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White House: Biden’s threat to Netanyahu over Iran strike proof of fitness

White House aides told the New York Times that Biden threatened to abandon Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a large-scale retaliation to Iran's April 13 attack.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the phone with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in the Treaty Room of the White House, on Feb. 29, 2024. Credit: Cameron Smith/White House.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the phone with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in the Treaty Room of the White House, on Feb. 29, 2024. Credit: Cameron Smith/White House.

White House aides pointed to U.S. President Joe Biden’s ability to go toe-to-toe with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as evidence of the president’s mental acuity in a New York Times feature questioning the president’s fitness for office, a topic that has taken center stage since the June 27 debate.

Although the Times presented numerous instances of the president’s recent “disorientation,” including his confusion at points during a D-Day anniversary ceremony in France and forgetting the name of his homeland security secretary, Biden’s staff insisted he was still sharp. 

However, the only detailed example provided (indeed, the Times presented it twice in the same article) was Biden’s behind-the-scenes handling of Netanyahu following Iran’s April 13 cruise and ballistic missile attack on Israel. Biden warned the Israeli prime minister not to launch a large-scale counterstrike.

“Aides present in the Situation Room the night that Iran hurled a barrage of missiles and drones at Israel portrayed a president in commanding form, lecturing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone to avoid a retaliatory escalation that would have inflamed the Middle East. ‘Let me be crystal clear,’ Mr. Biden said. ‘If you launch a big attack on Iran, you’re on your own.’

“Mr. Netanyahu pushed back hard, citing the need to respond in kind to deter future attacks. ‘You do this,’ Mr. Biden said forcefully, ‘and I’m out.’ Ultimately, the aides noted, Mr. Netanyahu scaled back his response.”

The Times repeated the very same example later on in the report.

“Some White House officials adamantly rejected the suggestion of a president not up to handling tough foreign counterparts and told the story of the night Iran attacked Israel in April,” the report said again.

“Mr. Biden and his top national security officials were in the Situation Room for hours, bracing for the attack, which came around midnight. Biden was updated in real time as the forces he ordered into the region began shooting down Iranian missiles and drones. He peppered leaders with questions throughout the response.

“After it was over, and almost all of the missiles and drones had been shot down, Mr. Biden called Mr. Netanyahu to persuade him not to escalate. ‘Take the win,’ Mr. Biden told the prime minister, without reading from a script or extensive notes, according to two people in the room. In the end, Mr. Netanyahu opted for a much smaller and proportionate response that effectively ended the hostilities,” the paper reiterated.

Israel limited its retaliatory action to launching a missile at an airbase near Isfahan (though it never formally took credit for that strike).

Netanyahu’s reported concerns that failing to strike back hard would lead to future Iranian aggression appear to have been validated by recent Iranian statements.

On Monday, a senior Iranian general said the Islamic Republic was prepared to launch another attack on the Jewish state, similar to the one in April.

“We await an opportunity for ‘True Promise II’ … in which I do not know how many missiles will be fired,” Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps aerospace force commander Brig.-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh said.

Iran’s next attack “will lead to a complete victory for the Palestinian people,” he added.

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