President Biden will ask Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tough questions in their meeting on Wednesday in the aftermath of a hospital explosion in Gaza, the White House previewed on Tuesday.
Biden left for Tel Aviv on Tuesday and will first meet with Netanyahu in a small bilateral meeting, which will then be broadened out to include the Israeli war cabinet.
“He’ll be asking some tough questions. He’ll be asking them as a friend, as a true friend of Israel,” national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters en route to Tel Aviv.
Biden plans to discuss with the Israelis the situation on the ground, their objectives and intentions and the need to deter any actor, state or terrorist group from widening the conflict. He also wants to ask the prime minister and war cabinet what they believe their needs are from a security perspective as the White House mulls over an aid package for the country to ask Congress to pass.
Biden will also discuss the hostages held by Hamas, which includes some American citizens, and how to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Earlier on Tuesday, an explosion occurred at a hospital in Gaza, with authorities estimating hundreds of deaths, including patients who were seeking treatment. The explosion came amid heavy aerial bombardment by Israel over the last week.
“By tough questions I don’t mean menacing or in any way adversarial. Just hard questions that a good friend of Israel would ask about where they think they are going, what their plans are going forward,” Kirby said.
Biden spoke with Netanyahu and King Abdullah II of Jordan in the aftermath of the explosion. Kirby said it was “important” for Biden to talk directly with Netanyahu, but he wouldn’t detail if the prime minister mentioned Israel’s current stance that they were not responsible for it on the call.
“We certainly recognize that they feel very strongly this was not caused by them,” Kirby said.
Biden cancelled the Jordan leg of his trip before leaving the United States on Tuesday evening as protests erupted in the Middle East after the explosion at a hospital in Gaza.
Kirby stressed that the decision to not visit Jordan was made “in a mutual way” with Abdullah, and they agreed that now is not the time for the meeting while the king starts three days of mourning.
While in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, the president will meet with Israeli first responders after meeting with Netanyahu to discuss response efforts after last weekend’s terrorist attacks by Hamas.
He will then meet with some of the families of those who have lost loved ones in Israel and some of the families “who still don’t know the fate of their loved ones,” which will include some families of hostages Hamas has taken, Kirby said. But it’s unclear if that will include any Americans taken as hostages, he added.
Biden will deliver remarks later on Wednesday and also meet with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.