Israeli defense minister vows hostage efforts in US talks

Israel’s defense minister on Monday vowed during a visit to Washington to work to bring back hostages from Gaza, and urged close cooperation with the United States after strains in the relationship.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met with CIA chief Bill Burns, the key US pointman in negotiations to free hostages from Hamas, and later went into talks with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“I would like to emphasize that it is Israel’s primary commitment to return the hostages, with no exception, to their families and homes,” Gallant said before starting his meetings.

“We will continue to make every possible effort to bring them home,” he said.

President Joe Biden on May 31 laid out a plan for a ceasefire in Gaza and release of hostages, ahead of talks on ending the war.

Hamas, which launched the conflict with its October 7 attack on Israel, has come back with its own demands, and the United States hopes the gaps can be bridged.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has faced major protests calling for him to accept the deal, in recent days has annoyed the Biden administration by accusing Washington of cutting back arms and ammunition deliveries.

Gallant took a different tack, saying, “The alliance between Israel and the United States, led by the US over many years, is extremely important.”

Other than Israel’s own military, “our ties with the US are the most important element for our future from a security perspective,” he said.

Biden, who has faced criticism from parts of his own base over his support for Israel, held back a shipment that included heavy 2,000-pound bombs.

But US officials say that Washington has otherwise kept up the flow of weapons.

Gallant is also expected to meet in Washington with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, senior White House official Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein, who is focusing on tensions over Lebanon.