President Joe Biden on Wednesday issued a stark new warning to Iran to be ‘prepared’ for a response should they escalate the conflict in the Middle East as he condemned extremist settlers who attacked Palestinians and questioned Hamas’ death tolls.
Biden, in a news conference with Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, spoke mostly about the conflict between Israel and Hamas along and he addressed concerns that Iranian-linked groups could attack U.S. troops in the region as part of retaliation measures.
‘My warning to the ayatollah was that if they continue to move against those troops, we will respond. And he should be prepared. Nothing to do with Israel,’ he said.
The president defended Israel’s right to respond to the October 7th terrorist attacks on their people but also gave a rare rebuke to Israeli settlers in the West Bank, and reiterated calls for a two-state solution for Palestinians and the Israelis once the current conflict subsides.
And he was clear he did not demand Israel stand down from a ground invasion of Gaza in order to allow more time to release additional hostages.
President Biden defended Israeli’s attack but issued a rare rebuke to attacks on Palestinian civilians
President Biden is hosting his Aussie counterpart to talk about China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific, a major concern for his administration.
But the majority of his press conference on Wednesday was focused on the Middle East and reports that U.S. officials are concerned about the conflict growing even bigger.
Drone attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria this month have injured at least two dozen Americans.
Biden has repeatedly warned Iranian proxy groups such as Hezbollah, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization, not to use the war between Israel and Hamas as cover to launch attacks.
He repeated his warning on Wednesday.
‘We’ve had troops in the region since 9/11 to go after ISIS and prevent reemergence,’ he said, noting the American presence in the reigion has ‘nothing to do with Israel at all.’
US officials worry American forces in the region will be targeted by militant groups once Israel launches its ground invasion of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.
So far, there have been at least 13 missile and drone attacks against US troops in Iraq and Syria, which caused the death of one American contractor. The strikes also destroyed an American drone.
Biden also denied reports he asked Israel to delay a ground invasion of the West Bank in order to give officials a chance to try and gain the release of the more than 200 hostages being held by Hamas.
The president visited Israel last week and said he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all decisions were his call.
‘What I have indicated to him is that if that’s possible to get these folks out safely, that’s what they should do. It is their decision. I did not demand it. I said if it is real, it should be done,’ he said at his Rose Garden press conference.
President Joe Biden (right) and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (left) arrive at a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House
President Biden holds a list of reporters to call on at his joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
The majority of questions at Biden and Albanese’s press conference were on Israel
Biden and his administration have been steadfast in its support for Israel but the president also has urged for humanitarian supplies to be let into the Gaza strip, which is running short of food, drinkable water, fuel and medical supplies.
The president reiterated his support for the Israelis in his remarks on Wednesday.
‘Israel has the right and I would add responsibility to respond to the slaughter of their people. And we will ensure Israel has what it needs to defend itself against these terrorists; that’s a guarantee.’
He noted that ‘Israel has to do everything in its power, as difficult as it is, to protect innocent civilians.’
But he also spoke out against retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank, calling it ‘pouring gasoline on fires.’
‘I continue to be alarmed about extremist settlers attacking Palestinians in the West Bank, pouring gasoline on fires. This was a deal. The deal was made and they’re attacking Palestinians in places they’re entitled to be. It has to stop. And it has to stop now.’
He pointed out that ‘Hamas does not represent the vast majority of the Palestinian people in the Gaza strip or anywhere else. Hamas is hiding behind Palestinian civilians and it is despicable and not surprisingly, cowardly as well.’
And he condemned the brutality of the Hamas attack that killed 1,400 Israelis, leading to a two-week war that shows no signs of abating.
He said he was convinced that Hamas was driven in part by a desire undo U.S.-led efforts to normalize Israeli relations with some of its Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia.
‘I’m convinced part of why Hamas attacked when they did, I have no proof of this. It is may instinct. It was because of the progress we’ve made toward regional integration with Israel,’ he noted.
The president also said that after the Israel-Hamas conflict comes to an end, Israeli, Palestinians and its partners must work towards a two-state solution.
‘Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live side by side in safety, dignity and peace,’ Biden said.
Al-Jazeera correspondent Wael Al-Dahdouh mourns over the body of one of his children who was killed along with his wife and daughter in an Israeli strike in the Nuseirat camp, at Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir Al-Balah on the southern Gaza Strip
Palestinians transport wounded women who were found on the street following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City
Biden also said he had ‘no confidence’ in the claims by Hamas about the number of civilians who have been killed in Gaza during the last two weeks.
The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said more than 6,500 people have been killed by Israeli airstrikes since Oct. 7, a number which could not be independently verified.
‘I have no notion if Palestinians are telling the truth about how many have been killed. I’m sure innocents have been killed and it is the price of waging war,’ he said, adding that ‘I have no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using.’