It is not only Israel that was caught off guard by Hamas’s attack. The events also hit the U.S. government at the worst possible moment.
Washington appears to have been taken aback by Hamas’s large-scale attack on Israel. The Biden administration hoped to add another treaty to the two peace and normalization agreements already in place between Israel and the Arab states. Secretary of State Antony Blinken intended to travel to both Saudi Arabia and Israel in the coming weeks to negotiate the final details of the Abraham Accords. Such a treaty between Israel and Saudi Arabia would have been much more significant than the previous US-brokered deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
But nothing will come of it for now. Although Saudi Arabia’s rhetoric was not as harsh as that of the other Arab states as it called for restraint on all sides, it nevertheless recalled its repeated warnings that the situation might explode through continued occupation, disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people, and systemic provocation.
Thus, President Joe Biden, in the presence of his ashen and stone-faced secretary of state, had no choice but to express the United States’ unqualified solidarity with Israel, stressing that Israel could be assured of all necessary support, and that it had every right in the world to defend itself.
The Attack Also Affects Domestic Politics
A once uncontroversial statement of support like this might now become a major source of conflict within U.S. politics. For if a lengthy war unfolds in the Middle East, the United States faces the prospect of having to support Israel and Ukraine in equal measure, which is likely to be a challenge even for the military superpower.
If it also turns out that Iran played a key role in planning and financing the attack, it will open a further line of confrontation in domestic politics. Former president and would-be presidential nominee Donald Trump was already claiming just hours after the attack that it had been funded in part by U.S. taxpayers.
Trump was referring to the hostage exchange negotiated between the U.S. and Iran in September, in which Iran released five U.S. prisoners in return for $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil revenues from South Korea, albeit with the provision that the funds remain in a Qatar-based account and could only be used for humanitarian purposes. Once again, everything Trump said was wrong, yet it signaled a break.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart on Saturday, but any additional aid he can promise is uncertain. As long as Congress is unable to function without someone to succeed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, it’s out of the administration’s control.