In a conference call yesterday to discuss Obama’s upcoming trip to Asia, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the administration continues “to be in close contact with the Israelis to have an understanding of their plans going forward.”
“We’ve also urged those who have a degree of influence with Hamas — such as Turkey and Egypt and some of our European partners — to use that influence to urge Hamas to de-escalate,” he added.
Rhodes said at the United Nations, “We’ve sought to keep the focus where it should be, which is on Hamas’ rocket fire as the precipitating cause here in posing such a grave threat to the Israeli people, and to oppose efforts to single out Israel for the actions that they’ve taken in response to that rocket fire.”
When asked about whether the U.S. would support Israel sending ground forces into Gaza, Rhodes said, “Ultimately, it’s up to the Israeli government to make determinations about how they’re going to carry out their military objectives.”
“We certainly want to see a de-escalation. We certainly want to see a broader conflict avoided,” he added.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner was reminded at yesterday’s press briefing that the response from Egypt hasn’t exactly been what Washington said it’s asked of Cairo.
“We certainly do convey our concerns, certainly to Egypt as a regional leader, as someone who has influence in the region,” Toner said. “We convey our concerns and we consult closely on them whenever there’s this kind of outbreak of violence.”
This is the first “outbreak of violence” between Gaza and Israel, though, where the U.S. has faced dealing with a Muslim Brotherhood leader in Egypt.
The chief of Egypt’s presidential cabinet, Mohamed Refa’a al-Tahtawi, insisted on CNN International’s Amanpour that the country’s treaties with Israel are “not at all” in danger — with a “but.”
“I think after all, what Israel really did was a miscalculation and I’m sure that our brothers in Gaza are also keen to restore peace and to continue their life normally,” al-Tahtawi said. “…We hope that the United States would exert some influence on Israel to restrain from escalation, because you start a war, you never know how to end it.”
Israeli Prime Minister Danny Ayalon said on CNN “the situation now has been exacerbated because of the so-called Arab Spring.”
“What happened is that the Hamas is able now to get more accurate and long-range missiles from the cachets of Gadhafi, get a lot from Sudan and Iran,” Ayalon said. “And they use it, of course, very irresponsibly. All we have to do as a matter of self-defense.”
Three Israelis and 27 Palestinians have been killed by the rockets and retaliatory strikes, which are targeting Hamas leaders.
As the conflict unfolded on Twitter — with #HamasBumperStickers and #HamasMovies taking their turns at the top of trending topics — lawmakers jumped on board the #IStandWithIsrael hashtag.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.): “I unequivocally stand with the Israeli people & their right to defend themselves against terrorists #IStandWithIsrael #PillarofDefense”
“In addition to condemning the violence in Gaza, the UN should condemn terrorists that threaten stability/target civilians. #IStandWithIsrael,” tweeted Republican Policy Committee chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.).
“Israel has every right to defend herself – Hamas attacks against Israel must stop immediately. We mourn loss of innocent lives,” chimed Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
From Ros-Lehtinen: “Hamas’ rain of rockets all the way 2 Jersualeum +Tel Aviv MUST stop. Israel has right 2 defend itself #IStandWithIsrael http://1.usa.gov/TIiXQK”
While the Israeli Defense Forces tweeted updates of airstrikes and rocket attacks, Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades tweeted a cartoon showing a weeping Netanyahu speared through his boxers by a rocket.
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on CNN yesterday related how one Israeli pilot was targeting a long-range missile yet aborted his mission because he saw children in the vicinity.
“One of those missiles hit outside of Tel Aviv today. So, we pay a price,” Oren said. “…They’re trying their best to kill Israeli civilians. We’re trying to avoid harming Palestinians. That’s the difference between a democratic state and a terrorist organization.”