Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. is “working to verify” reports that “several Americans were killed” and others were taken hostage in Israel over the weekend.
“We have reports that several Americans were killed. We’re working overtime to verify that. At the same time, there are reports of missing Americans and there again, we’re working to verify those reports,” Blinken told Dana Bash on Sunday’s State of the Union.
Hamas launched an unprecedented coordinated attack against Israel Saturday, killing hundreds and taking dozens hostage, including women, children and the elderly. The Palestinian military group’s surprise assault from the south has Israeli forces fighting to regain control of several areas. Israeli authorities reported that at least 500 people have died and another 2,000 were injured, while the Palestinian Health Ministry said that 232 have died and 1,790 were injured in retaliatory attacks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office called the attack a “murderous terrorist assault from the Gaza Strip” and announced his Security Cabinet declared war, which grants formal authorization for “significant military steps.”
Blinken said that President Joe Biden has told him to “make sure that we’re providing Israel everything it needs in this moment to deal with the attacks from Hamas.”
“We’re looking at specific additional requests that the Israelis have made. I think you’re likely to hear more about that later today,” he added.
Blinken said he spoke to Netanyahu Sunday morning. “I told him the United States stands with the people of Israel in the face of these terrorist assaults. Israel has the right to defend itself and its people, full stop,” he said.
During an appearance on Meet the Press, host Kristen Welker asked Blinken whether there was an “intelligence failure” by U.S. and Israeli intelligence in not knowing this attack was coming.
“The Israelis will have plenty of time to look into that,” Blinken repsonded. “All of us will have time to look into that. The focus now has to be on making sure that Israel has what it needs to deal with this attack and to make sure that its citizens are safe and secure. That’s the entire focus.”
Welker also asked about whether Blinken believed Iran had a role in planning this attack. “Iran and Hamas have a long relationship,” the secretary of state said. “Hamas wouldn’t be Hamas without the support it’s had for many years from Iran. In this moment, we don’t have anything that shows us that Iran was directly involved in this attack, in planning it or in carrying it out. But that’s something we’re looking at very carefully, and we’ve got to see where the facts lead.”
Welker also asked Blinken about a recent $6 billion deal between the U.S. and Iran to release five U.S. detainees. Republicans have claimed funds from the deal helped fuel this attack. “How do you respond to Republican critics who say that that deal funded the attacks on Israel?” she said.
“It’s very unfortunate that some are playing politics at a time when so many lives have been lost and Israel remains under attack,” Blinken said. “Here are the facts. The facts are that these were not U.S. taxpayer dollars. These were Iranian resources that it had accumulated from the sale of its oil that were stuck in a bank in South Korea… Not a single cent has been spent from that account. When any money is spent from that account, it can only be used for medical supplies, for food, for medicine. Those who are saying otherwise are either misinformed or misinforming.”
When the conversation turned to Congress and political infighting that might delay action from the legislative branch in response to the attack, Welker asked, “As you know, there’s currently no Speaker of the House… Is Congress able to respond? Should Israel ask for more aid from the United States?”
“Back under President Obama, we signed a so-called memorandum of understanding with Israel that provides it with $3.8 billion a year in defense assistance, and much of that is ongoing,” Blinken said. “As a general proposition, it would be very important to make sure that we have both houses of Congress on a bipartisan basis in a place where they can clearly show and express their support for Israel, especially in this hour of need. And so that’s something we want to see, and we hope that that happens quickly.”
But Rep. Seth Moulton said on MSNBC that Congress is “pretty much paralyzed right now by not having a speaker of the House.”
“This is unprecedented in American history, of course, to not have a speaker like this,” the Democratic congressman said. “We’re not sure whether the Republicans can get their act together and even produce a nominee for a vote this week, so it just highlights how important it is to have a functioning government here at home to deal with and respond to these international crises.”