Joe Biden, the president of the United States, was hailed as a “true friend” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his unprecedented whirlwind visit to Israel yesterday.
Netanyahu, whose relations with Biden deteriorated after he unveiled unwise and unpopular proposals to overhaul Israel’s judiciary, was absolutely correct.
By visiting Israel during one of its darkest moments, following Hamas’ savage terrorist attack on October 7 that has claimed the lives of 1,400 Israelis, Biden conclusively proved that he is a sincere Christian Zionist truly committed to Israel’s existence and America’s enduring alliance with the Jewish state.
The first American president to step foot on Israeli soil during one of its wars, he spent about eight hours in Israel before returning to Washington.
He was supposed to have flown on to Amman to attend a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, President Abdul Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt, and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. But this summit was abruptly cancelled by his Arab hosts after an explosion on the grounds of a hospital in Gaza City killed hundreds of Palestinians.
Hamas and a succession of Arab countries cynically attributed the blast to an Israeli airstrike, but irrefutable evidence emerged that it was actually caused by an errant Islamic Jihad rocket aimed at Israel.
Addressing this emotive issue while in Tel Aviv, Biden said, “Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you.” Biden referred to compelling U.S. and Israeli intelligence reports that point the finger of blame at Islamic Jihad, an ally of Hamas and an Iranian proxy.
“But there’s a lot of people out there not sure,” he added, suggesting that Palestinian and Arab public opinion will continue to blame Israel whatever the facts on the ground may be.
Biden turned up in Israel as the corpses of Palestinians were pulled out of the rubble in Gaza, as Hamas rockets rained down on Israeli cities, as Israeli jets bombed Gaza, and as Hezbollah, Iran’s supreme surrogate, fired missiles at Israeli positions along Israel’s border with Lebanon and Israel counter-attacked.
Biden hoped to achieve three broad interlocking objectives in Israel on October 18: To show unambiguous support for Israel, its chief ally in the Middle East. To head off a regional conflagration which might enmesh Israel in a war with Hezbollah, Iran, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. To minimize civilian Palestinian casualties, which already have reached record levels.
Since October 7, a day of infamy and humiliation for Israel, Biden has been resolutely pro-Israel, despite his serious qualms about Netanyahu’s ill-conceived plan to weaken the Supreme Court and his objection to a two-state solution to resolve Israel’s protracted conflict with the Palestinians.
Biden arrived in Tel Aviv in the morning after an overnight flight and was respectively greeted at Ben-Gurion Airport by Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog with a heart-felt hug and a firm handshake.
He was not the first foreign dignitary to land in Israel after the events of October 7, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany having preceded him by at least 24 hours. “Germany’s history and the responsibility it has for the Holocaust requires us to help maintain the security and existence of Israel,” he declared after saying his “place” was “alongside Israel” during this crisis.
Biden arrived in Tel Aviv on the eve of what is shaping up to be a massive Israeli invasion of Gaza to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities, eradicate its leadership, kill its army of foot soldiers, and topple the Hamas regime.
Commiserating with Israelis, he conveyed an unstinting message of solidarity with Israel. “I want you to know you’re not alone,” he said. “You’re not alone. As I emphasized earlier, we will continue to have Israel’s back.”
Without a doubt, Biden’s heart-felt speech was the most pro-Israel declaration ever delivered by an American president.
“The brutality we saw would have cut deep anywhere in the world, but it cuts deeper here in Israel,” he said. “October 7th … became the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. It has brought to the surface painful memories and scars left by a millennia of antisemitism and the genocide of the Jewish people.
“The world watched then, it knew, and the world did nothing. We will not stand by and do nothing again. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. To those who are living in limbo waiting desperately to learn the fate of loved ones, especially to families of the hostages: You’re not alone.
“The State of Israel was born to be a safe place for the Jewish people of the world. That’s why it was born. I have long said: If Israel didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. And while it may not feel that way today, Israel must again be a safe place for the Jewish people. And I promise you: We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that it will be.
“Seventy-five years ago, just 11 minutes after its founding, President Harry S. Truman and the United States of America became the first nation to recognize Israel. We have stood by your side ever since, and we’re going to stand by your side now.”
He acknowledged that Israel has an undeniable right and an obligation to seek Hamas’ destruction. “Justice must be done,” he said. But he warned Israel that grief and trauma should not warp its political and military judgments in the days and weeks ahead.
Biden reassured Israel that words are not enough.
As he put it, “My administration has been in close touch with your leadership from the first moments of this attack, and we are going to make sure we have what you need to protect your people, to defend your nation. For decades, we’ve ensured Israel’s qualitative military edge. And later this week, I’m going to ask the United States Congress for an unprecedented support package for Israel’s defence. We are going to keep Iron Dome fully supplied so it can continue standing sentinel over Israeli skies, saving Israeli lives.”
This package, which Biden is expected to formally announce tonight, is expected to be worth $10 billion, on top of the U.S. military assistance Israel already receives from the United States.
Biden reiterated that two U.S. aircraft carrier groups, spearheaded by the USS Ford and the USS Eisenhower, have reached the eastern Mediterranean, near Israel’s coast, “to deter … further aggression against Israel and to prevent this conflict from spreading. The world will know that Israel is stronger than ever.”
And in a stern warning to Hezbollah and Iran, Biden said, “My message to any state or any other hostile actor thinking about attacking Israel remains the same as it was a week ago: Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.”
At the same time, the Biden administration imposed new sanctions on Iran’s missile and drone programs,
Biden convinced Israel to allow humanitarian supplies into Gaza from Egypt, but Israel’s decision to cut off food, water, fuel and electricity to Gaza apparently remains in place.
Looking far beyond the current crisis, Biden spoke of a political horizon for the Palestinians. “We must keep pursuing peace. We must keep pursuing a path so that Israel and the Palestinian people can both live safely, in security, in dignity, and in peace. For me, that means a two-state solution.”
In a reference to the prospect of a normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Biden said, “We must keep working for Israel’s greater integration with its neighbors. These attacks have only strengthened my commitment and determination and my will to get that done. I’m here to tell you that terrorists will not win. Freedom will win.”
That may be so, but in the meantime, Iran has succeeded in torpedoing the talks that may have led to an Israeli rapprochement with Saudi Arabia. In the wake of the explosion at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City, the Saudi foreign ministry blamed Israel, decrying its “criminal practices”
Egypt also laid the blame at Israel’s doorstep, claiming that the “deliberate bombing of civilians” was “a serious violation of international, humanitarian law and of the most basic values of humanity.” Egypt urged Israel “to immediately stop its policies of collective punishment against the people in the Gaza Strip.”
Lambasting Israel in the same vein, King Abdullah of Jordan described the incident as a “heinous war crime that cannot be tolerated.” Without even condemning Hamas, he demanded an immediate stop to Israel’s “brutal aggression against Gaza.”
The United Arab Emirates, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020 under the Abraham Accords, deplored the “Israeli targeting” of the hospital.
Hezbollah blamed Israel for the “massacre.”
Israel and the United States, however, produced incontrovertible evidence that the explosion was the work of Islamic Jihad.
Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari, in a briefing to foreign correspondents, explained that an analysis of Israel’s operational systems indicated that a failed rocket launch by Islamic Jihad caused the blast and that the craters in the hospital’s parking lot were consistent with rocket craters.
He told the reporters that about 450 rockets fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad since October 7 have fallen short inside Gaza.
And in what may be the “smoking gun,” he read out a translated transcript of an intercepted call between two Hamas officials in which they discussed the failed rocket launch that struck the hospital’s parking lot, following a barrage from a nearby cemetery.
The incriminating traanscript reads:
“I am telling you this is the first time we see a missile like this falling, and so that’s why we are saying (the rocket) belongs to Palestinian Islamic Jihad…,” says one of the Hamas operatives.
“It’s from us?’” asks the second one.
“It looks like it…,” replies the first operative. “They are saying that the shrapnel from the missile is local shrapnel and not like Israeli shrapnel.”
“It couldn’t have found another place to explode?” asks the second operative.
“They shot it from the cemetery behind the hospital,” says the first operative, “and it misfired and fell on them.”
U.S. intelligence data comes to the same conclusion.
Adrienne Watson, a spokesman woman for the National Security Council, said, “While we continue to collect information, our current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open-source information, is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza.”
It’s clear that Islamic Jihad caused the latest disaster to afflict the Palestinians, but Arabs are in self-denial mode, blindly insisting that Israel is at fault.