Jake Sullivan says U.S. aided Israel’s hostage rescue mission without sending troops on the ground

Saturday’s operation was “one of the bloodiest Israeli assaults” since the conflict began on Oct. 7, according to Reuters.

Jake Sullivan.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

In a string of interviews that aired across major cable and broadcast networks Sunday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan urged both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to agree to President’s Joe Biden three-phase to end the war in Gaza.

Sullivan’s appearances — on ABC’s This Week, CBS’s Face the Nation and State of the Union on CNN — came the morning after an Israel Defense Force-led operation rescued four Israeli hostages from a refugee camp in central Gaza. The military operation reportedly resulted in 274 deaths while injuring an additional 698 people, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. Israel's military spokesman Daniel Hagari, however, estimated there were fewer than 100 casualties.

Abu Obaida, spokesman for Hamas's al-Qassam Brigades military wing, claimed three hostages were killed in the attack, one of whom was a U.S. passport holder, reports USA Today. Israeli military spokesperson Peter Lerner, however, said any update from Hamas should be taken "with a grain of salt."

Saturday’s rescue mission was described by Reuters as “one of the single bloodiest Israeli assaults” since the Oct. 7 attacks, which left an estimated 1,200 dead in Israel.

The Associated Press reports that 36,379 Palestinians and Israelis have been killed in Gaza in the eight-month conflict, according to data from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. An additional 84,000 have been injured.

Here are some key takeaways from Sullivan’s back-to-back Sunday interviews.

Sullivan said the U.S. aided in the Saturday mission to rescue four Israeli hostages, all of whom were kidnapped during the Oct. 7 attacks, but offered few specific details about the U.S.’s involvement.

“I can only just say that we have generally provided support to the [Israel Defense Force] so that we can try to get all of the hostages home, including the American hostages who are still being held,” he told State of the Union host Dana Bash. There are currently eight U.S. citizens being held hostage in Gaza.

While the U.S. had been working with Israel on the mission “for months,” Sullivan told This Week host Martha Raddatz that no U.S. troops were sent to participate in the operation.

“We didn’t have any U.S. forces on the ground,” he said.

Sullivan told Meet the Press host Margaret Brennan that neither Israel nor Hamas has agreed to Biden’s three-phase plan to end the war in Gaza. He hopes they will come to an agreement before Netanyahu addresses Congress on July 24 — putting the onus on Hamas to make the first move.

“The whole world is looking to Hamas to say yes,” he told Brennan, adding that the U.S. is in constant contact with Qatar and Egypt, who are acting as “mediators” between the U.S. and Hamas during ceasefire negotiations.

Hamas initially expressed a willingness to advance the ceasefire plan, while Netanyahu has said he would move forward only after Hamas is completely destroyed.

Sullivan said Hamas’s military tactics have placed innocent people in an “impossible situation,” making it difficult for Israel’s allies to advance rescue efforts without risking civilian lives.

“Hamas hides among the civilian population, holds hostages among the civilian population, fires at the IDF from behind the civilian population,” he told Raddatz on This Week.

Lerner, who also appeared on This Week Sunday, offered additional context on the degree to which Hamas compromises the lives of civilians — including hiding hostages in residential apartment buildings. He told Raddatz that Hamas attacked the IDF as they were attempting to extract the hostages on Saturday, which he said led Israel to respond with several airstrikes as self-defense, causing more casualties than previously anticipated.

“The tragedy of civilians being caught up in this is precisely because of how Hamas is battling us in the battleground,” Lerner said.

Jake Sullivan shakes hands with Benjamin Netanyahu.
Jake Sullivan meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in West Jerusalem on May 19. (Kobi Gideon/Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Sullivan referenced the U.S. State Department’s latest report highlighting possible humanitarian crimes by Israel against Palestinians, telling Brennan there’s “enough information to have concern” about Israel’s military tactics.

Later, he told Raddatz that the U.S. stands on the side of Israel despite having made several warnings to Netanyahu that Israel should be taking “extra precautions” when it comes to protecting civilians.

“The U.S. will support Israel in taking steps to try and rescue hostages who are currently held by Hamas, and we will continue to work with Israel to do that,” Sullivan said, stressing the point that “Israel has the right to go after Hamas.”

“We have said all along that Israel should be operating in a way, not just consistent in the laws of war, but should take extra precautions to try to protect civilians,” he continued. “We see individual incidents where we’ve spoken out about where we would like to see them operate differently, where we would like them to be more precise, more targeted in their operations. And we will continue to speak out on those issues.”