White House condemns Hamas and pledges support for Israel after attacks

Coral Murphy Marcos

The Guardian  /  October 7, 2023 

Joe Biden says US will offer ‘rock solid and unwavering’ support to Israeli government as Tel Aviv mounts counterattack.

The White House and other US politicians voiced their support for Israel on Saturday after attacks from Hamas stunned the world.

Joe Biden said he spoke to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Saturday, assuring him that the American government is “ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the government and people of Israel”.

“Terrorism is never justified. Israel has a right to defend itself and its people,” Biden said in a statement that also warned “any other party hostile to Israel” against “seeking advantage in this situation.” Washington’s support for “Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering,” the president said.

Later on Saturday, Biden made further remarks in a press briefing. “The world has seen appalling images,” he said. “Thousands of rockets in the space of hours raining down on Israeli cities.”

“In the street, in their homes, innocent people wounded. Entire families taken hostage by Hamas just days after Israel marked the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar.”

The US defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, said on Saturday morning that he was “closely monitoring” the attack after Hamas gunmen infiltrated into Israeli towns and villages and launched a large aerial operation from the blockaded Gaza Strip.

“Over the coming days the Department of Defense will work to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself and protect civilians from indiscriminate violence and terrorism,” Austin said in a statement.

And the White House national security council spokesperson echoed Austin’s condemnation of the attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians.

“There is never any justification for terrorism,” Adrienne Watson said. “National security adviser Jake Sullivan has spoken to Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and we remain in close contact with our Israeli partners.”

The statements come after retaliatory Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, which have so far left 48 dead and 461 injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, with the death toll likely to rise.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said: “We are at war, and we will win it,” after the sudden attack on the 50th anniversary of the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

But Biden’s opponents have also been quick to criticize the president’s handling of foreign affairs in light of the attacks.

“Iran has helped fund this war against Israel, and Joe Biden’s policies that have gone easy on Iran has helped to fill their coffers. Israel is now paying the price for those policies,” said Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, a Republican running for his party’s presidential nomination.

DeSantis appeared to be referring to a prisoner swap deal the Biden administration arranged with Iran last month. Under the deal, the United States waived sanctions to allow the transfer of $6bn in Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar, a step needed to carry out the US-Iran prisoner swap.

Marjorie Taylor Green, another far-right Republican, echoed that sentiment on X, formerly known as Twitter. “President Trump would have NEVER given that money to Iran,” she said.

It’s unlikely that Biden’s recent policy has had any impact on the attacks today. A Biden administration official said not a dollar of the $6bn has been spent yet. And the money is intended solely for humanitarian purposes.

“I can’t comment on 2024 because of the Hatch Act. But I can clarify the facts: not a single cent from these funds has been spent, and when it is spent, it can only be spent on things like food and medicine for the Iranian people,” said Watson, the national security council spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Jewish Democrats in the House issued a joint statement, also calling the attacks a form of terrorism.

“We are united in standing with and supporting our ally Israel as it responds to terrorist attacks from Gaza,” read a statement from House Democrats including Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.

“Hamas has declared war on Israel and her people. Our alliance with Israel is unbreakable; our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad. We extend our condolences to the families of all those killed, our hopes for recovery for the many hundreds wounded, and pray for the safe and immediate return of all hostages taken. We support Israel’s right to defend itself – to protect its people and communities – and will do all we can to ensure Israel has the ability and capacity to restore and maintain its security and the safety of all its citizens.”

Coral Murphy Marcos is a freelance journalist