"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
November 17, 2012
Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Bangkok, Thailand
10:00 A.M. EST
Q Can we go straight to Israel and Gaza, and give the latest on the President’s reaction and interactions with the leaders there, and reaction to what’s going on.
*MR. RHODES: Yes. Yesterday the President spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’s spoken with him each [nearly every] day since this situation unfolded. He reaffirmed again our close cooperation with the Israelis. They discussed the Iron Dome system, which the U.S. has funded substantially over the last several years, and which has been successful in stopping many of the rockets that have been fired out of Gaza. They also addressed the fact that they’d like to see a de-escalation provided that, again, Hamas ceases the rocket fire, which precipitated this conflict.
The President also called both President Morsi of Egypt and Prime Minister Erdogan as well yesterday. It was the second conversation with President Morsi and his first with Prime Minister Erdogan. And the reason the President called both of those leaders is they have the ability to play a constructive role in engaging Hamas and encouraging a process of de-escalation.
And so the President was speaking to them about steps that could be taken to bring an end to the violence. And what we would like to see is those nations like Egypt and Turkey, that maintain relations with Hamas, to help bring this to a conclusion to bring an end to the rocket fire that we’ve seen out of Gaza, and to allow for a de-escalation in the conflict, generally.
The President also in each of his calls expressed regret for the loss of live, including the loss of civilian life by both Palestinians and Israelis since this conflict began.
Q So I understand you guys talked about this -- you’ve talked about trying to de-escalate the situation. What’s the U.S. view about a possible ground invasion of Gaza on the part of Israel?
MR. RHODES: Well, look, I think as I said the other day, the Israelis are going to make decisions about their own military tactics and operations. I think what we want is the same thing the Israelis want, which is an end to the rocket fire coming out of Gaza. And if that can be accomplished through de-escalation, that would obviously be a positive step forward.
We believe that the precipitating factor for the conflict was the rocket fire coming out of Gaza. We believe that Israel has a right to defend itself, and they’ll make their own decisions about the tactics that they use in that regard.
However, I think we have a shared view that if you could have a de-escalation that brings an end to this violence that would be a positive outcome. We just believe that that has to include putting an end to the rocket fire that has terrorized far too much of the Israeli population for far too long.
Q Ben, wasn’t a precipitating factor also the targeted killing of a Hamas military commander? And what does the President think about that? That doesn’t show up in the readouts that you have had, that doesn’t get discussed. And also, what does the President think about targeting specifically government buildings rather than just military targets in Gaza?
MR. RHODES: Well, just to be clear on the precipitating factor, these rockets have been fired into Israeli civilian areas and territory for some time now. So the Israelis have endured far too much of a threat from these rockets for far too long. And that is what led the Israelis to take the action that they did in Gaza.
We wouldn’t comment on specific targeting choices by the Israelis other than to say that we of course always underscore the importance of avoiding civilian casualties. But the Israelis, again, will make judgments about their military operations. We support their right to self defense against these rockets. At the same time, we’ll continue to encourage that all steps can be taken to reduce any possible civilian loss of life.
Q To what extent will the President be holding more calls and paying attention to this crisis over the next few days while he’s in Asia?
MR. RHODES: I would anticipate that he’ll continue to work on it. He’s being regularly briefed on it. It’s possible that he’ll make calls. We’ll obviously keep you updated. He’s made a regular series of calls on this since it began.
I should also note that Secretary of State Clinton has been calling her counterparts. She spoke yesterday to the Israeli Foreign Minister, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, other regional leaders. And Tom Donilon, who’s traveling here, has spoken to the Israeli National Security Advisor every day. So I think what you can see from the President on down through his team, there will be a sustained engagement in this issue. And we’ll keep you updated as any calls are made.
Q Ben, other then Iron Dome, what logistical or material or military support is the U.S. prepared to give Israel as this conflict goes forward, if any, and has Israel asked for anything?
MR. RHODES: I’m not aware of any specific requests of that nature. Again, this is an Israeli military operation that they are carrying out with their own military and equipment. I highlight Iron Dome because it’s a system that we funded significantly and it’s played quite a dramatic role in lowering the threat to Israeli citizens since this crisis began.
Q Has the U.S. told Israel that it will not offer any additional support, but that it respects their right to go forward with what it needs to do?
MR. RHODES: We haven’t had that type of request so what we’ve said is that we respect their right to self defense, understand that they have a need to act when their citizens are facing this threat from rocket fire. But there hasn’t been that type of exchange about potential U.S. military involvement.
Q So just to clarify on that and what you said to my earlier question about possible ground troops going into Gaza, it sounds like what you’re saying is the U.S. is not encouraging -- specifically encouraging or discouraging that, but just sort of if Israel makes that decision on their own, respects that decision -- is that accurate way of thinking of it?
MR. RHODES: Yes, what I would say is Israel is going to make choices about their own military operations, and we respect their right to self defense and the fact that they’re going to need to take certain actions when there are rockets being fired at their citizens from Gaza. I think there’s a broad preference for de-escalation if it can be achieved in a way that ends that threat to Israeli citizens.
Q So are you -- is the U.S. encouraging Israel to try to avoid that if they can?
MR. RHODES: We wouldn’t get into what we’re discussing about their specific military tactics. I think just more as a diplomatic matter and a broader matter, we think that if there can be an effort that brings in countries like Egypt and Turkey that have an influence over Hamas and that we can have a de-escalation that ends the threat that Israelis are faced with, that that would be a positive outcome.
Q And are you guys surprised that some of these Hamas rockets are actually reaching into Jerusalem and do you have any knowledge as to where they -- where that kind of fire power is coming from?
MR. RHODES: We have expressed concern -- and you’ve heard the President actually speak to this -- over the course of the last several years about the growing sophistication of these rockets.
I wouldn’t speculate about the exact origin of individual rockets. Obviously there’s been a sustained smuggling effort to get weapons into Gaza that we have sought to combat. And we’ve sent a very strong message in the region that we oppose any efforts to provide arms to groups like Hamas. We’ve seen that be the case in the past from countries like Iran. But I don’t want to specify on individual weapons that have been used in this conflict.
But as a general matter, we are concerned about rocket fire and that’s why we’ve funded the Iron Dome system, and it’s also why we’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to end these smuggling routes that reach into Gaza.