Biden set to visit Israel in an extraordinary show of support as conflict intensifies

By Tamara Keith (NPR)
Oct. 17, 2023 12:52 a.m.

President Biden plans to travel to Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, a trip meant to signal full U.S. support as Israel responds to the Hamas attacks. Israel is preparing to launch a ground assault on Hamas in Gaza.

President Biden at the White House on Oct. 10, 2023, giving remarks about the attack by Hamas on Israel.

President Biden at the White House on Oct. 10, 2023, giving remarks about the attack by Hamas on Israel.

Evan Vucci / AP

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Biden will also travel to Amman on Wednesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on a conference call Monday night. Biden will meet with King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on that stop, Kirby said.

Biden has offered full-throated support for Israel as it still reels from brutal attacks by Hamas militants on Israeli civilians. More than 1,400 Israelis have been killed. The State Department has said 30 U.S. citizens were among them, and more than a dozen Americans remain unaccounted for. U.S. officials have said they believe at least a few Americans are being held hostage by Hamas.

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The Pentagon has moved an aircraft carrier strike group into the region in an attempt at deterrence. There is a significant concern that the conflict could spread, something Biden and his administration want to avoid.

In an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes that aired Sunday, Biden said he believed it was necessary for Israel to be “taking out the extremists” both in Hamas and Hezbollah. But he said he thinks it would be “a big mistake” for Israel to occupy Gaza.

This week the White House is expected to send a new funding request to Congress that would include additional military aid for Israel as well as a renewed ask for military and economic aid for Ukraine. The request faces an uncertain fate due to the leadership crisis in the House of Representatives, where Republicans have been unable to settle on a candidate for speaker who can get the necessary 217 votes to win a floor vote.

Biden prides himself on his decades of foreign policy experience — and boasts about the coalition he built to support Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia. In February, he made a surprise visit to Kiev, traveling through the night on an armored train through the Ukrainian countryside, to declare that the United States would be there to support Ukraine as long as it takes.

Biden is now sending a similar signal with this visit to Israel, another U.S. ally at war over its territorial integrity. But shortages of food, water and medicine in Gaza – and a rising civilian death toll from Israeli strikes – mean the situation is volatile. Biden has called for a humanitarian corridor to allow aid to go in and civilians to leave Gaza, but those talks have been difficult.

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll indicates a majority of Americans want the U.S. to voice strong support for Israel. And Biden has done that, earning praise, even from critics in Israel and the US. But the poll doesn’t find Biden getting much credit for it politically.

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