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The U.S. Intelligence Community

Herzliya, Israel

It is my pleasure to be here to speak about the U.S.-Israel partnership, and how things look from Washington.

We all know the past 8 and a half months have been an extraordinarily difficult time.  There are still not words to describe the horrors of Hamas’s brutal massacre of 1200 people on October 7 — or of the taking of 250 innocent hostages and unthinkable acts of sexual violence. 

And the war triggered by that attack has had devastating consequences.  Tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, have been killed—and humanitarian conditions for the people of Gaza, where the majority of the population has been displaced, remain dire.

In Israel, almost 200,000 Israelis have had to evacuate their homes, and many have yet to return. 

In addition: Just over two months ago, Iran launched an unprecedented direct attack on Israeli territory.  Houthi militants and Shia militia groups continue to strike at Israeli and other targets.  Hezbollah attacks Israel regularly across its northern border, and Israel is responding. 

Meanwhile, Israel is facing growing international criticism and pressure from the United Nations and other international bodies.  Vocal segments of the American public have spoken out against the war in Gaza. As a result, over the past eight and a half months the U.S.-Israel partnership has been tested, perhaps as never before.

It has been a profoundly trying time for all.  But I need not remind everyone here: the U.S.-Israel partnership has always faced challenges.  There have been many difficulties – even crises – in our shared history – and we have survived all of them, together.  And while it will require work on both sides, there is no reason why this time needs to be different.

Indeed, notwithstanding all the very real challenges and tests I have mentioned, I believe there is a positive path forward for Israel, the United States, and our strategic partnership. 

And that is what I want to talk about today – not the risks and problems we all know but the possibility of a more hopeful path forward, for Israel, U.S.-Israeli relations, and the people of the region. 

The path to a more hopeful future starts with the ceasefire deal spelled out by President Biden on May 31, based on Israel’s proposal.  That proposal offers the opportunity to end the war in Gaza in a way such that Israel is secure; all the hostages are returned; Hamas no longer governs Gaza; and the Palestinian people have a hopeful political horizon to freedom, security, and an eventual state living side by side with Israel in peace. 

You are familiar with the terms of this proposal but they are worth repeating: Phase 1 would be a 6-week full and complete ceasefire; withdrawal of Israeli forces from population centers; and the release of hostages, including women, the elderly, and the wounded.  In this time, Palestinian civilians could return to their homes, and humanitarian assistance would surge.

During this period, there would also be negotiations for Phase 2 – a permanent cessation of hostilities.  During the second phase, there would be an exchange for the release of all remaining living hostages, including male soldiers; and Israel would withdraw from all of Gaza. 

Then in Phase 3, a major reconstruction plan for Gaza would begin, and any additional hostage remains would be returned.

Now, as President Biden has said, we know there are some in Israel who do not support this proposal, opposing a ceasefire even if that means de-prioritizing the release of the hostages.  We strongly disagree. 

A rejection of this deal would not bring about some undefined version of “total victory,” but would lead to endless conflict, draining Israel’s resources, contributing to its global isolation, and preventing the hostages from being reunited with their families.  By contrast, implementation of the deal brings the hostages home, and opens up the pathway to the more hopeful future we all need. 

Since President Biden made this proposal public, we have rallied the world to support it.  The UN Security Council passed a resolution endorsing it.  G7 nations have all endorsed it.  As have many Middle Eastern countries and the 16 countries that have citizens still held hostage in Gaza.

It is now time for Hamas to accept the deal.  And let’s be clear: By refusing to do so, Hamas is responsible for the ongoing suffering of so many Palestinians.  The deal Israel offered at the end of May was almost identical to what Hamas proposed on May 6, and in many ways Hamas is walking away from its own offer. 

While disappointing that Hamas took so long to respond and has proposed additional amendments beyond its original position, we will continue to work relentlessly to get to that agreement and to close the gaps, and we are grateful for the efforts of Qatar and Egypt to help do so.

And we should not give up hope for getting a deal even as we press Hamas to agree, Israel can help with that.

As Israel completes major operations in Rafah in the days and weeks ahead, and if it delivers on its promise to reduce civilian casualties and surge more humanitarian assistance, not only will that relieve the suffering of the Palestinian people…it will deprive Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar of the death and destruction he cynically counts on for leverage against Israel. 

Don’t forget – Sinwar wants to see Israel isolated in the world, wants to bring in regional actors against Israel, and wants to divide Israel from the United States.  A transition to lower intensity military operations and an improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza would deprive him of all of these goals, as well as of the fantasy that the longer he holds out the more leverage he has.  We need to make Sinwar realize time is not on his side, and that the deal is one he should accept. 

Let me also say a word about what this deal could mean for Israel and the region.

Fully implementing this deal— with an end to the fighting in Gaza, followed by a serious commitment to governance, reconstruction and security — would bring desperately needed relief to the civilian population of Gaza and allow the people there to begin a process of recovery.  But it would also deliver enormous political and security benefits to the State of Israel and the Israeli people.

First, it would significantly increase the possibility of securing calm along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, which would allow tens of thousands of Israelis to finally return to their homes. We have been working relentlessly to deter Hezbollah from a major attack on Israel since the early days of this conflict.  As you know, President Biden sent two aircraft carrier groups to the region and has strongly warned Hezbollah against intervention. 

To be clear, we utterly reject the Iranian and Hezbollah linkage between continued fighting in the north and a ceasefire in Gaza.  We believe de-escalation is possible and necessary now and that is what are working towards. But we also know that a ceasefire and hostage deal would put pressure on Hezbollah to end its reckless cross-border attacks — helping to diminish the risk of escalation in the north.

A sustainable ceasefire in Gaza would also reduce the risk of escalation on other fronts.  Since early on in the Gaza conflict, the Houthis in Yemen have been attacking commercial shipping in the Red Sea – reckless, illegal behavior that does nothing for the people of Gaza while causing enormous harm elsewhere.

The United States will continue to degrade Houthi capabilities and seek to deter future attacks until this outrageous behavior ends.  A return to calm in Gaza would deny the Houthis their self-proclaimed justification for these attacks and help reduce the risk of escalation on this front as well – as it would the risk of attacks from Shia militia groups in Syria and Iraq.   

Perhaps most important, an end to the war in Gaza — and a commitment to a serious and credible Palestinian political horizon — would also allow Israel to secure a potential historic normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia – and ultimately the entire Muslim world.  This would be an extraordinary boon for the Israeli economy – opening new economic ties for Israel’s start-ups, travel and tourism, educational exchanges, and more.

And even more important it would help make Israel safer.  It would allow Israel to be part of a regional security network, with the support of the United States, to counter the threat posed by Iran. 

We saw the potential for this in mid-April, when Iran launched an unprecedented direct attack on Israel, and a coalition of nations, including the United States and our regional partners, helped Israel defeat that attack.  That episode underscored the reality of the threat Israel faces from Iran, but was also a striking preview of what is possible when Israel becomes more integrated with the region. 

The path to this brighter future is possible, but to return to where I started, it begins with a sustainable end to the war in Gaza in a way that leaves Israel secure, brings the hostages home, removes Hamas from power, and ensures a path to Palestinian dignity, freedom, self-determination, and security. 

The reality is that there is no enduring defeat of Hamas without a credible governance and security alternative in Gaza – as we in the United States learned the hard way from our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

With the end of fighting, we can create a unified international and regional coalition to support Palestinian governance, rebuild Gaza, and ensure that Hamas cannot regain power. As we do that, we will put in place strict measures – including on the border between Egypt and Gaza – to ensure Hamas and other terrorists cannot re-arm. 

I know it is hard to think of peace negotiations at this moment.  I understand the mutual distrust that Israelis and Palestinians have towards each other after years of conflict and failed peace processes; The United States is certainly not asking Israel to sacrifice its security or immediately come to an agreement on two-states. 

But we cannot give up on that ultimate goal, and we oppose steps — such as settlement expansion, settler violence and other destabilizing activities on the West Bank — that are counterproductive to peace and make that goal more difficult to achieve. 

President Biden and Vice President Harris firmly believe the best way to ensure Israel’s long-term security is through a negotiated two-state solution that will allow Israel to remain a secure, Jewish and democratic state.

I also want to be clear that the onus is not just on Israelis but also on Palestinians, which is why we are engaging the newly appointed Palestinian Authority government to advance important reforms that make meaningful changes to improve governance. 

Ultimately, through the regional track and the Palestinian track, this path I’ve described opens up prospects for Israel to build enduring security – which is what this country needs and has wanted from its founding. 

All of this runs through securing a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza now, as President Biden has proposed, and we should all be working to achieve.

To conclude, I would just ask all of you to contemplate the two paths I have just described, in one direction; indefinite conflict in Gaza alongside growing tensions and violence in the West Bank; the absence of a Palestinian political horizon as fuel for Hamas and other terrorist groups; the looming threat of serious regional escalation; and growing Israeli isolation on the world stage – or in the other direction the path to a strong, secure and prosperous Israel; at peace with its neighbors; backed by the United States; and integrated in the region as never before. 

The choice should be clear.

As Israel embraces this more hopeful path, the United States will stand with Israel every step of the way.  We remain Israel’s strongest, and best friend in the world.  And Israel remains our closest ally in the Middle East.  And just as I believe it is in Israel’s interests to pursue this positive pathway…it is also in America’s interest. 

Even in this moment of tension and difficulty, this future is possible.  It is a path worth pursuing. 

Thank you.

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The post Remarks by National Security Advisor to the Vice President Dr. Phil Gordon at the Herzliya Conference appeared first on The White House.

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