National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that the United States does not know the “pinpoint” location or even the exact number of American hostages being held by Hamas after the militant group’s attack on Israel last Saturday.
During Sullivan’s appearance on State of the Union, host Jake Tapper pressed the national security advisor on what the White House is doing to ensure Americans held captive are returned home safely, especially as Israel unleashes missiles on the Gaza strip in response to the attack that left more than 1,000 dead in Israel while others were taken hostage by Hamas.
“Is rescuing the hostages a priority at all?” Tapper asked Sullivan. “I mean, Israeli news media like Haaretz, they say it doesn’t seem like it at all. Frankly, Jake, if my kids were being held hostage in Gaza — and as you know, there are Americans being held hostage in Gaza right now — I’d want you to send in the Navy SEALs. What’s the conversation like in the White House about the U.S. conducting any sort of operations in order to save Americans being held hostage in Gaza?”
“The president has been very clear that he has no higher priority that getting Americans back safe, Americans who are being held hostage by Hamas,” Sullivan responded.
At this, Tapper interjected, “The Israelis are bombing the crap out of Gaza right now. It doesn’t seem like saving the hostages are a priority at all.”
Israel’s government warned Palestinians in northern Gaza on Friday to evacuate to the south and cut off food, water and electricity to the entire Gaza strip, leaving 1.1 million people scrambling for safety. A United Nations spokesperson told CBS News that the U.N. “considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences.” The Palestinian Health Ministry reported Sunday that at least 2,450 people have died in Gaza.
“For President Biden, they are a priority,” Sullivan said of the American hostages. “They are the highest priority. He has sent hostage experts to coordinate and consult with the Israeli government on hostage recovery efforts.”
But, Sullivan added, “We do not at this point have pinpoint location information for where the American hostages are, so we have to continue to refine our understanding of where they are and even, Jake, who they are because we know there are 15 unaccounted for Americans, but we cannot confirm the precise number of American hostages being held by Hamas at this time. All we can do is continue to work closely with the Israeli government on hostage recovery options, which we are doing, and then work through third countries to see if there are avenues for release. Those efforts are underway. Our hope is that they can produce results. We will continue to stay focused on this. It’s as high a priority as the president has.”
When Tapper asked whether the U.S. would “entertain” the idea of a prisoner swap, Sullivan said the government has not heard that option from Hamas. “We have not looked at that. We have not heard from them something like that,” Sullivan said. “That’s not something that is currently under active discussion. It has not been proposed. What we are focused on instead, as I said before, are pursuing avenues with third countries for release. I’m not going to get into the details of what that might look like, again, to protect those channels, in hopes that they can bear some fruit.” But, Sullivan added, Biden has shown in recent years that he is willing to “make hard decisions to get American hostages home.”
Later in the interview, Tapper asked Sullivan about the conditions in Gaza and the deaths of innocent Palestinian citizens. “What’s going on right now is not just a punishment of Hamas,” Tapper said. “More than 700 children have been reportedly killed in Gaza. And, obviously, electricity, food, water supplies have been cut off by Israel to the totality of Gaza. Obviously, the blockade is not just by Israel. It’s by Egypt too.”
Sullivan responded that Palestinian citizens “deserve… access to water and medicine and food,” adding that his Israeli counterparts have reported to him as of Sunday morning that “they have in fact turned the water pipe back on in southern Gaza.”
Axios’ Barak Ravid reported Sunday morning that Israeli officials confirmed they have turned on the water supply to the southern Gaza strip following “strong U.S. pressure in the last 48 hours.”
During an interview on Meet the Press, Sullivan also discussed the situation in Gaza and emphasized the importance of safety and security for Palestinians in the area.
“The critical thing from our perspective is that there be safe places for civilians to go that will not be subject to military bombardment, where they can be safe physically, and where they can have access to the essentials — to food, water, medicine, shelter,” Sullivan said.
“The many, many Palestinians who have had nothing to do with the brutal terrorist organization Hamas — the vast majority of the population of Gaza — they deserve dignity. They deserve safety and security,” Sullivan said. He added that the U.S. is working with the United Nations and allies in the region “to ensure that.”