Biden, asked if he's abandoning Israel: Is that a serious question?

After tense phone call with Netanyahu, Biden says Israel is doing what he asked for

President reportedly told PM: ‘We won’t be able to support you’ if no change of course on Gaza; US not planning probe into killing of aid workers; Sullivan to meet hostages’ families

US President Joe Biden walks to Marine One for departure from the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, April 5, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
US President Joe Biden walks to Marine One for departure from the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, April 5, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

United States President Joe Biden said Friday that Israel was heeding his demand to let aid into Gaza, a day after he warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of a sharp shift in policy.

Asked as he left the White House whether he had threatened to stop military aid to Israel in the call with Netanyahu, Biden replied: “I asked them to do what they’re doing.”

Biden also appeared to take umbrage at the suggestion he would end support for Israel when asked by a reporter if he was abandoning Israel.

“Where you from, man?” Biden shot back, seemingly shocked by the question, given his longstanding support for the Jewish state.

“Are you abandoning Israel?” the reporter asked again.

“Is that a serious question?” the president replied, without giving a further response.

In a tense call on Thursday, Biden warned Netanyahu that US policy on Israel was dependent on the protection of civilians and aid workers in Gaza, following an Israeli strike that killed seven aid workers.

It was the first conversation between the two since an Israeli strike in central Gaza late on Monday killed seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen. Israel has called the strike on the WCK convoy a “grave mistake,” and vowed an in-depth investigation into how it occurred. But Netanyahu also said that “these things happen in war” — a line that wasn’t well received internationally.

Hours after the two leaders spoke, Israel announced that it would allow “temporary” aid deliveries into famine-threatened northern Gaza through the Israeli port of Ashdod and the Erez border crossing in the northern Gaza Strip for the first time since it was significantly damaged during the Hamas-led October 7 terror onslaught that sparked the ongoing war, when many Israelis were killed and abducted there.

Israel will also increase the amount of aid from Jordan moving through the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza.

Bakery workers sell kaak, ring-shaped traditional biscuits, as people shop ahead of Eid al-Fitr celebrations which come at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 5, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Israel also said it was firing two officers after finding a series of “grave mistakes” led to the drone strikes that killed the World Central Kitchen aid workers.

The White House has, however, said Israel must do more to meet the promises it had made to Biden.

“It’s important for those commitments to be fully realized and to be rapidly implemented,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters in a call.

Kirby added however that the US did not expect to carry out its own probe into the deaths of the aid workers, who included US-Canadian citizen Jacob Flickinger.

“There are no plans for the US to conduct an independent investigation or a separate investigation into this event,” Kirby said.

According to the Axios website, Biden warned Netanyahu during their tense phone call that Washington “won’t be able to support” Israel unless it drastically changes its prosecution of the war in Gaza.

Citing three sources familiar with the matter, Axios said that Biden didn’t specify what a loss of US support would mean, but his aides have not explicitly ruled out the possibility that the administration could start conditioning aid to Israel when asked repeatedly by reporters.

Thursday’s call was the toughest Biden has held with Netanyahu — both in tone and in substance — since the start of the war, Axios reported.

Biden told Netanyahu that there needed to be a pause in the fighting following the IDF’s deadly strike on a World Central Kitchen convoy. WCK and other aid groups announced a suspension of operations in Gaza following the attack and Biden indicated a pause would prevent a total breakdown in aid distribution.

Armed and masked Palestinians seen on trucks loaded with International Humanitarian Aid entering Gaza through the Kerem Shalom Crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip, April 3, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Netanyahu responded that a pause wouldn’t be necessary since Israel was implementing new procedures on the ground. Moreover, he said a truce must be contingent on Hamas releasing hostages — a position the US has long held, but has apparently been moving away from in recent weeks as the humanitarian situation worsens.

Biden’s request for a pause in fighting outside the context of a hostage deal surprised Netanyahu, a senior Israeli official told Axios.

During a security cabinet meeting after the call, Netanyahu noted that the White House readout similarly didn’t explicitly condition a ceasefire on a hostage deal.

It said that Biden told the Israeli premier “that an immediate ceasefire is essential to stabilize and improve the humanitarian situation and protect innocent civilians, and he urged the prime minister to empower his negotiators to conclude a deal without delay to bring the hostages home.”

An Israeli official noted that after asking the White House to privately and publicly clarify whether it has changed its position regarding the need to condition a ceasefire on a hostage deal, the administration followed through both privately and publicly.

The White House’s Kirby told reporters earlier Friday, “Let’s get a deal in place so that we can get a ceasefire for a matter of weeks in place, so that it’s easier to meet those commitments on humanitarian assistance being increased.”

“Our position remains that there should be a ceasefire as part of a hostage deal, and it should happen immediately. That’s why the president urged the prime minister to empower his negotiators to conclude a deal without delay,” a US official told Axios.

Biden’s warning of a change in policy was the clearest hint yet of possible conditions to Washington’s military support since the start of Israel’s war on Hamas, sparked by the militant group’s October 7 attack.

The US president has stood by Israel, despite concerns over the mounting Palestinian death toll and the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

But with the US presidential election looming in November, Biden faces growing opposition to his Gaza policy from Muslim and young voters, with key allies calling on him to change course.

Also Friday, a senior administration official told The Times of Israel that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will meet with relatives of some of the American hostages still being held in Gaza at the White House on Monday.

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