President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday for one of the most challenging diplomatic missions of his term as president. This was a remarkable, high-stakes journey to a region that had been rocked by bloodshed following Hamas strikes and Israel’s reaction.
Biden’s arrival in Tel Aviv during a war on Wednesday represented his most vociferous public display of solidarity for Israel since the Hamas onslaught on October 7 that claimed 1,400 Israeli lives along with dozens of American lives.
Other Americans, along with many Israelis, are also being held hostage by Hamas. And at least 3,000 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the fighting began, the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said Tuesday.
Biden’s arrival in Tel Aviv came less than a day after a horrifying blast at Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City.
Palestinian officials have said hundreds are dead following the explosion at the center of the city and blamed Israel.
The Israelis denied responsibility and pinned blame on a failed rocket launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The hospital explosion caused a scramble of Biden’s plans for the trip as the president walked onto Air Force One. The president was expected to meet King Abdullah II of Jordan, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss a humanitarian response during the Jordan leg of the visit, but the summit – and the Jordan leg of the trip – was scrapped. The White House cited a period of mourning announced by Abbas as the reason for the postponement.
Israel has provided the US with intelligence it has gathered related to the deadly explosion, according to an Israeli official and another source familiar with the matter. The US is analyzing it and administration officials have communicated that message to at least some congressional lawmakers, the source familiar said.
The explosion led to a last-minute briefing by the president’s top national security advisers and a phone call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, still traveling in the Middle East, to assess the intelligence available. But no conclusion was drawn about who was behind the blast, CNN has learned, with the president instructing his team to continue evaluating the available information.
The explosion and subsequent blame game will hang over Biden’s meetings in Israel, where he is expected to meet face-to-face with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials. The presence of Biden, who places a premium on personal diplomacy, is meant to show solidarity with the United States’ closest allies and to deter rogue actors in the region from opening up a second front in the war.
The president has been attempting to walk a fine line between supporting Israel and keeping the violence from spiraling into a wider military conflict, a mission made more complicated by the hospital blast. He and other US administration officials have been warning other regional players, namely Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, from expanding the fighting further.