Joe Biden warns Israel against being consumed by rage

US president says Binyamin Netanyahu should avoid repeating US ‘mistakes’ after 9/11 attacks

US president Joe Biden has urged Israel not to be “consumed” by rage in its reaction to this month’s deadly Hamas assaults, and to avoid repeating Washington’s “mistakes” after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

On a day-long visit to the country – the first by a US president during wartime – Mr Biden offered wholehearted support and sought to broker a deal to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip.

As controversy raged about a deadly explosion at a Gaza hospital, Mr Biden joined Israel in blaming the blast on a misfired rocket by Palestinian militants, citing Pentagon data. But he also called for “clarity” about Israel’s war objectives and whether it was on course to achieve them.

“I caution this: while you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it,” Mr Biden said. In an apparent reference to the US’s prosecution of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, he added: “After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. When we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”


In comments that appeared to refer to the possible goal of establishing a buffer zone in the enclave, Eli Cohen, Israel’s foreign minister, told the country’s Army Radio on Wednesday that “at the end of this war, not only will Hamas no longer be in Gaza, but the territory of Gaza will also decrease”.

His remarks came as Israel prepares for a ground offensive into Gaza that many fear could further stoke tensions in the region.

Mr Biden also called for Binyamin Netanyahu’s government to allow emergency aid through to Gaza, even as he said he would ask the US Congress “for an unprecedented support package for Israel’s defence”.

Mr Netanyahu’s office said it would not prevent “humanitarian assistance from Egypt as long as it is only food, water and medicine” for civilians in southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled.

It added that passage of the aid was conditional on the supplies not reaching Hamas, which controls Gaza, while Mr Biden said there would be “inspections” of the shipments.

According to an Israeli official familiar with the matter, the shipments are only intended to reach a “safe zone” in west Khan Younis in southern Gaza and will be administered by international aid organisations based in the enclave. The Israeli military said earlier on Wednesday that it had already given Gazan residents maps identifying the area.

But the UN, the biggest aid provider to Gaza, said on Wednesday evening that it lacked information about the deal.

UNRWA, the UN agency that provides aid to Palestinians, said it was seeking the resumption of fuel imports to Gaza, because of shortages that have crippled the territory’s water pumping and desalination plants.

Israel has cut off Gaza’s mains power and access to fuel, medicines and food and is allowing only a severely restricted fresh water supply as it bombards the enclave.

Aid groups estimate that one million people have been uprooted during the 11 days since Israel declared war on Hamas in response to a deadly attack by the militant group on October 7th.

As of Wednesday, trucks carrying shipments of aid were backed up on the Egyptian side of the crossing, awaiting permission to enter, while UNRWA described the humanitarian situation inside Gaza as “still very dire”.

The UN agency added that, despite Israeli warnings to evacuate the northern part of Gaza, some people were returning to the north after failing to find places to stay.

Mr Netanyahu’s office also made clear that Israel would “not allow any humanitarian assistance” from its own territory until about 200 hostages abducted by Hamas were returned home.

Mr Biden’s trip was overshadowed by Tuesday’s explosion at Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City, which prompted Arab leaders to cancel a previously scheduled summit with the US president.

While Israel has blamed the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, Palestinian officials say the cause was an Israeli air strike that killed hundreds of people.

The White House said that, while it was still collecting information, its “current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information” was that Israel was not responsible for the explosion at the hospital.

“Based on what I have seen, it was done by the other team, not you,” Mr Biden said at an appearance with Mr Netanyahu. “But there’s a lot of people out there who are not sure, so we’ve got to overcome a lot of things.”

It has not been possible to independently verify the death toll or the cause of the explosion. However, the Hamas-controlled ministry of health in Gaza said on Wednesday that 471 people had died because of the blast.

The Israel Defense Forces said on Wednesday that an internal investigation had concluded that a rocket launched from a cemetery near the hospital just before the explosion had misfired and crashed into the adjacent car park.

By contrast, many leaders in the region have blamed Israel.

After news of the explosion broke late on Tuesday, Jordan cancelled a summit King Abdullah had planned to host for Mr Biden, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Abbas announced a three-day mourning period for what he called “a heinous war crime”.

The US has used its veto at the UN security council to block a resolution calling for Israel to allow humanitarian corridors into the Gaza Strip, a pause in the fighting and the lifting of an order for civilians to leave the north of the besieged territory.

The text – supported by 12 of the 15 members of the security council on Wednesday – contained criticism of “heinous terrorist crimes by Hamas” and made no direct reference of Israel. In an attempt to win US support, the draft resolution did not explicitly call for a ceasefire, instead referencing a “humanitarian pause”.

But the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the resolution, carefully crafted by Brazilian diplomats, was unacceptable because it made no mention of Israel’s right to self-defence. The UK abstained, saying the resolution lacked mention of the way Hamas was using ordinary Palestinians as human shields.

The US ambassador said she was horrified and saddened by the loss of life, but that the actions of Hamas had brought about the humanitarian crisis. She also called for time to let Mr Biden’s diplomacy play out. - Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023. Additional reporting: Guardian.