U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security during a highly anticipated joint statement alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The two held a meeting at Netanyahu’s Jerusalem office that ran over schedule, which delayed their appearance before reporters. Netanyahu thanked the Biden administration for its support but also criticized the Iranian nuclear deal, vowing that Israel will defend itself from the looming threats.
“I can tell you that I hope that the United States does not go back to the old JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] because we believe that that deal paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy,” he said. He said Israel will always defend itself from a regime committed to its destruction.
Blinken, who did not comment on Netanyahu’s remarks on Iran, reiterated that Biden fully supports Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas, and said that commitment is personal and “runs deep.”
Blinken also said another goal of his trip was to assist with humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.
He arrived in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning prior to a meeting with Netanyahu in the wake of a deadly 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Blinken hoped to bolster the ceasefire agreement. After the meeting with Netanyahu, the top U.S. diplomat is expected to tour Ramallah, Cairo and Amman. He also plans to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Biden said in an earlier statement that Blinken will “continue our administration’s efforts to rebuild ties to, and support for, the Palestinian people and their leaders, after years of neglect.”
Blinken posted on Twitter prior to the high-profile visit that besides the ceasefire, “we were also focused on the road ahead, including steps we could take to build a better future for Israelis and Palestinians.”
On Sunday, Blinken credited Biden’s effort leading up to the ceasefire and said the president is still committed to a two-state solution in the region. The conflict between Israel and Hamas resulted in more than 250 deaths, mostly Palestinians and sparked protests and violent confrontations around the world.
The conflict started after clashes in Jerusalem between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinians had been protesting eviction threats aimed at dozens of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah by Jewish settlers.
The United Nations reported that thousands of buildings were damaged in the Gaza Strip, and at least 65,000 Palestinians were displaced. Israeli officials said Hamas indiscriminately fired more than 4,000 rockets during the barrage, many of which were picked off by the country’s Iron Dome shield. Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Biden faced an unusual amount of pressure from members of the progressive wing of the Democrat Party over the U.S.’s support of Israel. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., criticized a $735 million weapons sale to Israel.
“At a moment when U.S.-made bombs are devastating Gaza and killing women and children, we cannot simply let another huge arms sale go through without even a congressional debate,” Sanders said in a statement.
Tension in the region is still high. On Monday, an Israeli soldier and a civilian were stabbed and wounded in east Jerusalem before police shot and killed the assailant in what they described as a terrorist attack.
The Associated Press contributed to this report