WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Saturday decried the “unconscionable” assault by Hamas militants and his administration pledged to ensure Israel has “what it needs to defend itself” after the surprise attack that drew worldwide condemnation and anger from Israel’s allies.
Biden said from the White House that he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States “stands with the people of Israel in the face of these terrorist assaults. Israel has the right to defend itself and its people, full stop. There’s never a justification for terrorist attacks and my administration’s support for Israeli’s security is rock solid and unwavering.’’
The president also warned Israeli’s enemies that “this is not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks to seek advantage. The world is watching.”
Biden said he would keep in close touch with Netanyahu, and had called Jordan’s King Abdullah II and members of Congress to discuss the situation.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was at the White House for meetings and spoke to Israel’s president and foreign minister, while Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Israel’s defense minister. The Pentagon chief said the U.S. was committed to helping Israel to “protect civilians from indiscriminate violence and terrorism” and with its defense needs.
Hamas’ unprecedented incursion, which Biden noted came not long after Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, was the deadliest attack in Israel in years and was threatening to spiral into a broader conflict. Israel retaliated with airstrikes in Gaza. “We are at war,” Netanyahu said.
Biden said the people of Israel were “under attack orchestrated by a terrorist organization” and that “in this moment of tragedy, I want to say to them and to the world and to terrorists everywhere, the United States stands with Israel. We will not ever fail to have their back. We’ll make sure that they have the help their citizens need and they can continue to defend themselves.”
He said “the world has seen appalling images — thousands of rockets in the space of hours raining down on Israel cities” and that Hamas had killed not just Israeli soldiers but also Israeli civilians – “in the street, in their homes, innocent people murdered and wounded, entire families taken hostage by Hamas just days after Israel marked the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar. It’s unconscionable.’’
The hostilities dealt a significant blow to U.S. efforts to expand the Arab-Israeli Abraham Accords normalization agreements, not only with Saudi Arabia, which has commanded most of the public attention, but also with smaller Arab states.
U.S. officials say they intend to press ahead but acknowledge efforts are unlikely to bear fruit while there is an active conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Blinken had been planning a trip to the Middle East, with stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia, later this month, but those plans are now on hold, according to multiple U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations.
In the immediate term, these officials said the U.S. would work Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among Arab partners in the region, to try to deescalate the situation. But given the scale of the Hamas attacks and Israel’s military response, the officials said they were not optimistic about any short-term solution.
Like Biden, who said the U.S. “unequivocally condemns this appalling assault,” many world leaders stressed that Israel has a right to defend itself and they pledged solidarity.
“We believe that order will be restored and the terrorists will be destroyed,” Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in a post on his official Telegram channel. Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and had relatives who died in the Holocaust, said “Israel’s right to self-defense cannot be questioned.”
European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen denounced the “senseless attack” by Hamas and said, “This violence is neither a political solution nor an act of bravery. It is purely terrorism.”
German Chancellor OIaf Scholz said his country stands beside Israel, a sentiment echoed by the Austrian chancellor, Karl Nehammer. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted that he was shocked by the attacks and that “Israel has an absolute right to defend itself.”
In Vienna, the Israeli flag was raised at the Austrian chancellor’s office and Foreign Ministry in a gesture of solidarity. “There is no excuse for terror,” Nehammer said in a post on X.
Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister and a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt, told the state Tass agency that Moscow was in touch with “all parties (of the conflict), including Arab countries” and urged “an immediate cease-fire and peace” between Hamas and Israel.
Bogdanov did not specify the Arab nations with which Russian diplomats were speaking.
Saudi Arabia called for an immediate halt to the fighting, urging both sides to protect civilians and exercise restraint.
“The kingdom recalls its repeated warnings of the dangers of the situation exploding as a result of the continued occupation, the Palestinian people being deprived of their legitimate rights and the repetition of system provocations against” them by Israel, a Saudi Foreign Ministry statement said.
But in Iran, Israel’s regional archenemy, members of parliament opened their session Saturday by chanting “Death to Israel” and “Israel will be doomed, Palestine will be the conqueror.” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said “today’s operation created a new page in the field of resistance and armed operation against occupiers,” the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.
In Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps, hundreds took to the streets to celebrate the operation by Hamas. In the Bourj al-Barajneh camp south of Beirut, residents danced in the streets, while young men in the northern city of Tripoli distributed celebratory sweets to passersby in the streets.
In the Bekaa Valley, pro-Palestinian demonstrators blocked the roads. The country’s highest Sunni religious authority called for mosques to broadcast “God is great” over loudspeakers following afternoon prayers “in solidarity with our people in Palestine.”
Associated Press writers from around the world contributed to this report.