Biden Plans High-Stakes Israel Visit to Keep War From Escalating

President Joe Biden will make a dangerous and politically risky trip to Israel intended to show solidarity with the US’s closest ally in the Middle East and prevent the conflict from engulfing the wider region.

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden will make a dangerous and politically risky trip to Israel intended to show solidarity with the US’s closest ally in the Middle East and prevent the conflict from engulfing the wider region.

The president’s rare visit near an active and expanding war zone comes as American-led efforts to open a humanitarian corridor to the Gaza Strip faltered. Highlighting the security considerations facing the 80-year-old commander-in-chief, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken briefly took shelter Monday in Tel Aviv after sirens signaled a rocket attack. 

The president’s decision to make such a high-stakes mission to the Middle East underscores the administration’s concerns about the crisis spiraling out of control. The threat of a war drawing in Iran and other Middle Eastern nations has quickly consumed Washington, and Biden has deployed two aircraft carrier strike groups to the Mediterranean to deter Tehran and proxy militant groups in Gaza and Lebanon from taking further action. 

Biden’s trip on Wednesday follows days of shuttle diplomacy by Blinken and will come on the heels of a similar visit to Israel by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday. The American president will also travel to Jordan, where he’ll meet with Arab leaders including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. 

“He’s coming here at a critical moment for Israel, for the region and for the world,” Blinken said early Tuesday in Tel Aviv, after seven and a half hours of meetings with Netanyahu to broker the trip. Blinken said that Israel had agreed to develop a plan alongside the US “that will enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organizations to reach civilians in Gaza” as soon as possible.

US and Israeli leaders will also discuss creating civilian safe zones, as Israel prepares for an expected invasion of Gaza to “wipe out” the leadership of Hamas, which the US and European Union have designated as a terrorist organization. More than 1,400 people were killed and 200 others kidnapped and held hostage in the incursion into into southern Israel earlier this month, the deadliest such assault in decades. 

Thousands of Palestinians have died as Israel blockades the territory and carries out air strikes on what it says are military targets in Gaza, prompting protests in cities around the world. Israel overnight bombarded targets in southern Gaza, an area where the government in Tel Aviv had previously advised residents to seek refuge. 

The president is also facing increasing pressure at home to secure the US’s position in the region after the administration appeared surprised by the Oct. 7 attack. The threat of a wider conflict in the Middle East has emboldened Republican critics of military funding for Ukraine, such as former President Donald Trump, ahead of US elections next year.

Biden said he was traveling to “Israel to stand in solidarity in the face of Hamas’s brutal terrorist attack,” according to a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “I’ll then travel to Jordan to address dire humanitarian needs, meet with leaders, and make clear that Hamas does not stand for Palestinians’ right to self-determination,” he said.

Biden’s trip to Israel would be his second to an active war zone as president following a visit to Kyiv earlier this year to show his support for Ukraine as it seeks to repel Russia’s invasion. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday evening that the trip would last one day and that Biden would visit Tel Aviv during the Israeli portion.

Biden canceled a planned visit to Colorado on Monday to focus on national security matters. The president was briefed by officials including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns. He also held calls with Sisi, Scholz and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani.

A humanitarian deal would be an important signal to Arab nations who have warned about the treatment of Palestinian civilians. US officials have expressed concerns about the humanitarian toll of the war and have worked to minimize the impact on civilians. Officials are also focused on the fate of the dozens of hostages and some 500 US citizens in Gaza.

Blinken has been touring regional capitals to keep the conflict from escalating, stopping in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Biden’s visit to Jordan offers an opportunity to address concerns raised by the Arab world. Biden and King Abdullah II spoke last week about the crisis.

Biden on Sunday cautioned against long-term Israeli occupation of Gaza in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, saying the territory should in the long term be governed by “a Palestinian authority.” He also stressed his belief that Israel would act by the rules of war and ensure that that civilians have access to medicine, food and water. 

Iran said Monday that the war’s expansion was increasingly becoming unavoidable. “The time for political solutions is running out, and the possible expansion of the war on other fronts is approaching the inevitable stage,” Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, wrote on X.

–With assistance from Iain Marlow and Justin Sink.

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