U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday morning amid the Jewish state’s ongoing war with Hamas.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met the American leader at Ben-Gurion Airport, ahead of scheduled talks at the Kempinski Hotel in Tel Aviv.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog was also on hand to welcome his American counterpart.
“God bless you for protecting the nation of Israel,” Herzog said of Biden on the airport tarmac.
The U.S. president announced his wartime trip to Israel on Monday “to stand in solidarity in the face of Hamas’s brutal terrorist attack.”
The president had planned to visit Jordan to discuss “dire humanitarian needs,” referring to the situation of two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, but the trip was canceled when Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas backed out after an explosion allegedly killed hundreds of Palestinians on Tuesday night at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the blast was caused by an errant Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket. The explosion rocked the hospital, as Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired heavy barrages of rockets at southern and central Israel.
Biden had intended to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Abbas in Amman.
The president’s trip comes as the IDF prepares for a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip to defeat Hamas in the wake of the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 assault on Israel, which killed more than 1,400 people and wounded at least 4,100. Hamas also kidnapped and took back to the Gaza Strip at least 199 hostages.
Israel National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi defined Israel’s war goals in a Monday press briefing as the destruction of Hamas “as a governing body, as a military body, as a relevant body that threatens the lives of our citizens.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met with Israel’s war Cabinet in a marathon 7.5-hour session on Monday, detailed the purpose of Biden’s visit:
1. To reiterate Israel’s right to defend its people from Hamas “and other terrorists and to prevent future attacks,” and to learn what Israel needs in terms of war materiel;
2. To underscore America’s warning to other actors in the region not to take advantage of the conflict to attack Israel;
3. To coordinate with Israel on the release of hostages taken by Hamas, including at least 30 American citizens;
4. To receive a “comprehensive brief on Israel’s war aims and strategy”; and
5. To learn how Israel “will conduct its operations in a way that minimizes civilian casualties, and enables humanitarian assistance to flow to civilians in Gaza in a way that does not benefit Hamas.”
Blinken dwelled on the final point, noting that the United States and Israel have agreed to develop a plan to get humanitarian aid to Gaza civilians.
“It is critical that aid begin flowing into Gaza as soon as possible,” he said, adding that the United States shares Israel’s concern that the aid will fall into the hands of Hamas, promising that if that happens, “we’ll be the first to condemn it. And we will work to prevent it from happening again.”
The president is eager to discuss the humanitarian plan further on Wednesday, said Blinken.
The U.S. administration is increasingly keyed in on aid to Gazans, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby telling reporters on Tuesday that the president will be asking Israel some “tough questions.”
Some Israeli reports have viewed the president’s visit cynically, with one Israeli newspaper headline calling Biden’s arrival a “bear hug,” claiming that the United States seeks, under the guise of providing assistance, to prevent Israel from taking action.
Hanegbi found it necessary to address the negative coverage. “The president comes to hug us, with a loving and kind hug, not a ‘bear hug,’ a hug for every fighter, every Israeli and every Jew,” he said.
He also noted that if a multi-front campaign develops, the president has promised U.S. involvement. “Israel will not be alone,” said Hanegbi.
However, national security analyst and commentator Caroline Glick said on Tuesday that “Israel is facing dangers from a quarter that many hadn’t anticipated. … It’s actually coming from the Biden administration.”
Israel, she said, is in danger of losing “sovereign control” over its military due to U.S. interference.
U.S. actions have delayed Israel’s war effort, Glick said, pointing to a report by Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot on Tuesday that according to IDF commanders, everything is in readiness for a ground invasion, but that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain morale.