Biden arrives in Israel to support ally amid bloodshed, hopes to ask ‘tough questions’

TEL AVIV − President has landed in Israel where he will have the difficult job of demonstrating strong support for America’s closest ally in the Middle East while trying to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from expanding into a larger conflict.

“He’ll be asking some tough questions,” John Kirby, a White House spokesman for national security issues, told reporters traveling with Biden. “He’ll be asking them as a friend, as a true friend of Israel, but he will be asking some questions of them.”

Biden was met at Ben-Gurion International Airport with a hug from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with whom he has worked for almost four decades. Other officials also were on hand for Biden’s arrival, including Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

An enormous security operation closed streets in Tel Aviv in preparation for Biden’s arrival.  A beach with sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea where Israelis can normally be seen jogging, playing paddle ball or soaking up the sun was empty ahead of Biden’s arrival.

The quick trip to the nation at war with Hamas includes meetings with first responders and with families whose loved ones have been killed, are missing or being held hostage. It was unclear if that would include family members of the 31 Americans killed or the 13 unaccounted for.

After Israel, Biden had planned to travel to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to discuss the humanitarian needs of civilians in Gaza.

But the four-way summit was scrapped Tuesday after a hospital in Gaza City was bombed, killing hundreds of people.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza blamed an Israeli airstrike. The Israeli military said the destruction was caused by a misfired Palestinian rocket.

Biden, in a statement issued as he flew to Israel, said he was “outraged and deeply saddened” by the explosion and “terrible loss of life.” He’s asked his national security team to determine what happened.

“The United States stands unequivocally for the protection of civilian life during conflict and we mourn the patients, medical staff and other innocents killed or wounded in this tragedy,” Biden said in the statement.

His trip comes a week and a half after Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel killed at least 1,300 Israelis, prompting airstrikes on Gaza in retaliation.

Biden was scheduled to confer directly with Netanyahu and also with his war cabinet to ask what help is needed and to discuss Israel’s larger strategy.

Biden can bring to that discussion his own painful experience after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

“He saw the way an extended occupation not only cost lives and money, but also had a way of distorting both the occupied and the occupier,” Alterman wrote. “He carries the wounds of the fight against the Islamic State, as well as the post-conflict successes that can come from separating terrorists from the civilians they hide among.”

Kirby said Biden is optimistic that humanitarian aid will start to flow to civilians in Gaza.

“It’s really really important, that that assistance gets in as soon as possible,” he said, “and that it can be sustained.”

President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, on Oct. 17, 2023, enroute to Israel.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden in Israel to support ally, stop war with Hamas from spreading


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