For the first time in history, an American president made an official trip to Israel during a time of war. U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on October 18 in the wake of escalating violence that began as a result of a rampant attack by Hamas, which was the deadliest in Israeli history.
Biden landed nearly two weeks after the violence broke out, when Hamas launched an unprecedented surprise attack on southern Israel — killing 1,400 civilians and soldiers, including dozens of Americans, and taking over 200 people hostage. Since the fighting began, at least 3,000 people have also been killed in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said, either due to Israel’s aerial bombing of Gaza or by failed Palestinian rocket launches.
Here’s what you need to know about Biden’s visit and its role in the latest escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Where did Biden visit?
Biden was initially scheduled to visit Israel and Jordan to meet with Israeli and Arab leadership.
However, hours before Biden left Washington, the diplomatic landscape took a turn when an explosion at Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City killed hundreds. The IDF released evidence that the explosion was caused by a failed Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket, and President Biden said that Israel was not responsible, but several prominent media outlets were quick to blame Israel in their reporting.
The planned summit with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was canceled, as Abbas called for three days of mourning the hospital attack. This left Biden with an Israel-only itinerary for his trip.
Who did Biden meet with?
During his one-day visit, Biden met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reaffirmed the strong alliance between the U.S. and Israel, emphasizing their shared commitment to standing against terrorism.
He restated his pledge that the U.S. will give Israel whatever it needs to defend itself against Hamas and warned the country’s enemies against regionalizing the war.
“I have come to Israel with a simple message. You are not alone,” Biden said in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. “As long as the United States stands — and we will stand forever — we will not let you ever be alone.”
Biden began his day by meeting with Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog who greeted him at the airport when he landed.
“We agreed on actions that will ensure the continuation of our just war. We agreed on cooperation that will change the equation in all sectors, and will assist us in achieving our war aims,” Netanyahu said in a statement about the visit.
The U.S. will keep the Iron Dome “fully supplied so it can continue standing sentinel over Israeli skies,” Biden added.
The U.S. President also met with a small group of bereaved families whose loved ones were killed or taken hostage during the Hamas attack, as well as first responders to the scenes of violence.
“We’re working with partners throughout the region, pursuing every avenue to bring home those who are being held captive by Hamas,” he said.
“I can’t speak publicly about all the details, but let me assure you: For me as the American president, there is no higher priority than the release and safe return of all these hostages,” Biden stated. He joined Israel’s call for Hamas to allow the International Red Cross to visit the hostages.
President Biden compared the October 7th attacks to America’s 9/11.
“For a nation the size of Israel, it was like 15 9/11s,” he said. “But I caution this: While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it.”
Biden pledged $100 million in aid for Palestinians
In his speech from Tel Aviv, Biden also pledged $100 million in aid for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to help alleviate the dire conditions in the region. This pledge is part of a broader U.S. commitment to provide humanitarian relief and support reconstruction efforts in Gaza.
An agreement was also secured with Israeli authorities, announced by Biden in advance of his visit, to open humanitarian corridors from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, where more than 2 million people are in need of food, water, fuel and medical supplies.
He spoke of his belief that it was still possible to achieve a two-state resolution to the conflict.
“As hard as it is, we must keep pursuing peace. We must keep pursuing a path so that Israel and the Palestinian people can both live safely, in security, in dignity, and in peace,” Biden said. “For me, that means a two-state solution.”
How did they keep Biden safe?
While presidential visits to active combat zones are not rare, Biden’s trip to Israel was unique in that it was publicly announced. Former Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump visited war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, but these were kept secret to maintain security.
Biden’s public announcement of the visit and its time frame required an extra layer of security considerations.
The U.S. Secret Service worked closely with White House staff, the Diplomatic Security Service, the U.S. Embassy, and their Israeli counterparts in the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency. Shin Bet is also responsible for the protection of Israel’s prime minister and president.
As antisemitism escalates in the U.S., Biden pledges ‘never again’
Biden’s visit comes at a time when antisemitic incidents are at an all-time high in the U.S.
In his speeches, Biden underscored his deep support for Israel, which he said he believes is necessary to ensure the survival of the Jewish people.
The President said he understood that the October 7th attack “has brought to the surface painful memories and scars left by a millennia of antisemitism and the genocide of the Jewish people.”
“The world watched then, it knew, and the world did nothing,” Biden said. “We will not stand by and do nothing again. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”
Originally Published Oct 20, 2023 01:31PM EDT