The Biden administration is considering a presidential visit to Israel as a sign of support for the country following the brutal attack by Hamas.
Two U.S. officials, granted anonymity to detail sensitive internal discussions, said President Joe Biden could land in Israel as early as this week. But they stress a trip might not happen any time soon, or at all, depending on the security situation in Israel and the state of a war that is quickly spiraling out of control. Israel is on the verge of ordering a ground invasion of Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited Biden to visit when the two men spoke on Saturday, the officials said, with one of them saying the administration was “weighing” the offer.
Biden has told aides he’s interested in going, as his presence would demonstrate strong U.S. support after Hamas killed more than 1,300 Israelis and took around 150 hostages, including Americans. But the likelihood of escalating hostilities could mean that any future trip occurs during a particularly precarious point in the developing war.
Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the National Security Council, said “we have no new travel to announce,” but never denied that a trip was in the works.
White House aides note Biden has made daring trips before, namely his visit to Kyiv in February, as the war with Russia raged. That visit was considered by many aides to be one of the highlights of his presidency. The 80-year-old Biden has also traveled elsewhere to the region — visiting both Poland and Lithuania — as demonstrations of the United States’ commitment to defending democracies worldwide.
But while the trip to Ukraine’s capital involved a secret 10-hour train ride, one to Israel would, in some ways, be even more complicated.
Back in February, the U.S. communicated to Russia to not interfere with the trip and Moscow, perhaps mindful of an American reprisal, did not try to stop the president, though air raid sirens did go off as Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskyy walked the streets of Kyiv. Hamas, a group the United States has designated a terrorist organization, would be more likely to take a provocative strike at a traveling president, according to one of the officials.
And a visit of U.S. senators to Tel Aviv this week underscored the danger. The group of lawmakers, which included Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, had to seek refuge in a bomb shelter when warning sirens blared. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, however, did visit Israel in the last week without significant complications.
The debate about the trip would also come against the backdrop of the Biden administration’s growing worry over the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza amid Israel’s heavy bombardment and siege of the enclave.
There is an expectation that Israel will mount a ground offensive in the coming days, with experts predicting that weeks of urban warfare would inevitably lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. Officials in Gaza say that more than 2,600 Palestinians have already been killed in Israel’s retribution strikes over the past week.
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