Blinken orders crackdown on Israel-Hamas leaks

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken directed his top staff to crack down on leaks about diplomacy relating to the Israel-Hamas war, saying clearly that he was “angry” with the constant stream of press reports revealing sensitive information.

Not only did classified materials make it into press reports, he chided State leadership earlier this month in a small team meeting, but also fresh proposals to broker a cease-fire and secure the release of hostages held by Hamas. Those leaks made tricky negotiations even harder, he said, and eroded trust within the State Department that documents or details of closed-door conversations wouldn’t find their way to a reporter.

In the meeting, Blinken urged those who report directly to him to help plug the leaks, particularly those related to the conflict in Gaza, according to three State Department officials. One of the State officials, granted anonymity to detail yet another private discussion, said Blinken’s message has since been sternly delivered throughout the department.

Matthew Miller, the State Department’s top spokesperson, didn’t directly confirm the details of the discussion but said in a statement: “The secretary has been clear that leaks about sensitive diplomatic discussions don’t advance the interests of the United States and can make it difficult to engage in the sort of broad internal consultations that enrich the policymaking process.”

The secretary’s warning signals an increasing unease within the Biden administration that a constant stream of leaks complicates the State Department’s work, coming at a time when some officials have resigned in protest over Israel policy. It also underscores the intense frustrations gripping Biden’s team as they’ve hit walls getting hostages out of Gaza and increasing the amount of humanitarian aid for thousands of suffering Palestinians.

And while no administration likes unsanctioned leaks, Blinken, a decades-long aide to President Joe Biden, fiercely guards his boss’ decision space.

Senior State officials were particularly displeased to see some reports that lower-level aides believed Israel wasn’t using U.S.-provided weapons in accordance with international law. Mandated by a new arms-transfer policy to report on such matters, the administration last week announced it was “reasonable” to assume that Israel wasn’t complying with the law but didn’t formally make that assessment.

Besides Blinken’s involvement in the cease-fire and hostage talks, both currently stalled amid Israel’s push into Rafah, he’s also a key player in efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as put the Palestinian people on a sustainable path to their own state.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan was just in the region to continue those negotiations, namely a pact that would see the U.S. offer defensive support to Saudi Arabia in exchange for formalizing diplomatic ties with Israel.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a Sunday statement that Sullivan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed the “nearly final version of draft strategic agreements” and “reviewed the work of the two sides on the Palestinian issue.”

But a major sticking point is that Israel’s far-right government is resistant to a Palestinian state, making any U.S.-Saudi deal harder to complete.