US president meets Jewish leaders, tells them he is working to secure release of hostages and won’t be silent about Hamas atrocities; US envoy to UN: ‘Never again is now’
US President Joe Biden said Wednesday that his administration has warned Iran not to escalate the conflict between Tehran’s proxy Hamas and Israel.
“We made it clear to the Iranians: Be careful,” Biden said in remarks to American Jewish community leaders during a roundtable meeting at the White House.
Hamas’s massive onslaught on Saturday, which left over 1,200 Israelis dead, has raised questions about the role of Iran and whether it was directly involved in the operation. The US has collected information that suggests senior Iranian government officials were caught off guard by the multi-pronged assault, according to a US official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. That piece of intelligence has informed White House officials publicly asserting that it has not yet seen evidence of direct involvement by Iranians in the planning or execution of the Hamas attack.
“We haven’t seen anything that tells they have specifically cut checks to support this set of attacks, or that they were involved in the training. And obviously, this required quite a bit of training by these terrorists,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters earlier Wednesday, though he added that the US will continue to look at the intelligence “and see if that leads us to a different conclusion.”
Biden used his meeting with Jewish leaders to again express his horror over the Hamas onslaught after doing so in a pair of nationally televised White House speeches since the weekend attack.
But the White House later walked back the remark, saying the president and other US officials had not seen pictures or confirmed such reports independently and that Biden based his comments on various media reports that cited Israeli officials.
Nonetheless, Biden went on to tell Jewish leaders at the roundtable, “Downplaying Hamas’s atrocities and blaming the Jewish people is unthinkable.”
He noted that despite the very trying times facing Israel and the Jewish community, “there are countries trying to help — including Arab nations. He was perhaps referring to countries like the United Arab Emirates as just before stopping by the roundtable, Biden held a call with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed.
The two spoke about the terrorist attacks on Israel and Biden stressed his condemnation of Hamas while “warning against anyone who might seek to exploit the current situation,” according to the White House readout. “The two leaders also discussed the importance of ensuring humanitarian assistance reaches those in need.”
Doing ‘a lot’ to secure hostages’ release
Biden said he is also designating experts to help in the effort to secure the release of some 150 hostages held by Hamas.
“We’re working on every aspect of the hostage crisis in Israel including deploying experts to advise on assist and recovery,” Biden told the Jewish leaders.
He said he knew he would be under pressure to give details, but that he would not. “If I told you I wouldn’t be able to get them out,” Biden said. “Folks, there’s a lot we’re doing, I have not given up hope of bringing these folks home.”
Families of Americans believed to be held hostage by Hamas held a press conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday urging the United States to act, and Kirby was peppered with questions about the hostages earlier Wednesday at a White House press briefing.
Asked whether Biden is considering sending American troops into Gaza to recover the hostages being held by terror groups in the enclave, Kirby said, “We just don’t have enough info to make decisions like that.”
The comment indicated that the US does not know the captives’ whereabouts.
“We’re in discussions not only with the Israelis about what hostage recovery could look like but with other allies and partners in the region. There are some countries, like Qatar, that have open lines of communication with Hamas,” Kirby said, suggesting that Washington is in touch with Doha about the issue. “We’re casting the net wide, as you would expect we would. We want to get all these hostages back with their families, particularly the American hostages.”
‘I refuse to be silent’
Biden told Jewish leaders that he was committed to continue speaking out regarding the atrocities committed by Hamas. “Silence is complicity. I refuse to be silent.”
The president got passionate as he highlighted the importance of fighting hate more broadly and remembering the lessons of the Holocaust.
“That’s why I took my kids, everyone when they turned 14, one at a time, put them on a plane and took them to Dachau, I wanted them to see, that you could not not know what was going on, walking through those gates. You could not fail to understand as a country what was going on.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield joined diplomats from nearly 60 other countries at a New York gathering in solidarity with Israel organized by the American Jewish Committee.
Thomas-Greenfield gave a passionate speech at the event in which she stressed the importance of retelling the stories of Hamas’s victims.
“These numbers [of Israelis killed] – as shocking as they are – do not do justice to the depths of horrors… Human lives are not just numbers,” she said. “We must tell the stories of those who were executed, who were raped, who were kidnapped.”
She called on the international community to join her in standing with Israel and refrain from “drawing false equivalencies between Hamas’ outrageous attacks and Israel’s inherent right of self-defense… We cannot issue weak condemnations that fail to unequivocally denounce Hamas by name,” the US ambassador asserts.