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After Iran attack, Biden has new mandate to push for Israel aid

In a Wednesday Wall Street Journal op-ed, Biden connects U.S. support for Ukraine and Israel together — in a way he avoided doing in his State of the Union address

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President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House on October 19, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

For the first time since the Oct. 7 terror attacks, the finish line in the fight to get aid for Israel might finally be in sight — pending, still, many congressional obstacles. President Joe Biden took to The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page on Wednesday to make the case for why Congress should agree to aid both Ukraine (which some Republicans oppose) and Israel (which some Democrats oppose). 

Biden made an argument that echoed points he made last fall in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attacks that killed more than 1,200 people in Israel, but that he has avoided in recent months: directly connecting the conflicts that Ukraine and Israel are fighting, because America has an obligation to support both democratic allies in their fights against existential threats.

“Now is not the time to abandon our friends. The House must pass urgent national-security legislation for Ukraine and Israel, as well as desperately needed humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza,” Biden wrote on Wednesday.

In recent months, as Biden’s concerns about the civilian death toll in Gaza mounted, he less often tied the conflicts in Eastern Europe and the Middle East together. His administration has still lobbied Congress to pass legislation guaranteeing Israel billions of dollars in additional security funding. But in Biden’s State of the Union address in March, where he described security assistance to Ukraine as an urgent national priority, he did not mention military aid to Israel.

Now, though, there’s a new factor at play, one that White House officials acknowledge is a boon to Biden’s push to aid Israel and Ukraine: Saturday’s Iranian missile attack on Israel. 

“Messaging is always dependent on real time events,” a senior White House official told Jewish Insider, noting that Iran’s attack — thwarted by Israeli and U.S. forces working together to take down hundreds of missiles and drones — makes clear why further security assistance to Israel is needed.

“It certainly demonstrates what the president’s been saying and it helps his case with respect to giving Israel what it needs to defend itself,” said the official, who requested anonymity to detail internal thinking on the issue. 

In an Oct. 19 Oval Office speech delivered less than two weeks after the Hamas attacks, the parallels Biden drew were between Hamas and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He argued that Congress needed to aid both Ukraine and Israel to help them fend off existential threats from the Russian regime and the Hamas terror group.

“History has taught us that when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction,” Biden said in the address, which briefly noted Iran’s connections to both Russia and Hamas.

His op-ed on Wednesday zoomed out even further. Instead of comparing Putin to Hamas terrorists, he drew a direct parallel between the way Russia threatens Ukraine and the way Iran threatens Israel.

“Both Ukraine and Israel are under attack by brazen adversaries that seek their annihilation. Mr. Putin wants to subjugate the people of Ukraine and absorb their nation into a new Russian empire. The government of Iran wants to destroy Israel forever — wiping the world’s only Jewish state off the map,” wrote Biden.

The White House official suggested that the events that transpired over the weekend demonstrate why security assistance to Israel still matters, and why Biden can support that even as he also raises concerns about Israel’s conduct in Gaza.

“He believes that you can both be a strong Zionist, be a strong supporter of the State of Israel, be completely committed to the security of Israel, as he demonstrated on Saturday night when he directed the U.S. military to work with other countries in the region to shoot down missiles and drones,” the official said, “but separately he can still continue to raise concerns about the way in which Israel is prosecuting its campaign Gaza and want to see changes in their approach.”

The Biden administration has urged Israel not to retaliate against Iran, instead urging the country to claim victory after striking down the hundreds of rockets fired from Iran.

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