President Joe Biden will make an extraordinary wartime visit to Israel this week as he seeks to demonstrate staunch support for the country as it works to eliminate Hamas while also pressing for ways to ease humanitarian suffering in Gaza.
The dueling objectives, spelled out by his top diplomat Monday evening, bring with them significant risks for the president as he works to prevent the crisis in the Middle East from widening.
Aides said Biden had expressed a strong interest in making the journey after being invited over the weekend by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Biden has known for four decades. He spent Monday deliberating over the trip at the White House with his top national security and intelligence advisers.
Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was convening a marathon session with top Israeli officials to discuss opening Gaza to humanitarian aid and preventing civilians from getting caught up in Israel’s response to the terror attacks.
In announcing Biden’s Wednesday trip after more than seven hours of negotiations, Blinken said that the United States and Israel “have agreed to develop a plan that will enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organizations to reach civilians in Gaza.”
The US president will also travel to Jordan, where he will meet with King Abdullah II, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The top US diplomat in recent days met separately with the three leaders – all of whom have condemned the situation in Gaza.
The security risks of a diplomatic visit to Israel were starkly illustrated Monday when Blinken, in his meeting with Netanyahu, was forced to shelter in place after air sirens warned of incoming rockets. White House officials said they’d carefully weighed the risks of a presidential visit, and deemed it safe enough both to execute and announce ahead of time.
The president’s visit will build on Blinken’s seven nation, multi-day tour of the Middle East, which comes as the US tries to strike a delicate balance of providing unwavering support for Israel’s military operations while mitigating the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and stopping the war from spreading to further fronts.
Biden will “make it clear that we want to continue to work with all our partners in the region, including Israel, to get humanitarian assistance and again to provide some sort of safe passage for civilians to get out,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Monday evening.
It wasn’t clear ahead of Biden’s visit whether any progress had been made on the opening of the Rafah crossing in Egypt – the only viable route to access Gaza. Blinken said the agreement to work on the plan was done at the US’ request, and they “welcome the government of Israel’s commitment to work on this plan.”