestinians to move forward toward two states, living side by side in mutual security.

Now, we know how hard that is, especially after October 7th. But ongoing instability and insecurity only play into the hands of Hamas. So we must think together about what lies beyond this terrible season of terror and war. And as we do, the United States will remain deeply committed to the security and self-defense of the state of Israel.

As John F. Kennedy said in 1960, "America's friendship with Israel is a national commitment." That was true then, and it's even truer now. The United States will remain Israel's closest friend in the world. And as I've said repeatedly, our support for Israel's security remains unshakable, and it always will.

Thank you very much. And we'll be happy to take your questions.

STAFF: All right. We'll start now with Caroline (inaudible).

Q: Thank you, Secretary Austin. Welcome to Israel. It's not a secret that there is a gap between Israel and the U.S., so have you set any sort of either timetable or deadline to the current phase of the Israel ground war in Gaza?

And have you heard any firm assessment from the IDF where the current phase stands?

And if I may, with regard to the north, Israel says, and Minister Gallant has just repeated that it will attack Lebanon if there won't be an acceptable solution that will include Hezbollah withdrawal north to the Litani River. Jake Sullivan was here last week and he was quite confident that such a solution can be achieved.

What is the the U.S. position if Israel attack? And will you order the U.S. Army to strike and even destroy Hezbollah and Iranian target if required?

And Minister Gallant, it took the IDF 70 days to reach the tunnel that was revealed yesterday. How long do you think it take to totally dismantle the threat of the tunnel in Gaza?

And if I may ask you, Secretary -- Secretary Austin was speaking about the day after. The American keeps asking Israel how it sees the day after. So what do you tell them? Who will role will rule Gaza? And will the IDF be in Gaza throughout the entire next year? Thank you very much.

SEC. AUSTIN: Which one of those 12 questions do you want me to answer.


Q: I have more.

SEC. AUSTIN: Regarding the timeline, this is Israel's operation and I'm not here to dictate timelines or terms. Our support to Israel's right to defend itself is ironclad, as you've heard me say a number of times, and that's not going to change. It's critical, as I said earlier, that Hamas not be able to threaten Israel from Gaza or even threaten Gaza anymore. And, you know, that's an interest that we all share and it's a common interest with all of us.

And so today, we had great discussions about the status of the campaign, about goals and objectives, and about how to reduce harm to civilians in the battle space and to -- and the need to ensure a sustained flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

You know, we can offer some insight based upon our own experience in fighting terrorist groups, and certainly that enabled us to have great discussions. And we also have some great thoughts about how to transition from high intensity operations to lower intensity and more surgical operations. So we had great discussions on all of those -- those issues.

On Lebanon, we've been clear that we don't want to see this conflict widen into a larger war or a regional war, and we call upon Hezbollah to make sure that they don't do things that would provoke a wider conflict.

MIN. GALLANT: Yes, as to the first -- first question, let me be more precise -- it took us 70 days before we exposed this tunnel to the public. It was discovered, long appeared before that, after a month or so, but we had a lot of -- a lot of operations to be done inside -- the tunnel before we expose it.

The war will take time, and I can assure only one issue, that eventually we will reach our goals, first of all, to destroy Hamas; second, to rescue the hostages. Both of them are very important equally. This is a war of national determination and national resilience, and we will prevail because we are fighting for the right values and for survival in this region.

As to the second question, we understand how important is the cooperation, the international support to establish something -- something different in Gaza. This is the reason we conduct this -- talks today, together with Secretary Austin and General Brown and Mr. Satterfield and others, regarding the issues that we have to conduct in -- in Gaza.

We know that Hamas will not control Gaza. We know that we will have the freedom to eliminate any kind of threat in the future. And there will be no serious military threats against Israel from Gaza.

Second, Israel will not control Gaza in -- in any civilian way. We will conduct any -- any needed operational and military effort in order to secure our future, and we are building the routes for non-hostile partners in the other side.

STAFF: Thank you. Tara Copp? If we can also please stick to one question each please? Thank you.

Q: Thank you. Minister Gallant, back to Lebanon, are you currently planning for a ground operation in the north to, as you said, fully secure that area from Hezbollah?

Secretary Austin, if that ground operation is launched, just to repeat my colleague's question, what role would U.S. forces have in such case?

And then is it too dangerous right now, Minister Gallant, to open a second front in the north when you have troops committed in the south in Gaza?

And my final one for Secretary Austin, another commercial vessel today was attacked in the Red Sea, and U.S. war ships continue to intercept ballistic missiles and drones that are fired from Houthi-controlled Yemen. Why hasn't the U.S. struck back or conducted a counter-strike like it has against similar Iranian-backed militants in Iraq and Syria?

MIN. GALLANT: I would like to reiterate what I said. I said that diplomacy is the preferred way. We are not looking for wars but we have 70,000 Israeli refugees and Hezbollah is shooting us every day since October 8, the day after Hamas launched the war against Israel.

Therefore, in one hand, we are patient and we are looking for a diplomacy solution that will make sure that Hezbollah is not threatened Israeli civilians on the northern communities directly. On the other hand, we are preparing ourself to any situation that is needed, and if something like that happened, we will know what to do and we will prevail.

We -- are not looking for anything similar to that and we hope that Hezbollah will understand that it's time to stop.

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Tara.

Regarding the Houthis, these attacks are reckless, dangerous and they violate international law. And so, we're taking action to build an international coalition to address this threat. And I would remind you, that this is not just a U.S. issue, this is an international problem, and it deserves an international response.

And that's why I'm convening a meeting tomorrow, a ministerial meeting with fellow ministers in the region and beyond to address this threat. We're -- that'll be a virtual meeting and look forward to that discussion. And more important, I look forward to working together with members of that group to address the threat in a meaningful way in the future.

And we'll have more details on this soon. But we're going to make sure that we're doing everything that we can to ensure freedom of navigation in the area. The Strait is the -- straits are pretty important, as we know -- as you know, a large amount of commerce flows through their -- international commerce flows through there on a daily basis.


STAFF: Yonah Bob.

Q: Yonah Bob from the Jerusalem Post. Good to see you again, Mr. Secretary.

There's been a lot of discussion about getting Israel's intent to reduce civilian casualties to match up with the results. General Petraeus famously said that sometimes the U.S. needs to take hits on force protection to win over hearts and minds, legitimacy.

You're probably familiar that just recently about 10 Israeli soldiers died in one ambush and a lot of people in Israel were saying, if the Israeli defense forces had just bombed the area they wouldn't have died. Is this the kind of thing, you know, war doesn't have perfect solutions, but sometimes the United States may think that Israel may need to take more hits to force protection instead of being as aggressive with its Air Force and artillery.

Minister Gallant, good to see you. The United States in its most respectful way possible is trying to push Israel on certain timelines, on certain things about the day after. Is it maybe time that yourself and the government need to tell Israel that even though we've had tremendous successes in the field we may not actually control all of Gaza at the end of January. We may not get all of the hostages back at the end of January. Some of these things may continue in the three to nine months afterwards the -- what they call (inaudible), the third stage?

SEC. AUSTIN: So, for the first part of the question, in terms of the nature of the strikes and the amount of collateral damage, I think -- let me begin by saying the protection of our troops is important to all of us. Minister Gallant, me, all of us. And that is foremost.

But, you know, what we see happening is a combination of two things. The first thing is the complexity of this battlespace, three-dimensional battlespace, very close spaces, a dense population of people and so, that makes it very, very difficult to conduct any military operation.

Above and beyond that, we see that Hamas routinely uses civilians as shields. Beyond that, they place their headquarters and their logistical sites near protected sites, hospitals, masques, churches, you name it. And so, that adds to the complexity.

And as you -- as you've heard Jake Sullivan say, it provides an additional burden for the forces that are prosecuting this fight. It requires a very professional force, and that force has to learn each -- each step of the way. And we've seen that. And -- Mr. Gallant and I had a great conversation today about some of things that they've learned and some of the techniques that they're -- that they're, you know, changing as they conduct operations in the south.

So all of us learn, and again, they were a very professional force going into this, but this is an incredible, complex battlespace, and taking lessons learned from the north, they've applied some of those lessons in the south. And -- again, I'm sure that that will continue to happen.

MIN. GALLANT: Well, first of all, the discussions are transparent and frank. And on the personal level, I have a lot to learn from General Austin. So I'm learning, also. And he always gives me good advice. Therefore, we share everything, and we consult.

Second, on the -- on the battlefield, we have very meaningful and successful achievement. We -- we detect thousands of terrorists, including senior commanders, but not the leadership. The -- eliminate the Hamas leadership is an ongoing goal that will be achieved, hopefully soon, but it will be achieved; it's part of the goals of the war.

And we will continue to operate in different levels of intensity, according to that situation in the region. And I can tell you that soon we will be able to distinguish between different areas in Gaza. In every area where we achieve our mission, we will be able to transition gradually to the next phase and start working on bringing back local population.

That means that it can be achieved, maybe, sooner in the north, rather than in the south. So we are dealing with all the different components, and we will decide in the next -- in the next -- in the early future.

Q: (inaudible)

MIN. GALLANT: No, I'm -- I'm not defining any, any region. And this is an ongoing discussion. But I give you an idea about what we are discussing in the Israeli military establishment, together with the Americans.

STAFF: Mosheh Gains 

Q: Thank you. Mosheh Gains with NBC News.

Minister Gallant, what are the benchmarks for moving to the next phase of this war?

Does that mean that you have to take out top Hamas leadership to be able to move on?

And what specifically is keeping Israel from moving to more precise and targeted operations against Hamas?

And then, Secretary Austin, based on your experience in Iraq and what you discussed today, what metrics should Israel be using to know that it's the right time to transition from major combat operations?

And what are the risks, particularly to civilian protection?

And, lastly, would you say that Israel is on track for a strategic victory in Gaza?

SEC. AUSTIN: You want me to go first?




Well, Mosheh, I will -- I'll let Minister Gallant speak to the elements of their campaign and how they're going to conduct operations. But I would tell you that, you know, we all know that any military operation, any large-scale military operation, will have phases to its campaign. And as you go from one phase to the next, you know, your stance shifts a little bit, your activity shifts a little bit because you begin to focus on -- on different things, and what those things they'll be defined by the Israelis.

But as you transition from one phase to another, it doesn't mean that -- I mean, that doesn't signal an end to the operation. It sometimes means that you're being more -- more precise, you're being -- more focused on a specific target set. You're doing different things during that campaign.

For example, on -- in one phase, you may have a higher intensity fighting, both air and ground. In another phase, you may shift a little bit and then -- and then provide more humanitarian assistance that -- while still focused on a discreet set of targets.

Again, I'm not saying that that's what -- that's what they would be looking at going forward. I will let the Israelis define their campaign and the phases of that campaign for themselves. But -- but in any operation like this, any campaign, there will be phases, and -- and the most difficult part is as you shift from one phase to the next, making sure that -- that you have everything accounted for and you get it right. So that's -- that requires detailed planning and very thoughtful planning.

And sir, over to you.

MIN. GALLANT: Thank you. The goals are the goals for the war. That means that the -- by the end of the war, as long as it takes, we need to make sure that we have our hostages back, that we eliminate the Hamas abilities, and that's include destroying Hamas military capability and its ability to govern in Gaza.

And it have certain power matters, including the amount of battalion -- battalions that we need to dismantle and the chain of command and the supreme military leadership and so forth and so on.

The phases are the technique which is part of the plan that we have to deploy in the area in order to achieve our goals. And as Secretary Austin said, this is only the -- the way that we shape our plan in order to achieve the goals.

And as it happened in the battlefield, the circumstances are changing. You change your efforts and you do something different in a different phase. And the intensity in the first phase is given, but in other phases, we will concentrate on certain issue. For instance, the engaging and -- detecting the supreme leadership of Hamas and others.

So all in all, there is no -- there is no clock that is running, and we have to obey a certain day, but we need to get to a different performances on the ground before we move to the next phase. And I believe that we will find a proper time to do so.

And the most important issue, as I mentioned in the beginning -- we will -- we will prevail, we will dismantle Hamas. Otherwise, we will not be able to exist and live in the way we want to live in this region. Because there is a price to deterrence and they need to know that if they kill or kidnap 1,500 people, including kids and women, this is the end of Hamas.

STAFF: Thank you very much, everyone.