U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday delivered a pre-Thanksgiving briefing to the American Jewish community via Zoom, hours after news broke of an agreement between Israel and Hamas for a ceasefire and the exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners.
“It’s a good day. We haven’t had many good days here since the 7th of October,” Kirby said during the session, which lasted approximately 30 minutes.
“This is a nice ray of hope here,” he said, though he noted that “It doesn’t solve all the problems. It’s not going to get all the hostages out.”
“We know we’re dealing with Hamas… it’s a terrorist group. So of course, we’re not going to take anything that they say at face value,” said Kirby. “We’re going to watch very closely to see that they execute their side of the deal.”
Three Americans are among the women and children being held hostage—a demographic group being given priority in the deal.
Kirby made mention of hostage Abigail Edan, who is set to turn four years old on Friday. Edan’s great aunt, Elizabeth Hirsh Naftali, has close ties to the Biden family.
He also clarified that the White House expects Israel to continue its prosecution of the war following the pause.
“We continue to want to make sure that we’re giving them the tools, the capabilities, the weapons systems that they need to continue to go after Hamas,” Kirby said of Washington’s support of Israel, pushing Congress to act on the White House’s emergency funding request.
Kirby said that interim military financing support is being routed through the State Department and presidential drawdown authority, similar to funding for Ukraine’s defense.
“We have existing appropriations for a while longer, but it’s not going to be for much longer. And so we really do need Congress to act on this supplemental [request] so that the support to Ukraine and to Israel can keep going unhindered and uninterrupted as they deal with this very real threat from Hamas,” said Kirby.
The retired Navy admiral recalled on Wednesday his relationship with Israel, which effectively started with a port visit as a young sailor to Haifa. His service, part of which was the Middle East, followed by his spokesperson roles in the Pentagon and State Department, tied him to the region and, he says, helped build a personal admiration for the Jewish state, which has been reflected in some of his recent exchanges with the media.
“Usually when you’re a spokesman, your personal views don’t matter. Nobody cares what you think,” Kirby said. “But I will say that in this case, it comes from a personal place for me. I’m not just articulating the administration’s position, I also feel comfortable and confident that I believe in what I’m saying, because I believe in Israel, because I believe in the Israeli people.”
Kirby, unsolicited, also noted that the path to normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, though complicated by the Israel-Hamas war, is not dead, and said that the White House intends to expend its capital to see it through.
“We understand that right now, we’re not going to be able to advance it quite at the rate that we want to, given Oct. 7. But that doesn’t mean we’re giving up on it,” Kirby said. “We’ve seen some positive indications from both countries that they don’t want to give up on it either.”