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President Biden Speaks After Meeting With Israeli Leaders. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 18, 2023 - 10:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: It has heightened tensions. And now the president of the United States is here. How is he responding to all of this? And how is he treating Israel as he is going to be standing side by side with the prime minister?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and that is kind of loomed, Sara, over this entire visit. It was something that the White House was dealing with as his plane was preparing to take off from right outside Washington yesterday. And it's something that he's been asked about essentially every stop of this visit today. Obviously it's a visit that is cut shorter because he's no longer going to Jordan to meet with the leader there and the president of Egypt. And instead he's about to come out here behind me and make remarks.

And that will really be the culmination of President Biden's time here in Tel Aviv. It started out in that one-on-one with Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this morning. And that is where he embraced those denials by Israel, saying that they were not responsible for that explosion of that hospital in Gaza City. And instead, just a few moments ago, President Biden said that it was analysis and data from his own Pentagon that he was using and that it was part of his assertion that he did not believe that Israel was behind it.

Obviously, Israel has forcefully denied that. Authorities -- Palestinian authorities have said that they do believe the IDF is behind it. They have said it was not them. That has been part of this, but it's certainly not the only factor in this entire trip.

And one big question that still remains is whether or not that humanitarian aid is going to be able to get into Gaza to those civilians who are still there and have not been able to get any of that and have seen obviously no power, no electricity, no internet for the last several days.

That is going to be a big question for President Biden when he comes out here. It's something that his secretary of state has been working on going back and forth between several countries in the last several days. He's actually here in the room and has been in these meetings with President Biden. And so that will be a big question as he comes into this room.

I should note, sitting behind me are several of the first responders from that day and several of the families of the victims and the families of the hostages that were taken and captured by Hamas. That has probably been the most somber part of the president's day, was when he was in the room with them here. And, of course, that is a moment where he talked with them. He shared some Irish poetry with them. And that is part of what he is going to address when he does come out here in just a few moments.

SIDNER: Yes. You know, one of the things that is happening, of course, is that everyone is taking to their sides as happens in this conflict more than perhaps anywhere else I have ever seen in the world. But you do have information that has come out.

There are people questioning Israel when it comes to whether or not they were involved in the attack, partly because of what the P.M.'s office put out about those babies that they said were beheaded, which turned out that they did not have proof of.

And now you've got Hamas. which has certainly said things that are absolutely not true, blaming Israel for this, and the rest of the Arab world really blaming Israel for this when Israel says it has evidence against it.

How does President Biden sort of thread this needle? Because, you know, he's got to be able, for humanitarian purposes, to talk with, for example, the Palestinian Authority, to try and get some support from places like Jordan, the King of Jordan, in order to try and make this happen. How is he trying to do that? Is he having those conversations behind the scenes as well? I know you're very plugged in, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Well, it's been really difficult, because, obviously, having them face-to-face is much different than having a phone call. And that is what he's expected to do when he leaves here, is have that phone call with the President of Egypt instead of actually meeting with him in-person, as initially officials were hoping that they would do. And they have not denied that that obviously is a setback. That is something that they wanted to happen, to actually have that meeting happen in person.

And that's another big question here, which is on the way here, the White House said that Biden was going to have tough questions for Netanyahu about what is next for Israel, and if there is that ground invasion in Gaza, what does that look like, what are the objectives, and what is Israel going to do in the aftermath of that? Who would be in charge of Gaza if they do eradicate the leaders of Hamas, as Israel has said many times, is its goal?

So, there are still a lot of major questions about the future of this conflict and what that looks like. And having those difficult conversations with a lot of these Arab leaders who have said that they don't believe necessarily Israel's denials about being involved in that explosion at that hospital in Gaza City, that's only adding to the complications of an already challenging visit, and it certainly is something a needle that does have to be thread, as you were stating there, Sara. That is still a big question for how that's handled and what those conversations look like going forward, because, obviously, it is something that Egypt has to be a part of. SIDNER: Yes. The diplomacy here is very difficult, very intricate, very complicated, if you will.


Kaitlan, stay with us, as you're watching to see whether or not, when President Biden is going to show up there and make remarks, and I think you said this is his sort of last remarks that we're probably going to hear from him while he is in Tel Aviv.

I want to go to our Clarissa Ward, who is watching all of this as well. You and I both have been in Gaza several times. Can you describe the people who really don't know what it is like on the ground there? Just how congested, just how filled of that small space is, 139 square miles, just how small it is and just how difficult it is, for example, for the civilians on a regular day, not on during a time of war?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sara, if you've been to Gaza as you have during times of intense bombardment, it is truly terrifying. There is a lot of chaos. There is a lot of confusion. There is a lot of panic. You see people running around trying to get to safety, not knowing where safety is.

In the case of the Al-Ahli Hospital, it's clear that hundreds of people thought that that would be a safe place to go to. It's worth mentioning that Al-Ahli is in the northern part of Gaza. That is the area that the IDF had asked people to leave and evacuate from on Friday.

But we kept hearing over and over again from people that we've spoken to, how can we leave our homes and go to the south when there are continued strikes on the south? There were strikes close to the Rafah border crossing yesterday. There were strikes in Khan Younis. On top of that, you have the fact that the humanitarian situation is rapidly spiraling out of control, even in the south where people have been urged to move to, no electricity, no water, very, very little food.

The U.N. warning that maybe there are four or five days worth of food left in stores. And so you have an almost a paralysis whereby people just don't know what to do and it's always in those situations where civilians suffer the most, where they bear the brunt of the actions of both sides, and it's always in those situations where it is most challenging for diplomats to try to forge a path to some kind of respite or refuge for them.

SIDNER: Clarissa, I am so sorry to interrupt you, but the president of the United States is now talking.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not let you ever be alone. Most importantly, I know the recent terrorist assault on the people of this nation has left a deep, deep wound. More than 1,300 innocent Israelis killed, including at least 31 American citizens, by the terrorist group, Hamas. Hundreds, hundreds of young people at a music festival, the festival was for peace, for peace, gunned down as they ran for their lives, scores of innocence from infants to elderly grandparents, Israelis and Americans, taken hostage, children slaughtered, babies slaughtered, entire families massacred, rape, beheadings, bodies burned alive.

Hamas committed atrocities that recall the worst ravages of ISIS, unleashing pure, unadulterated evil upon the world. There's no rationalizing it, no excusing it, period. The brutality we saw would have cut deep anywhere in the world, but it cuts deeper here in Israel.

October 7th, which was a sacred Jewish holiday, became the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. It was brought to the surface painful memories and scars left by millennium and de-Semitism and the genocide of the Jewish people. The world watched then, it knew, and the world did nothing. We will not stand by and do nothing again, not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

To those who are living in limbo, waiting desperately to learn the fate of a loved one, especially to families of the hostages, you're not alone. We're working with partners throughout the region, pursuing every avenue to bring home those who are being held or captive by Hamas.

I can't speak publicly about all the details, but let me assure you, for me, as the American president, there's no higher priority than the release and safe return of all these hostages.

To those who are grieving, a child, a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a friend, I know, I feel like there's that black hole in the middle of your chest. You feel like you're being sucked into it, the survivor's remorse the anger, the questions of faith in your soul, starting and staring at that empty chair, sitting in Shiva (ph), the first Sabbath without them.


They're the everyday things, the small things that you miss the most, the scent when you open the closet door, the morning coffee you shared together, the bend of a smile, the perfect pitch of a laugh, the giggle of a little boy, the baby.

For those who have lost loved ones, this is what I know, they'll never be truly gone. There's something that's never fully lost, your love for them and their love for you. And I promise you, we'll be walking along some days and say, what would she or he want me to do? You smile when you pass a place that reminds you of them. That's when you know when a smile comes to your lips before a tear to your eye, that's when you know you're going to fully make it. That's what will give you the fortitude to find light in the darkest hours.

When terrorists believe they could bring down, bring you down, bend your will, break your resolve, but they never did and they never will. Instead, we saw incredible stories of terrorism and courage, Israelis taking care of one another, neighbors forming watch groups protect their kibbutz, opening their homes to shelter survivors, retired soldiers running into danger once again, civilian medics flying across rescue-- flying rescue missions and off-duty medics at the music festival caring for the wounded before becoming a victim himself, volunteers retrieving bodies of the dead so families could bury their loved ones in accordance with Jewish tradition, reservists leaving behind their families, their honeymoons, their studies abroad without hesitation and so much more.

The state of Israel is born to be a safe place for the Jewish people of the world. That's why it was born. As one (ph) said, if Israel didn't exist, we'd have to invent it. While it may not feel that way today, Israel must again be a safe place for the Jewish people. And I promise you, we're going to do everything in our power to make sure that it will be.

75 years ago, just 11 minutes after its founding, President Harry S. Truman and the United States of America became the first nation to recognize Israel. We've stood by your side ever since and we're going to stand by your side now. My administration has a close touch with your leadership in the first moments of this attack. We're going to make sure we have what you need to protect your people, to defend your nation.

For decades, we've ensured Israel's qualitative military edge. And later this week, I'm going to ask the United States Congress for an unprecedented support package for Israel's defense. We're going to keep the Iron Dome fully supplied so it can continue standing sentinel over Israeli skies, saving Israeli lives.

We've moved U.S. military assets to the region, including positioning the USS Ford carrier strike group in Eastern Mediterranean with the USS Eisenhower on the way to deter further aggression to Israel and to prevent this conflict from spreading. The world will know that Israel is stronger than ever.

My message to any state or any other hostile actor, thinking about attacking Israel remains the same as it was a week ago, don't, don't, don't.

Since this terrorist attack took place, we've seen it described as Israel's 9/11. But for a nation the size of Israel, it was like 15 9/11s. The scale may be different, but I'm sure those horrors have tapped into some kind of primal feeling in Israel just like it did and felt in the United States, shock, pain, rage, an all-consuming rage.

I understand and many Americans understand you can't look at what has happened here to your mothers, your fathers, your grandparents, sons, daughters, children, even babies and not scream out for justice. Justice must be done. But I caution this while you feel that rage. Don't be consumed by it.

After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes. I'm the first U.S. president to visit Israel in time of war. I've made wartime decisions.


I know the choices are never clear or easy for the leadership. There's always cost, but it requires being deliberate. It requires asking very hard questions. It requires clarity about the objectives and an honest assessment about whether the path you're on will achieve those objectives.

The vast majority of Palestinians are not Hamas. Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people. Hamas uses innocent families in Gaza as human shields, putting their command centers, their weapons, their communications tunnels in residential areas.

Palestinian people are suffering greatly as well. We mourn the loss of innocent Palestinian lives, like the entire world. I was outraged and saddened by the enormous loss of life yesterday in the hospital in Gaza. Based on the information we've seen today, it appears as a result of an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza.

The United States unequivocally stands for the protection of civilian life during conflict, and I grieve, I truly grieve for the families who were killed or wounded by this tragedy.

And the people of Gaza need food, water, medicine, shelter. Today, I ask the Israeli cabinet, I've met with for some time this morning, to agree to the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, based on the understanding that there will be inspections and that the aids should go to civilians, not to Hamas. Israel agreed humanitarian assistance can begin to move from Egypt to Gaza.

Let me be clear, and if Hamas diverts or steals the assistance, they will have demonstrated once again that they have no concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people and it will end. As a practical matter, it will stop the international community from being able to provide this aid.

We're working in close cooperation with the government of Egypt, the United Nations, and its agencies, like the World Food Program and other partners in the region, to get trucks moving across the border as soon as possible.

Separately, I ask Israel that the global community demand that the International Red Cross be able to visit hostages. I just demanded that the United States fully adjust demand that the United States fully supports today.

I'm also announcing $100 million of new U.S. funding for humanitarian assistance in both Gaza and the West Bank. This money will support more than 1 million displaced and conflict-affected Palestinians, including emergency needs in Gaza.

You are a Jewish state. You are a Jewish state, but you're also a democracy. Like the United States, you don't live by the rules of terrorists. You live by the rule of law. And when conflicts flare, you live by the law of wars.

What sets us apart from the terrorists is we believe in the fundamental dignity of every human life. Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, Jew, Muslim, Christian, everyone, they can't give up what makes you who you are. If you give that up, then the terrorists win, and we can never let them win. You know, Israel is a miracle, a triumph of faith and resolve of resilience over impossible pain and loss. Think about October 7th, the Jewish holiday, where you read about the death of Moses, a tragic story of a profound loss to an entire nation, a death that could have left hopelessness in the hearts of the entire nation. But, though, Moses died, his memory, his messages, his lessons have lived on for generations of the Jewish people, as well as many others and just as a memory of your loved ones will live on as well.

After reading the story of Moses' death, those who observed the holiday began reading the Torah from the very beginning, the story of creation, reminds us of two things. First, when we get knocked down, we get back up again, and we begin anew. And, second, when we're faced with tragedy and loss, we must go back to the beginning to remember who we are. We are all human beings created an image of God with dignity, humanity and purpose.

In the darkness, to be the light unto the world is what we're about. You inspire hope and light for so many around the world. That's what the terrorists seek to destroy. That's what they seek to destroy, because they live in darkness, but not you, not Israel.


Nations of conscience, like the United States and Israel, are not measured solely by the example of power, and we're measured by the power of our example. And that's why, as hard as it is, we must keep pursuing peace. We must keep pursuing a path so that Israel and the Palestinian people can both live safely in security, in dignity, and in peace. For me, that means a two-state solution. We must keep working for Israel's greater integration with its neighbors.

These attacks have only strengthened my commitment and determination and my will to get that done. I'm here to tell you the terrorist will not win. Freedom will win.

So, let me end where I began, Israel, you're not alone. The United States stands with you.

I've told the story before, and I'll tell it again, of my first meeting with an Israeli prime minister 50 years ago as a young senator. I was sitting across from Golda Meir at her desk in her office, and she had a guy named, a guy who later became prime minister sitting next to me, just before the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

And she flipped the maps up and down, telling me how bad things were and how terrible they were. All of a sudden, she looked at me and she said, would you like a photograph? I looked at her. She got up from her desk and walked out into that hallway. I think it's marble flooring. I walked out in the hallway and walked out into a bunch of photographers standing in front of us, we're standing shoulder to shoulder.

Without her looking at me, she said to me, knowing I'd hear her, why do you look so worried, Senator Biden? And I said, worried. Like, of course I'm worried. And she looked at me and she didn't look. She said, we don't worry, Senator. We Israelis have a secret weapon. We have nowhere else to go.

Well, today, I say to all of Israel, the United States isn't going anywhere either. We're going to stand with you. We'll walk beside you in those dark days. We'll walk beside you in the good days to come, and they will come.

As you say in Hebrew, which I'm not going to attempt to do because I'm such a terrible linguist, I'll say in it English, the people of Israel live. The people of Israel live. Israel will be safe, secure, Jewish, and democratic state, today, tomorrow, forever. May God protect all those who work for peace. God saved those who are still in the harm's way.

SIDNER: All right. You have just been listening to President Biden here in Israel, in Tel Aviv, talking about many different things, number one, that he supports unequivocally Israel after that attack on October 7th and talked about his long history with supporting this country all the way back to the 1970s, right before the Yom Kippur War, talking to Golda Meir, who was the prime minister at the time.

By the way, the timing of that and the timing of this, almost exactly the same, the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, October 7th, when the attack happened here, that has really changed this nation and changed its position, as well as changed what it is willing to do to Hamas in Gaza. They are trying to, as all of the Israeli officials have said, rid all of Gaza of Hamas.

I want to bring in our Kaitlan Collins, who was standing by and was in the room, our David Chalian as well, and our Clarissa Ward, who is here also in Israel with us.

Kaitlan, I'm going to go to you first. What stood out to you in hearing from the president? I mean, this was another unequivocal support of Israel from the president of the United States.

COLLINS: Yes. He loves telling that story there at the end. It was his first time here at Israel's 1972, one year before, of course, the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It had this lasting effect on him. He often just talks about sitting down with Golda Meir, when she was the prime minister of Israel.

Obviously, things are very different now. Here he is returning as the president of the United States. Israel is at war. He's the first U.S. president to visit Israel when it is at war, something that the prime minister, Netanyahu, noted earlier today.

But as the president came out here today, Sara, he did make news. He said that Israel has agreed to an agreement to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza through Egypt. That has been something that has been a holdup for well over a week now, despite international talks to create some kind of channel to allow that aid in.


You heard Egyptian officials say they have trucks waiting at that Rafah crossing. That is the only way to get into Gaza through Egypt waiting to get in, but it has been held up. They have blamed the Israelis. The Israelis have pushed back on that.

The question, of course, that President Biden did not note is the timing of that. When will that aid begin to flow into Gaza? But he did say there is an agreement. And he also said that the U.S. is going to provide $100 million in assistance to Gaza and to the West Bank. Those are two notable developments coming out of here.

One thing that we did ask President Biden at the end, as he did, as you're right, he expressed that solidarity with Israel once again, which was something his staff previewed on the way over here, which was tough questions they said he was going to have for the prime minister.

And when you talk to officials about what those tough questions could be, they referenced what's next here. If Israel does go into Gaza, if there is that ground invasion, what is the timing of that look like? What is the objective of that? And what happens after that's over?

You heard Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier warning that this could be a long road to victory was the phrase that he used. Of course, the question is how long and what it looks like after that.

That's -- President Biden left the room. He did not answer that question. He did issue another warning, though, about one of his main concerns, one of the biggest things that I've heard from officials that I've spoken to in recent days, which is the idea that this could escalate into a broader regional conflict. And that is only something that has become really more illuminated in the last 24 hours since that hospital was hit.

I do want to note earlier today, the president said he did not believe it was Israel that was behind that explosion at that hospital in Gaza. He said it was someone from the other team. Here, he clarified those remarks. He said he believed that, based on what he has heard and what he has seen, that it was an errant rocket from a Palestinian terrorist group.

So, that is an update there and a clarification there from his earlier remark that was not very clear to what he believes it is.

SIDNER: And that terrorist group that he is referring to, Israel says, it was Islamic Jihad, not Hamas, but it is another group that exists there that does not believe in the existence of Israel itself.

I want to go now -- thank you, Kaitlan, for that. Stick with us. I'm going to go now to David Chalian. David, can you tell us about just the significance that during an officially declared war that the president of the United States came into this country trying to get some humanitarian work done, coming to show solidarity, but just the significance of him being here as we have seen rockets coming into this country every single day and night throughout?

Meantime, there are explosions going on in Gaza at the same time and a huge humanitarian crisis going on there. What's the significance of him being here now? DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Sara, you saw the president himself highlighted that he was the first president to visit Israel in a time of war. He wanted to make sure everybody understood that it is indeed a significant move.

And I think it was so clear what he was doing throughout his remarks. The whole first half, as you and Kaitlan were discussing, was that complete repetition of that total solidarity with Israel, standing side by side in total support of Israel.

And I think when you talk to folks around the president, what they believe that position does is allow him to go into the second half of his remarks, which was to call on the better angels and the humanitarian sympathies of the people of Israel and not to get too consumed by their passions and anger in response to the terrorist attacks, and that they keep in mind who they are as a people as he was trying to express the need for humanitarian assistance, for the ability for Israel to maintain its position by not -- or by urging some restraint.

And I think when you look at the remarks and how they were structured, you see a president of the United States doing that very thing we've been talking about, which is threading a needle here. Obviously, time will tell. The future will only tell us if that is successful. But it's clear that's what the objective was in his visit and putting a button on the visit with these remarks.

SIDNER: Yes, diplomacy is of the utmost importance here, but very, very difficult to actually, as you put it, thread that needle.

I want to go now to Clarissa Ward, who is here with me in Israel. I am curious, from your perspective, after hearing what you did about the humanitarian breakthrough, hopefully, although it has not happened and Gaza, by the hour, is getting more and more desperate for the civilians there. How do you think that the Arab world, Jordan, people in Jordan, people who are protesting right now in Beirut and the response in the West Bank, how they're going to react to hearing the president's comments?