President Biden made an audacious and perilous visit to Israel on Wednesday to demonstrate support following the deadliest attack there in generations and backed the government’s denial of responsibility for the deadly hospital explosion in Gaza.
After an all-night flight from Washington, Mr. Biden landed in the middle of a country traumatized by terrorism and girding for a protracted war against Hamas, putting himself at the center of a volatile conflict convulsing the region as rockets and recriminations volley back and forth with no end in sight.
The timing of his visit could hardly have been more precarious politically as his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli war cabinet shared a split screen with broken bodies being pulled from the rubble of the decimated hospital in Gaza. Palestinians have said hundreds of people were killed when the facility was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, but Israel has insisted it was hit by an errant rocket fired by Islamic Jihad, an extremist group aligned with Hamas.
Mr. Biden weighed in strongly in favor of Israel in that dispute. “Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you,” he said, sitting next to Mr. Netanyahu. “But there’s a lot of people out there not sure. So we’ve got a lot, we’ve got to overcome a lot of things.”
It was not clear whether Mr. Biden based his conclusion on any independent U.S. assessment of responsibility for the attack or if he was taking Mr. Netanyahu’s word for it. On the flight to Israel, officials told reporters on Air Force One that they were still gathering information and did not offer any theory one way or the other.
But he was determined to allow no daylight between him and Israel, even as he pressed privately for the resumption of humanitarian aid to Gaza and stressed the importance of minimizing civilian casualties. “I want you to know you’re not alone,” Mr. Biden said with the cameras on. “You’re not alone. As I emphasized earlier, we will continue to have Israel’s back.”
Mr. Netanyahu, who had been at odds with Mr. Biden for much of the year until the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, appeared happy to highlight the president’s visit. “From the moment Israel was attacked, you have rightly drawn a clear line between the forces of civilization and the forces of barbarism,” he said.
He again recounted for Mr. Biden the horrors of the Hamas attack, describing women being raped, soldiers being beheaded and children hunted down in hiding places in their homes. “Just imagine, Mr. President, the fear and the panic of those little children in their last moments as the monsters discovered and found out their hiding places,” Mr. Netanyahu said.
The president’s public support for Israel, aides said, did not mean that he would not press Mr. Netanyahu in private. Israel has declared a siege of Gaza, cutting off food, electricity, medicine and other supplies while its airstrikes result in hundreds of deaths.
“He’ll be asking some tough questions,” John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, told reporters on Air Force One as the president flew over the Atlantic. “He’ll be asking them as a friend, as a true friend of Israel.”
Asked what the “tough questions” would be, Mr. Kirby stressed that the president would not be lecturing Israelis on what they should do. “By tough questions, I don’t mean menacing or in any way adversarial, just hard questions that a good friend of Israel would ask.”
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