Doug Emhoff: 'There aren't two sides to this'

‘Be careful’: Biden says he warned Iran regarding Gaza war, as Blinken heads to Israel

US president meets Jewish leaders, tells them he is working to secure release of hostages and won’t be silent about Hamas atrocities; US envoy to UN: ‘Never again is now’

President Joe Biden speaks during a roundtable with Jewish community leaders in the Indian Treaty Room on the White House complex in Washington, Oct. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden speaks during a roundtable with Jewish community leaders in the Indian Treaty Room on the White House complex in Washington, Oct. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

US President Joe Biden said Wednesday that his administration has warned Iran not to escalate the conflict between Tehran’s proxy Hamas and Israel.

“We made it clear to the Iranians: Be careful,” Biden said in remarks to American Jewish community leaders during a roundtable meeting at the White House.

Hamas’s massive onslaught on Saturday, which left over 1,200 Israelis dead, has raised questions about the role of Iran and whether it was directly involved in the operation. The US has collected information that suggests senior Iranian government officials were caught off guard by the multi-pronged assault, according to a US official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

That piece of intelligence has informed White House officials publicly asserting that it has not yet seen evidence of direct involvement by Iranians in the planning or execution of the Hamas attack.

“We haven’t seen anything that tells they have specifically cut checks to support this set of attacks, or that they were involved in the training. And obviously, this required quite a bit of training by these terrorists,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters earlier Wednesday, though he added that the US will continue to look at the intelligence “and see if that leads us to a different conclusion.”

Biden used his meeting with Jewish leaders to again express his horror over the Hamas onslaught after doing so in a pair of nationally televised White House speeches since the weekend attack.

“I’ve been doing this a long time. I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children,” Biden said, apparently becoming the first US official to confirm such reports.

But the White House later walked back the remark, saying the president and other US officials had not seen pictures or confirmed such reports independently and that Biden based his comments on various media reports that cited Israeli officials.

Nonetheless, Biden went on to tell Jewish leaders at the roundtable, “Downplaying Hamas’s atrocities and blaming the Jewish people is unthinkable.”

He noted that despite the very trying times facing Israel and the Jewish community, “there are countries trying to help — including Arab nations. He was perhaps referring to countries like the United Arab Emirates as just before stopping by the roundtable, Biden held a call with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed.

The two spoke about the terrorist attacks on Israel, and Biden stressed his condemnation of Hamas while “warning against anyone who might seek to exploit the current situation,” according to the White House readout. “The two leaders also discussed the importance of ensuring humanitarian assistance reaches those in need.”

Doing ‘a lot’ to secure hostages’ release

Biden said he is also designating experts to help in the effort to secure the release of some 150 hostages held by Hamas.

“We’re working on every aspect of the hostage crisis in Israel, including deploying experts to advise on assist and recovery,” Biden told the Jewish leaders.

He said he knew he would be under pressure to give details, but that he would not. “If I told you, I wouldn’t be able to get them out,” Biden said. “Folks, there’s a lot we’re doing. I have not given up hope of bringing these folks home.”

Families of Americans believed to be held hostage by Hamas held a press conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday urging the United States to act, and Kirby was peppered with questions about the hostages earlier Wednesday at a White House press briefing.

Asked whether Biden is considering sending American troops into Gaza to recover the hostages being held by terror groups in the enclave, Kirby said, “We just don’t have enough info to make decisions like that.”

The comment indicated that the US does not know the captives’ whereabouts.

“We’re in discussions not only with the Israelis about what hostage recovery could look like but with other allies and partners in the region. There are some countries, like Qatar, that have open lines of communication with Hamas,” Kirby said, suggesting that Washington is in touch with Doha about the issue. “We’re casting the net wide, as you would expect we would. We want to get all these hostages back with their families, particularly the American hostages.”

An Israeli soldier takes a position in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

‘I refuse to be silent’

Biden told Jewish leaders that he was committed to continue speaking out regarding the atrocities committed by Hamas. “Silence is complicity. I refuse to be silent.”

The president got passionate as he highlighted the importance of fighting hate more broadly and remembering the lessons of the Holocaust.

“That’s why I took my kids, everyone when they turned 14, one at a time, put them on a plane and took them to Dachau. I wanted them to see, that you could not not know what was going on, walking through those gates. You could not fail to understand as a country what was going on.”

He repeated his line that “were there no Israel, no Jew would be safe,” repeating several times that there would be “no guarantee.”

The roundtable was hosted by Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, who told participants, “Like all Jews, I feel a deep, visceral connection to Israel.”

“There’s never any justification for terrorism. There are no two sides to this issue. The images we saw will be seared in our brains forever…and all the while we see videos of these terrorists cheering on these atrocities, added Emhoff, who is the first ever Jewish spouse of a president or vice president.

The second gentleman has played an active role in the administration’s efforts to combat antisemitism, in addition to often serving as a liaison to the US Jewish community.

Signs of US support for Israel were seen across the administration, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveling there for meetings, Biden denouncing antisemitism in America and the US military moving a second aircraft carrier toward the Mediterranean Sea as part of efforts to prevent the war from spilling over into a more dangerous regional conflict.

Kirby said the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its ships would be an “available asset” if necessary. The USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s most advanced aircraft carrier, and its strike group have already arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Blinken heads to Israel with simple message: ‘We have their back’

Speaking to reporters before boarding a plane at Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday, Blinken said he’s heading to Israel with “a very simple and clear message on behalf of the president of the United States and on behalf of the American people, and that is that the United States has Israel’s back.

He said he will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog and other senior officials upon landing on Thursday.

Blinken reiterated that the US is determined to ensure that Israel has the means to defend itself, that additional actors don’t join the war against Israel and that the hostages in Gaza are located and released.

Blinken will then travel to Amman on Friday where he will meet with senior Jordanian officials as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who will be traveling with a delegation that includes PA intelligence chief Majed Faraj and PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Hussein al-Sheikh, a Palestinian official says.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards a plane, Wednesday Oct. 11, 2023, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Biden’s UN envoy at Israel solidarity rally: ‘Never again’ is now. Am Yisrael Chai’

Meanwhile, on Thursday, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield joined diplomats from nearly 60 other countries at a New York gathering in solidarity with Israel organized by the American Jewish Committee.

Thomas-Greenfield gave a passionate speech at the event in which she stressed the importance of retelling the stories of Hamas’s victims.

“These numbers [of Israelis killed] – as shocking as they are – do not do justice to the depths of horrors… Human lives are not just numbers,” she said. “We must tell the stories of those who were executed, who were raped, who were kidnapped.”

She called on the international community to join her in standing with Israel and refrain from “drawing false equivalencies between Hamas’ outrageous attacks and Israel’s inherent right of self-defense… We cannot issue weak condemnations that fail to unequivocally denounce Hamas by name,” the US ambassador asserts.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield addresses a New York rally in support of Israel on October 11, 2023. (Andrew Weinstein/US Mission to the UN/X)

“For far too long, Israel has been unfairly targeted in the UN system, and that needs to change. Now is the moment to stand in solidarity with Israel,” she declared.

Applying the lessons of the Holocaust to the October 7 Hamas attacks, Thomas-Greenfield said, “‘Never Again,’ my friends, is now. The eyes of the world are on us. The eyes of history are on us. We must condemn this barbaric violence, and we must combat the scourge of antisemitism,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

“May we shun evil and do good. And may we seek peace. Am Yisrael Chai,” the ambassador concluded.

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