President Joe Biden pledged “rock solid” support for Israel on Saturday in the face of what he described as “terrorist assaults” by Palestinian militant group Hamas, with an announcement on US military assistance expected imminently.
High-level discussions between US and Israeli officials on military aid were already underway, a US senior administration official said, with an announcement by Washington possible as early as Sunday.
Biden described the assault as “a terrible tragedy on a human level” and said he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to underline his support.
“I told him the United States stands with the people of Israel in the face of these terrorist assaults,” Biden said in a televised address from the White House.
“In my administration, support for Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering,” he said.
“We’ll make sure that they have the help their citizens need and they can continue to defend themselves.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed Washington’s commitment, saying “over the coming days the Department of Defense will work to ensure that Israel has what it needs.”
As the attacks threatened to trigger a wider conflict, Biden also warned “this is not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks to seek advantage. The world is watching.”
Biden stressed that Israel — which the United States has supplied with billions of dollars of arms — has “a right to defend itself” after Iran-backed Hamas launched air, sea and land strikes.
The senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stressed it was “too early to say” whether Iran was “directly involved” in Hamas’ large-scale attack, but that there was “no doubt Hamas is funded, equipped and armed by Iran and others.”
Meanwhile, top US diplomat Antony Blinken spoke with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas — whose West Bank-based Fatah movement is a rival to Hamas — and “called on all leadership in the region to condemn” the attack on Israel.
Trump weighs in
Former president Donald Trump weighed in, blaming Biden, without evidence, for indirectly funding the attacks.
“These Hamas attacks are a disgrace and Israel has every right to defend itself with overwhelming force,” Trump said in a statement.
“Sadly, American taxpayer dollars helped fund these attacks, which many reports are saying came from the Biden Administration.”
Trump’s allegations reflected Republican claims that $6 billion released last month to Iran as part of a prisoner exchange deal was used to fund the Hamas attack.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said on social media that “this is a shameful lie in every respect, at a time when both parties should be totally united in supporting Israel’s defense.”
The money “can only be used for verifiable purchases of humanitarian needs like food & medicine,” Bates added, in a fierce pushback against the claims.
There seemed little chance of keeping US partisan politics out of the matter, with the senior administration official saying that the situation in Congress — where the lower chamber currently lacks a leader — will likely complicate any US action.
Israel normalized relations decades ago with neighboring Egypt and Jordan and in 2020 added three more Arab states to the list — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco — in what Trump considered his towering foreign policy achievement.
The so-called “Abraham Accords” also included sweeteners from Trump, including a promise to sell jets to the United Arab Emirates.
“We brought so much peace to the Middle East through the Abraham Accords, only to see Biden whittle it away at a far more rapid pace than anyone thought possible,” Trump, who plans to stand against Biden in the 2024 election, said.
Before Saturday’s assault, Biden had been hoping to transform the Middle East — and score a pre-election diplomatic victory — by securing recognition of the Jewish state by Saudi Arabia, the guardian of Islam’s two holiest sites.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Saturday that “this unprecedented and brutal attack by Hamas is not only supported by Iran, it was designed to stop peace efforts between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
“A peace agreement between those two nations would be a nightmare for Iran and Hamas.”
“It would serve Israel and the world well to respond to this outrage by launching an operation that will destroy the Hamas organization — not just contain it,” he added.
Biden has had recently rocky relations with Netanyahu, publicly criticizing him for overhauling Israel’s judiciary, a step seen by opponents as undermining democracy.