Biden will visit Israel to demonstrate U.S. support following Hamas attack

A section of the map of Israel that includes Gaza

by Jacob Fischler, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

October 16, 2023

President Joe Biden will travel to Israel on Wednesday in a show of solidarity with the Middle East ally, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday.

Biden will “reaffirm the United States’ solidarity with Israel and our ironclad commitment to its security,” send a message to other groups and powers in the region not to attack Israel and work to secure the release of hostages still held by the militant group Hamas, Blinken said during a brief appearance Monday evening in Israel. After the visit to Israel, Biden will travel to Jordan to meet with the leaders of three Arab nations, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement late Monday.

“President Biden will again make clear, as he’s done unequivocally since Hamas’ slaughter of more than 1,400 people, including at least 30 Americans, that Israel has the right and indeed the duty to defend its people from Hamas and other terrorists and to prevent future attacks,” Blinken said. “The president will hear from Israel what it needs to defend its people as we continue to work with Congress to meet those needs.”

In Jordan, Biden will meet with that country’s King Abdullah, Egyptian President Fattah El-Sisi, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Biden “will reiterate that Hamas does not stand for the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and self-determination and discuss the humanitarian needs of civilians in Gaza” with those leaders, Jean-Pierre said.

Biden and top administration officials have made strong statements of support for Israel since Hamas’ surprise attack Oct. 7. Retaliatory air strikes and a siege cutting off food and other supplies to the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is based, have killed more than 2,600 in that territory as well, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Israel late last week to demonstrate support in person. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also led a bipartisan Senate delegation there that included Democrats Jacky Rosen of Nevada and Mark Kelly of Arizona and Republicans Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mitt Romney of Utah.

Biden canceled a planned trip to Pueblo, Colorado, on Monday to instead meet with his national security team at the White House. As of Monday evening, the White House had not made any statement about the president’s travel.

Israel aid package in the works

Hamas still holds more than 199 hostages, Schumer said in a Monday floor speech, likely including U.S. citizens.

Schumer, a New York Democrat and highest ranking Jewish elected official in the U.S., said that he would work with the White House to approve an aid package to Israel that includes military, intelligence, diplomatic and humanitarian assistance.

“In the coming days, I will be working with the administration on putting together an emergency supplemental that will give Israel the tools it needs to defend itself,” Schumer said.

The Senate will act first on the package, Schumer said, as the U.S. House remains mired in a leadership crisis following the ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, also spoke Monday in support of Israel, saying the U.S. should back Israel’s “efforts to defend itself for as long as it takes.”

“This is not merely a terrorist war against Israel,” McConnell said. “It’s part of a clear and present danger to the United States and the entire civilized world. This … is a time for choosing. As Israel works to eliminate the terrorists who threaten its existence, the United States must reaffirm our commitment to Israel’s security.”

Israeli officials have said their goal is to eliminate Hamas, and many members of Congress have endorsed that objective.

But the task is complicated by Hamas’ “ability to scatter and hide within the protective shield of Gaza’s civilian population,” according to an issue brief last week by Bruce Hoffman, a senior fellow for counterterrorism and homeland security at the Washington think tank Council on Foreign Relations.

‘We are not like the evil militants of Hamas’

Schumer highlighted the need to provide humanitarian aid for civilians who have been affected by the violence and called for Israel to work to minimize civilian casualties.

“Israel has a very difficult task: to eliminate Hamas, save the hostages, but also minimize civilian casualties, which is a difficult task but one that Israel must and does strive to live up to,” Schumer said. “We are not like the evil militants of Hamas. Israel is not. In America and in Israel, the countries must hold ourselves to a higher standard. It is part of who we are as democracies.”

More than 50 U.S. House Democrats wrote to Biden and Blinken last week to urge the administration to ensure that Israel “take all due measures to limit harm to innocent civilians” and address the humanitarian crisis.

“We strongly believe that Israel’s response must take into account the millions of innocent civilians in Gaza who themselves are victims of Hamas and are suffering the consequences of their terror campaign,” they wrote.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told Blinken that peace was not imminent.“This will be a long war,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the State Department. “The price will be high. But we are going to win for Israel and the Jewish people, and for the values that both countries believe in.”

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