Updated Oct 18, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Inside Biden's talks with Netanyahu, Israel's war team

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, hugs U.S. President Joe Biden.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hugs President Biden upon Biden's arrival Wednesday in Tel Aviv. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

There was one consistent message President Biden heard from nearly all the Israeli officials he met in Tel Aviv: The war in Gaza will take time — and will test Israel's support from its allies, Israeli and U.S. officials say.

Why it matters: After 12 days of war against Hamas — and with thousands dead and the Arab world in an uproar — one of Israel's biggest concerns is maintaining international support — particularly from the United States.

Zoom in: Biden has his own concerns.

  • During his hourlong meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a subsequent talk with members of Israel's War Cabinet, Biden asked about the escalating tension between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah on the border of Israel and Lebanon.
  • Biden was particularly concerned that Iran-backed Hezbollah would decide to join the war, increasing the odds of a broader conflict in the Middle East.
  • Since the early days of the war, the Biden administration has sent private and public messages to Hezbollah and Iran, warning them not to join in the fighting. Hezbollah has said it is willing to help Hamas.
  • The Pentagon sent two aircraft carriers to the region and White House officials held several meetings to prepare for a scenario of using U.S. military force if Hezbollah were to launch missiles at Israel.

Zoom out: Biden also pressed officials about their overall strategy in Gaza — namely, what Israel's plan for the enclave would be after the war.

  • The Israeli War Cabinet members said they aren't there yet and for now are focused on the counteroffensive to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that ignited the war.
  • Biden urged Israeli officials to have a plan for humanitarian relief for the innocent Palestinians caught in the middle of the Israeli military's push to eliminate Hamas, officials said.

In a separate speech Wednesday, Biden acknowledged that "for a nation the size of Israel," the Hamas attack "was like 15 9/11's."

  • Even so, Biden urged Israelis not to be "consumed" by rage, and to think with "clarity about objectives" rather than committing the kind of mistakes the U.S. did after 9/11 — an apparent reference to the invasion of Iraq.

Behind the scenes: Two members of the Israeli War Cabinet — former Minister of Defense Benny Gantz and former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot — joined Netanyahu's government from the opposition party after the Hamas attack.

  • Biden's aides have a close working relationship with Gantz, and several U.S. officials said they were pleased that he and Eizenkot are part of Israel's decision-making team during the war.
  • During the War Cabinet's meeting with Biden, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant stressed that "it will be a long and difficult war, and Israel will need U.S. support for a long period of time," an aide to Gallant said.
  • An Israeli official said Gantz told Biden the effort to dismantle Hamas "could take years."
  • Israeli and U.S. officials said Biden didn't push back, but added that to maintain international support, Israel will have to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza, where thousands of Palestinians have been displaced by Israeli bombings and evacuation orders.

What to watch: One of the main issues Netanyahu discussed with Biden was the military aid package Israel is requesting from the U.S., which needs Congress' approval. Israeli officials say they asked for $10 billion in military aid.

  • Netanyahu said he agreed with Biden to push forward "a huge and unprecedented military aid package" for Israel.
  • Biden plans to deliver an Oval Office address on Israel and Ukraine Thursday evening as funding for aid to both countries has become a key issue in the House speaker's race.

What they're saying: "In our meeting today we agreed on a set of actions and steps that make sure we can continue the war," Netanyahu said in a statement shortly after Biden left Israel for Washington.

  • "We agreed on cooperation that will change the equation on all the fronts and will help us achieve our goals in the war."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the announcement of Biden's Thursday night oval office address.

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