Three days after Hamas terrorists killed more than 1,400 Israelis, President Biden assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he supported his vow to “avenge this black day” and reduce Gaza to “ruin” from the air and on the ground.
“I told him that if the United States experiences what Israel experiences, our response will be swift, decisive and overwhelming,” Mr. Biden recalled during the Oct. 10 conversation between the two leaders.
But the president’s message, in which he emphatically joined the mourning that has gripped Israel, has changed dramatically over the past three weeks. While he continues to express unequivocal support for Israel, Mr. Biden and his top military and diplomatic officials have become more critical of Israel’s response to the terrorist attacks and the developing humanitarian crisis.
The president and his senior aides remain hopeful that a new war between Israel and Hamas could eventually give way to continued talks on normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and could even offer some leverage for a return to a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine exist side by side.
But in the short term, US officials have become more strident in reminding Israelis that even if Hamas terrorists deliberately mix with civilians, operations must be adjusted to avoid non-military casualties. Last week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said at the United Nations that “humanitarian breaks must be taken into account“, a move Israel rejected.
“While Israel has the right – indeed, the obligation – to defend itself, how it does so is important,” Mr. Blinken said, adding that “this means that food, water, medicine and other essential humanitarian aid must be able to come in Gaza and the people who need them.”
On Sunday, just a day after Israeli military leaders said Hamas terrorists were using a Gaza hospital as a command center, Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, was more blunt. Mr. Sullivan told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Hamas’s use of civilians as human shields “creates an additional burden on the Israeli Defense Forces.”
He added: “This is something we discuss with the Israelis on a daily basis.” He then noted that hospitals are not legitimate military targets just as Israel warned that another major hospital in Gaza must be evacuated before the next round of bombing.
Administration officials said the change in tone and content was a result of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where the Palestinian Authority says more than 8,000 people have been killed, sparking outrage in the United States and around the world.