White House adviser: 'Israel has a right to defend itself '

President Obama has spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nearly every day since tensions in the Gaza Strip escalated, a top White House official said Saturday.

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Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with the president to Asia on Air Force One that both leaders have discussed deescalating the conflict, if Hamas stops firing rockets at Israel, according to a White House transcript.

Rhodes defended Israel's right to launch its missiles.

“The Israelis are going to make decisions about their own military tactics and operations," he said. "What we want is the same thing the Israelis want, which is an end to the rocket fire coming out of Gaza.”


Obama also has called Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Rhodes said, adding that those leaders have the ability to play a "constructive role in engaging Hamas and encouraging a process of deescalation."

Rhodes said Obama expressed regret in each of his calls for the loss of life, among both Palestinians and Israelis.

Israeli officials have said a ground invasion is still possible, and have gone on U.S. news programs to reiterate that their missile attacks are defensive — a response of Hamas' rocket strikes.

“We believe that the precipitating factor for the conflict was the rocket fire coming out of Gaza," Rhodes said. "We believe Israel has a right to defend itself and they’ll make their own decisions about the tactics that they use in that regard."

Some have suggested that Israel launched its latest strikes because it had an opportunity to take out a top Hamas leader, but Rhodes rejected that idea Saturday.

“Just to be clear on the precipitating factor: These rockets had been fired into Israeli civilian areas and territory for some time now," he said.

"So Israelis have endured far too much of a threat from these rocket for far too long and that is what led the Israelis to take the action that they did in Gaza.”

Responding to a question about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Rhodes said the White House made one “factual” edit to the talking points used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.

“The only edit that was made to those points by the White House, and was also made by the State Department, was to change the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility’ since the facility in Benghazi had not -- was not formally a consulate. Other than that, we worked off of the points that were provided by the intelligence community,”

Lawmakers clashed over what former CIA Director David Petraeus’s testimony revealed about the intelligence that was provided to Obama officials after the Libya attack. The scrutiny has focused on Rice, who blamed the assault on a spontaneous protest in multiple television interviews the weekend after it occurred.

According to Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y), Petraeus testified on Friday that the CIA labeled the incident terrorism within 24 hours, and that the talking points provided by the CIA were changed by someone in the administration.

--This report was originally published at 1:21 p.m. and last updated at 6:20 p.m.