Biden set to visit Tel Aviv and Amman as Israel-Gaza conflict intensifies

Updated October 16, 2023 at 10:38 PM ET

President Biden plans to travel to Tel Aviv and Amman on Wednesday, a trip meant to signal full U.S. support as Israel responds to the Hamas attacks — but also to press for humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza, and safe passage out for Americans in the conflict zone.

The trip comes as Israel prepares to launch a ground assault on Hamas in Gaza. Shortages of food, water and medicine in Gaza – and a rising civilian death toll from Israeli strikes – mean the situation is volatile.

The trip was announced by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv after a meeting that stretched more than 7 hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials. In brief remarks afterward, Blinken said the United States and Israel had agreed on aid to Gaza.

Biden will meet with Netanyahu for an update on the strategy and pace of military operations, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on a conference call Monday night.

In Amman, Biden will meet with King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to talk about efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza. “We want to see assistance get in through that Rafah gate and also for people to be able to get out,” Kirby said.

Biden hopes to get an update on hostages being held by Hamas

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, and Biden wants to get an update on the hostage situation while he is in the region, Kirby said.

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.

Biden will not put conditions on U.S. military aid to Israel

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.

Biden is not putting conditions on the military assistance provided to Israel, Kirby said. “They have a right to defend themselves. They have a right to go after this terrorist threat. And we’re going to continue to do everything we can to help them do that,” he said.

But Kirby reiterated that Biden would discuss his concern about civilian casualties. “We have since the very beginning been discussing with our Israeli counterparts the importance of the law of armed conflict and the protection of innocent civilians,” he said.

There are parallels to Biden’s trip to Kiev earlier this year

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.

However, he has faced a tough battle getting more funding for Ukraine from Congress, and polling shows American support for that conflict has waned since the early days of the war.

Biden is now sending a similar signal of support with this visit to Israel, another U.S. ally at war over its territorial integrity. 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.

NPR’s Michele Kelemen contributed to this report.

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