President Biden on Wednesday spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reaffirm U.S. support for Israel after a night of bloodshed with civilians in Tel Aviv sheltering from Hamas rockets.
“I had a conversation with Bibi Netanyahu not so long ago. I’ll be putting out a statement very shortly on that,” Biden told reporters at the White House.
“My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later. But Israel has a right to defend itself against thousands of rockets flying into your territory.”
Israel has launched airstrikes against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to target what it says are caches of rockets stored by the Islamist group close to where civilians live.
Both sides in the conflict have reported civilian casualties.
Biden told reporters that “my national security staff and defense staff has been in constant contact with their counterparts in the Middle East — not just with the Israelis but also with everyone from the Egyptians to the Saudis to the Emiratis, etc.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke separately with Netanyahu to reaffirm U.S. support.
The State Department said that Blinken “expressed his concerns regarding the barrage of rocket attacks on Israel, his condolences for the lives lost as a result, and the United States’ strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself.”
“[Blinken] emphasized the need for Israelis and Palestinians to be able to live in safety and security, as well as enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity, and democracy,” the State Department said.
Israel was able to shoot down many rockets from Gaza using the U.S.-subsidized Iron Dome missile defense system.
Biden had earlier taken heat over his down-the-middle, approach to the escalating situation in Israel.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called on the president to get fully in Israel’s corner.
“Israel must know that their friends and allies in the United States stand with them. We support Israel’s right to peace and security. We support their goal of restoring deterrence,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a Twitter posting Wednesday morning.
“The Administration must not relax our efforts to hold terrorists and their supporters to account,” he said.
PROTESTS BREAK OUT ACROSS US AS VIOLENCE ESCALATES BETWEEN ISRAEL AND HAMAS
And the Republican National Committee slammed the Biden administration for its lax support for Israel.
“These attacks prove that the Biden administration’s weak leadership is reversing the historic progress the Trump administration made toward peace in the region and has signaled to know terrorist organizations, like Hamas, that they can get away in attacking our nation’s strongest ally in the Middle East,” Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted Wednesday.
Both White House press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesman Ned Price have fielded questions about the escalating conflict in recent days and refused to condemn either side, instead urging both groups to work toward de-escalation.
“The president’s support for Israel’s security, for its legitimate right to defend itself, and its people is fundamental and will never waver. We condemn ongoing rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem. We also stand against extremism that has inflicted violence on both communities,” Psaki said on Tuesday to lead off the White House briefing.
“Jerusalem, a city of such importance to people of faith around the world, must be a place of coexistence. It is up to the officials, residents, and leaders to restore the city to a place of calm,” she said.
But Psaki on Wednesday said the talks were continuing.
“We’ve had more than 25 high-level calls and meetings by senior U.S. officials with senior officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and our partners and other stakeholders,” she said.
Price at a State Department briefing responded to criticism that the administration is taking a “half-hearted” approach to the violence unfolding in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
“I would respond to that criticism by noting that the United States is doing what we can, knowing that our ability in certain situations is going to be in some cases limited,” Price said on Tuesday.
He said the U.S. is reaching out to its Israeli partners, Palestinian officials and the global community to defuse the escalating violence.
“I think the international community by and large is calling for precisely what we are calling for, doing precisely what we have attempted to do and to urge calm, de-escalation, and restraint on both sides,” he said.
ISRAEL, HAMAS CONTINUE TO EXCHANGE FIRE AS DEADLY CONFRONTATION PERSISTS
Former President Donald Trump, who is considering a rematch against Biden in 2024, faulted Biden for the violence that began with clashes in Jerusalem, saying it happened as a result of “Biden’s weakness and lack of support for Israel.”
The Trump administration recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem following a decades-long reluctance due to Arab claims to the city. Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner led an effort that brokered diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries.
“When I was in office we were known as the Peace Presidency, because Israel’s adversaries knew that the United States stood strongly with Israel and there would be swift retribution if Israel was attacked,” Trump said.
In April, Biden reversed the Trump administration’s policy toward the Palestinians and began restoring as much as $253 million in aid.
Trump cut ties with the Palestinian Authority in 2018 after he moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Republicans criticized the resumption of aid and expressed concern that the funds would eventually end up in the hands of militant groups who would arm themselves and launch a new round of attacks against Israel.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) referred to the payments as “support of pay to slay.”
“I am deeply troubled by recent decisions from the Biden administration to turn a blind eye to behavior by the Palestinian Authority,” Graham said in a statement at the time.
“A willingness to make concessions to the Palestinians without demanding anything in return is deeply troubling and should worry us all.”
To read more from the New York Post, click here.