Biden urges ‘don’t be consumed by rage’ as he tells Israel ‘you’re not alone’

US President Joe Biden suggested the deadly explosion at a Gaza Strip hospital appears to have been carried out ‘by the other team’ and not the Israeli military (Evan Vucci/AP)
US President Joe Biden suggested the deadly explosion at a Gaza Strip hospital appears to have been carried out ‘by the other team’ and not the Israeli military (Evan Vucci/AP)

US President Joe Biden swept into wartime Israel for a seven-hour visit on Wednesday that produced a strong dose of support for the Israeli people, a deal to get limited humanitarian aid into Gaza from Egypt and a warning not to allow rage over the deadly Hamas attack to consume them.

“I understand. Many Americans understand,” Mr Biden said as he wrapped up his stay in Tel Aviv, likening the October 7 Hamas attack to the attacks against the United States on September 11 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people.

“You can’t look at what has happened here… and not scream out for justice,” he said.

“But I caution this: While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. And while we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”

Mr Biden urged Israel to step back from the brink, not just to ease growing tensions in the Middle East that threaten to spiral into a broader regional conflict, but also to reassure a world rattled by images of carnage and suffering, in Israel and Gaza alike.

One million people have been displaced in roughly 10 days, according to the United Nations.

Mr Biden’s mission was to display resolve for Israel and to diminish the likelihood of a wider war, while providing assurances that he was not overlooking the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The president spoke to reporters briefly aboard Air Force One as it stopped at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany on the way back to Washington.

He said he had spoken to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who had agreed to reopen the country’s border crossing with Gaza and allow 20 trucks carrying humanitarian aid supplies to cross.

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US President Joe Biden suggested the deadly explosion at a Gaza Strip hospital appears to have been carried out ‘by the other team’ and not the Israeli military (Evan Vucci/AP)

Mr Biden said roads near the crossing would first need hours of repairs because of the fighting, but that aid could begin rolling into the region by Friday.

“I wanted to make sure that there was a vehicle, a mechanism where this could happen quickly,” Mr Biden told reporters when Air Force Once landed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to refuel.

Aid moving into Gaza will accomplish a key objective for Mr Biden, and the White House announced that the president will address the nation from the Oval Office on Thursday night to “discuss our response to Hamas’s terrorist attacks against Israel and Russia’s ongoing brutal war against Ukraine”.

Less clear is how far the trip would take Mr Biden in trying to reduce volatile Middle East divisions, particularly after his plan collapsed to follow the Israel stop with an Arab leaders summit in Jordan.

The day was full of signature Biden moments as he walked a careful diplomatic line.

He doled out embraces to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to first responders, doctors and victims who witnessed nightmare moments. He spoke quietly of his own history with grief.

He told the familiar anecdote about meeting every Israeli prime minister over more than five decades in elected office, starting with Golda Meir in 1973. He quoted an Irish poet.

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President Joe Biden is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv (Evan Vucci/AP)

“I come to Israel with a single message: You’re not alone,” Mr Biden said. “As long as the United States stands — and we will stand forever — we will not let you ever be alone.”

His presence and comments to Israeli leaders held weight. Mr Netanyahu said the president’s visit was “deeply, deeply moving” and said Mr Biden had rightly drawn a clear line between the “forces of civilisation and the forces of barbarism”.

“The civilised world must unite to defeat Hamas,” the Israeli leader said.

Mr Biden arrived in Israel as the nations across the region shook with protests triggered by an explosion at a Gaza hospital that killed hundreds.

The blast undid plans for Jordan’s King Abdullah II to host Mr Biden along with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Mr el-Sisi.

Mr Abbas withdrew in protest of the hospital attack; the summit was subsequently cancelled outright. Mr Biden was expected to speak to Mr Abbas by telephone as he returned to Washington, but his presence in Israel prompted fresh outrage.

In Amman, a sign hoisted by one protester labelled Mr Biden and Mr Netanyahu war criminals. At the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh in south Lebanon, protesters set fire to a cardboard cutout of Mr Biden’s head with a rope around his neck and blood painted over his mouth.

Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister, told a state-run television network that the war is “pushing the region to the brink”.

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Demonstrators in Beirut, Lebanon, wave Palestinian flags during a protest in solidarity with the people of Gaza (Bilal Hussein/AP)

But Mr Biden emerged from the day with at least an agreement by Israel to allow food, water and medicine into Gaza following days of deadlock. Israel cut off the flow of aid and fuel to the Gaza Strip after the attack that killed 1,400 civilians by Hamas, which controls the region.

The US has already provided aid and military support to Israel and officials plan to ask Congress for more than two billion dollars in combined additional aid for Israel and Ukraine. Mr Biden on Wednesday also announced 100 million dollars in aid to Gaza and the West Bank.

“The vast majority of Palestinians are not Hamas,” Mr Biden stressed. “Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people.”

The grim tone of the discussions between Mr Biden and Mr Netanyahu stood in stark contrast to their optimistic meeting just a month ago on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, where Mr Netanyahu marvelled that a “historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia” seemed within reach.

The possibility of improved relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours has dimmed considerably with the outbreak of the latest Israel-Hamas war.

Israel has been preparing for a potential ground invasion of Gaza. There are also fears that a new front could erupt along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah operates. The Iran-backed organisation has been skirmishing with Israeli forces.

It was not clear yet when the humanitarian aid would begin to flow into Gaza, and whether it would include fuel that could power the generators keeping open the hospitals that are flooded with injured.

Israel-Hamas war: key locations
(PA Graphics)

Allowing aid into the region had been seen by US officials as a critical step towards the cooling of tensions in Arab nations after the blast at the hospital, which had been treating wounded Palestinians and sheltering many more who were seeking a refuge from the fighting.

There were conflicting claims of who was responsible.

Officials in Gaza quickly blamed an Israeli air strike. Israel denied it was involved and released a flurry of video, audio and other information that it said showed the blast was instead due to a missile misfire by Islamic Jihad, another militant group operating in Gaza.

The Islamic Jihad dismissed that claim. The Associated Press has not independently verified any of the claims or evidence released by the parties.

Mr Biden said data from his defence department showed that the explosion was not likely caused by an air strike by the Israeli military.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson followed up later with a post on social media that an analysis of “overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information” showed Israel was not behind the attack. But the US continues to collect evidence.

“Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you,” Mr Biden told Mr Netanyahu.

The leaders of the US Senate Intelligence Committee in a joint statement said they felt confident the explosion was “the result of a failed rocket launch” by militants and not an Israeli air strike.

Roughly 2,800 Palestinians have been reported killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza. An additional 1,200 people are believed to be buried under the rubble, alive or dead, health authorities said. Those numbers predate the explosion at the al Ahli hospital on Tuesday.