The Cable

State Department sides with Israel in new Hamas war

The State Department on Wednesday condemned Hamas for firing rockets into Israel and said the U.S. government supports Israel's right to retaliate, as Israel did today by killing Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari.

"We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence," State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. "There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately. We support Israel's right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties." 

Toner placed the blame for the new violence squarely on Hamas for initiating a campaign in recent weeks that has included firing hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory.

"Hamas claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause.  Attacking Israel on a near daily basis does nothing to help Palestinians in Gaza or to move the Palestinian people any closer to achieving self determination," Toner said.

The Israeli embassy in Washington said that in the last week alone, Hamas launched 150 rockets at Israel's southern region, prompting the IDF to respond with targeted strikes aimed at those responsible, as well as at Hamas's military infrastructure.

"The IDF seriously impacted Hamas's long range missile capabilities and underground weapons storage facilities. Most of the Hamas rockets that have been fired at our civilians in the past have had a range of up to 25 miles. Today, we have been targeting the Fajr-5, which has a range of nearly 40 miles, putting three million Israelis within terrorist missile range," the embassy said in a statement. "The IAF has been surgical and restrained in its response to the Hamas missile escalations, and has not targeted the long-range missiles stored in mosques, schools, and hospitals."

"Israel has the right and duty to defend itself from terrorist attacks designed to kill thousands of its citizens," Ambassador Michael Oren said in a statement. "We are sending an unequivocal message that our citizens will not be hostage to terrorist missile fire and cross-border attacks. The scope of the IDF's defensive operation depends on Hamas and whether it takes the decision to cease firing missiles on our neighborhoods and homes."

In a phone briefing with reporters Wednesday, IDF Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich would not comment on reports that IDF battalions were either surrounding Gaza or had already entered Gaza, but he said that a ground incursion is a possibility.

"IDF General Staff is currently assessing the progress of the operation and according to its findings, will decide how to continue. All options are on the table, including a ground operation," he said.

The IDF distributed a stunning video on YouTube of the pinpoint airstrike that killed Jabari in his car Wednesday, and the IDF blog has been posting videos and photos all day of the escalating violence in Gaza. One poster the IDF created shows a picture of Jabari with a stamp over it that reads "Eliminated."

The war has spilled over into Twitter, where @IDFspokesperson and @alqassambrigade, the Twitter feeds for the IDF and the Hamas militants, respectively, have been trading accusations and threats.

"We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead," the IDF tweeted.

"Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves)," Al Qassam tweeted in response.


The Cable

Obama to McCain on Rice: Bring it on

U.S. President Barack Obama gave a full-throated and emotional defense of his U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice Wednesday and told Sen. John McCain that if he has a problem with Rice, the Arizona senator should take it up with him directly.

McCain, in a Wednesday press conference with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) pledged to block Rice's nomination, if it materializes, due to her Sept. 16 comments referring to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi as a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islam video. Rice has said those comments were based on the intelligence community's assessment at the time, but McCain and Graham insist that she should not made the comments either way.

"I don't trust her," said Graham. Other GOP senators who are pledging to oppose the nomination include John Barrasso (R-WY) and James Inhofe (R-OK).

Obama, asked about the comments at Wednesday's press conference, said he had not made any decisions on who might replace departing senior members of his national security team. But he said Rice had nothing to do with Benghazi policy and that it was "outrageous" to oppose her nomination based on her comments on news shows in the days after the attack.

"She has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests at the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace. She made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her," Obama said.

"If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me... but for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and who was just making a presentation based on intelligence she had received, and besmirch her reputation, is outrageous."

Obama said he is committed to getting to the bottom of the Benghazi attack and cooperating with Congress to get lawmakers information. He also said that the administration did everything it could to save the lives of Americans during and after the attack.

"Immediately upon finding out our folks were in danger, my orders to my national security team were, ‘Do whatever we need to do to make sure they're safe,'" Obama said.

"I don't think there is any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed, that's a problem," he said. "But when they go after the U.N. ambassador, partly because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me. And if I think she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity of the State Department, then I will nominate her. That's not a decision that I've made."

UPDATE: Graham issued a statement in response to Obama's comments:

"Mr. President, don't think for one minute I don't hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi.  I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack," he said. "We owe it to the American people and the victims of this attack to have full, fair hearings and accountability be assigned where appropriate. Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle."