Biden says US support for Israel remains ‘ironclad’ amid threat of ‘significant attack’ from Iran

US president is facing calls to condition aid to Israel on improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza

Andrew Feinberg,Tom Watling
Thursday 11 April 2024 10:00 BST
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President Joe Biden has said the US will remain steadfast in its commitment to Israel’s defence amid Iranian threats of what he called a “significant attack” in recent days.

Speaking alongside Japanese prime minister Kishida Fumio during a joint press conference in the White House Rose Garden, Mr Biden said he and the Japanese leader discussed “developments in the mideast including our shared support for a cease fire and a hostage deal, and urgent efforts to deal with the humanitarian crisis that exists in Gaza”.

He also said he and Mr Kishida both wanted to “address the threat” posed by Iran and said Tehran is “threatening to launch a significant attack on Israel”.

“As I told prime minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu, our commitment to Israel’s security against these threats from Iran and their proxies is ironclad ... we’re going to do all we can to protect Israel’s security,” Mr Biden said.

A member of an Iraqi militia holds up pictures of the former and current Iranian leaders. Ali Khamenei vowed to ‘punish’ Israel for recent attacks on Syria (AFP via Getty Images)

The US military believes Israel carried out an airstrike on the Iranian consulate in Syria earlier this month, which killed two top generals and others. Israel has not commented on the attack but Tehran says it holds Israel responsible.

Earlier on Wednesday, Iran's supreme leader repeated a promise to retaliate against Israel. Israel's foreign minister, meanwhile, threatened that his country's forces would strike Iran directly if the Islamic Republic launched an attack from its territory against Israel.

Since Israel's war in Gaza against Hamas began six months ago, there have been near-daily exchanges of fire along the Israel-Lebanon border between Israeli forces and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran.

Tehran also backs an umbrella group of Iraqi militias that have attacked US military bases and positions in Syria and Iraq.

The US president’s reaffirmation of America’s defence commitment to Israel comes as a growing chorus of US lawmakers — including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — are calling on him to condition future defence assistance to Israel on whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government allows an appropriate amount of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip and takes steps to protect civilians as he continues his country’s war against Hamas.

US President Biden says he has been ‘very blunt and straightforward’ in his talks with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu (via REUTERS)

Mr Biden told reporters he has been “very blunt and straightforward” in his talks with the Israeli leader during what he described as a “long conversation” the two men had last week after a series of Israeli drone attacks killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers.

He said Mr Netanyahu had agreed to work towards “getting more aid of both food and medicine into Gaza” and “reducing significantly” the number of civilian casualties during Israeli attacks on Hamas positions.

After months of supporting the war against Hamas, the White House has ramped up pressure on Israel to reach a cease-fire and taken a sterner line that has rattled the countries' decades-old alliance and deepened Israel's international isolation over the war.

The most serious disagreement has been over Israel's plans for an offensive in Rafah in southern Gaza. The rift was then worsened by the Israeli airstrike last week on an aid convoy. Israel said the deaths were unintentional, but Mr Biden was outraged.

Children stand in the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip (AFP via Getty Images)
Onlookers check the car in which three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh were reportedly killed in an Israeli air strike in al-Shati camp (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Biden has also called on Hamas to decide whether to accept a proposal for the release of hostages and a cease-fire put forth by CIA Director Bill Burns during negotiations in Qatar.

“They need to move on the proposal, and ... get these hostages home where they belong,” he said.

But talks came under strain after Israeli aircraft killed three sons of Hamas' top political leader in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Hamas said four of the leader's grandchildren were also killed.

Ismail Haniyeh's sons are among the highest-profile figures to be killed in the war so far. Israel said they were Hamas operatives, and Haniyeh accused Israel of acting in "the spirit of revenge and murder.”

Hamas said Hazem, Amir and Mohammed Haniyeh were killed in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, where Ismail Haniyeh is originally from. The militant group said three of Haniyeh's granddaughters and a grandson were also killed, without disclosing their ages.

Currently, a US defence aid package containing funds for both Israel and Ukraine is held up in the House of Representatives as extremist Republicans led by Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene have threatened to move to depose House Speaker Mike Johnson if he allows lawmakers to take an up-or-down vote on the proposal.

Mr Biden said there is “overwhelming support” for the Ukraine aid bill among both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. “There should be a vote now,” he said.

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