update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

Sullivan in Israel to discuss ‘shared objective’ of defeating Hamas

The National Security Advisor arrives in Israel for a round of meetings after a visit to Saudi Arabia, where he discussed a bilateral strategic agreement with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Jake Sullivan, U.S. national security advisor, at the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institute on April 27, 2023. Photo by Ralph Alswang/Brookings Institution.
Jake Sullivan, U.S. national security advisor, at the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institute on April 27, 2023. Photo by Ralph Alswang/Brookings Institution.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday afternoon after sitting down with his Israeli counterpart Tzachi Hanegbi.

After meeting with Hanegbi and Netanyahu, Sullivan was slated to participate in a two-hour meeting with the National Security Council and other agencies.

Sullivan is scheduled to meet with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant and Minister Benny Gantz on Monday.

Before visiting Israel, Sullivan was in Saudi Arabia, where he discussed a bilateral strategic agreement between Washington and Riyadh with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The early Sunday meeting with bin Salman took place in Dhahran in eastern Saudi Arabia on the Persian Gulf, a major administrative center for the country’s oil industry.

According to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the draft agreement is nearly finalized, and the two sides are working on “the Palestinian issue” to “find a credible path” forward.

Regional developments were also discussed, “including the situation in Gaza and the need to stop the war there and facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid,” according to the report.

National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson previewed Sullivan’s trip in a statement on Saturday, saying that in Saudi Arabia he would discuss with the crown prince “bilateral and regional matters, including the war in Gaza and ongoing efforts to achieve a lasting peace and security in the region.”

While in Israel, Sullivan will talk about “the war in Gaza, ongoing negotiations to secure the release of all the hostages, the humanitarian crisis, and our shared objective for the enduring defeat of Hamas through both military pressure and a political plan,” said Watson.

A senior U.S. official told the Axios news site last week that the Biden administration had reached an understanding with the Israeli government that the scale of Israel’s military operation in the last Hamas stronghold of Rafah would not be significantly expanded ahead of Sullivan’s visit.

The Biden administration is opposed to a full-scale invasion of Rafah, threatening to withhold a shipment of weapons should a wider ground offensive take place. The IDF earlier this month began what Israel described as a “precision operation” in eastern Rafah, including the mass evacuation of the city’s noncombatants to the Al-Mawasi humanitarian zone.

Jerusalem remains adamant that destroying the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah is essential to winning the war and preventing the terror group from regrouping and once again threatening Israel.

According to Axios, the White House hopes to extend Israel’s alleged commitment to not start a full-scale offensive in Rafah until a high-level meeting between Israeli and American officials in Washington soon after Sullivan’s trip.

Meanwhile, Sullivan is aiming to secure a major agreement with Saudi Arabia that would see the leading Sunni Muslim state join the Abraham Accords by establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.

The Biden administration argues that a wider operation in Rafah would threaten a normalization deal with the Saudis.

 “Israel’s long-term security depends on being integrated into the region and enjoying normal relations with the Arab states, including Saudi Arabia,” Sullivan told reporters on Monday, emphasizing that Israel should consider potential Saudi ties when weighing a Rafah operation.

“We shouldn’t miss a historic opportunity to achieve the vision of a secure Israel flanked by strong regional partners, presenting a powerful front to deter aggression and uphold regional stability,” Sullivan continued.

Brett McGurk, the U.S. National Security Council’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, is reportedly with Sullivan on the weekend trip, along with U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein and State Department counselor Derek Chollet.

Sullivan last week convened for the first time an in-person meeting of ambassadors and chiefs of mission from 18 countries whose citizens were abducted by Hamas on Oct. 7.

According to a readout issued by the U.S. State Department on Wednesday, among the participants were officials from Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Thailand and the United Kingdom. The officials demanded that Hamas release all hostages, and also discussed how they could speak more collectively and what could be done to increase pressure on Hamas to make a deal.

Sullivan also revealed that dialogue on a hostage deal continues between U.S. President Joe Biden, Netanyahu, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

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