US Announces Plan for Mass Evacuation of Americans From War-Torn Israel

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
October 12, 2023

The State Department announced on Thursday afternoon that it will begin evacuating Americans from war-torn Israel to Europe on charter flights at an expected rate of thousands per week.

Beginning on Friday, "the U.S. government will arrange charter flights to assist U.S. citizens and their immediate family members who have been unable to book commercial transit and seek a safe means of departing Israel," the State Department said in a statement. "From these locations, individuals will be able to make their own onward travel arrangements to the destination of their choice."

Travel options for Americans "will be augmented in the coming days," the State Department announcement said, directing "U.S. citizens in need of assistance" to complete a "crisis intake form."

The State Department, in guidance to the public and Congress, said before its Thursday announcement that U.S. citizens would have to find their own transportation out of the country. The announcement of government-chartered flights indicates the United States believes the conflict may worsen. After a surprise Hamas attack over the weekend devastated the Jewish state, Israeli forces are preparing for a ground assault on the Gaza Strip, a territory on Israel's southern border that is controlled by the Iran-backed terrorist group. Meanwhile, fears have grown that deadly clashes on Israel's northern border could bring Hezbollah, another Iran-backed terror group, into the war.

In a White House press briefing on Thursday afternoon, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said he did not have "hard figures" on how many Americans want to leave Israel. Major American airlines suspended service to and from Tel Aviv earlier in the week, and hundreds of American families are reportedly stranded in Israel. Hamas has already killed at least 27 U.S. citizens and 14 others remain missing, Kirby said. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Hamas has taken an unknown number of Americans hostage.

At least 1,300 Israelis have been killed in the violence, and dozens are captive in Gaza, according to Israeli officials.

Asked whether the charter flights out of Israel will be free, Kirby deferred to the State Department, but said that the government has covered the cost of similar evacuations in the past. The United States is "also exploring other options to expand the capacity" for evacuations, including "whether it's possible to help Americans leave by land and by sea," Kirby said.

"We continue to monitor the situation closely and evaluate the demand from U.S. citizens for assistance in departing Israel on a real-time basis but expect these initial travel options to facilitate the safe departure of thousands of U.S. citizens per week," the State Department said. "The overall security situation, availability and reliability of commercial transportation, and U.S. citizen demand will all influence the duration of this departure assistance."

Hezbollah has privately warned Israel that it is prepared to open a second front if Israeli forces go ahead with ground operation into Gaza, according to Arab officials and diplomats, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

UPDATE, 4:43 on Oct. 12: In an email on Thursday to applicants for evacuation from Israel, the State Department said transportation out of the country will be by air to Athens, Greece, or Frankfurt, Germany, or by sea from Haifa, Israel, to Cyprus. Prior to departure, evacuees will have to sign an agreement to repay the government for the trip.

"You will not be able to choose your destination—we will assign you the next available flight or ship," the email said. "You should be prepared to depart within 8-12 hours of receiving notice of your booking. Each traveler may bring one small carry on item no more than 22 pounds (1o kg) and one suitcase no more than 35 pounds (16 kg). Pets will not be permitted."