White House

Biden Speaks to Netanyahu, Says Israel Has a ‘Right to Defend Itself’

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the April jobs report from the East Room of the White House, May 7, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Hamas has fired more than 1,000 rockets at urban civilian centers, including schools and Ben Gurion Airport.

President Biden on Wednesday said he had spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel “for a while” and declared his “unwavering support” for the country’s “right to defend itself” amid recent hostilities between the Jewish state and Palestinians.

“I had a conversation with Bibi Netanyahu not so long ago. I’ll be putting out a statement very shortly on that,” Biden said at the White House.

“My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later,” Biden said. “But Israel has a right to defend itself against thousands of rockets flying into your territory.”

The terrorist group Hamas has fired more than 1,000 rockets into Israel this week — a number of which have been aimed at schools, at Israeli civilians in the highly populated Tel Aviv area, and at Ben Gurion Airport. Israel shot down many of the rockets using the U.S.-subsidized Iron Dome missile-defense system.

Israel has responded with airstrikes targeting terrorists in Gaza and their infrastructure. Both sides have reported civilian casualties.

Biden told reporters, “My national-security staff and defense staff has been in constant contact with their counterparts in the Middle East — not just with the Israelis but also with everyone from the Egyptians to the Saudis to the Emiratis, etc.”

A readout of the call from the White House said Biden “condemned” the rocket attacks on Israel and asserted that the United States believes that Jerusalem should be “a place of peace.”

The call comes after Biden received criticism from a number of Republicans over his lackluster response to the escalating tensions.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) on Wednesday morning called on the president to unequivocally support Israel.

“Israel must know that their friends and allies in the United States stand with them. We support Israel’s right to peace and security. We support their goal of restoring deterrence,” McConnell wrote in a tweet. 

“The Administration must not relax our efforts to hold terrorists and their supporters to account,” he added.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had declined to condemn either side in recent days, instead advocating for de-escalation.

“The president’s support for Israel’s security, for its legitimate right to defend itself and its people is fundamental, and will never waver. We condemn ongoing rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem.  We also stand against extremism that has inflicted violence on both communities,” Psaki said Tuesday.

“Jerusalem, a city of such importance to people of faith around the world, must be a place of coexistence. It is up to the officials, residents, and leaders to restore the city to a place of calm,” she added.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke with Netanyahu on Wednesday to affirm American support.

Blinken “expressed his concerns regarding the barrage of rocket attacks on Israel, his condolences for the lives lost as a result, and the United States’ strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself,” according to the State Department.

“[Blinken] emphasized the need for Israelis and Palestinians to be able to live in safety and security, as well as enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity, and democracy,” the State Department said.

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