By Tom Ozimek
The United States is offering hostage rescue support to Israel as dozens of people have been abducted by Hamas terrorists in their bloody incursion into Israel over the weekend and as some American citizens there remain unaccounted for.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN on Tuesday that the United States is still not aware of any Americans being taken hostage by Hamas, but concerns about such a possibility remain “high.”
“Our concerns were high immediately. You can’t take a threat like that lightly. You’ve got to take it seriously, because of the barbarity that Hamas has already shown that they’re capable of,” Mr. Kirby told the outlet.
“So obviously, we’re watching it very, very closely. We have talked to the Israelis about offering them additional intelligence information as well as hostage recovery expertise,” he added.
Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, claimed on Sunday that “dozens” of American citizens were among the hostages taken in Saturday’s shock assault on Israeli communities, which saw over 900 Israelis and at least 11 U.S. citizens killed.
Asked by CNN anchor Phil Mattingly if Israel had accepted U.S. offers of assistance for intelligence and hostage rescue support, Mr. Kirby replied: “Yes, it has, Phil. The Israelis were grateful for that offer of assistance, and we are having those initial conversations with them right now.”
While the United States is offering hostage rescue support to Israel, Mr. Kirby said on a call with reporters on Monday that the support does not include “U.S. boots on the ground.”
‘Everything We Can to Help’
In the interview on CNN on Tuesday, Mr. Kirby did not specify which government agencies or officials were talking to the Israelis but he insisted the offer of hostage rescue support is being extended even if no Americans are among the abductees.
“Clearly, we’re going to do everything we can to help with this hostage crisis—with or without Americans being in the population,” Mr. Kirby said. “And if there are, certainly we are going to work very, very hard to do what we can to get them home to their families, where they belong.”
Mr. Kirby’s remarks build on a statement he made during a Monday call with reporters, in which he said that President Joe Biden told his team to offer whatever support Israel needs amid the hostage crisis—with military aid already being supplied.
“In response to Hamas’s horrific terrorist attacks, President Biden directed his team to do everything we can to ensure that the government of Israel has what it needs,” Mr. Kirby said on the call.
He said that the Pentagon had already begun “shipping military aid to Israel, and the Secretary of Defense has adjusted our force posture in the region to bolster regional deterrence efforts.”
Teams at the White House and across the U.S. government have been in close contact with their Israeli partners, Mr. Kirby continued, adding that more assistance would be announced in coming days.
“Hundreds of innocent civilians were murdered, including at least 11 American citizens, and there are other American citizens who remain unaccounted for,” he said on the call. “The U.S. government is doing everything that we can to determine the whereabouts of these U.S. citizens.”
Assistance With ‘Every Aspect of The Hostage Crisis’
Mr. Kirby also said that President Biden had directed his team to work with their Israeli counterparts on “every aspect of the hostage crisis, including sharing intelligence and deploying experts from across the United States government to consult with and advise Israeli counterparts on hostage recovery efforts.”
The possible presence of American citizens among those kidnapped by Hamas terrorists sparked speculation that the Pentagon might send in special forces to work with the Israeli military to rescue hostages.
Mr. Kirby’s insistence that no U.S. troops would be deployed to help in hostage rescue was confirmed by an unnamed defense official in an interview with Task & Purpose on Tuesday.
However, the official told the outlet that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had offered to provide the Israeli military with planning and intelligence support in their hostage rescue efforts.
It’s unclear how many hostages were taken by Hamas terrorists as they mounted a shock incursion into southern Israel on Saturday by air, land, and sea.
The Israeli Defense Forces said in an operational update Tuesday that 50 families have been notified that their loved ones had been taken hostage.
Israeli Major Ben Wahlhaus told News Nation that “dozens” of hostages had been taken, including women, children—even elderly people in wheelchairs.
“They’re attacking us with indiscriminate rocket fire directed toward our cities and fighting that is a real challenge,” he said, adding that Hamas uses civilians—including children—and civilian infrastructure like mosques and hospitals, as human shields.