President Biden is expected to arrive Wednesday in Israel with the task of showing the United States’s unwavering support for the Jewish state in its fight against Hamas amid a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza, a risky task for the president that could define his response to the Israel-Hamas war.
Also complicating matters are fresh protests in the Middle East after a hospital was hit Tuesday, with authorities estimating hundreds of deaths, including patients who were seeking treatment amid heavy aerial bombardment by Israel in the last week.
Some of Biden’s top deputies — as well as groups of bipartisan lawmakers — have already visited Israel to stand in solidarity with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the week since the Hamas attack that killed more than 1,000 Israelis. But their trips have also exposed the physical risks of being in a war zone.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday had to take shelter amid the blare of air raid sirens in Tel Aviv, underscoring the dramatic nature of the trip. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had a similar experience there the day before.
While the trip could carry potential payoffs for Biden politically, the president will also have to walk a fine line in standing by Israel while seeking to defuse a humanitarian crisis in Gaza with the hospital hit sparking new protests across the Middle East.
But allies say the trip also gives Biden the chance to flex his foreign policy muscles, drawing another sharp contrast with his likely 2024 opponent, former President Trump, and potentially dispel concerns about his stamina with a whirlwind trip to visit a crucial ally — the second time in his presidency that Biden will be in a war zone.
“When I saw that they had begun discussing this idea, I knew that the president would want to go, in part because … I’ve seen up close how important it is to him to do face-to-face diplomacy,” said Kate Bedingfield, a longtime Biden aide who most recently served as White House communications director, on CNN.
Bedingfield likened Biden’s Middle East trip to his February visit to Kyiv to show support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion. Biden was presented with the potential security risks and logistical challenges then and still felt strongly about going, Bedingfield said, and likely felt the same about visiting Israel.
“It does come with some risks,” Bedingfield said. “But it didn’t surprise me because I had seen how President Biden chooses to act in these moments, and he does not shy away from asserting American leadership.”
Biden will travel to Tel Aviv first to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a strong show of support for his country. The president then will go to Jordan, where he is expected to meet with King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was also expected to be at the meeting, but reports in the wake of the hospital being hit indicated he canceled on Biden in protest. Abbas heads the Palestinian Authority, which ruled Gaza before Hamas. The Authority is the only Palestinian-led government that has relations with the West.
Further complicating matters for the Palestinians is the administration’s unwavering Israeli support. When asked whether the White House expects Israel to hold off on its ground offensive until after Biden leaves, national security adviser John Kirby on Monday responded that the U.S. isn’t dictating terms to the Israeli military.
Meanwhile, the president’s meeting with Abdullah comes after the king said Tuesday that Jordan and Egypt will not accept Palestinian refugees and that the situation should be handled within Gaza and the West Bank.
Democratic strategists said that despite the turmoil, the trip will allow Biden to lean into his foreign policy strengths, an area where he has shown he is comfortable based on his decades of experience as a senator, including serving on the Foreign Relations Committee.
The demanding nature of the visit could also allow the president to once again demonstrate to voters he has the stamina for the job, the strategist said.
It will also allow for Biden to draw another clear contrast with Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination in 2024. Trump’s initial response to the attacks on Israel included criticism of Netanyahu and describing Hezbollah as “very smart,” remarks that drew widespread backlash, including from other Republicans.
“President Biden’s swift decision to visit the region stems from his vast foreign policy experience and reflects his deep understanding of the nuances of the conflict and his relationships with regional players,” said Democratic communications strategist Katie Grant Drew.
“It’s a trip that Trump would not be able to pull off to the same effect, exposing the weakness of a presidential contender who doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to deftly navigate turbulent international crises,” added Drew, a principal at Monument Advocacy.
Biden’s potential focus on humanitarian measures will also allow him to highlight his differences with the GOP writ large such as Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and others who have suggested the U.S. should not accept any refugees fleeing Gaza.
Republicans though were quick to judge Biden as weak on the world stage for his policies dealing with Iran — which has long been known to support, train and arm Hamas. The administration, however, has maintained it sees no direct link between the Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Tehran.
Biden’s trip to Israel while under siege could have a similar effect to his visit earlier this year to Kyiv, which was made in secret until he safely arrived on the ground. That marked a defining moment for the Biden presidency and gave him a boost in his standing as the leader among allies in the response to Russia’s invasion.
The risky trips that Biden is taking on as president, to show support for war-torn allies, provide a split screen that voters will notice, his campaign argued.
“There’s a very clear split screen going on between a slate of candidates playing politics with a terrorist attack, and a president who is leading with empathy, experience, and real action in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy,” a campaign aide said.
Source: The Hill