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Business News/ News / World/  Ukraine and Israel: How the Biden Administration Sees It

Ukraine and Israel: How the Biden Administration Sees It


National security adviser Jake Sullivan on why aid to Ukraine is so crucial, and what the U.S. wants to see happen in Gaza.

Ukraine and Israel: How the Biden Administration Sees ItPremium
Ukraine and Israel: How the Biden Administration Sees It

No shortage of security challenges face the U.S. Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal’s Vivian Salama talked about some of them with national security adviser Jake Sullivan at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council in Washington, D.C. In the interview, Sullivan emphasized the importance of sustaining military aid to Ukraine, and Biden administration concerns about Israel’s plans for the next phase of its conflict with Hamas.

Edited excerpts follow.

A detained reporter

WSJ: Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been in a Russian prison for 258 days, wrongfully detained on bogus charges. The Journal is calling for his immediate release, but can you update us on what the U.S. government has been doing also?

SULLIVAN: Evan is being unjustly detained for doing his job as a reporter. This is about him as an individual, but it is also about the principle of press freedom. This is a top priority for President Biden.

We have been engaged at senior levels with the Russian government trying to work some kind of negotiation or understanding that would lead to his release. But to date, we have not been able to come up with an arrangement that works for the Russian government to produce Evan and Paul Whelan, another American who’s been unjustly detained for a very long time. But it is something that we will keep at from the very highest levels.

WSJ: Congress has not yet agreed to funding that will provide more weapons for Ukraine. The Pentagon has warned that without that funding, Ukraine can essentially run out of the security systems it needs to hold its lines. What would that actually look like?

SULLIVAN: It will mean very specific deterioration in Ukraine’s capabilities to hold territory and take territory as well as to defend Ukrainian cities against aerial assault by Russia. President Putin has said that if the U.S. and the West cut off Ukraine from military assistance, Ukraine will have one week to live.

Ukraine has succeeded so far in resisting Russian domination because of the bravery of the Ukrainian forces and the resilience of the Ukrainian people, but also because of the dramatic military assistance that has been provided by the U.S. and our Western allies.

WSJ: Is a 2024 counteroffensive impossible without this aid?

SULLIVAN: Without this aid, we simply will not be able to get them the amount of artillery ammunition and other forms of ammunition and weapon systems for them to have the kind of battlefield progress we have seen over the past 18 months.

Over the past 18 months, Ukraine has taken back 50% of the territory that Russia took. And while it didn’t make as much progress as Ukraine had hoped, even this counteroffensive took a significant amount of territory.

I think 2024 would be a very difficult year if we were not able to get the assistance to Ukraine. This is not some event where the ultimate outcome is beyond our control. It is entirely within our control to continue to support Ukraine, to continue to rally the international coalition to support Ukraine.

Gaza disconnect

WSJ: Gaza is becoming virtually unlivable, according to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. There appears to be a disconnect between the public messaging that the Biden administration has been sharing about its conversations with Israel and what we’re actually seeing play out across Gaza. What is happening there?

SULLIVAN: You have to start with the basic reality that Israel is confronting. On Oct. 7, we saw the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust, perpetrated by savage, brutal terrorists who came out of Gaza into Israel and slaughtered people in their beds. Men, women, children. Conducted unspeakable acts, including crimes of sexual violence. They then went back into Gaza, embedded themselves among the civilian population, including in and around hospitals and other civilian institutions.

They put their rocket emplacements to continue firing at Israel and basically treated the Palestinian population of Gaza as human shields. So that’s the military reality. And then they said, basically, “How about a cease-fire?" Essentially, “Let’s go slaughter you, then go hide behind a bunch of civilians, and call a cease-fire."

We believe that Israel has the right to defend itself, to go after the terrorists. And they have an added responsibility, compared to almost any modern military, because they are contending with a terrorist group that does not care one bit about the civilian population and treats them as human shields.

But that added responsibility does not lessen Israel’s burden to have to comply with international humanitarian law to separate terrorist targets from innocent civilians and to take every measure they can to protect civilians. And we will continue to assert that. We have had intensive, private conversations with the Israelis about this issue and will continue to do so. Every innocent death is a tragedy, whether it is a Palestinian or Israeli or anyone.

WSJ: We’ve reported that the Biden administration has urged Israeli officials to wrap this war up in weeks, not months. How realistic is that?

SULLIVAN: I will certainly be talking to Prime Minister Netanyahu, the war cabinet and the senior national security leadership of Israel about timetables. High-intensity military operations of the kind we have seen over the past several weeks—it doesn’t have to be that you go from that to literally nothing in terms of putting pressure on Hamas targets, Hamas leadership or continuing to try to secure the release of hostages.

After the war

WSJ: Netanyahu last week said Israel’s military would have to retain security control of Gaza long after the war is over and Hamas is defeated. Do you endorse that idea?

SULLIVAN: We’ve been clear we believe that reoccupation of Gaza is a bad idea. It should not happen. We believe that the Israeli government ultimately understands that. There will have to be some kind of interim security arrangement as we work on a long-term political solution for both Gaza and the West Bank. And Gaza and the West Bank have to be connected from a political perspective under a revamped and revitalized Palestinian Authority.

WSJ: Are Arab allies willing to participate in a multinational force?

SULLIVAN: I can’t make any announcements of contributions from Arab countries at this time. But there will have to be an interim security-force solution. We will work with Arab allies, but also with the entire international community.

WSJ: It’s hard to envision a Palestinian Authority that could handle this challenge given years of institutional collapse and corruption. How do you see that playing out?

SULLIVAN: A lot of things are hard to envision right now. The endgame seems hard to envision. But it is our job to chart out what the basic tentpoles of that endgame have to look like and then work to build the necessary support and create the context for us to achieve that.

We have to drive forward based on what is the only sensible and credible solution here, which is a two-state solution.

China update

WSJ: Last month, President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to restore some military-to-military communications. What’s the update there?

SULLIVAN: We will see the resumption of military-to-military ties. At the leadership level, so between ministries of defense, at the theater commander level, and at the operational level. The real question is not will it get started. We’re confident in that. The real question is, can it be sustained? Because at previous points of tension between the U.S. and China, China has pulled down all of those military contacts. And we have made the case that those contacts exist not just for periods of relative stability but precisely for the periods of tension.

So we’re hopeful that the fact that President Xi has put his stamp on this at a presidential level will sustain these military-to-military contacts out into the future.

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