Washington, DC – United States President Joe Biden has pledged unwavering support for Israel as its military pummels Gaza with bombardment, in the wake of an unprecedented attack from the Palestinian group Hamas over the weekend.
In a White House speech on Tuesday, Biden said that Washington will provide additional military assistance to Israel, which has since declared war on Hamas.
He also underscored the brutality of Saturday’s attack — which killed hundreds of people and saw others taken captive — and compared Hamas to ISIL (ISIS), accusing it of “terrorism”.
“This is what they mean by human tragedy, an atrocity on an appalling scale,” Biden said. “We’re going to continue to stand united, supporting the people of Israel who are suffering unspeakable losses and opposing the hatred and violence of terrorism.”
The US president, however, did not provide details about the Israeli war in Gaza or its aims — only backing what he called Israel’s “duty to respond to these vicious attacks”.
Here, Al Jazeera looks at five key takeaways from Biden’s address:
Biden pledges more military aid to Israel
Biden pledged more military assistance for Israel, which already receives $3.8bn in US military aid.
“We’re surging additional military assistance, including ammunition and interceptors to replenish the Iron Dome,” he said referring to Israel’s anti-missile system.
“We’re going to make sure that Israel does not run out of these critical assets to defend its cities and its citizens.”
.@VP and I sat down with our teams to receive a situation update on the terrorist attack in Israel and to direct next steps.
We connected with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss coordination to support Israel, deter hostile actors, and protect innocent people. pic.twitter.com/u4xOHMeMqw
— President Biden (@POTUS) October 10, 2023
The US president called on Congress to take “urgent action to fund the national security requirements of our critical partners”, likely referring to both Israel and Ukraine, the latter of which is fending off a full-scale invasion from Russia.
“This is not about party or politics. It’s about the security of our world, the security of the United States of America,” he said.
Biden added that his administration is in “near constant communication” with Israeli partners.
According to the White House, Biden has been closely following the situation with daily briefings from his security team. Earlier on Tuesday, he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the third time in as many days.
Americans amongst Hamas captives
Biden confirmed that Americans are among the captives held by Hamas without specifying the number. He also said that 14 US citizens have been killed in the attack.
“I’m directing my team to share intelligence and deploy additional experts from across the United States government to consult with and advise Israeli counterparts on hostage recovery efforts because as president, I have no higher priority than the safety of Americans being held hostage around the world,” he said.
No mention of Palestinian civilians or broader conflict
With the death toll mounting in Gaza as Israeli jets relentlessly bomb the densely populated territory, Biden did not mention Palestinian casualties.
Instead, he focused on Israeli victims of Hamas’s attack.
The only time Biden mentioned Palestinians was to slam Hamas. “Hamas doesn’t stand for the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and self-determination,” he said. “Its stated purpose is the annihilation of the state of Israel and the murder of Jewish people.”
Hamas’s 2017 charter counters Biden’s claim, rejecting the “persecution of any human being or the undermining of his or her rights on nationalist, religious or sectarian grounds”.
Biden also did not address the root causes of the conflict.
Hamas leaders have said they launched the attack in response to Israeli violations at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, near-daily violence against Palestinians in the West Bank and the nearly 20-year blockade on Gaza.
Leading rights groups have accused Israel of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians.
US warns against ‘taking advantage’ of war
Biden, apparently addressing Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah, warned other parties in the region against “taking advantage” of the war in Gaza.
“To any country, any organisation, anyone thinking of taking advantage of the situation, I have one word: Don’t. Our hearts may be broken but our resolve is clear,” he said.
The US president said Washington has “enhanced its military force posture” in the region to “strengthen deterrence”.
The Pentagon had announced plans to send additional military ships and aircraft to the Eastern Mediterranean after the Hamas attack.
“We stand ready to move in additional assets as needed,” Biden said on Tuesday.
The US has not participated directly in the attacks on Gaza, and a White House spokesperson said on Monday that Washington has “no intention to put US boots on the ground”.
Unqualified political support for Israeli response
Biden offered unqualified political support to Israel’s military response despite fears for the more than 2.2 million people who live in Gaza.
Israeli leaders have already declared a “complete siege” on the Palestinian enclave, pledging to prevent food and other essential supplies from entering the territory, raising concerns from rights advocates and the United Nations.
“Like every nation in the world, Israel has the right to respond, indeed has a duty to respond to these vicious attacks,” Biden said on Tuesday.
“Let there be no doubt: The United States has Israel’s back. We’ll make sure the Jewish and democratic state of Israel can defend itself — today, tomorrow, as we always have. It’s as simple as that,” he added.
Biden said he told Netanyahu that, if the US had experienced a similar attack, its response would be “swift, decisive and overwhelming”.
“We also discussed how democracies like Israel and the United States are stronger and more secure when we act according to the rule of law,” Biden said.