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Biden: 'We Have Israel's Back' After Weekend Terror Attacks


President Joe Biden speaks about the war between Israel and the militant Palestinian group Hamas, from in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Oct. 10, 2023.
President Joe Biden speaks about the war between Israel and the militant Palestinian group Hamas, from in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Oct. 10, 2023.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that “we have Israel’s back,” as Washington attempts to defuse tensions in the Middle East after a stunning terrorist attack by Hamas militants.

He also pledged Washington’s continued support for Israel’s counteroffensive against what he called an “atrocity” that has killed more than 1,000 people, including at least 14 Americans.

“In this moment, we must be crystal clear: We stand with Israel,” he said, repeating: “We stand with Israel. We will make sure it has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself and respond to this attack. There’s no justification for terrorism. There’s no excuse.”

Biden, flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who both stared stonily ahead, gave details from the weekend’s events, which he said were “an act of sheer evil.”

“More than 1,000 civilians slaughtered — not just killed, slaughtered — in Israel,” he said. “Among them, at least 14 American citizens killed. Parents butchered using their bodies to try to protect their children. Stomach-churning reports of babies being killed. Entire families slain.”

He said he would ask Congress to take “urgent action” but did not specify. For now, there is no speaker in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, preventing Congress from passing new spending.

Biden: 'We Have Israel’s Back' After Weekend Terror Attacks
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National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the White House will encourage Congress to keep a supply of military support going to Israel. Sullivan added that the White House believes there are 20 Americans not accounted for but clarified that not all of those may be held hostage.

Biden said he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday — their third call since the crisis began — and said he was not surprised by Israel’s “swift, decisive and overwhelming” response.

But he added, “We also discussed how democracies like Israel and the United States are stronger and more secure when we act according to the rule of law.”

Four days into the start of hostilities, Biden is taking steps to lower the temperature in a part of the world whose long-simmering problems could explode beyond its borders. The conflict leaves Biden with a number of serious problems. But above all, says political analyst Daniel Byman, are Washington’s concerns for the Americans killed or taken hostage.

“There may be Americans captured by a terrorist group,” he told VOA on Zoom. “And that’s got to be a priority of any American president. And the second issue is coming to terms with the deaths of Americans in a terrorist attack in Israel. Add to that all the complexities of a very difficult regional situation, and it involves not only Israel and Hamas, but the possibility of Hezbollah and Iranian involvement.

“So, President Biden is trying to wrestle with all these, with the first step being don’t make the situation worse, but also needing to assure Israel of American support at an incredibly difficult time and prevent further loss of life and protect the safety of Americans.”

And the conflict has attracted sharp words from American adversaries.

“Unfortunately, we can see a sharp deterioration of the situation in the Middle East,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I think that many will agree with me that this is a clear example of the failure of the policy of the United States in the Middle East, which tried to monopolize the resolution [of the conflict], but, unfortunately, was not concerned with finding compromises acceptable to both sides."

From the White House, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told VOA that conflict in Israel won’t take Washington’s eye off other threats, wherever they are.

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“Any nation who might think that somehow the United States is going to get distracted should think again,” he said. “We are a large enough, big enough, powerful enough country, economically viable enough — in fact, the economy’s incredibly strong right now — that we can look after our national security interests and those of our allies and partners anywhere around the world.”

And when asked if Biden asked Netanyahu to show restraint in his military response, Kirby pointed to the two nations’ shared values.

“Nobody wants to see innocent life taken,” Kirby said. “And as I said, there’s been too much of it. One of the great things about our relationship with Israel is that we’re two vibrant democracies, and we mutually believe in things like the respect for innocent life and the rule of law. And we’re always stronger together, our two countries, when we show that to the world, that we do respect innocent life, and that we do respect not only the rule of law but the law of war.”

But these words play alongside the images of Israel’s swift and harsh response, which are likely to upset many in the Global South, who see the Israeli-Palestinian saga as a potent wedge issue. Pro-Palestinian protests have erupted around the world — including in the U.S., at state capitols, federal buildings and Israeli diplomatic outposts — but also as far away as Johannesburg, South Africa, where on Wednesday, protesters plan to mass outside the U.S. consulate.