State Department Briefing Addressing US-Israel relations during Operation Protective Edge
"[T]he United States has an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. No country has done more to support their security than the United States. Just last week, the President signed a bill providing Israel an additional $225 million in Iron Dome funding during the Gaza crisis. We will continue to provide additional security assistance to Israel going forward. And let me be clear: There has been no change in policy, period." Marie Harf, Deputy Spokesperson for US State Department.
The US State Department responded to an article this week in the Wall Street Journal regarding US-Israel relations during Operation Protective Edge that alleged the White House had intervened in the delivery of munitions to Israel. Here is an excerpt of the press conference from the US State Department addressing issues raised in the article.
US State Department Daily Press Briefing for Thursday, August 14, 2014
(Emphasis has been added below for key information)
QUESTION:Can we move to Israel?
MS. HARF: If anyone – yeah, we can move to Israel.
QUESTION: Great. There was a report in The Wall Street Journal this morning that claimed that the White House intervened in a typical procedure of delivering munitions to Israel during Operation Protective Edge. Do you have a comment?
MS. HARF: Do I have a comment? I do. And I think some of that was – the tone of some of that wasn’t correct, and so let me go through a little bit of what our response would be --
MS. HARF: -- and then I’m sure there will be follow-ups. As you know and as I have said many times, the United States has an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. No country has done more to support their security than the United States. Just last week, the President signed a bill providing Israel an additional $225 million in Iron Dome funding during the Gaza crisis. We will continue to provide additional security assistance to Israel going forward. And let me be clear: There has been no change in policy, period.
Given the crisis in Gaza, it’s natural that agencies take additional care to review deliveries as part of an interagency process. That is by no means unusual and, again, does not indicate any change in policy, as I think that story sort of alluded to. And it’s not a permanent change in process. Again, it represents additional care that we would take in any crisis, period.
QUESTION: Well, could you explain the additional – could you explain the rationale for the additional care that you’re using right now?
MS. HARF: During any crisis situation, we take additional steps to – through the interagency to look at deliveries. But again, deliveries have moved forward. We’ve put more funding forward. Again, it’s not an unusual step. I guess I’m just a little surprised by the emphasis on it.
QUESTION: Well, so first you mentioned that a defensive system, Iron Dome, was replenished --
MS. HARF: We have continued to provide offensive capabilities as well, as I had mentioned when we talked about resupply a few weeks ago.
QUESTION: Okay. Specifically, was the delivery of Hellfire missiles halted by the White House or by this Administration. Can you speak to that specifically?
MS. HARF: I can check on that specific delivery.
MS. HARF: Usually, we don’t speak about specific deliveries. I can check on that one, but I was making the broader point that there’s been no change in our policy --
MS. HARF: -- towards providing Israel with this kind of support. During a crisis, we take additional care just to go over things as we would anywhere. But again, nothing’s changed in terms of our policy here.
QUESTION: When has this happened before?
MS. HARF: I can check, Roz, but there’s a lot – during crises where we are providing munitions and weapons, we tend to take additional care and look at things just a little bit harder.
QUESTION: But certainly, one of the --
QUESTION: So the Secretary looked – what specifically – when you take this care, what specifically are you looking at?
MS. HARF: Well, I’m not going to outline our internal decision-making processes and what we take into account when we make these kind of decisions.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: What – decisions for what?
MS. HARF: How things move forward.
QUESTION: So you --
MS. HARF: How deliveries move forward.
QUESTION: The lead of the Journal story says that White House and State Department officials were surprised that Israel was obtaining ammunition from the Pentagon without their approval.
MS. HARF: I would disagree with that notion.
QUESTION: Okay. Good. So one --
MS. HARF: Good. You’re glad we’re all coordinated.
QUESTION: Well, I’m glad it’s a clear answer. What is the normal process for deliveries of ammunition by the Pentagon to another country? And does it require the explicit approval of the White House or the State Department?
MS. HARF: I can check on that, Arshad. I don’t have that --
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: Because the Pentagon had said when these first reports came out about mortars and bullet-piercing – armor – bullets and tear gas and other equipment, they basically said this is a mil-to-mil relationship, we’ve had this relationship for a very long time and --
MS. HARF: And I repeated that from this podium.
QUESTION: And – but yet, they did not say that they needed to have any oversight, not even from their own secretary, that this was a bureaucratic, longstanding relationship. And the way the Journal story portrays it, it’s as if in light of a lot of the negative publicity that surrounded the story --
MS. HARF: This has nothing to do with publicity, Roz.
QUESTION: But --
MS. HARF: It has nothing to do with publicity.
QUESTION: But the story suggested that.
MS. HARF: Well, I’m saying it doesn’t.
QUESTION: Well, the implication, though, is that – forget about the publicity – but the implication is that there is a concern within various quarters of the Administration that some of the U.S. ammunition was being used and contributed to Palestinian civilian deaths, and that is what triggered the review. Can you speak to that?
MS. HARF: Well, I – let’s take – “review” is a pretty technical term, and I would caution you from using that. No, I’m just responding to the question.
QUESTION: Well, you – I think you said – I think you just --
MS. HARF: I said we take additional steps to look. There’s not a review.
MS. HARF: There’s a difference, Elise. There is, and it matters.
QUESTION: Well, looking at – taking a second look is reviewing to me, but --
MS. HARF: So we made clearly publicly that we thought Israel could do more to protect civilians. We made that very clear publicly.
QUESTION: Yes, I understand.
MS. HARF: We also said our goal all along was to help Israel stop the rocket attacks, prevent them, and to prevent the tunnel attacks as well. So again, we haven’t – there’s no hold on anything – on deliveries to Israel. We haven’t changed our policy in any way.
QUESTION: I didn’t say there was.
MS. HARF: No, I know. I’m just responding to some of the things that were in the story. We haven’t changed our policy in any way. Again, during a crisis, we take additional care to look at these issues as they move forward.
QUESTION: But – I know. You already said that. But what we’re getting at here is that the implication is that the reason, in this particular instance, that extra care is being taken is because of concern in some quarters of the Administration – particularly in the White House and the State Department – that some of this ammunition was being used to contribute to civilian deaths and that’s why – don’t call it a review, taking a second look, whatever you want to call it – is that that’s why --
MS. HARF: I’m not going to give a specific reason behind why, during a crisis, we would take a second look. I just made very clear that we were concerned about civilian deaths on the Palestinian side.
QUESTION: So if you’re very concerned about civilian deaths, then you must be extra concerned that U.S. weapons are being – contributing to those civilian deaths.
MS. HARF: I’m just not going to outline the rationale behind taking a second look at some of these things.
QUESTION: Marie --
QUESTION: So it didn’t – it wasn’t – I mean, I’m sure it wasn’t lost on you that in your – and you from this podium used words like “appalled,” used words like – I don’t know, help me out, but --
QUESTION: -- “outraged, disgraceful,” I don’t know – remember, exactly.
MS. HARF: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You used those words to describe some of the civilian deaths. I’m sure it was not lost on this Administration in its decision to take a second look, or whatever you want to call it, that U.S. weapons could be playing a part in that.
QUESTION: Just to clarify --
MS. HARF: I just don’t have any more analysis on this for you.
QUESTION: Wasn’t it – it wasn’t a second look, it wasn’t a review. Well, how do you characterize it? Because you said that there is no long-term policy change, but you did say that there was a --
MS. HARF: It is natural that agencies take additional care to review deliveries as part of an interagency process. This is an ongoing process to take --
QUESTION: But you just said (inaudible) a review.
QUESTION: You said “review.”
MS. HARF: To take – to – there’s not a “review.” That’s a specific government term that you know is sort of a formal process.
QUESTION: So this is a review with a lowercase ‘R’.
MS. HARF: To take – exactly.
QUESTION: Okay. So – but the --
MS. HARF: To take – to take – wait, wait, wait – to take additional care to review what we’re doing.
QUESTION: Okay, but --
MS. HARF: We’re taking additional care here. That’s my --
QUESTION: Okay. But if you’re undertaking – even if --
QUESTION: Well, who signs off on these transfers?
QUESTION: If you’re taking – undertaking a review with a lowercase ‘R’, or a second look or – again, whatever you want to call it – that that would stand to reason that perhaps at the end of that look that you might make some kind of policy change.
MS. HARF: Well, the – no, because this is --
QUESTION: So you’re just looking for looking? Okay.
MS. HARF: We’re looking at the deliveries on arms transfers as they come up. Our --
QUESTION: With the aim of what?
MS. HARF: Our – making sure we’re looking at them even more closely, given the ongoing crisis. More broadly, our policy on providing unprecedented support to Israel militarily has in no way changed.
QUESTION: We didn’t say that the overall policy --
MS. HARF: But you said at the end of this there might be a policy change. No. There’s no policy change.
QUESTION: Well, not a policy review, but --
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: Not a policy change, but perhaps a change in the --
QUESTION: -- tactical deliveries and time and scope of them.
MS. HARF: We’re moving forward with support to Israel militarily. Again, I don’t have anything else to outline for you on upcoming transfers or what might be transferred.
QUESTION: Just – could I ask – just to go back. I read the lead of the story, and you said that you disagreed with it, I think. And I just want to make sure I understand what you disagree with because there are two elements to it. One element is that the Israeli military was quietly securing supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon without White House or State Department approval. Is that wrong, that they were not getting such ammunition without White House or State Department approval?
MS. HARF: I’m not – so taking a step back here – and these two points are important. One, we are all very closely linked up on what we give to Israel – the White House, the State Department, and the Defense Department. So we all know what we’re all doing. I don’t know legally what approvals in – would be needed for that. But I would strongly disagree with the notion that some of us didn’t know what was going on. I don’t know who needs to “approve” what, Arshad. Do you know what I – does that make sense?
QUESTION: Yeah. I guess I what I’m trying to figure out, though, is just --
MS. HARF: There wasn’t the Defense Department doing something that none of us knew they were doing.
QUESTION: Well – but so – I just – I want to get to the heart of the question, which is whether there were any sort of unauthorized transfers of --
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge in any way.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the second part is – goes to the other – goes to what you sort of just addressed, that – I used the word “surprised.” The lead of the story says were caught off-guard when they learned about this. Just to be quite explicit, you’re saying nobody was caught off-guard, nobody was surprised, that people – that the relevant people at the White House and the State Department knew about the ammunition transfers.
MS. HARF: We’ve all been very – I mean, I can’t speak for all of those people. We’ve – what I can say is that we – all of those three buildings you just mentioned have all been incredibly closely linked up on this issue, and I haven’t heard anyone say to me that they were caught off-guard or that they didn’t know what was going on.
QUESTION: So why did you – so when did you decide to take this --
QUESTION: -- second look?
MS. HARF: I can check and see if there are more details.
MS. HARF: But throughout the crisis, we’ve obviously been giving additional care to how we think about these things, as you would expect.
QUESTION: Well, if State and the White House are going to be taking an extra look at --
MS. HARF: And the Defense Department is as well, by the way.
QUESTION: Right. Well, I mean – well, but before, the Pentagon has said, “We did this; we didn’t have to run this past anyone else. This was a long-standing mil-to-mil relationship. We do this with our allies.” But since there’s going to be this extra level of scrutiny, care, fill in the blank, who in this building is going to sign off on it? Is it the Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs?
MS. HARF: I don’t know who has to sign off on things, Roz.
QUESTION: Does it have to go to – well, it – but it’s – clearly there is a concern that not enough people knew about this --
MS. HARF: No, I think that I --
QUESTION: -- so who’s going – who’s --
MS. HARF: I’m saying there’s – I don’t have that concern and I’m not expressing that concern. I can look at legally who in the State Department has to, quote – or if they have to sign off on things. That’s a legal determination about how we provide military assistance to foreign countries.
QUESTION: Well, I would like to know that.
MS. HARF: I will ask that question.
MS. HARF: And that – but there are a number of people in this building who are very involved in the policy discussions about our support to Israel. So that, from a policy perspective – legally I can check for you on that. It’s a fair a question and I’ll check.
QUESTION: And then you also said – sorry. Sorry, Michael. But – and you also said that this is temporary. How long is temporary?
MS. HARF: Well again, as the crisis is ongoing, it’s part of our decision-making during that. But I would venture to guess that at the end of this we’ll probably not continue, but I just don’t have anything to preview for you on that.
QUESTION: Is this a regular – I’m just going to use the word “review” to fill in the blank (inaudible).
MS. HARF: I’ll let you use the word “review.” (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I will grant you that.
QUESTION: Right. I mean, there have been operations in the past, I mean, and Cast Lead. Was there a review, or was this --
MS. HARF: Well, I wasn’t here then. I’m happy to check.
MS. HARF: I – the general --
QUESTION: Well, of the aid delivered during those two weeks – I mean --
MS. HARF: The general principle that I know guides us – I can only speak for the time I’ve been here, but I would venture to guess and feel fairly strongly saying this that the general principle that when there’s an ongoing crisis or conflict where we are giving weapons, as much as we believe this is a strategically important relationship and one we care very deeply about, that we take additional care to look at those.
QUESTION: And there’s --
MS. HARF: I would venture to guess that always happens.
QUESTION: And there’s a high level --
QUESTION: You wouldn’t look at them, though, without the potential for tweaking them.
QUESTION: You wouldn’t just look at it to check a box, right?
MS. HARF: Well, no. But we – but also, we look at them always, all the time. We always look at these deliveries before we make them. So it’s not like we’re not looking at them to begin with. We always look at them. And there’s always a potential to tweak it --
QUESTION: But you’re taking a second or you’re taking a --
MS. HARF: -- so we’re taking additional looks at it.
MS. HARF: No, but it’s – it’s not an unfair point. It’s not like these things are just on autopilot, right.
QUESTION: Sure, but --
QUESTION: But if there’s a second look, you can to make a change, no?
MS. HARF: You can make a change in the first look, too.
QUESTION: But it – okay. So there’s a --
MS. HARF: Right? Sorry. Michael, go ahead.
QUESTION: No – so there’s a White House-level review that delineates between defensive --
MS. HARF: There’s an – in the interagency process that looks at these deliveries.
MS. HARF: All of us together are taking additional looks at these things before we deliver them. This isn’t the White House or the State Department. This is the interagency doing this together.
QUESTION: Fair enough. But there’s a delineation because you mentioned – you specifically mentioned Iron Dome replenishment, so --
MS. HARF: To make the point that we are clearly moving forward with support to Israel.
QUESTION: Well, it’s a defensive system, so --
MS. HARF: It is a defensive system. We have also moved forward with offensive capabilities as well.
QUESTION: Okay. But can you take the question on the Hellfire missiles? Is that --
MS. HARF: Yeah, I can take that question. We generally don’t talk about delivery of systems before we make them, but I will take the question and see what I can get for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Marie --
MS. HARF: Yes, Elliot. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we go to Ukraine, please?
QUESTION: I have one more question on this, real quick.
MS. HARF: Last one on this.
QUESTION: What do you say to concerns among the Israelis that these additional checks on the weapons provisions that the U.S. is making is going to delay the process such that it could degrade their capabilities and affect the situation on the ground?
MS. HARF: Well, I think you heard the Israelis themselves out this morning publicly talking about how strong our support has been. We have been very clear that we will provide that support. They have a number of their capabilities because of our support, so I just don’t agree with the notion. And again, I’d prefer to let them speak for themselves on the record on this.
QUESTION: And then, what you said about broadly speaking interagency process, you guys are all aware of what’s going on. That doesn’t really speak to the specific case in the article that says folks were caught off guard. So I mean, are you – not to put too fine a point on it, but are you outright rejecting the idea that anybody was surprised about this specific --
MS. HARF: That anybody in this U.S. Government? I can’t speak for everybody in the U.S. Government. I know this building and the White House and the Defense Department are incredibly linked up on everything we do on Israel, period.