US President Joe Biden reaffirms Israel support after Iran attack

US President Joe Biden arrives at the White House in Washington, on April 13, 2024. [VOA]

U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday condemned Iran’s massive aerial bombardment of Israel and said U.S. military assets in the region helped take down "nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles" aimed at the country, in an attack that threatens to further widen the six-month conflict that has engulfed the Middle East.

Biden also said he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone Saturday evening to "reaffirm America’s ironclad commitment to the security of Israel."

The U.S. president also said he would convene leaders of the G7 to "coordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack."

"My team will engage with their counterparts across the region. And we will stay in close touch with Israel’s leaders," said Biden in a statement. "And while we have not seen attacks on our forces or facilities today, we will remain vigilant to all threats and will not hesitate to take all necessary action to protect our people."

Biden had rushed back to Washington earlier Saturday for an all-hands-on-deck meeting after Iran lobbed some 200 missiles and drones at Israel.

The attack drew condemnation from U.S. allies and humanitarian officials as the first objects were spotted overhead in the region and air raid sirens blared in Jerusalem and Northern Israel.

Iranian officials had previously vowed to retaliate over an April 1 Israeli airstrike on Iran’s Damascus consulate.

Biden issued a photo of himself and Cabinet and intelligence officials early Saturday evening in the Situation Room. In the post, released on social media site X, he said: "Our commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad."

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said U.S. forces in the Middle East "intercepted dozens of missiles and UAVs en route to Israel, launched from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen."

"Our forces remain postured to protect U.S. troops and partners in the region, provide further support for Israel’s defence, and enhance regional stability," Austin said in a statement late Saturday.

"We call on Iran to immediately halt any further attacks, including from its proxy forces, and to de-escalate tensions," said the U.S. defence chief. "We do not seek conflict with Iran, but we will not hesitate to act to protect our forces and support the defence of Israel."

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement that Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, for a second time Saturday and "praised the extraordinary defensive measures and strong cooperation undertaken to defeat this Iranian attack against Israel."

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned Tehran’s "reckless" attack in a statement.

"The UK will continue to stand up for Israel’s security and that of all our regional partners, including Jordan and Iraq," he said in a statement. "Alongside our allies, we are urgently working to stabilize the situation and prevent further escalation. No one wants to see more bloodshed."

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also issued a condemnation, and he called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

"I am deeply alarmed about the very real danger of a devastating region-wide escalation," he said in a statement. "I urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint to avoid any action that could lead to major military confrontations on multiple fronts in the Middle East."

Biden had told reporters Friday that he expected an Iranian attack on Israel "sooner rather than later." Asked by a journalist what was his message for Iran, the president replied: "Don’t."

The U.S. military began moving extra troops and equipment to sites in the Middle East, defence officials confirmed Friday. It has about 40,000 troops in the region.

Earlier in the day, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, and "made clear that Israel could count on full U.S. support to defend Israel against any attacks by Iran and its regional proxies."

The U.S. Navy moved two guided-missile destroyers capable of intercepting drones and incoming missiles closer to Israel in anticipation of the Iranian attack, The Wall Street Journal reported.

U.S. Navy Red Sea forces have previously intercepted long-range missiles launched toward Israel from Yemen by the Iranian-allied Houthi forces.

Biden’s administration response to the Iranian attack will be closely watched by his political opponents, coming less than seven months before a general election rematch between the Democratic Party incumbent and his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.

Trump, speaking Saturday at a rally in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, claimed the attack "would not have happened if we were in office." He did not elaborate on how.

"God bless the people of Israel," he said. "They are under attack right now. That's because we show great weakness."

Even before the Iranian drones reached Israeli airspace, some Republican lawmakers began reacting.

Representative Steve Scalise of the state of Louisiana wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that the United States "must stand strongly with our greatest Middle East ally as they defend themselves against Iran," adding that the Biden administration "cannot continue to capitulate to terrorists."

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of the state of Tennessee, in a message on X, called for Biden to "move quickly and launch aggressive retaliatory strikes on Iran."

Meanwhile, Democrat Chris Coons, of Biden’s home state of Delaware, stated condemnation but also urged American lawmakers to pass Biden’s request for military aid to Israel.

"The House should promptly pass this coming week the long-delayed national security supplemental to ensure that our Israeli allies have everything they need to defend themselves from attacks by Iran and its proxies," he said.

And some analysts pointed to Biden’s vacillation on the conflict as contributing to Tehran’s decision to strike.

"President Biden needs to provide unwavering political support to see Israel through this critical time," Foundation for Defense of Democracies CEO Mark Dubowitz said in a statement sent to VOA. "Biden’s wavering support for Israel in recent months, and the threat from some Democrats to cut off military support, surely emboldened [Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei."

Trita Parsi, co-founder and executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, told VOA via email that "had Biden pressed for a cease-fire from the outset, all of this would have been avoided."

"This is the direct result of Biden's bearhug of Israel - that is, constantly bending to Netanyahu's desires and preferences," he said. "If Biden had condemned the Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate and allowed the UNSC [U.N. Security Council] to condemn it, Iran might have stopped short of attacking Israel."